Is That Too Much to Ask?

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I command you this day for your good?

Deuteronomy 10:12-13

Read Deuteronomy 10:12-22

 

thanklessness quoteDon’t you hate it when someone says to you, “Is it too much to ask?” If I hear those words, (Which always seem to carry a note of disgust in their tone) correctly, I’ve let them down in some way. Maybe it was a breakdown in communication, or perhaps I just didn’t want to do what was asked of me. Either way, in their mind, I let them down. I hate to let people down.

I’m a bit of a people pleaser. I admit it. Experts says that’s not a good trait. “You can’t please everyone and only a fool tries”, they say. But, I care about what people think of me. I think the reason I care about what they think is because, maybe, just maybe, what they think of me reflects on what they think of Christ.

Most people I meet either know I’m a pastor or they can tell it by the cross I wear, or the clergy apparel I might have on. As such, I try to be mindful that what they think of me as a servant of Christ may reflect on Him too.

I feel like God is asking the children of Israel those same words. He’s delivered them from slavery to freedom. He’s delivered them into a land flowing with blessings, and all He seems to get is griping and complaining. “It’s taking too long. It’s too hot hear. There’s not enough variety to our food…” So, He tells them, “All I ask from you is your love, and that you love one another. Can’t you be thankful you’re no longer slaves? When have I ever let you down?” Of course, I’m paraphrasing God.

looking down and away pictureSometimes, I sense God saying those words I hate to me… “Brad, can’t you be happy with your comfortable life I’ve blessed you with, your family and friends, the roof over your head and all the food in your pantry? Is that too much to ask?” I know I’m not the only one with this problem of thanklessness; it seems to be pandemic in our culture.

How thankful are you for the blessings of your life? If all we ever do is concentrate on what we don’t have, we’ll never be thankful for what we do have. This was how the Israelites began to fall away from God; they lost their thankfulness.

This Lent, why not spend some extra time in prayer thanking God for all He’s done for you? After all – is that too much to ask?

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

My daily Lenten prayer – “Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit. ” NRSV

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Springs of Joy

“The statutes of the Lord are just
and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear
and gives light to the eyes…
By them also is your servant enlightened, *
and in keeping them there is great reward.”

Palm 19:8,11

Read Psalm 19

springs-of-joy-music-groupMany people walk through life with heavy hearts. Some are heavy because of sadness or grief, some because of consequence. To some people Lent seems a time for sadness. They dwell upon their sin and sing “woe is me”. They think that in their sadness the Lord is pleased. While it is true that we should be sorrowful for our sins, it’s not true that we should dwell in that sorrow.

Lent comes in the Spring of the year for a purpose. God wants to remind us there is always new life waiting to spring up within us. Repentance should always produce joy, and it is that joy that should be our dwelling place, for joy comes from the Lord.

The Psalmist reminds us that God’s ways are not weary or hard. His laws are not boring or meant to keep us from enjoying life. In fact, God’s laws are the very source of our joy. When we learn to listen to the Lord and obey His teachings, he leads us in paths of refreshing. He renews our hearts.

Are you struggling to keep God’s commandments? Do they seem burdensome to you? Perhaps it’s because you don’t really understand them. Scripture says there is a way that seems right to man, but leads to destruction (Proverbs 14:12). Sometimes we see those who live in open sin and they seem to have everything, even joy. But, what they have is a fleeting moment of euphoria, not true joy. The consequences of their sin catch up to them sooner or later, and there is no real peace in their lives. Like the addict who feels serenity for the brief moments of a high, they soon come crashing down to a state worse than before.

Everything God asks us to do is always for our own good. Christians should be the happiest people on earth. We are always faced with choices of good and evil but they rarely look so stark. Evil is disguised in many ways to look good. If sin wasn’t fun, in some measure, Satan wouldn’t be able to entice us into it. But, to do the right thing always brings a feeling of peace and joy, a joy that comes from the Holy Spirit who confirms the right choices within us.

As you look around you at the signs of Spring, may you see the signs of God’s love and forgiveness washing over you in this Lenten season. Meditate on His statutes, and He will renew your heart with springs of joy.

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

My daily Lenten prayer – “Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit. ” NRSV

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Out of the Mouth of Babes

“I have considered my ways
and turned my feet toward your decrees.
 I hasten and do not tarry
to keep your commandments.”

Palm 119:59-60

Read Psalm 119:49-72

Ralphies-soap-600x420The taste of Life Boy soap in my mouth still lingers when I remember that day. I was sitting on the back steps of our friends’ house in Colorado Springs. My friend was teaching me to play a game. Every time you say a “cuss” word you get slugged in the arm. There were two points to that game; to see how many cuss words you can think of, and to see how tough you were in who could take the most hits.

My friend began hitting me harder and harder in rapid succession. I wondered what was going on. I wasn’t that good at cussing. In fact, he was hitting me way more times than one hit for each word, but I kept trying. There was a reason he was hitting me so much, as I was about to learn.

The most important thing in life is not that we live without sins or mistake; humans make mistakes, and all have sinned. The most important thing is that we learn to consider how harmful our sins and mistakes are, and pursue Christ’s forgiveness and cleansing.

In Lent, I find joy in examining my conscience to become more aware of any sin I’ve let creep into my life. While we should examine ourselves all year long, I’m thankful the Church calls us to a special season of cleansing and preparation. We can be cleansed of our sin whenever we confess, but we need to be reminded to prepare our hearts for the miracle of our faith; that we too have been raised from the dead!

The Psalmist speaks of the good that came from his afflictions, because through them he learned God’s more excellent way of living (Psalm 119:67,71). It’s true. We learn best from our hard times. What hard times are you going through right now? I promise you God has some valuable lessons for you to learn – if you look for them; I know I have. And, I continue to look for new truth from the Lord in all my tough times.

My friend hitting me so hard over and over was nothing compared to what happened after that. It was a tough time I will never forget. He wasn’t trying to hit me for each word I said, he was trying to warn me my Mother was right behind me listening at the door. As he motioned his head towards the door with a look of horror, I turned to see my Mother. Fear leapt in my heart. As a parent myself, I now know how sorrow filled hers, although at the time it I thought it more like rage.

As I recall, and I may be exaggerating a little, she grabbed me by the ear and pulled me into the bathroom. I can’t recall all that she said, but it had something to do with Christians don’t use that kind of language. Then she washed my mouth out with soap. The taste still lingers when I recall that moment. I learned my lesson. I wasn’t accustomed to cussing anyway, but I sure didn’t after that. But, most of all, as I grew, I learned to appreciate how much it hurt my Mother to hear those words coming out of her boys mouth.

When we sin, we hurt the Father’s heart. He made us for blessing and not for cursing (James 3:10). Our Father isn’t mad at us for sinning, but He is disappointed. He made us for so much more. This Lenten season, let us learn to live holier lives. Let us, as the writer of Hebrews said:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 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.” 

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

My daily Lenten prayer – “Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit. ” NRSV

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It’s Not About You

“Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land’; whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you.”

Deuteronomy 9:4

Read Deut. 9:4-12

reality-checkWhen I was a little boy of 4 or 5 years, and people would come to our house to visit, I always thought they were coming to see me; of course, they weren’t. But that didn’t stop me from wanting to be in on everything that was being said. I didn’t want to miss out on anything. The guests had come to see my Mom or Dad, but that wasn’t obvious to me. After all, why wouldn’t they come to see me? But then, what my Mom and Dad would usually say to me was crushing.

 

The greatest obstacle we all must get over in life is – ourselves. Perhaps because God gave each us a human will to live, we do things to preserve ourselves. We take care of our bodies. We feed and clothe them. We also take care of our spirits. We open them up to things that fill our minds, and we endeavor to learn from those things.

But, here is the great danger. What we fill our minds with is of extreme importance. Like our bodies, if we fill our minds with things that are not healthy we become someone we don’t want to be. Often, we find ourselves trapped in a cycle filled with unhealthy things. The first unhealthy thing that happens is we begin to believe a lie. That lie is that it’s all about us. Satan wants us to think our lives here are all about us, but that’s not true. Who we are and all we have is all about God and His Will.

Lent is a time for breaking those cycles. In this season, we call our bodies and minds back to our true center – God. After letting our lives fill with clutter (which we do so easily without realizing it) during the year, we need a time for re-centering, for Spring cleaning if you will.

In the years following the Exodus, the children of Israel needed a lot of re-centering. After centuries of slavery, they found themselves delivered into a land flowing with milk, honey and freedom. But, it wasn’t because they deserved it. God made it clear to them that it wasn’t because of any righteousness of their own. None of us has any righteousness of our own; we only have that which God gives us.

When I hung around too long with my Mom and Dad asking all sorts of question, you know, dominating their time when friends had come to see them, they would say, “Go and play. We’re trying to visit here”. That hurt. What I heard was, “You know Bradley, it’s not all about you!” That is a lesson I’ve had to learn and re-learn many times. If we’re not careful, we begin to believe in our own righteousness. We begin to think we are the center of our lives. But, scripture makes it clear anything good of me is from God and not of myself.

Won’t you take time this Lent to renew your heart by re-centering it upon God and his Word? Perhaps you’ve gotten too busy to pray and have a devotional time. Perhaps you’ve even stopped going to church. This Lent, commit to renewing yourself in Christ, and remember…it’s not all about you.

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

My daily Lenten prayer – “Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit. ” NRSV

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How’s Your Memory?

 

“Take heed lest you forget the Lord your God, by not keeping his commandments and his ordinances and his statutes, which I command you this day:

Deuteronomy 8:11

Read Deut. 8:11-20

Forgetful

Leon, an elderly man in our church of blessed memory, used to go around handing out $2 bills to people, always with a big smile on his face. When he gave one to me he said, “If you keep this in your wallet, you’ll never be broke.” I still have that $2 bill, and our kids have theirs also. I don’t keep it in my wallet though. I’m always afraid I might spend it in some moment of weakness, especially considering I almost never carry cash with me.

I keep that $2 bill on my dresser. Every time I see it I’m reminded of Leon’s generous, loving spirit, how he exemplified Christ to me, and how blessed I am. I have food, health, shelter, and family! What more could I ask for? Our spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting should be like that $2 bill. They should remind us of how much God has blessed us and of His great plans for us. The Lenten season is a time for Christians to be reminded of what a generous, loving Heavenly Father we have.

In the western world, we have so much abundance, too often we must work at being thankful. If we aren’t reminding ourselves of God’s abundant provisions in our lives we tend to think we built all of them ourselves. While thankfulness for God’s blessings should be a daily state of mind, I am thankful for a church that calls us to remember. We need to remember not only all God’s blessings, but all His deliverance as well.

The children of Israel inherited a land flowing with milk and honey, a land God gave to them. He knew in their success they would forget Him. The best remedy for not forgetting is to live daily in a spirit of thankfulness. For me, Lent is a season to remember how blessed I am, especially how “Forgiven” I am. As a way of saying, “Thanks” to the Father, I offer up fasting, and concentrated times of prayer and meditation.

How’s your memory? Are you living gratefully for the blessings of life? Or, like the Israelites, have you forgotten just where you came from and who delivered you? If so, take some time this Lenten season to let God remind you of all his blessings, and as an act of love, offer up times of prayer and fasting.

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

My daily Lenten prayer – “Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit. ” NRSV

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The Valley of Death

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil;
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

rock-desert-death-valley-national-park-california-usa_mainDeath Valley, California has the hottest ever recorded temperature on earth at 134 degrees F. on July 10, 1913. I can’t even imagine walking through a valley that hot. The Valley floor surface is 282 ft. below sea level and is mostly flat; it’s walls are surrounded by high cliffs and mountains which can range to over 11,000 ft. above sea level. Scientists say the shape, size and depth of the Valley cause its temperatures and air circulation patterns to function kind of like a convection oven. Pretty much nothing lives for long in Death Valley.

Psalm 23 tells us in this life we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. While the Psalmist didn’t mean Death Valley, California it does offer us an image in which we can relate. Life can be very hard. We can feel scorched by life’s hardships, kind of like we’ve been baked in an oven and burnt to a crisp. In fact, life can be so hard that we end up despairing even of life itself. But, that’s only if we walk through the valley alone.

I have great news for you. No one must walk through the valley alone! God is with us. He always has been, and He always will be. The Psalmist reminds us that He’s always beside us and uses His staff and rod to comfort us. His staff and rod may seem harsh at times but He only uses it for our good. Like a shepherd who pulls a sheep back from the edge of a cliff with the crook of his staff.

Fridays during Lent, we especially call to mind Jesus’ way of the cross as He was led to Calvary. That was certainly a Death Valley. But even as Jesus carried His cross through that valley of death, the Father was with Him. At just the right time, when He couldn’t take another step, God brought Simon the Cyrene along to help carry the burden of cross, and He will help you with yours too.

Our Lenten journey has just begun, but today we’re mindful that our journey can be filled with crosses, and deathly hard experiences. As we fast and pray today, let’s hear the words of the Psalmist and remember…

Thou preparest a table before me, in the presence of my enemies;
thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord  for ever.

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

My daily Lenten prayer – “Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit. ” NRSV

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Slow Down and Look

 “And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

John 1:34

Do you know Jesus? That sounds like a question someone who just knocked on your door might ask as they try to evangelize you. I don’t mean it like that. What I mean is, “Who is the Jesus you know? What’s He like? When I was a little boy I thought I knew Him. But the Jesus I knew then is different than the Jesus I know now. No, not that He has changed, but I have. I have learned to intentionally spend time with Him to get to know who Him better. As a little boy, I saw Jesus as someone far off, a God, definitely the one in whom I was to look for salvation. But he wasn’t the close, personal, friend he is now. I think that’s why I love the season of lent so much. During Lent, I take the time to get to know Jesus better.

You must spend time with someone to get to know them personally. Lent is a season for spending extra time with Jesus through fasting, prayer, and meditating on His Word. The busyness of life will keep us from getting to know Him if we aren’t intentional about it. Our lives are so busy. We fill them up with everything but Jesus, it seems. Then, if we have time, we spend a minute or two reading scripture and say a quick prayer. We don’t mean to leave Jesus out, but it just happens. Nobody wants to admit that we live as such – but we do.

So, as we begin this season of Lent let’s listen to the words of John the Baptist as he gave testimony of knowing Jesus. In the beginning of his words he said he didn’t really know him (Jn 1:30). But having been called, he obeyed and did the work God called him to do –  baptize. It was in his obedience to do as God had called him that John came to know Jesus. He knew that if he was obedient to do as God had called him, that eventually Jesus would be revealed (Jn 1:31) In verse 34, John was able to give testimony of Jesus. Seeing him coming to the river, he knew it was Him, the long expected one.

Have you seen Him? Do you have a testimony of personally knowing Him. Oh, I know John the Baptist saw him in a physical way and being there at his baptism, seeing the dove descend upon him, and hearing the voice of God it was hard to miss; it was a miraculous event. While we can’t see him today physically, we still can see Him. We see him in our spirit, as He is revealed when we study and meditate upon His Word. We can see him in the church as we worship Him and feel his presence through the gift of the Holy Spirit. And most importantly we can see him in the faces of others in whom He shines through. But it only happens, if we’re looking for him.

This Lent, will you slow down and look for Jesus? He’s all around you. As the prophet Jeremiah said for the Lord, “When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord” (Jer. 29:13,14a)

My daily Lenten prayer – “Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit.NRSV

Shalom,

Pastor Brad