Monday, December 31, 2007

You are light

As Society becomes more and more secular, there is an increasing pressure to keep Christians out in the margins of life. We are essentially being told that we can continue to believe whatever we want, as long as we keep those beliefs out of public places

Yet I came upon a verse in my devotions this morning that reminds me how inconsistent that really is with Biblical faith. Matthew 5:14-16a reads, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men…”
In other words, we cannot live a life of faith that others cannot see. Our faith, if real, will be visible, as visible as a light in the darkness – it will stand out in stark contrast to those around us.

Don’t be intimidated into hiding your faith in Christ Jesus. You are the light of the world. The world needs your light. The world needs your compassion and mercy, and even more important, it needs to know Jesus, the source of your compassion and mercy.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Play beautiful music - together!

I love music, but I don’t really play an instrument. I do participate in the church’s Chime Choir, and have a lot of fun with it. You certainly don’t have to be a musician to participate – it’s quite easy!

On occasion, when I struggle with a particular piece we are trying to play, I will sneak up to our balcony and pull out my two chimes, and work on my part. But the thing with chimes is that there are 30-40 chimes that are played in any given song, and the two that I play don’t sound anything like the song I’m playing when I’m practicing on my own.

I think that life is like that. When we are doing our thing, acting by ourselves, we have trouble seeing the big picture. One person can make a difference. But when that one person joins dozens of other people, so much more can get done.

One person working on a project alone can make a great project. But when two or three other great minds work together, new ideas come to light, and the project is much better as a result.

Our faith is like that, too. We can carry on a life of faith by ourselves. We don’t need church, we don’t need activities to keep us busy. We can lead a life of prayer and devotion with or without others. But when we come together, our faith can grow so much deeper. In the Psalms you will find a passage, “Iron strengthens iron.” We sharpen each other when we come together as part of larger body – a church body. Jesus understood how our faith can grow when we come together when he said, “Whenever two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there also.”

You don’t need the church. But your faith can be so much deeper, so much more alive, and so much more real when you are an active part of a church. It’s as dramatic a difference as hearing my two chimes when I’m practicing alone, compared to the richness of 30 other chimes playing at the same time along with me.

If you’re living a life of faith alone, you’ll never know the difference until you come together with other like minded people. You will find them in church!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Merry Christmas - it sure is different than the first...

I hope you have all had a wonderful Christmas!

This Christmas, I had an opportunity to reflect a little on what makes Christmas so special. We really enjoy giving gifts, and spending time with family. In our culture today that is what Christmas is to most people. A time to spend with family. A time of giving.

Where does that ft with the story of Bethlehem? The story of Mary and Joseph, and the birth of their first-born? The stay in the stable, because there was no room in the Inn? The Shepherds and the Magi coming to praise the King of Kings, a baby in a manger.

We seem to have gone a long ways from that original story. How did we get here? And is there really anything wrong with where we are? It sure is a far cry from Bethlehem – you can’t get any farther. But as long as people continue to hear the story, as long as they go a midnight mass or a Christmas Eve service, and are reminded of the birth of the Christ child, then are we hurting anybody?

The answer, of course, depends on whether people are still hearing the story. Are parents telling their children of the birth of Jesus? Are kids learning of the babe in the manger. My fear is that many are not. As our nation drifts toward secularism and pluralism, more and more are going without hearing about the shepherds and the Magi. And they have no idea of the meaning of Christmas.

The Christmas story is a story of salvation. The story of a God that loves us so much, he became one of us, so he can save us. But people need to hear the story in order to believe the story. And they won’t hear it if we don’t tell it…

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Christmas Trivia Test...

Yesterday I was looking for an old file on my computer that would reveal what we did for a Christmas Eve Bulletin in previous years. I'm sure some pastors would have had that all figured out long ago, but... I'm not one of them!

As I was looking, I came across a Christmas Trivia Test. This examines our understanding of Biblical Christmas Story by asking about twenty questions, all multiple choice. I printed it off and gave it to Betty Anne, our church secretary, and Judy, who has been volunteering around the church. It was amazing when we went over it after they finished. I won't reveal how they did, but let's just say that their results were average, and that most people get their idea of the first Christmas from TV specials or Christmas carols or those church pageants we've all seen, at least as much as from the Bible.

Where do you get your understanding of the Christmas Story? How much of it is really from the Biblical account, and how much from other sources that try to fill in gaps, but may actually be leading us astray in our understanding.

The danger of course, is realizing how much of our understanding is from other sources. If this is true in our understanding of that first Christmas, can it also be true in our understanding of Salvation? Forgiveness? Truth? Do we really understand as much as we think we do? Remember, the only source of divine wisdom is the Bible. Hymns and Praise Songs are great - but only the Bible contains all you need to know. Make sure you read it!

I am planning on having a Coffee Fellowship before church services on Christmas Sunday, the Sunday after Christmas, December 30. During this time, we'll look at this this Christmas Trivia Test together. You are welcome to join us (9:30 in the Social Rooms). It will be fun...

The Greatest Birth

I enjoy the Christmas Season. I really do. I love the lights, the decorations, the cookies (especially the cookies!).

One of the things I really like are the cards. I love reading the cards. I have to admit that this a guilty pleasure, because we haven't done to well at sending cards ourselves - we're always late! But I do love reading the cards. Some cards have letters in them, filling us in on the special events in the lives of those we care about. Some cards have short handwritten notes. But all cards have some kind of verse.

Some are rather generic, "Wishing you a Happy Holiday!" But some are wonderfully filled with a special thought on what Christmas really means - what it really is. One that I got yesterday is like this...

Have you ever wondered
why God announced
the greatest birth in human
history to a handful of
shepherds on a hillside
and a few wise men
from the East?

Perhaps it was because they were
quiet enough to listen...
eager enough to know...
available enough to follow!

My prayer for each of you this Christmas is that you will be quiet enough to listen, eager enough to know, and available enough to follow Jesus, the one whom we especially remember this time of year!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Immanuel - God with us!

Have you ever sought out someone that you can talk to that knows what you are going through? Someone that has been through the same thing? I’m sure you have.

When we have questions about raising our children, we ask people who have children, and may have already been through what we are going through. When we have questions about a sickness or disease, we will ask our Doctor, but we also try to find someone who has been through the same thing.

There is no mistake that 2000 years ago a child was born in a manger in the village of Bethlehem. Joseph was told that he would be called Immanuel, which means God with Us. And he was told to name the baby Jesus, the Greek form of Joshua, which means the Lord Saves.

God became man. Flesh and blood. One of us. All the while still God, but now human, too.

Which means he’s not confined in heaven. He’s not a remote God that doesn’t understand life on earth. He’s been here. He knows the temptation that we fight each day. And he can see us through everything that comes up.

So next time you’re going through something that you can’t handle, remember – He’s been here – He can help!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Should a Christian respond with force?

Yesterday, I looked at the church shootings from the perspective of Mathew Murray, the shooter. There is something else about this story that bothers me.

It was the churches response. I know that many won’t agree with this post, but I question the authority of the church to have armed security guards, and to shoot people who represent a threat to them.

I look to Scripture, especially to the New Testament, as a follower of Jesus Christ, for a model for this, and I don’t see it. If you can think of a passage that would shed some light on this, please leave a comment.

The only time I see anyone responding with force to protect themselves, it was Peter on the night of Jesus’ arrest. Peter pulled a sword on the guard that tried to arrest Jesus, and actually cut off his ear! Did Jesus congratulate Peter for his act of heroism? Did he commend this act of bravery? Not at all, Peter was harshly rebuked for that action, and the guard’s ear was healed.

Over and over I see passages that say that we will be persecuted for our faith. Are we told to protect ourselves? No! We are told not to fear those who only kill the body, but can’t harm the soul (Matthew 10:16). We are told to rejoice in our persecution (Acts 5:41). We are told that persecution is inevitable (Acts 20:17-24, 21:10-14, 2 Timothy 2:12). Over and over we are told that we will be persecuted, and that our correct response is actually to rejoice in being counted worthy.

Nowhere do I see that we should stand against those persecuting us. Nowhere do I see the early church, that was persecuted so relentlessly by the Jews, and later the Romans, standing up against those who persecuted them. Instead I see the command to love our enemies and to pray for them. That may be the hardest thing we have to accept. But that is the command I see.

The early church certainly took precautions to avoid those that were persecuting them. They didn’t witness in the streets when they knew there was imminent danger. They stayed in upper rooms, moved locations for their meetings, and stayed as low key as possible. But they didn’t use force to fight back.

I also see Scripture passages that tell us that we are to stand out from the rest of society. Our faith should make us very different from those around us who do not have faith. Yet, wasn’t the response by the church to have armed security guards a human response to the threat of danger, not a righteous act of faith?

I know that her act saved hundreds of lives. I know that as tragic as it was, it could have been so much worse. But I ask, was it an act of faith? Was she (the security guard) acting in the image of Christ? And the age old question, what would Jesus have done?

As always, I appreciate your comments…

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Great Tragedy

I have been doing a lot of reflection on the recent church shootings in Colorado. I have wanted to write about this for a while, and have been reflecting on this hoping for some level of understanding. At the expense of making some terrible generality, I want to comment on the tragedy. And even perhaps touch on an even greater tragedy in the Church in America today

As a reminder, last Saturday evening, December 8, Matthew Murray showed up at the doors of Youth With A Mission, a center that trains youth to serve as oversees missionaries. While there, he opened fire; killing two young staff members, and injuring two others, one in critical condition. About eleven hours later, he shows up at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, about 80 miles away, again opening fire. In the parking lot, he killed two sisters in their mid-teens, and injured their father. Then he entered the church with about a thousand rounds of ammunition, where he was shot by a volunteer security guard.

What would make someone snap like this? Matthew was brought up in the church, and certainly knew all about the Christian faith. In fact, he was serious enough about his faith that he himself wanted to become an overseas missionary, and was enrolled in the Youth With A Mission program a few years ago. When a mission’s opportunity came up, he was overlooked. I’ve heard two explanations for this, either the staff didn’t feel he was ready, or there was a health issue that prevented him from going on this particular assignment. Either way, he didn’t go.

I don’t know what happened in the years after this incident that would cause him to snap and seek revenge for the “hurt” that was caused.

However, a comment that I will make is that while he knew in his head the teachings of Christ, it might be safe to assume that those teachings never got into his heart.

While he knew of Jesus, he didn’t know Jesus. Evidentially he fooled a lot of people. Perhaps Youth With A Mission discovered that he wasn’t really surrendered to his faith. Or perhaps there really was a health issue and they were fooled, too.

There are several differences between knowing about Jesus, and knowing Jesus. One of the differences is surrender. When you really know the person of Jesus, you will give yourself to him completely. You will be surrendered to Him. It will no longer be about what is best for you, it will be what is best for Jesus.

Another difference is the Holy Spirit. When we truly know Jesus, we are filled with the Holy Spirit. When we have the Holy Spirit, the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control) begin to manifest themselves in our lives. We are not capable of committing the tragedy of December 9, when we are filled with the Holy Spirit.

The point I want to make is that our church pews are filled with people who know about Jesus, but don’t personally know Jesus. The greatest tragedy in our church today is that we don't realize that our faith is not about a religion, doing the right things at the right times – it’s about a relationship with the God who created us and loves us and wants us to love Him and to love others.

Without the relationship, there is no Holy Spirit. Without the relationship, we are just going through the motions. And if that’s the case, it may only be the grace of God that we don’t snap as well….

Your comments are welcome.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Charachter 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…

Friday, December 7, 2007

Archaelogy strikes again!

I’m not exactly a fan of archeology. I don’t really follow it very much, but I do have an interest to an extent. For a year I subscribed to Biblical Archeology Review, a magazine highlighting archeological finds with Biblical significance. I found some of the articles interesting, but I get so many magazines, some had to go…

In the paper this past week I found a story with the headlines: Elusive biblical Jerusalem wall finally found, Israeli archaeologist says. The story indicates that a team of archaeologists has discovered part of the wall around ancient Jerusalem that Nehemiah had rebuilt after the Babylonians had invaded the city.

They also uncovered what they believe to be some of the remains from King David’s palace, built by King Hiram of Tyre, also confirming Biblical stories.

The most interesting thing to me is that, while they are always finding new things, they always seem to confirm the text of the Bible. I remember when I was reading Biblical Archaeology Review, a quote from an Israeli archaeologist that, while there is a vast amount of things they haven’t found, they have yet to find anything that contradicts the Bible. While others may interpret the findings very different, they have yet to find anything that does not fit into the story of the Bible.

We won’t hear it, but science does not actually contradict Scripture. Some interpretations of the scientific data contradict Scripture, but there are other interpretations that fit nicely.

Next time you hear the science argument, remember that there is really no argument in the data. The argument is in the interpretation. And doesn’t that come down to faith…

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Attacking others to show our love

There is already a lot of talk about a new movie coming out called The Golden Compass. The movie will be released tomorrow (Friday). The talk is from the church, and there are those calling for a boycott of the film.

Evidently it has some very atheistic messages in the film. Surprise, surprise! Hollywood is coming out with a film with an atheistic message. And the church is outraged. My question is why is the church outraged? Why are we surprised when lost people act lost?

What brought this to my attention was another blog that I read by Jack Hagar, which he calls Jack Hagar’s Jots and Thoughts. Jack pointed out that often a boycott has the opposite desire. As he puts it, “non-believers are prone to think anything the “church” is against is probably worth seeing!”

There is something in all of this that really bothers me. When people see the film and talk about it at water coolers and casual meetings, well meaning Christians will be criticizing the movie based on things they heard about the movie. If you don’t want to see it (and it sounds like that might be a good decision), then don’t criticize it. When people ask, tell them you didn’t see it because you understand it is opposed to faith, and you are a person of faith, and leave it at that.

I remember the talk surrounding the book (and subsequent movie), The Da Vinci Code. I once sat in a room of five other pastors, each talking about how they planned to refute it in their congregations, yet not one had seen it. How can we attack in our pulpits that which we don’t know?

I honestly believe that we give God a bad name when we to out of our way to criticize something we haven’t seen. We give Christianity a bad name when we attack what we don’t know.

God calls us to share our faith in love. We can’t share our faith in love when we attack other peoples faith systems. So forget the attack, just share your faith in love.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Christianity is not a religion.

Several months ago, I was at a church picnic – the Lighthouse Christian Fellowship in Alfred had invited my family to their church picnic, which was held at Pastor Rogers home.

They hold their church picnic right after the students return to Alfred, and it’s an opportunity for them to come out also, and meet some church folk. So it’s a great invitation for students, as well as a great fellowship opportunity for the church members.

While at the party I noticed a student that was wearing a great T-shirt – it said on the front, CHRISTIANITY is not a religion. That really caught my eye, so I looked at the back, RELIGION IS HUMANS trying to work their way to God. CHRISTIANITY IS GOD coming to men and women through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Scripture tells us that it is God that us to Him. No one comes to Him without being first drawn to Him. In fact, Henry Blackaby, in his book, Experiencing God, tells us that the primary way to know if God is at work in an unbeliever is seeing if that person is open to the message, is that person seeking more information. They wouldn’t know enough to do that without God already working on them.

We can’t have a true relationship with God if we are the ones pursuing Him – that’s just religion. That’s just like all the other religions in the world, and it can’t save your soul.

We can only have a true relationship with God when we acknowledge that He is calling us, drawing us to Himself. We surrender to that calling, giving ourselves in this relationship. That’s what saves our soul...

PS. The t-shirt is available from Christian Book Distributors

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

SOAP - for a clean devotion.

I was just reading from the Livewire, the monthly newsletter of the First Baptist Church in Hornell, NY, and the column from the Pastor, Rev. Mike Childs, contained a word that might help each of us. He got it from Rev. Steve Matteson, so I am hoping he doesn’t mind if I pass it on a little further.

Here is a simple plan pattern for devotions. It’s a great way for people, young or old, to get into God’s Word, and make it personal. This is the format, which can be used with any daily Scripture reading. It is easy to remember, and easy to use, but will really give you spiritual life a punch!

Paul’s words are timely: “Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness. Physical exercise is some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next.” 1 Timothy 4:7b,8.


4 things you will need: 1) Pen. 2) Journal (notebook). 3) Reading Plan. 4) Bible.

S Scripture: Ask the Lord to bring home to your heart one text in particular. Choose a verse or two from your reading that stands out, a text that you are drawn to. Write it down in your prayer journal.

O Observation: Ponder the message God has highlighted for you. What’s happening? Who’s involved? Make an observation about what is happening. Write it down.

A Application: Write out how you plan to live this. How will you be different today because of what you’ve just read? How does this verse apply to you? Write it down.

P Prayer: Record a simple prayer that reflects how you honestly feel and then interact with God. Don’t forget to tell Him how thankful you are for the power of His Word!

Name it: When you are all done with your quiet time, give the page a title, something brief that you can remember it by. Create an index at the beginning of your Journal. Record the title there. Then later, you can look through this index and find an entry you can use right away.

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...