Love Others When They Least Expect It and Least Deserve It

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”. -Romans 6:23

In 1993 Mary Johnson lost her son when the boy got into a fight with another boy named Oshea Isreal and was shot by Isreal. In spite of many unanswered questions Mary went to visit Isreal in prison. She said that after that first contact she felt “something” in her feet that began to move up across her body and left her. She recounts that from that moment all anger and hatred that she had held inside for twelve years left her and was replaced by total forgiveness. The two now live as neighbors in the same duplex and Mary has even referred to Isreal as her “son” in interviews. Isreal is so grateful for the bravery of this woman to take that step of forgiveness and says that that forgiveness is a constant motivation for him to stay on track and make his life count.

That is one of untold numbers of stories of forgiveness. In most cases forgiveness is that which happens when people least expect it or deserve it. However, it doesn’t always have to be an act of forgiveness that offers unexpected or surprising love to someone who least expects it. It might be as simple as a call, email, text or visit to someone with whom you have had no contact for a long time. It might be a surprise check in the mail for someone that you know is in need. It might be the offer of temporary shelter in your home to a family who has recently experienced a natural disaster and has lost theirs. So many different examples will come to your mind just be creative with the above principle in mind.

Just remember that the greatest example of loving others when they least expected it and certainly least deserved it was the offer of Christ of salvation and forgiveness of sin to all mankind. Even while we were yet sinners, even when our backs were completely turned on Him and we could care less; that is when He couldn’t care more and the Cross is the proof.  Love that is least expected and least deserved is really described by the word GRACE.

Blessings, Pastor Joe MacDonald

Endings are the Beginning of Beginnings

“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

Isn’t it interesting that the beginning of the ministry of Christ in His birth is almost simultaneously involved (at least on the western calendar) with the ending of another year of life and work. And isn’t it also interesting that the ending of another year of life and work signals the beginning of a new year with new possibilities, experiences and events both positive and negative.

Emotionally we experience sadness when anything that is positive ends. It may be the end of the life of a loved one or the end of a career that has provided fulfillment and sustenance for a family. It may be the end of a marriage in divorce or the end of a relationship with a loved one because of dementia or Alzheimer’s, which can cause complete loss of recognition. It may be the loss of a building or a landmark that has been the focus of many memories for generations of people. For example, I have a friend who, years ago, purchased a landmark home owned by the historical society of that particular county. He promised the society that he would restore the home to as close an approximation to its original state as possible. He noticed, as he was in the process of restoration that older people in the community who “knew what it was when” would pass by and watch the progress with smiles on their faces and even tears of joy because of the memories connected with it.

Here is the reality of endings, they always give birth to some kind of beginning. The ending of Jesus’ earthly ministry was the beginning of a whole new paradigm of redemption for mankind. The ending of earthly life signals the beginning of an eternal life (positive or negative in nature but eternal nonetheless). The end of an era or dynasty allows the possibility of a new one. We live our lives with a focus on what was because that is known. We hesitate to focus on the possibilities of the future because that is what is unknown. The above verse can be our theme individually for ourselves and our church as we step into a new year. God does have a wonderful plan as we move ahead but it only happens when we see the ending of one year as the doorway to the new one.

Blessings, Pastor Joe MacDonald

It’s Not Over ‘Til I Win

“Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” -Romans 8:37

Several years ago I heard a story told by a motivational speaker known as Les Brown. He recounted a time when he was playing a table game with his seven year old son. Les said that even though he tried to let his son win, the boy was so inept at the game that he kept losing over and over again. Feeling bad for his son but not wanting him to feel that he was only a loser, Less sensitively said, “Why don’t we stop for now and pick the game up again later?” His son’s reply was amazing and became the title of a speech and later a book that Les wrote. The boy simply said, “No, Dad, it is not over ‘til I win.” What an amazing statement. On first blush, we might say that the kid was so spoiled that life couldn’t go on until he got his own way. A deeper reading of the statement has amazing application to our lives as God’s children. Before we knew Christ through faith we were all like Les’ boy; all we could do was lose. We were losers, not just because we were inept at the game of life, but because of the curse, it was impossible for us or anyone to even approach winning.

However, the work of Christ and our choice to receive Him by faith changed everything. We don’t have to wait ‘til it is all over (meaning Christ’s second coming). We are winners now because He won then (at the Cross). Oh, there are times when we don’t feel much like winners and we only feel defeated. Don’t let that lie from the Enemy control your life. If you know Christ by faith you are not only a winner but a conqueror, as Paul says in Romans. It also changes the statement from “it’s not over ‘til I win” to “because Jesus won, it’s all over”

Blessings, Pastor Joe  MacDonald

Interview with God

I dreamed I had an INTERVIEW WITH GOD. “So, you would like to interview me?” GOD asked. “If you have time,” I said. GOD smiled. “My time is eternity… what questions do you have in mind for me?” “What surprises you the most about humankind?” GOD answered… “That they get bored with childhood, that they rush to grow up, and then long to be children again.” “That they lose their health to make money… and then lose their money to restore their health.” “That by thinking anxiously about the future, they forget the present, such that they live in neither the present nor the future.” “That they live as if they would never die, and die as though they had never lived.” GOD’s hand took mine… and we were silent for a while. And then I asked, “As a parent, what are some of life’s lessons you want your children to learn?” GOD replied, “To learn they cannot make anyone love them. All they can do is let themselves be loved.” “To learn that it is not good to compare themselves to others.” “To learn to forgive by practicing forgiveness.” “To learn that it only takes a few seconds to open profound wounds in those they love, and it can take many years to heal them.” “To learn that a rich person is not one who has the most, but is one who needs the least.” “To learn that there are people who love them dearly, but simply do not yet know how to express or show their feelings.” “To learn that two people can look at the same thing, and see it differently.” “To learn that it is not enough that they forgive one another, but they must also forgive themselves.” “Thank you for your time,” I said humbly. “Is there anything else you would like your children to know?” GOD smiled, and said… “Just know that I am here. Always.” – Anonymous
Blessings, Pastor Joe MacDonald

The Bible in 50 Words

God made. Adam bit. Noah arked. Abraham split. Jacob fooled. Joseph ruled. Bush talked. Moses balked. Pharaoh plagued. People walked. Sea divided. Tablets guided. Promise landed. Saul freaked. David peeked. Prophets warned. Jesus born. God walked. Love talked. Anger crucified. Hope died. Love rose. Spirit flamed. Word spread. God remained. -Anonymous
Blessings, Pastor Joe MacDonald

Soar Like an Eagle

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:31).
Ever wonder how and why the eagle is able to so easily stay aloft with seemingly little effort as it glides with wings outstretched and motionless, while smaller birds seem to struggle, beating the air with their wings incessantly? I know that there are aerodynamic explanations for this, but the example of the eagle is such a picture of peace and tranquility as it soars higher and higher. It can reach amazing heights that other birds cannot reach. There are two reasons. First, its wings are aerodynamically engineered by the Lord to catch the updraft of the prevailing winds, and secondly, the eagle needs to stay aloft for much longer periods of time to hunt its prey from the air. What the eagle models and what the scripture above indicates is that, like the eagle depends on the updrafts for its easy flight, we should rest and depend on the mighty wind of God’s Spirit for our energy to walk the walk and live the life he has given. Too often we “flap” our wings and try to live on our own strength which is a guarantee of failure. Like the wings of eagles and the sails of a ship, we need to draw close to the Lord and embrace His strength for the journey. I heard this little poem a long time ago about seeking God early in the morning for the strength we need for each day:
I met God in the morning when the day was at its best
And His presence came like sunshine with a glory in my breast
All day long His presence lingered; all day long he sailed with me,
And I sailed in perfect calmness oe’r a very troubled sea
Other ships were torn and battered; other ships were sore distressed,
But the winds that seemed to drive them brought to me a peace and rest.
So I think I’ve learned the secret, learned from many a troublesome way.
I must meet God in the morning to sail with Him through the day.
Blessings, Pastor Joe MacDonald

Dying to Live

I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. -Galatians 2:20
Ironically, real victory and success in life is not how we develop our own fleshly resources, but how we die to them in exchange for dependence on Christ’s resources. Paul says that everything he had ever accomplished, and all his credentials were considered “rubbish” compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ (Phil. 3: 3-8). On the other hand he said that “I can do all things through Christ—“ (Phil. 4:13). This thinking flies in the face of the cultural dogma of self-help, self-improvement, self-sustenance, be the best “you” you can be, etc.
Don’t get me wrong. We can be grateful for the many resources that are available to us and thank God for them. It is when we become solely dependent on ourselves and the resources that are available to us to the exclusion of any dependence on the One who has made all of them possible. We think that when we are in control of the car of life and everything starts to get out of control, that things will be better if we just grip the wheel of life a little harder.
It is a reminder of the old adage that insanity is doing the same things we have always done and expect different results. How many times have Christians had to be brought to their knees by the removal of all other resources but the Lord Himself? Why is Christ always the last resort? Why do we always feel that we have to figure it out instead of figuring Him in? Here is a thought. As you face all that life throws your way, start by saying “Apart from You I can do nothing; I confess death to my own puny resources and depend alone on You, Lord.”
The bottom line issue is trust. Do we trust in self and what we think self can provide or do we die to the insufficiency of self-sustenance and find life in dependence on Christ? Death to self is the discovery of real life and peace in Christ. Jim Elliot said, “ He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Blessings, Pastor Joe MacDonald

World’s Meanest Mother

It is May already, the month we celebrate and honor our mothers. It is my hope that your mother was as “mean” as the following by Bobbie Pingaro  and, if you are a mother, that you are as well:
“The Meanest Mother”
I had the meanest mother in the whole world. While other kids ate candy for breakfast, I had to have cereal, eggs or toast. When others had cokes and candy for lunch, I had to eat a sandwich. As you can guess, my supper was different than the other kids’ also. But at least, I wasn’t alone in my sufferings. My sister and two brothers had the same mean mother as I did. My mother insisted upon knowing where we were at all times. You’d think we were on a chain gang. She had to know who our friends were and where we were going. She insisted if we said we’d be gone an hour, that were gone one hour or less–not one hour and one minute. I am nearly ashamed to admit it, but she actually struck us. Not once, but each time we had a mind of our own and did as we pleased. That poor belt was used more on our seats than it was to hold up Daddy’s pants. Can you imagine someone actually hitting a child just because he disobeyed? Now you can begin to see how mean she really was. We had to wear clean clothes and take a bath. The other kids always wore their clothes for days. We reached the height of insults because she made our clothes herself, just to save money. Why, oh why, did we have to have a mother who made us feel different from our friends? The worst is yet to come. We had to be in bed by nine each night and up at eight the next morning. We couldn’t sleep till noon like our friends. So while they slept-my mother actually had the nerve to break the child-labor law. She made us work. We had to wash dishes, make beds, learn to cook and all sorts of cruel things. I believe she laid awake at night thinking up mean things to do to us. She always insisted upon us telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, even if it killed us- and it nearly did. By the time we were teenagers, she was much wiser, and our life became even more unbearable. None of this tooting the horn of a car for us to come running. She embarrassed us to no end by making our dates and friends come to the door to get us. If I spent the night with a girlfriend, can you imagine she checked on me to see if I were really there. I never had the chance to elope to Mexico. That is if I’d had a boyfriend to elope with. I forgot to mention, while my friends were dating at the mature age of 12 and 13, my old fashioned mother refused to let me date until the age of 15 and 16. Fifteen, that is, if you dated only to go to a school function. And that was maybe twice a year. Through the years, things didn’t improve a bit. We could not lie in bed, “sick” like our friends did, and miss school. If our friends had a toe ache, a hang nail or serious ailment, they could stay home from school. Our marks in school had to be up to par. Our friends’ report cards had beautiful colors on them, black for passing, red for failing. My mother being as different as she was, would settle for nothing less than ugly black marks. As the years rolled by, first one and then the other of us was put to shame. We were graduated from high school.  With our mother behind us, talking, hitting and demanding respect, none of us was allowed the pleasure of being a drop-out. My mother was a complete failure as a mother. Out of four children, a couple of us attained some higher education. None of us have ever been arrested, divorced or beaten his mate.  Each of my brothers served his time in the service of this country. And whom do we have to blame for the terrible way we turned out? You’re right, our mean mother. Look at the things we missed. We never got to march in a protest parade, nor to take part in a riot, burn draft cards, and a million and one other things that our friends did. She forced us to grow up into God-fearing, educated, honest adults. Using this as a background, I am trying to raise my three children. I stand a little taller and I am filled with pride when my children call me mean. Because, you see, I thank God, He gave me the meanest mother in the whole world. (written by Bobbie Pingaro, 1967)
It is my prayer that you will always strive to be a Proverbs 31 mom.
Blessings, Pastor Joe MacDonald

Image is Everything

“So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God, He created them; male and female he created them” -Genesis 1:27
It is almost frightening how important “image” has become in our culture. Though it is not stated overtly, it is obvious that the news media make sure their announcers and anchor people fit a certain image (notwithstanding the potential risk of being accused of discrimination because certain qualified people may not fit that image). Furthermore, millions, even billions of dollars are spent on cosmetic creams or surgical procedures on Hollywood stars and starlets to maintain a certain image that will “sell” on screen. Those in the modeling industry are so pressured to fit a certain image that many suffer from bulimia, anorexia, or dietary extremes just to fit a certain socially acceptable look. Unfortunately teenagers and even younger children buy into this obsession with image, sometimes to the extent that if they are not able to fit it they even attempt or commit suicide. It is a tragedy when anyone’s value is dictated by a culturally driven image demand. Thank God, those who know Christ never have to be a slave to those cultural demands. As God’s child you already have and carry a perfect image. It is not that any human being is perfect. No, we are all sinners by birth; but God says we are made in and carry His image. Even those who do not know Christ carry the image of God by the act of creation. Your value and mine are not dictated by how culture or others see us but by the value our Creator puts upon us. How valuable is that? So valuable that God Himself took on flesh and died on a cross, that our relationship with Him could be restored and His image in us could be renewed. You never have to live in the slavery of the dictates of culture or the pressure of peers. God has made us unique and more valuable to Him than anything else in the universe. It is my prayer that the only One you want to look like is Him shining through your uniqueness.
Blessings, Pastor Joe MacDonald

Just a Touch

“If I only touch His cloak I will be healed” Matthew 9:21
In 1944, a highly unethical, cruel and undoubtedly criminal experiment was conducted using 40 newborn infants to determine whether they could survive alone with all their physiological needs met including diaper changes and bathing. Twenty of them were placed in a special facility where caregivers would feed them, change their diapers, and bathe and clothe them, but nothing else. The caregivers were instructed not to look at them, touch them in any way (other than what was necessary) or communicate at all with them. The environment was kept sterile and none of the babies became physically ill. After four months the experiment was halted since half of the babies had died even though there was nothing wrong with them physically. Just prior to their deaths the infants would stop verbalizing, stop trying to engage with their caregivers, stop crying, stop moving and even changing expression. Death would soon follow. Yes, this is a horrible illustration but it points out one of the most important principles of life: the power of human touch. Sometimes when people who are going through severe trauma or loss, there is nothing more important at that time than a loving, caring touch. When words seem so useless, even insensitive, a touch on the hand or a shoulder or a hug can say more than a thousand words to really comfort. The woman in Matthew 9 with the issue of blood knew that a touch was not just comforting but healing when the she could merely touch the Master. She wanted her touch to be unnoticed by everyone including Jesus but He was fully aware of power flowing from Him to this woman. It wasn’t simply the touch that Jesus noticed but the faith that was behind it. She did not require His full attention, or for Him to come to her house or for Him to do anything. She knew that just a mere contact, just a touch would suffice. The ministry of touch was important in Jesus’ ministry. Whenever he healed he often touched the person. Each of us should not fear the ministry of touch. Granted, we must take care that all and any touch is appropriate and never misleading. Physical touch is one way of caring but reaching out to others with a note, an e-mail or blog, or even a sincere, “I am thinking about you and praying for you,” may touch someone in ways that you never know. Is there someone you know who just needs a touch?
Blessings, Pastor Joe MacDonald