A FEW POWERFUL EASTER QUOTES

Here are some powerful quotes to help us continue to celebrate our Easter celebration from last Sunday. (They are borrowed from CHURCH LEADERS and Toni Ridgaway) I found them to be thoughtful and uplifting.

John Stott – We live and die; Christ died and lived!

Pope John Paul II – Do not abandon yourselves to despair: We are the Easter people, and Hallelujah is our song.

Peter Marshall – The stone was rolled away from the door, not to permit Christ to come out, but to enable the disciples to go in.

I Corinthians 15:14 – If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

Rick Warren – Jesus did not die on the cross just so we could live comfortable, well-adjusted lives. His purpose is far deeper: He wants to make us like himself before he takes us to heaven. This is our greatest privilege, our immediate responsibility and our ultimate destiny.

Martin Luther – Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in spring-time.

Watchman Nee – Our old history ends with the cross; our new history begins with the resurrection.

Madeleine L’Engle – Easter is always the answer to “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!

Franklin Graham – We must not forget that it wasn’t the Jews that put him on the cross, and it wasn’t the Romans. It was my sins, it was your sins, the sins of this world.

Andrew Murray – A dead Christ I must do everything for; a living Christ does everything for me.

Phillips Brooks – Let every man and woman count himself immortal. Let him catch the revelation of Jesus in his resurrection.

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THE DISCERNING LIFE

Near the end of February I requested another book that would be sent to be at no cost if I would write a review of it. The title of the book got my attention and I knew I wanted to read it.

The main title is THE DISCERNING LIFE and the sub-title is An Invitation to Notice GOD IN EVERYTHING. My interest in and desire to review the book was satisfied and having read it I added the phrase to the book’s title “Getting More Engaged with God.”

The author of the book is Stephen A. Macchia, founder and president of Leadership Foundations, Inc., a ministry which focuses on the spiritual formation needs of leaders and the spiritual discernment processes of leadership teams.

In the book’s introduction Macchia notes, “Far too often, spiritual discernment has been pigeon-holed into the exclusive realm of decision-making, learning how to make good choices and know God’s will methodically and predictably.

In the first sentence of the second paragraph he tells us “spiritual discernment is so much more. It’s the choice of the bold and courageous to know God intimately. It’s an invitation to all who desire a lifestyle that continuously seeks God’s presence, power, peace, and purposes.” He concludes the paragraph with, “We embrace the discerning life by learning to tune out the many distractions demanding our attention and daily practice a preference for God.”

A few pages before he concludes his introduction Macchia warns and challenges readers that “the discerning life needs to be cultivated.” A couple of pages later he reminds us, “Just as our physical home needs daily care, so too does our discerning heart. God invites us to abide in him as he chooses to reside in us.”

After the book’s introduction there follows nine chapters giving insight and instruction for growing in discernment. Chapters include attentiveness, listening, presence, hospitality, empathy, focus, process, and lifestyle. These chapters are filled will advise and help for those wanting to “Notice God in Everything.”

Following the nine chapters of instruction the book is wrapped up with a brief, but helpful Epilog and three Appendixes with a wealth of suggestions, ideas, and examples that will prove helpful to readers who have walked through the instructive chapters to grow in “The Discerning Life and “NOTICE GOD IN EVERYTHING.”

Before I conclude my thoughts on this book review I want to cite a few powerful statements from throughout the book that I hope creates interest. “Unless we learn how to discern God’s presence, his power, his protection, and his peace, we will not be able to discern the will of God” (pp. 7 and 8). “The Spirit himself dwells within us. And he longs for us to know him and perceive and discern his presence, his power, his piece, and his purpose” (pp. 17 and 18). “The lens for our life of discernment is not a rearview mirror focusing on the past, nor is it a telescope looking toward the future. Instead, it’s the mirror that forces us to look at the here and now” (p. 67). “Listening is skill number one for any healthy discernment process” (p. 180).

Christians who read and ponder THE DISCERNING LIFE will be challenged, instructed, convicted, and encouraged to cultivate his or her growing relationship generously offered by God. THE Discerning Life is a ZONDERVAN REFLECTIVE and was published by Zondervan in 2022.

SHEEP, SNAKES, AND DOVES

I’ve been reading the Bible, listening to and reading teachers of the Bible, and teaching the Bible for many years. I’ve been familiar with Jesus’ instruction to his disciples in Matthew 10:16, but I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never really studied or thought much about what Jesus said.

Jesus’ instruction is crisp and to the point; but a lot of us aren’t totally sure what Jesus means. He tells them, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Note the two parts of his instruction. First, he tells them he’s sending them out. And then, based on part one, he tells them how to conduct themselves.

Calling God’s people and followers of Jesus sheep is a common designation in both the Old and New Testaments. A couple well known passages in the Old Testament are Psalm 23 and Psalm 100:3, “Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture” (NLT). In the New Testament there are multiple usages of the image, but the best know is Jesus’ teaching in John 10:1-10.

Jesus’ words that he is sending out his followers like sheep among wolves suggests and warns of danger because sheep have very little defense against wolves. As Jesus fulfilled his ministry both before his death, burial, and resurrection, and after his resurrection, his followers and those who would become followers had to be aware and on guard against wolves who would ridicule them, persecute them, reject them, and more.

Christians being like sheep among wolves challenges them to be shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. In that culture “snakes were symbolic of shrewdness and cunning.” Doves, on the other hand “were thought to be innocent and harmless.” One observer reminds us, “To this very day, doves are used as symbols of peace, and snakes are thought of as sneaky.”

It is true that snakes are associated with shrewdness, but one commentator suggests in his instruction Jesus was pointing to the positive aspect of wisdom (wise shrewdness) and how we should be insightful.

When Jesus told the twelve to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves, he laid down a general principle about how his followers should carry out their calling to share the good news. I like one author’s help, “We should strive to be gentle without being pushovers, and we must be sacrificial without being taken advantage of.”

As a Christian I want to be a good example to both believers and unbelievers. When I am a sheep among wolves I don’t want to vigorously argue or belittle the wolves who believe differently than I do. What I want is to be wise, faithful, gracious, and honest. And in answering questions I am willing to say “I don’t know” when I don’t know.

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A YEAR OLDER

Today marks the first day of the first year of my eighth decade. A few years ago I thought 71 was getting old, but today I don’t think or feel it’s as old as I once thought it was.

Each birthday the last few years has prompted a wide range of thoughts as I have reflected on my past. Not everyone who thinks back over their years can say they were blessed, but I certainly can. It isn’t that I have not had any problems and troubles, I have; but even in the difficult and challenging times I was blessed.

Emails and Facebook posts today wishing me Happy Birthday have been uplifting and encouraging. I am grateful for so many friends who took the time and made the effort to acknowledge the beginning of another year for me.

I heard today from friends from high school, friends from college, friends from my first church job as a youth minister, friends from the first church I served as minister, friends from a church I planted in California and stayed for 30 years, and friends from my current church where I am Pastor of Senior Adult Ministry.

As I noted the birthday wishes from so many, I could not help but remember and reminisce over so many great times I experienced and enjoyed with friends through the years. One definition of reminisce is “to talk or write about past experiences that you remember with pleasure.”

Today I have been reminded of many people and happenings I remember with pleasure. As much as some may want to, however, there is no going back. We do have our memories, and with God’s blessings we will continue to make more in the future.

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ON MAKING EXCUSES

A statement in a commercial I heard last week while watching TV grabbed my attention. The announcer declared GOLF IS FULL OF EXCUSES. Although I am not a fanatic, I do play golf quite a bit and can verify that the game of golf is full of excuses. While some golfers give more excuses than others, I don’t think I’ve ever played with someone who made no excuses.

Golfers of all levels make excuses including such things as the wind, the condition of the course (fairways and/or greens), the speed of play (the group in front – slow play – or the group behind – pushing), the rudeness of playing partners, their physical ailments, their golf ball or clubs, and more.

As I’ve thought about this matter of golfer’s excuses I have been reminded that golf is not the only game that evokes excuses. I know I use them when playing Jeopardy and Scrabble with family.

Making excuses, however, is not limited to competitive games most of us play. We all make excuses from time to time in a variety situations in which we have done or said something or not said or done something. Making such excuses can be a sign that we are underestimating ourselves, lacking in confidence, or blaming others.

Trying to find more about excuses, I typed Making Excuses on Google and came up with a link from 11/04/21 (https://www.developinggoodhabits.com – making excuses). The information is titled 13 Steps to Stop Making Excuses and Take Responsibility S.J. Scott.

If you are interested you can find more at the link above, but I want to give two lists that give a foundation for thinking and exploring more about this matter of making excuses.

Why Do We Make Excuses? Here are eight common reasons why people make excuses throughout their lives.

Reason #1: You’re experiencing fear

Reason #2: You don’t want to fail

Reason #3: You don’t know what to expect

Reason #4: You don’t have a specific goal

Reason #5: You’re scared of making a mistake

Reason #6: You compare yourself to others

Reason #7: You’re protecting your identity

Reason #8: You’re not motivated

Reason #9: You think you lack the resources

Reason #10: You’re set in your ways

Here are 13 Steps to Stop Making Excuses

13 Steps to Stop Making Excuses

#1. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

#2. Stop Fearing the Unknown

#3. Stop Blaming Others

#4. Take Responsibility for ALL Your Actions

#5. Take Action Every Day

#6. Set Small, Attainable Goals

#7. Learn from Your Mistakes

#8. Don’t Focus on Your Weaknesses

#9. Change your Attitude

#10. Believe in Yourself

#11. Visualize Your Success

#12. Remember: It’s Okay to Not Be Perfect

#13. Know You Can Change Your “Excuses Habit”

There is much in these two lists that give us a lot to think about as well as some suggestions, challenges, and encouragement to make progress in our making excuses; especially if it is a habit we have fallen into.

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OVER MY HEAD

Several weeks ago I ordered a book that was sent to me at no cost if I would write a review of it. The book’s title is SEVEN DAYS THAT DIVIDE THE WORLD with the sub-title THE BEGINNING ACORDING TO GENESIS AND SCIENCE and written by John C. Lennox. Just reading the book’s title may explain why the title of this post is Over My Head. I looked up the phrase Over My Head and the definition read “beyond someone’s ability to understand.” That’s true for me, but let me share some things from the book.

Lennox gives readers his purpose in writing the book “I would like to say that if you imagine I will provide you with all the answers to all questions about the seven days, you will be disappointed. I still have many questions of my own. What I wish to do is more modest – namely, to stimulate readers to think about some possibilities and not certainties” (pp. 64 and 65).

A few pages earlier he suggests some practical challenges for Bible reading in general. “The first thing we should note is that there are different interpretations of the same text” (p.59). Two sentences later he reminds us of something we all need to keep in mind, “There is room for difference of opinion, and we need to show humility and grace when dealing with those who disagree with us” (p. 59). And finally some wisdom, “. . . we should pay attention to what the text says before trying to decide what it means” (p. 59).

My favorite quote from Lennox comes near the end of the book: “One cannot read Genesis 1 without noticing the constant refrain, ‘And God saw that it was good (verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25), culminating in the final assessment on day 6: ‘And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good’ (1:31)” (pp. 150 and 151).

Appendix B: The Beginning according to Genesis and Science

Appendix C: Two Accounts of Creation?

Appendix D: Theistic Evolution and the God of the Gaps

These Appendices may get your attention and they do add a great deal to the book.

The 10th Anniversary Edition of SEVEN DAYS THAT DIVIDE THE WORLD was published in 2021.

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SOME SELECTIONS TO PONDER

Last week I wasn’t feeling well and stayed home and did quite a bit of reading. I read parts of a wide range of books and a couple of magazines that came in the mail. When I read my own books and magazines I underline things that grab my attention. Here are some of the things I underlined.

Commenting on Jesus’ promise in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,” author John Pavlovitz describes himself “as asker with more questions, a seeker still looking, a knocker approaching new doors” (The Christian Century, 1/12/22, p. 39).

(I can identify with Pavlovitz.)

“There are five key metaphors for the Holy Spirit used in Scripture: the wind or breath of God, the oil of anointing, the flame of God, living or flowing water, and the dove or the hovering bird” (Welcome, Holy Spirit by Gordon T. Smith, pp. 7 and 8).

“The Spirit who came upon Jesus in the form of a dove at his baptism was present at his conception, and superintended the events around Jesus’ birth” (Welcome, Holy Spirit by Gordon T. Smith, p. 30).

“The work of creation was and continues to be the work of all three members of the Trinity” ” (Welcome, Holy Spirit by Gordon T. Smith, p. 64).

“There is a broad consensus in the history of the church that nothing is so foundational, no practice of the Christian life is more pivotal, that the discipline of regular prayer” ” (Welcome, Holy Spirit by Gordon T. Smith, p. 110).

(I’m reminded that I need to pray more regularly.)

“I have never been able to understand why anyone would worship a wooden statue. Or a tree or an Asherah pole, a cow or an elephant, or a god who looks like a frog. . . . But I can understand why people used to worship the sun. The sun shows us something of the primacy, centrality, and sovereignty of God” (Christianity Today, January/February 2022, article by Andrew Wilson, p. 48).

(As important as the sun is, I don’t understand why people would worship the sun.)

“Satisfaction in life cannot be found in the pursuit of folly or the pursuit of pleasure. . . . Only through Christ can we find contentment in something as simple as eating and drinking” (Where Wisdom Is Found by J.V. Fesko, pp. 24 and 25).

“A greedy man is not satisfied even when his coffers are full and his belly is stuffed, for there is always something more to get. Greed is an equal opportunity sin; it is not reserved merely for the wealthy” (Where Wisdom Is Found by J.V. Fesko, p 71).

(An important reminder for all of us.)

“Not only are we forgiven of our sins, but we are also robed in the grandest festival garments of all, the robe of Christ’s righteousness, to await Christ’s return and the resurrection of the dead . . .” (Where Wisdom Is Found by J.V. Fesko, p 117).

“Christ offers us contentment in the present by giving us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comforts us, assures of Christ’s love for us even in the most dire circumstances, and gives us the hope of eternal life” (Where Wisdom Is Found by J.V. Fesko, p 148).

(Comfort for all of us.)

I hope these selections get your attention provoking some thinking that will be challenging, encouraging, and helpful as they did for me.

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CHALLENGES FOR THE NEW YEAR

This evening we had a New Year’s Eve party for our senior saints and I thought I would share in a post a few challenges I presented.

In the coming year let’s give some consideration to seeing people as God sees them.

I want to pass on something I read this week that I had never realized: Both Jesus’ first and last words to the Apostle Peter were “Follow Me.” Hopefully we’ll continue to move forward in the New Year.

I came across a prayer by Dag Hammarskjold we all might want to pray: “Hallowed be thy name, not mine. Thy kingdom come, not mine. Thy will be done, not mine. Give us peace with you, peace with others, and peace with ourselves.

For more than the past 50 years I have used this poem by Helen Field Fischer entitled A New Leaf on New Year’s Eve:

He came to my desk with a quivering lip—The lesson was done.
“Dear Teacher, I want a new leaf,” he said, —“I have spoiled this one.”
I took the old leaf, stained and blotted, And gave him a new one all unspotted,
—And into his sad eyes smiled, —“Do better, now, my child.”

I went to the throne with a quivering soul—The Old Year was done.
“Dear Father, hast Thou a new leaf for me? —I have spoiled this one.”
He took the old leaf, stained and blotted, And gave me a new one all unspotted,
—And into my sad heart smiled,—“Do better, now, my child.”

Happy New Year; and may 2022 be a year of becoming more and more the kind of person the Lord has called us to be.

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GETTING TO KNOW JOSEPH

As we come again to another Christmas celebration I’ve been reading and thinking about Joseph. During this week many of us will focus on the shepherds, the angels, the wise men, Mary, and the baby Jesus. Most of us will include Joseph, but he doesn’t seem to get the attention the others get. Last week I came across an article about Joseph by author and Pastor Acher Niyonizigiye that shed a lot of light on this important Christmas character. Here are some of his observations and thoughts on Joseph (in quotes) and mine as well.

“We don’t know a lot about Joseph. He is one of the biblical characters of whom very little is said. Not a political leader or a great prophet, his name would be absent from the Bible had he not been the guardian of the Messiah.”

“It is most likely that the real Joseph was an average Jewish young man, with some religious education. The Bible implies Joseph was a very ordinary man from an ordinary place, a village man who was known through his profession. People thought of him as the carpenter (Matthew 13:55).”

“While the Jewish culture valued menial labor, the reality was totally different with the Romans. From a Roman perspective, carpentry was a slave’s profession. So Joseph was far from being among the people with high status.”

“In strongly patriarchal cultures, men usually expect to provide well for their families, sometimes with a good dose of emotional detachment from their wives, and they often expect their own plans to be the plans that direct the families.”

“Joseph wasn’t like that. We see that most clearly in his treatment of Mary. He knew she deserved loved and protection. Even before he received God’s message about Jesus, Joseph demonstrated love for Mary and his commitment to protect her dignity. Joseph’s behavior portrays genuine masculinity and Bible-certified righteousness.”

Matthew does not give the detail that Luke does, but he does center his focus on Joseph. In Matthew 1:18 we learn that Mary was “found” to be with child before they came together (in marriage). This would suggest that Mary had been unfaithful to Joseph in the betrothal period, but Matthew confirms for us what Mary learned from Gabriel, that the child Mary carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Since Joseph doesn’t have any details about Mary’s pregnancy, he assumes she has been unfaithful. But this godly man decides not to make a spectacle of Mary and publicly shame her– he decides to divorce her quietly. As Joseph considered all of this, he fell asleep and “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,because he will save his people from their sins’” (Matthew 1:21 and 22).

In Matthew’s account we are also told that after the angel spoke to Joseph in a dream, he woke up and immediately resolved to do as the angel instructed. Joseph immediately took Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:24). This shows both the character and commitment of Joseph to the Law and to Mary.

Matthew’s gospel does not go into detail about the birth of Christ, but it does tell us that Joseph “knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” Both Mary and Joseph immediately obeyed the Lord’s command and welcomed Jesus, their Messiah into the world.

Joseph may not get the attention others get in the Christmas accounts, but he is one of the heroes. He sets an example and challenge for us still today as we celebrate again the birth of Jesus.

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GLAD TO HAVE GROWN UP IN THE BIBLE BELT

This afternoon I read an article that reminded me of so much of my experience growing up in the Bible Belt. The title of the article, I Survived (Because Of) Bible Belt Religion, got my attention; but at first reading the sub-title irritated me: Evangelical leaders who make a great show of their dislike for “Bible Belt Religion” really just dislike the people of the Bible Belt.

Having read the entire article I was not irritated at all, but was affirmed and encouraged. I was also grateful that I grew up where I did and was an active and committed member of my church from the age of 11 until I left home to attend Cincinnati Bible College.

As a pastor (or minister) I spent 10 years in the Philadelphia area and 30 years in Southern California. I thoroughly enjoyed my time both on the east coast as well as the west coast. Neither were exactly like the Bible Belt, but in both churches we believed, taught, learned, applied, and tried to live what the Bible said like we did in the Bible Belt.

Regardless of where you grew up, I hope you have many good memories of those years. Thankfully our country has a lot of variety in so many ways.

Here is the link to the article if would like to read it, especially if you grew up in the Bible Belt: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/i-survived-because-of-bible-belt-religion/

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