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Garden Friends

Do you have any Garden Friends? I understand this term may be somewhat unfamiliar to many of you as it was to me. 

Before I met a man named Tiger Mcluen eight years ago at a conference for Youth Ministers, the phrase "Garden Friend" was not in my vocabulary. In fact, when he suggested that I needed to have garden friends, I was confused. Why would I need to have friends to garden with? 

Now I had been told many by people that I needed a hobby or interests outside of ministry, but gardening with other guys seemed to be a stretch, even from a man named Tiger. 

But over the past eight years I have come to understand and believe that I need garden friends. My family needs to me to have garden friends. My ministry needs me to have garden friends

Mathew 26:36-40 says, "Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, 'Sit here while I go over there and pray.' He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, 'My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.'” 

It was the final hours of Christ’s Life, just moments before he was to be arrested, tried, beaten, abandoned, and crucified; where He would bear the full extent of all sin, absorb the complete scope of God’s wrath, being fully separated for the first and only time from His Father, where he would experience death. 

It’s no wonder He couldn't sleep. So, as was His custom, Jesus went for a walk in cool night air - to one of His favorite places, the Garden of Gethsemane. He went there to spend His last hours in prayer. But he didn't go alone. He took his friends, those whom he had taught, lived with, and invested in for three years. On reaching the place, He asked eight of them to remain and join him prayer. 

Then, He gently invited three of his closest friends to walk a little further with him. As they stepped on dew covered ground, Jesus let his guard down and laid bare His soul, His struggles, and His burdens.

“Began to be sorrowful and troubled” the scripture says. Jesus didn't try to be strong, or act as if nothing was wrong: for it was. Christ was facing sin, separation, and death. He shared His deepest fear and struggles. He wasn't filled with pride, worrying about what they may think of him. No. Jesus needed support. He needed His friends. 

Christ in full transparency turned to these men and said “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” Jesus, the one who spoke and Lazarus was raised, spit in mud and blind men saw, this Messiah’s soul was burdened and filled with despair. He could not take it any more. 

Turning, He asks His closest and most trusted friends to shoulder this burden with Him and join Him in prayer.  Jesus had Garden Friends. Men whom he trusted. Men whom he cared for deeply, friends who shared the same for Him.

Companions, whom He did not need to put on a mask for, or pretend to be strong. Friends who he trusted to share the deepest and hardest struggle His, or any, soul had ever faced. 

Friends who gladly walked with Him, didn't judge or try to offer false assurances that things were fine. Friends who (although failed) were willing to shoulder these burdens with Christ — with their presence and in Prayer. 

In his time of need Jesus, God’s own Son, needed these garden friends. 

And I do too. In fact, every one of us does. We need friends who are willing to walk into the garden with us. The garden so often covered in darkness and muted with despair. 

Friends who will listen, who can share our soul's hurts, struggles, and burdens with. 

Friends who are not interested in judging, gossiping, or even offering a quick Bible verse to cover up the ache.

Friends who will not abandon us because we open up. 

Friends who will support us with their presence and with their prayer. 

Over the last eight years I have come to see how garden friends are something I need. Men who listen, counsel, and correct me. Who celebrate my achievements and mourn my failures. Love me when I am unlovable. Support me in prayer, shoulder my burdens, to laugh together, and share my tears. I need my garden friends and they need me. Like the Apostle Paul said in Romans 1:12 that we may be “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”

Who are your garden friends, those whom you can share life's joys and struggles with? Perhaps it’s time for another walk in the garden with them today. 

I pray that God will provide you with godly friends to share life's ups and downs. 

Changed by the Unchangeable

We are entering my favorite season of the year, Fall or autumn. I love the changes that are ushered in during these weeks. The colors of the trees, the crispness of the air, the freshness of fruits and vegetables. Not to mention some of the great seasonal cuisine: from homemade apple or pumpkin pie to bubbling hot chili. I even enjoy pulling out the sweaters and sweat-shirts from the closet. Fall is truly a season of transition or change.

Change. This one word not only describes our current season, but characterizes the society we live in better than any other. One only needs to take a quick look around to see this truth for themselves.

From the seasons to the landscape, things change. From the price of gasoline to the cost of a home computer, things change. From the color of our hair to the style of our jeans, things change. From the popular definition of truth to the standards of morality, things change. In fact I can only imagine how much changes that many of you have seen and experienced over your life time.

Change. Whether we like it or not - it is a fact of life. Things constantly change. Some change is good and brings great benefit to our lives: Like the oil lamp to light bulb, or the horse and buggy to the automobile, or the grass hut to the brick house. However, not all change is for our benefit.
For some people (especially those of us of Scandinavian or German decent) change is a scary thing. One that many do not like or seek out, and resist at all levels.

Yet in the midst of our world of perpetual change, there remains one constant: God. In Malachi 3:6 God Himself says - “I the LORD do not change.” What a comfort the prophet Malachi has for us, to know that our Lord and Savior remains the same even in this changing world.

Hebrews 13:8 assures us of the same thing saying “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Jesus is the same, never changing. The One whom we can always count on, Who is always consistent, Who’s steady, always there and will be continually no matter what is happening on earth. Our Lord remains the same.

We live in a world much different than most of us grew up in. One, where on a daily basis, we are fully engaged in a cultural and spiritual war. Regardless of where our time is spent it has become impossible to escape the messages and propaganda that challenge and undermine traditional biblical values.

Sadly this has affected many within the body of Christ, causing some to try to redefine and change the unchangeable God. Yet this cannot be done. God and His Word remain. Christ himself said “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” 1 Peter 1:25 restates it well “but the word of the Lord stands forever."

The unchanging truth of God, His Love, and His sacrifice remains. His nature, expectations, commands, and grace, despite what we encounter in the culture, these truths stand unshaken. All the Bible verses and Bible promises we have memorized, heard, and placed our hope in remain true.

The change that comes is not in God’s Word, but rather in our life as we spend more time in His Word. God changes us into His likeness, not the other way around. We need not be in fear of the changing world we live in, for the unchanging God lives in us. Let’s be encouraged, strengthened, and emboldened by the unchanging nature & message of Christ; holding fast to and letting God’s Word mold us into His likeness day by day. 

Christfully Clean

As you wipe the sleep from your eyes and enjoy your morning coffee, many of you, if you haven’t already, will soon make your way into the shower; starting your day off feeling clean and fresh. One product has built a fifty year legacy on the assumption that each of us desires to feel clean and fresh. In 1958 Procter & Gamble introduced a brand new product named “Zest.” They did so with the slogan "For the first time in your life, feel really clean." This idea quickly morphed into the popular and catchy Jingle: “You’re not fully clean unless you’re Zestfully clean!" 

As I boy, I remember watching these commercials and telling my mother that she needed to buy Zest so we too could be clean. Instead, my mother insisted that the bold claims of the television were simply not true, and the “bargain” soap we bought cleansed our bodies quite well. My mother may have been right, we probably did not need the expensive Zest brand of soap in order to wash the dirt off our bodies. However, there is one thing that our soap could never clean; one that even Zest can not clean. Our sin. 

“The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.”
For hundreds of years, God fearing Jews would travel to the temple to offer up sacrifices to atone for their sin. However, this act of repentance and worship was unable to fully cleanse them of their sins. It still remained. Instead Hebrews 4 says, “those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year.” Ironic, isn’t it?  That the thing which they did in hopes of cleansing actually brought more guilt upon themselves. 

Hebrews continues this thought with the in verse four, “For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” On this side of the cross, this statement seems extremely obvious. Not only is ritual sacrifice a crude and violent practice (one most of us could not stomach) but is not what God requires, nor could anyone receive forgiveness in doing such an act. 

Nevertheless, many people are caught up in the same basic belief today. That they can somehow, in some way offer up something that will please God. That in some small (or big) way they can please God with their Good Works; either by what they do, give, or what they abstain from. However, this is simply not true! Nothing we do is ever good enough to take away our sins. 

The prophet the Isaiah said “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” and filthy rags can’t clean anything.  I believe one Christian Songwriter said it best, “you wash, and wash, and wash, and wash, and you will not be clean.” No matter what we do or do not, we will never be clean. 

Hebrews 10 delivers the solution, namely Christ. Verse five states, “That is why, Christ came into the world” and verse ten continues, “For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ.” 

Jesus Christ came, lived, shed His Blood, giving His body, and His life to fully atone for our sin. It is through Him and Only Him where we find forgiveness, where we are made holy, where we are cleansed, where our sins are taken away, making us Christ-fully clean! Not even Zest can do that.

What to do while waiting…

Anyone, who has lived any amount of years, will testify to the fact that our world is getting worse. For Christians that means the end is near and Christ return is eminent. In light of this reality, rarely does much time pass before someone asks me, “Pastor, do you think we are living in the end times?” 

Most people ask this question with a hopeful exception of the things to come, or as a disappointed commentary on the downturn of our culture. Although it is impossible to answer this question with absolute authority (for no one knows the day or hour of the Christ’s coming), one thing is clear, each day lived is closer to the Lord’s Return. 

So what should do? Especially if Christ will come back shortly? Should we live in fear of the things to come? Should we stand on the street corner with a sandwich board around our neck proclaiming the impending doom? Should we huddle up in our churches studying, praying, and waiting for Christ? 

No. Hebrews 10:24-25 give us a much different direction: one of encouragement. “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

 Let us briefly consider three of the encouragements found in this passage. 

#1 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 
Instead of fearing the end, we should use the time to think how we can motive our fellow believers to love and serve Christ more. To consider who we can come along side, acknowledging their gifts and spurring them to use them for the Lord. 

#2 And let us not neglect our meeting together… 
It’s easy to stop attending church; and once we stop, it is hard to go back again. Yet, it is at church where our faith is fed, our souls nourished, and we are reminded of our forgiveness through hearing of God’s Word. It is in Church where we experience the blessings of corporate worship, the support of fellow believers, and are afforded opportunities to serve our King. Therefore, we need one another’s encouragement to continue coming and participating in the spiritual life of the church. 

 #3 …but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
The Christian life is never easy; it is full of temptations, trials, and persecutions. Scripture is clear that during the end times this will only increase, and it will become harder and harder to be a Christ follower. You will need the encouragement and strength of others all the more during this time, and they will need it from you as well. 

Instead of looking, waiting, or ever-fearing the end, let’s spend our time thinking about ways we can motivate and encourage each other to love, hold fast, and do great works for God until the end.

Today, would you think of one person whom you can encourage and motivate in the Lord... and do it before the sun sets tonight.

“Remember and Recapture”

For those who do not know me, I am a proud father to two beautiful little girls. My oldest is seven and youngest is five. As you can imagine with growing children, our home is overflowing with energy and life rarely seems to slow down for us. This is never more true than for the first few months of each year. 

Yes, being a ministry family December is full and not long after that Lent begins. Yet, it is not for ministry reasons alone this time of the year is full, but in a matter of four weeks our family celebrates three birthdays, one wedding anniversary, and Valentine’s Day. Back up a few weeks and you can include Christmas and one more birthday. This does not include any of our extended family birthdays or anniversaries which fall between Thanksgiving and St. Patricks day. Needless to say, that by March 12th our family is celebrated out and grateful that we do not need to buy presents for another eight months.

Although we have traveled this journey for seven years now, there is one truth which continues to amaze me; how fast the novelty of a new toy wears off. It never fails, the excitement in their eye, the feverish pace in opening the nicely wrapped package. The enthusiasm and focus shown as all other distractions fade in the light of this new toy. This is quickly followed by refusal to go to bed, for that means a ceasing in play and leaving the state of euphoria they have now found themselves in.  

There is no need to worry, this state will not last long. Before you know it, this toy too will be cast aside and share same fate as its older counterparts. Soon it too will rest in a corner, or a shelf abandoned, forgotten, and neglected, as phrases like “I’m bored” or “there’s nothing to do” or “I have nothing to play with” echo through the house. 

This phenomenon happens to adults as well. Most of us are happy when we start a new job, yet as the days turn into weeks, the weeks into months, and the months into years, many of us become unhappy and find ourselves wishing for a change. Of course none of us have every said “I have nothing to wear” when our closet is full of clothes we were once elated to don. 

Consider the draw of a new sports stadium. The crowds pack it out, opening their wallets wide to be the first to experience it. Yet, as time passes this too will fade, and unless the team continues to win, soon this once sought after stadium will be running gimmicks in order to attract paying fans.  

This fate also plagues our faith. Many start off strong, excited, and are deeply involved when they first came to the Lord, and yet as time passes this too seems to wane. Yes, many still attend Sunday morning Worship, but no longer have the same zeal they once did. The excitement is gone, the newness has disappeared, the desire to get into the Word, spend time in Prayer, or tell others is gone. This is a common problem, and in Hebrews 10:32-34 we read this encouragement; 

Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever.

The call is to remember the joy of our salvation, to remember how willing we were to sacrifice greatly for our King and Savior. To remember the reason why, the fuel for our faith, the complete forgiveness  of our sins and promise of eternal life with Christ. For as we remember this great promise, its hard not to be filled once again with excitement and zeal for Him. 

Take time today to remember and recapture the zeal of days gone by remembering the great promise that is to come!

What is Lent?

Tomorrow begins the season of Lent. While most are familiar with the term, for many Christians Lent is a mystery. For some it is simply a period of going on a diet; for others Lent is a time when their Catholic friends wear ashes on their foreheads and eat fish on Fridays. Although many are attracted to Lent, few know much about the Lenten season.

Although, the word “Lent” is not found in the Bible, nor are we commanded to observe this season, I believe this is an important time in the life of the Christian and the Church. Let’s take a moment and explore this special time.

Lent is the forty-day season of preparation before Easter. It starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday. The Lenten season is generally referred to as being 40 days long (which mirrors Christ’s time of fasting and prayer in the wilderness, Matthew 4:1-11) even though it is spans 46 days, because Sundays are generally not counted as part of the season.  

Lent is designed to be a season of fasting, self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. Lent comes from the Germanic word for springtime, and can be viewed as a “spiritual spring cleaning,” or a time for taking a spiritual inventory and cleaning out those things which hinder our relationship with and service to Christ.

Lent is a time for serious self-examination. It is often a time spent in prayer, repentance, and fasting. In Scripture (see I Samuel 7:6, I Kings 21, and Ezra 8) fasting is often connected with times of repentance and prayer. 

Fasting often means abstaining from all food and drink for a period of time. However it can also mean going on a disciplined diet, or simply giving up anything that you normally consume. This reminds us Who is in control; and also reminds one to spend time in prayer when their belly growls or they see the things they have given up. 

Traditionally Catholics fast on Good Friday, and traditionally eat fish rather then other meat on Fridays during Lent. This tradition could stem from a couple of reasons. Some say that giving up meat was forgoing a luxury, as it was rare for most people to have. Others point to the early days of Christianity, they were forbidden to eat meat every Friday . 

Friday’s were chosen because this is the day that Christ died, and is the day (sixth) where God created animals. Some believed that abstaining from meat is a symbolic "stay of execution" for cows, pigs, and sheep; symbolizing how the cross saves us from eternal death. Good Friday is also considered a fast day, where one goes without the usual luxuries as a form of penance, purification and remembrance of God's laws. This idea has morphed into the large fish fries we see today.

In any case, Lent is a time for serious, disciplined self-examination, spent in prayer and repentance before the cross of Calvary. Where we are reminded of our sin and the sacrifice of our Savior. 

2 Corinthians 7:9–10 says, “Yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

Take time this season and consider how great our need for Christ is; and how His sacrifice completely met that need.

Can You Carry This?

As a parent of two growing children our house is very busy and rarely quiet. The rooms echo with the sounds of pattering feet, joyful playing, or sometimes exuberant fighting, and of course many, many questions. Often, they come in the form of a single word - “WHY?”

Regardless of what is said, this is usually the quickest response from my children, especially when the instruction set forth is undesirable to them. I did expect this. Yet, there is one question, asked many times, that I did not expect; “Dad, can you carry this?”

Now I know what you’re thinking, what’s wrong with that? At first glance this request seems innocent and would be if the item they were carrying was too heavy for them. But, usually it is not. This request is a result of an unwillingness to carry or hold whatever they currently have. Typically, because something more interesting has come into view, or they simply want all the pleasure of moving said item without any of the work. 

Sadly, many Christian’s spiritual life resembles this. They want all the benefits, the glory, the temporal and eternal blessings that come from a relationship with Christ without any of the heavy lifting. Don’t misunderstand, our salvation is solely based on God’s gift: Grace. Our redemption is found completely in Christ’s death and resurrection. There is absolutely nothing one can do that will ever please God, earn forgiveness, or make one a better Christian. However there is one thing Christ tells us that we must carry: our cross. In Mark 8:34 Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

In order to follow Christ, in order to truly be His disciple one must carry his own cross. But what does that mean? How do we do it? Often when one experiences trials or undergoes hardships in life they quote this verse and say with a badge on honor “I guess this is my cross to bear.” But is it? Is this what Christ was talking about? I don’t believe so.

The cross was a symbol of torture, suffering, and death. Carrying your cross was a symbol of shame. Instead the key is found in what Christ said first, we must deny ourselves. 

If we are to truly follow Christ, we must deny our sinful desires. We must put away our selfish pursuits; devoting and submitting our lives to Christ and His Word. Each day putting to death our old nature, drowning him in the blood of Christ. Then picking up our cross and following Him. Walking in obedience to His word, regardless of what others think or say. Bolding sharing the good news with others, even if they call us names in an attempt to shame us. Carrying our cross simply means being willing to bear whatever scorn, embarrassment, or loss comes our way because we wear the name of Christ. 

Albert Barns said it best decades ago when we wrote this. 
“to carry the cross is a figurative expression, denoting that we must endure whatever is burdensome, or trying, or considered as disgraceful, in following Christ. It consists simply in doing our duty, let the world think of it or speak of it as they may... it is doing just what is required of us in the Scriptures, let it produce whatever shame, disgrace, or pain it may. This every follower of Jesus is required to do.” 
What are you carrying today? Selfish desires or Godly disgrace? 

Lord help us through the power of the Holy Spirt within to daily deny ourselves and carry our cross each day. 

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