Spring Will Come

“…you made both summer and winter.” Psalm 74:17
It was a meeting I dreaded, but was required to attend. There were about 35 others in the room, all with long faces. There was a tangible heaviness in the room. All of our marriages had ended. “I’m here to represent you, Lord,” I prayed quietly as I panned the room. As we discussed the cycle of grief, the moderator asked if anyone had moved on to the place of acceptance, and I was one of the few who raised a hand. When asked how I got there, I said, “I trust God. Though He has led me through a long cold winter season, I know this is not the end of my story for he is the God of the summer and winter, and after winter comes spring. Spring always follows winter.” I heard a few sighs and it was if a ray of light entered that room and the heaviness was gone. A few caught up with me at a break to say ‘thanks.’
Most years, by late January I am longing for spring. It is not that I hate winter, I just love spring. When the first crocuses appear, hope has a visual aid and I become a little less of a grouch.
In the plant world, winter is extremely necessary to bring about fruit in the summer. Without winter, bugs and diseases would increase unchecked and there would be less fruit come summer. In the spiritual realm, where it left up to us, we would probably leave winter out. Our self-analysis would conclude that we are producing sufficient fruit and, besides, we grow a lot more in the spring and summer, don’t we? Who needs a winter season or a long wilderness experience?
Well, we all do. Can you submit to the unseen hand at work when it seems you are frozen in your tracks? This is a very important time in your walk with God. Can you trust Him? Or will you act independently of him and make your way through the darkness and uncertainty that comes with the winter season? All it does is prolong it or assure that you will come out largely unchanged once the weather changes.
Is there someone you know who needs to be reminded that spring follows winter?
Pastor Doug

The Least of These

“The King will reply, I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40
His name was Talon. He came up to me before a Wednesday night service and asked for prayer. He was a rough looking character tattooed from head to toe. We found a quiet room and he said right up front, “I have full blown AIDS and am hitchhiking my way north where I can go to a friends place and die there. I am not here for sympathy or a handout, I just want prayer.”
“What’s your story, Talon?”
He said that he was born into a skinhead family and he showed me that he had the letters H-A-T-E tattooed across his belly. He was only good at two things in this world: drawing on bodies and fighting. He had contracted AIDS from a dirty needle and his family tried to kill him, so he ran. He ended up at the ocean (So. Oregon coast) where he had planned to swim out as far as possible and then drown himself. As he sat on the shore pondering his next move, a light shined in his darkness and gave him a glimpse of something going on that was bigger than his life. He went to a church, talked with a pastor, went to some AA meetings where he made a friend who loved the Lord. This friend led Talon to the Lord and discipled him for a while. As it became apparent that he was going to die he had found a place in Washington where he could stay to finish out his days.
Given his rough exterior and the cold, rainy weather outside I surmised that it would be a long journey to his destination and that he might easily die alongside the road, so I asked him the last time he had eaten and if he would allow us to buy him a bus ticket so he didn’t have to thumb his way there in the cold and rain. The next morning I drove him to Medford, gave him some meal money and a bus ticket to his destination, prayed over him and hugged him good-bye.

As I was making my way back to the church I was struck with the compassion I felt for this man. The old me would not have been able to hide my judgment of how he had spent his life. Talon had come as ‘the least of these’ but what made the test passable was the look in this man’s eyes that told me Jesus was in there.
Pastor Doug

A Captive Released

“…Jesus was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper…” Mark 14:3
Luke 4:18 tells us that Jesus came “to proclaim freedom for the prisoners,” and Simon would have been painfully familiar with being a prisoner in his own body. Leprosy would have separated him from his family, his home, his community and his worship of God. Once he was declared unclean by the priests, he would have become a social outcast with almost no chance of having his fate changed. We have no way of knowing how long Simon was a leper but he must have been one long enough to earn the title.

The fact that Simon is not referred to here as the ex-leper stirs up all kinds of thoughts. Was the community never going to let Simon forget who he once was, not believing transformation could really occur? Were they going to continue to keep him at a distance rather than rejoice with him in his release from captivity? Jesus had given Simon a new identity but was the community slow to let go of the old one?

What would our modern day equivalent of a social outcast be? Simon the HIV Positive? Simon the Sex Offender (having to declare ‘unclean’ in every community he lives)? Or Simon the Ex-Con? What about Simon the divorcee? How easy would it be for us to become pharisaical in our treatment of those deemed social outcasts and shut the kingdom of God in their face? We may not face these much as a church, but many of you could be in positions where you have contact with those who have become outcasts. How will you respond?

Yes, we live in a dangerous world, but we are Christ’s ambassadors here and we have got to leave room for reclining at the table (as He did) with those the community would not swerve to miss on the highway.
Pastor Doug

Like a Good Neighbor

“…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea…” Acts 1:8
As wonderful as it has been to live in a generation that has enjoyed the speed of travel, information and the availability of a good education, it has not come without many unexpected expenses. One of the casualties of our longing to know what is just over the horizon has been valuing the local and the ordinary. What I mean by the local and ordinary is those in your immediate circle of influence. Those you rub shoulders within your family, place of employment, neighborhood, bank, grocery store…you get the idea.

When Jesus told his disciples that they would receive power to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth, Jerusalem would have represented the local and the ordinary. Start at home. I heard Howard Hendricks say, “If your Christianity doesn’t work at home, don’t export it!”
If I am able to get someone to discuss their influence in their circle most are ashamed and disheartened by their inability to see that they are making a difference. I am convinced that the difference begins to happen when we lay down our agenda, our effort, and simply ask the Lord to use us in our circle.
It seems strange to say, “Stop trying so hard,” but do it and simply be available. Augustine said, “If you want to be someone great, then start by being.” Be His. Be still. Be teachable. Be alert. Be eternally minded. Be ready. Be willing. Be at peace. Be living in the moment and watch what God does with one obedient soul who is expecting to be used for a word or deed that is done out of love for Him.
Pastor Doug

A Higher Standard

“This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them.” “I merely did to them what they did to me.” Samson in Judges 15:3 and 15:11
Getting even is a mathematical impossibility. On a pain scale of 1-10 you may think that what was done to you qualifies as an 8, when the one who did it to you sees it as a 3. So when you drop an 8 or 9 bomb on them (to get even), they don’t see the score as even.

I had many encounters with ‘Samson’ in the neighborhood, on the school playground and as a parent of children. Each one simply followed the theme of Judges, “…each man did what was right in his own eyes.” 21:25. Retaliation took on many forms because the one wronged felt they had a right to get even.

Jesus has established a higher standard for his followers. “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” 1 Peter 2:23. This standard is so opposed to our old nature, which demands justice and is so quick to take matters into its own hands, that it may be that the only way to keep from retaliating in some manner is to lay down your ‘right’ to get even. This is not easy because we know that the wheels of God’s justice move ever so slowly and we may feel the temptation to assist him in the process.

Resist the urge and know that it takes a much bigger man to be meek and show mercy to one not deserving it in hopes that your kindness will play a part in leading them to repentance. If it doesn’t, then we can be confident that God saw it all and will consider it to take it in hand at the proper time.

There are far more important things to be doing with our limited time here, don’t waste it on gutter warfare.
Pastor Doug

Do You Really Think I Can Handle This?

“He established the force of the wind.” Job 28:25 “…God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.” Hebrews 12:10
“Wind means stress and strain. ‘The elastic limit’ of each kind of tree is known to the engineer, and he deals accordingly with his timber. So does the creator of the trees, the commander of the winds, know the ‘elastic limit’ of His trees. And He knows the weight of the winds.” So wrote Amy Carmichael, one who was well acquainted with stress and strain.

God is very gracious with His children in that He brings us along slowly. He measures each trial against our measure of faith, careful not to uproot the tree. Pushing us, but never pushing us beyond our ability to believe; never giving us more than we can bear, but often giving us more than we think we can bear. He proves himself strong in our trouble.

“Since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves with the same attitude…” 1 Peter 4:1
The key to victory in the midst of stress, strain, suffering of mind, body and soul is the same attitude and perspective Christ had: To know without a doubt that my Father knows, and he who knows the weight of the winds is in charge.

Is the one reading this in anguish of soul? May I encourage you to meditate on Romans 8:28-39 and see the unseen hand of God at work in you. I hope you can see as only He can help you see, that it is all loving-kindness, nothing but loving-kindness. It is inspiring to be trusted with a hard thing.
Pastor Doug

What is Your Temperature?

Psalm 73:1-3, 16-17, “ Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked…When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.”
How pure does one heart need to be? The slipping has already begun well before the question has left your lips. Will God still be good to me if I let up a little here and a little there? It is really necessary for me to have this close, intimate walk with God when it appears at times that those who have no walk with God at all are more blessed than I am? Why should I maintain a level of purity when I see very few others who do?
If some of these thoughts have crept in and your spiritual temperature is barely above the air in the Antarctic, then may I encourage you to enter the sanctuary of God and become reacquainted with God’s holiness. Perhaps reading the book of Isaiah while on your knees would be a good assistant. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Make every effort ….. to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
“Holy Father, I know that my spiritual disciplines have slipped from time to time because I failed to see immediate benefits or detriments in everyday life. Please forgive me for this foolish logic. Please give me a fresh view of Your holiness and the judgment to come on the ungodly so that I will live in a manner pleasing to You. In Jesus’ name.”
Pastor Doug

Class Dismissed?

In Luke 6:40, Jesus says, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” You have probably noticed by now that this training does not come with a designated class time, at least not one that we are aware of. The process of transforming our minds and conforming us to the image of Christ has begun and it will not end this side of eternity. Class continues even if you decide to sleep in one day and begin to slack off on your homework. God in his wisdom, power, sovereignty, and love has ordered your steps and is determined to complete the work that he has begun in you. (Philippians 1:6)
At any moment of any day we can look inward and grieve over our self-perceived progress report, but we can then catch a glimpse of our past and marvel at how far we have come. Instruction continues as we rub shoulders with family members, drivers on the road, supervisors, co-workers, customers, fellow sheep, and fellow shoppers. By the grace of God, I have learned to lean into these daily interactions as instructive. I have learned to look past the circumstances or individual to the lesson I am supposed to learn.
Hebrews 5:8 reveals this about Jesus, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” The suffering we endure as we are faced with injustice and hard-hearted folks day in and day out may be anywhere on the scale of 1-10, but it is instructive nonetheless. It may reveal something of the darkness of our own soul, the sickness of humanity, or just present us with the opportunity to respond in a Christ-like manner.
This school of obedience is designed to train us to be like Jesus, so I encourage you to ask the Lord for assistance in viewing the frustrations, irritating personalities, failures, successes, and all manner of discouragements as instructive. “Lord, what would You have me learn from this?” Or, “Lord what would You have me unlearn from this?” Andrew Murray wrote, “Daily obedience to all that God wills of me is possible, is possible to me.”
Pastor Doug

Fill Me Again, Lord

In the multitude of prayer meetings with the mission teams about to be dispatched for the day, George Verwer, director of Operation Mobilization, always seemed to be asking the Lord to fill him with his life, his power, his Spirit for the task at hand. One of George’s assistants finally questioned him on the theological correctness of such a prayer.
  “George, why do you ask the Lord to fill you each day? Don’t you believe that once he has filled you, you are filled?” 
George responded, “I believe that God answers that prayer every time. But the reason that I ask him to fill me each day is because I leak.”
  I love George’s analogy as it seems to accurately describe what happens in these vessels of ours. Our relationship with the Lord does seem to run hot and cold depending on whether we feel filled or empty. But I believe the answer lies not in asking the Lord to fill us each day, but rather in simply abiding in him. He is your vine, you are his branch. All that is necessary for your life will flow through him if we simply remain in him. It is all about a living communion with him. Practicing his presence, walking and talking with him, living according to the unseen rather than focusing on the seen and the felt.
  Rather than looking for leaks, perhaps the answer lies in who or what we are attached to. If we are attached to the worries of this life and the pleasures of this world, then the power will fade and our countenance will reflect our inner man. But if we abide in Christ, walking with him and resting in him, then out of us will flow rivers of living water that will cause us to be a source of refreshment and life to those in our circle.
  Pastor Doug

Standing in the Gap

Psalm 35:13-14, “When they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting. When my prayers returned to me unanswered, I went about mourning as though for my friend or brother.”
David did all this for some who ended up turning on him, but what a beautiful picture of intercession this is: to stand in the gap, pleading with God to intervene on another’s behalf. This is not some arrow prayer shot up to alleviate guilt; this is being aware enough to know that your prayers were not answered.
Intercessors have always been in short supply largely because the only audience is God. The individual you were praying for may never know the sacrifice of time or even fasting that you offered on their behalf. But God knows. It was not lost on him. There is not much said about an intercessor’s reward in Scripture but I would not at all be surprised to see some relative unknowns having the largest piles of gold, silver and precious stones after all our works are tested at the judgment seat of Christ.
“Holy Father, is there anyone in my circle who is hurting and has no one to plead for their healing? Please make me aware and keep me aware of those for whom I have a responsibility to stand in the gap. I consider it an honor to have such a high calling. Thank You. In Jesus’ name.”
Pastor Doug