A Reminder

Another week has gone by, and the year is drawing to a close. The shortest day of the year is rapidly approaching. and by the time March comes around, the lengthening of daylight hours will be noticeable. It is also the time when, due to the holidays, we who contribute articles to our local newspapers will find new deadlines to meet.

If my next few columns seem a bit disoriented, I can blame it on being forced out of the comfortable little rut I have gotten into. Those who do not read this in the newspaper, will just have to play along, because everyone gets the same material, just by different means.

This week, I will share a thought or two about Christmas, and what I believe we need to remember about the holiday. I see others writing what I would call ‘feel good’ statements, about the meaning of Christmas, and I think where did they get that idea?

One particular statement caught my eye this week. It was written by the pastor of a mainline church. The article ended with the thought that Jesus came to give the gift of love, and to be a great teacher and an example to all mankind. This is true in a sense, I suppose, but the words of Jesus bring a different message; one that is often overlooked in our day.

Of course we all know John 3:16, in which Jesus says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” But the verse goes on to say that whoever believes in him will have eternal life. In the very next verse, he says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Here are more words of Jesus: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 5:17). “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17b).

“There is no difference, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15).

In His enduring love,
Pastor Jerry

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A Christmas Story

Dear friends,
As I begin writing, the sun is shining. This is a welcome sight, since for most of the last week, it has been cloudy and cold. The snow of last weekend is still hanging around, and with the snowy background, the Christmas lights at the lake have taken on a new look.

As the Christmas holiday approaches, so also, we see the beginning of what might be called ‘insanity season.’ Christmas is being banned in the public square, Christmas music is suddenly not politically correct, and right here in mid-America, a misinformed school official has banned candy canes. However, instead of commenting on these, I want to share a real Christmas story this week.

Back in the days of old (1980’s), a young ranch couple were struggling through some financial hard-times. It seemed there might not be funds to purchase Christmas gifts for the couple’s two children. In a conversation with his pastor, the young dad mentioned their dilemma, because he needed to share his thoughts with someone.

About a week before Christmas, there came a phone call from the pastor, inviting the couple to stop in later that evening. They went to the parsonage, and after some small talk, the pastor said, “my wife and I have a little money saved up, and we want to give your something to buy gifts for your boys.” He handed the dad a check for one hundred dollars. Suddenly, the Christmas season seemed much brighter for the little family. Needless to say, there were tears of joy and gratitude in that house.

Years have passed, and the now much older young rancher has never forgotten that Christmas gift. May you have opportunities to brighten the holidays for some less fortunate family this Christmas season.

The Lord Jesus came to earth as God’s gift to mankind. The apostle Paul describes God’s grace and His salvation as His indescribable gift. It is this gift we celebrate, as we give to others in this giving time of the year.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). As the psalmist said, “Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and Amen” (Psalm 72:19).

Christmas blessings,
Pastor Jerry

The Season Begins

Hello friends,
Already it is December. Soon we’ll be trying to learn a new number to write on our checks, that is if anyone writes checks anymore. Here at our place we have experienced our second winter storm of the season, and winter hasn’t officially arrived. We are well protected from the wind here, so I doubt we had as much drifting as in other places. Also, I think the total snowfall here was less than forecast, and I’m okay with that.

It is the season of Advent for the Christian church. We celebrate the first coming of our Lord, and look forward to his promised return. As I observe people, it seems most don’t understand the significance of Christmas, let alone any thought of Christ returning again. There are colored lights and evergreen trees with all kinds of decorations, including a herald angel at the top. Presents under the tree, and displays of shepherds and wise men meeting at the nativity with gifts for baby Jesus.

But, may I suggest that if you asked most people to explain the meaning of Christmas, they would probably be hard pressed to give a clear presentation of the reason for the season. Jesus came to pay the penalty for sin, he lives in the hearts of those who believe, and he is coming again at some future time.

Here is the problem, as I see it. Most have a pretty good grasp on the idea of Jesus’ first coming, and will understand that he was raised from the dead, and is in heaven with the Father. The downside is they live as though he is ‘out there’ somewhere, while failing to understand his presence in the world. Their lives are lived no different from those who claim no knowledge of Jesus or God.

After Jesus ascended to heaven, his disciples were told, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise… He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

I found this appropriate quote from William Barclay, a Scottish theologian: “The best way to prepare for the coming of Christ is never to forget the presence of Christ.”

Waiting for His appearing,
Pastor Jerry

Landmarks

Hello friends,
I trust your Thanksgiving celebration was enjoyable, and you were able to count great numbers of blessings from the past year. We made a couple of road trips, traveling to South Dakota on Wednesday, to help Alex as he moves into a different house closer to school and work. Thursday, we joined with some other folks for a Thanksgiving meal and great fellowship, then on Friday to Neligh to celebrate with Ryan and the three grandsons.

We all have them; those places that we use to mark roads, or to remind us of some event in the past. As we traveled highway 281 north of O’Neill last Wednesday, we passed what is known locally as the “stone windmill.” I remarked that it was falling down with the passage of time. I thought of other landmarks I have known. Most have disappeared, but they seem to be always replaced with another name, or another object. Those places and events of life, seem to require some sort of marker for those who pass their way.

Growing up, where our county road connected to the major highway, there was a stone house. Everyone told people unfamiliar with the area to turn at the ‘stone house.’ Eventually, the old house was torn down, and being eight miles from town, the intersection became the eight-mile road.

In another place, three large cottonwood trees marked a t-intersection. Travelers were instructed to turn at the three-tree corner. After the road department cut those trees down, three more volunteer cottonwoods were allowed to grow up in their place. It is still the three-tree corner.

Other, more familiar landmarks have stood for many years, but show the wear and tear of erosion and other changes. I’m reminded of Chimney Rock in western Nebraska, among others. Landmarks may disappear, but we find replacements. In this age of GPS, people still need those landmarks to keep them on the right road.

The Bible can be compared to a landmark. Its purpose being to show the lost the way to salvation, and for helping to keep God’s people on the right path.

If I may paraphrase Isaiah 40:8, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, landmarks disappear, but the word of God stands forever.” As the old song says, “The Bible stands, like a rock, undaunted.” When all other landmarks are gone, the Bible stands.

Standing on the promises,
Pastor Jerry

Give Thanks Daily

Happy Thanksgiving! It’s the time of year to give thanks for all our blessings. It is no coincidence, I believe, that the holiday coincides with the end of harvest. If we can’t count our blessing during this time of the year, when can we? In spite of the fact the Bible encourages thankfulness from God’s people, over the years I have noted that it seems easier to go to the Lord with a list of wants, instead of thanking him for blessings received.

Things we are thankful for in our house this week: Friends and family. A great place to live and enjoy our retirement. Our church family. God’s creation. Each new day. Good health, and the list goes on…

Speaking of the need to give thanks, here are some Old Testament commands of God to his people:
1 Chronicles 16:8… Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Also, verse 34… Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

In 1 Chronicles 23:30; in a description of the duties of the Levites serving in the temple, we read: They were also to stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord. They were to do the same in the evening.

Then there is the witness of his people: “I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord most high” (Psalm 7:17). “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name” (Psalm 100:4).
“Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done” (Psalm 105:1).

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Let’s not just be thankful at Thanksgiving; may we start and end every day with an attitude of gratitude. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Praising Him,
Pastor Jerry

Planning for Eternity

Our week started out rather nice, but by Thursday there was a radical change in the weather. We experienced snow for the second time in recent weeks. Friday morning, the temperature here was 13 degrees, with a stiff northwest breeze. I am definitely not ready for this.

The election is over now, and whether or not you are satisfied with the result, this is still the best place in the world to live, in my humble opinion. We are still a free society, and have freedoms that are not available in many parts of the world. Let us not take those freedoms for granted.

I have a habit of reading the obituary page of the newspaper. One phrase I see now and then, is that a person died unexpectedly. I suppose it is that the person died without warning. No one really expects to die, even though we know it is a part of life.

Knowing that we will pass from this life at some point in time, the question should be, am I ready to die? What preparations have I made for this event? Many people do estate planning, purchase cemetery plots, and make funeral arrangements in advance. But how many stop to consider where they will spend eternity?

There seems to be a general lack of concern for what lies beyond this life. Most people, I believe, just live in the here and now, with little thought of anything beyond. The truth is that there is life after death, and everyone will spend eternity somewhere. The Bible gives two destinations. One is heaven, the other is hell. There are some who believe in heaven, but think they will be allowed in because of their good deeds, and that they are in better standing with God than others they know. Some claim hell will be their destination, after all their friends will be there. Still others believe there will be opportunity to choose, after they die.

The Bible says this: Man is destined to die once, and after that, to face judgment. Salvation is through faith in Christ alone, there is no other name by which we must be saved. Now is the day of salvation.

No one is promised tomorrow. Where will you spend eternity if you should ‘die unexpectedly’? Make those preparations now. Place your faith and trust in the Savior.

In Him,
Pastor Jerry

Defend Life

Some of you will receive this before the election on Tuesday. To you, I say get out and vote. It is your responsibility as a citizen to do so. To those of you reading this after the election, I hope you did vote, but remember, if you didn’t vote you, have no grounds to complain at the results.

For ‘retired’ people, we seem to be almost as busy as ever. I remember thinking my mother spent a lot of time keeping doctor’s appointments and now that I’m in that age group, I’m doing the same thing. In addition, in the past week I had a speaking engagement at a sister church, and we attended a bluegrass music concert at the Golden Husk Theater in Ord, which by the way was well worth the price of admission.

As I observe the activities of many in our culture who claim to be Christians, I wonder what Christ they follow, or if they have ever read their Bibles? Case in point: There was a news article in which a group of folks described as ‘clergy’, were gathered to ask God to bless an abortion facility. How is it that anyone could actually think that the Creator of life could be asked to bless, or condone something that can only be described as the taking of an innocent human life?

I believe God’s word is quite specific concerning this topic, and even though it has become a highly partisan issue, it is at its core a denial of God’s sovereignty over his creation.

I will let the Bible speak for itself. First of all, God is the creator of life: Genesis 1:27… “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them.” As for babies, it is God who is responsible for their existence. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). God commanded, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). God condemned Israel for getting involved with child sacrifice. “They built high places for Baal… to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech, though I never commanded, nor did it enter my mind, that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin” (Jeremiah 32:35).

May we repent of this sin, and God forgive us.

In Him,
Pastor Jerry