A Prayer of FAITH (sermon audio & video)

Here is the audio of the sermon I shared at the Goshen Christian Church on Sunday.  The video will be a little further down the page.

 

Here is the video of the sermon I shared at the Goshen Christian Church on Sunday, August 26, 2018.  The sermon title was, “A Prayer of FAITH”.

The outline for the sermon is as follows:

A prayer of FAITH is a prayer of . . .

Focus
Acceptance
Insight
Trust
Hope

We Are Family!

We Are Family!

As an interlude to the daily “travelogue” posts I am working on to cover a recent family vacation, I am writing this post to share some observations from the trip.  Our family travels include my wife and I and our beautiful daughter who mostly lives at a six to eight year-old level even through chronologically she is very much an adult.  Our daughter’s disabilities include mobility issues along with other things, so the nature of our trips can often be challenging.

For the longest times, we could carry her in a front carrier and then a backpack carrier for our long family hikes.  Eventually she outgrew the backpack carrier and we had to get more creative in the hikes that were somewhat rugged.  A few years ago we came across a wheelchair designed to handle terrain that a normal chair could not.  With mountain bike tires on the rear wheels and six inch wide casters on the front, it has been down many trails that led to some incredible beauty of God’s creation.

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On one particular adventure on this last trip, we were going down a particularly rugged path that included crossing a (currently) dry riverbed.  The riverbed was various levels of shale and sandstone which made for a beautiful and rugged path.  As we worked our way across, we could see an observation platform filled with people on the other side of the river where they could get a partial view of the falls . . . and a good view of this crazy family heading across the riverbed with a wheelchair.  It caused my wife to wonder out loud, “how many photos will we be in with some sort of caption regarding ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way'”.

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Pushing a wheelchair in some desolate areas, or pulling it up or down lengthy wooden staircases, or running it up the soft sands of towering dunes can create some great memories . . . and some great conversations.  Usually the conversations lead to some form of amazement that we are out wherever we are . . . as well as an amazement at how old our daughter actually is.  Our response varies to some degree as we’ve not really given thought to it.  In fact, the response usually includes some way of conveying that we’ve not really thought of doing life any other way!  You see, we are family!  We don’t do it perfectly, but we continue to learn how to care for one another and accommodate the needs of each other to their benefit.  Some of our daughter’s special needs are rather obvious, but the truth is we all have needs that are special and need to be treated as such because we are all unique creations of God.  I hear the Marines have a saying, “No man left behind!”.  That is the way of life we try to do family as . . . we do it together with God’s help to the best of our ability.  We help those who are weak and pay attention to the weaknesses of those who appear strong.  And so the memories I am able to share through photographs are memories we have been able to share in as a family.

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If you’ve gotten this far in the story, I hope you can see lessons to apply throughout life.  While it obviously applies to the family, I believe this way of life is the way God wants the church to operate as His family.  If the family doesn’t travel together, some people may get to where they are going but many, including those who have rushed ahead, will miss out on the full beauty God has prepared for His family to enjoy.

You see, we are indeed family.  And while we are each unique and have our own interests, desires, ways of doing things, and paths that we travel; we are also a family that grows best when we find ways to include everyone within the family in this journey of life.  While I do enjoy times of solitude and silence with God alone, being able to enjoy life as a family, no matter what, is a great blessing that both comes from God and honors God.

So, yes, we are family!  Now let’s keep living as family. 🙂

In prayer,
Tom

 

 

Noticing God’s Presence

Noticing God’s Presence

“Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.
I can feel His mighty power and His grace.
I can hear the brush of angels wings.
I see glory on each face.
Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.”
(Words by Lanny Wolfe)

It seems that the more I pause, even for just a moment, the more acutely I’m aware of being surrounded by the presence of God.  I suppose I could pause and not notice, and in reality that has been the case more often than I care to admit, but once I started to really seek God I began to realize He delights in making Himself known.  

My enjoyment of wildlife and scenic nature photography has served to amplify an awareness of God’s presence as I capture some of the details of His handiwork.  Today it was some time spent sitting on the front porch watching, and photographing, the hummingbirds that frequent the feeder we have out.  Capturing the “brush” of their wings really makes it seem like I can feel “the brush of angels wings.”  And the glory exhibited in each photo I take shouts of the glory of God revealed throughout creation.

For me, photography not only allows me to capture the presence of God, it also causes me to notice that presence in everyday life no matter where I am.  While it is rare for me not to have a camera with me these days, even when I don’t, I find that I always have an eye out for the wonders that are most often simply passed by.  Yes, the world is messed up by sin.  And, yes, there is a lot of ugliness that exists as a result of human interactions with one another that don’t reflect the image of God.  And while there are many distractions to draw us away from noticing God’s presence, there is nothing that can keep it hidden if we make the effort to seek Him.  His promises are sure and He says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

I pray that you and I would always seek God with all our heart and that in doing so we would know that “surely the presence of the Lord is in this place!”

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Good Grief!

Good Grief!

“Good Grief” seems like such an odd phrase when you stop and consider it in the midst of real grief.  So odd in fact, that I took the time to look up its origin in an attempt to understand just what was so good about grief.  What I discovered is that it is most likely the result of people substituting the word grief in the phrase they wanted to say in order to not take the “Lord’s name in vain” by saying, “Good God!”.  Since God observes the heart and motives, I’m not sure how effective such a strategy is — but that’s a matter for a different post. 🙂  While the research helped me understand the origin, it did nothing to answer my internal question of what good could be found in grief.

Anyhow, this is an article I have been working on for two years now and while I’m still short on answers, I do realize that the grieving process is natural and necessary . . . and often very different for each person.  And while the phrase was never meant to have anything to do with grief or goodness, I’ve begun to think that good grief is only possible when we allow God to change and transform us even through our losses.  But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s turn the clock back a couple years and pick up on this journey to discover good grief where it began . . . or at least where it came to the surface in the most unavoidable way.

Two years have passed but I remember the day as if it was just yesterday.  They say my phone lit up with the initial incoming call while I was leading the closing prayer time at church, but it wasn’t until we were at Subway for lunch that I noticed I had a missed call and voicemail from my brother.  The message was pretty basic — call me as soon as you can.  The urgency in his voice took me outside the restaurant to return his call with great concern in my heart for my mom and dad.  The concern increased as he wanted to make sure I was sitting down, and then the news broke . . . it wasn’t mom or dad, it was one of his kids — Bre was gone.

I don’t know that I grieve in the way most people do, and I’m not sure that I’m even capable of expressing grief in the ways most people would recognize, but that day began a journey that changed not only me, but in some way it changed everyone who knew my niece.  While I can’t speak accurately of the changes it brought to the lives of others, I can write about how it has changed me so far.  While the day of the accident and the news of it is etched in my mind, the rest of the week is mostly a blur.  I readily and humbly agreed to “officiate” the funeral service and the week was filled with long days and nights as I prepared a funeral message while taking care of a major floor refinishing project at work.  The volunteers who were going to be doing the floors had been “reassigned” to a different project and I was left alone with my work and with God to begin examining what I would share with the family and friends who would gather at the end of the week, and to begin considering what good God could do in my life out of all of this.

The first thing to change was a renewed awareness of the brevity of life.  We’ve generally come to expect that “old” people will die and while we grieve their passing, it usually doesn’t hit us as abruptly as the loss of a young person.  While Bre packed more into her twenty-one years of life than most people do with many more years, it seemed there was so much more that should have and could have been done.  Yet this moment is all any of us have and what we do with it is what builds our legacy we leave behind.  If God puts it in your heart and mind to do something and you don’t take the first step toward that today, it is always possible that the step will never take place.  Loss brings us face to face with grief and grief is designed to bring us face to face with God.  What people do when they face God in their times of grief varies greatly, but God’s desire is that they would find comfort in Him.

The second thing to change, related closely to the first, was a renewed focus on spending time more wisely when it comes to making family time a priority.  The process of grieving caused me to reevaluate many things about how I used my time.  The “good” out of this grief, so far, has led me to be much more deliberate in spending time with my wife and daughter in special ways whenever we get the chance.  Things that consumed my time with no apparent benefit to me or others went by the wayside as I would head out to nearby parks with my family, and camera, to just spend time together in God’s presence.  Vacations and even spur of the moment overnight getaways have become more meaningful as we build memories together.  While this change began gradually after the funeral, it really solidified a year ago as I concluded that memories are what we hold onto when we are no longer able to hold onto the ones we love — so make good ones!

While I suppose there are many other lessons that I have been learning which are making good come from the grief, these two seem to be primary at this time.  While loss brings much pain, when our time of grieving is spent with God, He can bring good changes to us even through the grief.  Good grief?  Well, yes . . . and no.  The cause of the grief is rarely good, but God can make the result of the grief into something good in our life and through our life into the lives of others.

And so, for now, I close this writing with a photo that includes the poem God gave me to write two years ago as this process of “good grief” began.

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In the Morning, When I Rise . . .

In the Morning, When I Rise . . .

I woke this morning with a song in my mind that, well, that seems fitting to start any day.  The verse that has been running through my head says, “In the morning, when I rise; In the morning, when I rise.  In the morning, when I rise; Give me Jesus!”  The song has made me think about the days when I consciously choose Jesus at the start of the day compared to the ones that I don’t.  It’s not that I’m rejecting Jesus on any of the days, at least not deliberately, it’s just that there are days that I let the hectic pace of life push Jesus to the side.  When that happens at any time, but particularly at the start of a day, it isn’t long before my attitude and priorities begin to slide in a direction that isn’t productive to me or anyone else.

While choosing Jesus has to be a continual commitment, doing so when I rise each morning helps set the standard for the decisions that will come throughout the day.  Scripture says that “His mercies are new each morning” and it does me well to recognize and lay claim to the application of that in my life.  When I seek Jesus at the start of each day, I am made more aware of His presence because I’m looking for it.  While Jesus has promised to never leave or forsake His children, I have a choice as to how much I acknowledge and welcome that presence each day.  I believe that a practice of seeking God that includes a deliberate request each “morning when I rise, give me Jesus!”, prepares us for the final verse of the song, “When it’s time to die; O, when it’s time to die.  When it’s time to die; give me Jesus!”

As I said earlier, some days are easier to remember my need to seek Jesus when I rise.  For me, being up to see the beauty of God’s creation in the early morning hours serves as a visible reminder of His presence and fills me with a desire to seek Him.  The photo below is from a recent trip to northwest Ohio where I was able to watch the sun rise over Lake Erie and be reminded, “In the morning, when I rise; In the morning when I rise.  In the morning, when I rise; Give me Jesus!”

It is my prayer that you and I would desire and seek Jesus at all times and particularly each morning when we rise.

In prayer,
Tom

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No Longer DEAD

As I’ve worked on the sermon I’ll share on Easter Sunday at the North Wayne Mennonite Church, I have ended up with two different outlines. 🙂  One has more of a focus on what the resurrection of Jesus saves us from — death.  The other has a greater emphasis on what we are saved to — life.  Since I’m pretty confident they don’t want me preaching both of them on the same morning, here are the main points of the “No Longer DEAD” outline.

Because of Jesus we are no longer:

  • Distant — While especially true of Gentiles, even for the average Jew the approach to God prior to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus was always from a distance.  From the time of Moses leading the people out of Egypt to the time of Jesus, the instruction from God to the people almost always sounded like “stand back!”.  Yet while Jesus was on the earth, His words more often beckoned people to “come to me, you who are weary and I will give you rest.”  When we are made alive in Christ, we are adopted into His family and are no longer considered distant.
  • Excluded — Sin separates us from God and excludes us from His presence.  When Jesus paid the penalty for sin through His death on the cross, the veil in the temple which separated people from the presence of God was torn from top to bottom.  God chose to make Himself accessible to all who were once excluded, should they choose to seek Him.  Remaining dead in our sin excludes us from life in Christ, but through Jesus those who were once “not a people” can now become the “people of God.
  • Aliens — While science fiction fans may first think of strangers from another planet when they hear of aliens, in many ways that is exactly what we are to God when we remain in our sin.  Because God’s ways are so much different and higher than man’s ways, while we live according to our own ways we are indeed aliens in regard to the kingdom of God.  Yet an interesting thing happens when we arrive as aliens in a foreign land.  When we choose to make that land our home and become accepted by its rulers, it becomes our home and we become aliens in regard to our former way of life.  Through Jesus we are no longer aliens in regard to God and His kingdom.  In fact, it is in Christ that we walk as aliens in this world.
  • Destroyed — Because the “wages of sin is death”, outside of Christ we are all on a path that leads to destruction.  The sin that we commit, whether large or small in our eyes, all requires the same penalty — death.  Because of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus our penalty has been paid if we choose to accept the payment being made on our behalf.  When we are in Christ, we choose to walk a path away from destruction and toward a life that remains eternally in Him.  It is through the goodness of God and His mercy that He has made a way through Jesus to destroy the power of death so that we need not be destroyed.

Yes, because of the power of the resurrection, in Christ we are no longer dead.

Peace On Earth

On December 25, 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem, “Christmas Bells”, that was eventually put to music and became a popular Christmas carol. There are some stories that say the poem was written following the death of Longfellow’s wife in a house fire, which may be true, but that isn’t the despair of which he writes. The despair is a nation divided by hatred and war. His son had just returned home after being seriously wounded in a Civil War battle. The first part of the poem seems to speak of the “peace on earth, good-will to men” that he believed existed prior to the war. Then, in the middle of the poem, come two verses that were left out when the poem was made into a song — the verses which make it clear that the despair written about in the next-to-last verse comes from seeing a nation divided by hatred. The violence that comes from hatred has a way of drowning out the sounds of peace and good-will today just as it did in the days of Longfellow. The good news comes in the final verse with the realization that even as bad as things seem, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep”. Even in a nation filled with reprehensible hatred and violence, God continues to offer hope through those who promote peace and good-will. Here is the last half of Longfellow’s poem, including the two “left out” verses.

Then from each black, accursed mouth 
The cannon thundered in the South, 
And with the sound 
The carols drowned 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent 
The hearth-stones of a continent, 
And made forlorn 
The households born 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head; 
“There is no peace on earth,” I said; 
“For hate is strong, 
And mocks the song 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; 
The Wrong shall fail, 
The Right prevail, 
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
(Poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, December 25, 1863)

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