Thursday, May 31, 2007

Many thanks...


Thank you for reading - you have just helped reach a milestone - at least a foot step...

We have just exceeded the 500 page views on our blog. While we hope to have many, many more, this is a step worth celebrating!

I appreciate your time and support in this project, and sincerely hope I have given you some things to think about in these posts.

May God bless you richly as you follow Him.

Pastor Steve

God's Mission: Adoption


I am just going to pass this one along. I have no need to comment, it speaks for itself. Take a few minutes to reflect on these words from Max Lucado, in The Great House of God.

“When we come to Christ, God not only forgives us, he also adopts us. Through a dramatic series of events, we go from condemned orphans with no hope to be adopted children with no fear. Here is how it happens. You come before the judgment seat of God full of rebellion and mistakes. Because of his justice he cannot dismiss your sin, but because of his love he cannot dismiss you. So, in an act which stunned the heavens, he punished himself on the cross for your sins. God’s justice and love are equally honored. And you, God’s creation, are forgiven. But the story doesn’t end with God’s forgiveness.

“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. (Romans 8:15-16 NASB)

“But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a women, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5 NASB)

“It would be enough if God just cleansed your name, but he does more. He gives you his name. It be enough if God just set you free, but he does more. He takes you home. He takes you home to the Great House of God.

“Adoptive parents understand this more than anyone. They know what it means to feel an empty space inside. They know what it means to hunt, to set out on a mission, and take responsibility or a child with a spotted past and dubious future.

“God has adopted you. God sought you, found you, signed the papers, and took you home.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Hope of the the Not Yet

Today’s passage is from the book Experiencing the Heart of Jesus, by Max Lucado.

“He is building a house for you. And with every swing of the hammer and cut of the saw, he’s dreaming of the day he carries you over the threshold. ‘There are many rooms in my Father’s house; I would not tell you this if it were not true. I am going there to prepare a place for you. After I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me so that you may be where I am.’”

This passage can speak to us of that important concept of adoption. As believers, being filled with the Holy Spirit is a mark that we are His. We have been adopted as sons and daughters of the Holy God. What a thought! Let that lift you. Nobody what anybody might say to bring you down, you are in “the family.” As a son or a daughter, you have immense worth. You are important to God.

Things happen in this life that get us down. We might get frustrated over a job situation. We might get frustrated over a relationship going bad. We might get frustrated by failing health and those things we can’t do anymore. We might get frustrated over being passed by in our efforts to get ahead. Other may not take us seriously. But never forget that God does take you seriously. Never forget that he has chosen you to be a part of his family. You are that important to Him. He loves you that much.

Others may try to minimize you, but God is at this very moment preparing a place for you, so you can spend eternity with Him.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What about the other two?


Last week, I began sharing some short passages from the book God’s Blessing for You. Today’s passage is from Max Lucado’s Experiencing the Heart of Jesus:

“Jesus’ forgiveness is a done deal, accomplished at Calvary. However, ‘Calvary’s trio’ of the crosses reminds us we must personally accept that and embrace this gift in our lives.

“Ever wonder why there were two crosses next to Christ? Why not six or ten? Ever wonder why Jesus was in the center? Why not on the far right or the far left? Could it be that the two crosses on the hill symbolize one of God’s greatest gifts? The gift of choice.

“The two criminals have so much in common. Convicted by the same system. Condemned to the same death. Surrounded by the same crowd. Equally close to the same Jesus. In fact, they begin with the same sarcasm: ‘The two criminals also said cruel things to Jesus.’

“But one changed.

“One of the criminals on a cross began to should insults at Jesus: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Then save yourself and us.’ But the other criminal stopped him and said, ‘You should fear God! You are getting the same punishment he is. We are punished justly, getting what we deserve for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus said to him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’

“Much has been said about the prayer of the penitent thief, and it certainly warrants our admiration. But while we rejoice at the thief who changed, dare we forget the one who didn’t? What about him, Jesus? Wouldn’t a personal invitation be appropriate? Wouldn’t a word of persuasion be timely?

“There are times when God sends thunder to stir us. There are times when God sends blessings to lure us. But there are times when God sends nothing but silence as he honors us with the freedom to choose where we spend eternity.

“Have we been given any greater privilege than that of choice? Not only does this privilege offset any injustice, the gift of free will can offset any mistakes.

“Think bout the thief who repented. Though we know little about him, we know this: He made some bad mistakes in life. He chose the wrong crowd, the wrong morals, the wrong behavior. But would you consider his life a waste? Is he spending eternity reaping the fruit of all the bad choices he made? No, just the opposite. He is enjoying the fruit of one good choice he made. In the ed all his bad choices were redeemed by a solitary good one.

“No matter how many bad choices you have made in the past, they are redeemed by one good choice – to follow Jesus. Will you make that choice now? Not only will your life be impacted for eternity but your life on earth will have purpose.”

There is nothing I can add to this one!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day


I am sometimes a little cautious in celebrating national holidays. Not because I am not glad to be an American, not because I don’t love this country, but because sometimes I think we might be a little quick in pledging allegiance to our nation, but not so quick in pledging allegiance to our God. I believe that God should have the first place in our lives. From there, we can freely support and celebrate being American, and all that that means.

This Memorial Day, by all means give thanks for the sacrifices made by those who gave their lives to secure and preserve our freedom. They have made this nation great. And we need to remember their sacrifice, and give thanks for the freedom they made possible.

We should also remember that this great land was established as one nation under God. We might argue over what that means today, but they weren’t arguing then. They were thanking God for making this people a free people.

Today, I truly thank all who have served in our armed forces, and I especially thank those who gave their lives doing so. I also remember the God who gave them victory. May he preserve this great nation that He founded – and may he give us peace.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The cost of faith...


Yesterday, I told you about an excerpt from a book, God’s Blessings for You. Over the next few days, I will be sharing other passages. Today, from Jesus Forgives You, by Max Lucado:

“The hand squeezing the handle was not a Roman infantryman. The force behind the hammer was not an angry mob. The verdict behind the death was not decided by jealous Jews. Jesus himself chose the nails. So the hands of Jesus opened up. Had the soldier hesitated, Jesus himself would have swung the mallet. He knew how; he was no stranger to the driving of nails. As a carpenter he knew what it took. And as a Savior he knew what it meant. He knew that the purpose of the nail was to place your sins where they could be hidden by his sacrifice and covered by his blood.”

Max Lucado is gifted in his use of words. As we near Pentecost Sunday, remind yourself of Good Friday, remembering that Jesus willing went to the cross to pay the penalty for your sins. Live your life of faith remembering what it cost…

Thursday, May 24, 2007

God's Unfailing Love


Yesterday, I wrote about my time in Camp Vick. I had taken, along with my Bible, a small book titled God’s Blessing for You. This was sent to me by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and is a collection of excerpts from some of his books, with some from Max Lucado as well.

Several of these excerpts really struck me and gave me cause to reflect. I hope to share some of the them with you over the next several days, and I hope you will have an opportunity to reflect on them as well.

This one is from Billy Graham’s book, Hope for the Troubled Heart:

“God’s love is unchangeable; He knows exactly what we are and loves us anyway. In fact, he created us because he wanted other creatures in His image upon whom He could pour out His love and who would love Him in return. He also wanted that love to be voluntary, not forced, so He gave us freedom of choice, the ability to say yes or no in our relationship to Him. God does not want mechanized love, the kind that says we must love God because it’s what our parents demand or our church preaches. Only voluntary love satisfies the Heart of God.”

Take a few minutes to reflect on this. Particularly, the thought that God made us in His image because “He wanted other creatures in His image upon whom He could pour out His love, and who would love Him in return.” What does it mean to be created in the image of God? Can that give you peace knowing that you are the image of God?

Also, the idea that you have the ability to choose to love Him or not. Have you made that choice? What are the consequences of that choice in your life now? What about the future, how will that choice affect the future? What about eternity?

Take a few minutes to answer these. They are important questions. And realizing the answers to them may give you peace in knowing God.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sabbath rest

Today I spent the day at Camp Vick, part of New York’s Outdoor Ministry, an American Baptist camp.

It was scheduled to be a day of prayer for clergy in the Living Waters Association. There were four pastors that came out, and it was a beautiful day. There was no structure to the day, other than dinner at five. We were free to wander the camp, explore the woods, and spend time in prayer.

It was a very enjoyable day. We all need a time of Sabbath. If you’re not taking the time, I greatly encourage it. Get outside with a Bible or a spiritual book, read, relax, and enjoy some time alone with God.

You will feel peace.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Is the Church right for everybody?

In our little community, I run across people every day that tell me that church just isn’t for them. I often dismiss it, and sometimes think that they might have a different opinion if they were part of it, but usually just let it go (we have to pick our battles carefully, this probably isn’t one worth fighting).

I’ve been thinking about that statement lately. Is Church for everybody? Or, are there some people for whom Church just isn’t for?

At this point, I guess I should remind us that different churches have different roles. There are probably two extremes in churches today. Seeker churches gear their services to people who don’t know Christ yet, people who may be seeking something spiritual, but they don’t know what. These churches tend to have a very entertaining service with lots of contemporary music, and very evangelistic messages. They are great for seekers who don’t yet know God, but there is very little meat to encourage and bring growth to the Body. At the other extreme are those High Churches that offer very liturgical and very structured services geared to those already in the Body – Seekers would be lost in this setting. Most churches are somewhere between these two extremes.

That being said, it’s probably important to note that no one church is for everybody. Seekers will be lost in a High Church setting, and those growing in their faith may outgrow a service geared for seekers. Each church is gifted in some areas, just as each believer is gifted in some areas. No one church can appeal to everyone.

So back to the original question: Is Church for everybody? I believe the answer is yes! There is a church out there that is right for every believer. I also believe that my church is not right for everybody. Everybody needs the encouragement and fellowship of being part of the Body of Christ. Everybody needs to feel like part of the family – a church family – a family that sometimes cares more than your own natural family. Everybody needs a support structure – and what better support structure can you find than a church that is reaching out in the name of God’s love.

But if the church doesn’t fit your worship style, if it doesn’t match some of your gifts, and if it doesn’t make you feel welcome, than it’s not for you. That doesn’t mean that church just isn’t for you. It means that maybe that church isn’t the best church for you. Find another one!

You are part of the Body of Christ – the Church is the Body of Christ. You can’t be part of the Body of Christ, apart from the Body of Christ! You need the Church. If you are a believer, then church is for you!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Reaching people where they are...


Yesterday, I brought up a thought I wanted to explore a little more. The thought of reaching people where they are, even though it might not bring them to the church.

My thought is: What’s wrong with that? We have an opportunity to reach people with a message that they may never hear, because they may never set foot in a church. God loves these people, and sent his Son to die for these people, yet churches have a really hard time reaching people who don’t come into the church.

Isn’t it true that most churches have outreach activities designed to bring people into the church, where they can hear the message? But isn’t it also true that most people have no idea of their need of church until they hear the message? If both statements are true, what most churches are doing will never reach people.

I feel that ministry in the community is as important as ministry in the congregation. And I am very fortunate to serve a congregation that shares that thinking. We have to reach people where they are, and not insist that they come to where we are. We have to get the message to them. Because only when they hear the message and are convicted by that message will they realize their need of the Savior, and fellowship and support and growth opportunities that the church offers to grow closer to the Savior.

This website is an effort to share the message. Our article in the Alfred Sun is an effort to share that message. Our churches website (http://www.almondunionchurch.org/) is another effort to share that message. Our numerous community events, my work as a volunteer in community groups, my volunteering with Faith in Action of Hornell, all of these are ways to get the message outside the church doors to where the people are. People that really need to hear this message. I hope that if you are a part of the Body of Christ, you can identify groups that you belong to, where your life of faith can be seen and your message of hope shared through service to others.

When they hear the message, and the Holy Spirit convicts them, and they believe that message, then they will visit a church. I hope it will be our church. As long as it’s a Christian church that honestly preaches the Word of God, and lives their faith, then I really don’t care which church.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Breaking the cycle of poverty...

I am always somewhat surprised to talk to some our local pastors about the kinds of ministry that they do. Being this close to a college town, most of them have some form of Campus ministry, or they have people in their congregation that does some form of Campus ministry. That doesn't surprise me, what does surprise me is how different their ministry is to my ministry.

I understand that we here at Almond Union of Churches have done some form of Campus ministry in the past, and have had various levels of success trying to reach people from the colleges (usually low levels of success).

While we are listed on the various listings of local churches on the two campuses, we rarely see a student visit. We also have an article in the Alfred Sun each week, and it gives us a chance to minister to people where they are, but it doesn’t bring them to where we are – they rarely visit because they saw the article. (Which brings up a thought I’ll explore more in tomorrow’s post).

Instead of some form of Campus ministry that I can report to my clergy colleagues, I talk of our ministries to the poor. Our food pantry and our Samaritan’s Loft (an apartment providing emergency shelter for those who find themselves homeless) put us in contact with many people who are struggling financially. We try to ease these struggles, and as a result, spend a lot of time ministering to the poor in our community, as I think all believers are called to do.

I was sharing some of these thoughts with our association minister, and when we prayed, he asked for God’s help in “breaking the cycle of poverty.” That statement has stuck with me. Can we break the cycle of poverty? I don’t know.

I know that we can help one person at a time. We can work with one person at a time and help them back on their feet. Then we can help another. It takes one person helping another. It takes a commitment of people helping people. Can you commit, with me, with our church, to help one person stuck in the “cycle of poverty”?

Who knows, with God’s help, maybe we can break the cycle of poverty in our community.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Spirits among us

I was at a local clergy gathering last week and we had a great time of sharing. The format was very informal. Pastors were free to bring up any concerns they had, and the group would discuss them, often learning from them. That kind of sharing is very beneficial.

One concern that was brought up was the issue of “spirit possession.” I confess a level of ignorance about this subject, so I listened carefully, hoping to learn from his experience. This pastor has been talking with a lady who visited his church, and has been sharing the gospel with her, and has heard of spirits in her house. This pastor reported to the group that he didn’t believe she is “possessed”, but that the house may be. He took another area pastor into the home, and they prayed in the home, and he did sense something almost evil, especially in an upstairs room.

The story goes that someone who lived in that home many years ago practiced witchcraft. Now there seems to be a spirit in that home that is not of God. As I heard this pastor, I looked around the table at the other pastors gathered. I wondered how many believed him, and how many thought he was nuts. The later might be a more expected response in this day. Most don’t believe in “spirits” that might come and take possession of us or our homes. That was medieval drivel. We are far too intellectual for that.

Yet Scripture speaks of spirit possessions, and demon possessions. Jesus and many of the Apostles cast out demons and evil spirits. We all but ignore them today – but I think they are real. I think they are out there. And I think that we should be more serious about avoiding them.

In fact, I think that we are all possessed in one way or another, by some spirit. If the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Living God, does not possess us, then we are influenced, even possessed, by the worldly, evil spirits around us.

Which spirit has the most influence over you?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

More thoughts on unity

Yesterday I spoke about the unity between a pastor and the congregation. Today I want to share some thoughts on how to achieve that unity. That unity doesn’t always just happen, and the lack of that unity can cause pastoral relationships to end long before God ordains them to end.

Many churches look for a pastor who is a good fit and who shares the same important ideas of ministry. But sometimes a church settles for the first reasonable candidate that comes along. They feel pressured that if the search goes on to long, the church will suffer. And the result is that the new pastor sometimes isn’t a good fit.

What do you do when the pastor and congregation don’t have unity in purpose or in mission? What do you do when they disagree about the role of the local congregation in the community? I think this is when the lines of communication have to open up. The congregation needs to come to the pastor and share their purpose and their sense of call. Let the pastor know what you feel God is calling you to be. Talk about where you feel God is leading you as a congregation.

Of course for this to work, the congregation has to know where God is leading. They have to have a sense of calling from God. They have to have a purpose for being a congregation.

Communication and prayer can bring this about. Retreats and congregational meetings can have components of this type planning. The congregation together should discuss this purpose. And it should be clearly communicated to all involved.

A good Pastor Parish Relations Committee might explore these questions as well. The church needs to have an idea where it is being called, but through open communication and prayer this sense of call can be developed in the committee setting.

As a pastor, most of the frustrations I have felt have come from trying to lead people where they don’t want to go. Sometimes they are stubborn and don’t want to change. Sometimes they have no idea where they want to go. Sometimes they just don’t know where God is leading them. And sometimes they know where God is calling, and the pastor is trying to lead them somewhere else.

Let’s make sure we know where God is leading us. And let’s go together!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Unity

In a small church, there is something that must be present that is sometimes lacking. That something is unity. Usually, when we think of unity in the church we think of the people in the church getting along with each other – being united as a church family and as the people of God.

But there is another unity that is just as important, and that is unity between the congregation and the pastor. For the pastor to be an effective leader, especially in a small church, the congregation has to be behind the pastor. They must be willing to support the pastor, even as much as the pastor supports the people in the church.

There should be a unity of purpose. There should be common goals, a common calling, and a common mission in the church. There should be a feeling that God is calling the congregation to do a work, and the pastor should be called to that same work. There should be a shared mission, God having a purpose for what we do, and that we (pastor and people) are in this together.

I wonder how many churches merely exist because their pastor and the congregation aren’t united about what they should be doing? How many churches all but shut down because they don’t understand their pastor, or their pastor just doesn’t understand them? How much of the work of Christ is undone because congregations and pastors don’t agree on what the work of Christ is in their local community?

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Doing the will of God

It seems from talking to people that the biggest question they often have as they struggle to live their faith is: “How do I know what God is telling me to do?”

I have often advised that they spend time in prayer and in reading the Scriptures, and that will make it easier for them know and understand the will of God. I also tell them there is one other way that most Christians really don’t take advantage of. That is to seek confirmation from other believers.

I encourage you today to find a fellow believer that you respect and whom you know is full of the Spirit, and ask their opinion on an decision that you are trying to make. Ask your Pastor what he or she might think. Discuss it with other believers. If you feel absolutely certain God is calling you to do something, they will agree. If they don’t, it’s probably not of God. Take this step seriously. And don’t just ask for approval – a desire to uplift may get in the way of an honest and heartfelt response. We tend to agree with people we don’t want to offend. So make sure they aren’t just agreeing.

When God ask you do something, others around you will know, too. If they don’t agree, be very careful.

Always seek confirmation of the will of God. And don’t neglect the wonderful resource that fellow believers are.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Praying the SPEM prayer


This morning in Our Daily Bread (RBC Ministries) was a devotion titled SPEM Prayer.


Dave Branon was the author of today's devotion, and he wrote that a friend had asked for prayers, and had said "Spiritually, I am confused, so pray for understanding. Physically I am tired, so pray for rest. Emotionally, I am very weak, so pray for strength. Mentally, I am worried, so pray for peace."


This is an incredible request. Who isn't suffering from confusion and a lack of understanding, who isn't tired, who isn't weak, and who isn't somewhat worried? We all have a need for prayers in the Spiritual, Physical, Emotional, and Mental areas of our life. Not only do you have such needs, but those around you do, too!


Why not think of the SPEM prayers when you pray. When the Lord lifts someone up to you, and you think about them, pray for them Spiritually, Physically, Emotionally, and Mentally.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Praying for weakness

Yesterday I was involved in two prayer services. One was a prayer vigil at our church, another was a community prayer service at another church.

One petition that I kept hearing over and over was a request to strengthen us and make us bold, so that we can do more for God. I even prayed for that myself. But on the way home it occurred to me that really isn't what God desires for us. God doesn't really want us strong and bold - he wants us humble and surrendered to Him! He doesn't even want us doing things for Him, he wants us empty and surrendered so He can do things through us.

We, especially here in America, have this desire to be strong, to be self reliant, to be self sufficient. And that all sounds good, but it's not what God wants for us. When we are weak, God will work through us, and we can do far more with God, than we can ever do without God.

So maybe, instead of praying for strength, we should be praying for weakness. Sounds like a dangerous prayer, but I would rather be weak and filled with God, than strong and on my own!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Today is the National Day of Prayer

Today is the National Day of Prayer.

As the Body of Christ, we are called to be a people of prayer. I hope that you will find time for prayer today. Pray for our nation, our leaders, our troops. Pray for our state, our governor, our state government. Pray for our local leaders, those in our own county and local governments, that they may adaquately serve and represent. Pray for our church, the Body of Christ, that we may adaquately represent Him in our lives.

If you live in the Alfred-Almond area you can come to the Almond Union of Churches anytime today - the church will be open for prayer all day. There is also a prayer vigil scheduled for 10:00 am in the Sanctuary. At 7:00 pm, there is a community prayer service at the Alfred-Almond Bible Church. I encourage you to take advantage of these, or the numorous other opportunites in the region, to come together as the Body of Christ... and pray!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

What do you think of the war?

Today’s post is an invitation to comment on what you think of the war. At the end of this column, you will see the time that this was posted, and then you will see how many comments there are. If you click on the word comments, you will be able to leave your own comment. And I would love to hear from you on this one.

I saw a video yesterday; I think it was a call in to the David Letterman show. I forget the web address where you can see it yourself, but I will look that up and post the address later so you can see it. The caller was a soldier home on a two-week leave. This soldier couldn’t believe what he was seeing in the news. The democratic leadership insisting that the war was lost. He believed in what he was doing in Iraq. He believed that if they had the time and the materials they needed (read money into that statement), that they could accomplish the setting up of an Iraqi government that would represent all the people of Iraq – not just those fundamental ists who were fighting for control. With all my heart I want to believe him.

So I ask you, what do you think? Yesterday marked the four-year anniversary of the end of the war! Yet we will still talk of a war – often in the context of a war already lost. But was the actual war over four years ago? At that time the mission changed to setting up a government that could support itself and defend itself. Has that changed?

And most important, what I would like your comments on is this question: As believers, is there a clear Biblical message that might give us God’s will in this issue. What does the Bible say about it? Have we as the Body of Christ given that question any thought?

Hit the comment button – I want to hear what you think…

God's Omnipotence and Omnipresence

Food for thought... Last Sunday we had a visitor in services.  After service he came forward and introduced himself and told me he had h...