Because I Hold You in My Heart

I pray for each one of you every single day. And what I pray for each one of you is unique to each one of you.

But I do not pray for you because I have to or must pray for you. Although, it is true. I must pray for you. Yet, I pray for you because “I hold you in my heart” (Philippians 1:7).

I am leaving in just a few hours and I am taking you with me. I have your names written in a section of my prayer list and will carry that list in my back pocket all the way to Uganda and back.

These trips are like a sabbatical – a time to do something aside from what I do regularly and work, seek counsel, study and pray.

And in the next 14 days, I want you to do something, I urge you to do something: do not forget Philippians 1 and . . .

  1. Remember, it is far better to depart and be with Jesus. But for you to remain is far better for someone else. Your remaining is to work for the progress and joy in the faith of one another (that one another is primarily the people you are doing church with).
  2. Hold fast to Philippians 1:27a. “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Only is such an important word meaning, “this and this only;” “this one thing;” or “this one essential thing.” The one essential thing is to live life showing the worth of the gospel.
  3. Remember, there are effects to this: standing firm; striving; unity; peace/harmony; affection; joy; and fearlessness.
  4. But also remember that this one essential thing affects others – it affects believers. The standing firm is together; the striving is together; the unity and peace and harmony and affection and joy and fearlessness all describes the experience of a local church that holds fast to Philippians 1:27a. These effects cannot be experienced alone.
  5. This kind of living also affects unbelievers – it is a clear sign to them of their destruction but also of salvation, your salvation, that is, this is what saved people look like (this is what a local church is to look like).

And so, in these next 14 days be seeking to affect one another, at least one other person in your church. At Calvary there are over 50 people to be affecting. I am urging you to be affecting at least one, be determined that until you depart to be with Christ, that you are affecting at least one other person in your church. It must be someone other than a spouse. And get out of your comfort zone, too, when it comes to this.

We need one another.

Encouragement for Thursday

Through the vast majority of my life I haven’t thought much about the British royalty. I have often been amazed by the attention the people of England and its allied countries give to them. In the past 150 years or so they have been seen mostly as “figureheads,” or people who carry a title but have no real purpose to go along with it. Since before I was born until very recently there has been only one queen in England– Elizabeth II. She left this earthly world on September 8 at the age of 96.

A couple Sundays ago Pastor James mentioned her long lasting friendship with Billy Graham. That motivated me to read some more articles about her and her faith. From an early age her mother (also Elizabeth, but not a queen) took her and her younger sister to church regularly. She encouraged regular Bible reading and study. She instilled the practice of prayer in them. This faith remained an important part of her life, growing stronger to the end. Her husband Prince Philip was also a man of strong faith.

In 1952 her father King George VI died, and she became queen. In her Christmas address before her coronation, she made the following request: “I want to ask you all, whatever your religion may be, to pray for me on that day—to pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve him and you, all the days of my life.” The coronation service has 5 parts: Recognition, Oath, Anointing, Crowning, and Homage. It is worth noting that the anointing that is the centerpiece of the service is done under a large veil by the archbishop. It is an anointing with oil intended to follow the example of the anointing of Solomon as king of Israel as described in 1 Kings 1:38-40:

“So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, the Kerethites and the Pelethites went down and had Solomon mount King David’s mule, and they escorted him to Gihon. Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the sacred tent and anointed Solomon. Then they sounded the trumpet and all the people shouted, “Long live King Solomon!” And all the people went up after him, playing pipes and rejoicing greatly, so that the ground shook with the sound.”

The anointing, crowning, and homage in England’s coronation all seem to follow the example set by Solomon’s coronation. Even more impactful on me was the description of her her anointing:

“Dipping his finger in the holy oil, the Archbishop made a cross on Elizabeth’s hands, then her heart, before concluding, ‘Be thy head anointed with holy oil, as kings, priests, and prophets were anointed…. As Solomon was anointed king by Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet, so be thou anointed, blessed and consecrated Queen over the peoples whom the Lord Thy God has given thee to rule and govern’ “ (“The Faith of Queen Elizabeth– an Interview with Dudley Delffs”, Jonathan Petersen).

As Queen she took this charge seriously. She tried to live in a manner that exemplified her faith. She often used Scriptural references in speeches, especially in her Christmas addresses. One passage that she mentioned many times was Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan. She had an ongoing concern to try to provide for those who were less fortunate. In one address she boldly stated, “To what greater inspiration and counsel can we turn, than to the imperishable truth to be found in this treasure house, the Bible?” If only our own country’s leaders had the foresight and courage to be able to honestly say the same, I think we would all be in much better shape today!

I was wrong about the role of British royalty, and especially Queen Elizabeth. Although she did not make many political decisions, she led. She set an example of faith, constancy, and belief for the people in her realm to follow. She realized that her position had been granted by God, and she took it seriously. She was not afraid to share her faith and proclaim Christ. In her Christmas address of 2016, she said:

“Billions of people now follow Christ’s teaching and find in him the guiding light for their lives. I am one of them because Christ’s example helps me see the value in doing small things with great love, whoever does them and whatever they themselves believe.”

Thank you for your life and influence, Queen Elizabeth II.

Take heart and be encouraged!

I Need You To Pray For Me

I need you to pray for me.

And a reason is that it will benefit you because I am to work for your progress and joy in the faith.

I love Philippians 1:18-26. As Paul looks forward to that future moment in which he will rejoice he knows that in order to get there he needs the Philippians to pray for him. It is so interesting how Paul shares his heart with us. He is faced with either living or dying. In living, he gets to keep living for Jesus. In dying, he gets Jesus. To depart (to die) is far better because we get to be forever with Jesus Christ. But to remain, Paul says, is far better for others. To remain means working for other’s progress and joy in the faith. This is the moment Paul rejoices in; that someone would adore Jesus because of what he meant to them.

This Sunday we will think thru Philippians 1:27-30, the last four verses of chapter one. Keep in mind that these four verses are a part of something Paul began in Philippians 1:12 – whatever happens to me is to advance the gospel.

This Sunday, too, following the morning service we will enjoy Sunday lunch together! Fried chicken is being provided, it is being asked that you bring a side and do not miss eating a meal together. Keep this mind: Jesus never passed up a meal with others.

Men’s Night, Wednesday, October 12 at 6:30. I am encouraging all of the men to come together for a night of encouragement – to talk with one another, laugh with one another and enjoy dinner together. And we will seek to cap it all of with getting encouragement from the good news of Jesus Christ. Seek to bring another man with you that needs encouragement as much as you do. Cost is $10.

And then Thursday, October 20 at 6:30 pm is the first of five essential Thursday evenings together: Your Walk With God is a Community Project. This is a five part DVD series taught by Paul David Tripp which seeks to convey two things: we need one another and why we need one another. I am really hoping that our whole church family will be a part of this essential time. It will be good for us, really good for us. Take time to watch this two minute clip:

Encouragement for Thursday

Last night after work I had the opportunity to take a walk through the woods in the Rocky River Metropark. I always enjoy these walks because they help to take my mind off of my personal concerns and job pressures. I am reminded of the greater world that God created. Last night I have to admit a bit of sadness because I could tell that the change of seasons is beginning. I will admit now that I am a summer kind of guy. I like the warm weather even more as I age. I like the activity that I can see in nature, with plants in bloom and producing fruit. Animals and insects are in their active stages, reproducing and preparing for the colder seasons that are coming. Last night I could tell that many of the wildflowers have stopped blooming. There are still some beautiful ones, like the jewelweed and black-eyed susans. Leaves have fallen from some trees. There are far fewer insects active. I saw the bodies of many bees and wasps that have ended their lifecycle as cold weather comes.

There is still beauty in nature. You might have to look a little harder or in different places to find it. There is a picture attached to this message. Some of you probably looked at it and said, “Ewww….is that a slug?” Yes it is. It is a gray garden slug, one of Ohio’s most common ones. They live in many places outside of gardens, like the woods. I happened to notice this one as I was looking at mushrooms. They are known to chew up many types of plants in gardens. You might ask, “What good are they?” Remember that the manicured gardens that people have planted various flowers and vegetables in are not exactly natural. In their natural habitat like the woods, slugs stay close to the ground in the moist, dark areas that not a lot of other creatures like to visit. Why? That is where they find their food and fulfill their role in God’s scheme of things. They eat things like this mushroom and other decaying plant matter. They eat dead insect bodies and other rotting things that only their relatives the land snails, worms, and other insects would eat. Think of them as God’s tiny natural vacuum cleaners. He knew what He was doing in creating the creatures that exist on Earth. When I looked at this slug, I even saw a natural beauty in it. It has some beautiful natural color, and a nice shiny, yet ridged texture. When you zoom in really close on the picture you can even see its tiny eye at the end of one of their stalks, and the tiny fringed edge on its body that, along with its slippery covering, enables it to move. What an amazing design!

People are often repulsed by slugs. They think they are ugly and gross. In God’s purposes, there are things more important than outward beauty. I am reminded of a chapter in Scripture that we have all heard probably many times—1 Samuel 16. In this chapter Samuel has come to Jesse’s house to meet the one that God has chosen to be the next king of Israel. Jesse brought in seven of his sons to meet Samuel. They were strong, impressive and good-looking men. Yet none of them were the one that God chose. Only after asking was the youngest son, who was tending the sheep in the field, brought in. David was God’s chosen one. I think it is rather symbolic that he was tending the sheep when he was brought in. At first Samuel thought Jesse’s son Eliab might be the chosen one. God soon corrected him:

“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

By nature, people tend to be affected by outward appearances. This principle applies to everything in our world. We favor the lovely and reject the unlovely. We love butterflies and don’t love slugs. I believe this extends to how we see people, even if it is unconsciously. Thankfully God doesn’t have this characteristic. Beauty to Him is in the heart. Even though we might feel more like a slug than a butterfly, we are beautiful to God because of what is in our hearts. Never forget than even slugs have a purpose that God intended to benefit the world He created. How much greater is our role in His world!

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement For Thursday

A little over a month ago I mentioned that the quarterly production period that we were working through was the most difficult we had faced. Since then, my team and our systems partners have been trying to do what we can to help head off similar problems this quarter. We learned yesterday there are some systems architecture changes being processed (outside of any of our control) that will delay our testing process. This type of change makes us all very concerned with the possible impact. It already has me praying for patience and endurance for the quarter end period.

In the grand scheme of things of my life, this is a temporary challenge. It still makes me weary. I am reminded of a Scripture that is often used when people are challenged:

“God is our refuge and strength,
An ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
And the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
Though its waters roar and foam
And the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
The God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:1-7).

In retrospect, my problems are tiny. The writer of Psalm 46 doesn’t specify certain problems that people might face. He does make the point that whatever they are, God is still in control. He is ever-present, which means that I can call on Him for strength no matter what is bothering me. He is with me. Not even a major earthquake that could destroy and upheave the earth itself is beyond God’s power. He is the source of joy for His own city and holy place. Though things look like a lost cause I know that I need to trust Him.

Lord, we get caught up in the problems of our own lives. Please help us to remember Your presence and care. Even though it looks like the world might be crumbling You are still the source of joy, ever-present with us. Keep our minds, hearts, and spirits clear. Remind us to be still and know that you are God. We need your help, and know that you will help us.

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement for Thursday

From the time I was young I remember hearing Cleveland as being described as a melting pot of immigrants of different origins. In the late 1700’s the area was settled because people were attracted to the confluence of Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River. It was swampy, filled with mosquitoes and difficult to travel around at the time. But it held the promise of development, trade, and growth. Early settlers came from England, Scotland, and Ireland. As time passed and the area developed, the promise of work and a new life brought people to work in the lumber, iron, steel, and railroad industries. Many came from eastern Europe– from countries that would later become Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, and Russia. Others arrived from Italy, Greece, and Germany. An area with little history of its own soon became an area driven by the history and traditions of its inhabitants. The wealth of the area was actually its people.

Our own Cleveland area reminds me of another area that we are considering this month– Philippi. In Acts 16:12 Luke writes that Philippi was “a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia.” The Bible doesn’t give a lot of detail about the city. Historians generally believe that during Paul’s time Philippi was a sort of melting pot. Rome and its emperor saw the value of the city because of its position in the province. It was a crossroads for business and trade. Being in Macedonia, most of the residents were probably of Greek heritage, language, and culture. It is believed that about 80 years prior to Paul’s visit, the emperor provided land in the area of Philippi as lands where Roman soldiers of age and fitting service could have as their own to retire to. We don’t really know how many soldiers settled in Philippi. Commentator Peter Oakes believes that about 40% of the population were Roman citizens, with the majority being non-Roman citizens, but Greek speaking people of other origins. There was probably not a large Jewish presence. In Acts 16:13, Luke mentions that they went outside the city gate to find a place of prayer. If a synagogue had been in the city, they surely would have sought it. Jewish tradition in the Mishnah said that 10 men were needed to establish a synagogue. Were there not 10 Jewish men in Philippi? Possibly not, but we certainly don’t know for sure.

What kind of group of believers was there to be found in a Roman outpost over in Macedonia? From many of Paul’s comments that we will study in his letter, one that was very dear to him. He makes his opinion of them clear in Philippians 1:3-6:

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

What Paul appreciates as important is the Philippians’ partnership in the gospel. He doesn’t call out their Roman citizenship, social importance, wealth, or personal heritage. In chapter 3 he takes this principle even further when he talks about his own history and position. Even though he came from a Jewish history he could be proud of, and had the best credentials a teacher could have, he realized that those didn’t help him in his relationship with Christ. It is also important to remember at this point that Paul was also a Roman citizen by birth, and entitled to special consideration by the Romans. It didn’t bring him special consideration by God. More important to him was citizenship in Heaven (Philippians 3:20). Near the end of chapter 4 he thanks the believers for their contributions, support, and care for him in his ministry.

The believers in the Cleveland, Ohio area aren’t much different than the believers in Philippi. We are certainly separated by time, place, and the state of the world as we know it. As people and believers we are very similar. We are from a variety of places and heritage. We aren’t really politically important or powerful. We have a variety of occupations and experience that have brought us together in this area. We also worship the same God and Savior in Jesus. We try to make an impact through spreading the Gospel and serving Him and His servants. We are all sinners, but forgiven sinners. As we look to Philippians for inspiration, I pray that I (and we all) might bring satisfaction to Paul as well God Himself:

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.” (Philippians 2:14-16)

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement for Thursday

The church family has had quite a few members and loved ones move from this earthly life to the presence of Jesus during the past year. This week brings remembrance of another of these, Robert Erick. At times of the passing of believers I am often reminded of a song that speaks about the passing from this world into Jesus’ presence. We try to imagine what it will be like but won’t really appreciate it until it happens. What we can see only unclearly here and now will be clear and glorious.

The song is “Windows of Home,” originally recorded by the Gold City quartet. When I belonged to a quartet years ago, we also performed this song. I have had the opportunity to sing it hundreds of times, I am sure. That is probably why it comes so readily to my mind. I think it was my mother’s favorite song of all the ones that we did over the years. When she passed away, I had it included as one of the songs in her memorial service. At that time I believe it took on even more meaning for me (“Looks like my loved ones want me to come home…”).

Remember your loved ones that have joined Him, and be blessed by listening to Ivan Parker and Gold City:

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement for Thursday

Recently I was blessed to be able to visit the Pensacola, Florida area. I always like to visit different places of interest, and take pictures. One of the places I visited different parts of on a few occasions was the Gulf Islands National Seashore (a national park). A couple evenings close to sunset I went to Johnson Beach on the south side of the island where I stayed (Perdido Key). The beach on the Gulf of Mexico is wide and long. It has the whitest, softest sand I have found on a beach anywhere. The evening is usually a time when many fewer people visit. There were usually a few family groups playing and walking into the waves and water. A few fishermen were also around.

I am always attracted to wildlife. There were several great blue herons on the beach that seemed very tolerant of people, and walked surprisingly close to them. There were also a couple shorebirds that I watched both evenings I went. One was a willet, a long-legged bird about 10-12 inches long, with a long, narrow sharp beak. The other was the bird whose picture you see attached, a sanderling. It was only about 6 inches long, with shorter legs and a shorter sharp beak. I followed one around for a while both evenings. It was fascinating to watch. The bird would look for food that the waves carried in, running out to search as soon as the water receded enough. It would reach down with its beak, picking up small creatures that fit its taste. It always took notice of where the waves were. When the waves came back in, it would turn and run away as fast as its little legs could carry it. It was always able to stay out of the waves’ reach. Then when the waves receded, it would again rush out into the area that was just uncovered to find something else. It was amazing that the bird always had the ability to sense how far to go, and when to quit and run back to stay out of danger. It always seemed to know what was enough, and didn’t try to grab too much. If only we humans had the same innate sense.

The sanderling’s method reminded me of a Scripture that I had heard at some point, but could not remember exactly offhand. After a bit of searching, I found it:

“Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:

Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,

lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.”
(Proverbs 30:7-9)

This Proverb was noted as being an inspired utterance by Agur, son of Jakeh, to a man named Ithiel. In verses 7-9 he asks God for two things: to be free from falsehood and lies, and to have neither riches nor poverty. Freedom from falsehoods and lies will always serve us well. Secondly, he asks God for just enough. If he has too much, he might forget God and who He is. If he has too little, he might steal and dishonor God. How much is exactly enough? He doesn’t specify, but leaves it to God to decide.

We tend to appreciate God’s creation for its beauty. We all love beautiful flowers and plants. We appreciate the diversity and beauty of all animal creation– animals, birds, fish, and even insects. I believe that God gave us more than beauty in these creations. The more I watch and notice, the more I see lessons from their nature and behavior. I think He definitely knew what He was doing with His design for creatures. They are reminders of Him, and can help point us to principles that should be part of our lives (“…Sluggard, look to the ant…”). In my case they often lead me to think of parallels in the Bible.

Lord, thank you for sanderlings. Help us to learn from their example to survive well by accepting enough, and to stay out of trouble from looking for too much. We don’t want to put ourselves in jeopardy. As Agur wrote in Proverbs 30, let us always remember You, and keep us honest and away from dishonoring You.

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement for Thursday

The other day I happened across a news item that is one of those rare, pure good news stories. Recently, Hubert and June Malicote celebrated their 79th wedding anniversary. Even more recently, each of them celebrated their 100th birthday. Here is the link to the article from Fox News:

When I read this article I immediately thought of Pastor James’ sermon about marriage a few weeks ago. I think I am one of those he mentioned who were intended to be single rather than married. I would certainly agree that marriage was intended to be a blessing and a benefit to people in general. Proper and successful marriage, and family life, places God at the center. Some of the couple’s comments noted in the article help to explain the longevity of their marriage and happiness. I believe Hubert has the perfect attitude:

“I’ve always said that a happy home is where God is,” he continued. “It’s just been a good life. Good teamwork. A good home.”

Having a happy home in His presence is what God intended for man from the beginning. That is the relationship between a man and his wife declared in Genesis 2:24:

“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

Hubert also has advice from experience as to why their marriage has lasted for 79 years:

“We maybe have had disagreements. But we’ve always worked them out,” Hubert said. “Our attitude has been that you don’t hurt the one you love. And if you have an issue or quarrel, take care of it, don’t let it grow, think it over, talk it out and solve the problem and go on with your life.”

These actions exemplify Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:32:

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

I would suggest that another reason that they have had such a long and happy marriage goes back to their meeting. It was in a church service. I believe they both had a relationship with God before they met. As they developed their relationship as a young couple, church activities were at the center of their lives. After being married, they raised 3 children, and have 7 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. The article also noted that they are fixtures at their church and have been involved as teachers.

I am sure that while the Malicotes are blessings to each other and their family, they are blessings to any who know them or become aware of them. Their marriage is exactly what God had in mind.

Take heart and be encouraged!

Encouragement from Thursday

This past Saturday I took a walk through part of Miller Nature Preserve in Avon. I noticed the plant whose picture you see attached growing on the bank of the pond. It’s really quite delicate and pretty, isn’t it? Don’t touch it. Don’t smell it. Don’t even go near it (I used a telephoto zoom lens to take the picture). Don’t even think about eating any part of it. It is water hemlock, considered to be the most poisonous plant in North America. I have read comments from experts saying that ingesting just a small amount of the stem or roots can bring death in as little as 15 minutes.

After hearing Pastor James’ sermon on Sunday, I was reminded of this plant.

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6).

When Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree death came instantly. Not death from the toxicity of the plant, but death from being disobedient to God’s order. They didn’t die instantly physically, but they would die. That would be something that they, and all humans, would not have experienced if they had been obedient. Did God know that we would fail and sin? Absolutely.

Why were plants like water hemlock, that can kill almost anything that would eat it, created in the first place? What was God thinking when he created it? Insects feed on it’s flowers’ nectar. They don’t have any ill effect from it. Animals usually know or sense when something is toxic or harmful, and intentionally avoid it. People can learn quickly (unfortunately after a tragic event). Toxic plants and venomous creatures, like some snakes or insects, have some built in protection from predation. It helps them to survive. I believe this is part of God’s design. Water hemlock provides a reliable source of nectar for certain insects. It won’t be eliminated by other creatures (or people) eating it. Possibly it has some other uses we simply aren’t aware of yet. Sometimes it takes humans time and experience to learn.

Considering our world, we can be thankful that God planned in ways we haven’t discovered for the earth to be able to carry on operating. That includes the plants, animals, and even insects that we don’t appreciate for various reasons. They make up a self-sustaining world. Sometimes we do things that affect how it operates, but God’s planning has always proven superior to our intervention. Thankfully that same planning went into our future salvation, and His sending Christ to cover our sin and shortcomings. As humans, we can mess up a lot. We can’t mess up God’s ultimate plan for us and our world.

Take heart and be encouraged!