Barrenness May Actually Be Birthing Season

lamb_spring_photo_meadow_-466341Image Source: http://www.express.co.uk/news/nature/466341/Ewe-look-like-a-winner-Cute-lambs-win-our-Spring-Photo-contest (Photo by Raymond Watson).

For the Lord’s Day, October 4, 2015

Dear Saints,

As I’ve been preparing to preach Psalm 23 in the evening services of October, I’ve been reading a number of books by pastors who had also been actual shepherds in Scotland and East Africa that I’ll be drawing on a lot for lovely illustrations.  I’d like to share something I read in J. Douglas MacMillan’s, The Lord Our Shepherd with you here that I hope will encourage you as we keep serving the Lord together in and out of season:

The shepherd moves very quietly in the hills as the lambing season approaches, and the sheep hardly notice he is there.  They hardly notice he is there because (and only because) the lambing season is coming … I wondered if what you think of as barrenness is the beginning of a great lambing season again in the churches and in the flock of God … Let us pray that it is.

Beloved, as we plan and prepare our humble neighborhood outreach event this month, as we continue to spread the precious Seed through our community with monthly door-to-door evangelism, as we yet still by God’s grace maintain a weekly radio program, and while we slowly seek to develop a new, tiny, denominational home, may we be encouraged to keep waiting on the Holy Spirit to move when and where He wills.  And may these words from The Word once again remind us that our seemingly barren times (at times) may actually prove to be birthing seasons:

Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it.  Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto you. For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth. (Zechariah 4:6-10)

These were words sent by God to His church to restart the abandoned rebuilding of itself upon barren ruins.  And through men like Nehemiah and Ezra along with their people who had a mind and hands to work, God did erect the city walls and His temple anew!  And they all surely skipped like lambs once they beheld completed what God had already seen finished!

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

His Eye is On the Sparrow

For Lord’s Day, September 20, 2015

Dear Saints,

I have not had time to write a weekly e-devotion lately, but today I thought I’d share with you some photos of a special moment we captured while Jennifer and I enjoyed our anniversary lunch together at an outdoor cafe overlooking La Jolla Coves last month.  This sparrow family was busy having its own lunch just behind where we were sitting.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.  But I’ll also give Scripture captions for each, some of which came to mind while enjoying what I hope you’ll enjoy below.

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Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)

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Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? (Matthew 6:25-26)

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Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God. (Psalm 84:3)

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Mine heritage is unto me as a speckled bird, the birds round about are against her … (Jeremiah 12:9a)

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But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

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The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust. (Ruth 2:12)

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Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings, (Psalm 17:8)

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But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings …  (Malachi 4:2a)

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

God Carries Us in His Hands

For Lord’s Day, October 5, 2014

Dear Saints,

We rejoice to share with you that we brought Jennifer back to the hospital today to take her chemotherapy pump off as the last “installment” of six months of her initial treatment.  My lovely wife has been so brave.  We thank God that the treatment is healing her, and that He has proven to be faithful to His promise not to give us more than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).

In fact, as always, God held us up through it all in His mighty hand.  Jennifer will need more medical care.  But a song by Moriah Peters, “You Carry Me”, playing on the radio just as we parked the caravan to run up and join Mommy in the waiting room was perfect timing to motivate me and the children as we enter this milestone transition with her.  We had never heard the (upbeat, cheery) song before: providential, indeed.  My youngest daughter (who it seems felt the poignancy of the lyrics overlapping the moment) said what I was thinking as the song lingered in our hearts while we took our toddler out of his car seat and shut the doors: “That was really encouraging.”  Let me share the chorus with you:

Every moment of my life
God, You never left my side
Every valley, every storm
You were there, You were there
I don’t need to know what’s next
You’ll be with me every step
Through it all, through it all
I can see You carry me

Here’s the song’s video:

As we were relieved to make it through this first phase of Jennifer’s treatment together, and as we have learned through it all to trust God a little better now facing the next phase (which should be less trying and more manageable), Psalm 31:15 came to mind with the bolded section above:

My times are in thy hand …

There’s great peace in that resolve.  I think that’s what my daughter was experiencing.  You know, I couldn’t remember any of the words to the song when we got home, so I asked her if she recalled anything. I searched the only lyrics that came to her mind, and found the song online — what stayed with her (obviously reaching her) were the bolded words above. She’s nine years old. That really touches me.  That really blesses me.

We found an interview with Mrs. Peters about the background of “You Carry Me”.  Along with speaking about marrying her husband (lead singer of For King and Country) in San Clemente, CA (where some of you live), she shared:

I often forget that God is faithful, and that I’m not alone, and that leads me to feel discouraged or afraid.  And I wanted the song … to be a reminder … that no matter what difficulty we’re facing, no matter how hard the storm or the situation, no matter how many questions we’re asking, no matter how many doubts we’re experiencing, that God never leaves … He carries us through those difficult times when we’re at the end of our rope, when we don’t have enough strength, He’s there to be that for us.

At the end of watching this interview, my daughter again said (as sprightly as before), “That’s really encouraging.”  May you be encouraged, beloved, that Jesus truly will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).  It is so empowering to be reminded as we go on with our lives, as shaky as they can be, that He yet promises to hold us securely in His hands. And so He surely does.

Here’s the interview:

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

PS: here is a live version of the song in Air1’s Studio:

We Can’t Say Can’t in Christ

For Lord’s Day, September 28, 2014

Dear Saints,

Recently, Elder Renner shared with me a video about gymnast, Jennifer Bricker, and her incredible life achievements.  What is most surprising and thus most impressive about her life is what might have curtailed her dream of being a champion gymnast: she was born without legs.

So how did Miss Bricker overcome her pretty significant natural obstacle? The love of her adoptive parents, and their one simple rule they required of her: never say the word, “can’t”.  Or, as she put it, “Can’t is not part of your vocabulary.” So what must she say, or live, instead? “I can”.

Here’s a video interview about her story (naturally, we regret and grieve the breaking of the Third Commandment late in the interview):

What a wonderful and inspiring example for we Christians to apply to ourselves so that we apply ourselves to Philippians 4:13:

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

The context of this verse, as you know, is to not worry and to be content in all situations.  Certainly, in this amazing woman’s situation, it would have been tempting to let fear and worry and self pity be paralyzing all her life.  But it wasn’t, because she insisted on moving forward and living.  May you and I be motivated by Miss Bricker and cut out the “‘t’s” and focus instead on consistently putting together “c” “a” “n”. Especially in living a good, peaceful, and moral life in and by and for our Lord Jesus Christ.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

PS: With a young and aspiring gymnast in our own house, we recently watched the “Gabby Douglas Story”.  While this Olympic Gold Medalist had different challenges, they were similarly hindering and potentially crippling in realizing her dream, had she not had a very similar family and personal resolve that also produced remarkable results.

Uncover Your Opportunity Clothed in Crisis

wordcrisis1For Lord’s Day, August 10, 2014

Dear Saints,

Jennifer shared something with me that she just read which I found really motivating and I want to share it with you.

Are you familiar with the meaning of the Chinese characters that make up the element word for “crisis”?  The first character can be translated as “danger”; the second, as “opportunity”.  See the image above (source: https://secure.mycart.net/client_images/catalog22647/pages/E868A.htm).  Do you see your crises as dangerous opportunities?  Maybe you should, as more than one American president has suggested pointing to this Asian insight in a motivational speech.

Now, an important disclaimer should be shared. Wikipedia notes: The Chinese word for “crisis” (simplified Chinese危机traditional Chinese危機pinyinwēijī) is frequently invoked in Western motivational speaking because the word is composed of two sino-characters that can represent “danger” and “opportunity”. However this analysis is fallacious because the character pronounced  (simplified Chinese;traditional Chinese) has other meanings besides “opportunity” … Chinese philologist Victor H. Mair of the University of Pennsylvania states the popular interpretation of wēijī as “danger” plus “opportunity” is a “widespread public misperception” in the English-speaking world. While wēi () does mean “dangerous” or “precarious”, the element  () is highly polysemous. The basic theme common to its meanings is something like “critical point”. “Opportunity” in Chinese is instead a compound noun that contains jīhuì (机会, literally “meeting a critical point”).

OK, so let’s understand “crisis” as as a “Critical Point”.  Even better, really.  Our most critical points in life surely are not safe, but they also truly can be major moments of revelation, release, reformation, and revival.

May we not uncover our crises and find the beginning of opportunities lying before our feet?

Maybe we should thus speak of a life crisis (midlife or otherwise) as a “Crossroads”.  Choosing Christ’s abundant life along His narrow way at every juncture will always reveal later that it was a new opportunity for growth in grace and sanctification (the pain bringing the gain). So long as we face our crises taking steps of faith directed by God’s Word, He will always draw us closer to His wonderful Self through afflictions’ detours (Psalm 119:67, 71, 75).  Robert Frosts’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”, comes to mind considering where our crises should lead us:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

At what critical crossroad point are you standing?  We don’t choose the crossroads we face, but we do choose which path to take (the Lord helping us).  What opportunity is clothed in your crisis presently?  Are you looking for it?  Are you following its lead?  And what are you going to do with it?  Your crisis doesn’t have to be your breaking point.  May it become your new starting point.

I write this devotion while sitting with Jennifer during her eighth chemotherapy treatment, at which time she shared what she read with me about these Chinese characters making up the word for “crisis” while receiving her IV drip (for three hours before then getting her pump that she wears for the next two days at home).  This motivating concept she found was in a book handed to her today here, The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen, in which authors Rebecca Katz and Mat Edelson describe the second Chinese character discussed as including the ideas of having an opportunity for change, nourishment, happiness, and community. But they also gave this qualification: a crisis is  “… a chance–not a guarantee, mind you, but a chance–to embrace life even while in the throes of serious illness.”

How are you handling your current crisis? Are you using it as an opportunity for new direction? If so, good things will happen.

You know, the reason the volunteer (herself a cancer survivor) handed my wife this book is because she was curious about another book Jennifer was reading at the moment about healing through special nutrition.  Jenn found this Chinese “proverb” in the making, if you will, by taking a look.  And due to the book she had brought with her and was reading, we have gotten a high end juicer to maximize vegetable and fruit nutrients in a modest and modified supplemental application of what is known as the Gerson Therapy.  To do so, we asked God to provide such a juicer used and much cheaper online, and He did almost immediately!  Not only is using the juicer going to help Jennifer now and proactively later, it will help me lose weight and it will help our children learn superb nutrition while they’re young.  As well, we found the machine we chose also makes incredible sorbet with frozen fruit (nothing added) — an absolutely delicious treat that gives us great fun!

By God’s grace, we are taking lemons and making lemonade.  Or rather, by God’s power and guidance, and with the love and support of you His saints, we are taking a sour providence and turning it into its intended sweetness.  What about you?

May you make the most of every difficult moment to witness for Jesus Christ, trusting that you will be able to say what Joseph said at the end of a long string of excruciating experiences: … God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. (Genesis 50:20)

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Worship Jesus for Real Rest

1214121230For Lord’s Day, July 13, 2014

Dear Saints,

Tomorrow we will be reminded about the importance of rest to provide for and protect God’s people in this life to make it to the next life.  And that rest is connected to the Sabbath, which means, “to cease”.

Come to Jesus tomorrow on His Holy Day of rest and be truly comforted in the fellowship of the Saints as you join your brethren in truly resting at His feet as we cease from our works and trust in and worship Him.

We will sing part of Psalm 16, in which David rests in the hope of heaven (eternal rest) because of the Holy One (Jesus, the Messiah).  May you come ready to taste and see that God’s rest is good for your soul as you sing King David’s words:

Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.  For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.  Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. (Psalm 16:9-11)

I want to encourage you to think of rest like the ceasing of a storm.  Or, like the man, Legion, who was running around naked causing havoc until He encountered Christ, but was then put in His right mind, clothed and at peace.  Come to Jesus in Sabbath worship expecting to rest in Him like that, and He will not deny you of it, for He says:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-12:1)

Stormy souls have no peace.  Enjoy God’s peace tomorrow in Christ, Who only gives real and abiding rest.  He calmed the stormy seas. He can quiet your restless hearts. Only He can. Come to Him truly, by dropping everything else, for You Need Your Rest.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Simple Faith Gives Unusual Confidence

Child praying

For Lord’s Day, May 18, 2014
[Source of image: http://o5.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/child-praying.jpg]

Dear Saints,

My Mother and I recently hunted for treasures at the East Lake Goodwill’s large book section.  I uncovered a vein of gold which I know many of you have already been mining for years at great personal profit, Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening (in hardback!).

His text for May 14 in the evening was Isaiah 40:11: “He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom.”  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, told us that He goes out to get the one wayward sheep and carry it back in His arms to rejoin His flock (Luke 15:4). Among several ways listed that Christ carries us, this one really touched and motivated me to have faith like a child in our Heavenly Father day by day (Mat. 18:3):

Frequently, He “carries” them by giving them a very simple faith, which takes the promise just as it stands, and believingly runs with every trouble straight to Jesus.  The simplicity of their faith gives them an unusual degree of confidence, which carries them above the world.

Beloved, may we pray to God, “We believe, help thou our unbelief” (Mark 9:24). And may we pray, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). And may we simply trust that He will answer these simple prayers, and thus enjoy the unusual confidence and peace that passes understanding (Phil. 4:7), which carries us above the world, because it is not of the world but of Christ (John 14:27).

Semper Reformanda,
Pastor Grant