Glad to be on the River

Earlier this week I headed off for a brief vacation with my son, Nathan and my Goddaughter, Jessica. We headed up North and paddled down part of the Au Sable River for three days. It was a fantastic time of rest, relaxation and refreshing. I found the river beautiful, full of different kinds of life, quiet, and very pristine.

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Being on the Au Sable reminded me of Psalm 46:4-7:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah (ESV)

I really like Matthew Henry’s commentary on these verses.

The river alludes to the graces and consolations of the Holy Spirit, which flow through every part of the church, and through God’s sacred ordinances, gladdening the heart of every believer. It is promised that the church shall not be moved. If God be in our hearts, by his word dwelling richly in us, we shall be established, we shall be helped; let us trust and not be afraid.

Rivers are often used as metaphors for life. As we floated down the Au Sable we even probed each other’s brains by having the others finish the sentence, “life is like a river…”

Some of the ways that we finished that sentence were nonsense, others profound. How would you finish that sentence?

God “finishes” the story with a river itself.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5 ESV)

Now that’s a river that puts the Au Sable to shame and a rest and refreshing way beyond our wildest imagination. For now, I’m glad to just keep on paddling down this river of life until that blessed day when we gather by the shores of the River of Life.

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I Will Seek You in the Morning

I woke up early, but that’s not unusual for me because I’m naturally a morning person anyway. Where I was at, however, was very different. I woke up that morning in a tent, in Lestage, Haiti. It seems as if the whole country of Haiti wakes up early-the chickens, the cows, the people. As I rolled over in the dimly glowing tent, I noticed that my tent mate was already awake and was looking intently at his cellphone. I joked with him, “Fenold, you’re just like an American, looking at your phone first thing before you’re even out of bed.” In his defense, he replied, “I have my Bible on my phone.” I then quickly rolled out of bed, grabbed an actual paper Bible, my journal, and a pen and headed up the hillside behind the church to watch the sunrise-my Haiti morning routine.

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But it’s not my at-home-in-America morning routine. Far more often I’m like Fenold and the first thing that I do is grab my cellphone. Statistics say that I’m far from alone. Even though I know it’s not the best for me, why do I choose to fill my first waking moments with others thoughts and political opinions that make me upset via Facebook? Why do I fill those moments with what others need or want from me via e-mail? And why do I start work before I’m even out of bed via to-do lists and calendars? I could go on, but you get the point.

As I type this blog entry I have Rich Mullins song “Step by Step” going through my head. “Oh God, You are my God; And I will ever praise You; Oh God, You are my God; And I will ever praise You. I will seek You in the morning; And I will learn to walk in Your ways; And step by step You’ll lead me; And I will follow You all of my days.”

Rich based the lyrics of that song on Psalm 63:1-8.

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. (ESV)

I, like Fenold, do read my Bible on my phone. I’m not looking to stop that practice. What I am seriously looking to change is all of the other negative things that I put into my brain first thing in the morning (and for that matter last thing before I go to sleep at night).

The Psalms are filled with examples of seeking God first thing in the morning.

Psalm 143:8 Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.

Psalm 90:14 Satisfy us in the morning with your loyal love! Then we will shout for joy and be happy all our days!

Psalm 5:3 In the morning, O LORD, hear my voice. In the morning I lay my needs in front of you, and I wait.

Psalm 119:147 I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word.

Psalm 57:7-10 My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

The irony is not lost on me that you are receiving this encouragement via some sort of electronic media. I’m not looking to throw the baby out with the bath water. I’m not advocating getting rid of e-mail, calendars, cellphones, or Facebook. I am advocating that they be used at the appropriate times and for me that will no longer be first thing in the morning!

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The Things That I Have Seen

We just finished our Vacation Bible School at our church this past week. That means that it have been a week filled with amazing fun, tons of kids running around the church, decorations, Bible lessons, music, crafts, games, snacks, mission projects, and an opportunity to rub shoulders with some amazing volunteers.

Let me tell you (and show you) what I have seen this past week.

I saw Justice share her awesome artistic talent with us, not just the week of VBS but also almost singlehandedly painted our city skyline from around the world.

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I saw adults excitedly greeting kids at the front door of the church as they showed up each morning. Giving them high-fives, calming any jittery nerves in the really young ones, and being a smiling face first thing in the morning.

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I saw Rachel and Hannah singing with the kids, leading them in actions for hours on end, laughing with the kids, and even being willing to paint their faces red for the sake of the skit.

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I watched through the glass of the fellowship hall as Jacki led the kids in a Bible story in her makeshift “airplane.” She was smiling and animated as she shared her love for her Lord with the children.

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Then there was Eric and his granddaughter who had to know the dates for VBS months in advance so they could make sure they reserved the dates on their calendar. Malia was so excited because this year she was finally old enough to be a helper!

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I enjoyed my break time in the kitchen as the kitchen ladies shared numerous tasty treats with me. But maybe even better than the snacks were the laughs that we had!

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I saw a school of Fisch (pun intended) in the craft room turning old soup cans into colorful wind catchers, plus a ton of other creative craft ideas.

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We had youth leading games, ladies who handled registration, and our energetic class leaders.

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And last, but not least, I can’t forget our dedicated leader, Jody, who lives and breathes VBS. Before this year was even over she was already looking up what next year’s theme will be and talking through possibilities for decorations.

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Psalm 100 says that we are to “Serve the Lord with gladness!” That’s what I saw this week!

 

 

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What Are You Willing to Give Up?

Have you heard about the guy who traded a paperclip for a house? No kidding, his name is Kyle MacDonald. He didn’t do it all in one simple trade, but he started with a simple red paper clip and ended up with a whole house. He shared in his TED talk that somebody asked him if he wished he had that red paperclip back because it had to be worth a fortune. Rather, his message to everyone is to give up their red paperclips.

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By Kyle MacDonald – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1514042

A red paperclip seems pretty insignificant, but trade-offs in life are no trivial matter. Earl Nightingale hit the nail on the head when he said that “the problem with hitting your goals is not what you’re willing to do to hit your goals, the problem with hitting your goals is what you have to give up to hit your goals.” For instance, if you want to be skinny you have to give up the chocolate cake and some sweat on the treadmill. When Cathy and I got married I gave up the possibility of chasing all other women. (“forsaking all others, I take you…”) If you want to be out of debt you’ll have to give up some purchases.

On that whole money thing, Jesus had this to say:

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16:10-13 ESV)

I’ve clearly met people who have traded happiness, contentment, and their very souls for money. Not a good trade!

Right after a rich young ruler left Jesus’ presence “sorrowful, for he had great possessions,” Jesus had this to say about riches:

“Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Luke 19:23-30 ESV)

Did you catch that list? There’s some pretty tough things to give up in there. It’s one thing to give up a paperclip, or even the chocolate cake but to give up your children! Yet Jesus says that everyone who gives up houses, family, or lands for his name’s sake will receive an eternal reward. In Mark 8:36-37 He asks the questions, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” There is nothing, nothing, in this world that is worth trading your soul for, I can tell you that for sure!

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Repurposing Garbage

I love creating new things out of old junk. I’ve made an apple cider press out of pieces of a snow blower and the apple scratter from an old treadmill. My wife and I have a bedroom set made from barn wood. I just rigged out my fishing kayak with leftover odds and ends. I made a deer hauler out of lawnmower tires and a lawn chair. I even have an Etsy side business (www.etsy.com/shop/manland) making picture frames and coat racks out of broken hockey sticks, and believe me, I could go on with more examples. Besides the fact that I have a hard time throwing anything (that might someday turn into something else) away, I get energy out of repurposing “garbage.”

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I think that I’m in good company, because I think God is in the same business. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV) God doesn’t take satellite dishes and rig out his Kayak, he takes broken down sinful lives, washes them up in the water of baptism, gives them a white robe and makes them new.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

“Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:9-17 ESV)

Not that I have anything against those that take garbage and make art out of it, I rather think it’s pretty cool. However, the things that I make out of garbage are utilitarian. You’ll notice that in the list of items that I’ve made from garbage. I think God does the same. He doesn’t just clean us up and give us pretty clothes to set us up on a shelf somewhere. No, He cleans us up, repurposes us, and sends us out to be useful to His kingdom in the world. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 (which comes right after that “new creation” verse that I quoted above) says this, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” Did you catch that, “entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

Maybe the garbage in your life is cancer (or some other physical ailment), maybe it’s a divorce, maybe it’s other family strife, maybe you’ve lost a job, or maybe you struggle with some type of addiction. Don’t believe for a second that God is done with you, has given up on you and is going to just throw you in the garbage can. Just like my scrap metal pile behind the barn, He may be holding you for just the right project, just the right person that you can minister into their situation. He is entrusting to you the message of reconciliation. As opposed to the person who portrays themself as having it all together, I find the person who is honest about the garbage in their life and who has been repurposed by God to be the most compelling. Maybe that’s because I believe that God is in the repurposing business.

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Arnettfest Reminiscences

This past weekend was what I lovingly refer to as “Arnettfest.” The family gets together at Uncle Mark & Aunt Sue’s for good food, catching up with each other, games, a bonfire, singing, and maybe a few adult beverages are consumed as well. Being the family “town gown,” Aunt Sue asked me to give a devotional talk. I hadn’t prepared anything but what came up in my thoughts was what I had just read from my journal the night before. You see, I had just finished filling my second journal book and decided that it would be good to go back and read what I had filled my journal with over the last six years. What I had read the night before was from 2012, right after Grandma Arnett had passed away.

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(My cousin Michelle and I – 2017 Arnettfest Cornhole Champions!)

6/26/12:  This past Sunday Grandma Arnett passed away from her most recent bout with pneumonia. She was 90 years old and will be greatly missed. I’m grateful that I got almost 47 years to be with her and will miss her the last half of my life. I’ve been asked to speak at her funeral and I also asked if I could sing “I’ll Fly Away.” “I’ll Fly Away” comes from Psalm 90:10, “The length of our days is seventy years- or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” 70 or 80, yet grandma made it to 90. Nobody would argue that grandma was a strong woman. She beat cancer, and many times it seems like she cheated death. But I would go elsewhere in the Bible to sum up grandma’s life. I would turn to Proverbs 31 where it talks about an industrious woman. Specifically in verse 28 it says, “Her children arise and call her blessed.” Surely it’s not just her children, but also her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. When Moses is given the ten commandments it talks about “to the third and fourth generation,” but to those that love God to the 1000th generation. Indeed look at how many grandma has influenced. I remember very well saying to grandma that the Bible says (Psalm 127) that blessed is he who’s quiver is full. I said “look around you, your quiver is full and you are blessed.” Grandma came back with, “this is all my fault?” I’m sure grandpa had something to do with it, but yes! Your four children have all had families of their own and now that generation is having children and on goes the march of the generations. But we could trace back these 25 (or so) people straight to grandma. Indeed, grandma’s quiver was full and indeed grandma was blessed. And she was then a blessing to so many others.

I then shared that I found it interesting that the first thing that God did after he created Adam was create family.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:18-24 ESV)

We experienced this earlier this year when Emily was in the hospital. I remember telling her that no matter what happens in life that you’ll notice that it is family that is really there for you. And as I looked around the circle at all of my extended family I shared that the love we experience as a family is a good, and God-pleasing gift.

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Greg Who?

Last week was our annual Fixin’ Up The Thumb Servant Event. Fixin’ Up The Thumb is a home rehab project and we were able to work on nine homes this year. What a tremendous week, filled with many blessings, much work completed, and a tremendous opportunity to grow in what it means to be a servant of Jesus.

As we were finishing up the cleanup here at church I remembered that I needed to still caulk the boot around the electric service mast pipe of the home that I worked on last week. We didn’t get it done because we didn’t have any lag screws. So yesterday I drove back to my worksite armed with some lag screws and a caulk gun. When I drove into the driveway the dog started barking and then the homeowner came out into the garage. I knocked on the garage door and she called out, “who is it?” I called back, “Greg.” Then she asked, “Greg who?”

I found that funny because just the week before I had overseen a crew that tore down a rotted back room off of her garage, stripped her garage (with four layers of shingles on it!), reroofed the garage, installed a new sump pump, laid 90’ of pipe through a trench in the yard for the new sump pump, installed a new front door, installed two new handrails, and built new shelving in the garage. It’s like we became one of their family for the week. We prayed together every day, shared laughs and meals together and now she was asking me, “Greg who?” Of course when she saw my face she laughed at her own question.

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However, it reminded me of Jesus’ words in Luke 13:

He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30 ESV)

I think the saddest part of that passage is when they say, “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” There are many who have been around Jesus and the church but to whom Jesus will say, “Who are you?” Maybe they warmed the church pew Sunday after Sunday. Maybe they worked on tons of Servant Events. Maybe they even served the church as a professional church worker and yet in the end they’ll be cast out of Jesus’ presence forever.

As Jesus says, the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. And Luther also said, “For even though you know that He is God’s Son, that He died and rose again, and that He sits at the right hand of the Father, you have not yet learned to know Christ aright…(until you also) believe that He did all this for your sake, in order to help you.” (AE 30:30)

Rather than trust in our own works, let us trust in how Jesus has served us. Our service will then flow out of thankfulness to God and a love for our neighbor in need. Then on the last day we won’t hear, “who?” but rather will hear “well done, good and faithful servant.”

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