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?

Sermons from FBC: Clean Break: A look at relationships from Philemon

This week we it's part 2 of our two week series from the book of Philemon.  It's a short book, but Paul has some good stuff concerni...