It didn't matter whose house we celebrated Thanksgiving at, the day always started early. The turkey was always in the oven before breakfast and it seemed to cook for hours, filling the house with its delicious aroma. When we were at my favorite grandmother’s house the aroma of turkey joined with the smell of the mincemeat and pumpkin pies that had been baked the day before. It seemed like grandma must have gotten up in the middle of the night to get everything done. My mom and my aunt always helped but grandma was in charge. If we got to her house early enough, I got to help make lefse.
For those of you not familiar with lefse, it is a Scandinavian goodie, flat like a tortilla but made of potatoes and cream, rolled thin and cooked on a griddle. Once they are done you spread them with butter, sprinkle sugar on them, roll them up and eat them. Yum!
The smell of Thanksgiving always woke me up early and I would go to the kitchen and join grandma. The kitchen was warm and there was plenty to help with. Sometimes I got to feed the fire in the wood burning stove. Other times I got to peel the potatoes. Sometimes she just wanted to talk as she worked. As the day went on, there was the card table to set up...we kids needed a place to sit too. The table needed to be set and chairs rounded up. Once everything was ready the parade from the kitchen to the dining room began. My mom, aunt and grandma brought the food to the table. The rest of us had enough sense to stay out of the way. We took our places at the table with grandpa at the head and grandma next to him. It always seemed to take a very long time for the food to make it to the kids table, but we knew there was plenty. It's just that the waiting was so hard.
Before we could even think about eating my grandfather would bow his head. We all followed suit. And he would pray. It never mattered what had happened during the year, good or bad, there was always much to give thanks for. Grandpa was never in a hurry when he prayed and there was more than one year we saw grandma nudge him to encourage him to say amen so the food would still be hot. Many of the folks who gathered around that table have joined the church triumphant, grandparents, my parents and my aunt and uncle, grandmas' brother, and sister along with her husband.
Now, just as then, there is much to be thankful for. Some years have been good and others a challenge. But God is still good, and Jesus is still on the throne. Friends and loved ones still join the church triumphant. But we live in the promise that we will see each other again...at a different table. The feast won't smell like turkey or mincemeat pies, at least I don't think so! I can't imagine how big the table will be, or what it might look like. Only that we all have a place.
This has been a challenging year, and it is not over yet. We do not know what 2021 looks like. But God is good, and we are blessed. I have said this many times before. We have been blessed to worship in person since late May. It is always good to gather as a family at the table. I am blessed to work with Matt, Lawrence, Patti, Emily, and John. We have a good team, and we are blessed to not only serve all of you, but especially our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
As you gather around your respective tables today, wherever that might be, I wish for you a blessed Thanksgiving. Know that God will continue to walk this crazy journey with us, wherever it leads. He will continue to be sovereign, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He will continue to shower us with His mercy and grace. He will continue to give us the peace that passes all human understanding. He will continue to lavish His love on us. God will be God, and we will be His people, named and claimed. We are indeed blessed.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
For as long as I can remember, I have been going to the Lord's house to worship. I can remember standing up in the pew between my parents, looking at the people in the row behind us. I remember sitting in the pew when my feet didn't touch the ground and I could swing my legs back and forth. I remember always having a nickel or dime to put in the offering plate when it was passed. Until I was ten, we worshiped in the Methodist church. I am sure my favorite grandmother, a staunch Wisconsin synod Lutheran, was more than dismayed. We sang Holy, Holy, Holy as the opening song every Sunday. I still know it by heart. And as the pastor walked out of church at the end of the service, we sang the doxology. Every Sunday. I have no idea what we sang in between but those two songs are forever in my head.
Our Lutheran worship was traditional. First the red book and then the green. But there are many ways to worship. At seminary I worshiped in Swahili with the Tanzanians and in Amharic with the Ethiopians. At Christmas we sang silent night in German with the German students and I saw three ships with the Norwegians. There have been folk masses, polka masses and very contemporary services. Some of my favorite worship services have been at camp, listening to and watching kids lift their voices in praise to God as they ’let their light shine’. One of my most memorable worship experiences came on a Wednesday night during confirmation. Kenn Katona was our youth minister at the time and he was leading a song called Holy. As we began to sing the Holy Spirit filled the room. His presence was so thick you could have cut it with a knife. And when I opened my eyes to look around the room the eighth-grade boys were all on their knees, arms raised as high as they could go, praising God for all they were worth. It was one of the holiest moments of my life.
We see many in scripture who have worshiped the Lord in song. In Exodus 15 Moses led the Israelites in song and dance after God has gotten His people safely across the Red Sea. Here is a bit of the song. ”I will sing to the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously...The Lord is my strength and my might, and He has become my salvation. This is my God, and I will praise Him, my father's God and I will exalt Him.”
Sometimes we sing because we are joyful and we give God all the praise, honor and glory. Sometimes, as in the psalms the songs are laments because God's people are suffering or beaten down. King David sang and danced with all his might as they finally brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. Because the Israelites believed God dwelt on the mercy seat...the top of the ark...they were celebrating God's presence finally coming to Jerusalem. It was a momentous occasion, one worth of a ginormous celebration.
Perhaps one of the most famous songs of praise to the Lord is found in Luke 1:46-55. It is called the Magnificat...Mary's song of praise to the Lord. You have heard the story. Mary, a young girl from Nazareth was minding her own business when an angel of the Lord named Gabriel visits her to tell her God has chosen her to be the one to bear His Son. Mary was engaged to Joseph and no doubt they had spent time talking about and planning their future. Raising the Son of God was not part of those conversations, until Gabriel arrived. It would have been easy to get angry, pitch a fit, refuse to serve...any number of things. Instead, Mary sang a song of praise. She worshiped The Lord even though He had just turned her world completely upside down. How many of us would be able to do that???
Listen to just a few of her words. ”My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked with favor on the lowliness of His servant.” Amazing words for someone so young and so downtrodden. Women were often uneducated. They were more possessions than anything else, having no value in society except for their ability to bear children. And even though her world would be forever changed, even though she knew Joseph would not understand, even though she lived in a small town and knew everyone would talk...Mary sang a song of praise.
Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ do not know the luxury of worshiping like we do. Early Christians met in homes and some in the catechomes, underground. Some of our brothers and sisters meet in ravines in the dead of night so they are not detected. In places where persecution is extremely severe some Christians have taken a Bible and given bits of it to the members to memorize. That way they will not be caught with a copy of scripture but when they gather, they still have the word. We just simply have no idea how much we have to be thankful for.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. It is a day to give thanks for our many blessings. Tonight, we gather as a family to worship. We will lift our voices in praise. God’s ￼Word will be read and preached. And we will eat at a bountiful table, the most expensive meal ever. The most needed and necessary meal. The most important meal we will ever eat. And we will give thanks.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Paul knew there were troubles in the world. There always have been and there always will be, until Jesus returns. But even in the deepest, darkest hours there are still things to be thankful for. We just have to look very hard sometimes to see them. There are always blessings though sometimes it seems like they are hidden.
We live in a world full of challenges. As the pandemic continues, more and more people are finding themselves without work which in turn jeopardizes their ability to purchase needed food and medicines. It also puts them at risk for losing their homes. This morning on the news they showed lines at food banks across the country, some up to 2 miles long. In other parts of the world people are living in crowded refugee camps. Many in the Caribbean and Central America are experiencing homelessness due to hurricanes. Other people have lost everything, including loved ones.
For us, there is much to be thankful for. There are no hurricanes in sight. We are not shoveling snow, fleeing from fire, or sheltering from tornados. By the grace of God, we are safe. And we are able to help others. I am thankful for the many ways this family of faith makes a difference, as individuals, as groups and ministries, and as a family. Every Monday morning a group of very dedicated women gather in fellowship hall to sew quilts. But they aren’t just any old quilts. These quilts are stitched together with great care, out of fabric that is varied as the people who will receive them. There are dozens of patterns and colors of fabric that make up these quilts. It is a feast for the eyes! Hardly a week goes by without someone arriving at church to donate thread or fabric. In fact, sometimes the fabric that arrives here is more than they know what to do with. But please don’t stop bringing it.
Yesterday morning we blessed the quilts that are headed out all over the place. Some go to Lutheran World Relief. These quilts are often shipped overseas and are given to people who have little to nothing. The quilt becomes warmth for the cold nights and shelter from the hot afternoon sun. But the quilt is also a gift of God’s arms wrapped around people most of the world has forgotten. Part of the blessing for quilts goes like this. “Lord, we know that these gifts alone are only ordinary things…fabric, thread and such…but through your power and love they become extraordinary.”
Everything we give to another is ordinary until God gets involved. Then it becomes extraordinary. The small boy had an ordinary lunch…5 small loaves of barley bread and a couple of scrawny fish. But in Jesus hands they became enough to feed a huge crowd. Extraordinary! Bread and wine were ordinary things. They were readily available, and every home had them. But in Jesus hands they became the meal we eat to remember Him and how He paid for our sins so we would have eternal life in Him. Fabric and thread are common, ordinary things. Until they get made into dresses for poor kids or bags that hold essential items for a homeless person, or quilts.
I am thankful for common, ordinary things. And I am thankful for the chance to watch God do extraordinary things with them. I am thankful for the men of this family of faith who every year, faithfully, gather the Friday and sometimes Saturday after Thanksgiving to decorate the church property for Christmas. We arrive the first Sunday in Advent to wreaths hung, the nativity set up, lights on the building, a Christmas tree inside. It takes time and energy and effort and while it is a labor of love, it still is work. I am thankful for those who continue to keep the property looking great, from the landscapers we hire to the volunteers who seem to always have more than enough to do. I am thankful for the faithful folks who clean the sanctuary after every service to help us stay safe.
Many of these things just happen and we do not notice. We just assume things are happening, or we take for granted that the church will be decorated, and the grounds will look nice. We get preoccupied and wrapped up in our lives and we fail to see all the blessings we have been given. Thanksgiving is two days away. Get out a piece of paper and begin your list of all you are thankful for. It should probably be a big piece of paper. There are certainly some big things we are thankful for, but there are many more that we forget or don’t even notice because they are small or ordinary. God often works in the small and ordinary…just for you and me. And I am thankful.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
The psalmist writes, “Oh give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His mercies endure forever.” We find those words in Psalm 136, 107, 118 to name a few. It is a reminder that all we have is of God. And mercy is defined as compassion, or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. We have mercy from the Lord even though we deserve punishment. We have forgiveness from the Lord even though we deserve His wrath. His mercy endures forever.
We have much to be thankful for, in spite of the year we have had. Please allow me to share with you. As a church family we packed 400 OCC boxes. Not bad for a pandemic year when many churches chose not to participate at all this year. Because of this family of faith, 400 kids somewhere in the world will not only receive a shoebox full of gifts but they will receive the chance to come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. It will change their lives, perhaps their families lives and maybe even the lives of those in their town or village. But it isn’t just us. Here are some numbers from OCC. We have had 17 volunteers helping with the national collection this week. They join with some 70,000 other volunteers at drop off sites across the country. Once the boxes are collected, they go to the processing center where another 80,000 volunteers sort and inspect the boxes and ready them for shipping all over the world. There are another 210,000 volunteers all over the world who are prepared to teach The Greatest Journey Bible class where the kids have the chance to meet Jesus. Over the years God has used this class to bring more than 11 million children to faith in Jesus Christ. Yes, you read that right…11 million kids have come to know Jesus because of red and green shoeboxes. We have had a hand in that! Thank you.
I give thanks for all the amazing volunteers and for the people who pack shoe boxes. There have been some amazing stories this year as people have dropped off their boxes, including a family of four plus the dog who arrived here. When Sharon asked if they would like to pray over the boxes…something they ask of everyone who brings boxes…the four-year-old little girl started the prayer by asking that God get her boxes to a boy or girl who are far away. I am thankful for families who are teaching their kids what it means to serve others.
I give thanks for cans of vegetables and fruit, boxes of stuffing and mashed potatoes, canned yams and cake mixes and frosting…and everyone who shopped or gave money for turkeys. As a result, 27 families will have Thanksgiving dinner. I give thanks for all of you who have made a difference, and for those of you who packed and distributed boxes.
The thing about making a difference is this. Sometimes we think that to make a difference we have to do some big, grandiose thing. But making a difference is often lots of small things that add up. We are not called to make a difference alone. We are called to make a difference together. Everybody contributes something and together we have done much. And it isn’t so much about any one of us getting credit. It is all about God working in and through us to do extraordinary things in His name. And it is always about God getting the glory. We are merely the instruments He uses.
Jesus has called us the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Matthew 5:13-16. We stay salty by staying connected to the Lord. And we let our light shine for all to see. We are not called to hide the light of Christ within us under something. We are called to be the light in the darkness. Catherine of Sienna once said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” We are not called to be like other Christians. We are called to be like Christ. We are called to do His will, and to trust what He has called us to do. And do not let others discourage you from what God has called you to do. If you are about doing His business, then no one can stop you. This is not about us. It is always, always, about God. I am thankful God has chosen us to be His hands and feet. In fact, He has no other to be His hands and feet but us. There is no back up plan with God. We are it!
If we let Him, God will make a powerful difference in our lives that will lead us to help others meet Him. God makes a difference in our lives by changing our hearts. And as He changes our hearts, He begins to work powerfully in our lives. Notice in both steps here, it is God who works powerfully. God does the hard work, the heavy lifting. We work by being the vessel He uses. We work by staying connected to Him through the Scriptures, through prayer and through worship. But we must always remember, the power to make a difference does not come from us, it comes from the Lord. I give thanks that God has chosen us.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
Some of us grew up in the Midwest. Perhaps some of you reading this now are still living there. I remember as a kid we always checked how cold it was outside by puffing a breath out into the air. If it was cold enough, we would say, it is cold enough out to see your breath. Occasionally, we can see our breath here in the mornings too. But I started thinking after a conversation this morning about just how fleeting that breath we can see really is. We read in James 4:14 these words, “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
From our human perspective living 70, 80, or 90 years seems like a long time. And when we are kids' people that are old may only be 40! But in God's economy our years are like a mist...like the brief puff of air on a cold morning. Life is short, but eternity with God is just that, for eternity. Our time here is intended for us to develop a relationship with the Lord. Our time here is intended for us to share the Lord with as many people as we can. Eternity is a very long time and the thought of family and friends spending it apart from us, apart from God brings me to tears. Paul reminds of this in Romans 6:23. ”For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We who believe know that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us...that in His Father's house are many rooms. One has our name on it. We did not earn this place. We can never pay for it and we do not deserve it. But God so loved the world that He sent His Son. And His Son bought and paid for all our Sins...past, present, and future.
But here is something else to think about. Our time here is short. Our God has promised us peace unlike anything the world might give. Our God has lavished His love on us. We have received grace and mercy. In Jesus Christ we are becoming sanctified...we are becoming more and more like Jesus. And part of that process is learning to trust in the Lord. Jesus has always been, with the Father and the Spirit. He set the sun, moon, and stars in their place. He knows everything there is to know about us and still loves us. And...He knows what comes next. He holds today and every day in His hands. He knows the plans He has for us and He will not hurt us. That means we can trust Him to be in both the big and the small stuff. Our God is sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Once we can take this to heart it is much easier to look at the madness and challenges around us and rest in His presence. Once we take this to heart the peace He offers will make its way into our hearts. Try as we might, we are not in control. We do not see the complete picture and we do not know what comes next. But we do know the one who does. Life here is short but we will be around with the Lord forever. We have two choices. We can either be friends with the Lord on His terms or...we can be enemies with the Lord on our terms. And that is determined in this life that is like a mist on a cold morning. John Piper says this, ”Time is precious. We are fragile. Life is short. Eternity is long. Every minute counts. Oh, to be a faithful steward of the breath God has given me.” What we do in the Lord's name is not done in vain. Paul reminds us of this In Philippians 2:16, “In the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.”
So often we get caught up in the world's thinking that if we are going to do something worthwhile, it must be a big thing. But giving someone who is thirsty a drink is a big thing...to the person who is thirsty. What we might think is not a big deal mighty well mean everything to someone else. Anytime we do something in Jesus name it is important. Life is short. We ae called to make the most of it. It isn’t always easy, but I don’t think it is intended to be. The best things are not easy but they are worthwhile.
What will you do with the time you have left in this short life?
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
Today is my favorite grandmothers' birthday. She was born on this date in 1899 in a very small town in South Dakota. Her family had a farm there, having just arrived from the old country. There was plenty of hard work to go around and for most of her life, grandma worked hard. Even after they moved into town, there was plenty to do. My grandfather owned his own business, and she did the book work for that along with running the house. It was a glorious old house, red with white trim. This house had a root cellar and an attic. Both of them were cool places to explore, the root cellar when it got too warm outside playing and the attic when it rained or hailed.
Grandma loved her family, grandpa especially. And she loved it when we all came to visit. In the winter there was plenty of snow to play in and in the summer, there was always something ripe in her huge garden that needed to be picked. Grandma loved birds and she could identify every one of them, from sparrows to chickadees, wrens to blue jays, nuthatches to cardinals. Cardinals were her favorite. In the winter she would go out every morning to break the ice in the various water containers she had for them. And then she would feed them.
Grandma loved life. Watching nature always reminded her of God's good creation. Canning and making pickles and jams and jellies were a sign of God's bounty to her. When the family gathered, she would look around the table and count her blessings. Even the old wringer washer gave her pause because it made laundry easier than it had been when she was a kid. We were not allowed too close to the wringer because she knew one of us would end up putting our hand into the wringer just to see what would happen. As a result, that became one of the most interesting things she had.
The town she lived in was small and I think she knew most everybody knew her...at least it seemed like it when we went to the post office or the Red Owl grocery store. Everybody stopped to talk. And I mean everybody. It happened at the bank and the bakery and the hardware store too. When we had the church reception after her funeral my cousins and I were bombarded by folks who knew grandma but didn't know or remember our names. It made for a very long afternoon.
There were many things that were important to grandma and I have listed some of them, but above everything else, Jesus was the most important. Always. She taught Sunday School and played the organ at her church. And she was part of the ladies' aid society. Grandma spent a lot of time with my cousins and me, teaching us about Jesus. She took Deuteronomy 6:4-9 to heart. Anything we did together became a teachable moment in terms of faith. And I have shared before that we kids thought she had the entire Bible memorized. She even knew verses from Leviticus!
Grandma made heart cookies for Valentine's Day and sent them to all her grandkids. She made sea foam candy and divinity at Christmas, along with mincemeat pies. I can still hear her laugh. Grandma was interested in all sorts of things and she would listen for hours to us kids when we would share school stories or our life's observations with her. She was our chief encourager and cheerleader, always believing we could do whatever we set our minds to doing. She often talked about stick-to-itivness. Grandma was the most important person in my life for many years.
So, today, here is to grandma. But not just my grandma. There are grandmas...and grandpas...all across the globe who invest in their grandkid's lives. There are many in our family of faith that play big roles in the faith lives of their grandkids. And some of them play significant life roles in their grandkid's lives as well. In fact, there are kids and young adults in this faith family who would be completely lost without the help and nurturing of their grandparents.
I give thanks for Grandma. God used her to mold and shape my cousins and me. He used her to plant, water and weed seeds of faith. We learned unconditional love from her and the love of Jesus. We learned what it looked like to be faithful from her. And we learned what it looked like to serve Jesus. You don't have to be a grandma or grandpa however, to make a difference in someone's life. If we let Him, Jesus will use every one of us to make a difference in His name in the life of another.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt Wq
Some days are more challenging than others and we just need something to hang on to. So here are some verses that will help you do just that! This is a random collection of both Old and New Testament verses. Some I have used before. But what that tells me is there are verses that we have and turn to because they have great meaning for us.
Matthew 11:28-30. “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” The Jews in Jesus day carried many heavy burdens. The majority of them were poor, dirt poor. They lived under Roman rule, which they chaffed at. And they lived under religious authorities who wielded Mosaic Law like a sword. The Romans oppressed them, and the law held them to an impossible standard. Jesus offered a lighter yoke and the chance to give our burdens to Him to carry.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 about hope. “Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our slight and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” A couple of thoughts here. No matter what is happening in our lives, God can use that to renew us from within and draw us closer to Him. And secondly, what we might be experiencing now could be painful. But compared to what awaits us when we reach our true home with the Lord…this will pass. That is not to diminish our challenges. But there is so much more that awaits us. God gives us strength to endure through each day and at the end of this life He has something far greater waiting for us.
The apostle Paul knew what it was to face challenge after challenge. He was beaten, flogged 5 times, and stoned and left for dead. All because he was preaching the good news about Jesus Christ. His words to the Philippians are familiar. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and sup-plication with thanksgiving make your request known to God. And the peace of God that passes all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7. People were already stressed before the pandemic. Now we have seen studies that tell us people are struggling even more. And they are seeking peace and relief in drugs, alcohol, sex, food, and a myriad of other behaviors. What God has to give us isn’t just any old peace. It is God’s peace…peace that calms our souls and settles within us. Peace that allows us to rest and renew when we need it most.
The writer of Hebrews encourages us to be encouraging. “Spur one another on.” Hebrews 10:24-25. This is a call to be one another’s cheer leaders. Paul calls us to bear one another’s burdens…Galatians 6:2…and that is what this is. We are in this slog together. Thanksgiving will look different this year. And that is hard. Who knows what will happen at Christmas. Now is the time to be creative in what we do and how we celebrate. That does not mean it is easy, but it is what we have. If you know someone who is struggling, make a phone call. Send a text or email. Bed the light of Christ in someone’s darkness. Cheer someone on to keep moving forward.
It is easy to look at what we do not have right now and think all is lost. So, check out Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Shepherds lead, guide, protect and care for the sheep. The Lord will lead us toward things that are good, even if they are not what we usually have. He calls us to come to Him and He will provide the best that He has for us. In Him there is security and peace, love, and provision. In Him we have nothing to fear.
John 16:33 reminds us of Jesus sovereignty. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” There is trouble and challenge. But, in Jesus we have a place of refuge from the world.
Some of us look at our troubles and we think they are too insignificant to bother God with. Listen to Peter, “Cast all your worries on Him because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7. God created the universe and everything in it. But He also created us, in His image. He knit us together and He calls us by name. God has named us and claimed us. In this verse it is as though God is saying, why don’t you let me worry about that!
If we had continued on in Philippians chapter 4, we would find these verses. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:12-13. Try as we might, we simply cannot do everything on our own. And when we feel puny or inadequate, those are the times we turn to the Lord. It is in His strength that we find strength. It is in His peace we find peace. It is in His grace and mercy we find enough to share with others.
There are many more verses. No doubt you have your own to turn to. What we have to remember is that even in these strange and challenging times, God is still blessing us. He is still sovereign. And He will never stop loving us.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
Someone once asked the question, why do we close our eyes when we pray, cry, kiss, dream? Perhaps it is because the most beautiful things in life are not seen but felt with our hearts. When we want to surprise someone, we tell them close your eyes and hold out your hands. Or we ask them to close their eyes, tell them don't peek and we lead them to what we want to surprise them with. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:7 “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” So, what might it mean to walk only by faith?
It means to keep moving forward even if we are not quite sure where we are going. That is kind of like most of 2020! Martin Luther King Jr. Said, ”Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” We always have a choice. We can stay where we are, perhaps mired in our struggles or challenges, or we can move forward not knowing what comes next. God has not always taken His people on a direct route as they journey. The Israelites ended up wandering in the wilderness for 40 years instead of taking the direct route to the promised land. They didn't go alone. God was with them in pillars of cloud and fire. We do not go alone either. Like the Israelites we are called to keep our focus on God. Peter learned the hard way about taking ones focus off the Lord. He was walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee...walking on the water...headed towards Jesus. But a wave came his way, and he was overcome with the prospect of the wave and he looked away from Jesus. And he started to sink. He lost sight of the Lord. How many times have we found ourselves in that exact same place?
We have also heard people say, there is more than meets the eye. In other words, behind what may be a carefully crafted veneer, there may be pain, anguish, rage, insecurity. People sometimes tell us what they think we want or need to hear all the while hiding reality. And years ago, Andre Agassi told us in a commercial that image is everything. The world puts a great deal of stock in what we can see. The world tells us that we need the right clothes, the right vehicle, the right address, the right look. Masks have changed some of that no doubt. But the things of the world are neither important nor lasting. Paul reminds us, ”For the things that are seen are transient, but the things unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18.
Walking by faith and not by sight is a call to trust God even when we cannot see Him at work. In every business, every family, even every church, there are people working behind the scenes to make things happen. Most of us do not see these people working but still, things happen, they move forward. It is the same with God. Just because we do not see Him doesn't mean He is not busy. Just because we do not hear Him does not mean He has quit listening. This is all part of our journey of faith. God made Abraham and Sarah a promise that they would have a child. They waited 25 years for Isaac. God did not promise, and then walk away for those 25 years. He was preparing them for what was to come, even though they could not see it. In the Book of Esther, we do not find God's name once. But we find that God's handprints are all over everything that happens in this story. God's handprints are all over our lives as well. If we take the time to look backwards at our lives, we will see them, many times when we could not see, hear or feel God's presence. We walk by faith and not by sight.
When we walk by faith and not by sight it requires us to go to a place we are not familiar with. It means giving up control and trusting that God will lead and guide us and keep us from harm. It means we will be challenged and stretched as we trust. It means we will grow in our trust in God and in our faith. Many will not understand our journey of trust. Think about Noah, who at 600 years old was told to build an ark. It is quite possible that people in that day had never seen rain. And here is Noah building a boat as long as a football field in his front yard...because it was going to rain and flood the earth. Moses stood in front of the Israelites and told them there would be so much meat to eat it would come out of their noses, but he had no idea where the meat would come from, only that God said it would happen. Imagine the widow of Nain in the time between when Jesus stopped her only son's funeral procession and when Jesus commanded the son to sit up.
I don't know why we close our eyes at certain moments other than to savor them. But what I do know is if we trust the Lord enough to walk by faith and not by sight, He will take us up on that offer. Our lives will be such that God will build faith in us, faith that moves both mountains Gods hands. I know that if we walk by faith God will teach us to live life with abandonment and we will have the freedom to walk in His fulIness. I know our lives will never be the same. And I know that God will prepare us to be used mightily in this life for His glory.
This prayer comes from the evening prayer service. Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us strength to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
There are many words in the English language we use to describe something, or someone. People are tall or thin. They have brown hair or they are bald. The weather is hot or cold, maybe rainy or windy. Vehicles are new or used. But there is one word that we use often and that is ordinary. It was an ordinary day. There was nothing out of the ordinary. In other words, things are the same. Sometimes day in and day out things are the same. Perhaps right now ordinary would be a good thing but if we are honest with ourselves ordinary is not what we want to be. Ordinary implies basic, boring, vanilla. Even in prophecy Jesus is described as ordinary. Listen to what Isaiah has to say. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.” Isaiah 53:2. This is part of Isaiah's suffering servant song prophecy about Jesus in chapter 53. Read it if you have the time.
Jesus is portrayed as ordinary...nothing to make Him stand out in a crowd. If you saw Him walking down the street you wouldn't look twice. Many of us are like that as well. There is nothing that makes stand out in a crowd if we just consider our appearance. Maybe that is the way it is supposed to be. By ourselves we are just ordinary. But think of Jesus. Other than His rag tag band of disciples who followed Him everywhere, and the crowds of people, Jesus the man looked like many other Jewish men of His day. The disciples probably thought the same thing...until Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on the mountain with Him and they saw Him transfigured. Then He was anything BUT ordinary. They got a glimpse of His divinity. And WOW, just wow!
Jesus has the power to change us as well. We probably won’t glow like He did but we will shine His light. And when we shine His light, people notice. When Jesus dwells within us we go from being ordinary to EXTRAordinary. Because I am betting that none of us wants to be just ordinary. We don't want to be average students or teachers. We want to be the teacher kids point to and say that one made the difference for me. We want to be that kid who catches on fire in one subject or another. We want to be that husband other guys look to and say...I want to be like him one day. Ordinary is for somebody else, not us.
God does not go looking for extraordinary people to do great things. He works through ordinary people like us and makes us extraordinary. We are no different that the 12 disciples. They were ordinary folks too...simple, uneducated for the most part, confused, self-absorbed. And like us, they didn't understand everything and they messed up and they got things wrong. Jesus kept pouring into them, just like He does for us, and little by little they were transformed and empowered. And God used them to caring change to the world in Jesus name. They became extraordinary. Jesus does that in our lives as well.
We May feel inadequate or very ordinary. Maybe we have been trying, in our own strength to do great things for the Lord. We will never be successful in that. But if we lean into the Lord in our ordinariness, and ask Him to work in and through us, then stand back. And watch what extraordinary things God will do in and through you. The disciples could never have done the amazing things they did to take the gospel message into the world on their own. We can't either. Look at these words from the Book of Acts. ”But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” That is how the disciples became extraordinary. The power and strength they used were not their own. It came from the Lord.
Too often we look at others and decide we will never be able to do the things they do. We are fearful of stepping out to try something new. All through the Bible we see people God has chosen who say and do these very things. Moses was sure God was speaking to the wrong guy. Gideon was the youngest kid in the family and from the smallest clan. How could God possibly use him? We do not always see the gifts and abilities God has given to us. But God has given us more than we know or want to admit. He doesn't need us to be spectacular to do the extraordinary in us. God takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. Think about it, He used dirt to create humans. We are dust and to dust we will return. But God makes this dust amazing, and He uses us.
We are ordinary and God changes that. What God does need from us is an attitude that says God, whatever I have, is yours to use. When we can embrace that attitude, God can and will do the miraculous and extraordinary from what may seem like very little in us. So, invite Him in and then stand aside as He changes you from ordinary to extraordinary.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
Psalm 27 is a familiar psalm. It begins with the proclamation, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27 is a singing psalm where God’s people express confidence in Him as they respond to challenging situations. The psalm describes a faithful person who is being attacked by those who would destroy them. And it reminds us that when we can trust God in those situations, we can trust Him in any situation.
The psalmist also reminds us in verse 4 that he has asked one thing of the Lord. “One thing I have asked of the Lord, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek His face.” Later in verse 8 we read, “You have said, seek my face. My heart says to you, your face I do seek.” The question is, why is it such a big deal to seek God’s face? The Hebrew word here is panim and it can mean face or presence. We seek God’s presence. God’s people have been seeking His face since the beginning. When Adam opened his eyes, God’s face was most likely the first thing he saw. And we know that up until the first sin, Adam and Eve spent time in God’s presence. Genesis tells us that God came down in the cool of the evening to walk and talk with Adam and Eve. Can you even imagine what that would be like?
When we seek God, His face or presence, it speaks of a close personal relationship. We were created to live in a close relationship with Him. But sin broke this relationship with God, and it was only after Jesus gave Himself up as a sacrifice in our place that we can once again be close to God. Every Sunday we pronounce the Aaronic blessing at the end of worship. It comes from Numbers 6:24-26. “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.” God shining His face on us or turning toward us shows His favor, acceptance, and forgiveness towards us. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
As the redeemed we will see God’s face in the New Jerusalem. True believers will behold His countenance and this face to face encounter will be our highest and ultimate experience. Revelation 22:3-4 reads, “And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.” We have eternal life and in that eternal life we will live in the presence of God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We will have the opportunity to worship Him and be in His presence and be in His glory.
Many psalms speak of the light of God’s face shining upon us. Psalm 4:6 is one example. But there are other times and places we are called to seek God’s face or presence. In Psalm 13:1 David asked God “How long will you hide your face from me?” This is a lament where David feels like God has abandoned him. We may well have asked this question ourselves. Seeking God’s face goes hand in hand with our dedication to God. And when we speak of seeking His face it is like we are going to the sanctuary. Perhaps the most familiar example of seeking God’s face for us comes from God speaking to King Solomon. “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14.
When you think about the face of God, what do you see? Do you see judgement and anger, wrath and disapproval? Or do you see love and tenderness, forgiveness and acceptance? We are all created in His image and He loves all of us…think John 3:16. God so loved the world. Our faces say a lot about us when they are not hidden by masks! When we smile, people know we are happy, thankful, pleased, satisfied. When we are frowning people see a different range of thoughts, feelings, and emotions. God asks us to seek His face, His presence because He wants to be found by us. When we seek something or someone it shows we are serious about finding what we are looking for. In Hebrew, the word seek means to search out by any method. If we are seeking God, chances are good that we crave His presence. This is not just a friendly game of hide and seek. Seeking the Lord is serious business. It means we are looking for deep intimacy with God. We seek God mostly by prayer. We pour out our hearts to Him and then listen while God pours out His heart for us. But we can seek Him in worship as well. As we lift up our voices in praise He may well speak into our hearts.
As the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, they had God’s presence with them all the time…a pilar of cloud by day and a pilar of fire by night. We may not see pillars of clouds or fire, but God is with us. He has told us He will be with us always, to the close of the age. And when we seek Him, we will find Him.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W