Sunday, May 29, 2016

Freedom Is Rare And Precious... I Am Grateful For It

There is much over which people are in disagreement these days. In fact, it would be difficult to bring up any significant subject and find a measure of consensus even among the relatively small group of people this post will reach.

But as I was thinking about Memorial Day it occurred to me that we are remembering the men and women who gave their lives to protect our freedoms. And even where tremendous disagreement exists it is helpful to note that what these folks died to protect is, in part, the very freedom we have to disagree and to openly express that disagreement.
Freedom is an extraordinary right, in part, because throughout history it has not been a given in many nations and governments. Those who have freedom—of the kind we enjoy—are liable to take it for granted because it seems natural and almost, automatic. But it is not automatic. It is somewhat rare and, therefore, precious. Where real freedom is available to people it has usually involved a struggle to achieve and to maintain. Freedom typically involves a significant cost.

Words are, of course, not adequate but I will express it with mere words anyhow: I am extremely grateful to those who laid down their lives to provide our freedom and to those who continue to protect our freedom.

Thank you!

Your service is genuinely appreciated and it does not go unnoticed.

I hope you all have a blessed Memorial Day!

Friday, May 27, 2016

E-Flash From Dan - May 27, 2016

Dear E-Flash Friends;

As a teacher, I love to deal with areas of faith in which confusion exists and attempt to bring clarity. (Okay sure, sometimes this does not work as well as I would like but that’s another discussion for another day… Lol!)

This Sunday, May 29th, we will be dealing with a passage of scripture and an aspect of the Christian faith in which there is much confusion. I am looking forward to addressing this subject. In the passage, we find this line: “When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)

You might be thinking, “What?!? What in the world is that supposed to mean?!? Is that really in the Bible, Dan?”

Good. I’m glad you asked. Yes, it is in the Bible. Come this Sunday and we will dive in.

I’ve been chomping at the bit regarding this message. I am fired up!

We will also take a moment to think about the significance of Memorial Day and remember those who have died for our freedoms. If you come, you will be blessed!

In fact, I have a great idea. Invite a friend to come along. Your friend will be blessed, too!

See you on Sunday!

Love and blessings,

Dan Marler
First Church of God
4600 W. 111th Street
Oak Lawn, IL

Service times: 9am and 11am

P.S. All Wednesday evening programming—for both adults and children—is now on a summer break. We will resume again on Wednesday, August 3rd.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

We Are More Than Conquerors!

Recently I heard someone giving a word of encouragement to a friend by telling him, “We are more than conquerors!”

The man who was giving the encouragement was referring to a Bible verse. The verse is found in Romans 8:37. It says, “…[I]n all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

The larger context of the passage is describing God’s extraordinary, unconditional, never-ending love for His children. The passage gives the wonderful assurance that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.

And because of this persistent love of God we can conquer any trouble which comes our way. But the phrase I mentioned earlier is actually even a bit more inspiring and exciting because we are not just conquerors when it comes to the challenges we face, rather God’s unstoppable love makes us MORE than conquerors!

With His love, our ability to conquer the forces that intend to defeat us goes above and beyond.

This is so good it is almost hard for me to believe. In fact, I had to go back and re-read this post because I surprised myself with the encouragement God gives. But I certainly am grateful it is true!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Going Home In Time For Church

Yesterday, the cardiologist who was treating me explained the options we could pursue. There were basically two:

One option is that I could take a stress test. A stress test can provide helpful diagnostic information but it is not the test which can provide the highest level of certainty regarding issues like blockages in the arteries in and near the heart.

On the other hand, it is not invasive.

The second option is an angiogram procedure. With an angiogram we would know for sure if there was any blockage but the angiogram involves a catheterization that is invasive. It also involves anesthesia which increases the risk factor.

So it is more complicated than a stress test and it involves some recovery time.

Obviously, I liked the idea of a stress test from the standpoint of being less invasive. But I also valued the certainty of the angiogram.

The doctor was basically giving me the choice to pick which option we would pursue.
Then he added this: if the angiogram reveals no blockage you could possibly still go home later today (Friday).

If there is a blockage and they put in a stent you would go home tomorrow (Saturday).
I perked up. I could have an angiogram and still be home on Saturday?!? I could have an angiogram and still be at church on Sunday?!? Whoa! Now the decision was easy.
"Let's go with the angiogram, doc!" I exclaimed with glee.

(Keep in mind, angiograms rarely involve a tremendous amount of glee.)

I had the angiogram on Friday afternoon. There is some blockage but it is not in a place where a stent could be inserted. However, it can be effectively treated with medications.

So, I get to go home today.

Better yet, I get to be at church on Sunday!

...And believe me, I have a wonderful, thankful, joyful message to proclaim!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Toughening The Hide While Maintaining A Tender Heart

Many years ago, at a pastor’s training event, I heard a very wise and gifted pastor named Gerald Marvel offer this piece of advice: You have to be able toughen the hide while maintaining a tender heart.

He meant that we would have to be able to take some shots; some criticism, perhaps even unfair criticism; and some disappointments in the course of a life in ministry and not run home crying every time; or throw a hissy fit; or just plain give up. That’s the “toughen the hide” part of the lesson.

But it is not uncommon that when people learn to toughen the hide in order to cope with some of the difficulties of life, in the process, they become jaded, cynical and hard-hearted. In other words, toughening the hide can easily lead to toughening the heart as well. But the jaded, cynical, hardened heart is what is important for authentic and effective ambassadors of Jesus to avoid.

While being able to take some of the shots that come our way we still have to have loving, caring, gracious, tender hearts. In fact, our hearts need to, in a certain sense, even continue to maintain a certain degree of vulnerability.

This is not easy. It does not come naturally.

Although this advice was given at a pastor’s training event and it is good advice for pastors I believe it is also good advice for all followers of Jesus.

Toughen the hide in order to take some incoming shots but maintain a tender heart.

I’m still working on this. Like I wrote earlier, it is not easy. But one of the key factors in remaining tender-hearted is to look to God and genuinely trust Him to be our protector, defender and comforter rather than trying to do this on our own.

The more we understand that God loves us and values us and the more we grasp that our inherent worth and dignity come from God not from what other people do or say, the more open, vulnerable and tender-hearted we will be able to be in spite of the harsh realities of life that will inevitably come our way.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

They Might Be Broken

I’ve learned something after being a pastor for many years.

What I’ve learned is there are people who genuinely appear to have it all together; they appear to be strong and victorious; they appear to be happy, carefree and without stress of any kind and yet some of these “winners in life” are actually broken, troubled, very sad and deeply hurting.

And part of the point I’m making is we can’t always tell. Again, in some cases a person’s outward appearance may suggest that life is not just fine but it’s actually fantastic! Yet some of these folks have simply become very good at hiding their brokenness.

Becoming more aware of this reality has reminded me of the basic truth that it is important for us to try to be gracious, kind, encouraging and loving toward everyone. I’m not suggesting that we need to treat everyone like they are delicate little porcelain statues. Many people have no desire to be treated like delicate porcelain statues. However, it is reasonable for us to always attempt to extend grace, kindness, encouragement and love.

We do not know what other people are going through. I have been surprised to hear stories of great sadness coming from people who seemed to have everything going their way. It is possible the next person we encounter is dealing with far more than we would ever imagine.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted…” Ephesians 4:32

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Speaking The Truth of God Can Be Unpopular

Throughout history many of the people who have spoken the truth of God forcefully, faithfully and accurately have been very unpopular, for example, Isaiah, John the Baptist and, of course, even Jesus, Himself. All three were executed. That’s what happens when you get REALLY unpopular. There have been many others, of course, these are just a few.

Even in more modern times there have been people who have spoken for God and found it was an unpopular thing to do. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., comes to mind.

The truth of God is often unpopular because it reminds people there is such a thing as “right” and “wrong” and the realization that we are doing something wrong is uncomfortable. Some people are unwilling to confront the fact they are doing something wrong so they become angry with the truth-teller as a way of denying the truth and coping with their discomfort.

In fact, the realization that we are doing something wrong can even make people feel threatened and fearful. When people feel threatened and fearful they can become quite dangerous to the truth-teller.

Because it can be very unpopular to speak the truth of God those of us who walk with God and take Him seriously will typically be tempted—somewhere along the way—not to speak the truth of God. I know this has been true for me on more than a few occasions.

I am writing this post to remind myself and challenge myself. Perhaps it will be a helpful and necessary reminder and challenge for you, too.

It is always best to be faithful to God. It is always right to be faithful to God. Even when it’s unpopular it is my desire—with His help—to faithfully speak the truth of God.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Would A Mom Scare Her Kid?

One day, many years ago when I was a kid, I was walking through our house and it seemed strangely quiet. I knew my brother was not home but I did not know where the others were. It was late afternoon and I had just gotten home from school.

“Well it’s too early for dad to be home from work,” I thought. “Mom must be at the neighbor’s house. So Cheryl is probably with her.”

I walked through a short little hallway area to a door which led into our garage.

“It looks like I have the run of the house,” I chuckled to myself and pulled the door open.

Suddenly a figure jumped toward me from the shadows shouting, “Booo!!!”

I leaped in fear… surprised and startled, heart racing, skin tingling, frontal cortex on high alert.

(…Actually, I have no idea what the frontal cortex does when a person is startled but it seemed like a nice little touch, didn’t it?)

It took a second but I quickly recognized my mother’s smiling face. She laughed and said, “Gotcha!”

I regained my composure and said, “No you didn’t. I knew you were there.”

She continued to laugh, knowingly, and said, “Oh no. I got you.”

You might be thinking, “What kind of mom would do such a thing to her dear, precious, adorable, exceptionally bright son? …Or to Dan too, for that matter?”

A fantastic mom—a wonderful mom. That’s who!

I could provide all kinds of sentimental and tender-hearted reasons why I miss my mom. But she was fun, silly and playful. And that’s part of why I miss her, too.


P.S. With this story from my childhood in mind, are the pieces of the puzzle falling into place? Are you beginning to see, now?

Friday, May 6, 2016

Be Aware of The Energy Drains

We live in a culture in which there are a number of drains on our energy and some of these energy drains are so common to us that we barely notice them. However, they are still affecting us whether we are aware of it, or not.

For example, the fact that we are constantly connected to devices which have been designed to interrupt what we are doing and capture our attention is a drain on our energy. This can result in a fairly minor expenditure of energy, spread out through an average day, therefore it seems inconsequential. However, the relentlessness of this type of energy drain along with the fact that there are many other energy drains, as well, combine in such a way that it becomes significant.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not an anti-cell phone rant. Cell phones come in handy. And, frankly, cell phones are only one of the technological drains on our energy.

The problem, however, is the lack of energy and fatigue we experience due to the many subtle and not-so-subtle energy drains in our lives can mean we do not end up putting our finite energy into those pursuits which are truly important.

It is always helpful for us to be clear regarding the matters of genuine importance in our lives. It is also helpful to intentionally limit our exposure to energy drains and arrange our time in such a way that we can give the truly important issues the energy, time and attention they deserve.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Surprising Source of Dignity And Value

I occasionally talk with people who seek a sense of human value; approval as a person; and even personal dignity from certain people in their lives on whom they depend. In other words, they are seeking these very meaningful and profound assurances of significance from other people.

Ironically the people who seek these assurances of significance from other persons are often not respected by the very people from whom they seek this affirmation.

This happens because the people from whom they seek this type of affirmation inherently understand—even if they do not articulate it this way—they cannot be the source of something as significant as human value; approval as a person; and personal dignity. These things must come from a larger and more profound source; a transcendent source.

Of course, there is only one Source that qualifies.

“So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.”
Genesis 1:27

We are image-bearers of God. This is the primary source of our value and dignity.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Is It Possible That God Does Not Want To Ruin Our Fun?

God does not intend to ruin all our fun and make life into something we endure with rolling eyes, deep sighs and great misery… like a teenager with a brand new driver’s license and a curfew. However, God does set moral boundaries for us.

When the concept of moral boundaries arises some people will point out, “Aha! See? That’s what I mean. Despite what you say, Dan, these boundaries are evidence of the fact that God wants to ruin our fun and make life miserable!”

This understanding of the boundaries is not correct.

God’s boundaries are for our protection. They are for our benefit. I have crossed God’s boundaries on numerous occasions—I hate to admit that but it is true—and found that ultimately I was the one who got hurt.

God does not have boundaries because He is mean and oppressive. God has boundaries for us because He knows us and He loves us.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Four Quick Thoughts About Handling Media Fear Tactics

There are people and organizations who have significant communication platforms. For example, large news organization or well-known media personalities. It is helpful to keep in mind that sometimes the people and organizations who reach vast numbers of people maintain their large audience—at least in part—by sensationalism and capitalizing on our fears.

Here are a few simple thoughts…

1. Headlines and other promotional teases are frequently exaggerated and in many cases they are tested and designed to draw us in even if the truth has to be stretched. Really stretched.

2. We are going to read, watch, listen and click, of course, but be discerning. Virtually every information source has a bias of some kind. (If you’re thinking, “Oh yeah, well you’re biased too Dan.” You’re right. I am biased. But at least I’m admitting it.)

3. Be skeptical of fear tactics based on predictions about the future. Most aspects of the future are notoriously difficult to know in advance. (I hope you notice a bit of playful tongue-in-cheek attitude involved in that last sentence.)

4. It is not God’s intention for us to live in fear. He desires that we trust Him.

Here are some good, helpful and encouraging truths…

“For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

"So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today.” [ Jesus ] Matthew 6:34