PASTOR'S PEN

End of the World Predictions

posted by Rusty Guenther

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going”  John 14:1-4  It seems like there are people in every generation for the last 2000 years that allow themselves to be consumed with trying to figure out when Jesus will return. In the 1970’s Hal Lindsey’s “Late Great Planet Earth” had everyone anticipating his return at any moment. The “Left Behind” bestselling book series were all the rage in the 1990’s. One so-called “prophet” gained fame with his “88 reasons that Jesus will return in 1988” only to “readjust” his date to 1990, then 1992 after the appointed dates passed and eventually his followers stopped listening. Once again,  as our world has faced an abundance of natural disasters recently, many so called “experts” are back in the prediction business. One popular recent theory predicts that Jesus will return this Saturday, September 23rd. Using Luke 21:25-26 alongside the solar eclipse, the various earthquakes, western wildfires and deadly hurricanes in conjunction with this year containing 2 “blood moons” and it being a “year of jubilee” on the Jewish calendar; they are certain in their prediction and have gained a large following. Jesus did promise that He will one day return for The Church and His followers but he also warned in Matthew 24:36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Fatherwhen asked about that day. Again, as he was ascending to heaven in Acts 1:7, he reminds his disciples, It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority.” Clearly, you and I are not a part of the “planning committee” when it comes to the time and date of Jesus’s return and we should probably stop spending so much time and energy speculating on when it will happen. He did appoint us to the “invitation committee” and that task includes getting the word out and inviting as many people as we can to “the party”. I don’t know if this is the “last generation” but I do know it will be the only generation you and I will  have a chance to invite, share and reach with Jesus’s message of love, forgiveness, grace and mercy. Instead of focusing on “when” He might return, maybe it would be more beneficial to focus on “Why” He is coming back. We need to be ready, but we also need to be focused on our task with an urgency and purpose. It is okay to long for His return, but until then—we have a job to do!  

 


Am I my brothers keeper?

posted by Rusty Guenther

“This is how we know what love is; Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with action and in truth.” 1st John 3:16-18  The headline in Monday, September 10th’s USA TODAY declared, “Faith groups provide bulk of disaster relief and recovery”.  With Florida still under the gun from Hurricane Irma, the article shares that the very same groups who were first on the scene in Texas with Hurricane Harvey are already in mass throughout  the State waiting to help. It quotes everyone from the FEMA director to people being helped but the message was the same, “people of faith” have given the most in time, talent and treasure when it comes to helping those effected by the storm, and they plan to be around for the long haul. Not just helping as the disaster strikes but staying around in the weeks, months and even years to come to offer assistance. While this may shock some who like to bash and belittle Christians it should not come as a surprise to anyone who has read the Bible from which Christians find their guidance. The Church always rises up during disasters and turmoil with generosity and grace; it is a part of its DNA, its very foundation. Jesus declared to his closest followers that “the son of man did not come to be served but to serve” and the church strives to follow His example. All throughout both the Old and New Testaments; one can find a continued command and call for generosity, compassion and giving of oneself to those in need. The Church itself is called to be a refuge for those hurting, hungry, lost and struggling; the very hands and feet of Jesus Christ to our world. It is great to see those characteristics come alive during times of crisis, but I wonder what we would happen if we were just as generous, just as compassionate, just as quick to offer our time and help when there are no national disasters. If we could be just as sensitive to the needs of those in our own neighborhoods and communities that are facing disasters of their own? We should all be quick to pray for those in Texas and Florida, to give generously to Christian organizations that will help in their recovery, and to even go ourselves as volunteers but we should be just as attentive to offer the very same things to help meet the everyday needs of those in our own back yards.  “A generous person will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” Proverbs 11:25 

 


Too many Interuptions in your daily schedule?

posted by Rusty Guenther

Then Jesus Said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’.” Matthew 16:24 This statement from Jesus is found in all four of the Gospels that record his earthly ministry and seems straightforward. Yet if you were to ask various people what it means to “follow Jesus” you would get a multitude of answers; “love others”, “be forgiving”, “strive to Honor and Worship God”, “apply the Bible to your life”, and while all of those responses would be correct, the way we follow them can be subjective and look different to different people. The best way we can learn how to “follow Jesus” would be to look at his life and how he lived it and do likewise. There are plenty of examples of how he lived out each of the examples above to follow and apply  but there is one thing he did that many people overlook or do not take notice of that might very well be the most important aspect we need to apply when striving to “Follow Him”.  Jesus did not mind interruptions! Matter of fact a majority of His ministry and outreach to others came in moments of unplanned interruptions. Today, we think of interruptions to our busy and planned out days as being a bother, a nuisance, something we rush through to get back on track. Yet Jesus saw interruptions as an opportunity.  Think about the miracles Jesus performed; almost every one was a result of an interruption, they were not planned. Those times he healed the lame, brought sight to the blind, brought a daughter back to life, fed the 5000 on the mountainside, calmed the stormy water—each time was the result of an interruption. Someone pushed through the crowd to touch Him, some cried out to him while he was on the road, the disciples ran out of food, one time they literally dropped a lame man through the roof while he was teaching—even His very first miracle of turning water into wine came at a party he was attending with some friends and was interrupted by his mother asking for Him to step in. We don’t think of them as interruptions today , they were miracles—but to many who were with Jesus, you could tell they viewed them as interruptions by their responses.  What they viewed as interruptions, as a distraction from their schedules; we now view as vital examples of Jesus deity, of His mercy, His Grace, His Love! If we truly want to follow Jesus, maybe it is time we started viewing our daily “interruptions” as “divine appointments” and instead of rushing to move past them, become more “present” in them. “Whoever claims to live in him, must walk as Jesus did” 1st John 2:6—and sometimes that means stopping when He stopped and being engaged with those in need around us!

 


From Hate to Racism to Division in America

posted by Rusty Guenther

“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself in Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28  This week it seems we are being bombarded with news of racial strife, hate filled language and ugly scenes of those trying to incite riots. The internet and news shows are overflowing with talking heads, pointing fingers and opinions as they try to place blame and fault. It is easy to blame the so called Neo Nazi’s with their torches, Nazi and racist banners and hate language; without them their would not have been a march in the first place. But where did they come from? It would be easy to dismiss them as generational racist whose hate speech has been passed down through their families and cultures but there are over 350 groups in the Unite States identified as Hate Groups, and the objects of their “hate” is too numerous to list. The Bible is clear that every person on this earth is created in the image of God; regardless of skin color, background, nationality, education or economics and to separate someone out and judge or condemn them because of one of these factors is not only against God’s wishes and desires—it is unbiblical! It is not enough to label someone as a racist, or call a group a hate group, or to even counter protest. We must address it at its roots; and the root of all of this hate is prejudice. Prejudice simply means to “pre-judge”, to allow our preconceptions and stereotypes to cause us to look at someone through a certain lens. We all struggle with it in some form or fashion; we judge people by the way they dress, their skin color, the way they talk, their education, where they are from and we allow these generalizations to influence how we think about them or the group they are with and over time these “prejudicial impressions” become a part of our thinking. Sadly, even in humor, the way we joke or talk about these stereotypes passes on a prejudicial mindset to our children and perpetuates the problem. This cannot be for someone who claims to be a Christ follower. We are commanded to love our neighbor; in mind and action and that starts by “seeing” every person we come in contact with as a child of God and created in His image— including those on both sides of the conflicts this past week. We need to stop focusing on how we are different, and celebrate how we are similar as children of God. Perfect love will always drive out and defeat hate but that kind of love can only come from a humble heart striving to rid itself of any “prejudice”; seen or unseen. “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness” 1st John 2:9

 


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”.


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

 


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!


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