PASTOR'S PEN

When is it time to speak up?

posted by Rusty Guenther

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devils’ schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm.”  Ephesians 6:10-13

As we turned on the television this week we were once again reminded that we live in an evil and fallen world. A world were cowardly representatives of a hate filled, false religion of death strap on a bomb with the goal of killing innocent teenage girls, their parents and grandparents. The tragic murder of over 20 with more than 50 injured in Manchester, England slaps us with the reality that not only does evil exist, but we are surrounded by it.  This is nothing new; evil has always existed since the garden of Eden and always will exist until the Lord calls an end to the world as we know it. But it’s continued existence does not give us an excuse to ignore it. This week we feel sadness, hurt, compassion and hopefully anger and righteous indignation at what has occurred and is occurring around the world; but two emotions we cannot allow a place in our lives are fear and apathy. The goal of evil is to cultivate fear and when we allow these heinous acts to plant fear in our hearts, we diminish our faith that God is in control as David reminds us in the 23rd Psalms “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death—I will fear NO evil”! God, whose is the righteous judge will repay evil and those who sow fear will reap His judgement. But even worse than fear, is the feeling of apathy or indifference these acts seem to bring about. We must never grow comfortable or complacent with injustice, with evil and with those who practice it. We must pray, we must speak up, we must speak out, we must stand up and call these acts for that they truly are; evil! The Bible does promises us that love conquers evil and that love will ultimately overcome all evil in our world, but that does not give us an excuse not to act. This is a war, both physically and spiritually and it is naïve to think the answer can be found in everyone coming together, holding hands, singing kumbaya, and hoping it goes away. We must be diligent, directed and confident in our prayers and we must do all we can to stand up for righteousness, to stand up for those facing evil firsthand, and expose it for what it is! Edmund Burke’s quote is just as relevant today as it was 200 years ago, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do noting”.   

 


Here I Come to Save the Day

posted by Rusty Guenther

Some trust in chariots, some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
 Psalms 20:7

The empires of the Egyptians, the Persians and the Greeks were considered the greatest of their day and one of the key factors that allowed them to conquer and control such vast lands was the creation and development of the chariot. The chariot was the tank, stealth bomber and armor carrier of it’s day. An army mounted on chariots controlled the battlefield and the rumbling sound as the ground shook beneath the wheels of thousands of chariots struck fear in the enemy and brought comfort and hope to a besieged ally. A more modern equivalent would be the horse cavalry in all of those Westerns we grew up watching. Just when all seemed lost; the distant echo of a bugle would sound as the Cavalry came over the hill to save the day.

While we no longer put our hope and trust in chariots or even the cavalry to save the day; we have replaced them with all manner of modern things. From a political candidate to the perfect job, from an experimental medical treatment to winning the lottery, all come with the promise of “saving the day” only to never quite reach that goal. Like the sound of that cavalry bugle; we convince ourselves, get our hopes up, that this time it will all work out—only to be disappointed when our “savior” doesn't come through.  In Psalms 20, David came to understand this reality. Sometimes chariots break down or don’t show up; sometimes the miracle drug doesn’t come with a miracle and sometimes the problems are bigger than a political candidate can solve. David declared the only thing we can truly put our hope and trust in is God; He will never disappoint, He will never disappear and He is always right on time. One of the great hymns of faith echoes David’s declaration;  My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name. On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand”.

What or who have you placed your hope and trust in?  When times are difficult, when you back is against the wall; are you listening for chariots, for the bugle call of some modern savior—or do you hear the still small voice of a Creator that whispers into your heart that He loves you and is in control?  The cartoon hero Mighty Mouse used to declare, “Here I come to save the day” and I fear today, many Christ followers are so busy looking around for someone to save the day that they forget to look inside themselves to the One who holds the day in the palms of His hands.  Just a simple reminder that “All other ground is sinking sand”.


I Cannot tell a Lie

posted by Rusty Guenther


“We don’t expect eloquence from fools, nor do we expect lies from our leaders” Proverbs 17:7 Message Bible

In 1809 a man by the name of Parson Weems published one of the first biographies on George Washington. Weems was a neighbor and friend of the Washington family and while his biography was written ten years after Washington’s death, it was very popular and for a long time considered one of the best glimpses of our first president. At the time, George Washington was considered “larger than life” and to help elevate his stature, Weems included a few “legends” along with the facts and over time as the lines blurred, these legends were passed down as truth.
As children, most of us were taught and could probably recite one of these legends. It tells us that as a child, young George was playing around outside with an ax and ended up cutting down his fathers favorite cherry tree. When confronted by his father, young George proclaimed, ‘I cannot tell a lie” and admitted his wrongdoing. Because of his honesty and integrity, His father did not punish George but rather commended him for always being honest. We were taught this lesson in school to encourage us to follow George’s example of honesty and integrity but it also engrained in us an expectation that those in leadership, those who we entrust to lead us must “always tell the truth”, or at least be “honest”.
If you are like me, as you grew older and this story faded from memory , the reality of politics and most politicians scrubbed away the lessons of that cherry tree and young George. We find ourselves today with the understanding that all politicians “lie” at least a little, or might make promises that they have no intentions of keeping because that is just the way the game is played. So my thought for the day is; Who is to blame for where we find ourselves as a nation where more than half of the country consider both candidates for president to be dishonest and untrustworthy? Is it the candidates fault for their lies and dishonesty or is it our fault for lowering our standards by accepting,  rationalizing and justifying their lies?
“The Lord detest lying lips, but He delights in those who are truthful” Proverbs 12:22

 


Character Matters

posted by Rusty Guenther

“Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows”  Galatians 6:7

On January 26,1998 the sitting President of the United States went on national TV and gave a speech in which he parsed and redefined the definition of  several words to try and prove that he had not lied about an extra martial affair. While some were shocked at the rationalization, the lies, and the behavior; most of his political supporters and many in the national media justified it all by saying that his personal behavior had nothing to do with his job or title. While we had been on a slippery slope for many years; this incident became a defining moment where we as a nation no longer examined a persons character to determine their ability to lead or serve in a place of authority. The response to any question of character was answered with “What does it matter?” Webster’s dictionary defines character as; “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual”. Character is a culmination of our values and morals that are exhibited through our thoughts and actions. For generations, a persons character defined them and spoke to their ability to be trusted with responsibility and authority; but not any longer in the United States. The natural result (what we are reaping) of this choice is finding ourselves in an election year where our choices for President  are a proven dishonest liar and a thrice married philanderer.  The Bible promises that we will always reap what we sow and in a culture that has decided that character is not important, we find ourselves reaping the results. Through it all we need to remember that God is in control; none of this has caught Him off guard and His will continues to be done but we also need to be reminded that there are consequences to our choices. For the follower of Christ, character matters. The Apostle Paul encourage us that “your attitude (character) should be the same as that of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:5) and that it is through our character that people will see “Christ in Us”.  Better a poor man whose walk is blames than a rich man whose ways are perverse” Proverbs 28:6

 


Are You Ready for Some Football?

posted by Rusty Guenther

“You Shall Have no other Gods before me”  Exodus 20:3

Even those who are nominally in church know this one. It is probably the most destructive and dangerous sin listed in the Bible. One can’t read through the Old Testament without seeing the consequences of breaking this Commandment, yet so many Christians today struggle to keep it. If Christianity has Easter, Judaism has Passover and Islam has Ramadan, then the highest of holy days here in America, and especially in the South would be Saturdays and Sunday’s in the fall. The houses of worship are the largest buildings in the country where up to 100,000 people gather for worship, the tithes given are in the millions and the worship is enthusiastic, passionate and committed. The object of worship is a small cylindrical piece of leather and the men who use it. If their was ever a national religion in America it would be football (college and professional depending on where you live) and the season of worship is upon us. All of that sounds pretty hyperbolic and over the top but when you compare our enthusiasm and dedication for football and our teams to our commitments to our church or even our worship of God it seems spot on—whether it makes us uncomfortable or not.

Idolatry is defined as reverence, adulation and even veneration and worship is defined as “ascribing worth” then what are we really giving the most adulation and ascribing worth to? We “worship” or ascribe somethings worth to us by the amount of time, treasure, effort and energy we put into it. So how does your “worship” of God match up with “worship” of football. If you are expending  more time, treasure, effort and energy into anything more than your worship of God, it is idolatry—plain and simple. Think about what you spend more money on or give more money towards? What are you more committed to? Who do you talk about more? I love college football and love Saturdays in the south, but is it any wonder so many Christians are struggling in their devotion and walk with God? Is it surprising that we rarely see the power of God released in our lives? What does it say about us that we are quick to complain when the preacher goes 5 minutes long and we have to stay in church past noon and yet we are thrilled when a 5 hour football game goes into overtime? Maybe we should at least be honest with ourselves.  It would be nice if we were just balanced; but even balanced would be idolatry. God alone is worthy of our worship and our lives and even our recreation time should see that proved out.

“My dear friends, flee from idolatry” 1st  Corinthians 10:14

 


Where is your Faith?

posted by Rusty Guenther

“The Disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Peace! Be Still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith” Mark 4:38-39
              The disciples and Jesus were crossing the water and a storm came up while Jesus slept and the disciples began to fear for their lives and ended up waking Jesus up and in return Jesus calms the storm. Most have heard the story and we like to take comfort and focus on the fact that Jesus spoke to the storm and calmed the rough waters as an indication that Jesus can confront any storms of life we might be facing; and that is true, but we miss the key lesson in the story. The issue is not that Jesus can calm the storm—He is the creator of all things and that was done with the wave of his hands. The real point of the story is the lack of faith of his followers. Had they forgotten who He was? Had they forgotten they claimed to place their total trust and faith in him, believing that He was in control of everything? Yet, even with him in their midst, they allowed a few waves and some wind to take their eyes off of their Savior. All of us will face  strong wind, storms and some even the hurricanes that life throws at us, the question is do we really believe that God is control and wants what is best for us and do we trust him? It is only with complete faith in God that we will find peace in the midst of the storm, knowing we are in His hands! People like to say, “God will never give me more than I can handle” and they are wrong. We are given more than we can handle every day! The truth is God will never give us more than HE can handle! With him onboard, what is a little wind and waves?

 


Just becasue you can doesn't mean you should

posted by Rusty Guenther

A person of knowledge uses words with restrain, and a person of understanding is even tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if they keep silent and discerning if they hold their tongue” Proverbs 17:27-28.  As we enter into a very contentious and polarizing election season, it seems like everyone has an opinion. Part of the privilege of living in a free nation with freedom of speech is the ability to voice our opinions, but just because we have an opinion doesn’t mean it always needs to be heard. My grandmother used to say that opinions are like armpits; everyone has one and most of them stink. I wonder how many relationships, friendships and families have been hurt by differing opinions and heated words over candidates and the elections. Our society used to be able to discuss and debate differing ideas and opinions and still remain civil; now it seems like if someone disagrees with you they become the enemy and we open up the personal attacks. As Christians, we know that regardless of who is elected—God remains in control and the answers to what is afflicting our nation and our society will not be solved by political parties or any certain candidate. Spiritual problems require spiritual solutions, not political band aids. I wonder what would happen if we spent half of the amount of time that we spend condemning candidates and voicing our opinions in pray for our nation and it’s people. Maybe we should seek some restraint and recognize that relationships are much more important than opinions and politics. We would do well to remember the words of Abraham Lincoln, who once said “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt”. “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” Proverbs 20:3

 


What is a Gentle Answer?

posted by Rusty Guenther

“A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly”  Proverbs 15:1-2  “The heart of the righteous weighs its answer”  Proverbs 15:28  How many times have we been goaded into lashing out and saying things we immediately wish we could take back, or on a bad day responded to someone else harshly. It seems like it just happens; the words come flying out, the smart aleck response, the hurtful tone, the angered retort. It is amazing the damage an uncontrolled mouth can produce. The writers of the Book of Proverbs spend a lot of time warning about and discussing the power of an uncontrolled tongue and mouth. They do not mince words using phrases like wise and righteous for those who can control their tongues and fool, foolish and folly for those who allow it to run loose. While we may not like the idea of being called a fool, most of us have felt pretty foolish or worse after making a tough situation much worse through a loose tongue. The warning is pretty simple; put a filter on your tongue and weigh or take a moment to think about the words you are about to let loose. It might feel good for an instant when you lash out or allow what you might be thinking to come running out of your mouth; but it almost always brings pain and conflict in return. Think about the situations and circumstances you have faced that have been made much worse or painful due to a loose tongue. Think of all the pain, grief and conflict that could have been avoided if you had only kept your mouth in check. It seems like such a small thing, but it harbors great benefits to those who heed the warning. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” James 1:19-20

 


When right is wrong and wrong is right

posted by Rusty Guenther

What started as a great night of Monday Night Football ended with a sick feeling in my stomach, as if I had just been a witness to some sort of a crime. I am a fan of football, all kinds of football – High School, College, the NFL; I just love the game and the stories the game produces. I am not a fan of Green Bay or Seattle. (I have to admit I was enjoying watching DJ Smith for Green Bay and a recent Appalachian State graduate continue to defy the odds as a “too small from a small college player” have a great game)  I had no dog in the hunt but the last 5 minutes of that game were a nightmare. It seemed like each bad call was replaced by a worse call; culminating in a horrible game winning touchdown that was pretty clearly an interception. You had one official slowly signaling touchdown, another signaling a clock stopping touchback, standing only a few feet from each other and both looking at the same thing. I remember thinking surely the replay officials will get this right, the game cannot end with this kind of horrible call, but it was explained that the replay officials cannot review who is in possession of the ball and the play stood. Touchdown; Seattle wins.  Like many across the country (except a few Seahawk fans) I sat in disbelief as the Packers ran off the field and the Seahawk fans celebrated. I had planned on going to bed; it was after midnight, but I wanted to hear what the commentators thought. Yet, the sick feeling persisted.

 If you are a sports fan, in the next couple of days you are going to hear plenty of blame, wailing and gnashing of teeth. It is the “replacement referees” fault or maybe the “NFL establishment” because they had not settled this mess after several weeks of horrible calls. Green Bay should have never allowed it to come to a last minute play and they deserved to lose. Seattle and Golden Tate (the receiver who was awarded the touchdown – after a horrible and obvious offensive pass interference call) was just doing what any receiver would have done. All of the rationalizations, all of the excuses; it won’t change the outcome, it won’t change the record. Seattle won the game and Green Bay lost. A Green Bay interception was a Seattle touchdown.

After a night to digest the whole scenario, I have come to a new and different conclusion; Why not?  Why should I be surprised that something I felt could clearly be interpreted only one way not be determined differently? It is just a logical extension and perfect example of where our society has been headed for the last several years. We continue to have leaders and politicians tell us that up is down and down us up; what we once felt was wrong is now right, and what has always been right is now wrong. If you shout it loud enough and long enough, make enough rationalizations and mock those that disagree; it eventually becomes the “truth”. Half of the stadium believes it is an interception and the visual evidence, rules and history seem to back it up. While the other half celebrates a touchdown and clings to whatever emotional rationalizations fit their intended outcome. Too deep for a football game;  too political for a preacher? As I was praying this morning, I reread the Apostle Paul’s warning to his young protégé Timothy in his second letter to him. (2nd Timothy 4:3-4)

“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine (truth). Instead to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a number of great teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths”. The Message Bible interprets verse 4 “They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages”.  I like that; “chasing mirages.” Webster’s dictionary defines a mirage as “something that appears to be real but is not”. Sound familiar? It seems to me that we are rapidly moving towards a society that enjoys chasing and following mirages; which would be fine as long as they were content to go it alone. The problem arises when they begin to mock and denigrate anyone who is not willing to follow their folly. Paul’s warning was just as true 2000 years ago as it is today. You can draw your own conclusions, as for me I am taking Paul’s advice as he continues in verse 5 to Timothy “But you, keep your head”.  It was an interception - Green Bay was robbed!


Honey Boo-Boo and Psalms 1

posted by Rusty Guenther

My house has Dish Network and their whole package of channels (over 400) and yet on some nights I find it difficult to find something worthwhile to watch. On those nights I find myself complaining of “nothing to watch” my kids remind me of my answer to them when they say the same thing. “When I was your age; we only had 3 channels and we liked it; we had to go outside and move the antenna manually in the rain while my dad screamed from the living room, and we liked it; my video game was two white dashes and a little spot moving back and forth called pong, and we liked it; yada, yada, yada”. If you are over 40, you know what I am talking about; if you are under 40 – I am sorry, we didn’t really like it.  We did not know any better. We thought that reruns of the Brady Bunch, Gilligans Island and Petticoat Junction was quality TV (my ADD has kicked in and I am singing the Petticoat Junction theme song; another earwig!). We liked it because we did not have any other choices. On Sunday after football, you watched “Laurence Welk” or the” Wonderful World of Disney” – same choices, every week. In my family, we would visit my Grandparents house on Sundays so we really did not have a choice – “vonderful, vonderful”.  The point of all this rambling is that we watched certain shows because we really did not have any other choice – unlike today.

With over 400 channels, TV on demand, the internet, DVD’s, DVR’s and every other kind of entertainment available, we have more choices today than one person can comprehend. Yet it seems like the most popular form of entertainment today is watching the shortcomings of others. Reality TV in some form or another is on every channel and on some channels, it is all they offer. Now before you become offended and stop reading, let me clarify as simply as I can. I put these reality shows into two categories; “those we laugh with” and “those we laugh at”. I will admit it is a very fine line between the two but when it comes to most of these reality shows there is an obvious difference. As an example; I love “Duck Dynasty” and while I usually find myself laughing at “Uncle Si”, most of the humor is good natured and you are really laughing with the rest of the family and the situations they find themselves in. Maybe I am rationalizing, but the Spirit of the show just seems different from some of the other offerings on reality TV, which brings me to my point (I warned you early on that these things might ramble).

Last night I could not find anything on TV to catch my attention so I stopped the remote on TLC. At one time this was “The Learning Channel” but I doubt you would learn anything from their current lineup. They were airing a marathon of “Honey Boo, Boo”. I had heard about the show before, I had read a couple of articles on the background of the family on the show, but none of that could prepare me for what I saw. I can’t describe the show; I could never do it justice; suffice to say, it is something one must see to really believe and comprehend. (I am NOT recommending you watch it!) I will admit that after just a few minutes I found myself laughing, and I am not talking a little chuckle, I was laughing hard. This was not a “laughing with” laughter either; I was laughing AT the people on the show. I assume this must be why the show is so popular, because there was no redeeming quality in anything I saw. I realize that there are all kinds of lessons to be found in the fact that this show is so popular or why so many people are drawn to it and watch it, but I want to share what I experienced.

After about 10 minutes of watching and laughing, I began to get a sick feeling in my stomach. Maybe it was from laughing so hard, maybe it was from guilt, or maybe conviction; but it continued to get worse. In the midst of feeling sick, I started hearing the words of Christ; “the least of these” “the least of these”… These people I was laughing at were not some characters on a sitcom; they were real, flesh and blood, broken and hurting, people. These people I was laughing at were people that God loved just as much as He loved me; they were “his children”.  (I am not trying to rain on your viewing parade, just explaining what happened to me). After a few minutes to let those thoughts bounce around my head, I turned the TV off. Then the words to a verse I have read on the 1st day of every month for the last 20 years came to my heart; “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers” Psalms 1:1.  What are you trying to say God? Was I sitting in the seat of mockers? The King James translation calls it the “seat of the scornful”; somehow that hurt even more. Had I allowed my couch to become the “seat of mockers” all in the name of entertainment or passing the time?  The Holy Spirit was reminding me that I struggled enough with making fun of others and mocking those less fortunate than me to invite another avenue for doing that into my home. To make matters worse, as I was trying to rationalize to my conscience that it was just TV, and it was all in good fun, these people are getting paid; the words to a song that the worship team lead us in a couple of weeks ago came back to my heart. “Break my heart for what breaks Yours”. A simple yet striking request I had just asked of God. I began to wonder, what breaks God’s heart more; this family that is inviting the world in to watch and mock their dysfunction, or all of His disciples that are watching and laughing and slowly letting their hearts become calloused to the world around us?

I ended up on the internet looking up the name of “honey boo –boo’s” family so I could commit to praying for them. As I prayed for them I asked the Holy Spirit to soften my heart to the point it becomes more natural for me to weep instead of laugh. “Break my heart for what breaks Yours”. Afterwards, I found the channel for “The Wonder Years” and escaped into the life of Kevin Arnold – now that show has some redeeming value!


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