Monday, December 31, 2007

You are light



As Society becomes more and more secular, there is an increasing pressure to keep Christians out in the margins of life. We are essentially being told that we can continue to believe whatever we want, as long as we keep those beliefs out of public places

Yet I came upon a verse in my devotions this morning that reminds me how inconsistent that really is with Biblical faith. Matthew 5:14-16a reads, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men…”
In other words, we cannot live a life of faith that others cannot see. Our faith, if real, will be visible, as visible as a light in the darkness – it will stand out in stark contrast to those around us.

Don’t be intimidated into hiding your faith in Christ Jesus. You are the light of the world. The world needs your light. The world needs your compassion and mercy, and even more important, it needs to know Jesus, the source of your compassion and mercy.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Play beautiful music - together!


I love music, but I don’t really play an instrument. I do participate in the church’s Chime Choir, and have a lot of fun with it. You certainly don’t have to be a musician to participate – it’s quite easy!

On occasion, when I struggle with a particular piece we are trying to play, I will sneak up to our balcony and pull out my two chimes, and work on my part. But the thing with chimes is that there are 30-40 chimes that are played in any given song, and the two that I play don’t sound anything like the song I’m playing when I’m practicing on my own.

I think that life is like that. When we are doing our thing, acting by ourselves, we have trouble seeing the big picture. One person can make a difference. But when that one person joins dozens of other people, so much more can get done.

One person working on a project alone can make a great project. But when two or three other great minds work together, new ideas come to light, and the project is much better as a result.

Our faith is like that, too. We can carry on a life of faith by ourselves. We don’t need church, we don’t need activities to keep us busy. We can lead a life of prayer and devotion with or without others. But when we come together, our faith can grow so much deeper. In the Psalms you will find a passage, “Iron strengthens iron.” We sharpen each other when we come together as part of larger body – a church body. Jesus understood how our faith can grow when we come together when he said, “Whenever two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there also.”

You don’t need the church. But your faith can be so much deeper, so much more alive, and so much more real when you are an active part of a church. It’s as dramatic a difference as hearing my two chimes when I’m practicing alone, compared to the richness of 30 other chimes playing at the same time along with me.

If you’re living a life of faith alone, you’ll never know the difference until you come together with other like minded people. You will find them in church!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Merry Christmas - it sure is different than the first...

I hope you have all had a wonderful Christmas!

This Christmas, I had an opportunity to reflect a little on what makes Christmas so special. We really enjoy giving gifts, and spending time with family. In our culture today that is what Christmas is to most people. A time to spend with family. A time of giving.

Where does that ft with the story of Bethlehem? The story of Mary and Joseph, and the birth of their first-born? The stay in the stable, because there was no room in the Inn? The Shepherds and the Magi coming to praise the King of Kings, a baby in a manger.

We seem to have gone a long ways from that original story. How did we get here? And is there really anything wrong with where we are? It sure is a far cry from Bethlehem – you can’t get any farther. But as long as people continue to hear the story, as long as they go a midnight mass or a Christmas Eve service, and are reminded of the birth of the Christ child, then are we hurting anybody?

The answer, of course, depends on whether people are still hearing the story. Are parents telling their children of the birth of Jesus? Are kids learning of the babe in the manger. My fear is that many are not. As our nation drifts toward secularism and pluralism, more and more are going without hearing about the shepherds and the Magi. And they have no idea of the meaning of Christmas.

The Christmas story is a story of salvation. The story of a God that loves us so much, he became one of us, so he can save us. But people need to hear the story in order to believe the story. And they won’t hear it if we don’t tell it…

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Christmas Trivia Test...


Yesterday I was looking for an old file on my computer that would reveal what we did for a Christmas Eve Bulletin in previous years. I'm sure some pastors would have had that all figured out long ago, but... I'm not one of them!

As I was looking, I came across a Christmas Trivia Test. This examines our understanding of Biblical Christmas Story by asking about twenty questions, all multiple choice. I printed it off and gave it to Betty Anne, our church secretary, and Judy, who has been volunteering around the church. It was amazing when we went over it after they finished. I won't reveal how they did, but let's just say that their results were average, and that most people get their idea of the first Christmas from TV specials or Christmas carols or those church pageants we've all seen, at least as much as from the Bible.

Where do you get your understanding of the Christmas Story? How much of it is really from the Biblical account, and how much from other sources that try to fill in gaps, but may actually be leading us astray in our understanding.

The danger of course, is realizing how much of our understanding is from other sources. If this is true in our understanding of that first Christmas, can it also be true in our understanding of Salvation? Forgiveness? Truth? Do we really understand as much as we think we do? Remember, the only source of divine wisdom is the Bible. Hymns and Praise Songs are great - but only the Bible contains all you need to know. Make sure you read it!

I am planning on having a Coffee Fellowship before church services on Christmas Sunday, the Sunday after Christmas, December 30. During this time, we'll look at this this Christmas Trivia Test together. You are welcome to join us (9:30 in the Social Rooms). It will be fun...

The Greatest Birth


I enjoy the Christmas Season. I really do. I love the lights, the decorations, the cookies (especially the cookies!).

One of the things I really like are the cards. I love reading the cards. I have to admit that this a guilty pleasure, because we haven't done to well at sending cards ourselves - we're always late! But I do love reading the cards. Some cards have letters in them, filling us in on the special events in the lives of those we care about. Some cards have short handwritten notes. But all cards have some kind of verse.

Some are rather generic, "Wishing you a Happy Holiday!" But some are wonderfully filled with a special thought on what Christmas really means - what it really is. One that I got yesterday is like this...

Have you ever wondered
why God announced
the greatest birth in human
history to a handful of
shepherds on a hillside
and a few wise men
from the East?

Perhaps it was because they were
quiet enough to listen...
eager enough to know...
available enough to follow!

My prayer for each of you this Christmas is that you will be quiet enough to listen, eager enough to know, and available enough to follow Jesus, the one whom we especially remember this time of year!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Immanuel - God with us!

Have you ever sought out someone that you can talk to that knows what you are going through? Someone that has been through the same thing? I’m sure you have.

When we have questions about raising our children, we ask people who have children, and may have already been through what we are going through. When we have questions about a sickness or disease, we will ask our Doctor, but we also try to find someone who has been through the same thing.

There is no mistake that 2000 years ago a child was born in a manger in the village of Bethlehem. Joseph was told that he would be called Immanuel, which means God with Us. And he was told to name the baby Jesus, the Greek form of Joshua, which means the Lord Saves.

God became man. Flesh and blood. One of us. All the while still God, but now human, too.

Which means he’s not confined in heaven. He’s not a remote God that doesn’t understand life on earth. He’s been here. He knows the temptation that we fight each day. And he can see us through everything that comes up.

So next time you’re going through something that you can’t handle, remember – He’s been here – He can help!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Should a Christian respond with force?

Yesterday, I looked at the church shootings from the perspective of Mathew Murray, the shooter. There is something else about this story that bothers me.

It was the churches response. I know that many won’t agree with this post, but I question the authority of the church to have armed security guards, and to shoot people who represent a threat to them.

I look to Scripture, especially to the New Testament, as a follower of Jesus Christ, for a model for this, and I don’t see it. If you can think of a passage that would shed some light on this, please leave a comment.

The only time I see anyone responding with force to protect themselves, it was Peter on the night of Jesus’ arrest. Peter pulled a sword on the guard that tried to arrest Jesus, and actually cut off his ear! Did Jesus congratulate Peter for his act of heroism? Did he commend this act of bravery? Not at all, Peter was harshly rebuked for that action, and the guard’s ear was healed.

Over and over I see passages that say that we will be persecuted for our faith. Are we told to protect ourselves? No! We are told not to fear those who only kill the body, but can’t harm the soul (Matthew 10:16). We are told to rejoice in our persecution (Acts 5:41). We are told that persecution is inevitable (Acts 20:17-24, 21:10-14, 2 Timothy 2:12). Over and over we are told that we will be persecuted, and that our correct response is actually to rejoice in being counted worthy.

Nowhere do I see that we should stand against those persecuting us. Nowhere do I see the early church, that was persecuted so relentlessly by the Jews, and later the Romans, standing up against those who persecuted them. Instead I see the command to love our enemies and to pray for them. That may be the hardest thing we have to accept. But that is the command I see.

The early church certainly took precautions to avoid those that were persecuting them. They didn’t witness in the streets when they knew there was imminent danger. They stayed in upper rooms, moved locations for their meetings, and stayed as low key as possible. But they didn’t use force to fight back.

I also see Scripture passages that tell us that we are to stand out from the rest of society. Our faith should make us very different from those around us who do not have faith. Yet, wasn’t the response by the church to have armed security guards a human response to the threat of danger, not a righteous act of faith?

I know that her act saved hundreds of lives. I know that as tragic as it was, it could have been so much worse. But I ask, was it an act of faith? Was she (the security guard) acting in the image of Christ? And the age old question, what would Jesus have done?

As always, I appreciate your comments…

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Great Tragedy

I have been doing a lot of reflection on the recent church shootings in Colorado. I have wanted to write about this for a while, and have been reflecting on this hoping for some level of understanding. At the expense of making some terrible generality, I want to comment on the tragedy. And even perhaps touch on an even greater tragedy in the Church in America today

As a reminder, last Saturday evening, December 8, Matthew Murray showed up at the doors of Youth With A Mission, a center that trains youth to serve as oversees missionaries. While there, he opened fire; killing two young staff members, and injuring two others, one in critical condition. About eleven hours later, he shows up at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, about 80 miles away, again opening fire. In the parking lot, he killed two sisters in their mid-teens, and injured their father. Then he entered the church with about a thousand rounds of ammunition, where he was shot by a volunteer security guard.

What would make someone snap like this? Matthew was brought up in the church, and certainly knew all about the Christian faith. In fact, he was serious enough about his faith that he himself wanted to become an overseas missionary, and was enrolled in the Youth With A Mission program a few years ago. When a mission’s opportunity came up, he was overlooked. I’ve heard two explanations for this, either the staff didn’t feel he was ready, or there was a health issue that prevented him from going on this particular assignment. Either way, he didn’t go.

I don’t know what happened in the years after this incident that would cause him to snap and seek revenge for the “hurt” that was caused.

However, a comment that I will make is that while he knew in his head the teachings of Christ, it might be safe to assume that those teachings never got into his heart.

While he knew of Jesus, he didn’t know Jesus. Evidentially he fooled a lot of people. Perhaps Youth With A Mission discovered that he wasn’t really surrendered to his faith. Or perhaps there really was a health issue and they were fooled, too.

There are several differences between knowing about Jesus, and knowing Jesus. One of the differences is surrender. When you really know the person of Jesus, you will give yourself to him completely. You will be surrendered to Him. It will no longer be about what is best for you, it will be what is best for Jesus.

Another difference is the Holy Spirit. When we truly know Jesus, we are filled with the Holy Spirit. When we have the Holy Spirit, the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control) begin to manifest themselves in our lives. We are not capable of committing the tragedy of December 9, when we are filled with the Holy Spirit.

The point I want to make is that our church pews are filled with people who know about Jesus, but don’t personally know Jesus. The greatest tragedy in our church today is that we don't realize that our faith is not about a religion, doing the right things at the right times – it’s about a relationship with the God who created us and loves us and wants us to love Him and to love others.

Without the relationship, there is no Holy Spirit. Without the relationship, we are just going through the motions. And if that’s the case, it may only be the grace of God that we don’t snap as well….

Your comments are welcome.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Charachter defined...

John G. Miller, author of the book QBQ! The Question behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability in Work and in Life, has an email list called Quick Notes. This email comes out about weekly and gives some good thoughts for business professionals. This week’s topic was hiring character over credentials.

As believers, we should be striving to be molded into the image of Christ, which may not be the image that many business professionals strive for, but I do strongly agree with the idea of personal accountability. And if we are living a life of faith, our character should shine for all to see. Here is what John Miller wrote about character:

Character defined: The aggregate of traits that form the individual nature of a person including moral or ethical qualities such as honesty, courage, integrity.

Character is what we need to hire from the outside and promote from within. Let's reward people with these foundational qualities:

1. Coachability. If a person possesses an arrogance that prevents them from taking input, forget it. If they aren't starving to learn, to become excellent, to gain new knowledge and skills, you don't want them. If they aren't going to listen to their manager, pass them by.

2. Work ethic. In this world of entitlement thinking, when we find someone who will work, we've found a diamond in the rough. Look for the "5&5 Rule," meaning if they will habitually arrive 5 minutes early and stay 5 minutes beyond quitting time, you have a foundation on which to build. But if they are more concerned with how much vacation and sick time they'll get, pass them by.

3. A heart of service. Any candidate who enjoys helping others solve their problems and desires to go to the "Nth Degree" demonstrating patience with customers who are not always right (But are always the customer!), is the person we needed on the team yesterday. But if they have a "What's in it for me?" or "Why are customers such a pain?" attitude, pass them by.

4. Accountability. Carefully listen for finger pointing and victim thinking. If they blame their last employer, their family of origin, or the weather for their situation in life, send them packing. One QBQ, Inc. client gives a QBQ! book to every candidate that makes it to Round Two. The assignment is to read and return with a verbal summary of the content and what it means to them. This is an effective way to understand their view of the role of accountability in their work life. If they don't "get it," pass them by.
These were written to assist in the hiring process (for businesspeople), but let's look at them personally. If these are an accurate idea of character, are you a person of character? How are you doing…

Friday, December 7, 2007

Archaelogy strikes again!


I’m not exactly a fan of archeology. I don’t really follow it very much, but I do have an interest to an extent. For a year I subscribed to Biblical Archeology Review, a magazine highlighting archeological finds with Biblical significance. I found some of the articles interesting, but I get so many magazines, some had to go…

In the paper this past week I found a story with the headlines: Elusive biblical Jerusalem wall finally found, Israeli archaeologist says. The story indicates that a team of archaeologists has discovered part of the wall around ancient Jerusalem that Nehemiah had rebuilt after the Babylonians had invaded the city.

They also uncovered what they believe to be some of the remains from King David’s palace, built by King Hiram of Tyre, also confirming Biblical stories.

The most interesting thing to me is that, while they are always finding new things, they always seem to confirm the text of the Bible. I remember when I was reading Biblical Archaeology Review, a quote from an Israeli archaeologist that, while there is a vast amount of things they haven’t found, they have yet to find anything that contradicts the Bible. While others may interpret the findings very different, they have yet to find anything that does not fit into the story of the Bible.

We won’t hear it, but science does not actually contradict Scripture. Some interpretations of the scientific data contradict Scripture, but there are other interpretations that fit nicely.


Next time you hear the science vs.faith argument, remember that there is really no argument in the data. The argument is in the interpretation. And doesn’t that come down to faith…

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Attacking others to show our love

There is already a lot of talk about a new movie coming out called The Golden Compass. The movie will be released tomorrow (Friday). The talk is from the church, and there are those calling for a boycott of the film.

Evidently it has some very atheistic messages in the film. Surprise, surprise! Hollywood is coming out with a film with an atheistic message. And the church is outraged. My question is why is the church outraged? Why are we surprised when lost people act lost?

What brought this to my attention was another blog that I read by Jack Hagar, which he calls Jack Hagar’s Jots and Thoughts. Jack pointed out that often a boycott has the opposite desire. As he puts it, “non-believers are prone to think anything the “church” is against is probably worth seeing!”

There is something in all of this that really bothers me. When people see the film and talk about it at water coolers and casual meetings, well meaning Christians will be criticizing the movie based on things they heard about the movie. If you don’t want to see it (and it sounds like that might be a good decision), then don’t criticize it. When people ask, tell them you didn’t see it because you understand it is opposed to faith, and you are a person of faith, and leave it at that.

I remember the talk surrounding the book (and subsequent movie), The Da Vinci Code. I once sat in a room of five other pastors, each talking about how they planned to refute it in their congregations, yet not one had seen it. How can we attack in our pulpits that which we don’t know?

I honestly believe that we give God a bad name when we to out of our way to criticize something we haven’t seen. We give Christianity a bad name when we attack what we don’t know.

God calls us to share our faith in love. We can’t share our faith in love when we attack other peoples faith systems. So forget the attack, just share your faith in love.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Christianity is not a religion.



Several months ago, I was at a church picnic – the Lighthouse Christian Fellowship in Alfred had invited my family to their church picnic, which was held at Pastor Rogers home.

They hold their church picnic right after the students return to Alfred, and it’s an opportunity for them to come out also, and meet some church folk. So it’s a great invitation for students, as well as a great fellowship opportunity for the church members.

While at the party I noticed a student that was wearing a great T-shirt – it said on the front, CHRISTIANITY is not a religion. That really caught my eye, so I looked at the back, RELIGION IS HUMANS trying to work their way to God. CHRISTIANITY IS GOD coming to men and women through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Scripture tells us that it is God that us to Him. No one comes to Him without being first drawn to Him. In fact, Henry Blackaby, in his book, Experiencing God, tells us that the primary way to know if God is at work in an unbeliever is seeing if that person is open to the message, is that person seeking more information. They wouldn’t know enough to do that without God already working on them.

We can’t have a true relationship with God if we are the ones pursuing Him – that’s just religion. That’s just like all the other religions in the world, and it can’t save your soul.

We can only have a true relationship with God when we acknowledge that He is calling us, drawing us to Himself. We surrender to that calling, giving ourselves in this relationship. That’s what saves our soul...




PS. The t-shirt is available from Christian Book Distributors

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

SOAP - for a clean devotion.


I was just reading from the Livewire, the monthly newsletter of the First Baptist Church in Hornell, NY, and the column from the Pastor, Rev. Mike Childs, contained a word that might help each of us. He got it from Rev. Steve Matteson, so I am hoping he doesn’t mind if I pass it on a little further.

Here is a simple plan pattern for devotions. It’s a great way for people, young or old, to get into God’s Word, and make it personal. This is the format, which can be used with any daily Scripture reading. It is easy to remember, and easy to use, but will really give you spiritual life a punch!

Paul’s words are timely: “Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness. Physical exercise is some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next.” 1 Timothy 4:7b,8.


SOAP


4 things you will need: 1) Pen. 2) Journal (notebook). 3) Reading Plan. 4) Bible.

S Scripture: Ask the Lord to bring home to your heart one text in particular. Choose a verse or two from your reading that stands out, a text that you are drawn to. Write it down in your prayer journal.

O Observation: Ponder the message God has highlighted for you. What’s happening? Who’s involved? Make an observation about what is happening. Write it down.

A Application: Write out how you plan to live this. How will you be different today because of what you’ve just read? How does this verse apply to you? Write it down.

P Prayer: Record a simple prayer that reflects how you honestly feel and then interact with God. Don’t forget to tell Him how thankful you are for the power of His Word!

Name it: When you are all done with your quiet time, give the page a title, something brief that you can remember it by. Create an index at the beginning of your Journal. Record the title there. Then later, you can look through this index and find an entry you can use right away.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Who's sitting on the throne?


Yesterday’s post looked at the chorus of a song that was performed by Rusty Leyden at a recent Coffee House. Today, there is another song I wanted talk about. The chorus of this one is just as profound (or at least it gives something to think about – maybe not as deep as profound…): “Get off the throne and let God sit on it. You’ve tried your best, you know you don’t fit, get off the throne and let God sit on it.”

This reminds me of a bumper sticker. Don’t you just love people who get their theology from bumper stickers? This one is good though… “If God is your co-pilot, change seats!”

I would hope that all Christians want to serve God. But do we do everything that we can think of to serve God (bad), or do we do everything that He call us to to serve God (much better)?

The difference is a relationship with Him. Can we hear Him? And are we following Him? Are we honoring Him as the one who sits on the throne?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Keep on shaking me till theres nothing left but You...


A couple of weeks ago we held our monthly coffee house and our guest for the evening was Rusty Leyden from Macedon.

Rusty did a great job, we were very thankful he came. He’s been a singer/songwriter for 20+ years, and many of the songs that he performed were his own, which was a special treat. They were great. There were two songs in particular that got me to thinking. The first I’ll talk about today, the next tomorrow.

The chorus of the song I’m thinking of today includes the phrase, “Keep on shaking me till there’s nothing left but you.” Our Bible Study is looking at suffering from a Christian perspective, so this really jumped out at me.

The Christian perspective of suffering, in a nutshell, is that suffering is unavoidable, we will suffer, and we will suffer so we will grow. We can only mature as Christians (as adults, really) by being stretched.

The image of a weightlifter keeps coming to mind. As you lift weights, you are actually damaging the tissue. When it recovers and grows back, it grows back bigger and stronger than it was. When we suffer, we too eventually recover and grow back bigger and stronger (more mature, stronger faith, spiritual growth).

Sometimes God allows suffering in our lives to demonstrate that we can’t do it on our own, we need help. We all need help sometimes. And when we suffer, we turn to God for that help, and we learn to trust him in new ways with new challenges.

So I love the line, “Keep on shaking me till there’s nothing left but you.” Because I know that in the end, all that shaking will produce a stronger and more mature faith. I don't like all the shaking, but I know it will be worth it!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

thrones or powres or rulers or authorities...


This past week, I preached on Colossians 1:10-20. The message in it’s entirety can be found on the church website, http://www.almondunionchurch.org/. If you’re interested, you can click the Sermons tab, and follow the links to read (or listen to) the sermon.

As I was putting it together, a thought came to mind. In verse 16 of that reading, we see, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible or invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”

I really the end of that verse, that all things were created by him and for him – and I like to share that sin is really just living for ourselves, when we were created for him.

But what struck me was the “thrones or powers or rulers or authorities” line. A literal meaning would suggest that all people who are in power in government are there because God set them up in their position.

Another meaning may suggest that even the spirit world, the devil and angels of the devil were created by him and for him. Other passages in the Bible use these same words, thrones and powers and rulers and authorities, to talk about the demonic spirits.

So here is a different thought. Were these thrones and powers and rulers and authorities, (read demons and demonic spirits) created with the foresight that they would rebel and try to lead us astray? That they would cause great suffering in people, perhaps thereby strengthening the Body and separating the wheat from the chaff – the believers from the unbelievers.

I haven’t really thought it through yet, but what do you think? I would love to hear your comments…

Monday, November 26, 2007

"Go over there" or "Come, follow me"


I recently heard a message at a meeting of our Presbytery that confirmed the importance of our getting out of our churches and into our communities to minister to people.

Let’s face it, we in the church can have wonderful programs and inspiring services. We can offer great music and warm relationships. We’ve become very good at ministering to each other. But while Jesus said that we are the light of the world, but we are too often found lighting all ready well lit rooms. We need to get out into the darkness to let our light shine where it is needed most.

So the message was good in that respect. But over and over we heard the words, “go over there.” I don’t hear that as a command from Jesus. I am aware of the great commission, “go and make disciples…”, but we aren’t asked to go over there for the sake of going over there.

The command that I hear much more often in Scripture is “Come, follow me.” If we are following Christ, we’re going over there. Jesus won’t leave us where we are. But I don’t think we should just go for the sake of going, and I don’t think our speaker at the Presbytery meeting was saying that either, though he didn’t make it very clear.

As believers, we should be close enough to Jesus to know where he is working, and we should always be willing to join Him in His work, wherever we see it.

We don’t follow Him by sitting in our churches, we follow Him by joining His work outside our churches. That’s where the people who most need Him are…

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Bride of Christ

In Destined for the Throne, Paul E. Billheimer offers an interesting idea. Billheimer suggests that everything that happens here on earth is in preparation for what follows. That’s not so new, but Billheimer gets his idea from the image of the Bride in the book of Revelation. The idea that perhaps all of creation happened so that God might find an acceptable bride for His Son.

Revelation 19:7 reads, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” This passage comes toward the end of Revelation, the tribulations are over, Babylon has fallen, and the church is rejoicing. And the idea is that it is the church that is the Bride of Christ.

The image that you and I make up the Bride of Christ. I haven’t read the book yet, but it sounds interesting. Perhaps it may help us understand why we’re here. Why the troubles and struggles that come and mold into the image of Christ. Perhaps it’s so we can be His Bride...

I don’t know if this image will mean anything to you or not. Perhaps you already have an image that makes sense to you, that’s fine. Just understand who Jesus is: the image of the invisible God, before all things and holding together all things, and the head of the Body of Christ, which is the church. And when you have the correct understanding of who Jesus is, then follow Him.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is thanksgiving. I hope that you will truly celebrate the day as it’s intended. I hope you don’t get so carried away with football and turkey and family gatherings, that you forget just how good God has been. And don’t forget to thank Him…
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)
Now that’s something to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Christmas Shoeboxes

For me, it's way to early to be thinking of Christmas. I like to wait for the last minute. It's not actually that I like to wait, I just get busy, and next thing I know, it's the last minute.

I know that the stores have been stocking their shelves with reminders that Christmas is coming since Halloween, but I can ignore blatant commercialism.

The real reminder for me that Christmas is coming came from Samaritan's Purse, and the Operation Christmas Child Shoebox program. The Shoebox program collects shoe boxes filled with small gift items, that then get distributed to very needy people, mostly in third world countries. Some will also go to victims of natural disasters or other needs. It's an awesome program, because it introduces children who have never heard of Christmas to Jesus, the reason for Christmas. Salvation tracks are included in the native language of the people that receive them, and missionaries distribute the boxes and explain the tracts. I have read story after story of people who came to know the Lord from a shoe box. It's a remarkable ministry!

Our church is involved in this program, both in the giving of shoe boxes, and as a regional drop-off location. Last week was the collection week. Yesterday (Monday), we delivered six hundred and six shoe boxes in fifty-one cartons to the collection center, and placed them in a semi-truck trailer. As I write this morning, those boxes are one their way to Samaritan's Purse in Charlotte, NC, where they will be checked and sorted, and soon on their way to bring Christmas to a little boy or girl.

If you helped with the shoe boxes this year - THANK YOU! You are making a difference!

If not, please consider helping next year. We have so much, so we can help so many...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Perfection???


Our church secretary thinks I am a hard person to please, bordering on perfectionist.


I don't think I am a perfectionist, but I want things right! (Does that mean I'm a perfectionist?)


I hadn't really thought to much about that until yesterday when I met a contractor at the library. He is a Christian, and told me that sometimes Christians are the hardest to work for because they want it right.


At first I was a little concerned by that statement. But as we talked, it was his employees that thought he was hard to work for, not so much the Christians who are customers (though he did say that was sometimes the case).


But the more I think about it, the more I can see it. Paul tells us to do everything as for the Lord. Everything that we do, we should consider it being done for the Lord. So why wouldn't we make sure it was done right? I suppose a Christian had better demand the best from himself, since he is really working for the Lord. I suppose a Christian had better demand the best from others around him if they are working for the Lord.


You will never achieve 100% if 99% is good enough! Let's make sure that we give the Lord 100%.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The butterfly in us all...



Probably the most famous metaphor to ever come from the early followers of Christ is the butterfly. The imagery is that if people entrust their lives to Jesus, God will make them new creations. When you come to God and allow him to re-create you, from that moment the old is past, and all things are made new. The word describing this is metamorphosis, the image of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly – same species, completely different. This describes a change that literally moves us from crawling to flying. It is a necessary change if we are going to journey to the future we were created to live, to experience, to enjoy.

Sometimes we choose just to be a worm; at other times, our preference is to hide in the cocoon, but every now and then we choose to engage the difficult struggle of breaking out. It’s painful, it’s frustrating; it’s hard work. We might even wonder shy God would make the cocoon so hard to escape from, never realizing it is the process itself that strengthens our wings and prepares us for flight.

This is another excerpt from the book Soul Cravings by Erwin Raphael McManus. The time you find yourself struggling, understand that you may just be breaking out of the cocoon, becoming stronger, becoming free...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Is lax Christianity still Christianity?

I am always worried about the almost lax attitude that some people have about their faith. In today’s devotion in Indeed (Walk Thru the Bible), it addressed that very issue. In fact, they addressed it far better than I could, so here is what they had to say…

Casual Christianity is an oxymoron. There is no such thing as a low-commitment version of our faith. It is impossible to say, “I’m a follower of Jesus, but I’m not prepared to lay down my life for the gospel.” Both of these assertions cannot be true. “When Jesus calls a man,” to quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “He bids him come and die.” Ours is a faith that demands our entire allegiance; it can be no half-hearted thing…

Few of us are persecuted. Yet all of us can say with assurance that sometimes following our Savior is difficult. He asks us to make sacrifices. He asks us to be obedient, even when obedience is painful. And though He doesn’t ask us to die for Him, He does ask us to live for Him. When we were bought by His blood, we became His possession. Gloriously, joyfully His possession, but His nonetheless.

One of the great weaknesses of today’s American church is our unwillingness to humble ourselves as our Savior did. We are often consumer Christians, shopping around for a faith that suits us well. But when we really encounter Christ, we face a choice: Stand firm in our faith, despite our many tests and troubles, or settle for a luke-warmness that can barely, if at all, be called “Christian.”

Trials will come, the question is, when they do, will you humble yourself and turn to God, or will you panic and worry and figure it all out on your own? It is how we react in these trials that will tell others of our faith.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Are you lighting an already well-lit room?

I heard an interview on the radio the other day with Chris Rice, a popular Christian singer/songwriter. Chris talked about what influence prompted a particular song that he had written, and he was describing the need for Christians to get out of the comfort zone, and out of their church buildings, and into their community.

Jesus didn’t call us to minister only to the saved. Christ himself came to seek and to save the lost, and that’s what He wants us to be doing. We don’t find too many lost in our churches. So what are we doing to find them?
A passage that keeps showing up for me lately is where Christ tells His disciples that you are the light of the world. Let that light shine! But most importantly, let it shine where it is needed the most – in the darkness. Our churches are already well-lit places.

Make sure to take your light into the darkness of the community where it will do the most good.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Purity in the 21st Century?

We home school our children. Not that we think that there is anything wrong with our local school system – on the contrary, I understand that it’s one of the best schools in the area. We felt that God was calling us to home school, and so we do.

Over the years of home schooling, we have noticed some areas where we don’t always believe what the public school systems teach. They teach a worldview that is not consistent with our Christian worldview. They can’t teach that God is at the center holding everything together, but my wife and I believe that with all our hearts, and we want our children to grow up knowing that as well. Perhaps teaching them at home is the best way to know what they’re being taught.

Morality is another thing that I want to make sure our children learn. Removing them from the negative peer pressure in the public school is one way to make sure they have a fighting chance. Our kids aren’t sheltered from other kids their age, they go to youth groups and have many, many friends, but we know who their friends are! And it’s not just the absence of negative peer pressure, but the absence of a teaching of a morality that bothers me.

Let me give an example from the newspaper last Thursday. A headline caught my eye: Most favor public schools providing birth control. This was from a poll of 1004 adults taken just last month.

If the poll is accurate, 67% of parents support giving contraceptives to their teenagers in the public school. This shocks me. Perhaps I’m old school, but I still believe that parents should be the ones teaching morality to their children, not passing it off to the schools.

There is another part to this story that bothers me even more. The Portland (Maine) school district has voted to let a middle school provide “full contraceptive services.” This includes birth control pills. Please remember that middle school students are in grades 6-8. That means about 11 to 13 years old!

Listen to this statement: “Portland school officials plan to consider a proposal soon that would let parents forbid their children from receiving prescription contraceptives like birth control pills.” Think about this for a minute. Right now, an 11 year old can go to school and get a prescription for birth control without the parent’s consent or knowledge. And the parent can’t stop it!

I’m not sticking my head in the sand and pretending there isn’t a problem, but does anybody think this is a good solution long term? I realize that our teenage pregnancy rates are a problem, but I hardly believe the solution is found in condoning sex and handing out birth control pills to 11 year olds. Aren’t we playing a sort of Russian-roulette with a host of sexually transmitted diseases – many of which with long term health problems (some even fatal – but at least they won’t get pregnant!)

I believe there is a better solution. I believe that by teaching morality to our children, and by being involved in their education at every step of the way, we can teach them better. Perhaps that by doing some things that might work to reduce peer-pressure in school, that by teaching self-discipline and personal responsibility, and insisting on a certain level of sexual morality, our school systems might do better. At least we might give our children a chance to do better.

As a people of faith, let’s return to the Biblical calling of sexual purity, abstaining from sexual immorality, and let’s teach these things to our children.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Some additional thoughts on the seperation of church and state...

Yesterday I talked about the two articles I saw in the paper regarding the issue of the separations of church and state. This seems to be a very hot topic of late. Frankly, it’s an ideal that I don’t think will ever be possible, unless government is made up completely of atheists and agnostics. For some reason it will always be allowable for atheists and agnostics to spread their faith in public settings. Of course, I believe that a government made up completely of atheists and agnostics would be far worse than the occasional mingling of church and state we see today.

I have a couple reasons for saying this. First, separation of church and state was never intended to remove religion from the public square. It was intended to allow people the opportunity to practice their religion without the state telling them how to do it. When people fled religious persecution in Europe and came to America, they started the same kind of religious institutions that they fled, only with their own religions calling the shots. The Baptists and Quakers fought for the freedom to worship as they felt God calling them. That’s the history of our current church-state separation issue. Congress can have no right to pass any laws forbidding the freedom of religion. Somehow we have turned that around to imply that any public religious expression is an evil thing. That’s so far from the original intention that only an incredibly liberal court system can ever make sense of it. I sure can’t.

My other reason for saying this is that I don’t think it’s possible. If you are a person of faith, how can you put that faith on hold every time you enter the public square, and still be a person of faith? How can faith be incredibly important to you, yet live a life devoid of faith in public? I don’t think an authentic faith can be put on hold like that. If you truly believe, you believe in public and at home. If I don’t see a faith that makes a difference in the public square, I’ll bet that faith doesn’t make a difference at home, either. Real faith can’t be turned off, it’s who we are, it’s either there or it’s not.

Living a life of faith means just that. Living a life of faith. And if nobody else can see it, you’re not living it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Two articles...


In Sunday’s paper, The Spectator, I saw two articles that intrigued me. Both in the same column, one on top of the other. The first headline reads, “City Council drops ‘Lord’s Prayer’ from meeting routine.” The story continues, “Under legal threat from a church-state separation group, the City Council (in Akron, Ohio) has dropped it’s long standing practice of opening meetings with the Lord’s Prayer.”

I’m okay with that, the city council decided that litigation wouldn’t benefit anybody, and they decided to allow members to pray privately before meetings. Sounds like a good solution to me. Not a terrible thing…

But the very next article had the following headline, “Lawmaker objects to getting copy of Muslim holy book.” A Tulsa, Oklahoma lawmaker is objecting to the distribution of the Koran to lawmakers by the Governor’s Ethnic American Advisory Council. Every Legislator was given a copy of the Koran.

Wait a minute, I must be missing something – Lord’s Prayer bad, Koran good??? Why is the Americans United for Separation of Church and State not having a field day in Oklahoma? Or does the separation of church and state really only mean the separation of the Christian Church and state???

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Frank Doig is awarded...

Let me introduce Frank Doig. Frank lives in Dansville, and is an assistant pastor with Full Gospel Ministries. He was a former New York City police officer, and now spends much of his time as a chaplain for police and firemen, and also is the director of emergency services with the Hornell Salvation Army.

In August, Frank was given a Presidential Call to Service Lifetime Award for his work assisting first responders. I met Frank through the Christian Motorcyclist’s Association, he is a member of the Solid Rock Riders chapter in Hornell. He is passionate about his work, passionate about the Lord, and passionate about serving others.

Congratulations Frank – you are living your life of faith, and you are truly making a difference.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Beating anxiety in Family Systems...


I have been taking a class on Family Systems Theory. The full title of the class is: “The Presence of the Past” Advanced Training in Family Systems Theory: an ongoing colloquium for educators, health care providers, faith leaders, social services professionals, as well as individuals, parents, and couples who have a working knowledge of Bowen Family Systems Theory.” Quite a mouthful, isn’t it?

According to the literature I have from the Center for Family Systems Theory of Western New York (another mouthful), Family Systems Theory, or Bowen Theory, is rapidly becoming one of the most popular and effective methods of problem solving. Unlike conventional psychological theory which focuses on the individual, Family Systems Theory encourages people to think of issues in terms of a multigenerational family or a “system.” This approach encourages people to move away from blaming others and towards individual responsibility.

What I have been studying most so far is the role of anxiety in our relationships. We can usually get along with others just fine until anxiety is increased. That’s when we start to loose it. But often just one person in a family or group, remaining calm, can have a calming affect on the entire family or group.

We call that an un-anxious presence. What would it look like if we could be an un-anxious presence in the midst of the anxiety around us? I think of Jesus – I picture Him as a very un-anxious presence. Pharisees and Temple Priests and other religious leaders were always trying to catch Him at something that might validate there ministries, and prove Him wrong – yet He never became anxious (well, almost never – He did sort of loose it when they turned the temple into a marketplace).

That kind of calm in the midst of anxiety is what is needed today. Is the church providing it?

If not, and if we are truly filled with the Holy Spirit, trusting in God, why are not providing it???

Friday, November 2, 2007

The story of God...

Edwin Raphael McManus, in Soul Craving, talks about the story of God in a rather interesting way. He was talking to a group of Muslims in the Middle East. While trying to avoid a question, he was called on by the translator to answer a question that he was evading. Finally, he had to talk specifically about Jesus. Here is how he explained it:

I once met a named Kim, and I fell in love. I pursued her with my love and pursued her with my love until I felt my love had captured her heart. So I asked her to be my wife, and she said no.

I was unrelenting and asked her again, pursuing her with my love, and I pursued her with my love until she said yes.

I did not send my brother, nor did I send a friend. For in issues of love, you must go yourself.

This is the story of God: he pursues you with his love and pursues you with his love, and you have perhaps not said yes. And even if you reject his love, he pursues you ever still. It was not enough to send an angel or a prophet or any other, for in issues of love, you must go yourself. And so God has come.

This is the story of Jesus, that God has walked among us and he pursues us with his love. He is very familiar with rejection, but is undeterred. And he is here even now, still pursuing you with his love.

Whether you have accepted his love or not, his love for you is real. He loves you, and will continue pursuing you. Won’t you give yourself to him today?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Understanding God by understanding love...

I have started reading a new book called Soul Craving by Edwin Raphael McManus.

He has suggested that we don’t understand God because we don’t understand unconditional love. We can’t understand a God who is love, because we don’t understand love – especially the unconditional love that God extends to us.

Perhaps somewhat related is that we may search most of our lives for love, and still don’t get it right, all the while trying to avoid God. We can’t find real love, true love, without God, because God is love.

If I understand this, we can only find real love by finding God, and we can only understand God by understanding His unconditional love for us. He loves you. Unconditionally. It doesn’t matter what you have done, or what you do for Him now – He will never love you more than He does right now!

Now there’s a thought worth thinking on!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Faith in the World Series...

I’m not what you might call a huge baseball fan, but I have been watching more of this year than ever before. And being from this part of New York, I’m a Yankees fan – a little disgruntled right now, but a Yankees fan none the less.

Now as a Yankee fan, I also route for whatever team Boston plays. The Red Sox are the Yankees arch rivals on the top of the American League East, and it doesn’t matter what time of the year it is, a Boston loss is good news for a Yankees fan.

The dilemma is, who to route for now that the World Series has started, and my beloved Yankees are not playing. History has it that I should route for whatever team the Red Sox is playing, but I had never heard much about the Colorado Rockies – until today! And what I heard has made me a Rockies fan.

Chuck Colson’s Breakpoint Commentary for yesterday, October 24, talks about the Rockies organization:

The Rockies are the first major league sports franchise organized on specifically Christian principles. That does not mean that the Rockies only sign Christian players. General Manager Dan O’Dowd told USA Today that while he knows “some of the guys who are Christians,” he “can’t tell you who is and who isn’t.”

The Rockies’ way means “[doing] the best job [they] can to get [the right] people with the right sense of moral values . . .” To that end, prospective Rockies are interviewed to see if they are compatible with the Rockies’ approach.

Once players join the Rockies, they are put in an environment that reinforces these values: “Quotes from Scripture are posted in the weight room. Chapel service is packed on Sundays. Prayer and fellowship groups each Tuesday are well-attended.”

…With all the news these days about steroids, cheating, and felony arrests, modern-day pro sports needs a story about the good guys. And athletes need the reminder that it is possible to excel both as a player and as a human being—that character counts.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds good to me. I’ll support the Christian organization over a secular organization any day – especially if I don’t have to route for a rival!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A visit with mom...

I have started taking a new class in Buffalo, a little over two hours away.

An advantage of traveling that far is that I drive right through East Aurora, where my mother-in-law lives. I have a good relationship with mom, but we don’t talk much. I talk with my parents weekly, and Sandy talks with her mom weekly, but I don’t talk with her mom much at all.

So this class gives me an opportunity to stop by and see her, at least every other week. Last night was my first stop, and we had a wonderful evening. I really enjoyed it, and I think that she did, too.

It’s a shame how those in ministry sometimes get so busy taking care of others that their own family gets left behind. I try to be conscious of that, and intentionally stay close to my immediate family – there are times when business prevails, but we make up for it. But yet the extended family is another matter. So I’ll try to stay closer.

I hope that you will, too. If we can’t keep our own family together, what right do have to speak to others? Don’t neglect those family relationships. They are very important.

And thanks mom, I really enjoyed dinner…

Monday, October 22, 2007

Working to bring in a harvest...

It’s very late in the year to do much gardening here in Western New York, but my wife was working in the garden yesterday. We still have much that needs harvesting, and she pulled another box of tomatoes off vines (she’s already canned about 40 quarts, and a few quarts of spaghetti sauce), several winter squash, and some other assorted surprises.

One of the surprises were some potatoes. We’ve never grown potatoes before, and we probably should have pulled them out of the ground some time ago. At this point, the plants are all dead, and actually gone – the stems are broken off and rotted away and it’s very hard to know where to dig.

Sandy (my wife) was just digging around everywhere in the general area where she thought they might be, she has so far dug in about a six foot by ten foot area, turning the dirt about six inches deep, and if she finds any potatoes, she digs deeper there.

It’s kind of fun, because you never know where you’ll find them, and when you do find them, you never know how many you’ll find, or how big they will be. There are anywhere from two to ten potatoes in each hole, ranging in size from a good size for baking, to less than a half inch! Every hole is different; it’s like hunting for treasure.

While our approach to finding these potatoes might seem a little unorthodox (digging everywhere until you find one, then dig deeper there), that might be a good way to live our life of faith.

In Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby tells us the best way to live our life of faith is to look for where God is already working, and join him there.

In the garden, we looked fairly shallow for a potato, knowing that if we found one there, there may be more below, so that’s where we concentrated our efforts. If we truly want to be available to God, we should look for signs that he is working, and concentrate our efforts there.

As you go through your day today, look for signs of God at work. A couple of sure fire ways to know where God is working is to look for people asking about God, asking about things of faith. We know that no one comes to faith in Christ without being drawn by the Holy Spirit, so if someone is questioning or seeking, God must be working there, drawing that person to Himself. That would be a good place for you to work also. Look for blessings, answered prayers, and other signs that God is working. Join Him there, dig deeper than the quick hello, and concentrate your efforts there. The harvest will be plentiful.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The importance of the family meal....


I read several blogs each day, and today, one of my favorites had a great article I wanted to pass along. Chuck Warnock of Confessions of a Small Church Pastor wrote this. Feel free to visit Chuck’s site – I think you’ll enjoy it.


Today, his blog talked about a story in today’s New York Times. Here are the high points of what he said about this article…

Multiple research over many years indicates that eating a family meal together several times a week –

  • Connects family members to each other;

  • Results in healthier food choices than when eating alone;

  • Helps prevent eating disorders among teenage girls;

  • Produces kids who are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol, or do drugs.

Amazingly, even having the TV on during the family meal is not that bad. The key actor was togetherness, whether the family watched TV while dining or not. Being together as a family was the most important aspect of mealtime.

The article continues –

“The research has shown that those who regularly have meals with their parents eat more fruits, vegetables and calcium-rich foods, ingest more vitamins and nutrients, and consume less junk food. Some of the research has shown that kids who regularly sit down to a family meal are at lower risk for behaviors like smoking and drug and alcohol use.”

We probably all knew that it was best if we could eat together as a family – we make it a point at our home! But maybe we never knew why!

Let’s encourage each other to find the time to eat together as families. Our families will be much stronger…

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The evils of religion...

In Sunday’s Hornell Tribune, I read an article with the following headline: "Atheists will be among friends at group’s annual convention." There is an organization called the Freedom From Religion Foundation that will be having a convention in Madison, Wisconsin. Atheists and agnostics from all around the country will be attending.

I’m not going to jump on this foundation for promoting atheism or agnosticism, but we as believers should be aware that they are out there. They are evangelizing – telling their story. We need to be able to defend our faith against their attacks.

But rather, I support the right of this group to meet. Freedom of religion isn’t just limited to my religion, and atheism is not a lack of religion, it’s not freedom from religion, as they might say. Atheism itself is a religion.

However, I will challenge her concerns with religion. I attended a Fall Missions Festival at the Hunt Baptist Church on Saturday night. They had speakers from about a dozen Mission Outreach programs. People who are offering free clothing, and greatly reduced groceries, school supplies, Christmas gifts, etc. All this in the Hunt, NY area – a very rural community. And as I look around this very rural community, and I see what the church is doing to help others, there is a noticeable lack of anybody else doing anything to help others.

Where is the Freedom From Religion group when they see people in need? What are they doing to feed and clothe their neighbors who are struggling? Are they helping with school supplies? One group we saw was soliciting donations of computers to be used in Africa in an initiative to greatly improve education in that country. What is the Freedom From Religion group doing to improve education in Africa?

While they believe that religion is an “evil”, it seems to me the charity of the church is helping where no one else is. Right here in Almond, it’s the church that runs the local food pantry (In fact, all but one food pantry in a 6 county area is located in a church or ministry building). It’s the church that has the only homeless shelter in our community in the form of our Samaritan’s Loft. It’s the church that’s helping people put food on their tables in the form of our Angel Food Ministry. It’s the church that is clothing the poor and feeding the hungry with free meals on Fridays through the Wellspring Ministries in Angelica. It’s the church that helps with an organization in Hornell called Faith in Action, reaching out and helping seniors with a very wide range of things – from transportation to medical appointments to home maintenance tasks – all free of charge to the recipient.

The church scored very high marks in national tragedy, as well. A few years ago now, when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf coast, the church responded in incredible ways. And I saw a report that of the main groups that responded, as far as the satisfaction levels of those who were being helped, the Church was way out in front. Only about half of the people served were satisfied with what FEMA could do. The Red Cross had a huge response, but the satisfaction of what they could do was only 65-70% level. The church was over 90% - over 90% of the people helped were satisfied with what was done for them. And these were people that came because they wanted to, because they saw a need, and their love for their fellow man prompted them respond.

So I don’t know what a nation without God would look like, but I wouldn’t want to live there. We need each other, we need the church. The comfort and compassion that the church gives is desperately needed. And we won’t see that kind of comfort and compassion from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Another thought on when God seems distant...

Here is another thought on those times when God seems distant.

John Chrysostom, in a commentary on the Prodigal Son, wrote, “When words would not convince us, God often leaves us to learn from the things that happen to us.”

Have you ever seen someone who denies God, or at least doesn’t live for Him, asking how God could allow something dreadful? I saw a lot of that after 9/11. I see some of it after every school shooting. In fact, I see some of it after nearly every tragedy. It may be a natural reaction. Even when we don’t live for God, perhaps we know subconsciously that He is there, and we wonder how could He allow something so devastating.

Perhaps God is leaving us to ourselves. Perhaps He is letting us see a life devoid from His presence. If we insist on living separate from God, He lets us. And the things that happen to us are not of God at all.

So next time God seems distant, make sure it’s not you that’s wandered away.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

When God seems distant...

In a book I’m reading, Sacred Reading, The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina, by Michael Casey, he brings out something that I think deserves some reflection.

He talks about times when God seems absent. There are times, I suppose when you start any new discipline, that spiritual growth comes quickly, and you feel it. But then there are times, often after doing the same discipline for some time, that spiritual growth doesn’t seem to come at all. It almost seems that God has moved on and has left you alone.

Aldous Huxley calls this phenomenon “induction” – the principal that “every positive begets its corresponding negative.” Casey writes, “Any striving after specific virtues is followed by an almost irresistible tendency to backslide.”

I don’t know if I agree with that exactly, but I know that in my own life my spiritual growth has been very cyclical. I experience highs of incredible growth and special closeness with God, followed by times of dryness and distance from God. I suppose all of you have experienced something similar to this.

Perhaps the positive in this is that this happens to everyone. Maybe it goes back to our sinful nature. Maybe any commitment toward God brings up an unconscious pulling away. Maybe it is a spiritual battle being fought, the enemy not willing to give up on us. Whatever it is, the key to moving on is persistence on our Bible Study, in our devotions, in our prayers, and in our disciplines.

God is there, even when you don’t feel him. Persist in moving toward him, and I bet you will feel him again…

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Worship Styles


I had an opportunity to attend a Pastor’s Appreciation breakfast sponsored by Houghton College. Houghton has put together a Master of Art in Theological Studies, so part of the reason for doing this breakfast was to introduce and advertise their new Masters level program.

Still, they had a wonderful breakfast, and then a message by Michael Walters, the Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Houghton. Walters said that many churches are polarized at one extreme or another in their style of worship.

To illustrate this, he told of a recent trip to Australia with some students. The first church they attended was very informal, so much so that in the middle of the message people would get up and get some coffee and goodies, conveniently located in the sanctuary. This was just way to informal for his liking. The following week, they attended a service at a very formal Episcopalian church, very High Church, with an incredible choir that sang only in Latin. Much of the elements of the worship service almost seemed to be in code for the students there, they were lost.

I suppose that the best place for a church to be is somewhere in the middle. Visitors need to be comfortable enough in our worship service that they can follow along, and know what we do and why we do it, yet it needs to be formal enough to experience the holy. Symbols can help, the practice of the Sacraments can help, the lighting of the Alter Candles can help.

Our Worship Style needs to appeal to the surrounding culture enough that they will be comfortable joining us, yet formal enough to give them a taste of the divine.

How do we do that? I don’t know, let’s talk about it. If you have any ideas, leave a comment, we’ll get a discussion going…

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

New beginnings...

Here at Almond Union of Churches, we have a shelter called the Samaritan’s Loft. It is a temporary emergency housing shelter, for one person or family at a time. A guest can have thirty days in this one bedroom apartment while they work on getting something else arranged.

As the Pastor here, since the apartment is directly above the Church Office, I have an opportunity to spend a lot of time with the guests, and help them to see God as an integral part of their new beginning. Some are open to that, some aren’t. New Beginnings are really what we are about. We give people an opportunity to start over.

Aren’t New Beginnings what God is all about, too? He gives us opportunities to be born again, born of the Spirit, starting over with a fresh slate. Our past failures are behind us, and we can move on, this time with a loving Savior to guide us.

I feel really good when a loft guest moves out and I have the feeling that they are going to be all right. It is very rewarding to know that we helped one more get the new start they so desperately needed. And it can be incredible to know that God used us to help someone in a very important way.

If we feel this good over a loft guest getting their lives together and moving on, no wonder the angels rejoice when a lost soul is found, and one more sinner is born again…

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Good to Great, part 2

Yesterday I started giving you the ten practices that great Christians have in common, as found in Chip Ingram’s new book, Good to Great in God’s Eyes: Ten Practices Great Christians Have in Common.

Today, I’ll give you the rest. These are actually 6-10, but numbered 1-5 to keep you on your toes. I hope you find some interesting things to ponder…

  1. Take Great Risks – Every great person has great faith, and great trust that God is leading him. Fear of failure never occurs to you when you are going where God is leading.
  2. Make Great Sacrifices – “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13)
  3. Enjoy Great Moments – take the time to celebrate! The Christian life is an invitation to enjoy life, to live life abundantly. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 tell us this, “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God.”
  4. Empower Great People – Teach others what God is teaching you. Give others the resources and help them to be greater than you.
  5. Develop Great Habits – God’s plan for us is really quite simple, He just wants us to be more like Jesus. Develop those habits that would bring that about in your life – become more like Jesus.

I hope that you found something great in these practices. I really hope that you might find some to put into practice. I really, really hope that this will help you become great In God’s eyes.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Chip Ingram

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I had an opportunity to see Chip Ingram. He was promoting his newest book, Good to Great in God’s Eyes: Ten Practices Great Christians Have in Common.

He spoke about some really great things, and the ten points he made in the talk are the ten chapter titles in his book, so the talk was a great primer for the book. I got a copy of the book, and will be reading it soon, but in the meantime, here are the ten points - actually here are five – you’ll get the other five tomorrow:

  1. Think Great Thoughts – we are product of our thoughts – we become what we think about. Knowing that, make sure your thoughts are worthy of who you want to be.

  2. Read Great Books – We need to put great stuff in our minds if we want to have great stuff come out. We are transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2), reading the thoughts of others will stretch us, and renew our mind.

  3. Pursue Great People – We need to spend time with great people, and some of their greatness will rub off. Chip had a quote, “Show me your friends, I’ll show you your future.” When I first shared the news that we were expecting our first child, a good friend shared with me the importance of controlling their friends. It really makes all the difference!

  4. Dream Great Dreams – Our dreams give us hope. God uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things – and often he gives us glimpses of these extraordinary things through our dreams! What is your dream? I’ve noticed in counseling and sharing with people that use our food pantry that most people really don’t have any dreams. They’re to busy with the day to day, and have been let down too many times, and have given up on their dreams. A dream given up on is a dream that will never be realized.

  5. Pray Great Prayers – The greatest prayers are birthed in brokenness. You will pray great prayers when you pray about the things that really matter to you, the things that break your heart. “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:23-24).

I hope these will give you something to think about. More tomorrow…

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Finding calm...

In continuing the theme about worry – here is a thought: Can you really feel the full joy that Christ has for you, if you worry about something?

When we face a problem, or anything that we might worry about, we have two options: We can either fix our eyes on the problem, or we can fix our eyes on Christ. We can’t look both directions at the same time.

If our eyes our fixed on Christ, we won’t worry about the problem. If our eyes our fixed on the problem, we are filled with worry. If we are filled with worry, how can we be filled with joy?

It is probably quite natural to fix our eyes on the problem, come up with a preferred solution to that outcome, and then ask God to make it happen. But if you do that, are your eyes fixed on God, or the problem? Even if the solution is a great solution, if it’s our solution, then we aren’t trusting Christ.

Truly turning over our problems to Christ may be the most difficult things we as believers must do, and we may need to daily turn these over to God. But we can’t experience the peace that God offers if we don’t…

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Do you worry...


My devotions for the last several days have dealt with the issue of worry. I don’t consider myself a worrier, but I have found some wonderful thoughts in these devotions.

I know without a doubt that God does not want us to be worriers. Passages like Luke 12:22-34 give us a very clear mandate not to worry.

I also came across a short saying that verifies this – “Never try to carry tomorrow’s burdens with today’s grace.” We pray for God to give us our daily bread, to take care of our real needs today. And we promise to trust Him each day for those needs. When we worry, aren’t we taking back that promise? Aren’t we telling Him we don’t really trust His provisions?

If we are surrendered, then we surrender the problems as well as the rest. In fact, maybe especially the problems! How can we worry about the problems if they are surrendered? Unless, we aren’t really surrendered ???

If you are surrendered, you trust Him to handle your lives. You have given Him control of your live. To worry is to take back that control. To tell him you don’t really trust Him to control your life in that issue, or at that time.

God wants all of us. He wants us to be totally surrendered to Him. If you are, you have nothing to worry about…

Friday, September 28, 2007

Three friends...

Last night I had an opportunity to Chip Ingram speaking at Family Life Network’s 50th anniversary.

Chip was talking about ways to go from Good to Great in God’s Eyes, which happens to be the title of his latest book. It was a great talk, and I really appreciate Chip’s way of explaining the biblical truths in way that we can understand them and get the meaning out them in the context of all that we are living through.

One thing that really struck me was the thought that each of should have three friends, a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy. The friend like Paul is a friend that teaches you, holds you accountable, and expects a lot from you. He leads you in your spiritual journey, and you learn a great deal about what it’s like to live your life of faith from this person.

The friend like Barnabas is an encourager. He helps you as you cope with all that life brings you. He comforts you when you feel down. He encourages you and lifts your spirits when you feel like you’re under attack. You share the trials of this life with him, and he understands what you are going through, and supports you and helps you as you struggle through life.

The friend like Timothy is one who is younger and learns from you. He looks up to you and guide him in his faith. You share with him what you have learned, and are learning, in your walk of faith.

Do you have these friends in your life?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A final thought on Ravi Zacharias...

This comment actually came up during a discussion time afterward…

The ancient church swam against the stream of culture on virtually every issue. In the last few hundred years, we have accepted many modern thoughts (the age of modernity). However, now the age of modernity is past, and we are in a time frame referred to as post-modernity. In postmodern thought, the church can no longer be comfortable with culture.

Postmodern thought clings to ideas that are often contrary to the church. There is a belief that what is right for you might not be right for me – there is no absolute right. The same goes for morals – trying to persuade people to live a moral life is old-fashioned, there is no longer a moral right or wrong, and again, what’s right for you might not be right for me.

Of course, the church holds very dear the fact that there is such a thing as absolute truth – and we know the author! We know that the Bible clearly teaches moral right from wrong.

These are two examples, there are many more, but they suggest that the church can no longer be comfortable in the culture around them.

The real question for the church today, especially the church in America, is this: Have we become too comfortable with culture to begin swimming against culture once more?

Are you too comfortable with the society in which you live to swim against the stream of culture?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Planting seeds of faith...

I am continuing some thoughts from the Ravi Zacharias talk at the Chapel Service at Houghton College.

When we share our faith with people, most of us (myself included) aren’t good enough to convince someone that Christianity is the only way based on logic and sound argument. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t use logic and sound argument, because while we might not convince someone based on these arguments, we may clear away obsticles that a person has concerning faith, and as we work to remove these obsticles, God can do the rest.

In Matthew 13 we read what is commonly called the parable of the sower. In this parable, a farmer is scattering his seed. Some fell on the path, and the birds came and quickly ate it. Some of the seed fell on rocky places, where it didn’t have much soil. It grew, but withered when the sun came out strong, because it didn’t have deep roots. Some seed fell among the thorns. This seed also grew, but the thorns quickly choked out the young plants. And some seed fell on good soil, where it produced a great crop – as much as a hundred times what was sown.

Jesus explains this parable as having to do with people hearing the Gospel message. The evil one is the bird that comes down and snatches the word from some who hear it. Others hear and begin a faith, but the cares of the world overwhelm them and they fall away.

One way to think about our role in sharing our faith is to realize that a big portion of our task is simply to prepare the soil. Sometimes we have to break up some hard packed ground, sometimes we pick out rocks, sometimes we pull thorny weeds. We have to prepare people to hear the message much as we would prepare a garden for our seed.

Share when they are ready, and only what they are ready to hear at the time, and the seeds you plant will grow and the people you share your faith with will produce abundant fruit.

Friday, September 21, 2007

More thoughts on sharing our faith...

I am continuing some thoughts from the Ravi Zacharias talk at the Chapel Service at Houghton College. Some of the thoughts I’ll be sharing over the next several days will be either from Ravi’s talk, the Question and Answer period after, or things that just came to mind while reflecting on what was discussed.

Today, some thoughts on the importance of using our personal testimony when sharing our faith. On Wednesday, I shared the three things we must keep in mind when sharing our faith. The first of these was that our message needs to be seen, not just heard.

Ravi suggested that because of our growing up in the television age, we have become accustomed to seeing things. Our sense of sight has become a primary way of receiving information. Carrying that to the next logical level, we need to see something to believe it. Often we won’t believe it unless we see, and on the flip side, we see things we believe (on TV, for example) that aren’t true. But because we see it, we believe it.

What does that mean for us as we share our faith. It shows us that we can talk to people all day, and they might agree with us on many points, but they won’t accept it as truth unless they see it. It has to make a difference in your life, and they have to be able to see that difference, in order for them to really believe it. Our lives must reflect our faith. We must be authentic.

It seems to me then, the next step is being able to tell that difference to others. They need to see the effects of our faith on our daily lives, there is no getting around that – they have to see it. But a natural extension would be to share with others the difference that our faith has made in our lives. And that, in a nutshell, is our testimony.

So when you share your faith, make sure to tell people the difference that knowing Christ has made in your life. Hearing that, and seeing the difference in the way you live your life each day, will lead many to a life saving faith of their own

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Apologetics...

What is aplogetics? Christian apologetics is the field of study concerned with the systematic defense of Christianity. We engage in apologetics when we defend our faith, even if we are just tying to explain to someone else why we believe what we do.

In the discussion following Ravi Zacharias’ talk at Houghton College yesterday, we talked about two different kinds of apologetics – positive apologetics and negative apologetics. They are valuable ways of defending our faith.

We use positive apologetics when we explain the advantages of our faith, when we tell what God has done for us. It is essential when we share our faith in a positive way to have a common starting ground. This is what Paul did when he was in Athens in Acts 17. He saw the various idols and statues representing the various gods, then he saw one inscribed “to the unknown god.” He started here and began to tell the Athenians of the one true God, the one they honor as the unknown god. He made Him known to them.

We use negative apologetics in two ways. We may respond to an attack against our faith. Someone may say something to the effect of “how can you believe that?” or they may reject God, or they may attack God or some element of your faith. You may explain to them why you believe it. That is an example of using negative apologetics.

Another way to use negative apologetics is when you attack a position that they might believe. For example, if they believe that morality is a personal issue, and that there should be no absolute moral authority, rather leaving it up to each individual, than you can point out where that line of thinking may lead someone. If my idea of morality is up to me, than what is to say that I am going to treat others respectfully, or that I am going to keep the common good in mind. It becomes a free for all, with everybody doing what they want, at the expense of everybody else. There has to be some minimum limit defining what is right or wrong.

As you share your faith, you will have the opportunity to defend your faith. When you do, you are practicing apologetics.

Sermons from FBC - A Community of Forgiveness

This week we looked at forgiveness.  We'll see why we should forgive, how easy it is not to forgive, but how dangerous it can be to hold...