KEEPING OUR HANDS OFF

KEEPING OUR HANDS OFF

"Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm 46:10

I read this devotion from A.B. Simpson and wanted to pass it on:

"An Israelite named Uzzah lost his life because he ‘reached out and took hold of the ark of God.’ (2Sam. 6:6) He placed his hands on it with the best of intentions – to steady it, ‘because the oxen stumbled’ – but nevertheless, he had overstepped his bounds by touching the Lord’s work, and ‘therefore God struck him down.’ (2Sam. 6:7) Living a life of faith often requires us to leave things alone.

"If we have completely entrusted something to God, we must keep our hands off it. He can guard it better than we can, and He does not need our help. ‘Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.’ (Ps. 37:7)

"Things in our lives may seem to be going all wrong, but God knows our circumstances better than we do. And He will work at the perfect moment, if we will completely trust Him to work in His own way and in His own time. Often there is nothing as godly as inactivity on our part, or nothing as harmful as restless working, for God has promised to work His sovereign will."

Have a great week,

Pastor Tom

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THE PRICE OF FREE OIL

THE PRICE OF FREE OIL

"The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’" Matthew 25:8-9

Intimacy with God is a gift given to every believer in Jesus Christ. Jesus died and rose again, not just so we could go to heaven one day, but so that we could experience Him right now.

Imagine for a moment a gas station that is giving away free gas. The only price you pay is the effort to get to that gas station and the time spent waiting while your tank is filled up. In God’s economy there is an abundance of the precious oil of intimacy, and it’s all free through Jesus, but we must make the effort to get to His station and be patient while He fills us up.

We can’t get this oil from one another. You can’t give me your relationship with God and I can’t give you mine. All we can do is tell each other where the station is and how to get the free oil. Each of us has to go there ourselves.

When we go through trials; when we experience injustice; when we need something that only God can give; and when Jesus comes again – we will wish we had taken time to become intimate with God. When you’re in the middle of the crisis there’s not time to develop intimacy you don’t already have.

So don’t wait! Set a time and a place every day. Read God’s word and purpose to pray back to Him whatever He speaks. Journal those things He gives you and treat them as valued seeds that must be protected and watered. Develop a habit of waiting on God every day.

What starts as only a desire for intimacy must move to a plan for discipline. God’s reward will be an eventual delight in your quiet time that will make meeting with Him a highlight you look forward to each day. Desire, discipline, and then delight. Let your desire fuel a renewed effort at discipline. Stay at your discipline and pray for more and more delight.

The wise start this journey when they are young in their faith and are blessed with a store of intimacy to draw from whenever life is hard. If you’ve been a Christian for a while and realize that you have neglected your intimacy with God, why not repent right now? Begin now to build a secret store of oil that no one else can see except you and God. As it grows, enjoy the assurance that you and God can face anything together and that you will be ready when Jesus splits the sky to come for us.

Have a great week,

Pastor Tom

THE SECRET WEAPON

THE SECRET WEAPON

"Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst." Matthew 18:18-20

The secret weapon is a game changer. When Popeye is down and out; when all hope seems to be lost and Bluto is certainly going to defeat him, we all wait for the secret weapon – his spinach. The spinach changes everything – once eaten, the victory is secured.

Aladdin is trapped in a cave left to die. He’s tries to escape but it’s hopeless until he discovers a lamp. The lamp is a game changer because using it gives access to a genie who can transcend all human limitations.

The church has a secret weapon that changes everything – the Father’s response to agreeing prayer. We see it in Acts 2 where the church has been in unified prayer for ten days until the Father responds with "a mighty rushing wind" and "tongues of fire" which so empower the early church that 3,000 are saved in one day.

We see it in Acts 4 where the persecuted church gathers and in agreeing prayer asks the Father to "do signs and wonders by His holy Servant, Jesus." The response: "After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." (Acts 4:31) Abundant grace was released and signs and wonders were performed (Acts 5:12) while multitudes were saved. (Acts 5:14) Heaven invaded earth in response to agreeing prayer by the church.

But my favorite example of the secret weapon is found in Acts 16. Paul and Silas were put in prison and at the midnight hour began to pray and worship together. Here’s the Father’s response: "Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose." Natural earthquakes destroy, they don’t open doors and release people from chains. Were Paul and Silas asking the Father for everyone’s chains to fall off? Unlikely. This is about the extravagance of a God who is able "to do above and beyond all we can think." (Ephesians 3:20)

It’s a dark hour in America right now. Young people are cutting themselves in despair; many are shooting themselves up recklessly with drugs, while others are shooting others to express their pain. We are so politically divided that there is little hope of our government’s ability to solve any of the deep problems we’re facing.

What’s the church doing in response to this midnight hour? Are we giving into the hopelessness and despair all around us? Or are we reminding ourselves that we have a secret weapon. When we gather in Jesus Name (for His glory and purpose) instead of our own names; when we hear from heaven about those things Jesus wants us to loose (or unlock) on the earth; and when we then agree together and ask in childlike faith for the Father’s intervention – the secret weapon is released.

And as we touch the Father’s heart in agreeing prayer, He is able to do above and beyond all we can ask or think. He’s able to shake this nation in a way that doesn’t destroy it, but rather opens doors and breaks chains even for those who weren’t involved in the original request. Popeye’s spinach doesn’t work unless he eats it; Aladdin’s genie isn’t accessed until the lamp is rubbed; and the church accomplishes little until it comes together in agreeing prayer.

Have a great week,

Pastor Tom

GEMS AROUND US

GEMS AROUND US

"Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!" (James 5:7-9)

Last Sunday I was preaching from this text about God’s patience with His people. Just because a corn crop isn’t ready to be harvested doesn’t mean the farmer isn’t pleased with its progress and growth. God is pleased with our process even though we’re not finished, so we need to be patient with ourselves and with those around us.

During worship (before the preaching) Sunday, a man in our congregation had a vision and gave permission to share it: "I saw beautiful gems. Many, many beautiful gems. They represented the beauty of God’s Kingdom. They were all around us. Then I saw the significance of when we complain and grumble. When we do this, we cover and slather our eyes with mud and we stick our faces in the mud, both of which cause us to have an inability to see the beauty of God’s kingdom around us."

Everything God creates is beautiful, but I think His gems are us. The breast piece the high priest had to wear in the Old Covenant had twelve precious gems on it representing the twelve tribes of Israel (Exodus 28:21). God wanted the priest to know that His people are His gems.

Maybe you have been hurt by people or by the church, so how you see others is tainted by your wound. Why not forgive? Why not consider how you have hurt others and have needed their forgiveness? We all need a new beginning so we have to be willing to give others a new beginning too.

The truth is that, even though you’re flawed, you are God’s gem, but the only way you’ll believe it is to grant that all those around you are also His gems. Father, remove the mud of accusation from our eyes, so we can see one another the way You do. Amen.

Have a great week,

Pastor Tom

MOTHER’S DAY

MOTHER’S DAY

"Honor your…mother." Ephesians 6:2

My little brother, Jimmy, and I had a disease when we were babies that caused us to vomit up our food. Whenever this difficult period was referenced growing up, all mom would say was: "Never forget Mother’s Day!"

My Mom, Janet Catherine Leahy Flaherty, passed into heaven last October 3rd, so this is my first Mother’s Day without her. To honor her, I’d like to highlight a few of the things she instilled in her children.

THE IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATION
For Mom education meant opportunity, so from a very early age, education was celebrated. Each of us read our first book out loud to the family on a blanket Mom laid down on the living room floor while the rest of the children all ate popcorn and encouraged the reader.

When I decided to leave business because God was calling me into ministry, Mom only asked that I would get educated for it. I found a master’s program designed for pastors already doing ministry (which I was), and Mom said she would pay for it if I would do the work. She was true to her word.

Instead of getting toys or treats, all of her grandchildren would receive a savings bond every birthday. The bond wouldn’t come due until they turned eighteen and was to help them pay for a college education. These seeds produced a harvest as all 18 of her grandchildren went on to graduate from college.

THE IMPORTANCE OF GRATITUDE
Whenever we received a gift or kindness from anyone, Mom sat us down to write a thank you note. One time all of her six children received $1,000 from our great Aunt Ruth whom we had never met. Mom insisted that we write thank you notes, but we were all in college or beyond at that point, so she couldn’t monitor our follow through. Only Sheila ended up writing a beautiful thank you note telling Aunt Ruth how grateful she was and even specifying how she used the money. The rest of us learned a lesson when Sheila alone received a second check from Aunt Ruth!

THE IMPORTANCE OF FAITH
Mom didn’t spend a lot of time questioning God and she never expected her church to be perfect. Mom and Dad were at church every week, so we were too. When I had a conversion experience and everyone thought I was in a cult, Mom stayed by me even though she didn’t understand what I was into. She was proud of me being a pastor and was happy to visit our church, but she remained a faithful Catholic until the end.

A week before she died, I asked if her church was bringing communion to her (she was home bound at this point). She explained to me that they weren’t, and it was because the church was mad at her because Mike (my older brother) would text on his phone during Mass. While I knew this wasn’t true, it would have been a waste of time trying to convince her otherwise (she was immovable after she decided about something), so I asked if I could serve her communion. She told me it would be a great comfort to her.

Little did I know we would only do it once before she died, but how sweet that time was. We talked about Jesus dying in our place so our sins could be forgiven. We talked about God’s gift of eternal life. We prayed together.

I was on duty on the day Mom would slip into a coma. Early that morning in the hospital she had an oxygen mask over her mouth and nose but still wanted to talk. We talked about Jesus and heaven; I read the 23rd Psalm to her and prayed with her; we drew near to God together. After she went into the coma, the whole family gathered around her bed and sang songs about God’s grace and the hope of heaven as well as Danny Boy (we are Irish) and every other song we knew including Christmas Carols. I treasure these last memories.

I was so blessed to have her as my mom and miss her everyday but I know one day soon we will be together again forever.

I hope you take time to honor your mom in some way this Mother’s Day

Have a great week,

Pastor Tom

RECEIVING PRAISE FROM GOD

RECEIVING PRAISE FROM GOD

"Don’t make judgments about anything ahead of time – before the Lord returns. For He will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due." 1Corinthians 4:5

The believer’s day of judgment is not a day of dread but a day to anticipate and prepare for. Our judgment for sin already happened on the cross; the believers’ judgment is only about rewards.

God will praise us for everything we did out of our relationship with Him. He doesn’t want us to work for Him, as if He needed something; He wants us to work with Him because He desires our fellowship. I remember when I first began to grasp this truth.

I had recently been made the College and Career pastor at Lake City Church and knew just what I wanted to do. In the early eighties, I had been part of this same group and, at that time. the church ran a bus back and forth to the UW campus to bring students to church. I was going to bring the bus back!

I made my case to the elders to approve the additional cost and found a licensed bus driver who was willing to make the regular trips to campus, so all we needed now were the students to ride in it.

We made an awesome Dorm Survival Kit and to be part of the drawing to win it, students had to fill out a questionnaire on fear, which was going to be our first topic of the semester. Hundreds of students filled it out and gave us their information – 200 of those said they would be open to attending our first meeting down on campus.

We called all 200 and 50 of those agreed to come to our first Thursday night meeting. This was awesome! It would almost double our group. If they all came to church on Sunday, the bus would be full!

Thursday night came and only ten of the promised fifty showed up. Each of the ten received the bus information, but when Sunday came, the bus only picked up one person and that one was already in the group and wasn’t even in college.

I was exhausted and angry. On Monday I drove down to Kankakee, Illinois, where I was working on my masters. After class that night many of the pastors were going out for supper but I declined: I needed to have it out with God. I had been stewing all day long so when I was alone I vented my frustration. My complaint went something like this:

"I worked my butt off all week for You. I made the plan, called the students, and gave everything I had, but You couldn’t get a single student to ride that bus. Now I’m humiliated by my failure and I don’t see why it’s not Your fault!"

I was surprised by how clear this stream of thoughts came immediately in response: "In doing many things, you have neglected the one thing that is necessary."

This was a scripture from Luke 10:42! Martha was distracted by her many preparations and Jesus told her that only one thing was necessary, and that Mary, who was sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to His Word, had chosen the good part. Necessary means non-optional. It means that it doesn’t matter how much stuff you do, if you don’t do the one thing, all the rest counts for nothing.

But God wasn’t done speaking to my heart. "I’m not calling you to do anything for Me, Tom. Everything I’m calling you to do, I’m calling you to do with Me."

This experience early in my ministry has powerfully impacted my approach to serving God. God doesn’t want my work; He wants me. "Draw me after You and let us run together." (Song of Songs 1:4)

Have a great week,

Pastor Tom

CONTENDING FOR HEALING

CONTENDING FOR HEALING

"Go and announce to them that the kingdom of God is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received." Matthew 10:7-8

When we moved to Montevideo, Minnesota, I purposed in my heart to contend for healing. We can’t heal people, only Jesus can, but our faith opens up a window for Him to work through if He wants to (1 Peter 1:5). I was convinced He wanted to do more in the area of healing so I purposed to make myself more available.

People often talk about their pains and afflictions. Even total strangers will open up sometimes if asked about how they’re doing, so I decided that whenever anyone shared an affliction with me, I would ask if I could pray for them. If they gave permission, I would gently place a hand on them and pray a short prayer of faith for God’s touch right then and there. It was awkward sometimes but not too bad, until one day when I went to my son’s football game.

I arrived a little late and couldn’t figure out what was going on – the teams were on the field, the crowd was in the stands, but it was completely silent. The school superintendent was standing at the front gate, so I asked him what was going on.

"There was a helmet to helmet collision on the opening kickoff," he explained, "and the player from the visiting team hasn’t moved since. We’re waiting for the ambulance."

A thought came unbidden into my head: "Pray for him." I knew it wouldn’t be obedience to pray for him while sitting safely in the stands; I was supposed to go out onto the field and put my hand on him and pray for him there.

"But Lord, no one has asked me to pray," I complained. Silence.

I started walking toward the field because I didn’t want to disobey. I walked down the sideline and felt I could still turn around without anyone noticing me but then I came to the point where a decision had to be made. A group of adults, including referees and coaches, were surrounding a young man laid flat on his back in the middle of the field. I could either turn right and go out onto the field, or turn left and join the crowd in the bleachers.

I turned right. When I reached the group, I pretended like this was normal and I belonged there.

"I’m a pastor and I’m here to pray," I said in a calm voice trying to reassure them that this was okay.

No one replied one way or the other but just backed away. I got on my knees, put a hand on the young man, and prayed a short prayer for God’s peace and healing to be released.

Just then the ambulance arrived so they put him on a stretcher, and we all followed back through the front gate to load him up. The visiting coach touched my arm on our way out. "Thank you for praying," was all he said. The young man was fine after being examined, but I never knew whether God healed him or whether he even needed healing.

What do I know for sure? Only this: God loves people and wants to meet them in their place of need even if it’s a little awkward for us.

Have a great week,

Pastor Tom