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”.


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

 


A piece of advice that changed my ministry

posted by Rusty Guenther

“What shall we say in response to this? If God be for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

We have been teaching on Wednesday nights about overcoming the fears that we face as we strive to live the Christian life in a messed up world. Of all the fears we addressed, I was surprised by the response and the universal agreement that all of us at one time or another struggle with the fear of rejection. This all- encompassing fear; that we will be rejected by those we love, by those we trust, even by those we barely even know, can be a trap that can keep us from living a life of obedience. Even worse, it can keep us from enjoying all that life has to offer. I have seen it cause people to become cold , callused and bitter as they never opened their hearts to others for fear of being rejected. I have seen it lead Christ followers to compromise their standards and integrity for fear that they might not be accepted by the crowd. I have even seen ministers and Pastors compromise their mission and message for fear that someone might not “like it”. Yes, even Pastor’s struggle with this fear.

I am embarrassed to admit it; but there have been numerous Saturday nights, as I reviewed my message for the next morning, that I have been overcome with a fear that I might offend someone or someone might not like or even reject what God had put on my heart to share. My preaching style is to be completely open and honest, and sometimes even blunt about the message burning in my heart. I don’t like to mince words, or use flowery language to try and disguise what is on my heart to make it more palatable for the listeners. I guess this comes from my days of working with students and realizing that I needed to make every word count and to make the most of every opportunity I had to preach or share. I realize this can rub some people the wrong way and it usually leads to a backhanded compliment like “you seemed to be really “passionate” about that” or “I guess we know how you feel” and like most of you, this rejection can hurt. If I am not careful, I can allow this “constructive criticism” to influence my actions and words. (side note; I try not confusing actual “constructive help” which I, more than most, need all I can get, and plain old negative criticism or complaints couched in a “helpful manner"). I write all that to convey that I have “been there, done that”. I understand and still struggle with a fear of rejection. So how do we overcome it? How do we keep it from influencing our “passion for life”?

I have been blessed to serve in 5 great churches in these last 25 years of ministry and each step along the way I have learned some incredible life lessons that still influence my ministry and life. I have learned from those I served, those I served with, and especially those I served under. The first church I was blessed enough to serve with (Sunset Acres Baptist in Shreveport, later to become Springs of Grace Baptist Church) taught me more than all of the other churches combined. It might have been because I was a “know it all, young, recent Christian school graduate, that had all the answers” and they were so patient with me and loved and supported me, in spite of my ignorance. It was a congregation full of spiritually wise and understanding men and women that were more than willing to pour truth into my life, whether I wanted it or not. One of these men was a retired older Pastor named Moses Mercer. Moses has long since gone on to be with the Lord, but I will never forget the nuggets of truth he would drop on me out of the blue. One Sunday morning, as I was greeting people, he grabbed my arm, pulled me aside and in the most nonchalant way shared a truth that still rings in my ears and heart to this day.

He said, “Rusty, do you know what the most important practical lesson I ever learned in life that helped me in ministry is?” Of course I was not paying attention; I was doing the quick ministerial "smile and glance around" at who else I needed to greet before the service started. Sensing this, he squeezed my hand a little tighter to gain my attention, and looked me in the eye saying; “first; there are some people in your life and in your churches who will never like you, regardless of what you do." "Don’t let it get you down or be discouraged by it – it is their loss not yours" "Second; you will not be able to please everybody, so strive to please God first and in turn those that really count will be pleased.” That quick, bam, two of the most freeing truths I have ever heard, especially for those that serve in ministry. Wow, but would I let those truths make a difference?

I hope you don't hear an excuse to not love people or to write people off; but rather the freeing truth that if I understand that I have been accepted by God, the rejections I face in this world do not really matter in the whole scheme of things. The Bible teaches; that through my acceptance of Christ death on the cross in my place, as a payment for the punishment of my sin, I am now accepted by God. Theoligians call this “justification”, I prefer the term “Accepted”. When you and  I really embrace this acceptance, why should we let the rejection by others faze us?  If we are rejected by the whole world, we are still accepted by the one who counts – our creator. Knowing that I am accepted by God, my goal should be to please Him first, and if that means that others are not pleased with my actions and words, so be it. Stand strong, you are in good company. The Bible tell us that Jesus faced rejection from everyone he came in contact with; even his own family and his closest friends. He reminds us that if they rejected him, how much more we will face rejection. Bascially; if God be for us, who or what can be against us?

I wish I could tell you that I grasped those truths immediately and they saved me a lot of  heartache and worry, but that was not the case. I have had to learn them the hard way, over many years, but I admit that once they become a part of my heart, I have experienced a freedom I never knew was possible. We will all face rejection; from that cute girl you asked out and shot you down to the next door neighbor you invited to church; it is a part of life. But if we remember that we are accepted by the only one who really counts, it puts things in perspective!


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