Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Understanding God by understanding love...

I have started reading a new book called 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, October 25, 2007

Faith in the World Series...

I’m not what you might call a huge baseball fan, but I have been watching more of this year than ever before. And being from this part of New York, I’m a Yankees fan – a little disgruntled right now, but a Yankees fan none the less.

Now as a Yankee fan, I also route for whatever team Boston plays. The Red Sox are the Yankees arch rivals on the top of the American League East, and it doesn’t matter what time of the year it is, a Boston loss is good news for a Yankees fan.

The dilemma is, who to route for now that the World Series has started, and my beloved Yankees are not playing. History has it that I should route for whatever team the Red Sox is playing, but I had never heard much about the Colorado Rockies – until today! And what I heard has made me a Rockies fan.

Chuck Colson’s Breakpoint Commentary for yesterday, October 24, talks about the Rockies organization:

The Rockies are the first major league sports franchise organized on specifically Christian principles. That does not mean that the Rockies only sign Christian players. General Manager Dan O’Dowd told USA Today that while he knows “some of the guys who are Christians,” he “can’t tell you who is and who isn’t.”

The Rockies’ way means “[doing] the best job [they] can to get [the right] people with the right sense of moral values . . .” To that end, prospective Rockies are interviewed to see if they are compatible with the Rockies’ approach.

Once players join the Rockies, they are put in an environment that reinforces these values: “Quotes from Scripture are posted in the weight room. Chapel service is packed on Sundays. Prayer and fellowship groups each Tuesday are well-attended.”

…With all the news these days about steroids, cheating, and felony arrests, modern-day pro sports needs a story about the good guys. And athletes need the reminder that it is possible to excel both as a player and as a human being—that character counts.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds good to me. I’ll support the Christian organization over a secular organization any day – especially if I don’t have to route for a rival!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A visit with mom...

I have started taking a new class in Buffalo, a little over two hours away.

An advantage of traveling that far is that I drive right through East Aurora, where my mother-in-law lives. I have a good relationship with mom, but we don’t talk much. I talk with my parents weekly, and Sandy talks with her mom weekly, but I don’t talk with her mom much at all.

So this class gives me an opportunity to stop by and see her, at least every other week. Last night was my first stop, and we had a wonderful evening. I really enjoyed it, and I think that she did, too.

It’s a shame how those in ministry sometimes get so busy taking care of others that their own family gets left behind. I try to be conscious of that, and intentionally stay close to my immediate family – there are times when business prevails, but we make up for it. But yet the extended family is another matter. So I’ll try to stay closer.

I hope that you will, too. If we can’t keep our own family together, what right do have to speak to others? Don’t neglect those family relationships. They are very important.

And thanks mom, I really enjoyed dinner…

Monday, October 22, 2007

Working to bring in a harvest...

It’s very late in the year to do much gardening here in Western New York, but my wife was working in the garden yesterday. We still have much that needs harvesting, and she pulled another box of tomatoes off vines (she’s already canned about 40 quarts, and a few quarts of spaghetti sauce), several winter squash, and some other assorted surprises.

One of the surprises were some potatoes. We’ve never grown potatoes before, and we probably should have pulled them out of the ground some time ago. At this point, the plants are all dead, and actually gone – the stems are broken off and rotted away and it’s very hard to know where to dig.

Sandy (my wife) was just digging 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’s kind of fun, because you never know where you’ll find them, and when you do find them, you never know how many you’ll find, or how big they will be. There are 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’s like hunting for treasure.

While our approach to finding these potatoes might seem 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.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

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…

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The evils of religion...

In Sunday’s Hornell Tribune, I read an 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 will be having a convention in Madison, Wisconsin. Atheists and agnostics from all around the country will be attending.

I’m not going to jump on this foundation for promoting atheism or agnosticism, but 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.

But rather, 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.

However, I will challenge her concerns with religion. I attended a Fall Missions Festival at the Hunt Baptist Church on Saturday night. 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 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?

While they believe that religion is an “evil”, it seems to me the charity of the church is helping where no one else is. Right here in Almond, it’s the church that runs the local food pantry (In fact, all but one food pantry in a 6 county area is located in a church or ministry building). It’s the church that has the only homeless shelter in our community in the form of our Samaritan’s Loft. It’s the church that’s helping people put food on their tables in the form of our Angel Food Ministry. It’s the church that is clothing the poor and feeding the hungry with free meals on Fridays through the Wellspring Ministries in Angelica. It’s the church that helps with an organization in Hornell called Faith in Action, reaching out and helping seniors with a very wide range of things – from transportation to medical appointments to home maintenance tasks – all free of charge to the recipient.

The church scored very high marks in national tragedy, as well. A few 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. Only about 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.

So I don’t know what a nation without God would look like, but I wouldn’t want to live there. We need each other, 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 the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Another thought on when God seems distant...

Here is another thought on those times when God seems distant.

John Chrysostom, in a commentary on the Prodigal Son, wrote, “When words would not convince us, God often leaves us to learn from the things that happen to us.”

Have you ever seen someone who denies God, or at least doesn’t live for Him, asking how God could allow something dreadful? I saw a lot of that after 9/11. I see some of it after every school shooting. In fact, I see some of it after nearly every tragedy. It may be a natural reaction. Even when we don’t live for God, perhaps we know subconsciously that He is there, and we wonder how could He allow something so devastating.

Perhaps God is leaving us to ourselves. Perhaps He is letting us see a life devoid from His presence. If we insist on living separate from God, He lets us. And the things that happen to us are not of God at all.

So next time God seems distant, make sure it’s not you that’s wandered away.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

When God seems distant...

In a book I’m reading, Sacred Reading, The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina, by Michael Casey, he brings out something that I think deserves some reflection.

He talks about times when God seems absent. There are times, I suppose when you start any new discipline, that spiritual growth comes quickly, and you feel it. But then there are times, often after doing the same discipline for some time, that spiritual growth doesn’t seem to come at all. It almost seems that God has moved on and has left you alone.

Aldous Huxley calls this phenomenon “induction” – the principal that “every positive begets its corresponding negative.” Casey writes, “Any striving after specific virtues is followed by an almost irresistible tendency to backslide.”

I don’t know if I agree with that exactly, but I know that in my own life my spiritual growth has been very cyclical. I experience highs of incredible growth and special closeness with God, followed by times of dryness and distance from God. I suppose all of you have experienced something similar to this.

Perhaps the positive in this is that this happens to everyone. Maybe it goes back to our sinful nature. Maybe any commitment toward God brings up an unconscious pulling away. Maybe it is a spiritual battle being fought, the enemy not willing to give up on us. Whatever it is, the key to moving on is persistence on our Bible Study, in our devotions, in our prayers, and in our disciplines.

God is there, even when you don’t feel him. Persist in moving toward him, and I bet you will feel him again…

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Worship Styles

I had an opportunity to attend a Pastor’s Appreciation breakfast sponsored by Houghton College. Houghton has put together a Master of Art in Theological Studies, so part of the reason for doing this breakfast was to introduce and advertise their new Masters level program.

Still, they had a wonderful breakfast, and then a message by Michael Walters, the Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Houghton. Walters said that many churches are polarized at one extreme or another in their style of worship.

To illustrate this, he told of a recent trip to Australia with some students. The first church they attended was very informal, so much so that in the middle of the message people would get up and get some coffee and goodies, conveniently located in the sanctuary. This was just way to informal for his liking. The following week, they attended a service at a very formal Episcopalian church, very High Church, with an incredible choir that sang only in Latin. Much of the elements of the worship service almost seemed to be in code for the students there, they were lost.

I suppose that the best place for a church to be is somewhere in the middle. Visitors need to be comfortable enough in our worship service that they can follow along, and know what we do and why we do it, yet it needs to be formal enough to experience the holy. Symbols can help, the practice of the Sacraments can help, the lighting of the Alter Candles can help.

Our Worship Style needs to appeal to the surrounding culture enough that they will be comfortable joining us, yet formal enough to give them a taste of the divine.

How do we do that? I don’t know, let’s talk about it. If you have any ideas, leave a comment, we’ll get a discussion going…

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

New beginnings...

Here at Almond Union of Churches, we have a shelter called the Samaritan’s Loft. It is a temporary emergency housing shelter, for one person or family at a time. A guest can have thirty days in this one bedroom apartment while they work on getting something else arranged.

As the Pastor here, since the apartment is directly above the Church Office, I have an opportunity to spend a lot of time with the guests, and help them to see God as an integral part of their new beginning. Some are open to that, some aren’t. New Beginnings are really what we are about. We give people an opportunity to start over.

Aren’t New Beginnings what God is all about, too? He gives us opportunities to be born again, born of the Spirit, starting over with a fresh slate. Our past failures are behind us, and we can move on, this time with a loving Savior to guide us.

I feel really good when a loft guest moves out and I have the feeling that they are going to be all right. It is very rewarding to know that we helped one more get the new start they so desperately needed. And it can be incredible to know that God used us to help someone in a very important way.

If we feel this good over a loft guest getting their lives together and moving on, no wonder the angels rejoice when a lost soul is found, and one more sinner is born again…

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Good to Great, part 2

Yesterday I started giving you the ten practices that great Christians have in common, as found in Chip Ingram’s new book, Good to Great in God’s Eyes: Ten Practices Great Christians Have in Common.

Today, I’ll give you the rest. These are actually 6-10, but numbered 1-5 to keep you on your toes. I hope you find some interesting things to ponder…

  1. Take Great Risks – Every great person has great faith, and great trust that God is leading him. Fear of failure never occurs to you when you are going where God is leading.
  2. Make Great Sacrifices – “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13)
  3. Enjoy Great Moments – take the time to celebrate! The Christian life is an invitation to enjoy life, to live life abundantly. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 tell us this, “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God.”
  4. Empower Great People – Teach others what God is teaching you. Give others the resources and help them to be greater than you.
  5. Develop Great Habits – God’s plan for us is really quite simple, He just wants us to be more like Jesus. Develop those habits that would bring that about in your life – become more like Jesus.

I hope that you found something great in these practices. I really hope that you might find some to put into practice. I really, really hope that this will help you become great In God’s eyes.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Chip Ingram

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I had an opportunity to see Chip Ingram. He was promoting his newest book, Good to Great in God’s Eyes: Ten Practices Great Christians Have in Common.

He spoke about some really great things, and the ten points he made in the talk are the ten chapter titles in his book, so the talk was a great primer for the book. I got a copy of the book, and will be reading it soon, but in the meantime, here are the ten points - actually here are five – you’ll get the other five tomorrow:

  1. Think Great Thoughts – we are product of our thoughts – we become what we think about. Knowing that, make sure your thoughts are worthy of who you want to be.

  2. Read Great Books – We need to put great stuff in our minds if we want to have great stuff come out. We are transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2), reading the thoughts of others will stretch us, and renew our mind.

  3. Pursue Great People – We need to spend time with great people, and some of their greatness will rub off. Chip had a quote, “Show me your friends, I’ll show you your future.” When I first shared the news that we were expecting our first child, a good friend shared with me the importance of controlling their friends. It really makes all the difference!

  4. Dream Great Dreams – Our dreams give us hope. God uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things – and often he gives us glimpses of these extraordinary things through our dreams! What is your dream? I’ve noticed in counseling and sharing with people that use our food pantry that most people really don’t have any dreams. They’re to busy with the day to day, and have been let down too many times, and have given up on their dreams. A dream given up on is a dream that will never be realized.

  5. Pray Great Prayers – The greatest prayers are birthed in brokenness. You will pray great prayers when you pray about the things that really matter to you, the things that break your heart. “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:23-24).

I hope these will give you something to think about. More tomorrow…

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Finding calm...

In continuing the theme about worry – here is a thought: Can you really feel the full joy that Christ has for you, if you worry about something?

When we face a problem, or anything that we might worry about, we have two options: We can either fix our eyes on the problem, or we can fix our eyes on Christ. We can’t look both directions at the same time.

If our eyes our fixed on Christ, we won’t worry about the problem. If our eyes our fixed on the problem, we are filled with worry. If we are filled with worry, how can we be filled with joy?

It is probably quite natural to fix our eyes on the problem, come up with a preferred solution to that outcome, and then ask God to make it happen. But if you do that, are your eyes fixed on God, or the problem? Even if the solution is a great solution, if it’s our solution, then we aren’t trusting Christ.

Truly turning over our problems to Christ may be the most difficult things we as believers must do, and we may need to daily turn these over to God. But we can’t experience the peace that God offers if we don’t…

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Do you worry...

My devotions for the last several days have dealt with the issue of worry. I don’t consider myself a worrier, but I have found some wonderful thoughts in these devotions.

I know without a doubt that God does not want us to be worriers. Passages like Luke 12:22-34 give us a very clear mandate not to worry.

I also came across a short saying that verifies this – “Never try to carry tomorrow’s burdens with today’s grace.” We pray for God to give us our daily bread, to take care of our real needs today. And we promise to trust Him each day for those needs. When we worry, aren’t we taking back that promise? Aren’t we telling Him we don’t really trust His provisions?

If we are surrendered, then we surrender the problems as well as the rest. In fact, maybe especially the problems! How can we worry about the problems if they are surrendered? Unless, we aren’t really surrendered ???

If you are surrendered, you trust Him to handle your lives. You have given Him control of your live. To worry is to take back that control. To tell him you don’t really trust Him to control your life in that issue, or at that time.

God wants all of us. He wants us to be totally surrendered to Him. If you are, you have nothing to worry about…

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...