“FIGuring Things Out”

A couple years back I mentioned in a sermon that I was very disappointed that the Fig trees I planted were not producing as I felt they should. Did I plant them in the wrong area? Was the soil that poor? Were they not getting enough water? Well, that has changed now. They are thriving (or at least were until the extreme heat hit the area). I have had some great harvests from one of my fig trees almost every other day. I do argue with the squirrels and birds. The fake rubber snakes I placed out helped, I think for a while, but now nobody is fooled by them anymore.

I have always loved figs. Fig cookies, fig preserves and years ago I even had a unique fig flavored vodka from Germany that was rather good. The fig tree is the third tree mentioned in the Bible when Adam and Eve made their clothes from fig leaves. Between the word “Figs” and ‘Fig Tree” they make an appearance in around 70 verses in Scripture. In all those verses there are good things spoken of as well as words of admonition and even curses made.

I recall from Luke 13:6-9 [Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So, he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”]

The Law from this passage would help us saying, don’t take up soil (life) and waste the nutrients (blessings, gifts, talents) that God presents to you. “Produce fruit in keeping with the repentance” (Matthew 3:8). The Gospel from this passage would remind us that God gives us second chances and as we know, a lot more than just a second chance. He gives us time to mature and produce as He has planted us.

God is certainly more generous with us than we are with others. If someone disappoints us in some way we might be swift to correct or condemn them. How often do we give them the opportunity to amend or self-correct their situation? Some folks are certainly better at this than others, still we all have our breaking point.

Thankfully God does not. He is there to forgive over and over again. The Lord God has us “FIG”ured out. He has taken time to allow us to grow and mature. We may get a little scraggly, or from one season to the next fail to produce as expected, but God still puts up with us. At least for now. There is a day coming when we’re are told “Every knee will bow.” Many fig tree branches have a good deal of “bend” in them. But they also have their breaking point. Better to give ourselves fully to God now. Better to honor Him with our lives today than wait for the day of judgment and wonder if we have produced as God desired us to do.

You’ve already been planted and nurtured for years. Get out there and bear fruit! Go! Be the child of God that you were called to be. Flourish under the SONshine. Live for the Lord. Don’t wait another season to start doing what God made you to do. Bear fruit!

Pastor Bill

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Legal or Illegal?

Those words have very distinct meanings. In the United States (as it likely is in any other country) we have a multitude of laws that some people are in favor of and some people dislike. Over time laws change and change again. The result is the same, some people like the changed law and some people do not like the changed law.

The application of, or outcome of, a certain law is sometimes decided by nine people in the highest court in our country. Most often, they cast their vote in accordance with their political ideology. This is always controversial recognizing that there is an inherent bias always at work. So it is with most laws. The bias that exists within every person is not altered by our vocation.

One of the greatest challenges our country is facing today is the application, and/or enforcement, of laws. A great problem exists when we try to insert or use God’s Word to support our perspective on a national/secular law. The reason this becomes problematic is that one can use the Bible to support or condemn pretty much anything they want. There are already distinct laws in the Bible. You can find 10 really good ones in the Old Testament (Ex. 20 and Deut. 5). After that, Jesus introduces a couple of summations of those 10 laws reducing them to two. And of course, people want to use those laws to support their bias concerning civil laws.

While there is a statement that reads, “We the People…” concerning our government, there is a more important statement that reads we are the Body of Christ (the church); Rom 15:5, Col. 2:19, 3:15. How that is exercised is the next place where we continue to find disagreement. We will always have disagreements on the laws of the land, but that cannot be allowed to cause division in the Body and the Law of the Lord. Where God’s bias must always be honored.

I am greatly disheartened by “Christians” who condemn other Christians because of their political perspective. I’ve read where a person called those who view things differently sinful and even ‘evil.’ To which I respond that they just became the evil they condemn. It is not given to us to judge the motives and heart of another. Actions that disagree with our ideology most often (granted not always) are simply that, not acts of evil. Once we judge another child of God we have forgotten the log that is in our own eye (Mt. 7:1-5.) See also Js 1:23-24.

Civil laws come and go. From the past; prohibition, health care, voting rights, social security, the draft, and so on. From the present; legalizing marijuana, private enterprise and rights of service, gun ownership, health care (still), trade with other nations.

I may not agree with your ideas regarding the Country’s laws. But, what I really want to know is, are you a child of Christ? Have you been Baptized? Do you know Jesus as the only way to heaven (Jn. 14:6 “no one comes to the Father, except through me”)? Will you work with me to get the Good News out into the world? God’s Laws will not cause a division between us. The Gospel will unite us! Look at me as a forgiven child of God, I pledge to do the same to you. “But the fruit of the Spirit is LOVE, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23).

Pastor Bill

SERVICE or SERVE US?

Do you have a “service mentality,” or a “serve us mentality”? While the dichotomy is simple to understand, because of our sinful nature, living the Christian lifestyle and being a true servant is hard to do. Still, we are called to serve, not to be served.

There are some genuinely generous people, truly gifted in hospitality, in giving, in serving others. Sadly, and perhaps somewhat cynically, more of what I see in people is that they have a desire to be served more than to serve others.

When this “serve us mentality” infects the minds of the individuals, it also infects the church which is made up of these people. It’s the same principle we deal with in people saying they come to church to “be fed”. It’s rather obvious that people get out of things from that which they put in (kind of like a church potluck). If a church member comes with a bitter attitude, more than likely they will leave with bitterness multiplied in their heart. If someone comes lacking the desire to forgive another they will be prone to leave not only feeling the same, but possibly having even less forgiveness in their heart as they see and hear that others are being called forgiven who have done far worse things (at least in their minds).

People most often see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear. They take with them only what fits their personally molded mentality. It infiltrates every aspect of people’s spiritual life. Some people put $20 a month in the offerings and expect the church to maintain a certain standard of appearance, comfort and certainly service to them in times of need. They scoot in and out of church hardly saying a word to anyone and then claim the church is unfriendly and unwelcoming.

Praise God that there are many in the church who do love the Lord and it’s genuinely observed because they show it in their love and respect for other children of God. Matthew 13 speaks about how Jesus was rejected in his own hometown and that there were no miracles performed there because of their lack of faith. It’s sorrowful that they missed out on the blessings of Jesus because they were too focused on themselves, on being served rather than serving.

There’s a series of commercials that have played over and over for years from a credit card company asking “What’s in Your Wallet?” The direction they want you thinking is that if you have their card, you’ll have all you need. We could ask in the church, “What’s in Your Heart?” and understand that question may reveal you have all you need, or it may show an ugliness that is in need of repentance and being left at the foot of the Cross.

If the church is to be right and healthy, then we as her members need to be right and healthy. If the church is to be faithful, then we as God’s individual people need to be faithful and faith filled. If the church is to be a place of “service” to others, the we need to rid ourselves of the “serve us” mentality and instead return to the Lord and the example He is in His service to us. Are you faithfully coming to the weekly family reunion or missing out to serve yourself? What are you bringing to the Sunday family gathering? It’ll be reflective of what you take home.

“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” ~ 1 Corinthians 9:19

Don’t be in it for yourself, that you might be served. Live for the opportunity to be of service for others.

Pastor Bill

Seasons Change, Do You?

YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS!

Easter marks the beginning of a new season in the church year. The Gospel readings shift to both post-resurrection stories about Jesus, and also His care for us as the Good Shepherd, the nourishing Vine, and the Christ who offers prayers on our behalf.

IT’S TIME TO/FOR SPRING

As there is a shift in the readings and focus of worship in new Easter season, there is a shift in the season around us as we say farewell to Winter and welcome Spring (or as we see it in Texas, just a brief walk up to Summer). With those changes, perhaps now would be a good time to consider changes of our own. Better than the old hat idea of New Year’s resolutions, how about looking for a new level of faithfulness to the Lord. How about asking the Spirit to Spring up within us and energize us anew for service in God’s Name? What if everyone of us looked to make a truly new and positive impact on behalf of Christ, remembering as we do not just at Easter, but always, that His death and resurrection are the reason we have life, hope and our very being? Some things to Consider might be…

  • A renewed faithful participation in Bible Study, both for the knowledge and for the fellowship with the family of believers.
  • Pledging to invite someone to church at least once a month. (Whether they come or not, we need to be active in asking people.)
  • Finding one new ministry to get involved with at church. We can look for new ways to use our talents and bless the congregation as well as our own spirits.
  • Tithe, or make a commitment to increase your offerings, by even 1% more of your income. The church is how we are both nourished and how we reach out to others in caring for them in so many ways. We have to fund the ministry to both the Body of Christ in each place as well as planning for the future.
  • Read the Bible regularly, every day. If you already do this, then increase the amount of time you spend in the Scriptures by another 5 or 10 minutes each day.
  • Pray, pray, pray. Every church, always has several folks you know from the family that need prayers. Most publish lists of those folks. You can also make your own daily list of folks that need prayer. (As a pastor, I am always appreciative of prayers that I remain faithful and serve well.)

Don’t let the weather be the only thing that “Springs” around you. Spring into action in your faith as well.

Pastor Bill

Christians Who Conceal and Carry

I know everyone already has a strong opinion on this one way or the other. I also realize that nothing I write will likely change a single person’s opinion or actions. But, I ask you to read this with as open a mind as you possibly can. And please, try not to draw a conclusion or evaluate this epistle sentence by sentence until you have read the entire document.

On my part I can honestly say, that I have grown to have a great concern over many of those who choose to conceal and carry. That may come as a surprise to some, but most people will understand my perspective, even if they don’t share it. However, I also have a greater concern over those who choose not to carry at all. which may sound like a conflict, but I do not believe that is the case.

In this day and age it is clear to me that if ever there was a time for people to be bold enough to carry it is now. I do realize that there are some who cannot be trusted. But, it is all the more important that because there are some who will do the wrong thing, that we need to have good and godly people who will carry and do the right thing. Christians need to have a firm understanding that this is really a responsibility, not just a right

Will we give our country over to people who lead us astray from what is our God given and God ordained right? Over the years that’s what has happened. We have allowed ourselves to be shamed because of other people actions and beliefs. This has led to a point where we are no longer given much of a say. Fingers are pointed and blame is ascribed before anything takes place, even though folks are behaving peaceably. Will we surrender to those who say that what we stand for has no place in society any longer? Will we be judged by the actions of a few? Why should we be attacked so readily when we only want to help others?

Through ages past, people were once bolder. More people knew that they had a right to speak out and speak up for what is right. This is a matter of life and death and if we are truly concerned about protecting the lives of those around us, those we know, those we love, and yes, even those that may just cross our paths, the time to rise up and take a stand is now. There are too many lives at stake if we do not make a conscious choice to carry. I carry! I have one in the glove box of my pickup, several at home and even quite a few in my office. I even encourage people at church to bring theirs with them so they can get some practice in, using them.

Do you carry your Bible? Is it where you can use it at a moment’s notice? Is it there for you to pull out in time of need for your sake or for the sake of another? Some Christians have their Bibles with them but conceal them so others may never know they exist or carry them around at all. Other Christians don’t bother to carry them at all. This Word save lives! How can we say we are committed Christians if we don’t carry Bibles and regularly use them for our protection and the protection and salvation of others.

I carry, I want you to carry too. Take a stand not to let the world around continue to tell us to sit down. Carry, read and show it freely and frequently to others. Use it and remind people that you do so because you care about them. Don’t conceal it, openly show it and openly share it.

Pastor Bill

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

It can be a stretching of the truth, a little “white” lie, a fib expressed to gain attention or increase one’s popularity, all the way through a great story, a whopper of untruth, that intends to besmirch and destroy another’s character. Lately, there is a serious 8th Commandment issue that far too many people seem to be O.K. with. Instead of the old legal standard of “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” we have become a people who currently live under a code of “Guilty Until Proven Innocent.”

Please keep in mind, I am not speaking about attacking those who have truly been victimized. They have every right to come forward and speak out against injustice, abuse, inappropriate overtures. etc… They need support and help though the traumatic experiences they have endured. And, those who have perpetrated these offenses should be held fully accountable for their sinful actions.

However, what about the falsely accused? No defense will work, no correction of details or facts are accepted. If you are accused in today’s climate, you are guilty. No jury, court or even witness is needed. The one who speaks out first is believed and trusted as speaking the full truth, even though they themselves may be lying. This is currently the way of the world. Believe it or not, even your closest friend can lie to you and you will believe them out of blind loyalty.

This is life in the public and political arena. In the church it’s more of a been there-done that reality. It is nothing new in respect to people in the church. There have been many divisions in congregations throughout the ages that are due to this perception.

I know many pastors and a few other church workers who have been accused of serious indiscretions. I also know that some of the stories were not true. With this I’ve seen reputations destroyed, pastor’s families wrongly vilified and even congregations experience splits all because a person lied to make themselves appear as a victim. To compound their sin, the lies became realities in the minds of those who repeated their false accusation so often, they began to believe themselves. Over the years I have even been the victim of such lies, but you can’t speak out against them or it becomes like Prov 26:4 “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.”

The Bible has a lot to say about this subject:
Col 3:9 “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices”
Prov 12:22 “The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.”
Prov 13:5 “The righteous hate what is false, but the wicked make themselves a stench and bring shame on themselves.”
Eph 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

We are supposed to be above all this in the church, we should live remembering Phil 1:21 “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Don’t believe everything you hear but, test the spirits. Remember, Christ is about forgiveness, not accusations. Let your speech build the church, not tear her down. And if it’s not true, don’t repeat it.

~ Pastor Bill

Repeal and Replace?

REPEAL AND REPLACE

The first thing that comes to mind for any American who hears the words “repeal and replace” (or R&R) is the Obamacare issue in the senate and their polarized views on it. But, the polarization didn’t start there (nor does it stop there), it began long before that with the great divide our country has in everything political.

I question the veracity of the word “United” concernUntitleding the States of North America. Perhaps it’s time to R&R our name. Here in the DFW area, there is much talk about changing things by which a small segment of the population is offend. It’s certainly a “squeaky wheel gets the grease” response. But, it’s being done nonetheless.

There are several things presently underway. There is a removal (or repeal) of memorials which some insist represent (the currently popular buzz phrase) “white supremacy,” they do not belong in public forums. Many of these memorials have managed to stand where they are for over 100 years without any real squabbles. Now there is a great urgency to get rid of them as soon as possible. However, their removal has certainly not calmed any racial divisions. Some people want to repeal street and city park names and replace them with something new for the same reason. Again, no less prejudice is gained. Folks have reprimanded those who had confederate flags, yet I personally know folks of many races that all appreciate the “rebel” flag.

Realistically, what monument to any person should exist? All are sinners. Every monument is in memoriam of someone who was a sinner. Since the focus has become “who cares what good things they may have done,” if all we are going to do is focus on the negative then who should have any public remembrance? There are so many things that can cause offense and apparently that is the key to changing these many things. Obamacare falls in the same area where it is becoming less the issue than it is a weapon, or at the very least a rally flag to proclaim victory or reflect defeat.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the term R&R were something that had even more meaning and value? We need to R&R the things showing that these so called United States are not really united at all. How about as Christians we R&R the things that get in the way of our faithfully attending worship every Sunday morning. There is a desperate need for God’s children to repeal and replace a host of things in their lives that interfere with their proper relationship and stewardship with and for Christ. Let’s R&R the sinful sides of politics that divide friends and family. The problems are even deep within our/my own denomination as we have a name claiming “harmony” (a synonym of a sort for being united), Concordia. Anyone who has ever been to one of our Synodical meetings knows how great the divide is, caused by all sides and beginning with the Synod President on down. We certainly have to remember the fingers pointing back at ourselves as we “preach” to others.

The Reformation was an effort to R&R corruption within the church with a right understanding of the Scriptures and God’s love, forgiveness, mercy and grace. That reformation is still underway as is a counter reformation movement that would divide us even further. So, the church is no better than the country.

Change can happen. It begins with the people who make up the church. If we will begin to R&R the sin which so easily entangles us (consider the Biblical woman who swept clean her house) and “hear the word of God and obey it,” the reformation can begin again. First in our lives, next in the church, then in our country, and finally around the world? We won’t know unless we try. Will you join me?

Pastor Bill