Pssst… I Want to Tell You a Secret

Who doesn’t love hearing a secret? I am not talking about gossip. Gossip is gross. But, there is something about secrets. Book writers use that in their titles all the time: “The Secret to a Happy Life” “The Secret to Successful Investing” “The Secret Life of Pets”. Paul said that he had learned a secret. It was a secret that I need everyday. I’m glad he shared it with us!


Paul says, “I can do all things through Him [Christ] who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)


There’s a weird type of procrastination that happens with this verse. It isn’t the delaying of a task. It is the delay of responding to the invitation to be empowered. What do I mean? I mean Paul says that we can be strengthened by Jesus, yet we consistently say, “I’ll do that with the next big thing that God asks me to do.” We always think about future grace. Have we considered how this empowerment is supposed to be today’s grace?

When I listen to Christians talk about this verse I usually hear them say something about their next mission trip or the next time they are asked to lead in church. The idea is that when that “future time” comes they will be empowered to follow. However, I don’t hear people use this verse the way Paul used it. The context of this verse is Paul is comforting the Philippian church that their struggle to give to his ministry in the past somehow hurt Paul. He is happy that they can give now, but he wants them to know that their lack of giving did not prevent him from following God’s leading in the past. Why? Because he had learned the secret of living the Christian life in plenty and in want. How? Because he learned that he could do all things through Him who strengthens! This was not a future empowerment that Paul was living in. It was his present reality. To paraphrase the verse, he had learned, “I can do all things that I presently face through Christ who strengthens me today.” Paul did not use this truth to face the future. He used this truth to face today.

What does this mean for us? It means that we can face the doctor today through Christ who strengthens us. It means that we can be patient with our strong-willed child through Christ who strengthens us. It means that we can respond with grace to that irritable coworker through Christ who strengthens us. It means that

Image result for lifting 1000 pounds

Christians never have to say, “I just couldn’t take it any more, so I lost control.”

Let me pause here – let no one hear me say that I do this perfectly. As the New Testament declares clearly in both the writings of Paul and the writings of James, all of us mess up in this Christian life. So, no condemnation here. This isn’t about judgment… this is about hope. There is hope in these words. Although I may have failed in past in finding my strength to endure and overcome in Christ, it isn’t hopeless. I may have lost my cool yesterday, but I am not destined to forever lose my cool. I may have forgot to pray and worry took over yesterday, but I am not doomed to forever forget my faith. No… and this is the wonderful promise and power of grace — I can do all things that I face today through Christ who strengthens me!

So, who will join me in learning the secret that Paul learned? Who will join me in depending on Christ for today and not just that faith adventure of tomorrow? I want to learn the secret. I suspect that in learning it, I will discover how much power Jesus truly gives. Everyday.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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At Calvary – Episode 89 – The Word is Grace

Big words cause our tongues to trip. Small words trip up our life. This week at the Lighthouse Community Center we talk about a small word that has a huge meaning. It is the word that tells us what Jesus came to give us. That word is grace.

Looking for more? You can always find all of the episodes right here…

At Calvary – Episode 93 – Trials, What are They Good For?! At Calvary!

Usually when we start a letter, we start gently and slowly warm up to any difficult issues we need to address. The letter in the Bible, James, doesn’t start that way. This week, Jeff, Ed and John begin a new … Continue reading →
  1. At Calvary – Episode 93 – Trials, What are They Good For?!
  2. At Calvary – Episode 92 – Think on These Things
  3. At Calvary – Episode 91 – New Year, New You
  4. At Calvary – Episode 90 – The Joy of the Lord is Jesus
  5. At Calvary – Episode 89 – The Word is Grace

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Where Do I Find My Security (Part 2)

A profound phenomenon accompanies our problems and struggles – worry. When problems break through our ineffective strategies to be safe, worry is usually our companion. I had written a couple of weeks ago that we would talk about trust in our everyday life. How we worry is the everyday living out of our trust.

“Cast all your cares upon Him because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” (Matthew 6:31-32)

Worry is the second half of our seeking of security on our own. We may not always see it that way, but that is how it plays out. It is either (a) the symptom of trying to seek our own security, or (b) the solution we have chosen to find our own security.

What do I mean? Sometimes we worry because we have a problem that doesn’t have an easy answer. We live in fear that the answer won’t come. We have anxiety because we believe that we are stuck. For the one who has trusted in Jesus, our verses for the day ask a pointed question, “Aren’t you worth more than the birds of the air that God takes care of everyday?”

You see, this type of worry is a symptom. It is a symptom of our desire to have a security that we are in control of. We want to be able to stop the storms at our command. That is why we worry. What is the answer? The answer is to believe in the love of God for you. Our culture says that you should take care of yourself and look out for number one because no one else will. I think that even Christians have absorbed this. This is why our trust of God’s love for us is so shaky. The everyday problems of life reinforce the lie that God does not love us as much as He says He does. We overlook the everyday blessings. Wouldn’t it be great if we did the opposite? Let’s notice the everyday blessings that tell us how much God loves us and overlook the everyday problems! What a change we would experience!

For some, worry is their solution to their problems. They worry because (as one mother put it to me recently), “No one else is!” This type of worry is an attempt to solve the security problem. It says, “If I worry enough, I can anticipate problems and find solutions for them.” I am a problem solver. I like finding solutions to problems. However, I must admit that I cannot solve the problems that I would worry about. I can’t protect my adult children from making poor choices. I can’t stop the unforeseeable from happening. I can’t make my political and religious leaders do the right thing. My worrying will not force any of those things that are out of my control to do what I want them to do.

So then, why do I do it? The answer is simple: pride. I want to have that super power. I want to force my children to make wise choices. I want to see the future so I can mold it to my will. I want to force leaders to do what I want them to do. The passage above that encourages us to cast all our cares upon Him is a response to another encouragement: “Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in due time.” (emphasis mine) God knew this other reason we worry. We don’t just worry because we doubt that God will work in our life. We also worry because we believe we can solve our problems on our own.

So, what’s the answer? Stop believing in your own power. Stop believing in your own plans for those you love. Let God be God by bringing Him your concerns and leave them in His hands. I know, the common response is – shouldn’t I do something? The answer is – sure – if it is your thing to do. However, if you have to sacrifice your trust in God or living by His Word to “fix” the problems in your life… think again. Living by our own strength is neither worth it nor is it effective.

Both of these types of worry are dealt with through prayer. The first is a prayer of longing to understand the depths of God’s love. The second is a prayer of repentance for attempting to take God’s rightful place as the King of our life. We will find ourselves praying both types of prayer over the course of our lives. Sometimes we doubt God’s love. Sometimes we start believing in our own power to save. For both, we need to come back to God and find His love and power again. They are always sufficient. They are always there.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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At Calvary – Episode 88 – How Can We Be Content?

Gimme, Gimme, Gimme. There is an almost insatiable desire for more built into our culture. It even bleeds into Christmas. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, it might be a good time to consider what it means to be content.

Looking for more? You can always find all of the episodes right here…

At Calvary – Episode 93 – Trials, What are They Good For?! At Calvary!

Usually when we start a letter, we start gently and slowly warm up to any difficult issues we need to address. The letter in the Bible, James, doesn’t start that way. This week, Jeff, Ed and John begin a new … Continue reading →
  1. At Calvary – Episode 93 – Trials, What are They Good For?!
  2. At Calvary – Episode 92 – Think on These Things
  3. At Calvary – Episode 91 – New Year, New You
  4. At Calvary – Episode 90 – The Joy of the Lord is Jesus
  5. At Calvary – Episode 89 – The Word is Grace

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Where do I Find My Security? (Part 1)

Storms. Here in central Iowa we have plenty of them. It doesn’t matter if it is wind, rain, hail, or flood waters, they all surprise us with their power. It doesn’t even really matter how often it happens, we are consistently taken aback by how powerful nature can be. Storms remind me of something.  The remind me that we live in a myth of security. We like to think that we have got everything under control. We do… until we don’t. We just aren’t strong enough to make our lives secure on our own.


Psalm 20:7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.


A few years ago we had a bad storm that rattled me a bit. No, I wasn’t in any real physical danger. But my teenage girls were home when a tree fell on my house. My first thought was, “I should have been there!” My next thought was, “What could I have done, caught the tree?” Sure, I could have comforted them and taken charge, but there is one thing that I could not do. I could not have stopped the wind or the tree.

There’s the challenge, isn’t it? We want to stop things. We want to stop the disasters. We want to stop the problems. We want to prevent tragedy. Yet, most things that truly stop us in our tracks can’t be stopped or prevented by us. We can’t stop natural disasters. We can’t stop the doctor’s diagnosis. If we can’t stop these things, where is the hope?

This is the truth that God’s people have discovered – my hope cannot be in my own strength or in my good circumstances. Some people may trust in those things like some used to trust in chariots or horses. God’s people learn to trust in the powerful name of their God.

What’s in a name? Why is trusting in the name of God the answer? Names in the Bible reveal character. God’s first descriptive name in the Bible is Elohim. This is the name we see in Genesis 1:1. It reminds us that God is the Creator. He has the power to create out of nothing! As we look at the other names and titles of God, we see similar declarations. He is the Provider. He is the Redeemer. He is the Healer.

What do we learn from these names of God? We learn that God can be trusted. He can be trusted with our greatest needs. He can be trusted with our today. He is worth our trust. He is not surprised or thwarted by those things that catch us off guard.

So, I don’t want to live in a myth of security. I don’t want to believe that I have everything under control when I don’t. Instead, I want to trust the One who does have everything under control. Then, when the storms of life are all around me, I can know that no matter what the outcome may be, there is One who is bigger than the storm that I can trust. This doesn’t mean that the storms won’t come, but it does mean that I am not alone nor powerless.

We’ll think more together about how this plays out in everyday life in future posts. For today, I am just working through how I have been lulled into expecting that I am in control. That is a myth. I am not in control. However, I know the One who is. I should trust Him instead of me.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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At Calvary – Episode 87 – Thanksgiving and Gratitude

There is something significant about saying, “Thank you!” It isn’t just something we should do when we are helped by a server at a restaurant. Nor is it just a word that we should say when someone passes the potatoes. It is also a deep attitude of the heart that we should have toward God every day.

Looking for more? You can always find all of the episodes right here…

At Calvary – Episode 93 – Trials, What are They Good For?! At Calvary!

Usually when we start a letter, we start gently and slowly warm up to any difficult issues we need to address. The letter in the Bible, James, doesn’t start that way. This week, Jeff, Ed and John begin a new … Continue reading →
  1. At Calvary – Episode 93 – Trials, What are They Good For?!
  2. At Calvary – Episode 92 – Think on These Things
  3. At Calvary – Episode 91 – New Year, New You
  4. At Calvary – Episode 90 – The Joy of the Lord is Jesus
  5. At Calvary – Episode 89 – The Word is Grace

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Let’s Clear Our Eyes

At this time of year we hear people say words of gratitude. We have thanksgiving services. We gather together for the thanksgiving meal. Yet, being truly thankful can be a struggle.

There are many obstacles to thankfulness.

  1. The first is a struggle with circumstances. The struggle is our focus. We focus on what we don’t have instead of what we do have.
  2. The second obstacle to thankfulness is envy. Similar to our focus on our negative circumstances, this obstacle is an unhealthy focus on the good things others have. When we do that, we don’t notice that those people struggle and stumble too.
  3. The third is the mirror – pride. We come to believe that we are the creators of our own bounty. There is little room for gratefulness to God and others when pride clouds our vision.
  4. The fourth obstacle to true thankfulness is entitlement. When we feel entitled to our blessings instead of feeling thankful we feel like we are receiving only what we deserve. It’s hard to feel thankful when you also feel like you deserve the blessings you have.

It’s interesting to me that in the Bible it is the struggling who seem to have a good handle on thankfulness. Sure, they cry out to God to help them. However, in the midst of their petitions is this consistent reminder of how thankful they are. Jeremiah says it this way,

This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-23)

Image result for thankfulness memes

What is Jeremiah’s secret? It is memory! Jeremiah doesn’t just focus in the book of Lamentations on his struggles. He focuses on God’s goodness. He fixes His eyes squarely on what would happen if God gave up on him and his people. He remembers what God has done in the past and how that has led them to the present.

It is time that we start focusing on the goodness of God again. We need to see how His love keeps intersecting our lives. We need to see the good in our lives for what it is – not what we deserve or just blind luck – it is the gift of a loving Heavenly Father. We are not alone. We are not forgotten. We did not create our own blessings. He is the source of all those things.

What about you and me? Have you noticed that these obstacles all relate to our focus? Are any of these obstacles affecting your focus? Are the eyes of your heart cloudy or blurred so that you cannot see how much God is loving on you? We sang on Sunday the old chorus, “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord.” May that be our prayer today. May we pray that our eyes would no longer be cloudy. May God help us see clearly how good He is to us.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Giving Thanks and Other Essentials

Thanksgiving is an essential. The problem is, we don’t think of it as an essential. We think it’s important. We think it’s nice. Too often though, we act as if gratitude is an add-on rather than an essential.

Consider this sobering comment from God’s man, Paul: 

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. – Romans 1:21

In Romans 1, Paul explains the causes and the effects of human sinfulness. Talking about how such sinfulness is passed from generation to generation, Paul declares that we know about God but refuse to honor Him as God and we refuse to give Him thanks. Isn’t that something? One of the key contributors to our serious sinful state is that we live unthankful lives. We struggle with being mindful of what we have to be thankful for and who we should be thankful to. This lack of thankfulness does something to how we think. Paul says that such dishonor to God darkens our heart. In today’s language, we would say that forgetting God in this way makes us unable to see life clearly for what it truly is.

Some examples of life without thankfulness (number 5 may surprise you!):

  1. Forgetting God’s part in our lives contributes to pride – We deserve these things because we earned them without help.
  2. Forgetting God’s part in our lives contributes to hopelessness and discouragement – The bad things in our lives have no purpose and so we are doomed.
  3. Forgetting God’s part in our lives contributes to forgetfulness – Since I don’t stop to say thanks to God, I take my blessings for granted.
  4. Forgetting God’s part in our lives contributes to blaming God when things are bad – I don’t acknowledge His leadership everyday so when life feels out of control, I blame Him.
  5. Forgetting God’s part in our lives contributes to weighty guilt – Without a vibrant connection to Jesus, my mistakes grow large in my heart instead of leading me to rejoice in His continual forgiveness.

Did you notice that our thoughtlessness, our frustration, and our persistent sense of personal failure all grow in the presence of thanklessness? The opposite happens when we remember God’s essential part in our lives:

  1. Pride becomes humility because without God our accomplishments are empty and weak.
  2. Discouragement becomes faith as we notice the times when hard things turn our for our good.
  3. Our moments of gratitude turn into grateful hearts that take no person or blessing for granted.
  4. The ups and downs of life no longer frighten us because we regularly live in the knowledge that God is in control.
  5. Our mistakes become just another reason to praise Jesus because His mercy is new every single morning!

This is the power of thanksgiving in our hearts. It isn’t just a day on the calendar. It is an essential part of living with God every day.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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At Calvary – Episode 86 – More than in Name Only

“Follow me as I follow Christ.” This is an encouragement that God’s man, Paul, gave to the young church leader Timothy. Paul wasn’t just asking Timothy to follow his example. He was also encouraging him to compare Paul’s example to the example of Jesus. Likewise, it is one thing for us to claim the name, “Christian”. It is another for us to look like Jesus. Do we look like Jesus?

Looking for more? You can always find all of the episodes right here…

At Calvary – Episode 93 – Trials, What are They Good For?! At Calvary!

Usually when we start a letter, we start gently and slowly warm up to any difficult issues we need to address. The letter in the Bible, James, doesn’t start that way. This week, Jeff, Ed and John begin a new … Continue reading →
  1. At Calvary – Episode 93 – Trials, What are They Good For?!
  2. At Calvary – Episode 92 – Think on These Things
  3. At Calvary – Episode 91 – New Year, New You
  4. At Calvary – Episode 90 – The Joy of the Lord is Jesus
  5. At Calvary – Episode 89 – The Word is Grace

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Doing Good Stuff in Secret

Why do you do things? Do you do things just because it’s the loving thing to do? Can we really honestly say that is our only motivation? To be honest I kind of wonder if it is. I wonder that not because I think we’re all horrible people who have horrible motives. I wonder that because of the warnings we see in Scripture about it. Over and over our Lord Jesus tells us to be aware of why we do things.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them. For then you will have the reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1)

In verse two he says, “When you give to the needy sound, no trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly I say to you, they received their reward.” In verse five, he warns us, “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners that they may be seen by others. Truly I say to you, they have received their reward.” In fact, Jesus warns us about wanting to be seen by God as pious in verse seven. He says, “And when you pray, do not keep up with the phrases as the Gentiles do, where they think that they will be heard for many words. Do not be like them for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

Jesus cares deeply about why we do the good things that we do. For people who are struggling, it’s as if he almost wants us to help them and disappear. He isn’t so concerned if the person in need knows who helps them, but he is definitely concerned about if we help people and the way we do it brings attention to ourselves. He’s concerned about the same thing when we pray. He wants us to pray in a way that no one thinks of us as holy either. That will mean that we pray privately if we’re given the freedom to do that. If you are someone in leadership in your church, you may not have that freedom all the time. If everybody only prayed privately, we would have no prayer in church at all. How then would we learn how to pray? Jesus addresses that situation by urging us to not pray as if we are somehow impressing God by the type of speech that we use.

Then in verse 16, Jesus touches on fasting and through the example of fasting helps us understand how we should approach all of our acts of worship. He says, “And when you fast do not look gloomy like the hypocrites for they disfigure their faces that their fasting can be seen by others. Truly I say to you, they have received their reward.” As we think about what Jesus is trying to tell us. I want you to consider that phrase: truly I say to you, they have received their reward. We have to ask the question – What are we hoping to accomplish by the good that we do? Are we hoping to get a good reputation? Are we hoping to impress others? Is our only concern truly the need of the moment? If it is a person in need, does only love actually motivate us? If it is prayer, is it only communion with the Father that motivates us? If it is lamenting over sin, is it only repentance that motivates us? If we are in a season of begging God to work in our country or our church or our family, is it the glory of God working among us that motivates us? What reward do we want?

Jesus follows these discussions with an interesting comment. In verse 19 of Matthew 6 Jesus tells us, “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 steal. For where your treasure is there, your heart will be also.” That is the key, isn’t it? What do I really want out of life? Do I want the glory of God and a heart that is pure? Or do I want something else? If I want the glory of God, and a heart or character that is pure then my heart will be where God is glorified, and my heart is pure. But if my goal is something else, then it will be hard to give without blowing my own trumpet. It will be hard to pray in private. It will be hard not to try to impress God when I’m praying. It will be hard not to at least do a little something so that my family or friends know that I’m fasting. What reward are you seeking?

Something to think about?

Pastor John

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