OUT OF THE PASTOR’S PEN

 

 

Be encouraged by Pastor Tom’s weekly blog post! Share with your friends!
 

Celebrating American Independence

The 4th of July is upon us again! This holiday reminds us to reflect on the uniqueness of our country and the promise of freedom America brings to the world.  Pundits refer to this as “American Exceptionalism“, definable as the unique character of America based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, republicanism, democracy, and economic freedom. 
 
Some scholars argue today that American Exceptionalism is simply a myth, but the facts on the ground remain that America is still the most remarkably free large nation the world has ever known.  At the same time, the Christian roots of American Exceptionalism point to a larger agenda on the part of God that is now impacting the rest of the world in exceptional ways that could well eclipse the American experience.  Let me explain.
 
First of all, there’s no debating the uniqueness of the American Dream.  As the Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile once told me: “Everyone in the world wants a chance to experience the freedom and opportunity found in America.”  His view represents the attractiveness of the American way of life to countless people the world round.  Simply put, America embodies hope to millions and millions of people.
 
Still it is not difficult to see that Americans often misuse their freedom, and demand personal rights inconsistent with effective community morality and prosperity.  Many people end up caught in a web of confusion, abuse, pain and self-destruction.  Families are broken.  Addiction is rampant.  Law and order are threatened.  And freedom of religion is redefined by some as freedom “from” religion.  Even so, our foundational American belief remains that “all men are endowed by their Creator with the right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” as stated in our Declaration of Independence.
 
Amazingly, even secular humanists base their philosophy on ideals established by Jesus.  Those who deny Him still base their lives on the belief that everyone has an inherent right to freedom, something Jesus literally died to give to us.
 
Now here’s an amazing fact. Faith in Jesus has exploded worldwide the last hundred years, resulting in over one billion new believers.  Author James Rutz calls this “the biggest megashift in history.” Never before have so many people eagerly changed their lives and loyalties in one generation, resulting in an overarching trend toward the complete transformation of entire nations—just as Jesus instructed in the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”  To cite but one example, there are now more Christians in China than Communist Party members.  Experts say that all people groups will be reached with the Gospel in their own language in the next 30 years or so.  God is re-writing history before our very eyes, even if many Americans don’t yet realize the extent of what He is doing.
 
So this July 4th, let’s remember that the ideal of freedom birthed in America is now and always has been something much bigger than America.  It’s ultimately not about American Exceptionalism but God’s Exceptionalism.  Abraham Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address (1863) that Americans have a duty to ensure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  
 
As we celebrate our freedom again this year, let’s celebrate with gratitude the glory and power of our Creator and His great promise that there is no end to the increase of His  government. He’s still the only One who can truly promise freedom to all people!
 

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Abba Father, Here, Now

God made us in His image and likeness, “male and female” He made us.  There is both a mystery and a primal reality to the marriage relationship between man and woman, and within this the role of men as husbands and fathers is no less primal.  By primal I simply mean fundamental.  Dads are meant to play a fundamental role in shaping their households and their children.  Here are six aspects of the fundamental role dads have been designed to play in their homes as they re-present Father God to their children by “acting in His likeness.”

A good father creates a good home.  Just as our heavenly Father created a place for Adam and Eve to call home, so too earthly fathers are called to create a place to call home.  This involves making a physical space with our wives, with food, comfort and safety, but is much more than that.

A good father really connects with his family.  Our heavenly Father walked in the spirit with Adam and Eve, inquired about them, and listened to what they had to say. It’s incredibly affirming when dads connect with their children by actively checking in with them and listening carefully to what they say.

A good father sets important boundaries. Our heavenly Father was amazingly lenient in the first Garden, where Adam and Eve had total freedom except for just one thing: not to eat from Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil lest they die.  At first glance, it seems useful to have knowledge of good and evil, but God had in mind a test of obedience.  In God’s eyes “Knowledge of Good and Evil” comes through the experience of disobedience which removes God’s blessing!  Earthly fathers have a role in teaching and expecting obedience in order to convey their fullest blessing.  It’s not obedience for obedience’s sake.  It’s obedience to stay on the path of blessing and safety, just as highway rules make safe travel possible.

A good father restores to wholeness.  Amazingly, when Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God’s simple instruction, God laid out a path to restore them and their children.  His judgment was framed in the blessing of His forgiveness, love and restoration.  Earthly fathers need to learn to always discipline their children not out of anger but out of love with the constant goal of restoring them to hope, joy and purposefulness.  The best path to this outcome is to affirm our children well before they taste the fruit of disobedience.

A good father affirms the value of their children.  God puts a measure of goodness in every child.  A primary mission of earthly fathers is to discover the gold in their children’s hearts and call it forth—even if, or especially if, their child has different talents than they have.  Each child is unique.  Earthly fathers have the adventure and joy of helping their kids discover their own unique sensitivities, talents, and inclinations, confident as Proverbs 18:16 says that “a person’s gift opens doors for him or her.”

Finally, a good father learns to love his wife first.  Ephesians 5:25 instructs simply and plainly: “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”  Jesus stepped down from His privileged place in heaven to humble Himself and establish His church household in love, kindness and times of refreshing.  Earthly fathers are called to step down off any high horse they may ride and immerse their wives in words and acts of encouragement, affirmation and life.  What you immerse your wife in day to day will greatly affect how your children grow up.
 
Every day is meant to be a blessed Father’s Day.  May these six reminders help it to always be so in your life.  If earthly dads fall short, remember God is a Father to the fatherless.  We all need our heavenly Father to perfect whatever our earthly fathers first began.  God is a faithful Father to us all, just as Jesus taught.
 
 

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Going All Out to Be All In

A few days ago I heard the Lord say “Every time you remember Jesus in your heart and not just your head I see Jesus in you!” 

When you remember Jesus what does He look like?  For me, it’s always my first vision of Him standing with His arms wide open to receive me at His banqueting table.  That’s when I realized He is real and alive today.  As the vision was ending, He left me with a single instruction: “Turn to me.” Since that moment thirty-four years ago, life has gotten incredibly challenging at times, yet this one instruction has carried me through even the most difficult times.  Every time I remember to turn to Him in my mind and heart, I receive peace, joy and strength—and many times I’ve received specific instructions about what to do in a situation. 

This is what I call being “all in” for Jesus, i.e., realizing He is real and alive right now and turning to Him again and again, not just in difficult times but in good times too because connecting with Him remains the first priority in my life.  Then I remember to trust His Word and promises more than life itself. Then I’m willing to take risks for my faith—for Him—and step out to represent Him to those around me.  That’s when His promise to never leave me or forsake me comes alive, and I remember He has overcome every trial and tribulation so I too can be not only an overcomer, but bear fruit for His Kingdom.  That’s when I feel “all in” for Jesus.

It took longer than I dreamt to learn to turn to Jesus consistently from my heart and not just in my head.  It’s a process, similar to a toddler learning to walk, an adolescent discovering his or her real identity, or an adult learning to be responsible for the lives of those who depend on him or her.

The Bible likens us to children before we become mature.  Consider this strong word from Hebrews 5:12-14, from the New Living Translation:

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.

A major difference between immature and mature Christians is their ability to feed themselves on the solid food of God’s Word.  When we realize the world around us needs more of Jesus, it inspires us to have more of God’s Word ingrained in us so we can reflect more of Jesus to those around us.  Holy Spirit empowers us to do this.  One of the greatest benefits of receiving the second baptism of the Holy Spirit is that this experience consistently makes the Word of God come more alive.  We are automatically inspired to spend more time absorbing what the Bible says and listening for God’s voice to show us what to do next.  This is what Jesus meant when He said we need to  “eat His flesh.”   This is why He called Himself the “Bread of Life.” (See John 6:35 and 6:53.)

So I encourage you to go all out to receive the second Baptism of the Holy Spirit so you, too, can live all in for Jesus.  The more you connect with Holy Spirit, the more you come alive in Jesus and your truest self!  When you fall short, don’t worry, just turn to Him again.  A few days ago the Lord assured me: our “all in” always looks like Jesus to Him.  Jesus covers our us from beginning to end to present us to the Father without spot or blemish because He alone lives without spot or blemish!
 

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The Word Is a Lamp

“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom…” Matthew 25:1

I was pondering why reading God’s Word and meditating on it is so important.  Then I came upon the passage about the ten virgins.  Jesus said that five of them were wise  and five were foolish.  The difference between them?  The wise took oil in their lamps when they went to wait for the bridegroom, but the foolish ones didn’t.  When the bridegroom came at midnight, the foolish ones were out looking to purchase oil, but the wise ones woke up and trimmed their lamps.  The wise virgins went with the groom to the wedding because their lamps were burning.  Then the door was shut.

When I’m “eating the Word” and allowing it to speak to me during my day, my lamp is burning and I have oil to spare.  When I have stopped reading my Bible for a day or two, my spirit feels it.  My lamp begins to fade!  These are the times when the fruit of the Spirit starts to dry up on my tree of life.  The first fruit of the Spirit, love, stops looking fresh and delicious.  In turn, I begin to lack patience, kindness, humility and other good characteristics of love.  (see 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8).   If I’m not really careful my love lamp burns out. 

Since God is love (John 4:8), and Jesus is My Lord and Savior, something’s wrong if love isn’t coming through me as a flowing river.

So I always want to be like the wise virgins.  When circumstances prevent me from having a chunk of quality time to sit down and read scripture, I look for creative ways to meditate on it anyway.  Such as repeating a memorized passage for a while and letting it sink in (haha) while I’m doing the dishes.  Or singing the Word as I drive to the store.  The oil of the Word can be obtained and enjoyed in many ways.

The main thing, whether I’m having a very busy or a not-so-busy day, is to make space for God’s Word to be part of my life.

“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” Psalm 119:105.
– By Pastor Elizabeth        

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In the Beginning Was & Is the Word

The Bible says in the Beginning, “the Word was God” (John 1:1).  As followers of Jesus, it’s always important for us to begin with the Word of God!
 
Did you know that one unique thing differentiating humans from all other animals is our ability to use our tongue, lips and breathing mechanism to form words!  Other species can make sounds but they can’t use their tongues the same way as humans to form words, and secular evolutionists are seriously challenged to explain this fact.  (See this Wikipedia link for details.)  
 
From a Biblical perspective, this affirms that God imparted to Adam and Eve the power of “the Word” when He breathed the breath of life into them. (Genesis 2:7)  Being made in His Image includes a special ability to communicate. Just as the Word of God brought order to chaos in the Beginning, so too God created humans to produce life with our tongues. To ensure we don’t use this power wrong, God also gave us His written Word, the Bible, to teach us right from wrong, along with His Holy Spirit.
 

Genesis 1 teaches the Word of God is the Source for discovering God’s role, power and purpose for our lives, while the Spirit of God is the Catalyst for actually transforming our lives to align us with His purposes. John 14:26 says Holy Spirit will teach us and remind us of everything the Lord wants us to remember about His Word.

Here are three steps for making this practical in your own life. First, when you read a passage from the Bible, look closely at what it says.  Re-read it once or twice (or more!) to be sure you really grasp it.  You can also look the passage up in more than one translation. Online resources like Bible Hub and Bible Gateway help a lot.  You can even click through on these websites to the original Hebrew or Greek New Testament words of the scriptures and study Strong’s Concordance to find the original meaning of the words.

Second, write down the meaning of the passage in your own words.  Taking time to do this often releases fresh insight into what a scripture means to us personally.
 
Third, ask yourself, what do I need to do to better align my life with what the Scripture says?  Then write that down and commit to doing it.  Write: “I will… and FILL IN what you need to do or change in your life to line up with what you have understood from the Scripture.
 

This process is called a “Discovery Bible Study.”  It’s not the only way to read the Word of God, but it’s a powerful way.  If you don’t have time for all this, I strongly recommend simply reading the Bible out loud to yourself, or with others.  Faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17), so reading out loud increases the power of our faith, even if we’re only reading out loud to ourselves. 

Next Sunday, June 4, is “Bible Study Sunday.”  We’ll hear testimonies about studying the Bible from our adult Sunday school group and devote time during the service to exploring the Word of God together.  See you then!


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The Glorious Clouds of Heaven

The Feast of Pentecost is about to happen on the Biblical calendar.  This event celebrates both the giving of the Commandments on Mt. Sinai and the outpouring of Holy Spirit on the disciples in the Upper Room.  Both events were marked by mysterious natural phenomena including clouds, loud sounds, and lightning or fire.

The Bible depicts God appearing and speaking many times in a cloud.  At the Very Beginning, God hovered in a cloud over the formlessness of the earth out of which He spoke and light came forth.  At Mt. Sinai, the Lord told Moses: “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.” Exodus 19:16.  After three days of preparation for the people, God appeared in a cloud with thunder and lightning.
 
Later, when Moses went up the mountain a second time to receive the Commandments, God again appeared in a cloud.  This time the Lord recited the Commandments, proclaimed His Covenant with Israel, and revealed His name as: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness….”Exodus 34.  When Moses descended, His face was so radiant with God’s glory he had to wear a veil.  From then on God led Israel in a “cloud by day and a fire by night” for forty years in the wilderness.
 
In the New Testament, Jesus appeared with Moses and Elijah in a cloud so wonderful Peter offered to build huts so they could stay a while.  In that cloud Jesus’ face “shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” Matthew 17:2.  Out of the cloud, the voice of God spoke: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”  Later, at the end of Jesus’ earthly journey, He prophesied to the disciples that they would soon receive power from on high (fulfilled on the day of Pentecost).  As He rose from the earth, He disappeared in a cloud. Two angels declared Jesus had been taken into heaven and would come again in a cloud for all to see. Acts 1:9-11, confirmed also in the mysterious Book of Revelation.
 

These Glory Clouds are a meeting place between heaven and earth where God brings revelation and speaks truth in love and power.  People are changed forever when they encounter God in the Glory Clouds of heaven.  Why “clouds”?  Clouds aptly depict a place where ordinary human perceptions become like vapor in the presence of the God of all Creation, whose thoughts and ways are not like ours.  Things of earthly importance fade as if in a cloud when we experience God directly.  Then we realize how dependent we are on God and His unending mercy, grace and favor.

A 14th century  classic Christian book called The Cloud of Unknowing says that when we experience God’s presence our thoughts and desires come under a “cloud of forgetting” that can only be pierced by love. 
 
As we walk through Pentecost season this coming week, let our hearts be pierced with love for God so that we, too, may enter with Christ into the Glory Cloud of Heaven.  There Abba Father’s great Presence is knowable to us as True Love revealed in great power, just as on the first day of Pentecost.
 

 


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Great Expectations

Did you know Moms aren’t the only ones expecting? Hint: yes, I’m talking about you!
 

When a Mom is pregnant – she knows she has life inside of her and she knows what she is expecting. It doesn’t matter what’s going on around her. There were moms in concentration camps, moms in palaces, moms in war, moms in peace, etc. What’s going on around her doesn’t make her a mom. What’s going on inside of her does. 

No matter what circumstances you are facing today, never forget that what’s going on around you doesn’t define who you are – what’s is inside of you does. Matthew 17:20 says, “Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” God is affirming the mystery of motherhood here. All it takes is one seed planted in an unwavering expectation, trusting God and anything is possible.


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Did Jesus Ever Smile

 
Recently our family watched a great movie called “Risen.”  It’s a story about a fictional Roman soldier named Clavius, a tribune ranked above centurions who is charged by Pilate to find the body of Jesus after Jewish rulers claimed it was stolen from the grave.  Without spoiling the plot too much, Clavius searches high and low before discovering Jesus with His disciples, and a profound  transformation of the battle-hardened soldier takes place.   I strongly recommend the movie, but the relevant point here is simply that the Jesus portrayed in this powerful movie is almost always smiling!

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The Amazing Power of Joy

Have you ever noticed how Jesus and joy go together?  Remember how you felt profound joy when you first experienced the reality of His saving mercy and love?   Yet how often do we talk about the joy of the Lord?

Scripture has plenty to say about joy.  The Angel of the Lord announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds by proclaiming “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”  The portion of Isaiah 61 Jesus quoted when He first revealed His public ministry goes on to say the anointed of the Lord will replace mourning with the “oil of joy.”  Another time Jesus said there is even joy in heaven…over one sinner who repents.  The Apostle Paul mentions joy immediately following love as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  Peter wrote: “you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  Discovering, or rediscovering, the joy of the Lord brings us strength, the prophet Nehemiah said. 


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Practical Miracles

My experience of being born again had been totally mystical because I had an open vision of Jesus inviting me to His banqueting table.  Faith for me had thus became an all-consuming matter of investigating the scriptures to understand how the Jesus I learned about in Sunday school could still appear and talk to someone in “real time” today.  But praying for a parking space?  Really?

Then one day I was attending a meeting in New York City that ran quite late.  By the time I got back to my hotel after midnight, all the nearby parking garages were full or closed.  I drove around for over thirty minutes looking for a legal overnight parking space, but found nothing.  Around one o’clock in the morning I joked to my companion (Brother Whyte, for those who know him): “If Elizabeth was with us, she’d pray for a parking spot.” 

“So why don’t you?” he replied.


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