Friday, November 30, 2007

“You made your nest, now sleep in it!” - A lesson from the prairie in Christian compassion

I grew up on the prairie of Western Minnesota with other first and second generation Americans of German, Dutch, Czechoslovakian, and Scandinavian descent. The rules were simple: believe in the Lord, work hard, obey God and things will work out for you--most of the time.

Once in awhile someone would not play by the rules. Someone would marry outside their own church or ethnic group for example. It was said of them, and sometimes to them, “Well, you made your own nest, now sleep in it.”

We thought of ourselves as “good” people although hard headed. We felt like we believed in all the right stuff. One lesson of the prairie was this, you screw up, and you pay the price. The price paid was usually being isolated from the “good” people who hadn’t screwed up. People talked, sometimes ridiculed them behind their backs and sometimes ridiculed them to their face. Growing up and seeing this type of attitude kept us in line, for awhile, and we lived in fear of the day when we would “make our own nest.”

What if God would have “left us” in the nest we made? I mean we are all born sinners, right? God gave Adam a chance; he blew it. As a result of that, we blow it also. We were screwed before we started. But tough for us—God has His standards; we fall short and we honestly know that. We do suffer the consequences of our own sin. We made our nest now we must sleep in it.

Not so with God. He came and gave us a gift. He gave us the gift of forgiveness of our sins. He restores our relationship with Him through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ. We did nothing but earn His wrath but the Lord sent His own Son to the cross to die for our sins. This is the good news for us.

I ask you a question: What right do we have as Christians to look down our noses at people “who made their own nest” and pass judgment on them?

I heard about a Christian who ended up in a wheel chair for life because of an accident. Yes, in some ways a stupid accident. He spends a lot of his life alone. He senses peoples unspoken “you made your own nest attitude.” This may be true but God has not left him alone. This is good news. In Psalm 103:13-18 it says: As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children--with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.”

We as fathers are to have compassion on our children. Yes, we are to have compassion on our children. Then it says the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him (those who have an awesome respect for who He is.) In verse 14 it says: “for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are but dust. We are fragile “crumbling dust” sinners in need of a Savior.

The Lord has compassion on us even when we show little, if any, to other people. We “good” people are good at justifying our lack of true Christian compassion because we have not fully realized the depth of our sin, the darkness of our own heart, and yes, we even squirm away from the calling of our God given conscience. If we would only stop and consider those “who have made their own nest.” If it were not for God’s grace, we could be in the same position. In a wheel chair for life…by the grace of God go I.

In Psalm 103 compassion is mentioned three times. It is mentioned in the same sentence with love and grace. We would do well to remember that. When we judge a brother or sister in trouble, we would do well to remember grace and love.

God help us. Amen

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Day Heroes

I have Thanksgiving Day off; some people, though, are working and some are ministering.

One person who is out helping is our one-time neighbor boy, former Army Ranger, Roscoe. Roscoe was a member of an elite Army Ranger Unit, served three tours of duty in the war zones and is now back in Minnesota going to school.

Roscoe got a call this week that one of his best Army Ranger friend's had been killed in the line of duty. Roscoe dropped what he was doing and headed to Georgia to be with his friend’s wife and family to help in any way he could. Ranger’s always stick together. I talked to Roscoe’s dad and he said that today Roscoe is driving his friend’s wife and family from Georgia to New York for the Army Ranger’s funeral. Roscoe is doing not talking. He is a true friend. I’m thankful for soldiers and the example of faithful friends.

My friend Bruce is ministering today to the street people in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Bruce is a recovered drug addict, Christian Brother, family man, business owner and proud descendent of Irish mercenaries. Bruce is tired of traditional “sit in the pew and smile” Christianity. He is out doing. Yesterday he took $100, went to Menards early in the morning to buy as many stocking caps and gloves possible for the $100. The store manager found out about his mission and promptly cut the glove and cap prices in half. Other people overheard what he was doing and began to donate. Bruce left the store with over 150 pairs of gloves and over 150 stocking caps. He was so excited he called me. I had tears and goose bumps; we shouted Halleluiah. We praised the God who will do more than we ever imagined. I am thankful God has surrounded me with friends who live out their faith and expect no praise from men.

In the beautiful hills and plateaus of Western Wisconsin at 5:30 this morning, the same as every other morning of the year, dairy farmer Gary Brunner begins another 16 hour day as he walks to the dairy barn to begin milking. Gary is married to my niece Laurie. Gary is a powerfully built, low to the ground, Packer fan, and Wisconsin dairy farmer of Austrian descendent. He is quiet and unassuming. Gary has always milked cows.

Every day in America we go to the store and expect milk and cheese to be there so we can buy it. It’s always there. Do we ever stop and contemplate one minute the work, effort and sacrifice that has been expended to have that gallon of milk at our grasp anytime we want it?

Thank you for dedicated farmers like Gary, Laurie, Austin, Katie and “my buddy” Jordan; they make my life easy. May I never take them for granted.

May God Bless Roscoe, Bruce, and the Brunner family. May God Bless you and keep you on this Thanksgiving Day.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

What pleases God? Let the Scriptures speak…

I read in Ephesians 5:10 where it says in the NIV, “and find out what pleases the Lord.” What pleases the Lord?

Hebrews 11:6: And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Hebrews 13:16: …and do not forget to do good and share with others for with such sacrifices, God is pleased.

Romans 12:1-2: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Psalm 69:30-31: I will praise God's name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hoofs.

Micah 6:7-8: Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

I Timothy 5:4: But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.

I Timothy 2:1-3: I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior,

Colossians 1:10-13: And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,

I Thessalonians. 4:1-12: Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit. Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more. Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

Galatians 6:7-8: Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

Romans 15:2-4: Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me." For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

1 John 2:17: The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

A Veterans’ Day Reminder

In early October in Danube, Minnesota, The American Legion presented eleven World War II Veterans with their World War II Medallions. The medallions were given in conjunction with the unveiling of the Minnesota World War II Memorial in St. Paul earlier in the year. For those who could not go to the ceremony in St. Paul, the Danube Legion presented the veterans’ medallions that day.

In the group was a former POW of Germans; another man who went in on D-Day who also fought in North Africa, at Anzio in Italy and survived the Battle of the Bulge. We were in the presence of heroes but you wouldn’t know it. There was no chest pounding bravado; no stories told of great exploits. The afternoon was an afternoon of subdued respect and reflection.

One of the veterans commented, “I wonder if those Frenchmen and Germans remember what we did over there?”

In the 1960’s Charles de Gaulle, President of France, wanted all American soldiers off French soil. Then President John Kennedy sent Secretary of State Dean Rusk to France to talk to de Gaulle. Rusk asked de Gaulle if his request to have all American soldiers off French soil included those buried at Normandy. De Gaulle said nothing. Rusk returned to Washington, D.C.

We have a long relationship with the country of France. In the Revolutionary War against Great Britain, the French supported us when we fought for our freedom. We owe them. Have we forgotten their sacrifice? Have they forgotten America’s sacrifice in World War I and World War II?

Yesterday, November 7th, French President Sarkozy addressed a joint session of Congress. In part, this is what he said: “The United States and France remain true to the memory of their common history. Our duty is to remain true to the blood spilled by our children on both sides of the Atlantic in common battles. France will never forget the sacrifice of your children.” (Referring to the arrival of American troops on the beaches of Normandy to liberate the French from the Nazi occupation in World War II.) "At a time when my country had reached the final limits of its strengths, the time when France was exhausted, had spent its strength in the most absurd and bloodiest of wars, France was able to count upon the courage of American soldiers and I have come to say to you on behalf of the French people that never, never will we forget that.”

The French have not forgotten; neither should we. To be free, a price needs to be paid. In a political sense, “our children”, as Sarkozy said, shed the blood.

It’s good to be reminded that in the political realm, a price has been paid and we must call on men to continue to pay the price of freedom with vigilance and yes, even personal sacrifice.

To be free spiritually, blood needed to be shed. In the spiritual realm, God shed the blood in the person of His one and only Son Jesus Christ. Have you accepted His gift of ultimate freedom?

In the spiritual sense, the price has been paid; the work is already done. Jesus paid the complete pardon for our sin thus we are free, yes free, indeed.

Remember on this Veterans’ Day, if you are a believer, you are free indeed. Free indeed. We are blessed. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Coming and Going

Matt. 28:16-20: “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Luke 14:23: "Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full."

The church today is enamored with programs. If we choose the right program “they” will come. We need to have a “good” praise team; we buff up everything physical and spiritual. We hope people will be impressed by our church. They come and they stay until they see our warts. (Yes, we all have a flat side.) They come and stay until they see the good and the bad. Then they leave to visit another “buffed up” church and the endless search goes on for the perfect church, one they will never find this side of Heaven.

Jesus told us to go; go to all the world; go to the world’s turf. It is rarely done today in the “real world” or “the street”. The world sees us (the church) as irrelevant and out of touch; distant and afraid.

But when we go to a hurting world, we meet them where they are—no preconceived notions here. When we meet the world on their turf they will wonder “they must be different because no one has come to us before.” When we go to the world, they are comfortable with us. We see them as they are and they see us as we are, warts included, in the midst of pain, suffering, mourning, hassle, and dirt. They see us for who we are, no buffed up image here. In these situations we do not impress, we minister.

When we go to the back roads, the out of the way places and share Christ, the “street” and we (the church) don’t have any buffed up image to maintain. Their expectations of us, the church, is real. We see them for who they are, we remember who we once were; we are not puffed up, and pumped up “suits of hot air.” We live out our compassion. We are to live our faith and they see it.

The “street” is smart; it sees a fraud a mile away. They have had to be “street smart” to survive and survive they will. But if they don’t know Christ, they struggle and survive this life only to spend eternity in hell. How sad.

How will they know Christ? When we go to the street and the world and reveal Christ to them. When Christ graciously chooses them, He says: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

To the world He says come. He tells us to go…