God can use store-bought pies

It was a community Thanksgiving Eve service, held at another church. I brought my mother home from the hospital that afternoon. I was feeling bad about having to go to the service, but my mom insisted she would be fine. Pie was being served after the service. Nobody in our house had time to make a pie, so I picked one up at the store.

Before the service I was in the fellowship area of the church. I overheard one lady say to another, in a rather disgusted tone, “Look at that. Somebody bought a pie instead of making one.” It was my pie she was talking about. I was tempted to grab my unwanted, store-bought pie and go home, but I was the speaker that evening so I figured I better stick around. I avoided the temptation during the closing prayer to pray, “Thank you Lord for the pies, especially the store-bought one.”

For some of us, like me that evening, the best service we can do in God’s kingdom is like a store-bought pie. Some people have special talents. The things they can do may seem like an amazing homemade pie: unique and better-tasting than anything you’ve ever had before. They are able to wow and impress people. We give thanks for those unique gifts.

Most of us, though, may feel more like a store-bought pie. Our talents and abilities aren’t necessarily filling people with awe. It may feel like there are plenty of others who can do the things we do. Our service in the kingdom may seem to be a little insignificant and nothing too special.

In the Gospels we read about a boy who didn’t seem to have anything too special to offer. He only had five loaves of bread and two small fish. The disciples wondered, “… how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:9) But Jesus gave thanks for that simple little lunch the boy let be used to serve others, and the Lord used it to feed over 5,000 people.

The Lord can use little lunches and store-bought pies. He treats as valuable people who are devalued by the world. He notices service that is overlooked by others. He can use our talents, even when they don’t seem to stand out from the crowd. We should not be dismissing the store-bought pies and the ordinary gifts that we and others have to offer. Instead let us give thanks when those seemingly simple things are given to God for Him to use. Give thanks for the extraordinary ways God can use ordinary things.


What keeps the church safe?

In the book The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken the story is told of a time when a Communist official in the old Soviet Union broke into a Christian congregation’s worship service, slapped the pastor, threatened him and warned him the church needed to close. “If you do not stop this nonsense, this is the least that is going to happen to you.” As the official started to leave a small grandmother who was part of the congregation waved her finger in the officer’s face and declared: “You have laid hands on a man of God and you will not survive!”

The grandmother’s prophetic word was pronounced on a Tuesday evening. On Thursday night the official dropped dead of a heart attack. The fear of God swept through the community. Attendance at the little house-church doubled from 75 to 150 people.

The death of the official did not deter the Communist authorities. They arrested the pastor, a man named Dimitri, and put him in jail where he would remain for 17 years. He suffered much persecution there, but he kept doing the same thing each morning. He would stand, raise his arms in praise to God and sing a “HeartSong” to Jesus. The other prisoners would curse and jeer and throw things at him to try to shut him up. But Dimitri kept singing the praise song at the start of each day.

One day in prison Dimitri found a whole sheet of paper and a pencil beside it. As was his practice whenever he found any kind of paper, he wrote on it any Bible verses, Scripture songs or stories he could remember. After filling both sides he stuck the paper on a pillar as a testimony and praise to God. The jailer soon saw it, beat Dimitri and said he was going to have him executed.

Dimitri was dragged from his cell and taken down the corridor to the place where they did executions. Before they reached the door that led to the courtyard, 1,500 hardened criminals stood at attention by their jail-cell beds. They all began to sing the praise song they had heard Dimitri sing every morning for the past 17 years. Dimitri said later it sounded to him like the greatest choir in all of human history. The jailers instantly released their grip on him and stepped away in terror, asking, “Who are you?” Dimitri replied, “I am a son of the living God, and Jesus is HIs name!” They returned him to his cell and later released him from prison and returned him to his family.

In the wake of the horrific shooting in the church in Texas some news commentators have described churches as “soft targets” and “vulnerable.” Dimitri’s story reminds us that the church of Jesus Christ has a power of protection that is far greater than the most sophisticated security system or the most powerful worldly weapon. “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (I John 4:4).

The church may seem like a soft, vulnerable target by the world’s way of looking at things. But the church rests in the strong, safe arms of the Almighty Lord. Our first and most powerful means of protection is to pray. God may permit things to happen that cause our body to be harmed and even killed. None of us really know why He lets some of these terrible things occur. But we still trust that in Him our soul is safe for all eternity. “Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident. … For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling” (Psalm 27:3, 5).

Those who went to that Baptist church in Texas thought they were going to be safe there. That congregation is now suffering pain that is hard for the rest of us to imagine. Sadly, lives on this earth were ended far too soon and families and friends are now heartbroken. But for those who knew Jesus, their souls were still safe and their relationship with the Lord was still safe. Even though it’s a scary, dangerous world, we don’t have to live as prisoners of fear. We live in freedom and peace by faith in our Father’s strong and loving care.

Luther: human and humorous


Carl Trueman, in his book Luther on the Christian Life, tells about being asked during an interview for a teaching position who he’d rather be trapped on a desert island with: Martin Luther or John Calvin. Trueman is a Presbyterian and agrees more with Calvin’s teaching but he said he finds Calvin to be “somewhat sour and colorless.” He told them he’d have to choose Luther because “he was so obviously human and so clearly loved life.”

The man who nailed the 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, 500 years ago today wasn’t afraid to let his humanity be seen and known. His freedom to be human came about because of his confidence in God’s grace. We don’t have to impress God or people in order to get a place in His kingdom. God is fully aware of how human we are and how sinful we are. But He still loves us. Our salvation is by God’s grace, meaning His undeserved blessings and goodness. When we’re confident of His grace and resting in His grace, than we’re not afraid if people see our failures and shortcomings. We’re secure that we’re forgiven and cleansed and loved, because we’re relying on God’s great grace.

Luther’s freedom to be human and his love for life were reflected in his sense of humor. Trueman writes: “One of the most striking things about the man is his sense of humor, and one cannot possibly write a book on his understanding of the Christian life without reference to this. In general terms, of course, Protestant theologians have not been renowned for their wit, and Protestant theology has not been distinguished by its laughter. Yet Luther laughed all the time … Humor was a large part of what helped to make him so human and accessible.”

Maybe one of the best ways to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation is to do what Luther often did: laugh. We laugh at our foolish attempts to run our own lives and fix our own problems without God’s help. We laugh at the absurdity of us thinking we can tell God what to do. We laugh like a child opening Christmas presents as we think of how incredible and astounding it is that God would take our place on the cross so we could have a place in His family. We laugh with joy and glee because of God’s glorious grace.

A true gentleman

This time it is movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, who is in the news for the terrible way he has treated women. It is reported that he often used his power and wealth to threaten and intimidate women. He would try to get them to say yes to disgusting requests. The numbers keep growing of the women who say they were used and abused by him.

In one article a woman talked about this kind of behavior as something a woman has to get used to. It’s awfully sad that some women become so accustomed to being mistreated that they think it is something they have to get used to. No woman should ever have to get used to being scared and intimidated. No woman should have to get used to men saying disgusting and degrading things to them. No woman should ever have to get used to men touching them in inappropriate, unwanted and threatening ways.

Degrading talk about women is not to be dismissed as “locker room talk.” Grabbing a woman and touching her in ways she doesn’t want to be touched is not “boys being boys.” It is not the behavior of “a man’s man.” It is sinful behavior. A man’s man shows gentleness, compassion and love and seeks to build women up. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up … But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality” (Ephesians 4:29, 5:3). It is evil when men treat women as just things to give them pleasure.

The Gospels provide us with a picture of the true gentleman: Jesus. He treated women with respect and honor. He talked with a woman of another race, who had had five husbands and was living with a man who wasn’t her husband, and was willing to drink water from a cup that she handled – something other Jewish men of that day wouldn’t dream of doing. The woman was shocked. “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4:9). He had a one-on-one conversation with this woman about spiritual matters and even revealed to her that He was the Messiah.

A woman with a sinful past, scorned by the crowd, who a religious leader didn’t even want in his home, was praised by Jesus for her faith and love. “Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace’” (Luke 7:50).

Another woman with a bleeding condition that made her unclean in the eyes of the world touched Jesus’ cloak and her bleeding stopped. When Jesus was looking for who touched Him she got nervous. But Jesus treated her with compassion and gentleness and said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace” (Luke 8:48).

There are many more beautiful and gracious examples of Jesus treating women with respect, gentleness and love. Those who knew Him knew they could come to Him and find safety, security and peace.

It is tragic some women think they have to get used to being harassed and mistreated. I pray those women and all of us would get used to, but always be amazed by the incredible grace of God.

The church: a hospital on a battlefield

fullsizeoutput_95eJohann Lotz was just a master carpenter trying to care for his family and make beautiful things out of wood. He immigrated from Germany to the United States and settled in Franklin, Tennessee, where he built a home in 1858. In 1864 the Lotz home stopped being a quiet, peaceful family residence. On Nov. 30, 1864 the Lotz family awoke to find 25,000 Union troops assembled in the field around their home. Thousands of Confederate troops were coming soon. The Lotz front yard was about to become the front line of a pivotal and brutal Civil War battle.

The Lotz family retreated from their wood home to a neighbor’s brick home across the street, hoping for better protection. As the battle raged on for 17 hours, the Lotz and 20 terrified neighbors found shelter in a brick basement. They emerged the next morning to find the battle was over but the carnage was horrendous. The Lotz walked across the road to their home, but as they did so they couldn’t take a step without stepping on the body of a dead soldier.

When they got to their home they found it had become a type of battlefield hospital. Wounded soldiers from both sides were being treated there.

I had the chance to visit the Lotz home recently on a trip to Tennessee. It’s hard to imagine all the blood that was shed on what are now peaceful grounds. There are still some blood stains inside the house, some bullet holes and an indentation on the floor made by a cannonball that smashed through a wall and came into the house.

At some point in the battle it appears both sides agreed to treat the house as a safe place. Both sides brought their wounded there. Medics from both sides treated wounded from both sides. As bullets were flying everywhere outside; as men and boys were killing each other in hand-to-hand combat; there was peace between the two sides inside the Lotz home.

In some ways the church is to be like the Lotz home. We live in a scary world, full of conflict. People have deep wounds to their souls and minds and they can’t be healed by the world. Only in the good news of Jesus can healing be found. “… the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Only in Christ is peace and safety found that is far greater than just temporary safety for the body. Jesus offers safety for the soul for all eternity; a refuge that is solid and sure. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear …” (Psalm 46:1-2).

As battles rage around us, the church is a hospital for the wounded and hurting, and not just the ones who are on our side. The Confederate army rebelled against the authority of the United States. The Rebels were trying to bring an end to the Union. Their rebellion led to the incredible horror of the Civil War. And they were doing it all so that the wicked practice of slavery could continue. But Union medics treated wounded Rebel soldiers anyway.

Before the battle began, members of the Union army poisoned a creek near the Lotz home. Two of the Lotz young children were tragic victims when they drank from the creek and died. It would have been understandable if Mr. Lotz had been full of bitterness toward the Union army, but his home still became a place where care was given to wounded Union soldiers.

We share the good news of Christ with all people, including rebels, those we disagree with and those who have caused us pain. We all start out as rebels against the Lord, but He still offers us grace and mercy. In the blood Jesus shed for us He graciously offers rebels like us healing for our wounded souls.


Abuse is no laughing matter

I’m not a Dallas Cowboys fan. I’m a long-suffering Minnesota Vikings fan. But I have become a fan of a player on the Cowboys: Jason Witten.

Jason is now a big tough professional football player, but often in his childhood he was a scared little boy. His father – who himself is the size of a football player – was abusive. He didn’t physically abuse Jason, but Jason suffered emotional abuse as he fearfully watched and heard his mother and two older brothers being yelled at and hit. He’d hide in the bathroom and wonder when it was going to stop. Jason and his mother and brothers escaped from their father when he was 11, but the painful memories remain.

Tragically those who were victims of abuse at times become abusers themselves. Jason has gone against that trend. He has started a foundation to help victims of domestic abuse. A big part of the foundation’s work is to try to connect victims of abuse with positive role models so that children can see that not all men are angry and scary.

During a recent profile on TV about Jason they interviewed his father. It was a rather strange and uncomfortable interview. The father admitted making mistakes but denied being abusive. He said he didn’t know why all his family said such things. He tried to describe what had happened as just having some disagreements. It seems to be a case of the one who inflicted pain having no clue as to the depth of pain he caused.

Sometimes those of us who haven’t suffered abuse fail to grasp how hard and painful it is for those who have been abused, and how difficult it is to deal with the memories.

I think I find humor in a lot of things and I’m somewhat quick to laugh. Sometimes I’ve laughed when I probably shouldn’t have. I still regret a piano recital incident. But I don’t think it’s ever funny when a man abuses a woman.

There is a video going around the internet that shows President Trump hitting a golf ball and then tries to make it appear that the ball hit Hillary Clinton and knocked her straight to the floor. The other video shows President Trump throwing a football with a similar ending of Clinton being knocked down. No matter what your political views; no matter if you agree with the one throwing the ball and disagree with the one being hit; I don’t think watching a man hit a woman on the back of her head with a ball and violently knock her down should ever be something we laugh at. Of course the videos didn’t really happen, but still, should we find something like that funny?

The Bible calls us to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink” (Romans 12:20). Attacking others, inflicting pain on others, abusing others is not at all the way of Christ. We are to be gentle, building others up and not knocking them down. The Lord calls for leaders who are “not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome” (I Timothy 3:3).

In the Lord we have hope that the day will come when all the anger and attacking and abuse of today will be no more. “I will make peace your governor and righteousness your ruler. No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders” (Isaiah 60:18). By faith in Christ we can look forward to the day when the painful, frightening sounds of violence will be heard no more.

Set free from worrying about what they think

I recently posted on Facebook some pictures from a concert I went to. I heard the Christian group For King and Country. The pictures show that there were a lot of lights and color and a variety of instruments. There were drums and guitars and a whole lot of noise. People have various tastes in music and this might not have been everybody’s favorite, but I really enjoyed it.

After I posted the pictures I thought of how some years ago, if it became known that a pastor went to a concert like this, it would have provoked some discussion and some people would have been a bit concerned. Some things change over time and now I don’t think it’s too big a deal. It doesn’t matter much to me at all whether it is or not.

It’s easy to become a prisoner in the court of public opinion. Oh, how we worry about what people think. “Will people think this tie is too wild? Will they think I’m a bum if I don’t wear a tie? If I drive a nice car will people think I’m wasteful with my money? If I drive a junker will they think I’m not very successful? If I buy something at the deli and bring to the church potluck will people think I’m lazy? If I make something will people like it?”

Worry about what people think can influence our actions and cause much stress. Sometimes new paths of adventure aren’t explored, new attempts at serving aren’t tried, and new friendships aren’t developed because of concern over the opinions of others. People keep doing the safe and familiar because they’re afraid of what others might think if they try something new.

Jesus wants to set us free from all that. We can be set free to sincerely serve God and people. We’re free to seek to do what is right, not just what is popular. Because we’re loved by God and chosen by Him, we’re free to fail in our attempts at service. We’re free to worship the Lord. We’re free to enjoy God’s good and gracious gifts. We’re free to give up the pursuit of trying to please the crowd. Instead we can focus on pleasing the Lord.

In the Gospels we see Jesus truly loving people, but not worrying about what they think of Him. It was the religious leaders who cared a great deal about what people thought of them. Some believed in Jesus but wouldn’t confess their faith because of fear of the crowd. “… for they loved praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:43). Jesus didn’t worry about what people might think if they saw Him speaking words of kindness to a prostitute, touching a leper or eating a meal in the home of a tax collector. He didn’t worry if people thought, “He shouldn’t hang out with people like that.” They muttered, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner'” (Luke 19:7). Their mutterings didn’t matter to Jesus. He knew how fickle public opinion can be. On Palm Sunday a crowd hailed Him as king. On Good Friday another crowd yelled, “Crucify him!”

The opinions of people bounce up and down. Worrying about what they think is like riding a roller coaster that isn’t nearly as fun as those in an amusement park. We love people and serve them, but we know sometimes our service will please them and sometimes it won’t. Our main concern is pleasing God and following His leading. What pleases God doesn’t change. Believing in Jesus, trusting Him and loving Him, pleases the Lord. His opinion is we’re His beloved children when we have faith in Jesus. That’s the opinion that matters most.