Wednesday, May 9, 2018

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 concerning relationships, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love.

Listen to part two here...


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

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

This week we are starting a new series from the book of Philemon.  It's a short book, so it will be a short series, but we'll look at what Paul has to teach us about relationships, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love.

Listen to part one here...

Leave me a comment, I'd love to hear your thoughts!


Monday, April 30, 2018

Living at Peace


If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Romans 12:18

We’ve been hearing a lot about trying to live at peace with each other lately.  From messages on how to handle conflict to a couple on forgiveness and reconciliation.  Now this idea of living at peace.  I hope that we all know the importance of forgiveness, even Jesus commands that if we don’t forgive that person we are in conflict with, we won’t be forgiven.  But understanding the need for forgiveness, and knowing how to get there are sometimes two very different things.  How do you bridge the gap and start talking again?

Last Tuesday I attended a conference that was put on be the Peacemaker Ministries.  This conference was hosted by the Central NY association of the Wesleyan Churches, but I was able to finagle an invitation, and it was a very good conference.  Peacemaker works with churches and corporations dealing with conflict.  I learned some tips on opening up some conversations, as well as a fairly simple process for achieving peace again.

First, let me point out that not all conflict is a bad thing.  Some conflict or tension is healthy.  It stretches us and grows us, gets us working together, and brings unity.  Other tension is unhealthy and creates division, causes disrespect, and pulls us apart, often involving sinful behavior.  Sometimes it’s possible to turn the unhealthy tension into healthy tension by just recognizing it before it gets too bad.  Rubber band principle.  If it’s unhealthy, it can be made healthy, up until it snaps.

Once it snaps, there are four steps to resolving conflict.  Story – Ascend – Reflect – Connect.

Story – everybody has a story.  Find out what their story is, let them talk.  If you’re at odds, I can almost guarantee that they don’t see things the same way you do.  So let them tell you how they see it.  Let them take as long as they need, start back as far as they need, and don’t interrupt when they tell their story.  We all have different upbringings and different histories.  We all see things differently.  And it’s by understanding how they perceive things that will shed some light on the conflict.  Sometimes it’s helpful to write out the story, underline the basic facts that everyone agrees with, then circle the emotional memories, the statements that have their basis in emotion.  Find some common ground in the story, a place to build on.  You probably won’t find perfect unity, but common ground gives you a start point. 

Ascend – In the Ascend step, you go to God.  You find pertinent verses about God’s presence, His sovereignty, His character, and your identity and calling in Christ.  Pray together to find God’s purpose and calling.

Reflect – Personal reflection on the conflict should be aimed at finding where you need more understanding, to identify your blind spots, what are you missing, what are you contributing to the conflict, what can you overlook and leave at the cross, and what needs to be dealt with.  How can you walk humbly, love mercy, and act justly, in this conflict?

Connect – The connect step is where you work together with the one you’re in conflict with to find a way to move forward again.  There are steps here:  Asking, confessing, seeking, and forgiving.  Ask how you have hurt them, confess using I statements, seek forgiveness from the other person, and truly forgive them, entrusting your pain to God, and giving up any desire for vengeance, any bitterness and resentment, and showing them grace. 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Do you have vision?

Without vision people run wild, but one who listens to instruction will be happy.
Proverbs 29:18 (HCSB)

This passage is always a good guide. It reminds us a little of our purpose on earth as
believers and as followers of Jesus. The word vision isn’t referring to physical sight, but
spiritual sight. It’s where God is calling us to be involved in His work. 

The word is sometimes translated as revelation or purpose. Seeing the word translated as purpose reminds us that the vision we are talking about is the purpose we are here, it’s what we are supposed to be doing. It’s where our focus ought to be. When we have a clear vision, it helps us understand what we should be doing. Every new idea, every ministry we participate in, literally everything we do should be consistent with our vision and help us achieve our vision.

Seeing the word translated as revelation reminds us that it is God who gives us our vision. God reveals to us through His Word, or through a divine touch, what ought to be important to us, where we ought to be focused. And not only churches and organizations should have a vision, but I think every person who follows Jesus should have a vision.

Our personal vision is a word from God, a revelation that gives our life and ministry with Jesus some direction and guidance. Not every believer can be involved in every ministry the church is involved in. But you should look to your personal vision to see which ministries the church is involved in that you should personally be involved in. Your vision is your guide – be involved in those ministries that help you achieve your personal goals, your personal vision.

At First Baptist Church we have a few statements that make up our mission and vision. These will be reviewed and revised in the coming months, but these are our guide now. Our vision at First Baptist is:
Making Christ known in the Twin Tiers and the world.

As a church, everything we do should be focused on this mission. God has called us to make disciples, and everything we do as a church should be focused on achieving that goal. Every board should be working toward achieving that vision.

We’ve gotten a little sideways in the last couple of years. Our focus has been taken off of our vision. But I believe that our boards are ready to move forward. I know that I am. And together, as we Make Christ known in the Twin Tiers and the world, we will be serving God and focused on the mission He has for us. Keep your eyes firmly fixed on Jesus and the vision He has given you.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

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 on to those past hurts.

To hear the message, click the link below.




Feel free to leave a comment, I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, April 20, 2018

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 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.

Sermons from FBC - God's Sovereignty

This week we look at God's Sovereignty.  What does it mean that God is sovereign?  How should we live in light of God's Sovereignty?   I'll give you something to think about, so grab a cup of coffee and enjoy...   

To hear the message click the link below:


   

Hope you enjoy - love to hear your comments!

Friday, March 30, 2018

Two Articles

In a recent newspaper (not local), 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, am I 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???

Love to hear comments...

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Beating Anxiety

Years ago I was part of a group of clergy who took a course through the Center for Family Systems Theory of Western New York.  The name is quite a mouthful, but the premise behind Family Systems Theory sounds good.  Sometimes called Bowen Theory, it 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.

The anxiety we've been feeling in the church, and the conflicts and dissensions that have come up asa . result, I've remembered a little of what I've studied, and I plan on digging it out again and refamiliarizing myself with the theory.  I have been been remember a lot about the role of anxiety in our relationships. We can usually get along with others just fine until anxiety is increased. That’s when things start to boil over, and we start to loose it. But I remember that 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 in our preset church struggle, if we could be an un-anxious presence in the midst of the anxiety around us? Would that make a difference?  When 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. I'm not seeing much calm in our current struggle.  There are a few people trying to stay above it.  But let's all try. Let's try to focus on the positives, and remain a calm and peaceful presence no matter what.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

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 woman 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, March 27, 2018

Character 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…

Monday, March 26, 2018

Sermons from FBC - Palm Sunday!

This week we celebrate Palm Sunday, the day we remember Jesus' triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem.   We remember the colt, the psalm branches, the shouts of hosanna. But do we really understand why He went?  I'll give you something to think about, so grab a cup of coffee and enjoy...   

To read (or listen to message) click here:

Hope you enjoy - love to hear your comments!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Sermons from FBC - Jesus is the Better Isaac

This is the final week in our current series, and we'll be looking at how Jesus is the Better Jonah. We'll see that Jesus is the better and truer Jonah, because while Jonah faced the storm for his own disobedience, Jesus took on the wrath of the storm on the behalf of others.  There will be a lot to unfold, I think you'll learn something, so grab a cup of coffee and enjoy...   

To read (or listen to message) click here:

Hope you enjoy - love to hear your comments!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Understanding God by understanding love...

I have read the book 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, March 15, 2018

Bringing in the harvest

It’s way to soon to do any gardening here in Western New York, but my wife loves to garden. She usually does tomatoes, peppers, squash, and a few other things as the mood strikes, usually with several variations of each.  Each year she tries different things, and year, we are often surprised by what did well, and sometimes, what didn't do well.  

One of the surprises from a few years ago were potatoes. We’ve only grown potatoes once before, and I think we had probably harvested way too late. The plants were all dead and gone – and I mean actually gone - the stems are broken off and rotted away.  I was really hard to know where to dig.

So we went 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 was kind of fun, because you never knew where you’d find them, and when you do find them, you never knew how many you might find, or how big they might be. There were 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 was like hunting for treasure.  This year we discovered container gardening for potatoes, and it had worked out much better.  We just dumped the container out, and there were the potatoes.  No digging!

Before the containers, our approach to finding these potatoes might have seemed 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.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

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… . As always, I'd love to hear your comments...

Monday, March 12, 2018

Sermons from FBC - Jesus is the Better Isaac

This is the third in our sermon series that looks at Christ in the Old Testament.  This week we'll be looking at Abraham when he was asked to sacrifice his only son Isaac.  We'll get an overview of Abraham and Sarah's story, and we'll see how Jesus is the better sacrifice.  There will be a lot to unfold, I think you'll learn something, so grab a cup of coffee and enjoy...   

To read (or listen to message) click here:

    Jesus is the Better Isaac

Hope you enjoy - love to hear your comments!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Sermons from FBC - Jesus is the Better Hosea

This is the third in our sermon series that looks at Christ in the Old Testament.  This week we'll be looking at Hosea.  We'll get an overview of Hosea, and we'll see how Jesus is the better Hosea.  There will be a lot to unfold, I think you'll learn something, so grab a cup of coffee and enjoy...   

To read (or listen to message) click here:

    Jesus is the Better Hosea

Hope you enjoy - love to hear your comments!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Evils of Religion...

A few years ago, I saw a newspaper 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 had a convention. Atheists and agnostics from all around the country attended.

I’m not writing about this so I can jump on them for promoting atheism or agnosticism, just so 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. 

Actually, 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. In fact, it might take a lot more faith to believe what they believe.  However, I will challenge their concerns with religion. They claimed religion - and they were speaking of Christianity - was evil.  I do think they are terribly mistaken on that one.  

I once attended a Fall Missions Festival at the Hunt Baptist Church. 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 small, 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?  Or even here for that matter?

While they believe that religion is an “evil”, it seems to me the charity of the church is helping where no one else is. Locally, in the Waverly area, there are six food pantries in the valley.  All of them run by church organizations.  It’s the church that has the only homeless shelter in our county.  It’s the church that’s helping people put food on their tables. It’s the church that is clothing the poor and feeding the hungry with free meals on Thursday through the Bridge. All of these services are available free of charge to the recipient. 

The church scores very high marks in national tragedies, as well. Several 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. Less than 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. 

The group, Freedom from Religion, calls for a nation without God. I don’t know what a nation without God would look like, but I wouldn’t want to live there. We need each other, and 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 organizations like the Freedom From Religion Foundation. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A Higher Way - A Pastoral Letter from Rev. Dr. Lee Spitzer

I sometimes like to share things of interest from other pastors, and that's what I'm doing today.  The Rev. Dr. Lee Spitzer is the General Secretary for American Baptist Churches - USA, and he recently wrote a pastoral letter addressing what he sees in society today.  Here is an excerpt:

In brief, our culture suffers from a form of spiritual amnesia.  Having forgotten or ignored the Baptist and biblical core conviction of the infinite worth of every human being because we are all made in God's image, many movements and individuals no longer act as if longing one's neighbor is a fundamental and necessary manifestation of a just and healthy society.  We are so quick to judge, denigrate, criticize, attack, and assume to be superior to those with whom we differ.  There is precious little grace, courtesy and mutual respect remaining in American discourse and life.  We must recapture these virtues which can resupply society with much needed social capital.  

This is a very well written document that, I hope, will get you thinking about your position on some issues.  Some of the issues he brings up are considered political issues, and he calls out the need for discourse and biblical thinking wherever you are in the political arena, and whatever your political affiliation. 


He talks about loving our neighbor, and the need to have that love which motivates us to serve all people in need.   He goes on to talk about what that love would look like in the context of racism, immigration, and those who suffer from violence, especially violence in the form of sexual harassment and human trafficking.  And he talks about showing our love to our 114 churches in Puerto Rico who have lost so much from recent hurricanes.

The letter is bit long, but it's well worth a read.  Let me know what you think, I'd love to hear your comments...

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...