Old pictures and fond memories

My dad with me and my brothers, Tim and Jim, in Bowen, Ill., sometime in the early 1960s.

Because you are sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” Therefore, you are no longer a slave but a son or daughter, and if you are his child, then you are also an heir through God. (Gal. 4: 6-7, Common English Bible)


I’ve been scanning old family photos and it’s been an entertaining experience. Besides coming across such classic 1960s images as my brothers and I in Indian headdresses (not sure why we had those) or me wearing my light blue cat-eye glasses, I’ve found some sweet photos of my parents as young parents themselves. There’s one from the early 1960s of my dad with the three of us out in our yard on a sunny Sunday morning. It might have been Easter, judging by the rather pristine quality of my brother Tim’s suit and my dress. Jim looks like he’s about 2, so Tim must be about 4 and I would be 5 ½. Dad is looking at the camera, but he’s also got his fingers on Jim’s shoulders to keep him from wandering off. (Jim seldom stayed still for long.) It’s a cute picture, but it also reminds me of how much my family’s life revolved around the church. Dad was a minister, so I suppose that was natural. But we grew up understanding that even if Dad had been a carpenter or a farmer, we would have been in church every time the doors were open. While I may have resented it at times, I’m thankful now that my parents modeled a life of faith for us. They loved and served God and taught us to do the same. I know not everyone has had a father that modeled the Christian life, but we all have a heavenly father who has chosen us as his sons and daughters. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we can know true freedom. I hope on this Father’s Day you’ll remember that God offers healing and hope no matter kind of family we come from.

Remembering God’s Faithfulness

(This is my May 2009 column)
Psalm 77

In the early 1970s my father preached at a church in Linton, Indiana. I was just entering my teens and it was a good place for me. My brothers and I had friends in our neighborhood and there were a lot of kids in our church. What I was not aware of though, was that it wasn’t such a good place for my dad. There were good people there, but it just wasn’t a good fit and after a couple of years he resigned. I think it was the only time my father resigned before he’d been called by another church. I’ll never forget our parents telling us that we were going to be moving, but we didn’t know where or even if we would be serving another church. I think we were all a little scared, but our parents told us that God was with us and we could trust him.

My parents understood, better than my brothers and I, what the psalmist is talking about in Psalm 77. Sometimes God seems far away, sometimes we enter a desert time in our lives when the path is rocky and hard to follow. Those are the times, though, that we can say:

I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
(Psalm 77:11-12)

By remembering what God has done throughout history, and in our lives, we’re reminded of what a great God we serve and can be comforted. We know we can trust him because he’s never failed us.

And all those years ago, when we wondered what God had in mind for our family, he proved himself faithful once again. Within a month, my Dad had been called to another church in southern Indiana, where he would have a fruitful ministry and our family would be at home once more. And ever since, when the path seems uncertain, that time in my life reminds me of God’s faithfulness and I know I can trust him.

True Riches

(this is my April 2009 newsletter column)

Mark 10:17-27

Whenever a group from our church returns from a mission trip to Mexico or Nicaragua, someone always mentions the joy they saw even in the midst of great poverty. Our brothers and sisters in Christ in other countries experience real joy and peace from knowing Christ, maybe because they understand very well what it means to totally rely on God’s provision. When I see the pictures from Nicaragua and Mexico, and hear the testimonies of those who went there, I’m reminded how wealthy I am compared to most of the world. I don’t usually think of myself that way, but I have everything I need and much of what I want.

So when I read the story of Jesus and the rich young man who came to him for guidance, I realize I have a lot more in common with that young man than I usually like to admit. Jesus told the young man that even though he’d lived a good life, there was something lacking. He needed to sell his possessions and give to the poor, and then follow Jesus. The young man apparently found this too hard and went away sad, and without making any changes in his life. Jesus used this opportunity to teach his disciples about what it means to follow him. They didn’t find the teaching any more comfortable than the rich young man did.

It’s not that having wealth is a bad thing, but too often our material comfort leads to complacency. Our possessions can get in the way of our walk with Christ. Jesus told his disciples it was harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. The disciples were somewhat dismayed by this statment. In Jewish culture, as in ours, wealth was considered a sign that a person had done everything right. They were blessed. So if a wealthy person couldn’t get to heaven, who could? But Jesus reminds them that nothing is impossible with God.

I, like the rich young man, could say I’ve lived a pretty good life. And I, too, am uncomfortable with the idea that I might have to give up something to follow Jesus. But my salvation isn’t dependent on what I can do or on what I possess. It’s because of the saving work of Jesus Christ. And because of that I need to be willing to do whatever God asks of me. That’s the only way I’ll ever know the true riches that come from a life lived for Christ.

Receive Him

Matt. 2:9-12
John 1:9-13

Almost every Christmas pageant includes an appearance by the three wise men who came to see baby Jesus. Of course, by the time they arrived, Jesus was probably a toddler, not a baby. And there might have been two wise men, or five, or more — the account in Matthew 2 just says they brought three kinds of gifts, not how many men actually brought them. But even though some of what we think we know about the wise men is more legend than fact, there is one thing we know for sure: When they saw Jesus “they fell down and worshiped him.” And in doing so, they offer a glimpse of what is to come — a time when all people, not just the Jews, can know and worship God.

John writes in his Gospel that Jesus “came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God …” (John 1:11-12) Among the earliest worshipers of God’s son were lowly shepherds, a poor prophet and prophetess in the temple (Simeon and Anna), and these men from a foreign country. The ruler of the day, King Herod, feared Jesus as a threat to his power. It seems to have beyond his imagination that what Jesus had to offer was worth far more than any earthly throne.

Who are we most like? The wise men who sought Jesus and offered him their worship and their best gifts? Or are we like Herod and the religious authorities of Israel, who, seeing only the threat to their way of life, rejected the son of God?

As we start another new year, let’s think about the wise men. Let’s try to be like those who welcomed Jesus and offered their hearts and lives to him. His gift to us is far greater than all the gold or power in the world.

~ Eutychus

Putting off the Old Self

“But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:20-24, ESV)

A highlight of my summers, when I was growing up, were the weeks I spent at church camp. Often, sometime during the week, we’d have a campfire service and people would give testimonies. Some of these testimonies were quite dramatic,especially after I was in high school. You know the kind — full of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll and then a dramatic turn-around. It was great to hear about what marvelous things God did in people’s lives, but I know I came away feeling that maybe I didn’t have much of a testimony. After all, I was a small-town preacher’s kid and my big rebellion was objecting to washing dishes after supper.

What I didn’t really understand at that time in my life was that I was just as much a sinner as the kids who had rebelled in more obvious ways. As Paul writes to the Ephesians, my life was “corrupt through deceitful desires.” It didn’t matter if my desire was something apparently innocuous, such as wanting to watch TV instead of doing dishes. I had a disobedient heart and a resentful attitude. I needed to put off the old self and be transformed by Christ. That meant surrendering myself to Christ so he could make me more like him. I couldn’t do it on my own — and still can’t. It’s an ongoing process, so even though I became a Christian at age 10, I’m still growing and learning to let Christ complete that transformation.

I may not have a dramatic testimony, but I am glad that I can say I’m a sinner saved by grace, a new creation in Christ. I hope you can say that, too.

~ Eutychus

Shaped by God’s Word

Psalm 119:1-8

When I was growing up, my youngest brother looked up to me. He followed me around, he liked the TV shows I liked, he played pretend with me and followed my lead. We are still close and like a lot of the same books and movies. Several years ago he told me that when we were kids he even tried to emulate my handwriting. This was not such a good thing since my handwriting was atrocious (and still is). I feel bad that in at least that area, I wasn’t such a good influence. I think most of us can relate to the experience of either looking up to someone and wanting to be like that person, or being the person someone looks up to. But as humans, we’re far from perfect and can (often unintentionally) lead someone astray — or least into very poor penmanship.

But there is one model we are given that won’t lead us astray. In fact, it will mold and shape us into the kinds of people God intends us to be. The first three verses of Psalm 119 say:

Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways! (Ps. 119:1-3 ESV)

The Hebrew word we translate as “keep” carries the idea of paying close attention, or treasuring. If we give close attention to God’s word, if we treasurer it, if we seek him, he will not lead us astray. Instead, he will give wise guidance and we will find our way in his ways.

All of Psalm 119 is a celebration of God’s Word and a reminder to us of the importance of being immersed in his Word. I plan to spend more time in Psalm 119, as a start to learning to walk more closely in God’s ways. I hope this year you, too, will treasure God’s Word and walk more closely with him.

~ Eutychus

The Messiah We Need

I Samuel 8
John 1:29

How often have you wanted something very badly, and yet when you finally got it, realized it wasn’t what you really wanted or needed after all? The Israelites were often that way. In I Samuel 8, they beg and beg for a king. God tells the prophet Samuel to give them what they want, while warning them that having a king might not be a such a great thing after all. God knew that Israel was not willing to let him be king over them, even though he had brought them out of Egypt and provided a wonderful land for them. They wanted a king like all the other countries. So, Samuel found a king for them — Saul, the first in a long line of kings in Israel, some good, some bad, but mostly bad. By the time Herod the Great was king, the country was under Roman domination, and now the people longed for the Messiah. Surely he would come and kick the Romans out, depose Herod and restore Israel to its former glory.

God certainly heard what the people wanted. But he also knew what they needed — a Savior. They didn’t need a king to rule an earthly country, they needed the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” as John the Baptist says in John 1:29. So God sent his son to be born a baby in humble circumstances, to grow up and teach and heal and show a new way to relate to God. Then he would die for our sins and rise again, conquering death and bringing hope to world.

Because of Jesus, our hope doesn’t need to rest on earthly rulers. Governments come and go — some good, some not so good, some downright evil. But our hope is in Christ and our citizenship is in the Kingdom of God. We have an eternity of communion with God to look forward to.

Sometimes, like the Israelites, we think we need something other than God to make our lives better — maybe a new car or a new house or a different spouse or a different president. But all through the Bible God is teaching us that all we really need is him. I don’t know about you, but I find that comforting.

May your Christmas season be filled with the peace that comes from knowing Christ.

~ Eutychus

In Training

“Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1 Tim. 4:7b-10, ESV)

I’m not an athlete. I’m not being modest when I say this. I would much rather sleep than get up before dawn and start the day with a 2-mile run. I prefer to spend a fall afternoon curled up with a good book instead of playing football outdoors. But I can still relate to the idea of being in training for something. After all, many things in life prepare us for the next stage of development. Before we walk, we must learn to crawl and then stand. Before we’re ready for a career, we need education and experience.

Our life in Christ is much like this. In many of Paul’s epistles he describes faith in athletic or competitive terms. In the first letter to Timothy, he admonishes the young pastor to “train himself for godliness.” In the Greek and Roman culture of the day, physical fitness was one of the ideals, and Paul recognized the importance of being fit and healthy. But of greater — and eternal — importance is godliness. Just as a runner trains for a marathon, Christians must strive for godliness. It doesn’t come naturally. It requires the disciplines of prayer and Bible study and obedience. But the end result is worth it for our hope is in Christ and our goal is heaven.

~Eutychus

True Purpose

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-21 ESV)

Throughout our busy days, it’s often easy to lose sight of what’s truly important. While taking care of our families, doing our jobs, volunteering at church or service organizations, and even enjoying leisure activities are all fine, these things are not our sole purpose in life. Jesus laid out a different system of priorities in the Sermon on the Mount. And the apostle Paul is a good example of putting Christ and his purpose first in life.

The apostle Paul certainly did not lay up earthly treasure for himself. Instead, he traveled the known world proclaiming Christ and often suffering because of it. And yet, in Philippians 1:21 he says that for him “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Paul’s passion and purpose were focused on serving Christ and his church. Paul’s letters to the churches were full of encouragement and exhortation to remain firm in their calling in Christ. These churches — not physical buildings but the body of Christ — were Paul’s treasure. And when he died for the cause of Christ, I have no doubt that he heard his Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

~Eutychus

Uncomfortable

“We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures.  Nasty uncomfortable things!  Make you late for dinner!”
(Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien)

“Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver…”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
(C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

I think God likes to keep us uncomfortable. Remember, our God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — and not a one of them led a comfortable life. David became a king, but it wasn’t a comfortable life. The apostle Paul was beaten, shipwrecked, imprisoned — not exactly comfortable circumstances. And Jesus, God’s own son, lived his life on earth as an itinerant rabbi, without a settled home or material wealth.

If the champions of the faith lived in often unsettled and uncomfortable circumstances, why do we think our lives should be any different? The truth for most of us is, when we get comfortable, we forget about God. We trust to our own understanding, instead of acknowledging God in all our ways. But when our lives become less comfortable, we are more inclined to call out to God and remember that we have nothing apart from him.

In the life of our congregation, we’ve had few times that could strictly be called comfortable — we’ve seen a lot of change and growth, which is inherently uncomfortable. It can’t have always been easy for the older folks who, 30 years ago, prayed for families to come. Yes, their prayers were answered, but with those young families came new challenges, new music, new ways of doing things, a new building — uncomfortable. Those prayers continue to be answered and our church has continued to grow, which inevitably leads to more new, uncomfortable things.

But there’s a reason I quoted two of my favorite books above — we were not really made for a comfortable life. If we heed the call to an adventurous, uncomfortable life in the Lord, we will also be reminded that he is good. In all the difficult, uncomfortable circumstances we experience in our lives, God is with us and never forsakes us. One of my favorite scriptures is Romans 8: 31-39, especially the last part —

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? …
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If Paul could rejoice in this assurance from his Roman prison, surely we can remember it in our daily lives.

~Eutychus