Itching Ears

There is a deep and intense hunger in our souls. We know we need to fill our hungry ears with that which will sustain and strengthen us. The problem is that we are impatient. We want instant fulfillment. We want fast-food answers that satisfy us and we are prone to jump at the first thing that makes us feel good. 

Our hungry ears become itching ears that cling to the first thing that makes them feel better. Itching is an irritation, while hunger is a yearning to be filled. Itching ears are irritated. Scratching an itch feels good but if you do it too much, infection sets in. 

There is a deep anxiety that seeks anything that will bring relief. Itching ears don’t take the time or expend the energy to ensure the truth or usefulness of what they are hearing. They look for quick relief instead of long-term enrichment. Itching ears cling to what I call “junk food” teachings that only teach health, wealth, prosperity, and blessings. They neglect the life-sustaining bread of God’s Word that teaches the worth of persecution, the importance of endurance, and the necessity of increasing holiness. Rebukes and corrections do not satisfy itching ears, but they will serve as bread to the hungry soul. 

Just like we have to take time to nourish our bodies, we have to slow down and take the time to seek out the necessary ingredients to nourish our souls. Paul tells us in 2 Tim. 3:16, “All scripture is inspired by God.” So, every time we have the opportunity to hear God’s Word, we should take it in urgently, hungrily, and reverently. We may differ on interpretation but we do so with reverence. We, who are hungry for sustaining nourishment for our souls can’t jump to convenient interpretations that only scratch an itch. As people hungry for true nourishment, we must work to learn the context in which the scripture was written, as well as the intended audience.

Why shouldn’t we give into that which we know will make us feel good and draw in the crowds? Why not give in to the easy fix that satisfies us right now and that scratches our itch? Though these messages feel good when we hear them, they bring false and incomplete hope. They shelter us from the hard truths of the world and fail to prepare us for the suffering we all must one day endure. Teachings that do not challenge us, hold us back from growing stronger in our faith and closer to God. 

Paul tells Timothy to  “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.” To continue learning about what you believe, your faith has to be on a firm foundation. If you trust the foundations of our faith, why not continue to urgently seek more of the truth to fill your hungry ears? Why settle for shallow words that make you feel good for a moment when you know you need more? We have to keep learning the things of God to get and stay spiritually healthy.

The truth is hard to hear sometimes because it cuts to the depths of our souls. Just as it is easy to give in to junk food when we are hungry, it’s easy to give in to quick sound bites and flowery words that make us feel good. Putting in the effort to seek nourishment instead of scratching an itch reaps long-term benefits for one’s soul. We have to be concerned about the long-term effects on our souls. As continuing to scratch an itch causes infection, and a constant diet of junk food is harmful to our bodies, a constant diet void of deep and challenging truths from the Word of God infects our souls and weakens our spirits. 

If you are not taking in every opportunity to hear and learn from God’s Word, start small but start now. Take notes in the sermons you attend with the expectation that God has something for you within each message. Each week, we hear the Scriptures. Listening with hungry ears will bring nourishment to your soul.

If the words of the hymns do not excite you, slow down and take the time to understand them. I promise that if you think about what you are singing, you won’t be able to help but sing with more strength and volume. In our hymns, we remember in Whom (we) Have Believed,) that the “Word is a Lamp” to our feet, that the Scriptures contain “Wonderful Words of Life.” Our hymns nourish our souls by reminding us of our victory in Jesus, of God’s Amazing Grace, and of so much more.

There must be an urgency with which we approach our time together every Sunday. There must be an urgency to come to fellowship, to go to the table, to sing to God, and to hear the Words of God. We take in Scripture knowing it has an essential purpose: to make us “proficient, equipped for every good work.”

While it is tempting and easy to give in to teachings and experiences that make us feel good at the moment, we have to put in the hard work necessary to satisfy our hungry ears and nourish our souls. We have to keep learning the things of God to get and stay spiritually healthy. 

The lure may be strong to run to fast-food doctrines. Fear, anxiety, and busyness can cause you to settle for other things that do nothing more than scratch and itch. As Jim comes to lead us in our closing hymn, please hear and receive this invitation. Slow down, come to God, and pray. Pray that the itch turns into a hunger. Pray that God restores your hunger for that which is holy. Pray that God awakens the desire to come more often to church, to sing the hymns with joy and strength, to receive Jesus’ invitation to come to His table, to see every part of the service as an act of worship and to take every opportunity to listen and learn from the Word of God.

Scripture Reference: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Acceptance Awareness

There are many who struggle with acceptance awareness. Overcome with shame from past mistakes, we are prone to lose self-respect, self-love, and self-acceptance. Our loss of care for ourselves grows in our speech and actions, and we turn increasingly inward to shield ourselves from love. Left unchecked, we can become angry, bitter, and isolated.

There is a shift that has to occur. Instead of denying acceptance, we must be aware, amazed, and grateful for it. This acceptance begins with our awareness of God’s prevenient grace. God tells the prophet, Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations’ (Jer. 1:5). God created us. God reached out to us first. Not only that, God sets us apart from a world of hate and corruption appointed to love others. To do that, we have to love ourselves first. 

Jesus said, says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” Jn. 15:13. God sent Jesus Christ, God’s only Son to die for you. Yes, for you. God’s love is expansive, unconditional, and healing. It’s time to step out of the darkness of self-doubt and self-loathing. Step into the light of God’s love and acceptance.

May God bless your journey,

Pastor Don.

Photo credit: Keegan Houser on Unsplash

Refusing To Be Comforted

If you think you are the only one who feels down and helpless sometimes, listen to what the psalmist says in Psalm 77: 1-4 and verses 8-9.

1 “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me.

2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.

3 I think of God, and I moan, I meditate, and my spirit faints. Selah

4 You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.

8 Has his steadfast love ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time?

9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (NRSV).

Sometimes, we wonder why we have to endure such hardships. We can’t understand why our troubles keep piling up with no end in sight! With the psalmist, we cry out loudly to God, thinking greater intensity and volume may make a difference. At night, as we think about the day, when we should be stretching out to relax our bodies for sleep, we tense our muscles and stretch out to God out of anxiety, fear, and anguish. 

Our souls are most at rest when our lives are stable. We are comfortable when we feel secure and in control. So, it’s no wonder that when life deals brutal blows, we find it difficult or even impossible to feel the comfort we once had. The more brutal, the more difficult it is for us to believe God’s love endures, that His promises are true, and that God’s grace and compassion still abound.

When life’s brutality hits us, it takes a lot of faith to continue to reach out to God. It’s easy to go to church and lift up our hands during the good times but when troubles come, we are tempted to give into depression and hopelessness. 

There is always hope. For a season our souls may refuse to be comforted but God’s presence will continue. We may feel unloved sometimes, but God’s steadfast love endures forever (Ps.136) and his promises are true. God has not forgotten us. God’s grace and compassion are neverending. Don’t give up hope! Comfort will return in time.

Receive that promise!

Pastor Don

Mature in Christ

   In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul connects maturity in Christ with wisdom. The problem is that without knowledge, wisdom is impossible. Take Paul for example. Before Jesus stopped him on the road to Damascus, he acted upon his limited knowledge of God. His zeal led to the persecution and death of many Christians. Once he knew the truth, his zeal was redirected and his actions changed. In fact, his change was so drastic that his name was changed from Saul to Paul. 

     Knowledge was the first step. His actions proved his wisdom and led to Paul’s maturity in Christ. Among other things, Paul learned that in Jesus Christ is found “all the fullness of God” (Col. 1:19). With this knowledge, wisdom led Paul to spread the word about this and other great truths he learned about Jesus Christ. Paul learned that faith in Christ creates an inner change that is outwardly observed.

     To be mature in Christ is not only to know about Jesus but to be changed by our knowledge of Jesus. Knowing Jesus draws us away from anger and divisiveness and closer to holiness, love, and grace.

     To be mature in Christ is to allow ourselves to be changed by our encounters with Christ. You have heard of Jesus Christ. The challenge now is to get to know Him better. With open hearts, our eyes are opened and we see God in a new light. We are invited by Paul to see the image of God in Jesus Christ. The same one who lived among us, healed us, fed us, and brought us comfort, died to set us free from the power of death and hell. God wants a connection with us that grows stronger each day. May God help us move past our selfishness and immaturity. May God help us all be mature in Christ.

God bless you,

Pastor Don. 

Love With All…

There is a recurring theme in the New Testament that ties faith and love together. In Luke 10:27, Jesus said that the path to eternal life is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.” 

It seems many have overcomplicated salvation and have made connecting with God difficult for others. If we say we believe the words of Jesus Christ, then we have no business adding requirements for salvation that do not exist. No special prayer has to be said, no outline has to be followed. On the other hand, repentance is clearly required, as the call to repent is found in both the Old and New Testaments. One question left unanswered is, repentance from what exactly? 

One problem is that too many fill in the blank for others. There are those who take the grace of God for granted and feel entitled to do and say what they want. There are also those who add additional rules and regulations on others. We see both extremes. We see people making Christianity too burdensome and we see others foregoing the idea of repentance completely. Where do we find the balance? Based on what Jesus says in Luke 10, I believe we find it in our devotion to God and others. 

When I love God with ALL my heart, my words and actions are guided by God’s love. When I love God with ALL my soul, selfish desires are overcome. When I love God with ALL my strength, my energy is focused on living our lives for God. When I love God with ALL my mind, my thoughts are guided by God, rather than by the world and my own desires. When I love my neighbors as myself, I make better choices, speak with more patience, and give because I care. Let us come and bring others into life eternal through Jesus Christ, our Lord, with love.

God bless you,

Pastor Don

Scripture Reference: Luke 10:25-37

Photo credit: https://www.freeimages.com

Getting What We Give

Wouldn’t it be great if we could eat as much as we want and not gain a pound? I lived like that for many years in my youth. I could eat whatever I wanted and as much as I wanted and not gain a pound. On the other hand, I wondered why I was always worn out. It was because I was not paying attention to my diet. Nor was I exercising. Later in life, the effects of overeating are more outwardly visible and difficult to counter. 

The idea of “getting what we give” is an ancient one that is found in many of the world’s religions. Some call it Karma. Christians know it as the principle of reaping and sowing. Most of us learned the hard way that we all live by the principle of cause and effect. What we do, how we eat, how we act, and so on. Everything action and inaction has a result.

The Apostle Paul warns the Galatians in chapter 6:7-10 that we will reap whatever we sow. In that warning, I find both a warning to be on the lookout for what good I may do in the world and a warning against doing that which will cause harm to my body and spirit. We go on diets and exercise to lose weight and we find that we have to keep exercising to keep the weight off. In the same way, we cannot “grow weary in doing what is right.” To stay spiritually strong, we have to guard our eyes and ears against the evil around us. We have to build our relationships with God through prayer and reading the Scriptures. We also have to keep our eyes open so we may “work for the good of all…” I pray that God helps us remain faithful and always remember that we get what we give.

God bless you,

Pastor Don

Scripture Reference: Galatians 6:7-10

Imprisoned & Guarded

“Imprisoned and Guarded” are the words used in Galatians 3:23 to describe the way we were before we came to faith in God through Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote that without faith in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ we are “under the law.”

The faithless imprison themselves to the lusts of the flesh and desires of this world because they hide from a reconciling God. The faithless guard themselves from redemption through Jesus Christ because they have become jaded. They don’t believe such incredible grace could be possible. The norm is to think there will be a payment expected; that there must be some kind of catch. So, they free themselves to indulge their desires and open themselves to that which pulls them farther from God.

So, why am I writing to believers about the effects of faithlessness? Because these same effects can creep into our lives if we are not careful. Our world is full of voices that would imprison us from faith, grace, and redemption. Perhaps we stop praying as intently as we once did. Or, maybe we get out of the habit of reading God’s Word. Before we know it, our guard starts coming back up and we are pulled deeper into shame and farther from the love of God. 

The ways of evil are deceptive and subtle. So, I remind you, as people of faith in God through Jesus Christ, to remember what Galatians 3:27 says, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Since, in baptism, you were welcome into God’s fold and since you are clothed in the redeeming love and grace found in Jesus Christ, remember the beauty of your calling. Revive your faith daily in prayer and by reading the Word of God.

You are free! Free to thrive as strong believers in a vibrant church of redeemed warriors who will continue to grow in Christ, proclaim the Word, and serve others.

God bless you,

Pastor Don.

Scripture Reference: Galatians 3:23-29

Hope of Holiness

Peace, hope, love, and endurance are the keywords that jump out to me in the first five verses of Romans 5. In verse 5, the Apostle Paul says “hope does not put us to shame….” So, why are we prone to let shame grab hold of us? Why would we pay any attention to shame-based messages from others? It could be that we confuse conviction with shame. 

Feeling appropriately guilty about words and actions that are harmful to ourselves is useful when we allow the Holy Spirit to change us. Shame, on the other hand, turns us inward and away from God. 

Peace, hope, love, and endurance take hard work. We all make mistakes and fail to achieve the holiness and purity we seek. Yet, peace can be ours when we remember the grace God has bestowed and continues to show us. Hope drives us forward toward change. Love sustains our desire to please God and endurance builds our characters as we persevere.  

God does not want your shame. Reconciliation with God brings peace to our souls, hope for positive change within, love for God and others, and endurance to continue on this great journey we call, Christianity.

May God bless you and bring you closer to holiness and purity each day. 

Pastor Don

Scripture ref: Romans 5:1-5

Holy Spirit Peace

In many churches, including ours, we celebrate Pentecost and are reminded once again of the fire of the Holy Spirit. We wear red and drape our communion tables, lecterns, and pulpits in red remind to remind us of the tongues of fire that were seen above the heads of those who received the Holy Spirit for the first time. After which, they spoke words “about God’s deeds of power.”

In John 14:16, Jesus said that he would send us an “Advocate to be with us forever.” We can be comforted by these words for sure. The promise of God’s power continues in verses 26-27, where Jesus tells us the Holy Spirit will teach us everything and remind us of all that he said to us. These promises are especially important to those who are anxious about speaking to others about God. Whether we preach in a pulpit or proclaim the wonders of God in our communities, we can be assured that the Holy Spirit will give us the words to share.

One of the most powerful gifts of the Holy Spirit is the gift of peace. In a world of darkness, fear, anxiety, and depression the fire of the Holy Spirit burns bright within the hearts of the believer to burn those things away, leaving peace instead.

So, as we wear red and look at the red that is all around us this Sunday, may we remember the powerful fire of the Holy Spirit that burns within us, teaching us what we need to know, reminding us of Jesus’ words, and burning peace within our hearts. With the Holy Spirit of God within us, we will be changed and we will bring change to the world. 

Blessings,

Pastor Don