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The Pastor’s Corner is written by the pastor of Coronado Bible Church.

Unexpectedly Thankful

I’m the late-in-life, youngest son of an only son. My siblings did not have large numbers of children … and Sue and I had none. My parents are gone, my aunts and uncles are gone. Sue’s parents are still living, but her extended family is small, dwindling with age and miles away. Around the holidays, I remember large family gatherings that will never happen again this side of heaven. These thoughts could have produced a morbid cloud overshadowing the joy of the season … but they didn’t.  Instead, they set me up to be unexpectedly thankful!

This past Sunday, Sue and I arrived earlier than usual at church. There were still preparations to be made for the big Thanksgiving feed. I stood in the little kitchen and began mixing up one batch of instant stuffing after another. Slowly others started arriving. Debby came and started putting together her deviled eggs. I was intent on my task but threw greetings over my shoulder as I recognized the voice of each new arrival. As each new dish arrived, the room smelled more and more like Thanksgiving should. I mused … “I’m standing here bantering with Aunt Debby. Uncle Fletch is back there somewhere laughing and telling stories. Sister Adele and a dozen other cousins are pitching in to get the feast underway.” I realized, with a note of unexpected joy, that I felt at very much at home. The room was alive with the hum of … family.

After the service and after the meal, I gazed with wonder at a room filled with full tables filled with full, happy people. And I was full as well … not just my stomach, but my heart. I walked by each table and silently thanked God for my huge family. I realize I don’t know each one as well as I could … but that can be true with flesh and blood relatives. No one who finds a good church will ever be alone. I’m so thankful … grateful … and blessed.

Did you know this is Biblical? Paul writes instructions to the young pastor Timothy, so that his congregation will know “how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God.” (1 Timothy 3:15) He writes this wonderful news to the Ephesians, “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the households of God.” (Ephesians 2:19)

We all got into this grand household through adoption. When we received Christ and believed on his name, God the Father gave us the right to become his sons and daughters. (John 1:12-13) Let’s live out the privileges of the family of faith according to Paul’s encouragement, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.“ (Romans 12:10-13)

So glad you’re here … welcome home!

The Fugitive

Do you remember the name Dr. Richard Kimball? He was better known as the Fugitive. The hit TV show chronicled the life of a physician wrongly accused of murdering his wife and sentenced to death. During episode intros, the actor was shown staring out the window of the train carrying him to death row. The narrator rumbled, “Richard Kimble ponders his fate as he looks at the world for the last time, and sees only darkness. But in that darkness, fate moves its huge hand.” At that moment the train derails freeing Kimball … freeing him from death row but imprisoning him in a life of running infamy. Every episode is basically about one thing … escape. Kimball is hunter and hunted … following the trail of his wife’s real killer (the one-armed man) while being relentlessly dogged by Police Lieutenant Philip Gerard. Richard Kimball escapes in all but the final episode. Finally vindicated, Kimball walks away from the court building and the narrator says … “the day the running stopped.”

That was fiction … you’ve been reading real history in Acts. The story of a man that was hunted, hounded and wrongly accused. He was both pursuer and pursued. Running after one magnificent goal, heedless of the cost … but also running from his enemies … escaping at times by only the narrowest of margins. Our subject? The Apostle Paul. But the real hero of the story is not the fugitive or the huge hand of fate moving in the midst of Paul’s darkness … the Hero is Paul’s kind, sovereign and mighty God.

Paul’s story was not five seasons … his story spanned almost three decades. Reading from Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 to just before his prison voyage to Rome (Acts 26), I counted 27 separate attacks against Paul. He didn’t have just one determined antagonist like Dr. Kimball. Paul’s list of opponents is much longer … it included: unbelieving Jews, slave owners, the Sanhedrin, Gentile crowds, philosophers, zealots, city officials, a sorcerer, a trade union, two Roman governors, a Jewish puppet king and many who called themselves Christians.  

The attacks occurred in every city he visited, stretching from Judea through Syria, Asia, Macedonia and as far as Greece. Paul faced verbal abuse, defamation of character, orchestrated mob actions, sneering and jeering, beatings, litigation, a restraining order, stoning, imprisonments without cause and multiple unsuccessful plots against his life. Of the 27 incidents I mentioned, at least ten where intended by his enemies to result in Paul’s death. Without embellishment the life of Paul has plenty of material for several nail-biting seasons.

But Paul summed up his troubled life by saying, “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:17

That statement is impossible to fathom … until you hear this one, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him …” Philippians 3:8–9

Father forgive my whining and give me a heart for Christ like Paul!

Doing Your Country Proud

This weekend, two-hundred kilometers from home our car lost power and stranded us on the side of the highway. The old girl had the decency to die under a tree that first shaded us from the sun and then gave us some protection from the rain. Four hours of texting later, a tow truck picked us up and delivered us to a little repair shop on the back edge of Santiago.

Most of the time I feel pretty at home in Panama, but a stressful situation in an unfamiliar city, needing a new set of Spanish vocabulary, heightened my awareness that I am a stranger. I am an Extranerjo.

After four hours of laboring, Roberto finally gave us the bad news that the head gasket was blown. That was almost enough to make me want to spend my money on an airline ticket instead of car repairs … but it didn’t. That’s because of a guy named Roberto. Here’s how Roberto the mechanic treated us:

·       He warmly welcomed us into his little shop and insisted on changing his TV to English.

·       He wouldn’t allow Sue to use the shop restroom (solo hombres) instead he welcomed her into his home.

·       He charged us a modest fee for his labor … even though we were obviously at his mercy.

·       He was patient with our lack of Spanish.

·       He was patient with our indecision even though he had worked well past supper.

·       He asked if we were hungry and showed us where we could get some food.

·       He reassured us that he would keep our car and its contents safe until it could be hauled to Coronado.

·       He eventually took us and our luggage across town to the bus stop.

·       He insisted on parking, finding the right bus and making sure we were on it safely.

I hear a lot of disparaging comments about Panamanians … and I, to my shame, have produced a few of my own. It’s a less than noble way of dealing with the stress of living in a different culture. I just want to be sure I’m as quick to notice the good and give praise where praise is due. Roberto did his people and his country proud!

Are you doing your country proud? Look at this …

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 1 Peter 2:11–12

Peter uses two words to describe followers of Christ; “foreign citizens” and “sojourners.” You, Christian, are an extranejo in this world. Heaven is your true country. When the native-born of this world watch you … what conclusions do they draw about your people and your country?

Getting a Jump on Thanksgiving

Meals were never very regular when I was growing up. We always got fed … but there was nothing like a schedule. We either went foraging or we ate when Mom was ready to cook. It worked and I certainly didn’t suffer from malnutrition.

The worst time was Thanksgiving. The meal was usually scheduled for one or two o’clock. Out of town family would start showing up around three and we might be lucky to eat by five. What made it unbearable for a young man … on that day, there was no foraging. The kitchen was off limits.

So, when our haggard and hungry brood finally set down to eat, we were beyond ready. Like the little girl in the picture I was ready to do a faceplant in the pie or potatoes. Fork? Who needs a fork? Just let me go carnivore on that turkey! But like a Panamanian taxi that just saw a fare, the whole thing would come to a screeching halt. Mom would swat back a reaching hand and say, “Before we eat, I want us to each say something we’re thankful to God for.” Nooooooo! It happened the same way every year. How did I not anticipate this?

With the pressure high and the blood sugar low, I could never think of anything. I would mumble “turkey” or “pie” or “whipped cream.” Mom would give me a disapproving look and I’d feel like a total heathen for not being profoundly thankful for something … profound. To be fair, it’s hard to be prepared for something if you only do it once a year. Thankfulness is like golf, unless you do it daily, you’ll never be any good.

So, here’s my advice. Get a jump on Thanksgiving. If you start thinking now, you should be able to have a long and meaningful list by Thanksgiving Day. Don’t give the whole list, those other people are hungry also. But, if someone asks what you’re thankful for, you should have no problem answering. No awkward silence or lame replies; you can give a solid answer about some of God’s goodness in your life. Actually … why not practice thanksgiving all year? That’s what the Bible commends for every believer.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

“Through Christ then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” Hebrews 13:15

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17

Risk-Free Investing (Part 3)

In Mark Chapter 4, Jesus invited His followers to share in the joy of spreading the kingdom. We’ve looked at two of His parables under the title, “Risk-Free Investing.” So far we’ve learned that God doubles our investments and guarantees the growth. Today we see that He takes the smallest investments and transforms them into something great. Here’s Mark 4:30-32,

Again Jesus said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”

Do you think Jesus’ followers had any clue about the magnitude of what God was going to do through their imperfect, faltering human, efforts? No way!

Perhaps you’ve heard of the great evangelist of the late 1800s, D. L. Moody. When Moody was 17 and unable to find work, he moved to Boston to work in an uncle’s shoe store. One of the uncle’s requirements was that Moody attend Church. Moody’s Sunday School teacher Edward Kimball found him indifferent to the things of God. Never-the-less he went to the young man’s workplace and shared the Gospel with him. Kimball left totally disheartened … thinking he’d thoroughly botched the presentation. But in time, Moody gave his heart and his entire life to Jesus. Kimball’s mustard seed investment grew into a thriving gospel ministry that reached around the globe, introducing thousands to Jesus. It also grew into Moody Bible Institute, a school that still trains pastors, missionaries and evangelists.

In 1956, five young men gave their lives trying to take the Gospel to the Waudoni Indians of Ecuador. The mustard seed of their faith planted in an Amazonian riverbed, watered with their own blood seemed a tragic waste. But God has the final word on our investments in His kingdom.  Not only were the Waudoni reached for Christ, those missionaries’ sacrifice inspired thousands of young men and women to invest their lives for the Gospel. You might object, “Giving your life is hardly a small investment!” You’re right … but nobody could have foreseen the disproportionate growth that came from their faithfulness. What followed has been called the largest mission movement of our century.

None of us knows what God will accomplish through one act of obedience. But we have this parable that tells us that He takes small investments and makes them mighty in His kingdom. What is it that’s keeping you from investing your life in His kingdom? Do you feel too small, too sinful, too inept? I hope you’re encouraged to know that no investment is too small for God to turn it into something great!