God is With Us - You

You know it’s the Dakotas when people like to talk about the weather…and wow, has there been weather to talk about lately!!  For us here in Mitchell, and the surrounding area, it’s been the rain.  In just two nights of rain this past week, we received anywhere from 8-10 inches of rain!  The average rainfall for South Dakota is around 20 inches, and to think we received half of that in just two nights!  That is crazy!  I have a feeling 2019 is going to be in the record books for our rainfall totals.

 If the rain isn’t enough, Sioux Falls (just an hour away) was hit by three tornadoes late Tuesday night.  I drove home from a church meeting that same night with the tornado sirens going off here in our community.  That had me watching the sky as I drove home, wondering what might be up there that I couldn’t see because of the darkness.  But tornadoes aren’t the usual weather for mid-September in South Dakota.  Yes, we do like to talk about our weather. 

 Fortunately, today and the next couple of days, are going to be mostly sunny.  We need that.  But with all the rain we’ve received, flooding is now the issue.  Roads and bridges are washed out.  Other roadways are flooded.  A dam at a local lake has failed.  Just getting around Mitchell is more challenging because of road closures due to high water. 

 Several of us in the church office were joking that we were just a bit early last year with our 2018 VBS Bible Verse.  Some of you might remember that the Bible verse for last year, 2018, was, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;”  Isaiah 43:2.   Maybe we were a bit early, but the message is right on time.

 Isaiah 43 was written when the people of Israel were experiencing exile in Babylon.  They were feeling abandoned, cut off, and ignored by God.  God’s message to them was that they were not forgotten.  Even in the midst of difficulties and struggles, God sent this reminder - God was with them. 

 I believe it was great that our VBS theme from a year ago involved water and pointed us to Isaiah 43.  You see, it’s important to have verses, or truths of God, tucked away in our hearts and mind so that when the situation arises or when we need them (like now), the verse is there.  In the midst of dealing with rain, floods, and difficulties, now is the time to remember this verse.  Yes, in the midst of the flood, in the midst of the water in the basement, in the midst of roads being washed out, in the midst of crops unable to be harvested (or maybe not even be planted), and even in the midst of the other difficulties of life – yes, even then…God is with us!  God is with me! 

 As you read this reflection, if these words touch you in some way deeply, or if they bring up feelings of despair and feelings of being alone, please take a moment to read these words again; God is with me.  Say these words out loud, wherever you are – God Is With Me!!!

 This has been a tough season for a lot of people.  Remember these words…believe these words…trust in the truth of these words…lean upon these words… God is with me!!  And if need be, please call someone to talk about what’s going on in your life.  You can even call me.  Just know this…God is with you!

 Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

How's Your Battery?

At the top righthand corner of my cell phone’s screen is a very important symbol.  This symbol looks like a AA battery and can either be green, yellow, or red.  Beside the battery symbol, there is also has a number.  Between these two items, the symbol and the number, I am able to know the energy level or the power strength of the battery of my cell phone.  The higher the number or the more green showing in the battery symbol, the better.  The lower the number or if red is showing, this means it’s time to take action – the power is almost depleted. 

 It’s amazing to stop and realize just how many of the “devices” that we use every day are in some way dependent upon a battery and the energy the battery provides.  Just a week ago Nancy and I traveled to California to see her dad.  While in the various airports during our travels I noticed something that 20 years ago wasn’t there.  Charging stations.  Even on one of the airplanes, there was a sign informing me there was a “plug in” for my “device” between the seats.  

 Something that I’ve noticed about our society is that we are very much in tune with the power level of our devices that we carry and rely upon.  However, I’m not so sure that we, as people, are particularly aware of the power level in our own lives.  If you ask a person how they’re doing, they are likely to say “Fine or Good,” and then they’ll proceed to tell you how busy they are…how much they’ve crammed into the daily/weekly schedule and are on the go, go, go!  The usual response is that we laugh for a moment with them and say, “Yeah, me too.”

 Yes, we try to  boost our energy level with our morning hit of caffeine, there’s sugar and caffeine we ingest at various points in the day, there are energy drinks, some people even turn to prescription or illegal drugs or other substances to provide the boost that is needed just to survive in our frantic paced world. 

 But Jesus offers a different perspective for us to consider for our lives.  In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 6, Jesus offers us some great words of wisdom.  Mark 6:7-13 tells of Jesus calling his disciples and then sending them forth in mission and ministry.  Then in Mark 6:30-32, the disciples have gathered with Jesus again, they’re telling him what they’ve been up to out doing ministry, and then Jesus says to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

 The disciples had likely been working hard, expending a lot of energy, and Jesus recognized their power level was low.  He didn’t say drink this or eat that to regain your power and strength, and then get out there and do more!  No, he said, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest for a while.”  The phrases I believe we really need to pay attention to are, “come away,” “deserted place,” “by yourself,” and “rest for a while.” 

 Jesus modeled this in his own life.  Time and time again the story of Jesus life in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, tells us that Jesus stepped away from the crowds and the rush of life to pray…to rest.  As Jesus followers, this should be a pattern in our lives too.

 Today how’s the power level in your life…in your spirit?  Yes, the world tells us there are “work-arounds” to get more energy.  Yet, Jesus also wants us to know a healthier way is to come away to a quiet place and simply rest for a while.  When I plug in my phone to charge, often I shut it off.  I let it rest, you might say.  If it’s good for my phone…it’s probably good for me too.  The older I get I’m finding that naps are good.  But also, time with God is good.  Stepping away from the office and work is good.  Stepping out into nature is good.  Today, read Mark 6:31 and let Jesus words speak to you.  Let those words lead you to a place that Jesus knows you need to visit.

Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

Being Nice

We live in an impatient society.  We want what we want, and generally, we want it quickly.  We don’t have time to wait and often we don’t have time to talk to other people.  If we do have to explain ourselves, we just might tend to get a little “huffy.”  To us, it’s obvious what we want or need, so others should be able to see or know that without me having to explain it…right??!!  Or at least that’s the thought process I’ve encountered within myself from time to time.

 Well, just the other day I encountered a City of Mitchell Street Department person who was genuine, he put himself in my shoes, so to speak, and he even took the time to explain a situation to me.  Here’s what was going on.   The Street Department was doing some street repair and resurfacing up in the area where I live.  The crews were in the final stages of the Chip Sealing process – I believe that’s what it’s called. 

 They were just putting down the final topcoat of an oil or tar like substance.  Orange construction zone cones were set up blocking the street so no one would drive on the fresh oil and thus get it on their car.  Well I didn’t realize this was going on.  I left my home, driving my usual route to get to the church, but I ran into the orange cone barrier and the guy with the bright yellow/green safety vest.  He made the motion with his finger that I needed to turn around and go around.  Ohhhh mannnn!!  I wasn’t expecting a detour.  “How much out of the way is this going to take me?  How late am I going to be?  AAHHHHH!!”  These were just a couple of the questions or thoughts that flashed through my mind in a second or two.

 Then I noticed the Street Department guy was walking toward me.  I had already started turning my car around but I stopped and rolled down my window so we could talk.   He bent down and greeted me and then said, “Yeah, we’ve got some road work going on here.  If you would just go back around, you can cross the road at Ohlman.  I know it stinks and it’s not what you expected, but it’s (the road) not ready to drive on and we’re trying to keep oil off your vehicle.”  Wow…a calm explanation, giving helpful information showing that what they were asking me to do was really for my benefit. 

 Something about that encounter really touched me.  Maybe it was the humanity in it.  I was treated like an valued human being…not just an interruption or problem in his day.  And I hope that I treated him the same way.  I told him I understood, thanked him, and we waved as I finished turning the car around and continued on my way. 

 I was reminded of the verse from the Bible – Proverbs 15:1-2.  “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.”  These are such great and wise words, especially for our day in which people so often unleash harsh and even mean-spirited words on social media and other forms of communication.  All it does is foster more harsh words in response…and then no one ends up listening to the other.  It just becomes a war of words and egos. 

 Today I’m grateful for our Mitchell Streets Department.  The work you’ve done is good and beneficial.  You’ve also reminded me of how to treat people today.  Let’s treat one another as we really are…we are all valued human beings, brothers and sisters, sharing this journey of life together.

 Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

Broken Trees - Broken Lives

In the past month and a half there have been two summer thunderstorms that brought strong winds to the Mitchell area.  Both storms produced a lot of lightening, thunder, and rain.  But the damage that was caused by these storms was from the strong wind that accompanied the storms.  Both times, wow did it blow. 

 The mornings after these storms had passed by, the damage they caused was revealed.  Here in Mitchell the main damage was to trees; uprooted, snapped off, and broken tree limbs.  It saddened me to see some beautiful mature trees that were broken off and destroyed by the power of the storm.  

 One of the things I noticed is that some of the trees that had limbs broken off or that were damaged by the wind, had pre-existing issues that were brought to light by the storm.  With some trees it was clear to see, with others you had to look closely, but still, it was apparent where the break took place that there was an underlying issue, mainly that the tree had either died already or that the particular limb that had broken off had disease, or was rotten on the inside, or the tree roots had not developed or gone deep.  From the outside or from the surface, the tree or limb looked fine, but on the inside or on a deeper level, there was weakness because of disease or decay or some other unseen unhealthiness.

 After the July storm that caused significant damage, I was talking to an individual who knows more about trees than I do.  One of the comments made in our conversation was that storms can be mother natures way of pruning trees; revealing where unhealthiness is located and then removing it. 

 That statement has stuck with me, but not just from a “tree” perspective.  There is also truth in that statement as it relates to our spiritual and faith lives.  You see, when the storms of life hit, or when the pressure is on, it tends to reveal what is on the inside of the person.   When a person feels threatened, insecure, or strong emotional pressure, it is often then that anger, fear, worry, cynicism, addictions, rage, blame, bitterness, and such things begin to be displayed in one’s behaviors.  On the surface things can look pretty good in our lives…but when a storm comes crashing down upon us, that is when the hidden unhealthiness is often revealed and shows the brokenness in our lives. 

 One of the ways to discover where such dis-ease or unhealthiness is in our lives is to take notice of our behaviors when we get irritated.  When you’re stuck behind by a slow driver or just stuck in traffic, when something unexpected or unwanted happens to you, what is your first reaction? When something doesn’t go your way, when someone says something that rubs you wrong, or when your patience is stretched thin, what is your first thought?  Another way to discover the unhealthy points in your life is to pray a very simple prayer, “Lord, show me the points of unhealthiness or brokenness in my life.”

 I pray that no storms come upon any of us.  However, I know the reality of life is this…storms are coming for each and every one of us.  So, let’s get prepared.  As followers of Jesus, may we each look to Jesus to point out the brokenness that needs healing.  May we allow him to show us the pruning that needs to be done.  Doing this hard work sooner, rather than later, can prepare us for the storms to come in life and lessen the impact when they do strike.  If you want to know more about why pruning is important…Read John 15!

 Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

Climbing the Hill

Last week Nancy and I were on vacation in north central Minnesota at Lake Belle Taine.  We go to an area that Nancy’s family has been camping in for 50+ years.  In fact, you might say that part of our honeymoon was spent at Camper’s Paradise on Lake Belle Taine.  So, almost every year we spend about a week at this same campground – a somewhat rustic and heavily wooded island that is a nothing but a campground. 

 One of the things I like about this area we go to is that there are a couple of great biking trails close by.  One is the Heartland Trail.  The other is the Paul Bunyan Trail.  Both are former railroad lines that have been converted to paved hiking and biking trails.  They are really nice and I love to bike on them. 

 Well, last Saturday I decided to do a major ride on a section of the Paul Bunyan Trail that I’ve never ridden before.  My daughter, Melissa, decided to join me for the adventure and our goal was to cover about 35 miles.  It was a beautiful day, the scenery was wonderful, the company was fantastic, and the riding was great. 

 Now the Heartland Trail, at least the section that I have ridden previously, is really pretty flat.  There might be a slight incline and decline in the grade of the trail, but really, it’s quite flat.  However, after riding for a bit on the Paul Bunyan Trail, we came upon a sign that said, “Sections of this trail are not suitable for roller-bladders, people in wheelchairs, or inexperienced bicyclers.”   Looking at a map told us there were sections of the trail ahead with up to an 8% grade, meaning we were going to be doing some hill climbing or downhill coasting. 

 Sure enough, the trail started getting a bit hilly.  There were points we were downshifting on our bikes and pedaling hard to make it to the top of the hill, and then there were other points we were cruising effortlessly down the hill following the twists and turns of the trail.  That part was a blast!!!! 

 During one of our rest stops, Melissa and I were talking about how much fun the coasting downhill was.  But as we talked, we also realized that in order to have the fun and ease of the downhill ride it meant we also had to the uphill climbing and work.  “Oh, if we could only coast all the way.” was our thought, but we both knew that wasn’t the reality of our situation. 

 Some would say that the “Church” has been experiencing the downhill ride for a while, meaning work has been minimal, the ride has mostly been fun and for the most part, rather easy.  However, in recent years things have been changing.  Church is no longer the center of society, it’s no longer the only thing to do on Sunday.  Today’s culture tends to downplay the importance of religion.  Faith and spirituality is often pressed into a different place in our society and even in our own lives by everything else going on during a weekend.  In other words, the Church is having to work to show its relevance in the world.  The Church is having to consider new ways of being “the Church,” and even what it means to be “the Church” in our world.  This is hard work!  It feels like we’re pedaling uphill…because we are. 

 Even in our local church, we’re having to consider doing some things in different or new ways.  It’s not always easy, but the benefit of making the uphill climb is knowing that at some point, there will be the joy of the ride when one gets to experience the benefit of the hard work.  God is up to something and is at work in our world…and even in our church.  That is what keeps me going, especially when the pedaling gets hard. 

Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

Follow the Voice Inside

I did something a little out of my comfort zone today…I talked to someone in the cemetery.  Now, that’s not uncommon, since in my profession I’m actually in the cemetery a fair amount.  Yet this encounter and conversation was a bit different.  Let me explain.

 While I was checking our garden in the Community Garden plots, I noticed a car pull into the Servicemen’s Cemetery right by the garden.  The driver, who appeared to be an older woman, stopped right by what appeared to be a recently dug grave – the soil was dark without any grass growing on it yet.  She didn’t get out of the car…she just sat there.  When I left the gardens, five minutes later, she was still there.  I got into my pickup and spoke a quiet prayer for her and whatever her situation was.  I was driving around the outer edge of the cemetery, making my way back to the main driveway and an interesting thought popped into my mind; “Go talk to her.” 

 No, I thought…I don’t know her.  Usually when I talk to people in the cemetery I’m there in an official capacity.  I usually have a connection with the family.  I don’t know this woman.  She hasn’t invited me into this moment in her life.  Yet, there it was again, “Go talk to her.”

I was now at the point of either needing to turn right to head to the cemetery entrance or turn left and pull into the parking area by the Servicemen’s Cemetery.  I turned left.  “This is crazy.” I thought to myself.  I pulled over and stopped my vehicle.  I walked over to where the woman was still sitting in her car.  I walked up beside the car – a little distance away, so not to appear threatening.  Then I raised a hand a waved to her.  She rolled down her window.

 “Hello, are you OK, ma’am?  Are you here visiting the grave of a loved one?” I asked.
“Yes I am,” she said.  “My Husband.”   

“I’m so sorry.”  I replied.  “It appears that he must have died just recently.” 

“Well, no, it was actually a year and a half ago.  That’s a new grave just beyond my husbands.  But you know, I miss him every day.”

“How many years were you married?” I asked.

 “52 years.”

“That’s a lot of good memories.”

“Yes, it is.” She answered.

 We talked a bit longer.  I found out her husband was a Highway Patrol Officer.  They had lived in Sturgis for a while (so had I), then they moved to Mitchell (I did too).  She told me some great stories of their life and love.  She shared that she came to the cemetery a couple times a day.  She said, “I miss him every day.  Some people say I should forget him and move on.”

 “Why would you want to ‘forget’ someone you loved and shared life with?  You’ll never forget him.  He’ll always be a part of you and your life.”  I said.

 “That’s the way I feel too.” She replied. 

 We talked a bit longer.  I told her I was a pastor in Mitchell and that I just wanted to make sure she was OK.  I told her I didn’t want to take any more of her time.  She thanked me for stopping by and visiting.

 Nothing obviously miraculous, deep, or profound happened in that moment.  No life-changing words were spoken, that I was aware of.  But maybe the whole point of the moment was what I sensed in my heart, “Go talk to her.”  Maybe I was just there to let someone talk about the love of her life.  Maybe I was supposed to share in a moment of her life and to let her know it’s OK to still be grieving. Maybe she just needed a friend.  Or maybe I was the one that needed to hear a dear soul reflect on a life of faith-filled/love-filled living. 

 I’m not sure why that moment happened…but I’m glad it did.  If nothing else, it touched my heart.  God bless all of you / us – who live with ongoing grief and loss.  God is with you…even in the hurt and pain.

 Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

Each Is a Part

“Now you are the Body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

 Last week I mentioned the famous “Lunar Landing” that took place 50 years ago this past Saturday.  I mentioned what an incredible accomplishment it was, and really still is.  I also shared that the “journey to the moon” began seven years earlier when the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, made the challenge to our nation that we would have a “man on the moon” by the end of the decade, which we accomplished with just 5 months to spare. 

 In last weeks article I also mentioned the giant banner I saw at Cape Canaveral ten years ago that showed the famous footprint on the moon along with the words in large bold letters, “What’s our next big step?!”  That was a sign intended to inspire and keep people looking forward, striving for new accomplishments and not just settling for has already been achieved.  I still find those words and that image inspiring.

 Today I want to mention something new I learned about Apollo 11 and the lunar landing.  I read this bit of information in a recent article looking back on the lunar landing and the Apollo 11 mission.  In the article Buzz Aldrin, the 2nd astronaut to walk on the moon on that mission, stated that it took 400,000 people from different parts of the world to bring the Apollo 11 mission to reality, making the lunar landing possible.

 400,000 people!  That’s a lot of people involved.  It took architects, engineers, scientists, computer specialists, mechanics, factory workers, heavy equipment operators, mathematicians, etc. etc.  It took a lot of different people and a lot of different skills and expertise to do what needed to be done, but they worked together, each using their ability, and together they accomplished the incredible.

 I’m reminded of the words Paul wrote in his first letter to the church at Corinth.   In chapter 12 he writes about the different gifts that God’s Spirit gives to Jesus’ followers.  Paul goes on to say that no gift is more important than any other and that all gifts are needed for the body to be complete and effective.  At the beginning of this article I quote Paul’s words, “Now you are the Body of Christ, and each of you is a part of it.”  Each part is needed…each part is important…each part is necessary!

 Just as it took a lot of different people and a lot of different abilities in order to send a person to the moon, so it is in the Body of Christ, or the Church yet today.  The Church is not just about a few people doing some projects, the Church is about everyone doing their part, living out their giftedness to make the Kingdom of God more and more real here on earth…right here in our community.  In other words, you are needed, you are vital to the mission of the Church (local and universal), you, and your gifts, are essential for the church to accomplish what might seem to be impossible.  Our God is in the business of making the impossible possible!!

 It takes a team to accomplish God’s mighty and loving work in this world.  Thank you for being a part of the team, the Body of Christ.  Stay tuned, I’ll soon be announcing a workshop to help our church family learn more about how God has uniquely gifted each of us for ministry.

Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

Big Challenges

Do you know where you were and what you were doing 50 years ago?  I do, at least for a very specific moment in time.  The date was July 20, 1969 – I was 9 years old at the time (yes, now you know my age.) The moment I’m thinking of was when we, the United States, landed a manned spacecraft on the moon. 

 As I remember it, in the late afternoon of July 20, mom and dad herded all us kids into the car and we drove to the home of Wesley and Jean DeHaai.  A bunch of mom and dad’s friends had gathered there to watch TV and share in this historic moment.  There were other kids present from the various families assembled, many of them were playing outside.  However, I was fascinated with “space” and the idea that we were actually sending a human to the moon, so I was glued to that TV.  I remember watching a sweating and anxious Walter Cronkite as he talked America through what was going on.  There was relief and even joy when the words came from the surface of the moon, “The Eagle has landed.”  meaning the spacecraft, named the Eagle, had successfully landed on the moon.

 As we were leaving later that evening, I remember looking up at the moon and thinking… “Wow, there’s a person up there now!”  For me that moment brought the realization that something that seems impossible to accomplish is likely quite do-able when enough effort, energy, and determination is applied. 

 The journey toward this great accomplishment didn’t begin just days earlier when Apollo 11 blasted off from Cape Canaveral.  It didn’t even begin the year or two earlier when the parts for the rocket and spacecraft were being designed, created and assembled.  No really, the great accomplishment of putting a man on the moon began with President Kennedy stating the challenge that America would put a person on the moon by the end of the decade – and it was 1962 when President Kennedy gave that speech. 

 A famous line from the “Moon” speech is “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard.” And indeed, the challenge, the difficulty, the opportunity seemed to bring the nation together to accomplish an incredible goal.  And we did it!

 Today we live in a world and nation filled with many challenges.  There are many difficulties facing the Church and even our local church.  The number of people not attending a worship service on any given weekend is growing.  The percentage of people who don’t have ANY knowledge or experience with a church is growing.  The number of people who are turned-off by what they see in the church in our nation is growing.  All of this can be so despairing…or it can be a point of realizing there is an opportunity before us as a church to do something hard, but something that will impact this world for God’s Kingdom.  What’s the “hard” thing we are being called to reach for?  What’s our next big step?

This question I just asked comes from a huge ten-foot banner I saw at NASA a few years back.  The picture was of the famous “footprint on the Moon” and the caption on the banner said, “What’s our next big step?”  This banner was intended to keep the people looking to the next challenge, even BIG challenge, and not just settle for what they’ve already accomplished. 

 So, my question is, for us as a church what is our next big step to keep us reaching beyond the walls of our church to share the love of Jesus with the next generation from the heart of downtown?  We have a mission to accomplish!  It might even seem impossible…but so did putting a person on the moon to a nine-year-old boy 50 years ago.

 I was struck just the other day by a Facebook post by friend and fellow pastor Adam Weber of Embrace Church in Sioux Falls.  Adam posted… “If we spend even half of the time and energy we use criticizing other Christians, pastors, and churches…on loving, serving, and pointing others to Jesus instead, we just might change the world.”   Amen!!  These are hard days…but we are drawn toward overcoming hard things!  Yes…let’s change the world!!

ATTITUDE!

 ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING!!  No, I’m really not shouting at you through the printed page (all caps and bolded letters is akin to shouting in the texting or messaging world).  It’s just that I want to emphasize what most of us know to be true.  Attitude is really a very powerful force that we can control.  Truly, attitude is everything!!

 I felt this truth lived out in my life not too long ago.  I was having a “Crabby Pastor” kind of day which was coloring my outlook on things.  I walked into a store to do some business.  The salesclerk greeted me, but by the expression on her face I sensed that she wasn’t having the best of days either.  I told her what I was there to pick up.  She found the order and rang it up.  The total cost was more than what I expected.  I questioned it, she had a response.  I felt like two potentially crabby people were staring at each other and both on the verge of taking their crabbiness up on notch.  Nope, we didn’t want to go down that road.  I paid the bill and moved on, hoping that each of our days would go better.

For my next purchase I decided to do something a bit different.  I thought I’d try changing my attitude and see if that would change the overall experience that I had with the sales staff.  So, I picked up my items to purchase and went to the checkout station.  The clerk was rushing around trying to stock shelves in between caring for customers.  I was interrupting her progress with getting things on the shelf.  I recognized a potential crabby moment approaching. 

 The clerk noticed what I was purchasing (OK, it happened to be two large bags of mint M&M’s).  She kind of grunted.  I said, “These are my favorites.”  She said, “They are the best!”   I said, “I know, and these are the last two bags, I didn’t leave any for you!”  The clerk laughed and proceeded to tell me about her favorite Christmas brownie recipe using mint M&M’s.  After her mouth-watering description, I said, “I’m coming by next Christmas.  I want to try those.”  She laughed and said, “Come on by, I love to bake.” 

 And just like that, my purchase was rung up, cash was exchanged, my items were bagged, and it was time to move on so the next customer could be cared for.  We both exchanged, “You have a great rest of the day!”  We both left that moment feeling good, with genuine smiles.  I can even say the “crabby pastor” feeling was pushed way back into the deep recesses of my mind, all because of a brief one-minute conversation. 

 I walked out of that store feeling more positive and light-hearted than I had when I walked in, all because of a shift from focusing on the troubles of my day to that of considering how to connect with another person experiencing the journey of life with me.  Attitude is everything! 

 It seems that our world is filled with tension, anxiety, and psychological or emotional darkness.  What the world needs is more light.  Thank goodness, as Jesus followers, we know someone who said, “I am the light of the world.”  Today, let’s each focus on bringing the light to the world.  Think of all the lives we can touch and maybe even impact for the better.  Attitude is everything!!  This little light of mine…I’m gonna let it shine!

Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

"When"

Words can be so important!  How we use them…how we say them…how we understand them.  Words can be so important!  Just this morning as I was taking some time to connect with God by reading in the Bible, I was reminded of how one word can change, or at least effect the understanding of a verse.

 During my quiet time this morning I was reading from Isaiah 43.  Specifically, I was reading the first couple verses of Isaiah 43, and even though these are verses that I’ve read numerous times in the past year (it was a used with VBS last year, it was often referred to in a study I led recently, etc.) in my reading this morning a specific word jumped out at me.  That word… “when.” Here is the specific passage I was reading;

 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;”

 I’ve added the bold and underlining just so we all notice the number of times the word “when” is used.  The passage is saying that difficulties and challenging situations will come our way in this world and in our life.  To help show this perspective, below is The Message version of Isaiah 43:2.  I really like the way it puts it.

 When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.  

When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—

This passage is wanting us to get in touch with those moments in our own life when life is difficult, when we’re feeling all alone, when we’re unsure what the way out is, when we are unsure if we can make it through, when we’re feeling discouraged and helpless.  Wow, that hits me where I live, as they say.  I’ve had those moments!

 This morning the word “when” really hit me.  You see, I believe that at times the word we tend to hear is “if.”  If you pass through the waters, if you pass through the rivers, if you walk through the fire…  “If” conveys these situations, or these struggles might not happen.  All too often I find that I read the word “when,” but my mind thinks “if.”  It’s easy to do.  At times the thought process is, “Well, I go to church, so bad things won’t happen to me.”  “Well, I live in this part of the community so bad things won’t happen to me.”  “Well, I live in this great country, so bad things won’t happen to me.”  Or “I’m from such and such family, so bad things won’t happen to me.”  Have you ever sensed one of those lines popping up in your mind?  I have. 

 What Isaiah is saying is, it’s just a matter of time – it will happen.  Darkness, hurts and struggles are a reality of life.  But WHEN struggles come your way, just remember that God is with you.  We do not have to be defeated or overwhelmed by the circumstance of life…God will be with us.  That is what Isaiah wants us to know!

 It seems there are so many struggles that fill the world.  So many difficulties touch our lives.  Today, Isaiah 43:1-2 are words that I am going to hang on to…  In the midst of the struggles of life, in the midst of the hurts and challenges, another short little word is so important to remember, “will.”  God says, “I will be with you.”

Serving Together,

Pastor Keith