Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Spiritual Thirst...

This weeks message continues the series on the Statements from the Cross. This week, we look at the statement, "I am Thirsty."

Often, I think that as we look at a Scripture passage, we can see different layers. Often the first of these layers is the literal meaning. It means just what it says. When Jesus said He was thirsty, it means that He was really thirsty.

It had probably been close to twenty-four hours at this point since He had anything to eat or drink. That coupled with a massive blood loss from the beatings and floggings, he was really thirsty.

But in this verse, I think there is another level, a spiritual level, in which Jesus thirsts. Taking on the sin of the world, feeling forsaken by God, separated from God by our sin, Jesus has a real thirst.

Click here to read the message...

Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 27, 2009

What happened to sola scriptura...

I wrote yesterday about the issue of ordination of gays and lesbians as leaders in the Church. I was reflecting on this a lot more in the last couple of days, and I wonder if this issue, like so many others we are facing now or will be facing soon, might just be symptoms of an even larger problem… (here’s where your comments are welcome…)

Perhaps the real underlying issue is our view of Scripture. I wrote yesterday that there are many, even in the church, who deny that the Bible is truly inspired by God. Instead they hold the view that it is a book about how people lived their faith years and years ago, and we have much to learn from them, but it’s not authoritative.

We didn’t have these conversations 100 years ago, because we saw the Bible as God’s inspired Word. The Bible says no, so the answer is no. No room for conversations. Now that fewer people still hold that view, we are forced to begin to address these issues.

The problem for me in all of this is that it leaves things rather unsettled. There is nothing concrete, and everything becomes open for discussion. Everything is in flux and open for differing interpretations.

It seems to me that from the beginning, there were two primary ways that we find authority in religious matters. From the early church right up to the reformation, Scripture and tradition were the primary standards for finding authority. They looked at Scriptures, and they looked at the way the church had done things in the past. During the reformation, there was a push to remove tradition. The charge was made that the Church had gotten it wrong, so we can’t use them as a guide to how things should be done. Martin Luther was known for saying sola scriptura (by scripture alone). It reflects the idea that the Bible is the only authority needed for Christian faith, and that it contains all the knowledge necessary for our salvation. It’s all we need.

Lately, perhaps in the last 50 years or so perhaps, a second authority has been introduced, that of the Holy spirit. As believers we all have equal access to the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit will speak to us. What is the Holy Spirit telling us? I agree that this is a valid question.
To me, I believe this still needs to be balanced by Scripture. The Holy Spirit will never tell us anything that doesn’t agree with Scripture. To me, Scripture is the reference point that helps discern that what we feel the Spirit is telling us is really from God, and not a worldly voice, or even a satanic voice.

Without a reference point, how do we know if the voice we hear is from God, from the world, from the devil, or just from that burrito we had last night?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Being stretched...

I have had a week that is really stretching what I think it means to be in communion with the Body of Christ.

Personally I believe that the Bible is God's Holy and inspired Word, but at a Presbytery meeting Tuesday, I was reminded that not everybody does. The Presbytery voted on the issue of removing an amendment from the denomination constitution which would allow the Gay and Lesbian Community access to the leadership, both local church leadership (church elders and deacons) and clergy leadership (Ministers of Word and Sacrament.

I spoke out against the issue, which was a vote to approve an amendment deleting the requirement for sexual morality, as a requirement for ordination. Many spoke out against the issue, all relying in some way on Scriptural Authority - the Bible says this is not appropriate. Many others spoke out for the change for many different reasons. It became very clear that for those that don't believe the Bible is inspired, the arguments that were made based on Scriptural Authority didn't carry any weight. Perhaps the question becomes, how do we make a valid argument without Scripture, since some don't believe it's inspired.

In the end, a vote was taken to remove the requirement for sexual morality as a qualification for leadership in a church. I really struggle with that decision.

Then yesterday I attended a conference on the Emergent Church Movement. I wasn't all that aware of the Emergent Church Movement, but I had heard some not so flattering things spoken of it. I wanted to see for myself.

While at times my understanding was stretched even more, I have to admit that at the end of the day, I wondered if I might have more in common with the Emergent Church Movement than I do with Presbyterians today.

In both cases I was stretched, and I think a new normal will settle in as I reflect on both experiences. In the end, I think that's what God is calling us all to do.

Don't be afraid to be stretched. Seek the understanding of the Holy Spirit when you are, and let a new normal settle in. That's how we grow.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Solitude...

The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.

C.S. Lewis

How Clearly Can You See?

This is a story about a small seacoast village in England that routinely would become covered by dense fog. The pride of that village was a lighthouse that had been built on the north end of town where the harbor was navigable and free from the huge rocks that dotted the rest of the coast. One night the villagers had gathered on the south end of town to celebrate a local holiday. Part of that celebration included the building of a large bonfire on the beach.

That same night, a ship in the vicinity developed engine trouble. The ship's captain, after checking his maps and charts, decided to locate on the beam from that village lighthouse and put in at that harbor for repairs. As he scanned the horizon through the fog, he caught sight of a faint glimmer of light. Thinking it to be the beam from the lighthouse, he set his course on it to go ashore.

As he came closer to land, he began to see the light more clearly and realized it was not the lighthouse but the bonfire. Quickly he changed course, later discovering that he had been only 100 yards away from one of the largest sunken boulders in that area and certain destruction of his ship. It made a difference how clearly he could see!

How clearly can you see Jesus? What do you see?

From Paul E. Flesner, Sermons for Sundays in Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, CSS Publishing Company

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Why?

This Sunday we continued the sermon series on the final words of Jesus.

The first three statements from the cross were all statements of compassion. "Father, forgive them..." "Today, you will be with me..." "Woman, behold your son..."

The fourth statement from the cross was very different. "My God, my God, Why..." There's no compassion. If anything there is anger. What happened in Jesus from the caring provision of His mother's physical needs last week, to this statement of frustration and agony this week...

You can read the message by clicking here.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Statements From the Cross: Woman, Behold Your Son...


This week's sermon message was part three in our series on Jesus' last words. Today, we looked at his words to Mary, "Woman, behold your son."

If you remember this passage, Jesus is hanging from the cross, sees His mother standing there with her closest friends, and one of His disciples, John, standing nearby. After this scene, John took Mary into his household, and cared for her the rest of her life. According to legend, she was even with him in his years of exile on the island of Patmos.

It amazes me as we study Jesus' last words, that the first three of these statements involve Jesus, brutally beaten and hung on a cross to die, speaks to people out of compassion and love for those he speaks to. If you haven't thought of this before, I encourage you to read the message in it entirety. There is even a link to listen to the message... To read or listen now, click here.

Thanks for reading!

When is cloning not cloning?

I'm finding myself very concerned about a growing possibility, and here is a chance for you to share your thoughts on this.

President Obama, just last week or so, signed a bill that will remove the regulations regarding federal funding of stem cell research on embryonic stem cells. The biggest issue has been, and I think, will continue to be, where these embryonic cells come from.

My first concern is that they will come from aborted fetuses. This is probably the most likely scenario. My concern here is that it is an attempt to add credibility to the abortion industry. Some will say, "it can't be all bad, look at the good that comes from it." It's still a moral wrong, and we should still be outraged. And trying to make something good come from something that is morally wrong is the wrong direction to go.

I have another concern that may come out of this. I read on the Crosswalk.com website an editorial by Albert Mohier titled The Fetus as Organ Factory: The Next Moral Frontier? In this article, he wrote,
From London, the Daily Mail reported late last week that Oxford Professor Sir Richard Gardner now proposes that organ tissues from aborted fetuses might represent "at least a temporary solution" to the shortage of available organs for transplant.

As the Daily Mail reported:

Kidneys and livers from aborted foetuses could be given to the desperately ill and ease the organ donor shortage, a leading scientist has claimed.
Might we see an entire medical industry built on the use of aborted fetuses? What do you think? Any moral issues? Your comments are appreciated...

Reinventing Worship - Part 2


Last week I talked about the first part of my retreat at the New York State Ministry Council. The retreat was titled Reinventing Worship, and was put on by Brad Berglund, author of a book by the same title.

I thought that the second part of the retreat would include several other points, like those I highlighted in the last post. It really didn't, instead we talked about a number of examples that we can try in our churches. Essentially, they are different ways of doing things that we're already doing.

Too often, we do things the same way for so long, that they become a routine or habit, with no thought required to do it each week. But we can't enter into the presence of God without thinking! We have to open to Him, we have to be expecting to meet Him. These ideas are ways to open ourselves up to meet with Him.

A couple of small changes that we started this last Sunday involve finding ways to open ourselves up to experience real worship. First, we moved the announcements to the end of the service, at the time of the benediction. Worship requires preparation, and at the beginning of worship, we have to prepare to meet with God. Just as we begin this preparation, we are reminded of all the things coming up this week, most of which are already down, and we probably won't remember them after our time of worship anyway. At the end of worship, we come to a part of the service where we send people out again after encountering God. That seems like a better place for announcements.

The second small change we made was a change in the name of the prelude. We now call it "Pray lude." The idea being, again, that this is the time when we should be preparing our hearts and minds to encounter God. It should be a queit time of reflection.

Other minor changes may be made as we try to refocus ourselves on what worship really is, and how we can do it so that we can truly offer something that will please God...

Your comments on worship are appeciated. If you were there Sunday, what did you think?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Reinventing Worship...

Today, I am in Utica at a retreat for the American Baptist Minister's Council, where the theme is Reinventing Worship. Brad Bergland is the presenter; and also the author of two books: Reinventing Sundays and Reinventing Worship.

Brad suggests that there are six key componants to real and authentic worship. Today, we covered the first three...

1. Worship is a journey... a pilgrimage into the mystery and majesty of God. As such, there are three primary componants: i) Evocation - we invite God in, and we draw out of ourselves to meet Him. ii) Intimate - We hold nothing back, offering all we are to God. iii) Transparent - allowing God's light to shine through us, allowing God to easily see into us.

2. Worship is a pilgrimage... Three componants here also: i) Intentional Preperation - we come prepared to worship, prepared to enter God's presence. ii)Tranformational experience - We are changed by our time with God. iii) Purposeful integration - how do we integrate that experence? How do we re-enter life after transformation?

3. Worship is a verb... It is what the gathered people have come to do for God. Everyone needs to be involved with meaningful activities, it is for everyone. There are no spectators, everyone is involved.

A final thought: Why do we actually come together to worship? Why do we do it? Because God is so awesome and so excellant that being in His presence draws praise out of us.

Today, you will be with me...

This week, we continued our series on the last words of Jesus. The second statement from the cross is one that give us all great hope. "Today, you will be with me in Paradise."

Have you wondered if you have done enough? Have you wondered what you are missing before you can enter into the Kingdom of Heaven? How much more is enough? If you ever wondered any of these questions, this passage can give you hope.

The criminal on the cross that Jesus spoke these words to never did anything. Yet Jesus said, "Today, you will be with me in Paradise." He never even attended a synagogue service that we know of, never served on committee, never reached out to the poor at all, unless it was steal something.

In Jesus' words, He is telling us that those aren't the things that get you into heaven. It's faith, and only faith, that allows us to enter the Kingdom. And the man came to faith while hanging on the cross...

To read the message in it's entirity, click here.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Divorce Classes...

I heard on the radio this morning that in the state of Texas, courts will begin requiring that couples seeking a no-fault divorce to take an eight hour class before the court will proceed. The idea behind the class is to try to reconcile couples and decrease the divorce rate, which is in many areas as high as 50%.

Well done Texas! I certainly hope that other states will follow suite. I have to admit, though, that I am afraid the ACLU will strongly object... It seems that those things that most benefit families are on the ACLU's hit list. I'm all for civil liberties, and I'm sure they do some good, but I'm also all for families.

So Texas, you have some good ideas - hold your ground and it will make a difference. I'd love to hear your comments...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Come, Follow Me...

This afternoon, I am doing a devotion for a Lenten Lunch at the First Baptist Church in Hornell. Here is the text of the devotion for your reading pleasure...



“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Matthew 3:19-20

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Matthew 16:24

The first of these verses, “Come, Follow me,” we know is when Jesus originally called the first of His disciples. Andrew and Simon, later known as Peter, were fishermen, and Jesus is walking along the shore while they are casting out their nets. He calls out to them, invites them to follow Him, and they drop everything right there on the shore, and follow Him.

A little later, just a couple of verses later really, they come upon James and John, who were also fishermen. They were sitting in their boats, but either pulled up on shore or tied up somehow, and they were preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and they too, immediately dropped everything, leaving it all in the boat, and they followed Jesus.

Much later, in chapter 9, we see the time when Jesus comes across Matthew, a tax collector, sitting at the tax collectors booth. Verse 19 says: “’Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.”

In all three cases, the response was immediate, and the people followed him. These are the five disciples that we are told about how Jesus called them to follow Him. But I am sure that with the other seven, it was pretty much the same thing. Jesus happened upon them, invited them to follow Him, and they immediately dropped everything that they were doing and followed Jesus.

We tend to think of only the twelve as disciples. But really a disciple is a follower of a particular teacher, or one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another. In reality, as Believers, we are all disciples. Anyone who has answered Jesus’ call to follow Him is by definition a disciple. And that’s really our call as Christians – you may be involved in a variety of ministries – Jack n’ Jill, Stephen’s Ministries, Sunday School, Bible Studies, that all great, that’s necessary for the success of this church or any other church, but our first and primary calling is just to follow Jesus.

This really convicted me about three weeks ago when I read a devotion based on the second verse we shared earlier in a devotional book by Henry Blackaby titled Experiencing God Day-By-Day. As I read that devotion, I kept thinking about how we are supposed to be following Jesus, yet most of us really don’t know where Jesus is, or what He is doing, or where He is currently working. I have to admit I don’t think I can answer those questions most of the time. How can we really follow Him if we don’t know at least that much?

As I began thinking about that, I realized how much we do for Jesus. We’re busy as Christians today. I don’t know about you folks, but there is a core group of ten or twelve people in Almond that I’m going to see everyday for twelve days. Between committee meetings, our council meeting, Bible Studies, Worship Services, and other ministries that we do together; Twelve days straight, we’ll see each other every day. That’s busy. We do a lot for Jesus!

But were we really called to do things for Jesus, or were we called to follow Jesus. When we follow Jesus, we listen for that “still small voice” that leads us. We spend a lot of time in prayer looking for guidance. And when we have ideas, we look to make sure that Jesus is there. Then we follow. When we really follow Jesus, we look for where Jesus is already working, and we join Him in what he’s already doing.

Isn’t it really easy for us to take God’s presence for granted? Isn’t it easy to think that as long as we are working for the church or as long as we are doing something for God, that God will be there? It’s almost like because Jesus said He would be with us always, we assume that He will follow us wherever we go (Matthew 28:20). But Jesus doesn’t follow us; He called us to follow Him. We aren’t supposed to ask God to join us in our work; we’re supposed to listen for His invitation to become involved in His work.

Following Jesus requires an intimate relationship with Him so we know where He is and what He is working at. It requires daily prayer, daily reading Scripture, daily devotions, and regular fellowship with other believers. When we commit to following him, we’ll begin to see more and more clearly where He is leading us, and where He wants us to be working. And when we are obedient, we will see that much easier the next time. And the more we follow, the more we are obedient, the easier it will become to know where He is working, and how He wants us to help Him.

The Church is too busy working, doing things, hoping Jesus will bless our efforts. That’s not what Jesus wants. He wants us to drop our own agenda, like the disciples dropped their nets, and follow Him. Can we commit, especially now at the beginning of this Season of Lent, to really follow.

I really encourage you, as we begin this time of reflection during Lent, to really think about where Jesus is calling you. What work is He already doing, Where is He working around you now, and how does He want you to help. And when you hear Him, follow Him.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Statements from the Cross…

This week at Almond Union of Churches, we started a new sermon series titled, Statements From the Cross." Each Sunday during the Season of Lent we are looking at one of the seven statements that Jesus made from the cross.

This week, the first statement from the cross, was "Father, Forgive them, for the do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34a) Badly beaten, tortured, and hung on a cross to die, Jesus forgave those who put Him there, and prayed for those who persecuted Him so harshly.

Each of us probably has someone that we don't get along with terribly well. We might even consider them an enemy. We certainly don't consider them a friend. Can you forgive that person? Can you pray for that person? It might not sound easy, you might not even want to try, but Jesus gave us a model in how He died, that can truly show us how to live to the fullest. Forgiveness is a necessary step.

I encourage you to read this week's message, Statements From the Cross: Father, Forgive Them. There is an audio recording as well, if you would rather listen to it.

Thanks for reading.

Is Lax Christianity still Christianity?

I am always worried about the almost lax attitude that some people have about their faith. I remember reading a devotion in  Indeed  (Walk ...