John 3:16 Devotional In the city of Chicago, one cold, dark night, a blizzard was setting in. A little boy was selling newspapers on the corner; the people were in and out of the cold. The little boy was so cold that he could not sell many papers. He walked up to a policeman and said, "Mister, you wouldn't happen to know where a poor boy could find a warm place to sleep tonight would you? You see, I sleep in a box up around the corner there and down the alley and it's awful cold in there at night. Sure would be nice to have a warm place to stay." The policemen looked down at the little boy and said, "You go down the street to that big white house and you knock on the door. When they come out the door you just say John 3:16 and they will let you in." So he did, he walked up the steps to the door, and knocked on the door and a lady answered. He looked up and said, "John 3:16." The lady said, "Come on in, son." She took him in and sat him down in a split bottom rocker in front of a great big fireplace and she went off. He sat there for a while, and thought to himself, "John 3:16...I don't understand it, but it sure makes a cold boy warm." Later she came back and asked him, "Are you hungry?" He said, "Well, just a little, I haven't eaten in a couple of days and I guess I could stand a little bit of food." The lady took him in the kitchen and sat him down to a table full of wonderful food. He ate and ate until he couldn't eat anymore. Then he thought to himself, "John 3:16...boy, I sure don't understand it, but it sure makes a hungry boy full." She took him upstairs to a bathroom to a huge bathtub filled with warm water and he sat there and soaked for a while. As he soaked, he thought to himself, "John 3:16...I sure don't understand it, but it sure makes a dirty boy clean. You know I've not had a bath, a real bath, in my whole life. The only bath I ever had was when I stood in front of that big old fire hydrant as they flushed it out." The lady came in and got him, and took him to a room and tucked him into a big old feather bed and pulled the covers up around his neck and kissed him good night and turned out the lights. As he laid in the darkness and looked out the window at the snow coming down on that cold night he thought to himself, "John 3:16...I don't understand it, but it sure makes a tired boy rested." The next morning she came back up and took him down again to that same big table full of food. After he ate she took him back to that same big old split bottom rocker in front of the fireplace and she took a big old Bible and sat down in front of him and she looked up at him and she asked, "Do you understand John 3:16?" He said, "No, Ma'am, I don't. the first time I ever heard it was last night when the policeman told me to use it." She opened the Bible to John 3:16, and she began to explain to him about Jesus. Right there in front of that big old fireplace he gave his heart and life to Jesus. He sat there and thought, "John 3:16...I don't understand it, but it sure makes a lost boy feel safe." You know, I have to confess I don't understand it either, how god would be willing to send His Son to die for me, and how Jesus would agree to do such a thing. I don't understand it either, but it sure does make life worth living.
MY THOUGHTS Yesterday (April 14th) Brenda, Christopher and I were driving back from Bismarck and heading down US 85 South to Bowman. We were going in and out of short snow squalls and all of a sudden, I looked to the southeast and saw one of the mesas out on ND 21. It was amazing as you could see the snow just coming down in bucketfuls from 15-20 miles away. As I was watching the road and then trying to see the snow on this mesa the clouds opened up just a little bit and the sun came out. It was amazing as the snow on the mesa shined like a bright light. As I continued to drive and watch the mesa a couple of thoughts occurred to me. The first thought was isn’t it just like God to show us some truth through His creation? I mean even when you are not looking for it, He just shows up and bang, there it is! I love when those times come, and I imagine they would probably come more often if I wasn’t thinking about so many other things. We kind of let the pressures and tensions of this world slip in and overtake us! Then we get to thinking about the could of, should of, would of’s and we are off someplace worrying about things that we need to give to God! I don’t know about you, but I think we should just take some time and think about the SON and let’s see the SON in creation! The second thought is this…when we are in the midst of the storms in this life it can seem like there is no one there and no one cares! Just like I was watching that mesa (and the road) that snow squall looked really ominous but then the clouds opened up and the sun came through and made the snow look not as bad! I am here to tell you that the SON cares! When it seems like your strength is just about gone and you can’t take another step…the SON breaks through the clouds and your strength is renewed and then your step picks up. Too many times we want to try and fix it ourselves when all we need to do is just wait on the SON and He will come through for us. The cares of this life are great, and we worry about many things that we don’t really have any control over. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:34, “’Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’” You see worrying doesn’t really accomplish anything so let’s just give our worries and cares to the SON. Isaiah 40:31 says this, “but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (NIV) There is a hymn called, ‘Til the Storm Passes By and I would like to share a couple of verses: In the dark of the midnight have I oft hid my face, while the storm howls above me, and there’s no hiding place. ‘Mid the crash of the thunder, Precious Lord hear my cry, “Keep me safe ‘til the storm passes by.” When the long night has ended, and the storms come no more, let me stand in Thy presence on that bright, peaceful shore. In that land where the tempest never comes, Lord, may I dwell with Thee when the storm passes by. ‘Til the storm passes over, ‘Til the thunder sounds no more, ‘Til the clouds roll forever from the sky, hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand; Keep me safe ‘til the storm passes by. (Words and Music by Mosie Lister, 1958) Today our lives are being turned upside down with the COVID – 19, but soon the storms will pass over us! I know that in this storm we are experiencing, if we hold on and wait the SON will shine through the storms of life because we are safe in the hollow of His hand!
THE MOVEMENT CONTINUES! As most of you know by now, I am an avid Max Lucado fan…his stories put me right in the midst of what he is writing about. It seems like I can relate to what he is writing, and it makes me want to read more. I was skimming through one of his books called, “He Chose the Nails” and I came upon one of the chapters that kind of stood out to me on this Maundy Thursday afternoon! In 1 Corinthians 15:57 Paul writes these words, “But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three – sin, guilt, death – are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!” (The Message) Max writes these words, “The official response of the Jewish leaders to the rumors of the resurrection. Of course they say he’s alive. They have to. What else can they say? The belief of French philosopher Voltaire. The Bible and Christianity would pass within a hundred years. He died in 1778. The movement continues. The pronouncement of Friedrich Nietzsche in 1882. “God is dead.” The dawn of science, he believed, would be the doom of faith. Science has dawned; the movement continues. The way a Communist dictionary defined the Bible. “It is a collection of fantastic legends without any scientific support.” Communism is diminishing; the movement continues. The discovery made by every person who has tried to bury the faith. The same as the one made by those who tried to bury its Founder: He won’t stay in the tomb. The facts. The movement has never been stronger. The question. How do we explain it? Jesus was a backwater peasant. He never wrote a book, never held an office. He never journeyed more than two hundred miles from his hometown. Friends left him. One betrayed him. Those he helped forgot him. Prior to his death they abandoned him. But after his death they couldn’t resist him. What made the difference? The answer. His death and resurrection. For when he died, so did your sin. And when he rose, so did your hope. For when he rose, your grave changed from a final residence to temporary housing. The reason he did it. The face in your mirror. The verdict after two millenniums. Herod was right: there is room for only one King.” (pps. 131-33) These are difficult times for all of us today…but I am here to tell you that the movement is still moving forward. We have an unprecedented window to reach out to people we have never touched before through our live feeds. Yes, there are many churches who have been doing live feeds for many years but now it is not just the large churches but the smaller, rural churches who are reaching out to people we may never have touched before. You see the message of the gospel is still progressing and more people are being made aware of their need for Jesus. In this Easter season…let us ring out the good news of Jesus Christ, that He saves to the uttermost, that He came to seek and to save those who were lost, and that through the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus we have redemption through His precious blood. We have a heavenly home that is awaiting us so shout out to those around you…He is Risen!!
LIVE FREE In today’s culture we find there are many people that are in bondage. There are many types of bondage like physically, emotionally, mentally, financially and spiritual. I do not have time to go through all the different types, so I want to focus on being in spiritual bondage. I shared this story in one of my sermon’s recently and thought I would share it with you…the story goes this way: Every Sunday the ducks waddle out of their houses and waddle down the main street to their church. They waddle into the sanctuary and squat in their favorite pew. The duck choir waddles in and takes its place, and the duck minister comes forward and opens the duck Bible. He reads to them: “Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up and soar like eagles. No walls can confine you! No fences can hold you! You have wings. God has given you wings you can fly like birds!” All the ducks jumped up and shouted, “Amen!” And then they got up from their favorite pew and waddled home! The ducks realized they could fly but they settled on waddling. This is an amusing story if you really think about it! Ducks that could fly but won’t because they are more comfortable waddling. This story typically reminds me of pheasants around here. Brenda and I were driving back from Dickinson when a rooster went running to the side of the road and didn’t stop. He ran in front of me as I was trying to slow down and I clipped him. When I arrived at the parsonage there were feathers in my grill. If that rooster had just flown instead of trying to run across the road, I would have missed him. Pheasants that can fly but won’t because they are more comfortable running instead of flying. I can’t help but wonder if we have just become too comfortable with being in spiritual bondage instead of living free spiritual lives. We waddle and run instead of flying. We don’t have to settle for being in spiritual bondage we can be spiritually free! Jesus tells us in His first sermon, “I came to bring good news.” He said, “I am the truth, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). In John 8:36, Jesus said, “If the Son will set you free, you will be free indeed.” Paul even tells us in Galatians 5:1, “Freedom is what we have. Christ has set us free.” Jesus has promised us real and lasting freedom! He has given us freedom from the lies of the enemy, who would try to get us to believe we are disappointments, failures, nobodies and unlovable. Jesus told us he came to give us freedom and He is able to set us free because He has dealt with the sin that enslaves us! The church I grew up in sang a hymn called Glorious Freedom. The lyrics go this way: Once I was bound by sin’s galling fetters; Chained like a slave I struggled in vain. But I received a glorious freedom when Jesus broke my fetters in twain. Glorious Freedom! Wonderful Freedom! No more in chains of sin I repine! Jesus, the glorious Emancipator – now and forever He shall be mine. Today and I mean this very day…you can be free and not in bondage! When Satan starts whispering in your ear that you are a disappointment, a failure, a nobody and unlovable remember that you are a child of God! There is a mantra that says, “When Satan starts reminding you of your past…remind him of his future!” The only hope we have is in Christ and His power to break the sins of spiritual bondage. His blood on Calvary became the catalyst for our redemption. Make that choice to be free of your spiritual bondage today and fly like an eagle!
STARTING OVER AFTER THE STORM As I write this article, we are less than a week away from New Year’s Day. How the year moves so quickly and to be quite honest with you it doesn’t seem that long ago when we were preparing for Y2K and yet, here we are almost 20 years later! I have been praying and wondering what I should write to you to start the New Year of 2020 and the thought came to me that most people think of a new year as starting over! Perhaps this year has been a stormy one and the thought of literally starting over appeals to you! The resolutions and the idea that we will do better in the New Year normally lasts, at most, a couple of weeks!! This thought about starting over reminded me of a story in the Bible about a man by the name of Job. He had everything that a man would want, and he didn’t really want for anything. He had a ranch with sheep, camels, oxen, donkeys and many servants. Scripture says this about Job, “He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.” (Job 1:3c, New International Version) How would you like to have that accolade heaped upon your shoulders?? But things took a turn for the worst as he lost his sheep, camels and oxen to raiders. Then he lost his children when a storm caused the house to collapse on them. Job cries out in despair in v. 20-22, “At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.’ In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” Wow…he lost all and yet he remained faithful to God. Even when his wife told him in v. 9, “…curse God and die!” His friends came and as Max Lucado puts it, “They have the bedside manner of a drill sergeant and the compassion of a chain-saw killer” (Cast of Character: Lost & Found, p. 202). Through all the rhetoric He continued to be faithful as ch. 2:10c says, “…In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” I am sure you know the story that when all was said and done…God sent a double blessing to Job as he had twice the sheep, camels and oxen and had 10 children. Job 42:10, “…the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.” I am certain that many people think that starting a New Year removes the storms of the previous year but that is not always so! The setbacks that we had and the pain, stress and tension from the previous year are still there! They haven’t disappeared because we have started a new year! The struggles of life will continue and just like Job when you have lost everything, and your friends turn against you…there is still God! We ask this question, as Job did, of God many times when we are walking through the storm, “Why is this happening to me?” If we will just stop and listen, He will speak. Lucado writes, “He [God] speaks out of the storm and into the storm, for that is where Job is. That is where God is best heard.” For us to be able to start over we must first hear the voice of God and then act on His Words. Then we must see God as Job 42:5 says, “I had heard about you before, but now I have seen you” (The Living Bible). What happens is that Job not only hears the voice of God, but he sees God and that is enough for Job! For you and I today, in the New Year of 2020, if we want to start over it must start with hearing God, seeing God, and acting on His Words. We will continue to have storms in our life but as the old hymn written by Charles Tindley says, “When the storms of life of raging, Stand by me; when the storms of life are raging, Stand by me; When the world is tossing me like a ship upon the sea, Thou who rulest wind and water, Stand by me.” (www.hymnary.org) My prayer and hope for you this New Year is for you to hear, see and obey God even through the storms of life!
THOUGHTS ON CHRISTMAS As I am writing this article, I happened to look at my calendar on the wall and realized in 19 days it will be Christmas Day. Now I will admit to you that Christmas gifts are not all that important to me as much as it is being with family and truly celebrating the birth of Christ. I know many of you, as well as myself, despise seeing Christmas come so early in the fall! Yes, I did say fall as those decorations seem to begin earlier and earlier every year!! I love the feel of Christmas time and yet there are times it gets away from us and we can get caught up in a Christmas that is more secular than spiritual. I thought about how do I try to keep Christmas simple and not complex and as I was thinking about this I turned to the internet and found this thought from Wilferd A. Peterson called, The Art of Keeping Christmas. The Art of Keeping Christmas How can we best keep Christmas? How can we best defeat the little bit of Scrooge in all of us and experience the glory of the Great Day? By sinking the shafts of our spirits deep beneath the sparkling tinsel of the surface of Christmas and renewing within us the radiance of the inner meaning of the season. By following the Star on an inward journey to Bethlehem to stand again in awe and wonder before the Babe in a Manger. By rediscovering the faith and simplicity of a little child, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven. By being still and listening to the angels sing within our hearts. By quietly evaluating our lives according to the Master’s standards as set forth in the Sermon on the Mount. By reaffirming the supremacy of the spirit in our conquest of ourselves. By rededicating ourselves to the Master's ideals of Peace, Brotherhood, and Good Will. By resolving to give ourselves away to others in love, joy and devotion. By using the light of Christmas to guide us through the darkness of the coming year, refusing to go back to the dim kerosene lamps of the spirit when the brilliant electricity of Christmas is available to show us the way. Wilferd A. Peterson I don’t know about you but those thoughts say much to me, but the one speaks to me is that last line: By using the light of Christmas to guide us through the darkness of the coming year, refusing to go back to the dim kerosene of the spirit when the brilliant electricity of Christmas is available to show us the way. My hope and prayer for you this coming Christmas season is for you to tap into the “brilliant electricity of Christmas” and allow it to show you the way!
FAMILY On the third Thursday morning of the month I have a meeting with my fellow pastors here in Bowman. It is a very special group of men and women and to be quite honest, probably one of the most united ministerial associations I have ever been associated with in my 27 years of being a pastor. This morning was one of those Thursdays. We are a motley group with a husband and wife co-pastoring (Lutheran), a couple of young guys (Adventist and Apostolic) who just started in ministry a year ago, a priest who doesn’t mind not being called Father and always seems to have a smile on his face, an Assemblies pastor who has been in ministry for about 17 years and me…kind of the old guy who just started his 27th year of ministry in June. The cool thing about this is we are a family…yeah, a bunch of men and women who had never met until last July and in January! Isn’t that amazing that a bunch of pastors from many different denominations would call themselves family? I am of the mind that we as church goers have two families…we have our personal family, our spouse, our children, our brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, in-laws and out-laws, etc. These are people we spend holidays with and those sometimes, dreaded family reunions. Perhaps you don’t get to see them as often as you did when you were younger but no matter you are still family! The other family is our “spiritual” family. Those people whom we have come to love and appreciate in our church. I remember growing up in East Central Indiana when we would call our church family, “brother and sister” and then whatever their first name was! Those days have kind of by passed us, but we are still family. I think Bill and Gloria Gather put music to the words they penned in a song called, “The Family of God.” We have a blood connection with our personal family but we also, have a “blood connection” with our spiritual family as well. You know we have squabbles in our personal families, and we have them in our spiritual families too. We are all different individuals with different takes on things! If we look close enough we will see that some of us are quite passive and others can be quite aggressive, but we are still family. Through all of life we are always part of a family…personal or spiritual but we are a family. I kind of think God had it planned that way because when we lose our personal family, we still have our spiritual family in which we can lean on. As I have entered into my 60’s I realize that both families are important. I will tell you that I have spiritual families as well as personal family being stretched over America. But the awesome thing is that as a spiritual family we are part of a much greater family…the Family of God. I hope and pray that you love both your families because one day if we stay true to Him, we will spend eternity together and that folks is an awesome thing to consider and it is the ultimate family reunion!!
SCHOOL DAYS It is hard to believe that school is starting this month (September) and by the time some of you read this school may already be in session. I know our grandchildren have already started in Indiana! Do you remember the little song about school? It goes like this: School Days, School Days Dear old golden rule days Reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmatic Taught to the tune of the hick’ry stick You were my queen in calico I was your bashful barefoot beau And you wrote on my slate, “I love you, Joe” When we were a couple o’ kids. This song has been around for over 110 years. It was written by a couple of guys and it is about a mature couple who were looking back at their sentimental journey during their school days. Now if you are like me it has been quite some time since I was in elementary school. In reality it was in the early to mid-60’s in which I was in elementary school. Much has changed since those early days of school. Perhaps we need to change some of the words in this song to reflect our culture today. Let’s give it a try: School Days, School days Oh, what are the rules these days PowerPoints and Smartboards and Ebook Time Daily updates of grades online You were the girl whose jeans would drag I was the boy whose trousers sagged I’d text on my cell, replies would lag When we were a couple of kids. (www.21centryedtech.wordpress.com I don’t know about you but that is typical of today and if you are like me…when I don’t understand something, I can usually ask my grandkids and they can help me through it! I thought about my time in elementary school and remember the “good ol’ days” when we would say the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, the principal would recite a prayer over the PA system, we had Bible classes and grace was given before we ate our lunches. We didn’t have to worry about someone bringing a gun into school because they were upset about something. We would try and work through the problems and begin to do better! Please understand that there were plenty of problems in the school system when I attended elementary and high school. Just because I can think of better days doesn’t mean that every day was better…it was hard, and it was difficult. We were fighting the beginnings of the drug culture and the sexual culture. It was not very pretty but we continued to move forward, but as we moved forward, we left the one thing behind that we really needed and that was God. Yes, I know, those were the days in which prayer was removed from the schools and other things were taken out. The question I have is where does it end? How much do we remove before we realize that what we have removed made America great? I read this past week that some schools were placing Bible classes back in the curriculum and I applaud them for taking that step! Perhaps we need to become the America that is more dependent upon God instead of government! I don’t know but maybe we need to give it another try and see if life doesn’t get better relying upon God! I hope that you and I as parents, grandparents and great-grandparents will uphold our schools, teachers, janitors, cafeteria workers, administrative assistants, administrative and school boards up in prayer as they try to do their best to teach our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren right here in our own community! I pray that God will give continue to show us His mercy and grace through this school year!
THE POWER OF BLESSING I would like to share an observation and it is not about you but may speak of you indirectly. My wife and I, after we got married (31 years on May 28th), used to kid around and poke fun at each other. We would call each other silly names as we were laughing and joking around. It didn’t seem like a big thing except when our emotions would get the best of us. Then those “silly names” would come up and accusations of what was done in fun became hurting words. We realized that we were, even in jest, cursing each other. Now that may seem somewhat ludicrous but in reality, instead of lifting or blessing each other…we were cursing each other. So, what is blessing and what is cursing? Sometimes a way to define a word is to tell what it is not…so here goes. For example, white is the opposite of black, light is the opposite of darkness, yes is the opposite of no and blessing is the opposite of cursing!! Perhaps some of you reading this do not have any guilt about cursing because in many cases people will exclaim that “nice people don’t do it!” No place in this world, no matter how primitive or sophisticated it may be, is without its forms of cursing and blessing. Cursing seems to be easy to do for many people…it doesn’t take a lot of practice to figure it out! But blessing on the other hand…hmm, now that one is a little more difficult to do! Maurice Berquist, in his book, “The Miracle and Power of Blessing” shares this thought on learning to bless instead of cursing. “When you enroll in the school of blessing, you find out there are three grades. First, learn to bless God. Second, learn to bless yourself. Third, learn to bless other people and then learn to bless situations and things. The order is important. There seems to be no way to skip grades in God’s school of blessing.” It doesn’t matter if you have been attending church your whole life or are just a casual attender who attends church a couple of times a year. The key here is to start!! This is not easy to do but you can do it. In this school you can’t skip grades you must start from the beginning. Remember in the first grade you must learn how to bless God. Hmmm, bless God you might say…how is that even achievable? Think about it…this is God, the One who created all things…how is this even possible?? If we were to look at Psalm 103:1, the Psalmist writes these words, “Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” (KJV) This is how you bless God…it must come from your soul! When it comes from the deepest recesses of your soul you will just praise and bless God. We will bless Him for all that He has done for us…yes, even when things aren’t so good, we continue to bless and praise Him! This is not an easy task, but it is doable! It takes determination and time to take that step and bless God! I hope and pray you will learn to bless instead of curse! Remember I shared about my wife and I as we would make fun of each other? We began blessing God and then we decided we would start blessing each other (Second grade). I will tell you from experience when you bless instead of curse your life will begin to get better and you will see people as God sees them. As you begin to bless God…He will in turn begin to bless you!