Matthew 25:40: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
I know that we are still in October. We have not celebrated Halloween. No one wants to think about Thanksgiving, much less Christmas.
So, I need to apologize: I will be breaking the holiday barrier.
We in America have so much for which to be thankful. As residents of Nebraska and Neligh, life is pretty good. So, I know that very few of you are thinking towards Thanksgiving. But, let me encourage you to start. We very easily focus on all the things which are going wrong in our lives. If we can start thinking about all the ways which we are blessed, we can begin to change both our lives and other’s.
Which brings me to Christmas.
When we realize how much we are blessed, we can turn around and bless others who may not have the opportunities that we have. I would like to encourage you to take advantage of two opportunities.
Every year, ribbon trees are placed in Pinnacle and Heritage banks. These trees are filled with ribbons for those who are in need with gift suggestions. I appreciate FCCLA’s continual leadership in this act of love. By picking up a ribbon and buying the gift suggestion, you are helping kids and adults in our community. Every year, over fifty ribbons are left on the trees. Calvary Bible Church has committed to helping reduce the number of ribbons left. Would you and your family, your business, your organization, or your church commit to showing love to our community this year through this project?
The second opportunity is international. Operation Christmas Child sends shoeboxes of Christmas gifts to third world countries. Last year, churches and organizations from the United States sent 7.8 million shoeboxes full of gifts to children around the world. Calvary Bible Church is a DropOff location, during National Collection Week, November 15-22. Informational materials and empty shoeboxes can be picked up any time. For more information, visit samaritanspurse.org/occ. To build a shoebox online, which will be sent to closed countries, visit samaritanspurse.org/buildonline.
Together, we can show Jesus’ love to our community and the world this Christmas as an outpouring of all the ways we have been blessed.
1 Corinthians 3:2 (NIV): I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.
I love hearing stories of the past. However, I never expect to hear about a tree. Especially not a stolen tree. A tree was smuggled away from its home and planted in the front lawn of a ranch in this area. I’m sure the statute of limitations has expired for this act. But just in case it hasn’t, I won’t give you any more information, except that the tree is an Eastern White Pine.
The Eastern White Pine is a fascinating tree. These were known as mast pines during the 17th and 18th centuries because they were used to build masts for the British Royal Navy. Though not as tall as pine trees on the West coast. The Eastern White Pine is the tallest pine on the east coast.
A fascinating trivia about the Eastern White Pine is the growth process. This tree is a very fast-growing tree—once it starts growing. For the first several years, the tree has extremely little vertical growth, pushing its nutrients into its roots. Once the roots are developed enough, the tree will start growing vertically.
This tree is an excellent illustration of each person’s spiritual growth. Many people try growing fast spiritually: showing fruit early, accepting leadership positions, trying to be a good Christian in all the ways people see. Because no time is spent on the roots, soon their faith withers because there was no substance underneath.
The follower of Jesus must first focus on being rooted in the faith. This process requires time. Time to understand who Jesus is. Time to know how to study the Bible. Time to know how our salvation was earned and how it is given to us. Time to understand the fundamental truths that hold our faith apart from the others. Incidentally, the early church would not baptize an individual for two years after professing faith in Jesus to ensure that individuals truly understood what they believed.
This process of being rooted in the faith is called discipleship, where one person steps another person through what it means to follow Christ. This process is not the role of pastors and priests, but individual Christian helping other individual Christians grow roots in the faith.
Job 5:10 (NIV) “He provides rain for the earth; he sends water on the countryside.”
During the Sunday morning service, we have open prayer request time. We hear updates about those who are sick, traveling, or concerned about school projects. During planting, we pray for safety in the fields. During harvest, we pray for safety in the fields. Invariably, scattered throughout the weeks, we voice concern about rain.
The farmers need rain for their crops. The ranchers need rain for their hay. Mid-summer hits and everyone who is not a farmer realizes the need for rain when everything turns brown.
We who need rain can have two responses to our angst. First, we could sit in our chair and stare at the clouds out the window, biting our nails with anxiety. This response is our natural one. Even in the face of something outside our control, we naturally worry. We worry about weather. We worry about crop yields. We worry about calving season. We worry about finances. We worry about our children as they start driving. We worry about what people will think about the dish we bring to a potluck meal. We worry about everything and have control over nothing.
From a fellow human worrier: worry accomplishes nothing.
Our alternative response is to turn to the one who has control. The Bible says that God has control over the weather. In His great plan, he withholds rain and he sends rain. And, in His amazing mercy, He listens to the needs of those who are His. He listened to the prophet Elijah in the Old Testament and withheld rain for three years and six months, so that Israel would turn from false gods. Then, when Elijah prayed again, God sent a heavy rain.
From a fellow human worrier: trust accomplishes everything.
What would happen if we stopped worrying and starting trusting the God who is in control and who listens to our needs? Instead of biting our nails and pulling out our hair, we pray. When our neighbor expresses his fear of the future, we pray. When our child is concerned about the outcome of a paper, we pray.
Now, I know that prayer does not remove our need to act. We are to be wise and do our due diligence. But, prayer removes our need to worry, so we can breathe and sleep in peace.
2 Corinthians 2:14–16 (NIV): But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.
Every year, the rest of the volunteers and I move into the pavilion, bringing tables, chairs, balloons, and face-paints. Around 4pm on Thursday, one kid pokes his face into the door, tentatively wondering if we are open for business. A few minutes after he leaves, triumphantly holding his balloon creation and sporting a paint-plastered face, we are swarmed by kids of all ages, including those who would never admit being a kid in any other situation.
The County Fair is a blast. Each face-painted and each balloon-made created a memory for those kids, who hopefully will look back on it with fondness.
As we sat in the pavilion, we experienced first-hand the odors of the county fair. The smell of fried food. The wafting of animals being cleaned. The pile of manure and chips. Every smell attached to a memory. Every memory attached to an emotion. Those who stuck around the fair for multiple days began to smell like the fair, for better or for worse.
The Bible says that everyone gives off a spiritual smell, either life or death, depending on who we are spending time with. Those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ are called to give off an aroma of life.
When Jesus lived on earth, he was known as someone who loved unconditionally. He showed everyone compassion and respect. He listened to everyone and encouraged those who were weak. His love is not a normal love.
He also spoke truth, calling people to account for their sin and holding religious leaders to blame for their hypocrisy. He did not speak out of hatred, but out of love, pushing everyone around him to reflect their Creator. This brings the most joy and fulfilment.
Everyone who interacted with Jesus, experiencing his love and his truth, remarked on how different he was.
We who call ourselves his followers should live in a such a way that others say: “You smell like Jesus.” Who do people say you smell like?
“He has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
We have all experienced broken relationships. In a small town, we try to keep everyone happy so that we do not hurt friends and family. However, because we are human, we will naturally break relationships. We will say something, insinuate something, use a certain tone, or do something. Something will happen where we will hurt someone else. It is inevitable. In those times, we need to have the humility to own our actions and ask forgiveness, even when we did not mean to do harm.
Sometimes, we are not the one who hurt, but the one who was hurt. Someone did something, said something, insinuated something, or used a certain tone. And, we were hurt.
In those moments, we have three choices. We could build an emotional wall between ourselves and the offender. We keep the offender away, we protect ourselves from future hurt, and we plant bitterness in our heart. This is the easy action. But when we do this, we do not allow our emotional wounds to heal. We hurt ourselves even more than the person who hurt us.
Choice two is the better choice: we seek reconciliation. The first step to reconciliation is understanding each other. We are honest about our feelings and the thoughts behind those feelings. Then, we approach the offender and share those feelings and thoughts in a non-judgmental, level-headed way. After speaking, we allow the offender to share their side. The goal is mutual understanding, not venting.
The second step to reconciliation is to prevent further hurts. No one is perfect. In reconciliation both parties admit their flaws and work toward maturity, changing based upon the insights of the other. This requires humility. But, as we conflict well, we grow into better people.
Sometimes, these two steps are too hard to be taken alone. In difficult conversations, a mature third party, like a friend or a pastor, can be invited into the discussion to work as an unbiased mediator.
The third choice we could take is legal action. Sometimes someone has hurt us and crossed into abuse. This is the hardest step to take but must be done. Abuse is a crime and should be prosecuted. Reach out to someone trusted to walk with you through the process and seek spiritual counseling to heal from hurts inflicted on you.
Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
We all have feelings that run wild. Some of us are stoics and we don't like to admit our feelings. Whenever one tries to break loose, we squish it down again. Others of us are “emoters.” We don't just embrace our feelings: our feelings control us.
Both extremes are wrong.
God designed humanity to have feelings. They are thermostats to our hearts’ conditions, to the state of our relationships with God, and to the state of our relationships with each other. Those of us who are stoics are denying how God has made us, and we are refusing to use a valuable tool He has given us.
However, because of the Fall and the subsequent depravity of man, we cannot fully trust our hearts or the feelings that come from them. Our emotions will lead us astray if we allow them to control us. Those of us who have a tendency to be controlled by emotion, need to temper that emotion with truth.
So, how do we use emotions correctly?
First, we need to identify the feeling. Feelings are no use to us if we do not identify them. They let us know what is going on around us or inside us, or at least, what is perceived to be going on.
Second, we explore why we have that feeling. Feelings do not happen in a vacuum. They come because a situation, whether in the present or in the past, has prompted them. Someone did, said, or insinuated something, or a circumstance happened that affected us in a specific way.
Third, we need to weigh the truth we are believing. Feelings lead us to what we believe. Often our emotions are responding to a lie that we believe.
Fourth, we can then speak truth. This is an essential step. If we are believing a lie, we can preach truth to ourselves, furthering our maturity.
No matter if our emotions are based on truth or a lie, we should let our Christian community know what is going on. Even if we are believing a lie, our Christian friends need to know the feelings we are working through, especially if our feeling stems from what someone else has done. This is part of the process of reconciliation.
Hebrews 13:20–21 (NIV): Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
A few years ago, my then-girlfriend invited me to visit her parent’s ranch for Thanksgiving. I was living in Texas at the time and was eager to spend a few days away from the city. I had grown up in the Midwest, visiting my grandparent’s grain farm to help with planting and harvesting, but I had never done “ranch work” before. Soon after arriving, I was roped into helping move cattle and sort for weaning.
I had no idea what I was doing.
My now father-in-law was gracious. His neighbors, who were also helping, tried hard to show me what to do. But, I know that I caused more work for them as I let cows in with the calves and spooked calves away from the chutes.
Many years have passed since that day. I can now push calves, brand, and vaccinate. Though I am definitely not a seasoned hand, I can pretend to keep up.
As I think back on that day, I am amazed that my father-in-law asked me to help. But, even more so, I am amazed that he asked me to help again, after how much I failed.
He reflected God to me. My father-in-law could have chosen any of his more experienced neighbors to help, but he wanted to pursue a relationship with me. He did not choose me because of my skills. Instead, he equipped me for the task so that I could join him in his work.
In the same way, God pursues a relationship with us, desiring that we join Him in His work. He does not expect us to be perfect as we do His task of showing love and speaking the truth. When we fail miserably, He encourages us to keep going, reminding us to rely on Him and His equipping, not ourselves.
What a gracious God.
Do you hear the screams? The clash of metal against metal? The gasps? The jeering crowd? The dull thud of bodies against wood? The anguish?
These are not pleasant noises. But, they are the sounds of salvation.
On this weekend, we celebrate what was earned 2000 years ago. Jesus died the most brutal death imaginable. This death was not natural: it was the death of a criminal. This was a slow, painful death. The slow loss of blood circulation and coronary failure. The suffocation. The painful muscle spasms of agony.
Do you hear the sounds of salvation?
Jesus was perfect. He never did anything wrong. He never sinned. So, why did the God who became man go through such torture?
In his words: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
Jesus died for us. When he hung on the cross, the weight of the world’s sins, from Adam and Eve until the end of time, was placed on him. He died our death. He experienced our separation. Eternal damnation was his.
Again, why did he go through this?
Paul writes: “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life” (Romans 5:10).
God created humanity to have an intimate relationship with him. But, our sin broke that relationship. By our actions, we declared ourselves “God’s enemies.” So, we deserve judgment.
But God loved the world, desiring to have a relationship with his creation, so he sent his son Jesus to take our judgment on himself. The sounds of salvation, his cries of agony, gave us the ability to know God personally.
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
This Easter weekend, do you have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ? Have you responded to the sounds of salvation?
Ephesians 5:25–26 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.”
A couple does not truly love each other until they have been married thirty years. A man once told me that. Is it true?
I have sat in my office with engaged couples who are giddy about the future. I have refereed older couples, jaded by years of miscommunications and broken expectations. I have taught classes on the meaning of marriage and on how to keep relationships vibrant. Few couples understand the meaning of love.
We are all caught up in the love we see on Valentine’s Day. Two students exchange cards, innocently blushing at the emotions received. A married couple plan a romantic evening away from the kids. The wife looks forward to the bouquet of roses to make up for sins of the past year. This love is based on emotion.
True love is based on a covenant. A man and a woman stand at an altar and vow to love each other until death steals one away. This vow is a covenant. It is a choice, not an emotional response.
This covenant is put to the test when each person reveals his pride, his selfishness, and his baggage. These three issues breed miscommunication. Miscommunication produces broken expectations. And these all remove the emotion of love and force the spouse to decide whether they will still choose to love, to fulfill the covenant in spite of their spouse’s actions.
As humans, we do not naturally make this choice. When faced with someone else’s brokenness, or our unfulfilled expectations, or our hurt emotions, we choose to retaliate instead of reconciling. We indulge in revenge instead of restoration.
When we struggle to choose to love, we have an example in Christ. He loved us, even though we are sinners choosing to live in a way that hurts Him. In fact, He loved us so much that He chose to die in order to pay our debt and to bring us into a covenant relationship with Him. He loves us in spite of our actions, and He covenants that nothing will change that love.
May our lives show the same consistent choice to die to ourselves and to love our spouse.
1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
Every four weeks, I stare at a blank screen, trying to decide what to write. Events of the last month flood my mind, each vying for my attention. Invariably, some event rises to the surface, exciting some emotional response. And I want to air my feelings and frustrations, but I cannot.
Anyone who writes an editorial column, such as this one, fights the urge to misuse their space by ranting or by “letting out emotion.” A column is a safe space to express any thought because the words on the page hide the intended audience. You are not in front of the author to give an immediate reaction. So, instead of being constructive, the author could slip into pet topics and biased soapboxes.
These columns are not meant for those moments.
You probably do not write an editorial column. However, you will face this temptation on social media. Social media allows anyone to say anything with very minimal consequences because one’s “opponent” is not physically in the room.
You will face this temptation in social gatherings. Being surrounded by sympathetic friends, one quickly speaks what he would never say if others were around. Courage rooted in absence.
Yes, these temptations are real, and we often succumb to them, to our shame. In these situations, we have an easy rule by which to live: Does this glorify God?
Too often, our conversations and our posts center around our glory, exalting our ideals and ideas. We write based upon our pleasure. We demean those who disagree with us because we want others to elevate us. At the moment, we get enjoyment from this. But, this enjoyment quickly passes.
God designed us to glorify Him. When we use our conversations and posts to point people to Him and His ideals, we begin to experience real joy. Instead of battling about our opinions, trying to exalt our thoughts, we share the truths of Scripture, exalting the Creator of the universe, which gives us purpose outside of ourselves. Incidentally, much fewer fights break out in comment threads, as well.
Next time you wonder what to say or write, think: Does this glorify God?
Pastor of Calvary Bible Church, Neligh, NE. Missionary with RHMA. Husband to Maggie. Father to Grace, David, and Daniel. Saved by Jesus Christ