Tuesday, July 29, 2008

the Olympic size prize...

The Olympics are in the news more and more lately. Beginning in just nine days or so, the media hype is already in near full gear. Athletes are already beginning to show up. Reporters are already flooding Beijing. And preparations are quickly nearing completion.

I love the idea of Olympic games. I have to confess that I don’t watch them, but I’m glad they’re held. The nations of the world need a forum where they can come together and play together, without all the political nonsense that gets in the way of people being human and caring for one another. The Olympics is one of the very few venues that provides that opportunity.

None of this means the athletes don’t compete at the very highest level. This is the epitome of their sport. The very biggest forum in which they can display their ability.

No one ever dreams of becoming an Olympic athlete who, after years of hard work and personal sacrifice, manages to come in fourth. Can you imagine a ten-year-old swimmer passionately describing to you how she is working toward the Olympic Games and her ambition is to finish just one place short of a medal? No way! Everyone making that trip feels they have a chance.

Paul uses this analogy for the way we are to live our lives of faith. We should be running the race to win the prize. This means doing our very best at everything we do. It means never missing an opportunity to share our faith. It means living a life transformed by Christ.

Unfortunately, our churches today are filled with people hoping to just do enough to get by. Hoping that when they get to heaven, they will have been just good enough to get in.

But our faith isn’t about doing things to get by. It’s about faith in Jesus. It’s about surrendering our lives, so we can live His life (which is way better anyway). There is no way to live a life of faith the way Jesus did, and try to be just good enough. We have to surrender everything, and truly run the race the very best we can. The prize is the Kingdome of Heaven, far more valuable than an Olympic medal.

Spiritually, are you running the race to win the prize?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Accumulating Stuff...

I have a lot of stuff. Sometime I look around and think we collect stuff. We have so much stuff around us.

I especially like my toys. Bicycles, scooters, boats (lots of boats), a nice camper, basketball hoops and several balls. Why do we need so much?

I was thinking yesterday, right after I bought another toy on ebay, that that’s enough. We don’t need so much stuff. I spent the afternoon going through the garage to see what can go. We’ll be selling a couple of small sailboats, and some other things that we haven’t used in some time. It’s time to clean out the things we don’t need or use anymore.

Why do I mention all this in a forum that delivers a daily devotion? Because not all stuff is physical stuff. Most of us are carrying around our share of spiritual stuff, too. Understandings that make sense to us, but don’t quite jive with Scripture. Things that we’ve heard in songs or stories that we just assumed to Biblical. And most of us have a few things that we think should be right, just the way things should be, but not necessarily according to our Christian Doctrine.

An example, I came across a Christmas trivia quiz several years ago. I shared it with my last congregation when I first saw it, and I shared it here in Almond last year. On average, half of what we know (to be true) about the Christmas Story, we’ve learned from Christmas Carols and TV specials over the years. And it’s not supported by Scripture. It’s some of that spiritual stuff that we all carry around with us.

Perhaps it’s time for us all to clean out the things that we don’t need anymore. The spiritual things we’ve picked up over the years. These are the things that actually keep us from knowing God more intimately.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

God did this so...

God did this so that men would seek him
and perhaps reach out for him and find him,
though he is not far from each one of us.
- Acts 17:27
When Paul wrote this, he was speaking before the Areopagus (Mars Hill) in Athens. The Areopagus was a collection of wise and learned men who had some judicial authority. It's most likely that Paul was brought there as a convenient place to meet, rather than in an actual formal trial type setting. Paul was asked to explain his "new teaching" that the men on the council, though very learned in religious teachings, were not familiar with.
In his explaining the Good News of Jesus Christ, he explained the Gospel very clearly. From the beginning in Old Testaments times, right on through the life and teachings of Jesus himself, to his resurrection, to the greatly expanding early church. As he was finished, he gave this line - "God did this so that men would seek him..."
There are two things in this short passage I invite you to consider as you reflect on this today. First, that God is real, that He is very involved in all that you are going through, and that He has been quietly providing for you all along. All that you have has come from His hand. And every experience you have faced has come through Him as well. Each experience has come to you so that you might seek him, and perhaps reach out for him and find him.
God yearns to grow your faith, to have a closer relationship than He currently has with you. He longs for you to be open to Him. And he sends experiences (good and not so good) so that you might realize your need for Him. Is it working? Are you open to Him?
The second thing I would like you to reflect on is the thought that He is closer than you think. Paul told the Areopagus that God yearns for men to follow Him, yet God is not far from any of them. That's as true today as it was for Paul. God is not far from any of us. He is waiting for our reply to His work. Yet many of us don't even notice His work. His miricles aren't acknowledged. His healings are credited to Doctor's skill. His provisions are credited to our own good works. Yet He quietly waits for us. Inviting us into a closer relationship, reaching out to us as we struggle. Offering to guide any who are willing to trust him.
Are you willing? Will you trust? Will you committ to growing closer to God?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The price of repairs...

From the Chat with the Chaplain column in the Finger Lakes ABATE newsletter…

My girlfriend Terri from Bath has taken what she refers to a s a mini-trip on her motorcycle to Florida, then plans to attend Sturgis, hit Colorado before heading back to NYS. As she arrived into FL, suddenly her bike quits. Some riders she met earlier at a rest stop came up and helped her get it going but after only a few miles it went dead again at a traffic light. Not knowing if it was major engine failure, electrical, transmission, she called for a tow. Something definitely wasn’t right, something was wrong on the inside and she wasn’t able to fix it herself. It was too far gone for that. Maybe it had to be replaced! Her plans had to change; she was stranded in Florida; her money was going quickly on hotel living, waiting for repairs.

Actually, a lot of us have some issues in our lives that aren't too pleasant and try to slow us down, change our plans, cost us something. Too often there is anger spewing out - or self-pity because we feel like a victim - or negative, critical attitudes. We say what we later regret we said - we do what we later regret we did - we're hooked on what we wish we could stop - we leave a trail behind us of people who have choked on the smoke we put out. And it's not that we haven't tried to fix it. From New Year's resolutions to religion to self-improvement, we've tried to fix our own lives but we've got a problem inside.

God diagnoses that problem in His book in Jeremiah 17:9 it says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" In other words, the engine is shot, and it can't be fixed. It has to be replaced, which leads us to God's tremendous offer. Ezekiel 36:26, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you a heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit in you."

God says our heart is too darkened and hardened by sin to ever quit putting out pollution. We can certainly never get into His totally unpolluted heaven with this polluted heart we all have. Our only hope for this life - and for eternal life - is a new heart. We can't perform heart surgery on ourselves! Only the divine surgeon can do that! He stands ready to take that heart of yours that's been hardened by all the hurt and the anger and the sin and replace it with a heart that's clean and sensitive and new! He'll put His Holy Spirit in you to make you the person you've wanted to be but you never could be.

But the operation had to be paid for just as the replacement parts on my girlfriend’s bike had to be paid for - and she didn't have anything to pay it with. But to her amazement, some of God's people quietly got together and they paid the $2,600 bill. That's what Jesus was doing for you when He was agonizing on that cross. He was paying the bill for your sin; a bill you could never pay - so you could be forgiven.

You ready for a new heart? Then it's time to open your heart to Jesus Christ. I would love to help you be sure that you have begun your personal relationship with Jesus Christ - that you belong to Him. Replace your engine while your mileage is still good and you’re alive! Oh, after a 3 week delay Terri is back on the road and headed to Sturgis. Ask me about full story.

Lady di (Diane Dunning)

Monday, July 21, 2008

An Angel Writes...

Some thoughts from Email Ministries, a Yahoo group...


Many people will walk in and out or your life,
but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.

To handle yourself, use your head,
To handle others, use your heart.

Anger is only one letter short of danger.

If someone betrays you once, it's his fault.
If he betrays you twice, it's your fault.

Great minds discuss ideas;
Average minds discuss events;
Small minds discuss people.

God gives every bird its food,
but He does not throw it into its nest.

He who loses money, loses much;
He who loses a friend, loses more;
He who loses faith, loses all.

Beautiful young people are acts of nature,
but beautiful old people are works of art.

Learn from the mistakes of others.
You can't live long enough to make them all yourself.

The tongue weighs practically nothing,
but so few people can hold it.

-- Author Unknown

Friday, July 18, 2008

The unknown god...

Our society appears on the outside to be a very religious society. We see churches in every village, our history contains a clearly Christian foundation. Even studies asking people about their faith show that over 90% claim to believe in God. Certainly most people try to do good, to improve their lives and the lives of others. Yet few have actually accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and truly live for him daily.

In Acts 17, Paul arrived in Athens and started proclaiming the message there. As more and more heard him talk, he was brought up before the Areopagus, which was sort of a clearing house of religious ideas. They were up on all the religions of the day, but weren’t familiar with Paul’s message of Christ crucified. They wanted to hear more.

As Paul is waiting to address them, he sees a statue, an idol, to the “unknown God.” That would be Paul’s argument. He said, “what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you” and he proceeded to share his faith in a very powerful way (Acts 17:22-23).

As I was thinking about this, if 90% of the people in America today claim to believe in God, yet very few have actually accepted Jesus Christ as their saviors, then perhaps we live in a time, like Paul found in Athens, where there seems to be an unknown god. Lots of people believe in this unknown god, but they don’t know him as the living God who created everything, who loves them deeply, and who waits patiently, eagerly awaiting the time when the people will return to Him.

Paul boldly and powerfully proclaimed this unknown God to the people. It’s time we do the same.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Receiving eagerly, examining daily...

One of my favorite New Testament passages on living the Christian life is found in Acts 17. Paul had just left Thessalonica, where his message was rejected, and he was very practically chased out of town.

The next place he stopped was in Berea, a small town just a few miles southeast of Thessalonica. He found the Bereans much more agreeable, and he was allowed to speak freely there. The passage that Luke writes about it was this, “the Bereans were of much more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures everyday to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).

I love that. I love that the Bereans were that way. But I also love that Luke included that in the book of Acts. Because I think that it speaks so much to us today. Don’t just believe everything you hear. But don’t discard much of what you hear because you don’t like it, either. Research it. Examine the Scriptures daily to see if it’s true.

That message can apply to almost anything that we do today. If the Scriptures are silent on a particular subject, chances are they contain a principal from another subject that will help you discern the truth. But you have to know them. You have to examine them daily.

Do your part. Read the Scriptures. God will direct you from there, and help you understand.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Financial woes, or opportunities for blessings...

We have been struggling some with our church finances, as a many churches are. We truly believe that God is with us, that he is leading us to do fantastic things, and that He will provide the means, financially speaking, to make them happen. So we are optimistic, if not a bit cautious.

But as we’ve been talking more and more about it, people are stepping up and increasing their gifts to the church. This by itself is certainly a good thing. But the good goes way beyond that, because as I talk to them about it, many are experiencing the joys of giving generously.

There really is a giving paradox, which suggests that the more you give, the more you get blessed. And if you’ve ever begun tithing and wondered how you could give that much, you’ve seen this paradox at work. The blessing in our financial struggles is that many in our church have begun to see this paradox at work. As they open up and give more, they seem to see more blessings. They see the hand of God at work. Their eyes are open to what He is doing.

The paradox is true! And apparently even Solomon in Old Testament times had seen it work. He wrote, in Proverbs 11:24, “One man gives freely yet gains even more; another withholds unduly but comes to poverty.”

Many are holding on tightly to what they have, but the truth remains, God blesses our generosity.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Love grows here...

There is a song that our choir has kind of adopted as their theme song. It’s certainly a favorite of the entire congregation. It’s called Love Grows Here.

Perhaps, what creates such a strong connection with this song, is that our church really seems to do well at the idea of love. We are open to visitors, we care about others, our missions work in the community is a testament to how much we love.

As a small group of us were discussing this song, and the message that it brings, we talked about making the title, Love Grows Here, a kind of mantra for the church. We could put it on our bulletins, on our newsletters, on our letterhead.

I guess this discussion was still in my mind when I came across this verse, from Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.”

Let’s be a church, a people of God, where love truly does cover all wrongs. Where love truly can grow here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Wise or disgraceful...

Most of us have heard a few of the Proverbs that speak of being lazy. I came across Proverb 10:5 which is one of these. It reads, “He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son, But he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son.” We’ve probably heard this one before, and most will certainly agree that it sounds very reasonable.

But as I was reflecting on this passage, I remembered another passage. Jesus is with His disciples, and he tells them, “the field is ripe for the harvest.” The context of this passage concerns telling people about the faith. It concerns telling people about Jesus.

Can that passage be any more appropriate than it is today? There are people all around us every day that are ripe for the harvest. Are we doing our best to share with them, to give them the reason for the hope that is within us?

Or, going back to Proverbs, are we disgraceful sons?

God has a mission for us. It’s to save our community, wherever you are, to tell others of God and His love for them. If we are wise sons, we will be doing just that.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Music Festival at Almond Union of Churches

Saturday, July 12, Almond Union of Churches will be hosting a huge outdoor music festival.

This festival will be an outdoor event, is open to the public, and there is free admission. It will be held in the lot between the Almond Historical Society and the Almond Union of Churches, at the stoplight in Almond.

There are six bands beginning at 2:00 pm with Simplicity 1, and ending at 9:00 pm with Heartsong Singers. Local favorite Keith Doty will be playing at 3:00, a praise band from the Lighthouse Ministries Church will play at 4:00, The Power Company from the Wayland area will play at 5:00, and Heartsong, a Country Gospel duo will play at 7:00.

Heartsong Singers is a country gospel due from Naugatuck, Connecticut. While singing predominately in the country gospel style, they have easily infiltrated all of the rock boundaries and has sustained a stellular regional appeal. It's the way they sing their songs. The delivery is unique and the voices are soothing and easy to listen to.

Heartsong's territory is expanding quickly beyond regional borders. They have been onTBN, The Praise the Lord Show, a few times sharing their music and ministry. Theiroriginal music can be heard on over 300 country radio stations throughout the world.
Although in New England a Christian country duo is rare, they have gained amazingpopularity since 1999. They have completed several original projects with a radical,versatile repertoire in a 'progressive country' sound. Their lyrics appeal to mainstreamcountry audiences as well because they sing about problems common to man. This is the first time Heartsong will be in this area, so be sure not miss them.

The music festival will have something for everyone. Great music, games for the kids including Frisbee, volleyball and four-square, even a craft table for the younger ones (or just younger in heart).

So if you're reading this locally (in the Almond, NY area), come on down to check it out.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Overwhelmed with dread...

There they were, overwhelmed with dread,
where there was nothing to dread.

Psalm 53:5a

It seems that these days people are really frightened. We are frightened by rising costs and the realization that our incomes aren’t keeping up. We are frightened by high crime rates, especially should we find ourselves in some unsavory neighborhoods.

Perhaps people have always been given to worry. This passage in Psalms talks about a time when the Israelites were frightened, given in to worry. They probably could have justified their fears, the enemy was closing in, and they were seeming surrounded and vastly outnumbered. But God was with them, they won, and all was well again.

But before the battle, they were overwhelmed with dread. How many times do we find ourselves overwhelmed with dread over what might happen? How many times do we all worked up over what might happen, before the battle even begins. I hear of people going into surgery that are very worried over what might happen. I hear people very concerned with their finances, not sure what’s going to happen, but just sure they won’t make it. I hear people talking of children that have grown and gone down the wrong road, and they’re just sure these kids can’t get back. They are lost for good.

Until it happens, we need not worry about it. There will be plenty of time to worry when it actually happens, if you’re so inclined. But until then, let’s realize that God is with us, He is in control, and remember the passage, “if God is with us, who can be against us”.

We will win. And all will be well again. But not in our strength. We need to trust in God for the outcome.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Day Apart...

Recently I had an opportunity to go to one of our Christian camps for a day apart. There were maybe a dozen pastors altogether, and the day was to be a day away from the schedules and routines, just time alone to be quiet. The camp was a perfect setting, if you wanted fellowship and an opportunity to talk with peers, that was available. But if you wanted to get away, the camp was plenty large enough.

I wanted to get away. I was looking for solitude. I had brought a pocket New Testament and another book I’ve been reading, and was quiet content.

It’s important to get away from time to time. I was able to make some notes on some passages that really struck me, and the next few days, we’ll be looking at those passages together.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

In the presence of God's Saints...

Yesterday, I talked about Psalm 52:9, where David promises to praise God forever because of what God has already done. To refresh your memories, here is that verse again:

I will praise you forever for what you have done;
in your name I will hope, for your name is good.
I will praise you in the presence of your Saints.

Today, I want to comment on that same verse, but there is another thought worth reflecting on. It’s found in the last line of that verse. David promises God to praise God in the presence of the saints.

Before we get too confused, remember that a saint is anyone who follows God. We are all saints when we give ourselves to God, and follow Christ.

Where are the saints found? In the Church. Each week, the Saints come together in the Church as the Body of Christ.

I often come across people who tell me that they don’t have to come to church to be a Christian. But I question that. I think that you do have to gather as part of the Body of Christ. If you associate with other Christians by name only, you aren’t really a part of the Body.

It is important to come together. We are encouraged by others walking the same path. We encourage others. We are comforted, and we comfort others. We are strengthened, and we strengthen others. And I believe that God is blessed when he sees us come together as many in His name.

Can you promise, as David did, to praise God in the presence of the Saints? It’s part of God’s plan.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Past and future come together...

In my reading in the Psalms, I came across something that I see fairly regularly. It involves a shift in the tense of a sentence. Here is the example I came across most recently, from Psalm 52:9:
I will praise you forever for what you have done;
in your name I will hope, for your name is good.
I will praise you in the presence of your Saints.

In the first line, David promises to praise God forever (future tense) for what He has done (past tense).

Today, we find very few things that we are willing to remember forever (future tense), because of what they did in the past (past tense).

An almost key phrase for many people today is, “What have you done for me lately?” We always seem to be examining our relationships and our alliances to find a better deal, a better friend, a better opportunity.

Yet, I think David had it right. He recognized the importance of what God has done, and he realized that even if God never did another good thing for David as long as he lived, God deserved his praise forever.

Do we realize that’s true for us, as well? In our salvation, made possible by Jesus Christ and His death on the cross, we have something that will last for all time. And it is the best thing anyone could ever do for us. Perhaps the only thing with eternal significance. And for just that one thing, God deserves our praise forever.

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...