Archive for February, 2014

Jerusalem GateDedication of Jerusalem’s Wall – What a Celebration!
Nehemiah 12 describes what I can only imagine as a totally awesome worship, celebration and dedication of  event, but it’s easy to miss it because of all the details and names. So let’s remove some of that and catch a glimpse of the extravagant worship.

27For the dedication of the new wall of Jerusalem, the Levites throughout the land were asked to come to Jerusalem to assist in the ceremonies. They were to take part in the joyous occasion with their songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps, and lyres. 28The singers were brought together from the region around Jerusalem…
Nehemiah 12:27-28 (NLT)

This was no ordinary event. Israelite singers and musicians came together from all the regions. Perhaps you’ve participated in a large worship event. We used to attend a church that had regional retreats and people from a dozen states or so would come together – what a fantastic time of worship that was! A church in our community sometimes holds community-wide worship nights bringing together members of worship teams from several different churches. What a blessing! I attended two Promise Keepers events as a volunteer. I remember going into the stadium as the men gathered for worship at one of them. What an awesome sound as the men filled the stadium with powerful praise to God. I love those events. Better than any concert you’ve ever attended! Yet the worship described in Nehemiah 12 would have out-shined all of those.

The singers and musicians didn’t gather together in a building or stadium. They gathered outside and celebrated around the entire city. The first group celebrated on the east wall of the city, walking toward the Sheep Gate.

31I led the leaders of Judah to the top of the wall and organized two large choirs to give thanks. One of the choirs proceeded southward along the top of the wall to the Dung Gate. 32Hoshaiah and half the leaders of Judah followed them, 33  along with [other leaders]. 35Then came some priests who played trumpets… 36b[Other priests] used the musical instruments prescribed by David, the man of God. Ezra the scribe led this procession. 37At the Fountain Gate they went straight up the steps on the ascent of the city wall toward the City of David. They passed the house of David and then proceeded to the Water Gate on the east.
Nehemiah 12:31-37 (NLT)

Jerusalem Wall during Nehemiah's Time

The second group walked along the west wall of the city worshipping with instruments and songs. Imagine – two large choirs accompanied by instruments walking the perimeter of the city walls as they praised. You’ve undoubtedly seen videos of flash mobs in shopping malls or at hotels. This goes beyond any of those outstanding performances. And I hesitate to use the word performances because the Israelites weren’t performing. They were worshipping. And they ended their worship in the Temple of God:

38The second choir giving thanks went northward around the other way to meet them. I followed them, together with the other half of the people, along the top of the wall past the Tower of the Ovens to the Broad Wall, 39then past the Ephraim Gate to the Old City Gate, past the Fish Gate and the Tower of Hananel, and on to the Tower of the Hundred. Then we continued on to the Sheep Gate and stopped at the Guard Gate [or Muster Gate].

40The two choirs that were giving thanks then proceeded to the Temple of God, where they took their places. So did I, together with the group of leaders who were with me. 41We went together with the trumpet-playing priests… 42and the singers…. They played and sang loudly under the direction of Jezrahiah the choir director.

43Many sacrifices were offered on that joyous day, for God had given the people cause for great joy. The women and children also participated in the celebration, and the joy of the people of Jerusalem could be heard far away.
Nehemiah 12:38-43 (NLT)

I love the juxtapositioning of worship with sacrifice and joy. We don’t often associate worship with sacrifice or sacrifice with joy. God’s like that. He brings together worship and sacrifice and joy. All that we sacrifice to Him is a form of worship. All that we sacrifice to Him both brings Him joy and is an act of joy on our part. Even when it’s hard.

The Israelites gathered in the city and went to the top of the wall they had just completed. From there the broke into two groups. One went in one direction, the other in the other direction. Both groups playing their instruments and singing worshiping God. So loudly that they could be heard far away. Without any modern sound system!

God is worthy of our extravagant praise! It is offensive to offer less. It is a discipline to put aside the things of the week and the frustration of the day when we step into worship, but it’s a discipline and sacrifice that not only honors Him, it brings us into His presence – which of course, is to our tremendous benefit.

Friends, I challenge you to outdo yourself during worship in the coming month. Don’t just stand or sit and sing the words that appear in the hymnal or on the screen. Worship Him! And make it your lifestyle.

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1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

In my last blog, I wrote a tribute to my mom. She is an example to me of a person who lives in difficult circumstances but remains thankful, joyful and positive. I ended by saying that she is God’s living example to me of someone who lives Colossians 3:1-4. I had preached on it a week or so ago but mom had been bedridden and unable to attend. Yet upon receiving sad news she did what the Apostle Paul encouraged – she directed her thoughts to things above. Let’s look at the Colossians passage in more depth.

Paul was writing to the Colossians – a city that had once been a thriving, important city but at the time of Paul’s writing was a dying city. Although it was located on a trade route, cities had grown up to the east and west of it and it somehow became overlooked. The population had declined as people moved away to the larger cities where most of the trade was occurring.

If you’ve ever lived in such a place, you know that they are depressed and depressive places – they have seen glory days but are now in decline. Living in that kind of place has a way of seeping into your psyche and it’s easy to become depressed yourself. At the very least, it’s hard to stay positive and creative and hopeful when living in such a place.

It occurs to me that Colosse is also an analogy for many of our lives. At some point in our lives, our “glory days” seem to be over and our health and prospects for an exciting future dwindle. Don’t get me wrong – I believe that God has purposes for us to fulfill in all stages of our lives. Still, there can be times when we are tempted to succumb to the aches and pains that come with aging and there are times when it is easier to let our culture – which worships youth – to seep in and drag us down.

It’s in those times, when Paul’s words to the Colossians are especially important. Paul is saying “It’s time for you to hit the reset button. Your lifes aren’t working quite the way God intended it work – you’re not living in the Kingdom while still here on earth.” Scripture is clear that eternal life isn’t something that we wait to experience once we’ve gone on to be with the Lord. It says that eternal life has come to all who receive Christ. Eternal life is, or at least ought to be, a part of living on earth. With the Lord beside us and the Holy Spirit in us, we can live lives that are full of peace and joy and purpose no matter what our circumstances are. Here’s how Paul put it:

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

Paul first gives a reason for hitting the reset button – he begins by saying “Since you have been raised with Christ.”

In other words…you are thinking and acting as if you live here in this city that is declining. I’m here to tell you that you have been raised with Christ and seated with Him in the heavenly realms. You are thinking and acting as if the boundaries of your life are related in some way by the limitations of this world. They are not. “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 2:6 (NIV)

So, even before you hit the reset button, you need to remind yourself that this place is not your home, you are just passing through on your way to your eternal, heavenly, glorious home.

Now with that firmly planted in your mind – since you have been raised with Christ, Paul says, set your hearts on things above.

Set your hearts on things above.

Hit the reset button on your heart – reset the longings of your heart to things above. We long for things from our hearts. Our minds reasons, our hearts long. Our hearts desire. Desire the things of heaven. Let the things you long for be the things of heaven.

What are those things? What does Scripture teach us about heaven? It’s where God lives eternally. It’s where we will be face to face with God. It’s where we’ll sit with Jesus and reason together. It is where we have a mansion – a home created just for us. It is where our loved ones who have trusted Jesus wait for us. It is where there is no more sorry or sadness. It is where there is no sin or pain. It is where we will understand and fully experience the deep richness of God’s love.

Hit the reset button and set your heart on things above instead of things here on earth. Don’t long for the things of this world, long for the realities of heaven. That’s how the New Living Translation renders this verse: “Set your sights on the realities of heaven.”

Now I realize that’s not always so easy, because this world often seems more real than heaven. This world presses in on us and blocks out the realities of heaven.

The Apostle Paul realized that, too, so he continued, saying that there are two reset buttons we have to push to get our life headed in the right direction. The first, is that we need to set our hearts on things above.

The second reset button is found in verse 2:

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Colossians 3:1-2 (NIV)

We are to set our hearts on things above, and we are to set our minds on things above. Our hearts are the center of our longing. Our minds are the center of our thinking. The Apostle Paul is very appropriately telling us to hit the reset button on our thoughts. Set your minds – in other words, center your thoughts – on things above.

Our minds are very powerful muscles. You will find that they are very suggestible and whatever we tend to occupy our mind with, our desires quickly follow. So one big way that we reset our hearts is by resetting our minds. Set your minds on thoughts above and your heart will follow. If you want to long for heaven more, think about what is waiting there for you.

Are you at a place in your life where you have something in common with the Colossians – perhaps your life today doesn’t compare well with the life you once had. If that’s the case, let me challenge you to take the Apostle Paul’s words to heart this week and hit the rest button – reset your heart and mind to things above.

This week, when you wake up each morning, do two things:

  • Set your heart on things above
  • Set your mind on things above

And each day at lunch, use your mealtime prayer as a reminder to

  • Set your heart on things above
  • Set your mind on things above

And then again at dinner, before you eat, pray and use it as an opportunity to hit the reset button:

  • Set your heart on things above
  • Set your mind on things above

And finally, when you go to bed at night – be sure to be thankful as you

  • Set your heart on things above
  • Set your mind on things above

Colossions 3 continues:

3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

You are hidden – kept safe from the worst this world has to throw at you – with Christ in God. He is your protection. He is your safe place. He is also your ultimate reward – if you know Christ, you will one day appear with Him in glory.

Trusting Christ is the first step in living the Kingdom He has given us here on earth. It is the first step in a journey that takes us through our death into eternal life. That journey is made easier when our hearts and minds stay with the One who loves us more than anyone, who protects us, and who leads us home.

I sign most of my emails with the simply closing “Enjoy!” It is my shorthand for “Enjoy God! Enjoy life!” We do that by keeping our hearts and minds on Him. Friends, enjoy!

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A Tribute to My Mom, Leona Jane Miller Parks Vinck

My mom had a stroke sixteen years ago. Prior to her stroke, she had an active life working, dancing, traveling and organizing bus tours for friends. Many of you may remember the Promise Keepers Stand in the Gap rally in Washington DC in 1997. Phil and I took a busload of men and women to it. (We women in attendance served as volunteers.) It was my mom’s suggestion and planning all the way.

Then she had surgery on her shoulder because the bone was infected. They removed most of her shoulder bone and socket. At some point during that first evening after surgery she had a major stroke that no one in the hospital recognized until the next morning. They attributed the symptoms she was exhibiting to coming out of the anesthesia. I’m sure if we were suing people we would have won the case against the very prominent hospital that missed her stroke for more than twelve hours.

Mom’s world instantly changed, and it changed dramatically. The short version is that from that moment on she never walked again, never drove car, never stood on her own and for many years now has not been able to feed herself. Since that time she has required total care. She has been fully paralyzed on her left side and has limited use of her right arm. Having been in a wheelchair for sixteen years she now has chronic pain and her skin is beginning to break down – which often requires that she cannot even get in her wheelchair but must remain in bed while the sores heal.

Today is her birthday. Today I had to tell her that her baby sister died. I drove to the nursing home where she lives to deliver the news in person. Many, including me, were concerned about how she would take the news. On the way to her room I explained to the nursing home staff that I was about to give mom news of her sister’s death on her birthday.

My mom is my hero. Her first words were “that just leaves me and my brother.” That was quickly followed by “I feel so badly for her children because they have now lost both parents.” She went on to say how my aunt is so much better off because she loved Jesus and she’s sitting at his feet and she’s meeting up with her mom and her sister and her first husband and her baby who died in infancy and their favorite aunt and their favorite cousin, and…so many other saints who have gone before.

This wasn’t the pie-in-the-sky “she’s better off now” comment that so many people make when someone dies. Mom was making a statement of fact and adding specifics.

While I was there several staff members stuck their head in the door to wish her a happy birthday and she would say “It’s a happy birthday but I got bad news on my birthday.” They would say they had heard and they were sorry. She would consistently say “It’s sad for us but she’s much happier now. So we should celebrate how good it is for her.”

As I sat and talked with mom this morning, at one point she said “I have so much to be thankful for. Oh, if you could hear my prayers at night, you’d think I was crazy. They’re almost the same every night. I tell God how thankful I am for my mother and father, my grandparents and my aunts and uncles. They all made me the person I am. I thank him that I’ve always had a place to live and food to eat. I’ve never really been without. I thank Him for you kids and my grandkids.” And she went on and on telling me what she’s thankful for.

I was around for a good part of mom’s life. She went through some pretty hard times and it was a struggle to make ends meet. She and my dad went through a very bitter divorce. “Us kids” didn’t always act lovingly toward her. In fact, we didn’t even always think lovingly toward her. (Lord, forgive me.) And for sixteen years she’s been in a wheelchair. She used to love to do crafts. She cannot. She used to love to dance. She cannot. She used to love to go places. She cannot. She used to love to pick up the phone and call a friend. Even that is a challenge and she can’t always do it.

Many would see her life as having no purpose. Those people would be wrong. She lives today to encourage those around her and to build up their hope and faith. When she’s not bedridden, she seeks out residents of the nursing home who are the loneliest and in the most pain and she does anything and everything she can to brighten their day. And every day she teaches me that no matter what your circumstances are, you can experience the joy of the Lord and bring it to those around you. I absolutely love to hear her laugh and every time I am amazed that she does it. In the midst of her constant pain and difficult circumstances, she laughs – big belly laughs – often.

I preach at mom’s nursing home on the first Sunday of every month. Mom wasn’t able to make the church service this month. But she’s living my sermon. The key passage was Colossians 3:1-4.

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

In my next blog, I’ll expand on these verses. Today, just know that Leona Vinck, my mom, lives them every day. And I am a blessed woman because of it.

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Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
Proverbs 4:7 (NIV)

 If you are following the Treasure Seeking in God’s Word reading schedule with us, you are reading through the Proverbs this month. I have to be honest with you – I’m not a huge fan of the book of Proverbs. Yes, I recognize its value, but I don’t enjoy reading it – largely because of the writing style. The content is good (uh…it is the Word of God, perhaps I should say the content is inspired and holy and awesome – “good” seems a bit pathetic now that I think about it)…but the writing style is off-putting for me. I guess God’s Word has styles for everyone, right? Still, whether it’s my style of preference or not, I recognize the value of reading the whole Word of God, so I’m in Proverbs.

Just in case I didn’t recognize the value of reading Proverbs, the first four verses describe that value:

 1These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel.
2Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline,
to help them understand the insights of the wise.
3Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,
to help them do what is right, just, and fair.
4These proverbs will give insight to the simple,
knowledge and discernment to the young.
Proverbs 1:1-4 (NLT)

The purpose of the proverbs is to teach us wisdom and discipline. Who wants that? OK, most of us want wisdom, but most rebel at discipline. (Have you eaten healthy and exercised regularly this week?) These verses tell us the consequences of making the Proverbs part of our lives:

  • Gives us insight to the wise
  • Teaches us to live successful lives (yes, we learn that, it’s not a matter of luck)
  • Gives us insight to the simple – in other words, we can understand people, both wise and simple
  • Gives knowledge and discernment to the young – we don’t have to wait until we’re older and more experienced, the Proverbs can give us wisdom while we are still young

Those are pretty valuable benefits of embracing Proverbs – the Solomon, the writer of the Proverbs, says they are a source of wisdom and knowledge. In today’s reading, Solomon takes his discussion of wisdom further. While the first chapter taught the purpose of the proverbs, chapter 4 teaches us about the value of wisdom.

6Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.
7Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
8Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you.
9She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendor.”
10Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many.
11I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths.
12When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.
Proverbs 4:6-12 (NIV)

“Do not forsake wisdom” Solomon writes – because here are some of the benefits:

  • Wisdom watches over us – it protects us and gives us security
  • Wisdom exalts us – it will bring us success
  • Wisdom brings us honor
  • Wisdom will “set a garland of grace on your head” –our lives will be characterized by grace
  • Wisdom crowns our heads with beauty – our lives will be beautiful (to ourselves and others)
  • Wisdom leads to a long life
  • Wisdom keeps us from stumbling over the pitfalls of life

If you want security, success, honor, grace, beauty and a long life that avoids the major pitfalls this world would throw at you, what you really want is wisdom. The book of Proverbs consistently tells us that wisdom is something we must pursue, practice and guard. In other words, it doesn’t come naturally. It also tells us that wisdom is found at the feet of the Lord. “Fear of the Lord is the beginning [or foundation] of wisdom.” (Psalm 111:10, NIV/NLT)

By pursuing God, we are pursuing wisdom. Let’s continue together.

You can download our Treasure Seeking in God’s Word from this blog – it provides a schedule for reading through the Bible in 2014. Starting late? No problem. Start today and read a little more each day and you’ll catch up to us, or use the schedule as is and finish a year from today. Either way, you’re seeking treasure – God’s Word is full of them!

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I was asked recently about my position on the rapture – would it occur at the beginning of the 7 years of tribulation, in the middle, or at the end.

I doubt that my answer satisfied the questioner. “It really doesn’t matter!” was my straight forward response to the question.

Studying prophecy can be fascinating. It can be exciting. (It can also be scary if you lose sight of God’s faithfulness and goodness.) It can be great at reinforcing the validity of God’s Word. Reading about fulfilled prophecy was instrumental in bringing me to Christ. And as a young Christian, I spent a great deal of time reading about and listening to speakers teach about different views on when the rapture would occur. I had an opinion at the time, but in honesty, I just don’t any more. Because it has no impact on how I live out my relationship with Christ.

The Apostle Paul wrote this to the Colossians:

10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Colossians 1:10-14 (NIV)

Paul prayed for the Colossians not so that they would have a correct and perfect understanding of when the rapture would occur. He prayed for them so that they would life a life worthy of the Lord and so that they would please him. He prayed for them so that they would bear good fruit and grow in the fruit of the Spirit and thankfulness. Why are those things important? Because God has done so much for us – rescued us from sin, brought us into the kingdom, redeemed us and forgiven our sins. Because God has done those things, Paul prayed that the Colossians would live a life that honored and reflected them.

Paul urged the Colossians to live out his prayer for them:

6So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.    
Colossians 2:6-7 (NIV)

You see, our life isn’t supposed to be about debating things that have not been fully revealed, it’s to be about living in Christ. It’s to be about demonstrating His life and love to those around us. An occasional evening spent discussing prophecy with friends (note the word discussing, not arguing) can be enjoyable. But if such discussions are the focus of your faith and practice, perhaps it’s time to enjoy the Epistles and spend a little less time in Revelation.

Because the truth is…when the rapture occurs really doesn’t matter. God will keep us in the palm of His hand here on earth until He’s ready to receive us in glory. May we glorify Him through the whole process.

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