On Tuesday morning, a gentle spring thunderstorm rolled through Mt. Haley Township.  Another round of earth-nourishing rain fell through a cool air mass that had me wearing a sweatshirt on the last week of May.  Storms of varying degrees of intensity came and went throughout the remainder of the day and into the night.  In the midst of all the rain, thunder, and wind, one thing remained constant:

Our dog Jake was terrified out of his mind.

photo by Qualsiasi
photo by Qualsiasi

We added Jake to our family about seven years ago.  He came from a rescue organization in Ohio, and his age and birthplace were unknown to everyone.  Over the years, we have come to believe that Jake may be a “Katrina dog” – that is, a dog who was born in the New Orleans area and survived the terror of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  We believe this because he dislikes getting wet in any way and because he shows signs of extreme anxiety at the slightest rumble:  thunder, gunshots, firecrackers, or anything else that might remind him of a terribly frightening storm.

Yesterday’s storms were no exception:  all day long, Jake whined, paced, yelped, and was generally inconsolable.  By the evening, even the sound of falling rain sent him into a panic, as if he could sense that a thunderclap might come in the near future.

Tara and I tried to comfort him in different ways at different times.  But we have realized that nothing we can do – short of giving him sedatives, which we have never done – will help this poor dog survive the emotional trauma of a thunderstorm.  (Opening day of rifle season in November is another fun day for us!)

Have you ever been inconsolable due to a traumatic event in your life?  Or has someone around you experienced such emotional stress that you could not comfort him or her?  Or have you ever been overwhelmingly occupied by a burden to share the love of Christ with someone around you?

In all three of these situations, the message of Jesus Christ reaches out to us and transforms us.  Take a moment to read 2 Corinthians 1:3-11.  In this opening passage of the letter, Paul writes about the comfort of God available to those who identify with Christ.  Two truths are readily apparent:  any comfort in this world comes from God, and the comfort we have received must be shared with others around us.  Yet a third truth – having to do with enduring suffering for the sake of the gospel – captures my attention today.

Are we afflicted with sufferings for the cause of Christ?  Does our faith in Christ find expression in our lives in ways that cost us something?  Are we in need of divine comfort because we are sharing in the sufferings of our Lord?

Or do we have more in common with Jake, who reacts with fear to the world around him, even though he is perfectly safe in the care of his providers?  Do we merely wait for God to comfort us in our everyday distress?

Surely everyday comfort is important, but I believe it is more important to be in need of divine comfort because of our active participation in the work of God.  Let’s get to work!

–Pastor David

The Importance of Seasons

photo by sant.o

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV)

Our lives are marked by the passage of time.  We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries; we have graduation ceremonies; we throw retirement parties.  Major events and milestones are represented by entire sections of Hallmark greeting cards.  As human beings created by God, we have been given the ability to remember and the ability to sense the passage of time in order to help us make sense of our existence.

This is different than, say, the life of a dog.  Our dogs have no sense of time (beyond when it’s time to eat, sleep, or go outside).  They do not place any emphasis on the day of their birth.  They do not celebrate the anniversary of when they came into our home.  And they certainly don’t send greeting cards to other people at specific times of the year – although I think I’ve seen a few cards for sale that claim to be sent from someone’s pet.

Today marks the beginning of “deer season” – or more appropriately, as I’ve learned in the past year, “firearm season.”  For the next few weeks, many people in our church and community will spend a great deal of time outdoors looking and waiting for just the right shot to take.  The anticipation I’ve seen several men express before this day came reminds me of the anticipation children have in the days leading up to Christmas.  There’s a raw, palpable excitement in the air as we have been preparing for this season.

Thank God for the gift of seasons!  Can you imagine how dull and uninteresting life might be if it were always rifle season, or always winter, or always baseball season?  (I’m serious!  Sometimes a bad baseball season just needs to come to an end.)  As Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us, life is full of seasons, or times when certain actions or feelings are more natural than others.  I believe this is part of God’s design for humanity:  to know seasons, to know change, to recognize that time is passing, to live with an awareness that we have the potential to grow.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God “has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (NIV).

We are always aware of the change in our seasons.  In this we are a step ahead of our canine friends.  Are we as aware that God is so much more complex and amazing than even we can imagine?  Can we begin to wrap our minds around what God has done throughout all history?

And to think that the fullness of God dwells in the person of Jesus!  (See Colossians 1:15-20.)  What an astounding thought:  that we are invited to know this Jesus personally, intimately, deeply; to worship him, to learn from him, to be forgiven by him, to become more like him on a daily basis.  How amazing!  This is a truth that is worth sharing with others.  It is one that will never go out of season.

–Pastor David

Cleaning up the mess…again

One of the joys of dog ownership is cleaning up after the dogs when they’re sick.  Wait, did I say “joys”?  I meant “trials.”  This time the culprit is our girl, Lindy – I think she may have picked up a bit of a bug, or perhaps she ate too many blackberries from our back yard.  In any case, the past week or so has been less than pleasant for all of us.  But as I cleaned up after her for the third or fourth time, I thought to myself, “There’s a sermon in this.”

No matter how many times Lindy makes a mess in her crate or in our mud room, Tara and I will clean it up.  We’re certainly not happy that she does it, and after a while we’ve come to realize that she doesn’t do it on purpose.  That helps to reduce our anger toward her; in fact, when I was cleaning up after Lindy this week, I found myself feeling sorry for her that she felt so sick.

Theologically speaking, the correlation between my relationship with Lindy and God’s relationship with any of his people is pretty weak.  In fact, the analogy breaks down at a fundamental level.  We often do make messes of our lives:  not simply through mistakes, but through something quite displeasing to the Lord – sin.  I imagine that our propensity to sin again and again smells pretty rotten in God’s nose.

But sin isn’t quite like Lindy’s sickness.  While my dog might get sick because of something she ate, we sin against God willfully, deliberately, on purpose.  And to our shame we find ourselves continuing to sin even after we initially accept God’s gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.  (Remember my understanding of holiness:  we do not become “perfect” in the sense of never sinning again; our perfection lies in wholeheartedly loving God and other people.  Sin is still a possibility for those who have been saved.)

How amazing God’s love and forgiveness are, given this recurrence of sin in our lives!  I willingly clean up after my dog when she has an accident; God willingly forgives our sins even when we offend him intentionally.  I love my dog and remember that she does not mean to make my life difficult; God loves us even though we make his life difficult.  God cleans up our messes time and time again – thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Friends, remember that the Lord is slow to anger and abounding in love (Jonah 4:2).  Remember that the Lord calls us to live holy lives and that he desires for us to live free from the power of sin.  And remember God’s words of comfort and challenge found in Romans 6, which is your reading assignment for this week.

–Pastor David