Sometimes when you look back at life you realize that God truly had a plan all along. That's the way I feel about the Olympics. The Olympics could have been postponed until the next year they were supposed to come around, which is 2024. But throughout a global pandemic that affected countless lives, plans, and dreams for many around the country, the Olympics persevered. As of this writing, we are now only a few weeks away from the opening ceremonies.
I see this upcoming Olympics as God's way of allowing us all to come together, whether athletes or spectators, to take enjoyment in and give him praise for the abilities and talents he has given to many athletes. This is not a call to put the athlete in the place of God. Instead, it is an opportunity for us to marvel at our fellow man and women and how God created them. I'm hopeful that these Olympics can serve as a way for the world to reconnect after being so apart due to the pandemic.
As Christians and the church community, we too can serve as a bridge and a way to come together, first as Christians and as the greater community. Just like the Olympics, the pandemic altered the way we were together as the church community. Vaccines are now available and we can continue to return to church as we knew it. This is a perfect opportunity as we return to a sense of normal each Sunday and throughout the week. It is also a great opportunity for us to gently introduce church or reacquaint those with church who may have left it during the pandemic or even before.
I'm hopeful that just like in the Olympics, we can come together, those who have been a lifelong worshipper, those who have just left recently, and those new to the faith. I pray that we all can come together and celebrate one another for the gifts and talents that we have been given by God. I pray that we can have the opportunities to show one another where their gifts and talents can be used in God's kingdom and his church.
At the beginning and ending of the Olympics, they have the opening and closing ceremonies. I enjoy both of these ceremonies, but today I want to focus on the closing ceremony. In this ceremony the athletes who have won medals get to parade in front of a worldwide audience. They get to stand up and be recognized for their accomplishments. We too will have a day like that. However, instead of a medal around our necks we will have the blood of the Lamb on our person to mark us as "winning" the final victory. In that last sentence, I put winning in quotation marks for a very important reason. We are not like the Olympic athletes who through hard work and dedication, perform a skill, and then possibly get a medal based off of that performance. We did none of the work. Instead, Christ by his sacrifice on the cross did all the work for us. All we have to do is accept his gift. Then we can join with the rest of the world of believers someday in heaven, worshiping and praising our Heavenly Father for what he has done. It will be far greater than any Olympics ever that man could put on. It is an invitation to worship and be with our Savior Jesus Christ for all eternity. In my book, that's better than any medal or Olympic ceremonies that I could ever receive or have the opportunity to watch.
The Wheeled Worshiper
August is a month of joy as people gather together to celebrate community with Rally in the Valley and prepare for the school year ahead. What is your favorite memory or joy of this month of celebration and preparation? For a number of years, our sons have always looked forward to the parade and the kiddie tractor pull. For many, the fireman's competition brings forth a cheer. Others love the food, especially the whopper feed, the car show, hot wings contest, dance, or the 5k or 1k run. For still others, the anticipation of chopping season and the classroom floods the mind.
Any and all of these events gather people of our community together to celebrate and give thanks for what we have been given. We have countless things to give thanks for: a strong church community, a bustling economy, quality education, healthcare, and volunteer opportunities for people of all ages and skills. We have a lot to praise God for in our community!
Community, as one person recently put it, "is a place where all kinds of people who may not be natural friends, work to grow together to overcome differences and provide opportunities for all." How true that statement is.
Having a community is important in every town and city, as well as the church. Community is especially needed in the church because we serve a Lord who is triune. Our God is one and yet three existing in community. Community is what the Lord has always sought for his people to enjoy with one another and himself.
Our Lord desired community with us to such a degree that he bought us, with the blood of Jesus from sin and death, that we would have a complete relationship with God and one another. That we would in other words have "community".
The Lord did this even though we were his enemies. God sought to make us his friends that we would love the Father through the work of the Son, and from that love, love one another. Even though we are all different people, even though we all have different jobs, even though we might not always agree on everything, we are called through Christ to be part of a community of faith.
From this community, we interact in the broader community serving Christ in a manner worthy of the calling that we have received in order that we would encourage, sharpen, salt, and shine on one another, with and for the glory of Christ.
So, celebrate Rally in the Valley this year! Take in the sights! Enjoy the festivities before the fieldwork and classroom tasks begin. Make some new friends, rekindle old ones; give thanks for our community of faith at First; give thanks for our community of Rock Valley; and give God thanks for the blessings that abound here!
It's a waiting game for farmers and gardeners now. Yes, they irrigate, fix and tinker with the occasional machine needed for the irrigation and wait for the right opportunities to give water at the proper times. If any of you have taken a drive out to the country recently, you see the beginning fruits of those labors as small sprouts are beginning to appear. Soon, though, small sprouts will turn into full-grown stalks where heads of corn will appear. When they grow to maturity it will be time to, Lord willing, collect a bountiful harvest of both corn and beans.
As Christians, living in today's world, we too have the opportunity to collect a beautiful harvest. I believe that God gives all time for "planting", laying out the seed of God and his truth in the lives of individuals. Then, like the farmer, we can also nurture those seeds along by giving people encouragement through God's word and passing on messages from him that have inspired us. Soon, we will be able to see the beginnings of a bountiful harvest arising and we would pray that these same practices could continue for the new group of Christians that we have come alongside.
The questions this forces us to ask ourselves is: Who have we invested the "seed of God" in? Who have we sought to nurture along the path of fellowship, guiding them into a relationship with Jesus Christ? It may not always be easy going. There will be some "droughts" of faith just like there are drought-filled times in any growing season. It may not be the easiest path taken for growth either. We have all seen plants that have managed to grow around or through different obstacles, such as a crack in the sidewalk or growing around an object. These pictures show us that through dedication and belief in an Almighty God, faith can grow. The unique thing about faith is that it never stops growing. Every year, the farmer and the gardener have to collect their produce at some point. If they leave it outside, it will get spoiled and will soon be covered by the winter storms. This is one area where farming/gardening differs from faith growing. Faith has the opportunity to grow for a lifetime and produce wonderful men and women of faith. The time for "harvest" will come when Christ comes again.
I pray that we will all have people in our lives that we can invest in for the kingdom of God. The unique part about sharing your faith is that you can be the starting point, and then someone else can take over and continue to help that person along their path. This doesn't mean that you give up on someone, instead it is allowing God to take them on their journey and to use the whole church community to continue that buildup of faith. God has given us great opportunities to spread his love in this world. I'm praying that when that final harvest is upon us, we can say with confidence that we took part in helping to grow many of the faithful found there at that time. I'm also praying that we can say that we were helped in our own growth by others who came alongside us. It is said that "the harvest is many, but the workers are few." May we be considered part of those workers who continue to carry forth God's message to a fertile field of his world.
The Wheeled Worshipper
This month we have the privilege and opportunity as a nation to celebrate our sovereign independence from the British Empire. Since our founding, we have been seen by the rest of the world as a unique place. We, as a nation, have stood out because we are willing to stand up, lend our aid, and promote freedom around the world. We have lived in a nation that has experienced the blessings of God in commerce, worship, and governance because of our dependence on him.
It might seem strange to talk about our dependence on the day we celebrate our independence, but it is important to keep in mind. For even as we are independent from being ruled by another nation, we still need to be dependent on God.
Our dependence on God is like that of the branches of a tree and the outshoots of the vine. He is our strength, and it is from him that our help, our mercy, and our grace is found. John 15:4-5 reads,
"Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you produce fruit without me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."
Jesus is calling us to remember that in order to thrive and be fruitful, we have to remain in him. We have to depend on him for life, for peace, for justice, for mercy and for grace. God has given us this nation. For centuries, we recognize him and give thanks for his provision. But in the last number of years that recognition has been forgotten by many in our land, and our fruitfulness has suffered for it.
The weeds of sin at times seem to be taking over the fertile garden of our land. Yet, it is in these moments of celebrating independence that we must repent and pray for Jesus, the master gardener, to weed our nation of its sins.
We need to once again remember the classic words of our Pledge of Allegiance, that we are "one nation under God." We need to recognize that we are dependent on God for our strength, our health and vitality, personally, and as a nation. Though independent in the eyes of the world, our dependence on God, as our true vine, must always remain strong and true.
We are one nation under God. We should celebrate this fact and marvel at all that God has done for the people of this nation to be a beacon of light and hope to the world.
So, celebrate our nation's independence this month - fly the American flag, attend the parades, and enjoy barbecues and fireworks. Celebrate and give thanks for what we have been given as a nation, giving thanks to God for our independence provided through dependence on him.