Peace & Joy

Peace. Joy. These are two words that we see often at Christmas time. We see them on cards that wish the recipient “peace” and “joy” at Christmas. We see them on Christmas decorations, and we hear them in countless Christmas carols. We may even see them on “ugly” Christmas sweaters. And, of course, we see them in the account of the Christmas story itself. In Luke, chapter 2, an angel of the Lord appears to a group of shepherds and announces that he brings “good news that will bring great joy to all people.” And after the angel delivers that good news, an angel army appears, giving glory to the God who sent them, as they announce that this good news, the birth of the child born to be the Savior of the world, brings “peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Because of the birth of that little baby in a manger in Bethlehem, both joy and peace were brought into the world. But sometimes we don’t sense that peace. Sometimes we don’t feel that joy. Sometimes the circumstances of life crowd out the joy and the peace that we know we should feel because Jesus became a man and brought the gift of salvation to mankind. Sometimes we just don’t feel peace, instead focusing on our own inner turmoil or the external turmoil that surrounds us. Sometimes we just don’t feel like being joyful because of the trials that we are going through due to illness, relational problems, or financial problems.

In July of this year, my wife, Linda, was diagnosed with cancer. Following tests and eventual surgery, we discovered that not only did she have a rare and aggressive type of cancer, but she also had a second unrelated cancer. Tough news to hear. News that could easily rob us of our peace and wipe away the joy in our lives. But it didn’t. Despite the news that we received, our faith has remained strong. We both feel peace in this situation we find ourselves facing. And, despite the fact that the road ahead is a difficult one, we still have joy in our lives. We have joy and we feel peace because we know that we serve a God who is in control, a God who cares about us and loves us, a God who has a plan for us, a plan that will never harm us (Jeremiah 29:11). We have joy and feel peace because our God is faithful, and because, rather than leaning on our own, limited understanding, we have made a decision to trust in God and His ways (Proverbs 3:5-6).

In his letter to the church in Philippi, the apostle Paul gave us the words that explain the joy and the peace we feel and why we feel it. In Philippians 4:4, Paul told us that we should “Always be full of joy in the Lord.” He emphasized the importance of this when he said, “I say it again–rejoice!” The joy that we feel does not come from our circumstances, it comes from the Lord. In our case, it comes despite the circumstances we are facing. It comes because we know have made Jesus the Lord of our lives.

In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul went on to say, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Rather than worry about this cancer diagnosis, we have instead gone to prayer about it and have been lifted up in the prayers of our church family. We have brought the diagnosis to God and thanked Him in advance that His will in this situation, His good and perfect will, shall be done. And, just as Paul wrote, we have experienced that peace that exceeds our own understanding. That peace has guarded our hearts and our minds, standing sentry to keep away thoughts of fear, anxiety, and worry.

As we go through this Christmas season, Linda and I know the difficulties that we (and especially she) will be facing during the months of chemotherapy and radiation that lie ahead. But we go through this season in faith, knowing that our joy and our peace will be there because of the One whose birth we celebrate on Christmas Day. We pray the same joy and peace for all of you!

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

God Never Forgets

Born on Christmas Day in 1642, Isaac Newton was one of the greatest geniuses in history. Besides being the inventor of calculus, Newton also discovered the laws of gravity and of motion, and performed important work in the areas of optics and mechanics. In short, Newton was brilliant! But, did you know that this brilliant man also was absent-minded?

Newton was known to lose his way while heading home for dinner, despite the fact that he lived at the college in which he worked. Friends of Newton would sometimes find themselves frustrated and thirsty when Newton would go to his room to get a bottle of wine for them to drink. “Why?” you ask. Well, when Newton arrived at his room, he would forget why he had gone there and instead would sit down to work, forgetting all about the friends who were eagerly awaiting his return with the wine. Newton truly was an example of an absent-minded professor, a person who possesses amazing knowledge but often forgets the simple, most fundamental things.

The God of heaven and earth is omniscient, He knows all things. His brilliance far surpasses that of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, or any of the greatest minds of history. But God does not forget the simple things. He does not get so lost in lofty thoughts that He forgets the fundamental details. He does not forget His people when they are waiting on Him. Take Noah. Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, built an ark based on God’s instructions and then got into that ark, along with a menagerie that would make the Bronx Zoo envious, while outside it rained for forty days and forty nights. The resulting flood covered the entire earth, leaving Noah’s family and their floating zoo sailing the floodwaters for 150 days (Genesis 7: 24).

Now, I can imagine that a boat filled with up to seven pairs of every animal that walked the earth, plus any that were born to those pairs of animals, would have become uncomfortably smelly (and quite noisy!) after 150 days. I can also imagine that, after that amount of time, Noah and his brood had probably begun to think that God had forgotten all about them. I can imagine Noah looking up into the heavens and saying, “Hey, God, it’s Noah. Where are You? Have You forgotten about us?” But look what it says in Genesis 8:1…

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and livestock with him in the boat. He sent a wind to blow across the earth, and the floodwaters began to recede.

God had not forgotten about them. He had not gotten so caught up in something else He was doing that He overlooked the needs of Noah, Noah’s family, and all of the animals who had joined them on this extended ocean cruise. God remembered and caused the waters to recede and, in time, they all left the boat and began life anew, being fruitful and multiplying the earth just as God told them they should (Genesis 9:1).

There are times in life when we may think that God has forgotten about us. Maybe it’s due to an extended illness. Maybe it’s because of a long period of unemployment. Or maybe it’s because we are in a dry season in which we are not sensing God’s presence in our lives. In those times, it may be easy for us to say “Hey, God, it’s me. Where are You? Have you forgotten about me?” In those times, we need to remember that, unlike Isaac Newton, God is not an absent-minded professor. We need to remember the story of Noah and remember that God never forgets. He is in every detail, and when the time is right, we will see Him move in our lives.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Shepherd Leader

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor. (1 Peter 5:2-4)

Among the oldest occupations is shepherding, which began some 5,000 years ago in Asia Minor. A shepherd is a wage earner, being paid to tend, herd, feed, or guard the herds or flocks of sheep belonging to others. In order to maintain a large flock, the shepherd needs to ensure that the sheep entrusted to him are able to move from pasture to pasture. It is the duty of the shepherd to keep that flock intact, to protect it from predators, and to guide it to the market in time for shearing.

When it comes to the church, leaders are like shepherds. In fact, when referring to those to whom leadership of God’s people is entrusted, Scripture often refers to them as shepherds. Jesus even referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd, a shepherd leader who was willing to lay down His life for His sheep. So, for those in any form of leadership in the church, it is important to model the Good Shepherd while caring for the flocks that have been entrusted to them. This is true for pastors, for elders, for deacons, for ministry leaders, and even for small group leaders.

Being placed in a position of leading God’s people is an awesome responsibility. So, how are we to lead? The apostle Peter gives some excellent advice in 1 Peter 5:2-14, where he gives us the what, why, and how of leading the people that God has placed in our care.

In verse 2, Peter gives us the “what” when he writes, “Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you.” Just like a shepherd, a leader has been given oversight over a flock. It could be a church congregation, a ministry team, or a small group. The size of the flock is not important. What is important is that God has entrusted the leader with that flock, and what the leader needs to do is to care for it. Just as a shepherd must keep his flock intact, those God has placed in leadership have a duty to care for the flocks entrusted to them by keeping those flocks intact. They do this by helping the flocks to stay focused on their walk with Christ. And as the shepherd must protect the flock from predators, leaders must protect those in their flocks from the enemy by helping them to recognize spiritual attacks and false teachings, and to know how to stand in the face of these things. And finally, as the shepherd must guide his flock to the market in time for shearing, leaders must guide their flocks, through the Word of God, so that they reach their destination, eternal life with Jesus.

The “why” of leading God’s people is also found in verse 2, where Peter points out that those entrusted with leadership of God’s people should do so willingly and not for personal gain, for what they will get out of it. Doing so can easily lead to watching over the flock grudgingly and when a leader watches over the flock grudgingly, it can have negative results such as resentment or burnout. Rather, leaders should watch over the flock willingly and because they are eager to serve the God who has placed them in leadership.

Finally, the “how” of caring for God’s flocks is found in verse 3, where Peter writes, “Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own example.” Being placed in leadership over God’s people doesn’t mean that a leader is better or superior to those under his or her leadership. Leading with an iron fist, or by looking down at the people being led, is not the way that God wants the shepherd leader to lead. A shepherd leader should lead by example. But, in doing so, leaders should be a reflection of the example shown by Jesus Christ, the true servant leader, a leader who came not to be served, but to serve.

Leaders need to lead like Jesus, the Good Shepherd. When they do, they will experience something that is worth more than all the gold on earth. Peter tells us in verse 4 that “when the Great Shepherd appears,” those who lead well, who lead like Jesus, will receive “a crown of never-ending glory and honor.”

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Looking Past Wind & Waves

Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!” But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!” Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.” “Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. (Matthew 14:22–32)

Storms are an inevitable part of life. Sometimes we can see them coming, but often they take us by surprise, seemingly coming out of nowhere. And, although we may not see it as we are fighting against the wind and the waves that are tossing us to and fro, the storms we face in our lives serve a purpose. They help us to see that, no matter what storms we face in life, Jesus is right there with us, ready to help us to look past the wind and the waves. God’s Word tells us that He will be with us through deep waters, that when we “go through rivers of difficulty,” we will not drown (Isaiah 43:2). Jesus always comes to us in the storms of life. When things look bleak, when hope is all but gone, He is always there, just waiting for us to reach out and take hold of His hand.

In Matthew 14, the disciples are in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, heading toward Capernaum. Jesus is not with them, having stayed behind to pray. While the disciples are making their way across the water, a stormy gale kicks up and the disciples find themselves fighting against the wind and the waves. But, as they do, Jesus comes to them, walking on the water. Jesus is walking right through their storm. Jesus had already shown the disciples that He had dominion over the storms of life when He calmed a storm in Matthew 8:23-27. And, now He was once again showing them that the storm that they faced was no match for Him as He walked to the disciples’ boat on the surface of the water – waves, wind, and all.

Peter was the first one to get it, although he apparently still had some doubts as he said, “Lord, if that’s really You, command me to walk on the water toward You.” And, when Jesus did just that, Peter took that step out of the boat, set his eyes on Jesus and walked on the water towards His Lord, forgetting about the wind and the waves that still surrounded him. When the storms of life begin to swirl around us, our first reaction may be to look to Jesus and, with some doubt in our hearts, pray, “Lord, if it’s possible, help me to walk through this storm I’m facing.” And then, like Peter, we set our eyes on Jesus and begin to make our way through the storm.

But, as he walked on the water towards Jesus, Peter took his eyes off his Lord and began to focus on the storm. Why? Maybe there was a sudden bolt of lightning or a loud crash of thunder that pulled Peter’s eyes off Jesus and set them on the storm that was still raging around him. Whatever caused Peter to once again focus on the storm and not on Jesus doesn’t matter. What matters is the result. When Peter began to allow the storm to become his focus, he began to sink. When we are facing a storm in life, as long as we keep our hearts and our minds focused on Jesus, He will help us walk through that storm. But when we allow doubts to creep in, when the storm once again grabs our attention, just as it did Peter, the storm will begin to pull us down. But there’s good news.

As Peter began to sink into the waters of the Sea of Galilee, he called out for Jesus to save him. And, as he did, the hand of Jesus reached out and pulled Peter back up. Holding onto Peter’s hand, Jesus walked Peter through the storm and back into the boat. In the midst of our storms, if we let doubts and fear creep in and pull our focus off Jesus, all we need to do is call out to Him. He will take us by the hand and will walk with us through the storm. In John 16:33, Jesus told us, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” We will face storms in our lives. But, when we look past the wind and waves and focus on Jesus in the midst of those storms, we can take heart. Jesus has overcome the world and He will help us to overcome those storms.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Being the Hands, Feet, and Heart of Jesus

It’s been quite a while since I posted to my blog. Life has been very busy lately and there have been things, both good and not so good, that have hindered my blogging. I hope to get back to blogging at least twice a week, beginning today.

In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus said, ” ‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” Just as important as loving God is loving our neighbor. And who is our neighbor? Our neighbor is the person who lives next door to us, the person who lives in the same city, the same state, the same country that we live in. But it doesn’t stop there. Our neighbor is the person who lives anywhere on this planet that we call home. Our neighbor is the person who lives around the world and the person who lives across the street. So, when Jesus said we must love our neighbor as ourselves, he meant every person in His creation.

Those of us who follow Christ are called to be His hands, His feet, and His heart to the world, especially to those who do not know Him. A follower of Christ should reflect the love of Christ to the world around him or her. We are called to tell the world about the love that Jesus showed for all of us when He gave His life on a Roman cross over 2,000 years ago. We are called to be His witnesses and to make disciples of those who live near us and those who do not (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19). We are called to love them as He loved us. And the best way to do that is by serving others, by providing for their needs. In Mark 10:45, Jesus told us that He “came not to be served but to serve.” If we are truly His followers, if we truly want to be like Him, this is true for us as well.

On Sunday, October 13th, in a biannual event that we call Service for Service, the congregation of Evangel Church in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, the church that I call home, gave up its Sunday services to go out into the community to serve others. We packed meals for starving children around the world. We stocked a food pantry. We helped to build homes, clean parks, and do cleanup and maintenance for people in our neighboring communities. We visited nursing homes, the local veterans hospital, and members of our church family who are shut-ins. Over 1,000 strong, we brought the love of Jesus not just into our own community and the communities surrounding us, but also around the world. We were the hands, the feet, and the heart of Jesus. Think about what kind of change the church could bring to the world if every church and every follower of Christ did this each and every day!

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

“I Make All Things New”

See the source image

A look at what is going on in this fallen world that we live in can easily bring tears to our eyes. It seems like almost every day we hear or read about tragedies such as mass shootings, sex crimes and abuse, the killing of unborn children, and the like. Then there are the natural tragedies such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and wild fires. And of course, we not only hear about, but often personally experience, the pain and sorrow caused by the death of loved ones, diseases such as cancer, and other illnesses. Just thinking of these things brings tears to my eyes. It seems like the world is inching closer and closer to the final days that we read about in Bible prophecy.

But when we read of the things to come, especially in the book of Revelation, there is reason for hope, reason to push aside the despair that the condition of the world can lead us into. God’s Word makes it clear that one day, all of these things that cause us sorrow and bring us to tears will be taken away. 2 Peter 3:13 tells us that we can look forward to “the new heavens and new earth he (God) has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.” The apostle John was given a vision of that day. In Revelation 21:1, he says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared.”

In Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, as Jesus makes His way to Calvary to be crucified, there is a scene where Jesus falls and His mother, Mary, makes her way to His side. When she gets there, Jesus looks at her and says, “See, mother, I make all things new.” Although Scripture does not tell us that Jesus spoke those words at that time (He did speak them later), and although the picture of the broken and bleeding Savior when taken at face value does not seem to project the optimism and hope that those words speak of, it is true that His pain, His suffering, and His death did make everything new. Because of the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross of Calvary, the words of Revelation 21:3-5 were made possible:

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”  (Revelation 21:3-5)

Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, if we turn from our sins and confess Him as Lord and Savior of our lives, we will one day experience a world much different from the one that we are living in now. We will experience a new world, one in which there is no more violence, no more death, no more sickness, no more sorrow, and no more pain. We will experience a world where the tears will be wiped from our eyes and our hearts will experience the joy of knowing that we live in a world in which God makes His home, a world in which we will be His people and He will be our God. A world where, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we will walk with Him and talk with Him. A world in which Jesus has made everything new!

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Follow the Son

The tall, brightly colored flower that we call the sunflower provides us with an edible seed and oil that can be used for cooking and as a part of salad dressings. But this flower also provides us with spiritual inspiration. In France, the word for sunflower is tournesol, a word that means “turns with the sun.” The reason for this name is that, in their bud phase, sunflowers literally seek out and face the sun, a trait known as heliotropism. The young flowers face the east at dawn and then move throughout the day so that they continually face the sun. Why do they do this? Each sunflower plant has only one flower and, because of this, it is important that the plant’s means of reproducing gets noticed by pollinators (insects). Warm flowers attract insects and by facing the sun, the flower of the young sunflower plant stays warm.

As the sunflower follows the life-giving sun, we as believers follow the life-giving Son of God, Jesus Christ. Because we believe that Jesus came and died for our sins so that we might have eternal life, we choose to follow Jesus. We follow His commands and His word, and we are called to bring others to Christ. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus says to His disciples, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” We are called to spread the Gospel to all nations with the goal of making disciples of all people, the goal of helping others to experience the true life-change that comes only when they choose to follow the Son.

But making disciples of others requires more than just knowing the right words to say. It requires more than just being able to quote Scripture and explain the gift of salvation offered by God through Jesus. It requires that we reflect Jesus, that people see Jesus in us. When we reflect Jesus in the way in which we live our lives, when people see the love of Jesus in us, like the insects that are attracted to the sunflower warmed by facing the sun, those people will be attracted to Jesus. They will turn toward Him and follow Him. 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 says:

But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.

Just as following the sun helps the sunflower to reproduce, so following the Son will help us to reproduce as God uses us to bring others to Jesus, making disciples of all nations.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

%d bloggers like this: