How Big is Your God?

Have you ever thought about just how big God is?  If not, then I want to encourage you to do something.  Go out tonight and stand in the middle of a big field.  Look up at all the stars and as far as you can see.  Then think about how big God must be to create something that is so big that we can’t even comprehend how big it is.  And then think about this: that God is the same God that we pray to everyday.

That is a pretty awesome thought isn’t it?  It is easy for us to forget just how big God is.  It is easy for us to bring God down to our level and to get a very limited view of what God can do.  That is one of the reasons I love Bible stories so much.  The stories of David and Goliath, Daniel and the Lion’s Den, Noah’s Ark, and so many others remind us how big God is and that He is capable of doing more than we could ever imagine.

This Sunday, we are going to take a look at another amazing story from Scripture.  The story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel from I Kings 18.  And in this story we will see that Elijah understands that God is really big, and that he wants others to understand that too.  I invite you to come on out to The River this Sunday and be reminded of how big God is and what that means for how we live our lives.

Are You Too Busy To Read This Blog?

Life is busy isn’t it?  We all have so many different responsibilities and different things that are vying for our attention.  We find ourselves often running from one thing to the next.  But while life is busy, ultimately we really all have time for things that we consider to be important.

For instance, if we place a high value on physical fitness, then we are going to find the time to exercise.  It may mean that something else has to go, but we will find the time to run, or bike, or swim or whatever else we do. Each of us make choices every day about what to spend our time doing.

This blog is even an example.  For some reason you chose to take the time to read this blog.  You didn’t need to do it.  Maybe right now you are wishing you didn’t.  Anyway, it was a choice, and at least to some extent you put reading this blog as a priority over other things you could have done with this time.

In the same way, I make the choice to put a priority on writing this blog.  Unfortunately the blog has not made it to the top of the priority list the last couple of weeks.  Things have been a little extra busy around here.  But regardless of how busy I feel, basically it means that I put a higher priority on the other things I had to do over the last couple of weeks, and this blog was a casualty of those choices.

Anyway, that leads me to my point.  We all have the time for the things we choose to put a priority on.  And the question is, are we making the right choices?  Are we putting the right priorities on the right things?  This Sunday, I will be talking about putting a priority on our relationship with God.  Of course, in order to hear the sermon, you are going to have to put a priority on coming to The River, 9:30 Sunday morning at 2510 Chaska Blvd.  Hope to see you there!

A Glimmer of Hope in the Shadows of Despair

Today for my devotions I was reading in the book of Lamentations.  This is a powerful book, written by the prophet Jeremiah, over the destruction of Jerusalem.  The book as a whole is really a downer.  It is verse after verse of hopelessness, helplessness, despair and anguish.  The prophet is lamenting what has become of this amazing city, the kingdom, and the people.

But while most of the verses in this book are sad and discouraging, in reality the book contains a message of hope.  Actually, because most of the book is so bleak, the verses that are not become like brilliant little lighthouses of hope.  Nestled in the middle of the book, among all the despair, we find this phrase, “Yet, I still dare to hope when I remember this:” (Lamentations 3:21, NLT)

What a powerful statement.  Jeremiah gives us a glimmer of hope in the shadows of despair.  This is a profound statement for those who are living in dark places right now.  In the midst of such darkness, when a glimmer of light shows up, like this verse, it acts as a beacon of hope, beckoning all who are in despair to come and bask in the light.

Jeremiah is calling out to all who are hopeless, discouraged, anxious, and lost.  He says, I have found hope!  Even when the world is falling down around me, I still have hope.  Actually, it is because Jeremiah says these words while in the midst of such lamenting that the words take on such power and shine so brightly.  Jeremiah has hope, and then he tells us why…

“The unfailing love of the Lord never ends!  By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction.  Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day.  I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”

What powerful, hopeful, encouraging words!  Jeremiah reminds us that even in the darkest of times, still we can hope in God.  I want to encourage you with those words today.  If you want to find out more about this hope, then please feel free to gives us a call, or send an email, or even come on out and visit us some Sunday.  We would love to talk more about this hope!

Am I Going Backward?

Today in my devotions I was reading in the book of Jeremiah and came across a very powerful rebuke from God to His people.  He said, “But my people would not listen to me.  They kept on doing whatever they wanted, following the stubborn desires of their evil hearts. They went backward instead of forward.”  (Jeremiah 7:24, NLT)

I know that God was talking about the people of Judah, but it also sounds so much like us.  We have a terrible tendency to follow our own desires instead of God’s plans for our lives.  We forget that God’s ways are so much better than our own and we run off chasing after things that just don’t matter.

We should be like David who said in Psalm 17, “My steps have stayed on your path; I have not wavered from following you.”  (Psalm 17:5, NLT)  But instead we are like those mentioned in Isaiah 53, “All of us have strayed away like sheep.  We have left God’s paths to follow our own…”  (Isaiah53:6a, NLT)

What we don’t realize is that when we go our own way instead of God’s way, we are moving backward instead of forward.  We are heading in the wrong direction.  We don’t realize it, because our eyes are focused on the wrong things.  We are like a hiker who finds himself lost, because he was focused on the wrong landmark.  We get so focused on what we think we want and when we finally arrive at it we realize that things are really not quite what we had hoped for.  But worse, we find ourselves alone and lost, looking around to figure out where God is.  But God didn’t leave us.  We left Him.  We thought we were walking forward and all along we were walking backward.

I challenge you to stop and ask yourself, “am I going backward?”  Are we chasing after our own desires instead of listening to God and following Him?  We need to learn from that rebuke that we find in Jeremiah.  It’s time for us to move forward!

Underdog

My family loves March Madness.  For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, each year at this time the college basketball season comes to a close with a 68 team tournament.  The 68 teams are put into a bracket that will decide the eventual champion.  That bracket is then posted online and people all across the country fill it in to show who they think will win. 

My wife and I and our 4 children fill out the bracket each year to have a little family fun.  Whoever ends up with the most points at the end of our tournament gets to be “king” or “queen” for an evening at our home.  This provides some great entertainment as we keep track of the winners and losers over the course of the 3 week tournament. 

Each and every year I watch the games and find myself amazed at how unexpected the outcomes are.  Each year there are teams that I am sure will be unbeatable, only to find them get upset in the early rounds.  And each year there are underdog teams that I am sure have no chance of winning, only to find them pulling off upset after upset and wreaking havoc on my bracket. 

For instance, last year I spent some time carefully choosing my bracket winners based on my understanding of basketball, my observations from games that I had watched during the season, and advice from several basketball analysts from ESPN and other sources.  On the flip side, my 6 year old daughter chose to base her bracket winners on teams that came from places where she or her family and friends have lived over the years.  For that reason she chose Butler, an underdog team from a small school in Indiana, to beat some much more highly regarded opponents.  Obviously, she turned out to be right and my family and I found ourselves watching Cinderella and having a “ball” in our living room because Kalyn was “queen for a night.”

This year I once again used my head and came up with what I thought would be a very solid bracket.  But all of my final four teams wound up losing in earlier rounds and my wife and 8 year-old daughter are now in position to win this year.  Once again, Butler proved to be my downfall.  I chose Butler to lose in the 2nd round, while my wife chose Butler to make it to the final four.  She was right, and I was wrong.

But surprisingly Butler is not the biggest underdog team this year.  Virginia Commonwealth University deserves that title.  When the bracket was first announced several analysts ripped the selection committee for including VCU in the tourament.  They believed that VCU didn’t belong.  One analyst even called the inclusion of VCU “indefensible.”  VCU did not have a great season.  They finished 4th in the weak Colonial Athletic Association conference.  That’s one spot lower than Hofstra.  They lost 11 games during the season including losses to Georgia State, James Madison and Drexel.  Many analysts did not even expect them to make the tournament, much less win a game. 

But they didn’t just win a game, they have made an unbelievable run, beating Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State, and Kansas on their way to the Final Four.  They were the underdog in each game and yet wound up beating 4 teams from bigger conferences who were all expected to win.  VCU is this year’s biggest underdog story.

Basketball analysts refer to games like these as “David vs Goliath” kind of matchups.  In each game they played, VCU has been like David facing Goliath.  That’s a great reference, because David was the biggest underdog ever.  No one gave him a chance.  He defines what we think of when we call someone an underdog. 

Consider this, David wasn’t even big enough yet to go to war.  His brothers were part of the Saul’s army, but not David.  He was keeping watch over the sheep and running errands for his father.  He was just a boy.  Goliath was a man.  A seasoned warrior.  He was battle tested and an impressive physical presence.  He stood over 9 feet tall.  His armor and weapons probably weighed as much as David.  And yet David came at him with just a sling and a stone, and won!

That is probably the biggest underdog story in the history of the world.  It was so big of an upset that to this day we still talk about upset matchups in sports as David vs Goliath.  But there is one verse in that story that I just love and that is I Samuel 17:48 where it talks about how David ran to meet Goliath.  David didn’t think of himself as an underdog, he simply faced the enemy in front of him with a courage born of his trust in God.

Maybe in your life today you feel like an underdog.  Maybe it feels like the problems you face are bigger than you are.  I want to encourage you to remember the example of David.  Don’t listen what others might say about your chances.  Don’t consider yourself an underdog.  Run to face the obstacle in front of you with courage born from a trust in God.

Learning from a Headache

I woke up with a headache this morning.   Don’t you hate it when that happens.  I decided not to take anything and just headed out the door to start my morning.  After working on my sermon and catching up on emails my headache became worse, to the point where I actually was developing an upset stomach to go along with it.  I took some Tylenol and drank a little caffeine with my lunch and within about a half hour I was feeling much better.

Now I know that Tylenol is supposed to work that way, but it has been my experience that it does not always do the job.  Especially, when I have let a headache get as bad as that one.  So I was pleasantly surprised when my headache went away.  And I took a moment and thanked God for helping me to feel better.

As I was praying, I began to think about answered prayer and after thinking about it, I couldn’t remember if I had even asked God to take away my headache.  Not because I didn’t want Him involved, but simply because I just hadn’t thought to ask Him.  And that got me thinking about the fact that God doesn’t just answer the prayers I pray.  He also answers the prayers that I don’t pray. 

God doesn’t wait for me to ask for everything.  He is always watching over me, caring for me, blessing me, giving me good things, protecting me, and providing for me.  Remember in the movie Aladdin, when Aladdin has been thrown into the water and sinks to the bottom?  He inadvertently rubs the lamp and the genie pops out.  The genie wants to save Aladdin, but he can’t do it without Aladdin’s request.  I am very thankful that God is not like that.  He’s not a genie in a lamp.  He doesn’t need my request to come before He can act.  And I am thankful that He answers not only the prayers that I make, but also the one’s that I don’t. 

I am glad my headache is gone, but it also did serve as a good reminder to me about how thankful I am for who God is.  He provides for me in so many ways.  Sometimes I realize His provision after it has happened and I stop and give thanks.  But I am sure that there are many other times where God is answering prayers that I never prayed and I don’t even realize that He has taken care of me.  This headache reminded me to say thank you to God for all the prayers that He has answered that I never even prayed.  Thank you God!

Stop Complaining

For those of you who check our site regularly for blogs, I am sorry that I have not blogged for a couple weeks.  I was away at a conference where I had almost no access to anything electronic and then I got back and was a little swamped trying to catch up.  Anyway, I’m back and hopefully you weren’t complaining about my lack of blogs because this blog is all about not complaining…

This morning in my devotions I was hanging out in the book of Exodus and I came across a verse that struck me in a different way than when I have read it before.  It was in Exodus 16, where we find the people of Israel on their way to the Promised land.  God has already brought them miraculously across the Red Sea and delivered them from the hand of the Egyptians.  In chapter 15 we see them complaining because they are thirsty and God miraculously provides water for them to drink.  Then when we arrive in chapter 16 we see them complaining to Moses once again, only this time it is because they are hungry.  They actually say that they were better off when they were slaves in Egypt, because at least there they had plenty to eat.

So God decides to miraculously provide food for them to eat and Moses and Aaron call a meeting of the people to tell them the good news.  We read about what they said to the people in Exodus 16:6b-8, “In the evening you will realize that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt.  In the morning you will see the glorious presence of the Lord.  He has heard your complaints, which are against the Lord and not against us.  The Lord will give you meat to eat in the evening and bread in the morning, for he has heard all your complaints against him.  Yes, your complaints are against the Lord, not against us.” (NLT)

Typically, when I have looked at this passage I have focused on how sad it is that the people of Israel were complaining again already after they had seen God deliver them from Egypt and bring them safely across the Red Sea.  But this time, I noticed this point that Moses makes about how their complaints were really complaints against God.  I had never really thought about who they thought they were complaining against.  Maybe they blamed Moses and Aaron for the situation they found themselves in?  Maybe they blamed the land for not producing what was needed to provide them with water and food?  But regardless of who they thought they were complaining against, ultimately their complaints were really against God.  They were complaining that God was not taking care of them.

I don’t know about you, but I know that I complain sometimes too.  When things aren’t going my way, I complain.  When I do that, I think I am complaining against whoever or whatever the problem is.  For instance, I might complain against the government when they do something I don’t agree with or when they take too much taxes out of my paycheck.  Or I might complain against my job, when things are tough.  Or I might complain about the price of gas or food or whatever else I need to buy.  I figure these complaints are harmless and I am just letting off steam and looking for someone to blame, but ultimately when I complain, I am complaining against God.

Ultimately my trust is not in the government, or my job, or the economy.  Ultimately my trust is in God.  So when I complain, it shows a lack of trust in God’s provision.  And that is not an attitude I want to have.

We are reminded in I Thessalonians 5:16-18 to, “Always be joyful.  Keep on praying.  No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (NLT again)  That is the attitude that I am supposed to have.  Even in the face of tough times I am to be joyful, and give thanks.  I can pray and ask God to take care of me, but not with a spirit of complaining, but rather with a spirit of joy and thanksgiving, and complete trust in God.

You Can’t Handle the Truth

This week in my devotions I was reading in the book of Jeremiah.  Now if you have never read Jeremiah, it is not an easy book to read.  It is a bit of a downer.  Jeremiah was a prophet of the Lord and God gave him a lot of bad news to share with the people of Judah.  He prophesied about things like the destruction of Jerusalem, exile, and captivity.  Not very good news.  Even one of the most well-known verses from Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11),  comes as part of a letter to the exiles where Jeremiah is telling them to be patient and get comfortable where they are at, because they are going to remain in exile for 70 years. 

But the people didn’t want to hear what Jeremiah had to say.  He was threatened, put in prison, beaten, and even thrown into a cistern.   One of the passages that really stood out to me comes from Jeremiah 43:1-3a “When Jeremiah finished telling the people all the words of the Lord their God — everything the Lord had sent him to tell them — Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, ‘You are lying!'”

Now obviously one of the lessons we should learn from this passage is the faithfulness of Jeremiah in following the Lord even in spite of such opposition and such a difficult task, but instead I want to remind us of what we also can learn from the other side of the story.

Notice that the people called Jeremiah a liar.  Why?  Simply because they didn’t want to hear the message that he was bringing.  But truth is truth regardless of whether or not we like it.  Sometimes we need to hear tough things.  The truth is not always good news.  Sometimes it is painful and hard. 

There is a movie called “A Few Good Men.”  In that movie Jack Nicholson plays a colonel who is called as a witness in a trial.  He is being questioned by Tom Cruise who plays a JAG lawyer.  At one point in the questioning Cruise says he wants the truth and Nicholson tells him that he doesn’t want the truth and that he can’t handle the truth.

Is that true with us?  Do we say we want the truth, but in reality we really don’t want to hear the truth?  Maybe God has been speaking to you.  Maybe He has been trying to tell you some truth that you don’t want to hear.  My challenge is to be willing to hear the truth regardless of how easy it is to take.  Don’t close yourself off to bad news, or tough criticism, or strong rebuke if it comes from God.  The people of Judah needed to be disciplined.  They needed to learn a lesson.  They had strayed from God and that is why God allowed them to be exiled.  But Jeremiah 29:11 was still true as well.  God did know the plans He had for them and ultimately it was for their good.  And it is the same with us.  God knows what He is doing.  Trust Him and let Him help you to handle the truth.

Canned Peaches

Have you ever eaten a canned peach?  They’re pretty good right?  My kids enjoy them so much that they even fight over the left over juice.  Canned peaches come in very handy during the colder months, when a variety of fresh fruit is much harder to come by.

I like canned peaches, but the other day I was peeling a fresh peach for my daughter and I was thinking about canned peaches.  Have you ever thought about the difference?  Canned peaches and fresh peaches don’t even seem like the same thing.  They have very different flavors.  I am sure it has to do with the canning procedure, but whatever the reason, it changes the flavor and makes them different.

But not only are they different, they also just aren’t as good.  There is something really wonderful about eating a big, juicy, fresh peach, with the juice running down your face.  You know what I’m talking about!  Canned peaches are pretty good, but they pale in comparison to the real thing.

Imagine if all you ever knew was canned peaches in your life and then all of a sudden you get your first taste of a fresh peach.  Wow, what a difference!  And you are thinking to yourself, where has this freshness been all my life?  Why have I settled for canned peaches, when fresh peaches are so great? 

So while I was standing there peeling that fresh peach for my daughter and thinking about canned peaches, another thought came to me.  How often do we settle for canned peaches in our spiritual lives?  I think that happens alot.  We are satisfied with our relationship with God being pretty good.  We read our Bible, we pray, and we go to church and participate in worship.  Everything is pretty good.  And we are satisfied with pretty good.  But is that all there is?

I want to challenge you today, to take some time and consider if your relationship with God is more like canned peaches or fresh?  Does God have more in store for you that you are not enjoying simply because you are satisfied with your spiritual life being just pretty good?  Consider David, who in Psalm 42 says, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.”  Does that sound like a man who is looking forward to some canned peaches?

This Sunday, I will be talking about a new way of looking at prayer.  It fits in well with this idea of canned peaches compared to fresh.  I don’t want to ever be satisfied with canned peaches, when there is freshness available to me.

River City Days Wrap Up

I want to say a big “thank you” to everyone who helped us make River City Days a great weekend for The River.  We had a booth on Friday and Saturday and lots of people from The River came by to help out.  Over the course of Friday evening and Saturday we gave away over 1,000 balloon animals and we had 12 winners in our gift card giveaway.  Thank you also to everyone who came by our booth to get a balloon, or to sign up for our drawing or to just talk and get information about the church.  We made a lot of new friends and had a great time being in the community.

For those of you who are wondering about the drawing, here is a list of the winners: Jayd Laurentz, Nichelle Schwarts, Kerry Larson, Gary Sauber, Kim Lane, Tricia Brkovich, Barb Horel, Mary Lou Bullerman, Nancy Skoglund, Karen Scullin, Travis Ristow, and Sandy Lewis.  If you see your name here, please feel free to contact us about getting your prize, or we will be sending it in the mail. 

We gave away Dunn Bros. and Rex Cinema gift cards as prizes this year.  The reason is very simple.  We gave away Rex Cinema cards because that is where we meet on Sunday mornings for our worship services.  And we gave away Dunn Bros. because that is where Pastor Rob hangs out most of the time since he has no office. 

Then on Sunday, we moved our entire worship time out to City Square Park to join in a praise and worship time featuring 7 different churches.  We were asked to provide sound for the entire event and then to also stick around and provide sound for a talent competition later in the day.  Again it was a big committment, but we said yes.  The main reason we were involved is because this fits in so well with who we are as a church.  We believe very strongly that we need to come together as one Church in the community, and we also believe that as a church we are called to be in the community, so this event fit perfectly with those two core values.  The event ended up being a great time of worship and it was wonderful to experience the different worship styles of the churches in our community.

Overall, River City Days weekend was a great success and there are so many people who helped make that happen, but most of all we want to thank God for providing in such a great way.  We specifically said, in the weeks leading up to this weekend, that taking on all that we had to do was definitely bigger than ourselves and that we needed to trust God to come through in a big way.  Well, He did!

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