Category Archives: Meditations
By Pastor Nathan Richardson, Heartland Community Church
What Desire Does
You and I are probably different in a lot of ways. I like Mac, you might be a PC person. I have a beard, you might be a woman. I have multiple tattoos, you might think tattoos are stupid. But we are similar in many ways. We all have desire. We might desire different things, but we all desire. I desire the best for my family. My wife and my son are the best things I have going for me. I desire for them to be healthy, to feel safe, and loved. I desire one day to retire while still healthy enough to enjoy retirement. I desire to impact this world and leave it better than I found it. We all desire. What is it that you desire more than anything?
A few years ago I went to a restaurant for the first time in Marion, IA. Zoey’s was known for their Chicago style pizza and it is amazing, everything from the sweet sauce to the crust. During the meal someone said, “You better save some room for dessert, the best is yet to come.” And they were right. Zoey’s only has one dessert, it was delivered to our table in a skillet, a soft, just out of the oven chocolate chip cookie, with three heaping spoonfuls of ice cream, three big globs of whipped cream drizzled with hot fudge. It was the best dessert I ever had. He was right, the best was yet to come.
The rich young ruler had desire and he sought out Jesus for the answer. The question was this, “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?” This leads me to think that he must be afraid to die and that he can do something to keep this from happening. Since the only thing we know about this guy is that he is rich, he is young, and he is a ruler we know that he has everything he has ever desired but he is missing something and his life is not fulfilling him. He wants more.
Jesus tells him if he wants to enter life he must obey the commandments, do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie, honor your father and mother and love your neighbor as yourself. We know these as Commandments #5-9 and the 2nd Greatest Commandment. The ruler says, “all these I have kept.” Jesus replies, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me. When the young man heard this, he went away sad.”
Jesus just shared the truth to what the Ruler was wanting to know, but yet it disappointed him. It was something more than the Ruler was willing to separate with. His desire for eternity was eclipsed by his temporary wealth. Desire reveals our hearts. The Ruler’s reaction revealed what his heart looked like.
I think the Commandments that Jesus did not mention can also play a role into this story. #1 says, “You shall have no other God’s before me. #2 says, “You shall not make yourself an idol in the form of anything.” #10 says, “You shall not covet.” If Jesus had mentioned these I wonder what the Ruler would have said? Could he have said he followed them since he was a boy?
The Ruler made a decision that the cost of eternal life was too great. He did not want to give up his god, of money, for Jesus. What the Ruler did not understand was that money was his temporary idol, an idol so important to him that he gave up eternal life. We find out something really important about the Ruler, while he thought he desired eternal life he was willing to let it go for something that could be gone tomorrow.
Christ wanted the Ruler to follow him but he missed it. At this point, Peter had an epiphany. “We have left everything to follow you.” Jesus must have smiled at this moment, because he knew Peter was starting to understand. Peter then asks, “What then will there be for us?” Jesus says, you who have followed me will also sit on 12 thrones…you will receive 100X as much, and will inherit eternal life.
The disciples realized that the best was yet to come. The ruler walked away before he could realize what was to be offered. He walked away signifying something was more important that following Christ. If he had let go of his god, he could have experienced something so much better, as the best was on its way. So many times it can be easier to choose what is right in front of us rather than choose what is best. Jesus was trying to show the Ruler what was best. The Ruler walked away sad when instead he could have had exactly what he was desiring in the beginning, eternal life.
By Pastor Nathan Richardson Heartland Community Church
What Anger Does
People argue. Arguments come in all different sizes, some are calm, while others are anything but, with harsh words and maybe even physical violence. Is it possible for people to disagree and not to become angry? Is it possible that being angry is okay?
In the Old Testament there are many representations of God’s anger. He becomes upset when people build idols; this is explained as a jealous anger. He is also mad with Uzzah when he touches the Arc of the Covenant. Of course God also flooded the earth to rid it of all unrighteousness. He also destroyed Soddom and Gomorrah. In the New Testament Jesus becomes angry with the Pharisees due to their stubborn hearts. They were upset with Jesus due to his healing on the Sabbath. Jesus also became mad when people were misusing the temple. Many people would call this righteous anger.
I think there are times in this world that when it is okay to become angry: watching the news or having a friend that has gone through an abusive relationship, racism, pornography, bullying or sex trafficking. I think these same things still cause God to become angry today. There is a lot wrong with the world and it should cause us to be upset. But how do we handle anger in the everyday. We cannot become angry about everything. This is no way to go through life. The end result is loneliness, as anger can drive a wedge in our relationships. The Bible addresses anger quite a bit. Look at some of these verses:
Proverbs 12:6: Fools quickly show they are upset but the wise ignore insults.
Romans 12:19: My friends do not punish others when they wrong you.
Ephesians 4:26: “When you are angry, do not sin, and be sure to stop being angry before the end of the day”
James 1:19-20: My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
1 Timothy 2:8: Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.
These verses can give us some very applicable ways to deal with anger:
Get over it quickly, do not dwell on it, and stop being angry before the end of the day. No need to have a restless night and not sleep very well. Do not hold grudges. It will affect you more than the person you are angry with.
Listen well. Most of our anger is because we do not fully understand. Let others talk and hear how they feel. Allow the person to communicate his or her thoughts and care about what they have to say.
Be quiet. Allow what you hear to sink in, think about it; you don’t have to settle the conversation that day. Come back and revisit your thoughts. When we take time to think, it allows the truth to sink in.
Slow to become angry. What are the things that anger you? If you get angry about everything, you go from a person who becomes angry to an angry person. No one wants to be defined as that.
John the Baptist lived out all of this. When approached one day by his disciples in John 3 they complained that Jesus and his disciples were baptizing and people were going to them instead of John and his disciples. I like how John responds. He tells them about the Bridegroom and how he should be the center of attention on the big day. John goes as far to say that he is more of a best man. His actions are to make this day special for the groom. John adds, “He must become greater, I must become less.”
How amazing would it be if we all had this attitude with Jesus and our neighbor? It would definitely keep a lot of arguments from ever happening.
By Pastor Nathan Richardson Heartland Community Church
What Arrogance Does?
Arrogance. John the Baptist, however is one of those guys that is the complete opposite of this. One might describe him as humble. Traits of being humble are that they think more about others than they do themselves. They do not necessarily have a low opinion of self but hold such a high view of the relationships they have that they are willing to do anything and everything for.
At Heartland right now we are looking to shift our souls from this attitude of arrogance to an attitude of humility. This is a work that is done in the fabric of who we are. We literally want to shift from a selfishness to a selflessness that puts God and others before ourselves. We call this shift from Me to You.
There are a few things that we have to achieve to see this happen. First we have to be real about who we are. Our opinion and perspective is not always truth. John the Baptist definitely knew who he was. John 1:19-34. (Please check it out.) John was talking with some others and they wanted to know who he was. Was he the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet? He answered no to all three. So they asked him again who he was. This was his reply; “I am the voice of one calling in the desert. Make straight the way for the Lord.” Even his answer shows that he was humble in who he was. By pointing to the Christ, he took the attention away from himself.
Next we are to build up others, not yourself. The culture today would rather seek fame than character. We have replaced real heroes from the military, firemen, and police to those who become famous by releasing a sex tape, being on a reality series, or one who can play guitar. If we are willing to do anything for fame then we have lost our humanity in the process. John the Baptist never sought fame for himself but always tried to bring attention but to Christ.
Third we should be authentic enough to talk about our faults, not about the faults of others. John said this about Jesus, “the throngs of whose sandals I am not worthy to tie.” This is the job of a servant and he sees that he is not even worthy of doing something like this for Jesus. Our world is missing authenticity and humility in the worst way. How many of us would “rather serve than be served?” But this was the mission of Christ from the beginning. We must be willing to serve.
We must also use the gifts God blessed us with to build the kingdom. Some of you may be a little too humble, thinking that God could never use you because of your past or still present lives. Do not limit God by saying your gifts are not good enough. God is the one who gave you the gift, and he gave it to you to be used to serve the world and build His kingdom.
Galatians 5:22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
By Pastor Nathan Richardson Heartland Community Church
What fear and doubt do
Zechariah was visited by an angel in Luke 1 and he was “gripped with fear.” I am sure at some point in your life you have been scared, whether watching a movie, a friend surprising you, being held at gunpoint or being told that you have cancer. This can be a scary thing.
Fear can be paralyzing, not knowing what to say or how to react. Some people when scared have a reaction to fight back with words or in a physical way. Others react with flight by running away. These are very common reactions when we are afraid.
Fear can lead us to do a lot of things. Fear can hinder our faith. But it also can cause us to avoid. Let me explain. I am afraid of roller coasters. The combination of the height and speed just seem unnatural to me. At times, fear leads to I don’t. My fear of roller coaster leads to the fact that I DON’T ride roller coasters.
The angel told Zechariah that his wife was going to have a baby. Zechariah basically laughed off this comment and said, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Zechariah was filled with doubt. He didn’t believe what the angel was sharing with him. Zechariah’s doubt led him to say I CAN’T.
He knew that he and his wife had never had children and why would that ever change at his age. Zechariah was more focused on what he could not do rather than what God can do. Is not this what we do so often by focusing on our own limitations, imperfections, failures, hurts and doubts. We rely on what we can’t do as our only experience. Zechariah was right, he would never be able to get his wife pregnant. But there is something at work in this that is more powerful than Zechariah and Elizabeth.
Due to his doubt, Zechariah had his voice taken away. So he could not go home and share this news with his wife. But I am sure that Zechariah was ecstatic a few months later to hear his wife was pregnant. God provided this couple with a miracle and even though Zechariah and Elizabeth could not do it, Christ could, and Christ did, and he still can.
Faith is bigger than our self. We might not believe it, but that does not mean it cannot happen. Because of my limitations I don’t have great faith in myself. Because of others imperfections I don’t have great faith in others. But I do have a great faith in Christ and his ability to transform myself and others. Do not let your fear of something tell you that God won’t. Do not let your doubt tell you that God is not able. In fact I think we should doubt our doubt more than we do our God.
Philippians 4:13 says, I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Focus on the second part of that line. We only have strength through God. Matthew 19:26 says, Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
By Pastor Jenna Couch Zion Lutheran Church, Jubilee
If you had to answer the question, “What kinds of things are you tempted by in this world,” how would you answer?
Maybe some would be able to name the temptation right away, while others might have to think about it.
There are many temptations in this world everyday; some are easy to resist, while others may be harder. But, temptation is everywhere.
Some of the pastors in the Jubilee Conference are involved in a book study in Cedar Falls. We just started “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis.
If you’ve never read it before, it’s a chilling but fascinating story. It’s about two devils from the underworld; Screwtape, who is writing letters to his nephew Wormwood, advising him on how to properly tempt a “patient” as they call him. This “patient” starts out as an atheist, which makes it easier for Wormwood to manipulate his thoughts, but so far in the first seven letters, the “patient” became a Christian, which grieved Wormwood and his uncle, but they aren’t letting up.
The advice that is given in these letters is utterly disturbing, but it gives the reader quite a bit of foresight about how the temptation process works. An overarching theme that Screwtape gives his nephew is to continue to find ways to get the “patient” to turn in on himself. As uncomfortable as some of this is to read, it’s a pretty adequate description of the ways in which temptations can pull us away from God and turn us in on ourselves. And when we turn in on ourselves, we die. Sooner or later, we die a rather lonely death because life had been consumed with 1 person; ourselves.
I realize that this book probably isn’t sounding like a great book for a pastor, or Christian for that matter, to be reading, but I promise you….there is MUCH Gospel to be proclaimed in this book. Even while Screwtape would have his nephew Wormwood believe that everything God is and stands for is to be considered The Enemy, as God is frequently referred to in this book; what he is portraying as bad or opposing qualities, we uphold as Holy.
I’d like to share an excerpt from the book that better conveys what I’m talking about here.
“To us, a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense.
But the obedience which [God] demands of its [humans] is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for [humans] and His service being perfect freedom is not (as one would gladly believe) more propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become [children.] We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself; [God] wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.” (C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters, pp.38-39).
Here, Screwtape is lamenting to Wormwood about how God operates in this world. Their goal is to try to convince their “patient” that nothing and no one else in the world matters more than their patient’s own feelings or thoughts. They know that God is genuine, and that God calls people to places bigger than themselves. And that infuriates them. They can’t compete with benevolence and God’s call to people thinking outside of themselves. That thwarts their evil plot to dominate people with their own twisted selfishness.
Whatever temptations that are out there; they are a part of life, but they are something wholly other than what God has intended for us as God’s children.
Now, while C.S. Lewis’ book is fiction, there is beautiful truth in the way he describes God. God IS overflowing. God does call us to serve and God has united us together as part of creation through Christ. And that’s the “good news” that Jesus went around Galilee proclaiming. Jesus called people to repent and to believe. Both are things that render Screwtape and Wormwood utterly powerless.
Jesus is still very present in this world today, still proclaiming the message to us that God’s kingdom has come near; calling us to repent and believe in the Good News. As the Screwtape letters indicate; there is far more power in belief in God than in temptation; for they are utterly powerless against God and God’s work through us.
So when we pray later today, and week after week “Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil,” we pray with a confidence that no power on earth can ever compete with a God whose giving for creation is overflowing with love.