Friday, August 26, 2016

Turning the Page: A New Chapter

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
(1 Corinthians 2:1-5 KJV)

As I sat down to compose this post, I struggled with a variety of emotions, as well as wondering how I could clearly communicate my heart with all who will read this post—realizing that I wanted to keep my focus on the Lord while honoring a special person (my spiritual dad)—my now former pastor.  It is a bittersweet time, as is true of most all transitions.  A time of sadness and a time of hope (see Jeremiah 29:11)—stepping into an unknown future trusting an omnipotent God Who not only knows the future, He is already there!  Jesus is so important in change; He gives us hope.

Pastor Neil and me.  Taken May 29, 2016

Pastor Neil and me.  Taken  May 29, 2016

The above Scripture is part of the text Neil used in his final sermon at Trinity United Methodist Church in Albia, Iowa, for the complete text click here:  1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5.  The title for this post came to me as I was listening to the children’s message on Neil’s last Sunday.

On June 12, 2016, we (my church and I) said, “see you later” to our beloved pastor, Neil, who retired from full time ministry of thirty plus years (including seven years at Trinity).  Neil is currently transitioning into part-time ministry, serving two small churches in southern Iowa.  For Christians, when we part, it is never “good-bye” but “see you later”.  Grasping this is comforting to me.  It makes parting “easier”.

Sunday, July 4, 2004, is a day that God instigated a big change in my life; this was my introduction to Pastor Neil (in my hometown church)!  (In retrospect, it is rather “fitting” that it was Independence Day!)  It may not have been immediate but ever so slowly, the Lord wooed me back to Him through Neil’s ministry (this is worthy of its own post at some point)—consistently pointing to Jesus and preaching from the Word—proclaiming the message that God desires nothing more than a relationship with you. 

Throughout Neil’s ministry that I have been privileged to experience (and long before, I am sure); it is always about Jesus and not about Neil.  In fact, over the twelve years I have known him; I have not heard his testimony!  In response to a draft of this post that I shared with him, Neil stated: “I do not consider myself as having arrived.  But, I press on to the high calling believing that God will complete the work He has started in me.  I trust that He is working mightily in you as well.”

Pastor Neil at Family Life Center Celebration 2015 Photo Credit D. Wright

By November/December 2004 the direction of my life was changing (I was “broken”, having come to the end of myself)—God was calling me into a deeper relationship with Him and into ministry!  My first meeting with Neil in his office in December of 2004, awakened me to a new vision, a new view of God and His love.  In that first—of many—meetings, I felt so safe and so loved—that the walls I had erected began to come down.  These feelings were new to me—I did not feel safe or loved like that in my own family.

At this point, I should note that the Lord orchestrated a number of events, which combined afforded me the freedom (in 2009) to switch churches (at the His leading), so I could continue to sit under Neil’s preaching and teaching.  (The change in churches did us both a world of good!)  I followed the Lord, not a man.

Personal Photo

The Scripture I shared above from Neil’s sermon text is appropriate for Neil as a person and as a pastor.  He consistently preaches Jesus and knows the Word in a way that I had never before experienced.  Until 2004 I had no idea how spiritually malnourished I had become, the malnourishment was a long-term issue.  Many individuals, I am sure, have been richly blessed through Neil’s ministry.  I know I have been richly blessed!  He is a truly a shepherd of the Lord’s people.

Like any good pastor should do, Neil consistently affirmed the people in his care to follow the Lord, to be in the Word, equipping us for ministry, and to be active in ministry in the community and beyond.  Neil doing so well what he does, some how motivated me to say “yes” to God’s call on my life:  preaching (mostly as  lay speaker), leading small groups/Bible studies (occasionally), teaching Sunday school, writing a blog, and more.  Life changing for sure!

Let your moderation [gentleness] be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. 
(Philippians 4:5 KJV)

When I think about Neil and his qualities, I see so much of Jesus in him—that the light of Jesus shines out all around him.  Neil is the only person who comes to mind who is consistently kind, gentle, and loving to the people in his life (see Philippians 4:5).  There are times, I am sure that Neil does not exhibit those qualities—in a fallen world that is to be expected.  It is staying in that place that is to be avoided.  I do not know about you, but I desire for others to see Jesus in me and not just see me.   

Pastor Neil speaking at Trinity UMC Anniversary celebration 2014.  Photo Credit D. Wright

Pastor Neil--Confirmation Baptism (2014?).  Photo Credit D. Wright

Pastor Neil praying.  Photo Credit D. Wright

Throughout all the time I have known him, Neil is one of the most consistent people I have ever met—consistent in humbling doing whatever task is in front of him, humbly coming along side the people in his midst—being the hands and feet of Jesus.  My mom and I were blessed when he came along side and walked with us during her rather short cancer journey.  My family and I were blessed with a beautiful service celebrating my mom’s life that he conducted.

Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.  (1 Corinthians 11:1 KJV)

Pointing to Jesus and exalting Him—simply Jesus—is a great way to succinctly summarize Neil’s ministry and life.  Following the example of Jesus, becoming more Christ-like is what all of us are to do—having examples to look to is so helpful—Neil is an example in my life.  He is truly a lump of clay in the Potter’s hands.  In my mind, this is something that I desire to emulate.  What about you?

How have you been blessed by a pastor’s ministry?

The following song by Donna Jackson is a great tribute to many pastors; it was so fitting for Pastor Neil.  I heard it for the first time on June 12, 2016, in a video tribute to Pastor Neil.  Please take time and listen to it.

In case you have trouble understanding the lyrics please click here.

Please join with me in prayer:  

Dear Lord, thank You for faithful pastors, like Neil, who make it all about You, not about themselves.  Thank You for the example of a humble servant so many have observed in Neil and many others like him.  During this time of transition, remind us to keep open minds to Your plans for the future, as we adjust to a new pastor.  Pour out Your bountiful blessings on Neil and his family as he continues to faithfully serve You and exalt Jesus.  In Jesus’ Name, we pray.  Amen.

From My Heart to Yours,


Friday, August 19, 2016

Dare to be a Daniel: Taking Up the Challenge

But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.  
(Daniel 1:8 KJV)

Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.  (Daniel 6:10 KJV)

**This post is the sixth post in the Dare to be a Daniel series. [1]

After taking an unplanned break last week due to computer and other technology issues, I am back to share the last post in the Dare to be a Daniel series.  Over the last several weeks I have shared about the courage, boldness, commitment, humility, and integrity of Daniel. 

Even after all these centuries, Daniel’s witness and testimony of God’s faithfulness, protection, and guidance shines brightly.  Many of us are inspired by this and desire to “be a Daniel” in our society.  My challenge remains unaltered:  dare to be a Daniel in your generation, in your family, in your daily life.  The question that remains:  will you take up the challenge?  Taking up the challenge is not for the faint of heart. 

We can be assured that since God never changes (see Numbers 23:19, Hebrews 13:8), therefore, we can trust Him like we can trust no one else!  God remained faithful to Daniel because Daniel remained faithful to Him.  If we remain faithful to God, we can rest assured that He will remain faithful to us.

During my time away from the computer and internet, I learned much (there is still much to sift through); for now consider the benefits of resting in God.  It seems to me Daniel rested in God.  Praying, worshiping God, reading the Word is rest.  In making the effort to do this, we will find, like Daniel, that we are different from the world—the world will react in a variety of ways.

Pulling closer to God, resting in Him, living a holy life seems to me part of daring to be a Daniel.  Come to think of it, it is part of abiding too!

What will you decide?  Who will join me in this challenge?

In closing, I would like to share the following Scriptures (not exhaustive by any means) that should provide encouragement as we take up the challenge and dare to be a Daniel.

Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:  That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: 
(1Peter 1:6-7 KJV)

Personal photo--cross at front of church sanctuary

 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.  (James 1:12 KJV)

Personal photo

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:  Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.  
(1 Peter 5:8-9 KJV)

Photo credit: C. Meissner

At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.  Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.  And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 
(2 Timothy 4:16-18 KJV)

Personal photo

And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. 
(Revelation 12:11 KJV)

Photo Credit: P. Whitlach

Please join with me in prayer:
Dear Heavenly Father, through Your Holy Spirit fill us with courage—the courage we need to live fully sold out for You in a world that grows darker day by day.  Remind us to draw near, to cling to You with determination to not succumb to the sinful world around us, no matter the cost.  Thank You for Daniel’s witness of how to live a righteous, holy life and not compromise, while respecting those who live for the world,  guide us to live a godly life.  Empower us to take up the challenge and dare to be a Daniel.  In Jesus’ Name, we pray.  Amen.

From My Heart to Yours,


[1] Beth Moore’s Daniel: Lives of Integrity, Words of Prophecy (2006, LifeWay Press) was the inspiration for many ideas in this sermon/blog post.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Dare to be a Daniel: The Lion’s Den—Believing God

But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.  
(Daniel 1:8 KJV)

Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.  (Daniel 6:10 KJV)

**This post is the fifth post in the Dare to be a Daniel series. [1]

Last year (2015), I started a series of posts on believing God, which included getting to know God through His Names.  In order to fully believe God, like Daniel, we need to know His characteristics.  To read the posts in that series see: Believing God.

Believing God at His word is a far cry from believing in God.  The difference is stark.  James tells us demons believe in God and shudder (2:19).  Believing God is Who He says He is and will do what He says He will do changes our perspective on life and how we live.

Then was the king exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God.  
(Daniel 6:23 KJV)

Photo Credit: P. Whitlach

From this short study on Daniel, we know that Daniel believed God.  His faithfulness allowed God to use him mightily.  Therefore, I offer you the concluding paragraphs of my sermon; along with a few other thoughts and additions.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.
If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.  ....
 He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.  (Daniel 3:16-17, 25 KJV)

Two stories from the book of Daniel are fairly well-known:  the fiery furnace (chapter 3) and the lions’ den (chapter 6).  We see God at work in and through His servants—servants willing to die rather than deny Him.  Daniel in the lions’ den took place after Babylon fell to the Medo-Persian Empire (led by Darius).  Daniel had already found favor with Darius; however, the other presidents and princes were not so favorable to Daniel (6:3-5).  Due to jealousy the other presidents and princes manipulated Darius to make a decree that all prayers and requests were to be made to Darius alone; disobedience meant a sure death in the lions’ den (6:6-9).

Photo Credit: P. Whitlach

As we know, Daniel remained faithful to his God and believed Him.  Even into his eighties Daniel continued to kneel in prayer towards Jerusalem in full sight of others (6:10); he also continued serving in another pagan government (Medo-Persian)—remaining faithful to God.  His faithfulness sent him to the lions’ den, where God closed the mouths of the lions.
In Daniel chapter 6, we read the famous account of Daniel’s defying the decree to pray only to Darius.  Daniel knew the cost of continuing to pray to the Lord and he did it anyway—as openly as before.  For Daniel there was no hiding, he continued to pray three times a day on his knees, with the windows open (in full view of others) towards Jerusalem.  Those around him clearly know of his witness and character.  Clearly there was a great degree of jealousy within his colleagues.  God blessed Daniel greatly throughout his life—this obviously riled his colleagues.  They tried all they could, including lying to Darius (counting on his self-centeredness) to bring Daniel down.  May we all have Daniel’s boldness in prayer!

Photo Credit: P. Whitlach

Daniel believed God.  Daniel believed God.  This belief helped Daniel have the courage to face the consequences of disobeying the law of man.  God delivered him from the lions’ den, just as He delivered Daniel’s friends from the fiery furnace! 
Rest assured, God will do the same for us.  God will keep us safe or bring us to Him through death.  During our times of trial, we can claim the sure promises in the Word, in particular Psalm 27 and Psalm 91.

Personal Photo

Daniel’s life could be summarized as follows:  he was solid in his beliefs and prepared to follow through on them; he was faithful in small things, therefore, God gave him more responsibilities; because Daniel stood for a simple conviction—he had a stepping stone for greater challenges in the future; because Daniel obeyed God, God placed him where he could have a great impact on a pagan culture.[2]
May we, like Daniel, be a positive, godly influence on our culture!  We can impact the world by being markedly different from it.  The world is hungry for what we have, even if they do not know it.

Personal Photo

In summary, it is about God—His faithfulness and provision to His people, even during seasons of great hardship, trial, and tribulation.  Our belief in Him, staying true to Him no matter the cost reaps huge dividends, if not on earth, then in heaven.  We can note that in Daniel’s (and his friends) story:  how people of faith respond, our testimony makes a huge difference.
In closing let us consider the words of an old Sunday school/VBS song written by Phillip Bliss, Dare to be a Daniel.

Standing by a purpose true, Heeding God’s command, Honor them, the faithful few! All hail to Daniel’s band! Dare to be a Daniel, Dare to stand alone! Dare to have a purpose firm! Dare to make it known. Many mighty men are lost, Daring not to stand, Who for God had been a host By joining Daniel’s band. Dare to be a Daniel, Dare to stand alone! Dare to have a purpose firm! Dare to make it known. Many giants, great and tall, Stalking through the land, Headlong to the earth would fall, If met by Daniel’s band. Dare to be a Daniel, Dare to stand alone! Dare to have a purpose firm! Dare to make it known. Hold the Gospel banner high! On to vict’ry grand! Satan and his hosts defy, And shout for Daniel’s band. Dare to be a Daniel, Dare to stand alone! Dare to have a purpose firm! Dare to make it known.[3]

How can you believe God today, living in a world that grows increasingly dark?

Please join with me in prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the witness of Daniel showing us how to live boldly for You in a sinful world.  Help us to continue to count the cost of what it means to follow You no matter what is expected of us.  Woo us to learn more about You and Your character, so we can grow our faith and trust in You.  Remind us that whatever happens, as long as we have Jesus as our Savior, we will be safe and secure in You alone.  In Jesus’ Name, we pray.  Amen.

From My Heart to Yours,


[1] Beth Moore’s Daniel: Lives of Integrity, Words of Prophecy (2006, LifeWay Press) was the inspiration for many ideas in this sermon/blog post.
[2] Charles Stanley From the Pastor’s Heart September 2014
[3] Dare to be a Daniel by Phillip Bliss.  Public Domain.