All of us have heard the reports of the persecution and execution of Christians in Iraq. There has been pressure to convert to Islam, leave or die. Many have died and others have fled. Each day their lives are in danger with new threats and actions. We have people in our church whose families in Iraq are facing these challenges on a daily basis.
What can we do? PRAY. We must take the plight of our brothers and sisters in Iraq to the throne of God in prayer. Let’s pray for their protection, for the international community to respond, for God to mightily work in and through Iraqi believers, and for the church worldwide to recognize we are in a war against demonic and evil powers. We must stand together as the body of Christ.
May every daily news report from Iraq be our reminder to pray.
As many of you know, I went through knee replacement surgery a couple of weeks ago. The surgery went well and the rehab process was coming along nicely. The pain was managed and the range of motion improving; it would just be a matter of a couple more weeks and I would be back in the swing of things.
And then it hit. The pain in my lower leg spiked to a nine on a ten-point scale. Pain medication could not bring comfort as I struggled on and off for a couple of days. A Doppler test ruled out the possibility of blood clots, so the medical staff began antibiotic treatments for infection. It worked. The pain started to subside and the recovery process resumed.
Carolyn and I feel so blessed to be covered by the prayers of so many of our friends and family and the incredible Woodside family. The cards, texts, emails and calls have been so overwhelming and humbling.
Carolyn and I were sitting in the hospital food court last Friday late afternoon waiting for the blood clot test, when I received a text from my friend and fellow pastor, Kevin Ramsby. The text was simple and straightforward, “Just heard that you had surgery and wanted to let you know that I am praying for a speedy recovery. If I can serve or help in any way, please let me know. Blessings, Kevin.”
It wasn’t what was said but who said it that God used to impact me that Friday afternoon. You see Kevin’s home was broken into a few years ago and in the middle of the night the intruder stabbed him 37 times. Miraculously, he was carried from a pool of his own blood to a neighbor’s home. Except for the intervention of God, he should not have lived.
That Friday when my pain hit a nine on a ten-point scale, I was restless and had to keep moving. But that “nine” I could endure and it would not have even registered if “ten” involved stab wounds.
God’s lesson to me was not to deny my pain, but to put it in perspective. In the midst of our pain, it is so easy to lose our perspective and become self absorbed, thinking that no one has ever suffered more. It happened to Elijah in 1 Kings 19 and it still happens today.
The author of Hebrews was basically telling his suffering readers of the first century to “look at it from a different perspective.” “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or faint hearted.”
Later I found it both ironic and embarrassing that I had used the word “spiked” to describe my pain hitting a “nine.” The physical and spiritual pain that came with Jesus’s spikes could not be charted on any of my scales. Let’s look to Jesus not only for his help and his prayers, but for his perspective.
I want to thank each of you for your thoughts and prayers during this time. Every day brings improvement and I cannot wait to get reengaged in life and ministry. May The Lord bless you today!
Years ago somebody gave me a molded turtle with the following inscription: “Behold the turtle who only makes progress when he sticks his neck out.” There is a lot of truth that little statement. This is not a Bible verse, but rather a well-known quote from the American scientist James Bryant Conant.
I thought of that turtle – safe in my office today – when I went on a long bicycle ride north on M15. I saw the remains of about one dozen turtles that stuck their necks out to cross the road, but did not make it. They did make progress, but lost their lives doing it.
While it is true we often cannot make progress without sticking our necks out, sticking our necks out alone cannot ensure progress. To be sure, I don’t expect turtles to be able to calculate the speed and distance of cars coming from both directions and compare it to his own speed and motivation to cross that two lane road before he sticks his neck out and makes the first big step. But, we humans can do what turtles cannot do.
First, we can think. The writers of Proverbs challenge us to think and live wise lives. We are not to be foolish by ignoring obvious dangers and obstacles. We may still choose to stick our necks out and cross the road, but we are doing so with our eyes wide open to the dangers and the challenges. Disappointment and despair are often the results of lunging forward in denial of the dangers.
Second, we can pray. The Lord cares about our decisions and our future. “The steps of a good man are ordered by The Lord.” In Proverbs 3 we are reminded that God will direct the paths of those who will trust in Him completely and lean not on their own understanding.
Psalm 37 shares some truths that will help us with these hard decisions. “Delight yourself in The Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to The Lord; trust in him, and he will act. Be still before The Lord and wait patiently for him.” I am so glad that we can come to The Lord in prayer and he will give us the wisdom for decision-making.
Third, we can believe. The preacher of Ecclesiastes challenges the believer to take risks. Some people are so cautious observing the wind and will not sow or gazing at the clouds and will not harvest (11:1-4). We can trust a God who loves us, knows us well and wants to see us prosper. Our belief is in God and not our own abilities.
My life does not have to be like the remains of turtles littering the shoulders of M15. I have the God-given abilities to think through options, assess the cost and dangers, pray for wisdom and direction … and then stick my neck out to make progress.
This past weekend we watched the video at the Woodside services where three compelling stories were told of people coming to Christ. Throughout the video Billy Graham shared the gospel the way he has done for many decades. My wife and I talked about it on the way home, rejoicing over the simple message that changed our lives when we were children. We were so thankful that many heard the gospel again and responded positively to the invitation of Jesus. Their eternity changed.
The message that was preached is called the Gospel or the Good News. Its simplicity is often a barrier to people who want to make it more difficult or want to contribute something to their own salvation. The Bible says that it is all by grace through faith. If we could work for it, we could boast about it. We bring nothing and God accepts us just the way we are.
The gospel addresses man’s greatest need. The Lord created man to walk with him and to enjoy an incredibly beautiful world. That did not last long before our forefather Adam sinned against God. As a result, we were born in sin according to Romans 5:12: “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world and death by sin, so sin passed onto all men, for all have sinned.” All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. The wages of sin is eternal separation from God in a place of torment.
God loved us so much that he sent his son Jesus to come from heaven to earth in order to die in our place (John 3:16, Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus paid the penalty for our sin by his death on the cross. He died that we might live. Through his death the gift of eternal life is available to all who believe. The Scriptures challenge us to repent or turn from our sins and believe in Jesus for our salvation. “Whoever calls on the name of The Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
This is an old story that should not be changed by any new generation or culture. There is no other way. There is no other name that brings salvation except the name of Jesus.
If you know Jesus, rejoice in the life you have in him and share it with others. If you do not know him yet, why not today?
A eulogy is when someone pays a tribute to a person – usually at his or her funeral. A eulogy is statement of praise to who a person was or what he or she accomplished. In Joshua chapter one after Moses had died, God gave a wonderful eulogy to this great man who led the people of God for 40 years. God announced, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.”
It is interesting to note that even though Moses died, the work of God did not. Life had to go on and the plan of God had to have new leadership. Joshua was to be that man. It is hard to follow a strong leader especially when the task is to lead the people into a new, unfamiliar land with unforeseen challenges and powerful enemies. God assured Joshua and told him to be strong and courageous for He would be with him.
The old leader was gone and the new was off and running to a huge task powered by a promise from God. What about that eulogy? God said simply, “Moses, my servant, is dead.” This seems to me to be more than a simple statement. Two words by God to describe a man seem so fitting, “my servant.”
A servant is one who has relinquished his rights and is committed to do the will of his Master. The servant’s agenda is God’s agenda 24/7. A servant is not proud or self-absorbed; he simply lives and serves to honor his master.
Moses lived such a life that God summed it up by referring to him as “my servant.” I would love to live in such away over the years God has given me that He would be able to say, “Doug, my servant.”
I think that is a well-lived life that sure beats a page full of accomplishments in a Wikipedia entry. How about you?
Last weekend I had the honor of speaking at the dedication of the new White Lake worship center. It was a very exciting time to celebrate with the good people there under the leadership of Brad Hulcy and his team. I chose as a text Ephesians 3:20-21. It is a doxology where the Apostle Paul is closing out an incredible prayer (verses 14-19) in which he asks God for some very big things for the church of Ephesus.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, Amen.”
I think that this doxology was to give his readers hope and strength to know that the big prayer that Paul had prayed for them in verses 14-19 could be realized because God could make it happen. Paul uses a double superlative in verse 20 to emphasize that God could do infinitely more than what any of us could actually request, think or imagine. It is not even close; our prayers could never challenge the ability or the sufficiency of our God to answer.
Then, why don’t I pray bigger prayers? Is it because of fear, lack of faith or am I blinded by the obstacles? Could it be that I have too small of a vision of God? Frankly, as I look back at some of the things that I have dreamed and then prayed for, I am embarrassed that the prayers are so small. My prayers should reflect the size of my God!
I am determined to pray bigger prayers, to trust a big God with my burdens, dreams, desires and hopes. How about you? What are your God-sized prayers for your spiritual life? Your family? Your job? Your service to him? Your marriage? Your future? Your finances?
I am coming to the conclusion that nothing is too small to bring to God, but neither is anything too big for him.
I closed 2013 by preaching a message to challenge the Woodside family with two words for 2014. Those two words are Trust and Obey, taken form Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in The Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” We all want the result of verse six, even claiming it as a promise. We want a successful, prosperous and happy new year. And yet our part is to trust and obey.
To trust means that we put our full weight down and yield completely to God. God is the only one worthy of this unquestioning trust. God is from everlasting to everlasting. He was here before the mountains and therefore a very worthy and objective source of reference. So we seek him for his wisdom, counsel, direction and protection. God knows us better than we know ourselves. He created us, formed us, redeemed us and calls us by name. He loves us beyond measure and he wants his best for us.
The sages of Proverbs caution us not to lean on our own understanding. This is so easy to do. While we are expected to think and evaluate, our experience and reasoning should never be substitutes for trusting God.
Acknowledging him in all our ways demands complete obedience in every area of life. This means that we must know God’s word and obey it completely – no exceptions. Our relationships, our finances, our future, our plans, our vocabulary – everything falls under the authority of God’s Word.
I want God to make straight my paths. No matter the obstacles or hindrances, he goes before me on the pathway. While I want the blessing of God in my life, why would he want to bless me or anyone who does not trust him or obey him? I need to trust The Lord enough to obey him even when I do not understand, even when it does not make sense, and even when I don’t think it is going to work in the short term.
I related life with Christ to riding a tandem bicycle. Too often we want to sit in the front seat where we control the speed and direction. We think we know best and we are comfortable to know that Christ is with us. But to change seats with him changes everything. We are ready to trust and obey in all things. Tim Hansel writes that our ride can be prosperous, adventuresome and exciting. He can take us places where we never would have or could have gone.
I pray for each of you reading this that as you trust and obey in 2014, God would give you the ride of your life.
If you Google “must have Christmas gifts,” you will find sites that list the most sought-after watches, gadgets, toys, computers and tech devices. What is on your “must have” list this year?
This past Saturday a man talked with me in the church foyer and asked what I wanted for Christmas. I told him that I had everything I needed and that there was not anything I really wanted for Christmas.
He paused a second, then stepped toward me and gave me a hug. He explained that everyone needs a hug at Christmas. It caused me to think about my answer to him. I was too quick to say that I do not need or want anything. Truth be told, there are some things on my “must have ” Christmas list.
None of the things on my list can be found at a mall or purchased with money.
Joy is on my list. I want to experience the joy of giving to the needy. This is a great time of the year to give and serve. I am looking forward to spending time with our family with eating, laughing and sharing together. I want to hear the laughter and screams of my grandchildren as I pull them on a sled behind the tractor. These events are filled with indescribable joy.
I love the joy of giving a special financial gift of thanksgiving and sacrifice to The Lord and to the vision of Woodside. I know that lives will be changed because of it. I love the joy of hearing the stories of how Jesus changed the lives of people. Many become followers of Christ during this time of year.
I want to experience the peace that was promised in the coming of Christ. In the midst of a crazy Christmas schedule I want to reflect on that special peace I have in knowing Christ and walking with him. I am looking forward to the many opportunities of sharing that peace with others during the Christmas services.
On my “must have” list is all of the blessings that come from worshiping with the Woodside family. I love people and I enjoy our times together to sing, to pray, to greet and to hug. After all of the Christmas Eve services, Carolyn and I will arrive at home around 2 a.m. Christmas morning. We will be tired but energized having spent Christmas Eve with thousands of the most wonderful people in the world.
So, I have lots of things on my “must have” Christmas list, but all of them I can make happen by spending time with people. How about you? What is on your “must have” list?
Recently I finished reading WHY CITIES MATTER by Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard. The authors included a portion of a letter (Letter to Diognetus) written to a government official in A.D. 140 arguing that Christians were not a blight to a city, but rather the “heart and soul of the city.”
“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life … with regard to dress, food and matter of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign. And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. … Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.
They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult …
To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all cities of the world, but their religious life remains unseen. … It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven.”
(Quoted from Christian Classic Ethereal Library on pages 145-6 in Why Cities Matter)
Disciples were multiplied during those days of our committed spiritual forefathers. Perhaps we can learn a lot from their model of living in two worlds at the same time.