Monday, April 30, 2007

Feeding the birds

I love to watch the birds outside our back porch. We have a few bird feeders up, and I enjoy watching the small birds come to visit. I don’t know much about birds, and I can’t identify most of the birds that visit, but I do love to see the occasional cardinal stop by. I also love the yellow finches – we see a lot of these. They are very active, darting from feeder to feeder, then to a nearby bush waiting for another turn.

They never seem to stay very long in one spot. They grab a quick bite, then leave giving another an opportunity. Then just as quickly, they’re back for another quick bite, then off again. Sometimes they go to the bush, sometimes to ground below, sometimes to the roofline. Back and forth, over and over, they are very restless little birds.

In Proverbs 26:2, it reads, “Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest.” Think on that for minute. As much as these little finches dart around, as active as they are, they are like undeserved curses.

When we trust in God for our deliverance, and we are faithful in our lives, we may still see curses, we will most certainly see troubles – but they won’t stay long! And we also have the promise from Romans 8:28 that God will work through these temporary troubles and bring blessings!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Who do you rely on?

Who do you rely on?

We all have people that we rely on. Sometimes these people are people we respect, people that we look up to. Sometimes these people are relied on because of a position, an employer or a teacher – we may respect them or not, but still we have to rely on them to some extent. We may have to rely on family members, yet sometimes they may have let us down in the past.

I stumbled across a verse in Proverbs (25:19) that reads, “Like a bad tooth or a lame foot is reliance on the unfaithful in times of trouble.” That’s in interesting verse, because I can’t think of anybody that wants a bad tooth or a lame foot! That’s an interesting illustration. Yet, while we do all we can to avoid a bad tooth, or a lame foot, and to fix them as soon as they might begin to appear, seeing a dentist or a doctor, we do form alliances with unfaithful people everyday.

Do you rely on someone who is unfaithful in times of trouble? Think over your relationships, your friendships - who do you rely on? Do you have faithful people that you can turn to in times of trouble? Do you have people you can rely on to give you Biblical advice or help steer you in a faithful course?

Why not develop those relationships now – before you need them. Rely on solid people, and you will get solid direction.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Why Zacchaeus?

I was reading in Luke this morning, and I came across the passage when Jesus invited himself to the home of Zacchaeus.

To remind you of the story, Zacchaeus is a tax collector who was known for taking a bit extra from those he collected from, as most tax collectors did. He did this often enough that he was quite wealthy at the time of this story. He was also very short, and little curious about who this Jesus was that he heard so much about.

Because of the crowds already gathered, and his short stature, he couldn’t see anything. So he had a brilliant thought, he climb a nearby tree so he could get a better vantage point. And it worked. I had never thought of that before, I imagine that most places Jesus went, the streets were lined with people who wanted to see him, but I never that maybe the trees were, too!

For Zacchaeus, it worked. He could see Jesus walking down the street, and Jesus could see him. I don’t know if others were in trees too, or how many might have been crowded in the streets, but Jesus selected Zacchaeus. Jesus asked Zacchaeus to come down from the tree, because he would like to visit with him, and eat with him.

Why Zacchaeus? Of all the people crowded around him on the streets. Of the others who may have also crowded into nearby trees for a better vantage point, why Zacchaeus? At the end of this passage is the well known verse, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” There must have been a lot of lost people gathered on the street that day. But Jesus saw something in Zacchaeus. He must seen an openness, a willingness, a desire to be right with God.
What does God see in you? Does he see that same openness, that same willingness, that same desire to be right with Him?

Even Zacchaeus, a wealthy and greedy tax collector, could be made right God. You can be too! God is reaching for you – are you ready for Him, open, willing, and full of desire for him, or are you still hiding in your tree hoping he won’t notice you…

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Being with God in the woods

I was visiting some very dear friends on our way back from vacation. In conversation, I found that he doesn’t go to church anymore. He sends his wife and son, but he doesn’t go.

He claims a real faith, and is a very humble and gentle person, but said that he would much rather go out into the woods and be with God there than in a church. I’ve heard this argument before. In fact, I hear it quite often.

Time alone with God is important. If you find that time alone with God in the woods, great! Go for it! Jesus took time to get away, to go into the wilderness, or up on a mountain, to pray and to be alone with God. That quite time with just you and God is incredibly important.

But Jesus also went to Synagogue every Sabbath. He worshipped God, and listened, and often even taught. But it was very important for Him to go, to be there in the midst of other faithful believers. It’s important for us to be there, too! We are called into a fellowship of believers – and you can’t be in a fellowship by yourself. You can’t be a part of the body of Christ, apart from the body of Christ! We are called to be a part of a very unique community of faith.

Another argument I hear quite often about going to church is that ‘church folk’ are hypocrites. We say all these great things about what we should do and how we should act – but we don’t always do these things, or act that way ourselves. Sadly, sometimes this is true. But that’s why we need to be together as the body of Christ. That’s why we’re called together as a family of believers. None of us is perfect in our faith. All of us have some room for improvement in our Christian walk. And we learn from each other.

The Bible uses the illustration of iron sharpening iron. In the same way, we sharpen each other. We encourage and support and lift each other in a way that nothing else can. An hour in the woods may lift our spirits, but we aren’t encouraged and comforted by that time alone like we could be in a caring church environment.

Not all churches are good at this. If you don’t feel encouraged by the people there, comforted when you’re down, lifted up after spending time with your church family, then maybe that’s not the church for you. The laity of the church should be every bit as welcoming and caring as the pastor of the church. If you don’t feel that way, maybe that’s not the church for you.

My friend has gone through some terrible tragedy, and at first his church family was wonderful and supported them very much. But as it dragged on and even got worse, they began avoiding him. He didn’t feel the support from having a caring church family. And now, a couple of years later, even though he’s moved to a different city, he is still avoiding church. Because when he really needed them the most they weren’t there for him. Maybe that just wasn’t the right church for him.

If you have strayed from church attendance, I encourage you go back. Find a church where you are welcomed, comforted, and encouraged, yet is true to the Word of God. I assure you that it will make a difference in your life that an hour an in the woods just can’t!

Responding to Tragedy

The shocking tragedy at Virginia Tech stunned our nation. This was a shocking example of evil among us. While I would never say that Cho Seung Hui was evil, most would agree that at the end, during the rampage, that he was filled with evil, even overcome by evil.

Some use examples like this to indicate that there can’t be a God. That a loving and caring God would never allow things like this to happen. Yet they do. They happen at an increasing frequency. Does this mean that there is no god? Does this mean that God doesn’t care? Does this mean that we are wasting our time calling out to God? Some feel this way.

I don’t feel this way. I don’t see this as an indication that God is not present at all. Instead, I see things like this as a sign of how much we need Him. I see tragedy as a reminder that we have no hope outside of our relationship with God. We can’t trust the system; we can’t trust our colleges and universities – as wonderful as they may be. When we do, we feel frustrated, we loose control, and we loose hope.

We as a people are reminded of this loss of hope when tragedy comes. In fact, maybe that’s why we’re so shocked. We think we are doing okay. We think things are working out well. We think our society is just fine as it is. And then the worst happens, and we find out that’s not the case. And we’re shocked.

The Billy Graham Association is calling for churches all over America to pray for the victims’ families today, Sunday, April 22, 2007. Pray, for the police and rescue crews who saw so much horror last week. Pray for the community that was so stunned. Pray. Whether you prayed in church this week or not, just take a moment now, and bow your heads, and pray.

In the end, that’s the response that this kind of tragedy should bring. Bowing our heads and turning to God.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Running verses Relaxing

Today is the last day of our vacation. We begin home tomorrow, visiting some friends in Tennessee on the way. It has been fun. More importantly, it has been relaxing! We have several friends here in Brooksville from our ten years living in the area. In previous years, we’ve tried to see them all, and we wound up running from place to place, and went home even more tired than when we left. It wasn’t relaxing, but it was good to catch up with them and see them again.

This year, we didn’t run. We only caught up with one special friend, who has three children, very close in age to our own. It was a fun visit. The rest of the time we did things that would help us as a family to relax and enjoy our time on vacation.

We heard that a sail club that we used to belong was having a meeting while we were here, and we visited for the evening. It was fun and brought back fond memories. We thought about renting a sailboat for an afternoon, but couldn’t find a place locally. We did rent a small johnboat and motored up the Weeki Wachi River. It was beautiful, and we saw lots of wildlife. Loads of fish – big fish – several turtles, and the highlight of the trip, we saw four manatees! It was a wonderful afternoon in a very peaceful setting.

We missed visiting our friends. We’ll touch base when we get home. But we relaxed and we had fun. I know that there is nothing better for a Christian than building relationships. But sometimes, you just need time for yourselves.

God's Timing

We are on vacation in Florida this week, visiting my parents. We used to live here for ten years, and we really loved it. At that time, I was in the insurance business, and due to some extreme tightening of the insurance markets here in Florida, we decided to move back to New York.

However, even at that time, I was feeling God’s call into ministry. I even had a number of lunches with my Pastor at the time, Bill Hopkins, who served at the Spring Hill Baptist Church. But I never got around to telling him of my call.

I’ve been wondering about that. What would have happened had I told Pastor Bill? What if I had heeded God’s call then? God was calling, but I wasn’t listening. And as it was, when I finally did listen, it was difficult. Seminary was a struggle with two young children and a full time job. I did well, and God saw me through, but the timing in my life wasn’t the best. God had the timing in place, but I didn’t see it at the time.

If you sense God is calling you to something, heed that call. I may not be to pastoral ministry, it might be a child’s ministry, it might be a singing ministry, or a teaching ministry. Whatever it is, listen to God. His plans will prevail, the question is timing. God’s timing is always best. I waited and answered in my time – and now, years later, I see that His timing would have been best.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Peace and Quiet

I think that something that is missing in most people is the opportunity to spend time alone. To find and enjoy peace and quiet.

There is no denying that we live in a fast paced world. But as people of God, can we find time to back off the fast pace from time to time, to find some peace and quiet, and just be with God?
Moses had perhaps two million Jewish people he was responsible for. He served as their judge, hearing their disputes. Yet, he went up to Mount Sinai to be alone with God.
Jesus often had crowds pressing in from every side, at times impossible to even move. Yet He would regularly go into the wilderness or up on a mountain, or just out of the house, to be alone with God.
We too need time alone with God. We are wired that way. And we are stressed when we don’t get it. So I encourage you to find a way to build some quiet time into each day. Use that time for prayer and Scripture reading, but also to be with God. Don’t forget to just be with Him.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Time off to hike

Easter time is an incredibly busy time for a pastor. And I have to admit that I am tired!

It seems that we have been going non-stop for a couple of weeks now, but we saw it coming. So we are taking a vacation. For the next two weeks I am off (watch the wisecracks!). The posts might be a little sporadic, but I will share some reflections on the way.

We are going to Florida to visit my parents. This is a great time of year to leave Western New York for a couple of weeks and head to Florida. Today we spent in Asheville, North Carolina visiting my niece Crystal. We did some hiking in the Mount Pisgah Forest – what a great place! Afterward we went to a wonderful restaurant in the downtown section. A very enjoyable day!

It was a day that God was clearly seen in the little things. Sitting by a reservoir after a three mile hike in was so peaceful. I was thinking about what the Garden of Eden might have looked like, and I bet it wasn’t terribly different – without the fruit trees (but they caused a lot of trouble in the Garden of Eden anyway.).

It struck me how many people have seen this sight before, and I wondered how many have seen God so clearly there. Some don’t see Him. But I know that as we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us, and we will be able to see evidence of His presence! We experienced peace today in His presence. It was a good day!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Sacred Saturday? Or life as usual...

Today is the Saturday between Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified, and Easter, when He was raised, the empty tomb discovered.

Ideally, this should be a day of reflection. The entire season from Ash Wednesday, really is a time of reflection. But none so much as today.

I say ideally because this year more than any other, the world has encroached on our Sacred Saturday. Because of our Passover Seder Service Thursday, and the plans for the Easter Sunrise Service (both of which are new this year), the Easter morning message is not yet done. In fact, I’m struggling with it. There is some pressure knowing that we will have a chance to reach visitors we don’t normally see. And I want to make our service as welcoming and meaningful for them as I can.

Yet, of all days, this happens to be the day selected for a ministry we are hoping to work with to hold their mandatory training program. My wife will take my place (what a blessing she is!). My daughter has a dance class and will need to be delivered. And we are leaving Monday morning for a vacation. Today is the day that we should be packing and getting all ready to go. Tomorrow (after services) will be spent with family, which means some additional preparation on some dishes we are taking for dinner.

So much to do on this day, yet I feel sad. Almost mournful. Is it Jesus? Am I mourning the death of my Savior, remembering the suffering he endured on my behalf? Or am I mourning the loss of a very special day – a Holy day in it’s own right? On this day that I should be very quiet, the world goes on, and I am very busy, and because of that, I feel that I am missing something very special.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

A Passover Seder

Easter is almost upon us. Today is Maundy-Thursday. On this day we remember four separate events that happened to Jesus: the washing of the disciples feet, the institution of the Last Supper, the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the betrayal by Judas. This was certainly an important day, yet much of the Christian Church doesn’t remember it.

We had a Passover Seder here at the church last year. I had a friend from a previous church (raised Jewish) who came in and led us, and he did a great job. During that service he said something that I will probably never forget. When we celebrate communion in our churches, we look to Jesus and we remember the words, “as often as you do this, do this in remembrance of me.” We recite it as if He was talking about just the bread and the cup. But remembering the context of his doing this – the Passover Seder – could He be indicating that as often as we celebrate the Passover, celebrate it in remembrance of Him? Could it be He was directing us to continue the Passover?

The Christian Church, for the most part, doesn’t celebrate the Passover. I wonder if we should be? We are having a Passover Seder at our church again this year – this evening. We aren’t doing the entire meal - we’re having a dish-to-pass (we’re very good at dish-to-pass dinners) – but we are remembering the Seder meal.

There is a point in the Seder when there is some ritualistic washing – could this be when he washed His disciples feet?

There is a point in the Seder just before they drink of the final cup – the Cup of Praise – that they sing a song called the Hallel. Could it be that the song that they sang in Mark 14:26, just before leaving to go to the Mount of Olives, was the Hallel? Could it be that they skipped the fourth cup, the cup of praise? We know that He wrestled in prayer about the cup of suffering He was about to drink from – the arrest, the torture, the crucifixion. Could it be he skipped the Cup of Praise?

We know how the story ends! We know of His victory over death. We can praise. But we can also remember. If you an opportunity to join in on a Passover Seder, I encourage you to do so. There is so much symbolism in the Seder that points to Jesus as the Messiah it is remarkable. What better way can we remember Jesus than honoring this …

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Why "do" Church?

This week I have naturally been reflecting a lot about Easter and it’s meaning for us as Christians. Easter Sunday is one of those very rare Sundays when you know you will have visitors in your church, and you want everything to be just right. Because it would be really great if these visitors would return the following week, and become regulars.

We will make sure that things are clean, attractive, and welcoming. We hope and pray our people will be clean, attractive and welcoming. But in the end, we’re all just people. We’re all somewhat dirty, somewhat foul, and somewhat . I know, it seems a little hard to believe. But if we weren’t, we wouldn’t be coming to church on Sunday either. We need church. We need God’s Holy Spirit to be alive in us and to work in us. We need it, as much as anybody else needs it.

We think about those outside the church, but all the while, we are reminded that what we do in church is motivated out of our need for a Savior, and our love for our Savior. Yes, people who don’t attend church every Sunday need a Savior – but not more than we.

When all is said and done, we don’t come to church Easter Sunday because “they” need it, because of the visitors we know will be there. We come to church because we need it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Bright Sunday

The week after Easter is recognized in some churches as Bright Sunday. It is a Sunday when people are moved to the point of hilarity at the good news of the resurrection. Often, it recognizes Satan’s efforts to thwart God’s plan, and Jesus’ ultimate victory over the grave.

As I understand it, many churches have services with lots of jokes and laughter. In a sense, we had a kind of Bright Sunday this last Sunday – on April Fools day! There was a lighthearted spirit in church Sunday. And the message was one you might hear on Bright Sunday.

We spoke of several tricks, from famous April Fools pranks (do you remember the left-handed Whopper from Burger King, or the Taco Liberty Bell?) to some memorable pranks played on us over the years. We shared some jokes and riddles. Then, with the joking and tricks in mind, we took a new look at the familiar Easter Story – concentrating on Satan’s role in the events.

We saw the jealousy on Palm Sunday, when people lined the streets shouting Hosanna – save us now! We saw the plotting to stop Jesus, the evil trickery of trying to capture Him, the scheme to put him to death. We saw how Satan entered Judas so that he would betray Christ. We saw Satan’s working through the Chief Priests and Pharisees during the mock trail – not even close to legal according to Jewish Law. Finally the crucifixion. Satan worked hard to defeat Jesus, but never realized he was playing right into God’s hands. God foresaw everything Satan would try. And Jesus was the victor!

Holy Week is a solemn time when we remember the betrayal, the arrest, and the ultimate crucifixion, horrible death and quick burial of Jesus. But it is capped off with a final victory! The tomb is empty. Christ is risen. A victory that each of us, as part of the Body of Christ, has a share in.

Faith First

  Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  Taking him...