What Truly Matters
Death is not a very pleasant subject to just have a casual conversation over. Can you imagine striking up a conversation with your co-worker, friend or someone at a sports event with “By the way, I was just thinking about, you know, death lately and wanted to share my thoughts.” Not something people would gravitate to for sure. Yet we are surrounded by death every day. Just pick up your local newspaper and hunt for the obituary section. War, murder, disease, COVID, accidents, or natural causes are a daily reminder of death.
Death is the great equalizer. You don’t need to be rich, poor, sick, healthy, good, bad, king, or a princess to die. The timeless passage states a truism, “It’s appointed unto all men (humanity) to die and face the judgment.” This should cause us to ponder what truly matters.
What truly matters was something that was on my mind a few weeks back as I sat in the ICU room with my mom who was drawing her last few breaths. I sat holding her hand praising God that she knew what truly mattered- eternal life. Heaven awaited her.
Helen Keller who was both blind and deaf once stated, “Death is no more than passing from one room to another. But there is a difference for me, you know, because in that other room I shall be able to see.”
Death is a serious matter. Why? Once you are dead there is no changing of mind or a new lease on life opportunity. Your fate is sealed once you die. You can’t ask for forgiveness, you can’t go back and tell someone that you love them nor can you go back and warn those you love the most. Are you ready for death?
Jesus stated, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” John 5:24
Judgment or eternal life. One or the other, death or life, is the only option. But let’s move on to more stunning news.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25–26
What truly matters is your soul and your eternal destination.
One day you may find yourself in an ICU room breathing your last breath, someone dear to you holding your hand. Will you be ready?
Satan's Wheels Are Off
Sometimes there are days that seem incredibly more difficult to handle. Every little thing becomes a major problem. What should be simple fixes are nothing short of minefields blowing up in our faces. These kind of tough days we might say are the result of Murphy’s Law- if anything could go wrong, it will.
I remember the first car dad helped me to buy. We went to a dealership in Savannah, GA and I couldn't take my eyes off a yellow VW Beetle. Snazzy, cool, with a groovy stereo system and a fancy gear shift. Everything worked great. For a while. Then one problem after another started to unfold. Specifically the stabilization rod on the front end went bad causing the vehicle to shimmy every time you turned to the right or left. It was sorta like riding in a car with square wheels. Not fun when trying to impress your dates. The car turned out to be the sister of Murphy’s Law and soon I was feeling hopelessly overwhelmed and defeated.
The world in which we live is chaotic, filled with trouble, dangerous, and frightening. How easy it is for us to become disheartened, overwhelmed, and depressed. How can we live in this fallen world as conquerors (Romans 8:37) as opposed to walking around defeated and fearful?
The children of Israel had their backs up against the proverbial wall. They couldn’t move. They were at the Red Sea. They were freed from slavery under the brutal hands of the Egyptians. But now? Even though they had the Angel of God and the pillar of cloud in front and back of them somehow the world was still frightening. I mean the entire Egyptian army was right in front of them. How could they get through this trouble? (Exodus 14:14-25).
But God had planted them there for a purpose. “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” (Exodus 14:14) Many times all you can see is the trouble. Be still and know that God fights for you with all His vast resources.
God opens up the Red Sea for the children of Israel to pass to safety. But the Egyptian army is in hot pursuit (Exodus 14:23}. Similarly God has provided a way of escape and safety today (1 Corinthians 10:13) yet Satan continually pursues us with a passion to kill, still, and destroy (John 10:10). Why? To bring us back into bondage and fear.
Seemingly the Egyptian army has the superior advantage and the upper hand. Satan wants you to just admit defeat, call it quits, give in to fear, or be depressed and anxious. We need to be reminded by what God does next. God troubles the Egyptian army then takes off their chariot wheels!
Exodus 14:24-25 “He (God) troubled the army of the Egyptians. And He took off their chariot wheels, so that they drove them with difficulty; and the Egyptians said, "Let us flee from the face of Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians."
The Hebrew word for trouble is Hamam which means to make a noise, crush, confuse, break, and destroy. Friend, God today has destroyed (Hebrews 2:14-15), disarmed (Colossians 2:13-15) satan, and led captives to freedom (Ephesians 4:8) through His Son Jesus Christ. The Devil has been defanged and declawed. Satan has been overcome by one stronger- Jesus (Luke 11:20-22).
But the world still marches on, still influenced by the wicked one. Satan still pursues us with a cold hateful determination even if his chariot wheels are taken off. Don’t let his rumbling or seductive artful attempts lure you in. Trust in the power and victory of Jesus Christ. He alone sets us free.
Work, Work, Work..?
Why do we work?
I’m not really sure if I’ve ever thought about this for more than 10 minutes, after all, work is just so fundamental to our society, the why to work has never really been something I’ve thought about. However, some answers to this question came to mind pretty quickly.
To pay the bills, duh!
To take care of my family.
To ‘treat yo self!’
I think these answers are certainly worth considering, but what does Scripture say?
To Care for God’s Creation
In Genesis 1:26-28, we find a story concerning God’s creation of the earth and humans. When God created humans, he created them to “have dominion… over all the earth,” desiring for us to be fruitful managers over the animals that He created. More than that, God apparently wanted humans to care for the plant life He had given them as well (Genesis 2:15).
Apparently, while we may often despise work and having to labor for something, it is ultimately the very thing we were created to do. We were intended to be productive creatures that put forth effort on this earth to carefully manage the rest of God’s creation. This careful management was to extend from the plant life we take for granted to the coffee beans we take extra good care of. This diligence was to extend from the animals we can’t stand to the pets we love. We were created with a purpose in mind, and how is this purpose fulfilled? Work. And that is an answer as to why we work: to carefully and fruitfully manage God’s creation.
To Care for Others
It should be no surprise that if God created humans with the purpose of carefully managing the rest of His creation through work that He also would want humans to work for the purpose of taking care of other humans. Let’s consider 1Timothy 5:8 and Ephesians 4:28.
1Timothy 5:8 really doesn’t tell us anything too surprising—you need to work to care for your family. The one surprising piece might be the aggressive language involved (if you don’t work to provide for your family, you have denied the faith!) The second passage though is one that I find to be extremely compelling and convicting.
Sometimes we gripe and complain about work. We hate that have to wake up to work, or we hate that we have to stay awake to work. We hate the wages we get. We are annoyed at our coworkers. We can’t stand our boss. Yet, amidst the complaints we may have about our jobs is a reason to be glad:
through our work we have the opportunity help those who are in need.
Better yet, we are supposed to work with the intention of not serving self but serving those who are in need! I find this to be a radically different way to think about working than the mindset that produces all the complaints about work:
Our job is itself an expression of how we love our neighbor as ourselves.
After all, it is through our jobs that we acquire the means to care, not simply for our own family, but all who are in need. I think that most of my life I was aware of the purpose of working to care for my family, but that additional purpose of caring for those in need was really lost to me. (At the same time though, it just seems so obvious!)
So, my encouragement to each of you as you think about your (potential) jobs and the financial (in)stability around us is simple: contemplate on the reason you are going to go to work. In a world where everyone is out to serve themselves, and in a world where people don’t think about the needs of people who are not their relatives, let us choose to work with the intentions God has in mind for us. Let’s choose to work for the purpose of carefully and wisely managing God’s creation. Let’s choose to work to meet the needs of our neighbors who are without jobs, without support, or without hope of financial security. Let’s choose to serve.
A Dog and His Master
I’m not really a pet person. I don’t necessarily dislike pets or animals in general, but I’m very content to live without a pet. Even then, there was something about this dog story that drew me in.
The story goes that a 7-year old German shepherd in Italy named Tommy used to accompany his owner Maria to church every day. Maria was faithful to go to pray every morning when the church bell rang, and Tommy joined her each time. Sadly, Tommy’s owner died late last year. Even though she is gone, apparently the German shepherd continues to show up every morning when the church bell rings. While I would not go so far as to say Tommy has become accustomed to prayer in the mornings and won’t miss it now, it is clear that this dog longs to be with his master.
Your alarm clock rings most mornings, just like that church bell in Italy rings every morning. When it rings, do you immediately long to be with your Master? The psalmist said, “My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning I will direct it to You, and I will look up.” (Psalm 5:3)
Whether one admits it or not, each of us has a yearning within to worship. The Eternal God is worthy of our worship and praise. Wake up each day with a desire to worship and serve your Master.
Eternal Flames of Faith
In the darkest hour of the night Joseph Schaitberger wiped the tears from his eyes as memories flooded his soul. How heavy was his heart! He can still hear his wife's final plea from her deathbed whispering for him to rescue their two daughters. Exiled. Removed from their homeland of Salzburg in 1679 by the harsh edict signed by Archbishop Max Gandolph. All because they were protestants. A people yearning for the light of truth. Inspired by Martin Luther and his 95 Theses the fire was lit, igniting the eternal flames of faith. That Gospel torch now burned brightly in the hearts of so many families.
Yet, the Archbishop embarked on a campaign of religious “cleanliness” to rid the country of heretics. Those deemed leaders of the movement were promptly arrested and forced into hard labor for 45 days. Many were sent to be re-educated to Catholicism. Many were investigated by Jesuits. A thousand protestants would be exiled before this event was over. At this point Joseph recalled standing before the Archbishop who demanded he recant his faith or face exile. For added emphasis Joseph's two daughters were taken away under threats he would never see them again unless he recant.
Yet the answer was clear and sure.
No compromise. No recant. The decision was costly and bittersweet. Exiled. He never forgot his wife's deathbed plea. Three perilous attempts to rescue his daughters were foiled by the authorities. Faith demands a heavy price. Yet, God’s word never comes back void.
With trembling hand Joseph pens the conclusion of his song “Hymn of Comfort for an Exile”:
“Though I go forth to poverty, For Christ's sake, I am going,
And see in heaven, reserved for me, A crown with glory glowing.
Forth from my home I now must go: My children! Must I leave them?
0 God! my tears in anguish flow—Shall I no more receive them?
My God conduct me to a place, Though in some distant nation,
Where I may have thy glorious word, And learn thy great salvation.
And though in this dark vale of tears, I yet awhile must tarry,
I know that thou to heaven, at length, My ransomed soul will carry!”
After researching the above history of my ancestors, the Salzburgers, I am reminded of a people willing to face exile, moved by the eternal flames of faith. In fact, 50/60 years later Leopold Anton Eleutherius Freiherr von Firmian signs the Edict of Expulsion giving protestants a choice to recant their faith or be exiled. Close to 30,000 were uprooted from their homeland.
They were unwilling to compromise.
We live in a world today that is hostile in many ways to Jesus and his followers. China, Iran, North Korea and in other areas of the world faith in Jesus Christ invites hatred, persecution and injustices. Threads of this hostility are felt even here in America. Will I cave? Will I compromise? What will I, what will you do to keep your family intact? Will you do anything to keep from being scorned or branded a heretic or worse?
So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.” Mark 10:29-30
My ancestors left a message in time captured in the beginning of the "Hymn of Comfort for an Exile": “All a wretched exile here—Thus mast my name be given—
From native land and all's that dear, For God's word, I am driven.
Full well I know, Lord Jesus Christ, Thy treatment was no better:
Thy follower I now will be; To do thy will I'm debtor.”
The eternal flames of faith still burn brightly.
The Master of Storms
“And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he (Jesus) was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” Mark 4:37-39
We thank you, Lord, for coming and getting in the boat with us as we are going through powerful storms in the World, in our Nation and in our spiritual, emotional, physical, personal and financial lives.
·Spiritual Battles: We ask for Your protection spiritually as we fight the Devil and his minions as we choose to honor You with our lives each day.
·Physical Battles: We ask for Your protection from the current physical challenges and the COVID-19 virus.
·Financial Battles: We ask for Your protection and help for Your children that are struggling with job situations and the roller-coaster of the economy.
When the wind and the storms arise, no matter what the situation, You are in the boat with us and You are the Master of the Storms. You, O Lord, control the wind and waves. You are the Prince of Peace. We are powerless, Lord, but You, O Lord, are the Creator of the Universe and the Master of all things.
Thank you, Lord, for travelling with us during the storms of our lives: You would not have brought us to it, if You weren’t going to bring us through it.
We laud and magnify Your name and Your faithfulness and Your Shepherding of Your flock.
You are the same yesterday, today and forever. You are the Rock of Our Salvation: Thank you for being the Master of the Storms and that we can trust in You and lean on the everlasting arms of Jesus, Our Lord and Savior.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
March 11th, 2020
First impressions mean everything.
When you walk into a business how you are treated in those first twenty seconds makes all the difference in the world. That initial moment is revealing. Questions are answered. Do they care? Will my needs be met? Will I have access to all available benefits? Are they just looking for numbers or do they genuinely care for me?
The first twenty seconds are a game changer for any business. Those precious seconds will mean the difference in the customer coming back or never walking through your doors again.
Even deeper than that there is plenty of research that suggests that judgments based on facial appearance plays a powerful role in how we treat others and how we get treated in return. Think about it. Your body language plays a critical role in a conversation. Your presentation and facial expression matters. Just ask any husband and wife. Those dynamics are real and powerful.
What happens when people are visiting your website? People will judge your website in matters of seconds. What they see matters. In, clutter here, sloppy there, and they will be gone forever. What you value matters. Is your marketing shabby? If you don’t care why should they?
Does any of this have an impact on the church?
You bet. The first twenty seconds a visitor or family walks through the doors of your church building will leave an everlasting impression. Will they connect? Will they leave and never come again? We should sit up and take notice. Souls are at stake.
A few things we all need to consider as a church-family:
1. Image means everything.
2. A golden opportunity.
3. Jesus is the reason.
Image means everything. Even more than the looks of our building the visitor is immediately impacted by your body language and facial expressions.
Do you want friends? Well, you must have a friendly spirit (Proverbs 18:24). That spirit is expressed in your body language. The words you speak will be impactful (Proverbs 25:11). The timeliness and choice of your words will be critical (Proverbs 15:23). Choose your words carefully. Maintain a caring and friendly disposition.
This may be the last time you meet this person.
Whether or not this is their first visit or just a one on one meeting, this is a golden opportunity. Value that moment. Think of Philip in Acts 8:30 when the Holy Spirit pointed him in the direction of the Ethiopian eunuch. He ran! What joy! What eagerness! What an opportunity! He didn’t want to waste any more time. Relish the opportunity and give your visitor or guest your full attention (Psalms 118:24). Redeem the time (Colossians 4:5).
Jesus is the reason!
This is why the church has come together! Jesus is the connection. Be thankful and joyful (Colossians 3:17). Jesus is the standard for why you do what you do. Jesus expressed the greatest joy ever in fulfilling his Father’s will to rescue the souls of humanity (Hebrews 12:2). He was and is the greatest example of a grateful attitude. He honored God without complaining. So on those days when you would rather not pull your own weight or feel a tinge of complaint or feel a little down, think of Jesus. You are introducing them to the light that shines brightly in you, right?
Twenty seconds in comparison to say 60 minutes may seem unworthy of our attention. But those precious seconds can leave a lasting impression. As the Lord’s church we should and can give those powerful moments our best effort. Let’s remember that image means everything, that we are presented with a golden opportunity, and that Jesus is the reason.
1 Corinthians 15:12 “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?”
We are living in a culture that is intolerant of tolerance. Most people are afraid of offending someone especially in regards to faith in Jesus Christ. Our first impulse today is to tread lightly and if you are asked about your faith, water it down and cause no waves whatsoever. We are less likely to speak the truth for fear of being labeled as mean-spirited or judgmental. Yet, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ cuts through the minutia of cultural norms and demands our attention.
The Resurrection of Jesus begs the question- should it matter to you? Yes, and here is why.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the basis of four crucial truths:
What you believe matters.
Different ideas and philosophies are vying for your attention. The light of the resurrected savior shines forth, a strong beacon in this dark and dreary world for the lost desperate soul yearning for something greater, ever present, ever ready to save and transform.
To learn more about these wonderful truths join us for our Gospel Meeting. For more information regarding this meeting go to normanchurch.com
What it Means to Be a Sinner
At the start of it all, God the King made a perfect world in which humans, as the caretakers of the Earth, would live in perfect harmony with their creator. He placed the first humans, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden and gave them instructions about how to live. He told them to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). Humans were to populate the Earth. He told them to “subdue [the earth]; and have dominion over [all of its creatures]” (Genesis 1:28). They were to be stewards of the planet. Finally, he warned them not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17). With all of the earth before them, they were only restricted from eating the fruit of one tree.
To the dismay of all who would come later, a mysterious serpent manages to deceive the woman Eve. She and her husband eat of the forbidden fruit and change the course of the world forever. Though they had been told not to eat the fruit, the serpent enticed them by saying that they could become just like God. All they had to do was take a bite. And they did. God is immediately aware of what they did and exiles them from the Garden. No longer will God and humans live in harmony.
Adam and Eve wanted to take God’s place by deciding what is right and wrong. Though God had established the law, they rejected it. As John wrote, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). To sin is to act according to our own law, instead of God’s. That is an essential understanding of what it means when we sin. We are trying to take the place of God. Unsatisfied with our place as stewards, we rebel against the great King. Ascending the mountain and gunning for the throne, we demand authority. We think we could do better. In its most fundamental sense, that is what it means to sin. It is rebellion. It is mutiny.
When a human first demands that throne, they become a sinner. They have rejected God and He has taken note. The record of this person’s sin in God’s mind is a permanent record. Without statute of limitations, it remains etched on their soul as a part of their identity. No longer can they be defined as human. They are now defined as sinner.
Not only does this identification reflect a record of past rebellion, it also reflects the rebellious nature of the person. The sinner is the person who “makes a practice of sinning” (1 John 3:4, italics added). Just as a cat who once found milk in a bowl on the front porch of a kind stranger will come back again and again, the sinner who once has tasted the excitement of sin will return to seek the throne again. The title sinner describes the way a person lives the same way the title traveler can describe someone’s lifestyle. The traveler is a person who goes from place to place, always looking for new experiences. They want to see new states, new countries. Always on the road or in the air, they are known to their friends as a traveler. It is natural to understand them as such because their lifestyle fits the title. So it is with the sinner. Their life is defined by the continuous breaking of God’s law. It has become second nature to them.
Finally, a sinner is a person exiled from the presence of God. Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden because of their sin (Genesis 3:24). At that point, their relationship with God was strained. Every sinner experiences that same reality. Parents lament the distance that grows between themselves and their children when their children become rebellious. Much the same, God laments the rebellion of His children. During a time when the nation Israel had been rebellious, Isaiah the prophet explained their condition by saying, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God” (Isaiah 59:2). God desires oneness with the people He created. But sinners cannot experience that.
The title sinner is not something to be used of other people. It is a title we have all worn. Gracefully, God has a plan to change our identity in Christ. When we put on Christ, we don’t have to be labelled by our failure. We can be fundamentally changed and brought near to God once again. The record is rewritten and our sins wiped from memory. Victory comes through dying to the sinner inside us and walking in new life.
If you’ve been following these blogs over the past several weeks, you might have thought this: “Now what, though? I’m a Christian. I’ve obeyed the gospel and had my sins washed away. What’s next?” Well, as important as naming the name of Jesus is, walking in His way every day is just as important.
Start by asking this question: Where am I spiritually today?
Taking an inventory of where you stand in the faith and being honest about it is a great place to begin. Are you where God wants you to be? Once you have answered that question, a vital follow-up is this: What does God say about that? Do His thoughts on where you are spiritually line up with your opinion on the matter? I pray you are walking in His way every day and growing in your faith.
But here is another important question to ask: Where am I heading?
God’s plan for your life has to be your plan. Naming the name of Jesus alone is not enough. Following in the steps of Jesus, being conformed to His image, and having the mind of Christ is required. You can’t rely on what you’ve done and where you’ve been in the past. You must go forward, guided by God’s desire for the thoughts you think, the decisions you make, and the actions you take.
Dig into His Word and let it change you every day.
The gospel – Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection – is our salvation. However, it is even more
than that. It also is our daily renewal. We walk by faith, inspired by the good news of the Savior every day. It saves us, it sustains us. I can never lose sight of the cross, never lose sight of His grace and mercy. I need this daily. I need Him daily.
So, now what?
If you are seeking His will, and motivated by the salvation of which you are assured through the blood of Christ, continue to press toward the final goal – eternity in heaven. I Corinthians 15:58 encourages us with these words: “…Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”