Articles reflecting current events, musings, thoughts, and spiritual insights.

Grief

Grief

If you have lived long enough, you have had a death in your family. The grief is intensified by the closeness of the relationship. The closer the tie, the stronger the grief and the deeper the loss. I have watched people process their grief in many ways. Some never quite process it at all. It hits them so strongly that years later they are still paralyzed by the grief. Others process the grief and move on with healthy responses. It does not mean they quit caring or quit grieving. It just means they have handled it to the point that the grief comes in memories, fragrances, foods, sayings, and events. It is those triggers of memory that bring the twinge, the tear.

We all have them. The more close ones you lose; the more opportunity for the triggering of memories. Even children that lose parents when they are young have those fleeting memories engraved in their minds and they continue to affect their lives as adults.

But think with me as to the disciples at the trials and crucifixion of Jesus. There was a lot of trust given to Jesus. They had traveled with him for three years. Hundreds, if not thousands, had come to believe Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus being the Messiah would have promised the ascendency of Israel to world rulership and life evermore. That is a tall order and a tremendous amount of trust and faith given to him. The things Jesus said to them about going to Jerusalem and dying just did not register or ring true to their hopes and expectations. But in one night, the fortunes of their hopes were dashed rapidly and out of control for them. I do not blame them. His trials were swift and out of their control or ability to help.

In a matter of hours, Jesus was hanging on a cross. In moments he was gone. He was buried before Sundown. In less than 24 hours it was over. No one was waiting at the tomb. Their hopes and aspirations were dashed. The question of who would sit at his right and left hand of Jesus seemed silly now. I am sure many of them would have considered themselves fools to have believed. The grief was real and deep. Questions would have been numerous. Why? Why? Why? They gathered, hiding from the Jews, fellow religious countrymen who were riotously happy with their defeat of this Messiah guy.

The disciples would have be grieving the loss of Jesus, deeply. The hours following the death of a loved one are difficult, painful, depressing, hopeless many times. Particularly, the death of Jesus was deeper in its grief because Jesus carried such a message of hope and power and kingdom. This love was beyond a good friend; it was the death of a movement.

Three days they would have been in the dumps, wondering, ‘what do I do now.” Plans were being laid as to how to live from here on. The three days were the same as the days following the death of a loved one and maybe more intense. We know the history; so we rarely identify with the disciples because we know what is coming. Resurrection. They did not. When Jesus overcame death, they are amazed, struck with doubt, but as the reality came, life returned to the message and the plans of despair were replaced with the zeal of the Living Savior. The message was true, is true, and forever true. He is alive!
-Pastor Bill

The Resurrection

Resurrection Day

Resurrection Day! This is the moment that changed everything. Lazarus was raised from the dead, but would die later of old age. The widow of Nain’s son was raised, but would pass later. BUT Jesus, NO. This man would never die again. In fact, he is still alive. This sets him apart from any miracle recorded in the Bible or any history. He is alive evermore. The tomb is empty, his body transformed to an eternal body, but still flesh and bone. He is called the first born from the dead. He has paved the way for all who believe in him to once again live as a whole being: body, soul, and spirit. Death lost its power over mankind in Jesus. Those who believe have escaped death’s grip as well. There is a day coming when the grave can no longer hold power over the body.

This moment in history has changed the fate of man from eternal damnation to hope in Christ. This moment has been celebrated now for centuries. There can be quiet reflection and gratefulness to gallant pageantry in its celebraton. Christians around the world and in different faith streams all celebrate this moment. The resurrection is what sets us apart from all other religions. We do falter with tombs of religion founders…ours is empty. We do not visit monuments of deceased leaders…ours is alive and well. We do not have a death and dumb idol to serve or a philosophy to follow…ours speaks to us and guides us daily.

The resurrection not only made Jesus alive, it makes us alive! We live because he lives. We hope and have purpose because he gave us purpose and hope. 

I have often thought of those who traverse this life without a thought or preparation for eternity. I see the results of this kind of life. There are the beginnings with its plans of education, the diplomas, the career training, the ideas of what they can be. There come the disappointments, life altering events such as sickness, death, premature responsibilities. Then disillusionment can settle in and medicating life’s disappointments with various forms of addictions including drugs, alcohol, and, even more insidious addiction because it is hidden in supposed success, are those who chase wealth, possessions, power, political favor etc. These pursuits can provide acceptance, but be as hollow as those lost in drugs.

It may not be apparent till later in life where the addict meets the social burnout at the same place of hollowness and meaninglessness. Solomon in Ecclesiastes noted the folly of all that pursuit without true happiness nor meaning. Solomon concluded after all the depressive illustrations that the best man could do was to bless God and enjoy life.

I have observed that wealth does not bring happiness. It is no guarantee of joy or health. I have also observed that many who have just enough are the most content and peaceful. Paul, the apostle, made comment that he had learned how to abound and be in need and still be content. I find that the resurrection of Jesus and the power it extends to us brings a confidence and peace if we will just embrace it as an empowering reality and not a historical fact, a life changing spiritual impact and not a religious festival. 

-Pastor Bill

The Passion

The Passion

I went to see Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ. I sat in the theatre ready for a Hollywood portrayal, one that would satisfy the masses who would see it. Expecting something that would tell the story once again, the story we so often hear from the pulpit, the Sunday school lesson, the picture bibles for kids. What happened in that theatre was way beyond what I had expected.

The daring of Gibson to portray the Passion, the suffering of Jesus, was brutally honest, raw, torturous to see, agonizing to view. Somehow we have dressed up those moments to satisfy our holiday. Easter has been made into a spectacle more kin to a festival than to reality. We have made it day of color, spring fashion, chocolate, rabbits, chickens, eggs. We date it to coincide with spring rites.  We have followed the traditions laid down by the church leaders centuries ago. We have not questioned or wondered why. 

It was Passover. It falls on the same date annually. It is based on the Exodus from Egypt, not our current moon phases. It was the fullness of time when the significance of Passover was going to be fulfilled in the death, the sacrifice of the Son of God. The blood sacrifice that was going to be offered on a Roman cross once for all time, for all people, in all places. God was bringing to an end the need for daily sacrifices, the slaughter of animals to cover temporarily the sins of man. 

Theologically, we say “yes” he paid the price. We say that it was a substitutionary death for us, for me. We teach all around that. We accept it. Nice, neat, packaged for consumption of the mind without cutting the groove too deep where it hurts. I grew up with that. I had no other reference. No one was malicious or hiding the truth, it was just glossed over.

But sitting in that theatre, Gibson took the reality of the time and graphically portrayed it on film. The ruthlessness of the Roman soldiers, the hatred of the pharisees, the horrible vendetta orchestrated by the high priests, all were shown with emotion. The heartbreak of Mary and the followers, the hopelessness that ensued, the defeat of expectations were there.

The scenes of Satan’s plot, the agony in the garden helped reveal the true crisis of the soul and spirit of Jesus. The Kangaroo courts of the Jews, the lack of due process, the rush to judgment revealed the true spirit of men who hated but dressed it in religious robes.

But what I could not bear, that brought tears and grief to me, so much so that I cannot view that scene again, was the scene where Jesus was beaten, brutally, unrelentingly, with vengeance from Roman, angry soldiers; and then with his flesh ripped from his frame and bone showing, he is forced to bear a cross through the streets to Golgotha.

It was ugly, brutal, savage. But he did it for you and me. It was not pretty, colorful. It was red with blood everywhere, the blood that gave me eternity with him.

 

  • Pastor Bill

The Reality

In all the themes of change and reaching this generation, it is easy to get focused on all the necessary means of reaching younger people. This is very good in many respects. Each iteration of life has to find its identity. Each generation growing older has to make adjustments to stay current and not just become “old fuddy-duddies.” There are challenges for all age spectrums. The younger with zeal, creativity, and innovation must reach the generations that preceded them and relate. The in-betweens, usually the parents of the upcoming generation, are suspended between their children and their parents. Everybody has a job to do in order to relate to one another. Institutions have to adapt, change, re-emerge.

Business recognizes this. McDonald’s is always tearing down and remodeling sites. The menu is constantly adapting to current food fads. Major restaurants are constantly changing interior designs. Menus change with the seasons and trends. Church, on the other hand, usually resists change. People leave when change comes. When churches do not change, people leave. It is frustrating to say the least.

However, there has to be one constant…Jesus. In all the flurry of modernity, there still remains a rugged cross. There remains a body torn and bleeding. There remains a sacrifice so significant that it changed eternity, forever.

There is no sprucing up the crucifixion. There is no way to sell it as something less than brutality. There is no dressing it up to make it palatable for sensitive stomachs. It is the human-divine sacrifice. We dress up sin, we make unrighteousness comfortable and palatable. We excuse indiscretion. We willingly apply grace without understanding the price for it.

It is an old, old story that cannot be modernized. The transition from an old covenant that sacrificed animals to a new covenant that sacrificed the Son of God is phenomenal. It is an account of brutality, hatred, meanness, and revenge. And Jesus endured all of it. The treatment he received was worse than any animal sacrifice. If it were not for the resurrection, it would have been the discarding of a human as a piece of trash. Yet, the resurrection ratified the new covenant because the maker of that covenant died and instituted it and then came to life once again, victorious, making an open show of his victory over death and the enemy.

All that we do is to reach people so they might encounter the one who paid the price for them. It is not about making them a Christian; it is about making them face the Christ head on. Encounter the person, not a religion. You can dress up Christianity, but you cannot dress up the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

An encounter with Jesus is life shattering. You cannot be the same anymore. You are broken by the sin and corruption of your own heart. He comes in the brokenness and gives life. The life that he paid for through the most horrifying hours of pain and suffering. You can’t change that!

Pastor Bill

How Great a Love

How Great a Love

Love…that word that tries to describe one of the deepest needs that humans have. Love is rooted in the very fiber of life. We look for it, we long for it, we go to great lengths to experience it. It is so basic to life that babies fresh from the womb need that bonding love from their mother. They cannot talk, they cannot express, but they crave and require that nurturing love that comes from the mother’s caresses and the warmth of her breast. The baby lying cuddled up under the chin of the mother bonds with her as she bonds with the child. Love is expressed at this elemental moment.

Throughout our lives we look for affirmation, a word of encouragement, a touch of love and approval. Love is the essence of connection. Love connects us to one another. It can run so deep that we experience sympathetic pain, second hand offenses, and even second hand joy as our loved one succeeds. We crave the sincere love, the unfailing love, the laying down your life kind of love. We want to know someone loves us enough to not leave when we fail, not leave when we are angry, upset, depressed. Love is easy in good times. It is tough when life hands us sickness, problems, financial issues.

Sadly, some people never get to know the love that lasts. Some find loss when they are children; parents who do not love or show affection, some having abusive parents, or they experience the loss of parents through some tragedy. Sadly, life can change the fortunes of people through death of a spouse, or some physical issue can radically change life. Some have lost mental capacity, some have lost physical capacity, some start life with life limiting disabilities. These can limit the number of people who will reach out to love them. However, that need for love is resident in every person.

Where does that need for love come from? I believe it comes from God. God is love. It is his nature, his character, his essence. Anything that comes from him has that imprint. The human is particularly imprinted with God’s design and nature. We do not develop a need for love, we are born with it. It is not a conscious decision, it is inherent within us. Yet, we know that the fallen nature of things work against the principles of God, work against his character. Hurt, disappointment, hatred, frustration, all work against what God has intended.

In our whole experience we may come to the place that we become hopeless. We may believe that no one cares. But there is. We can then come face to face with the provision of love God provided. We come to face the one who said, For God so loved… God loved us enough to send his son to show us how much we are loved. He orchestrated the life of Jesus to show his love for us. This love is so intense that it endured the greatest pain and identification with those who suffer. In the midst of despair, we are loved. The climb out of despair is found in reaching for the hand of the one who loves us as we are, messed up, sin filled, hopeless, condemned. When we touch his hand, the flow of his love fills us and we are changed for eternity.

We can never fully plumb the depth of that love, but we can feel it, enjoy it, embrace it.

Preparing…#2

Preparing…#2

 I want to follow up on last week’s article.  There have been many “Destination” churches. They exist everywhere. They usually are fairly new offering some fresh perspective. Usually they are composed of younger people as they are searching for something dynamic rather than same old, same old. The current destination churches have modern technologies, the latest styles in presentation and dress, and the latest sound which reflects the music beats of current hits. Usually there is a very charismatic, young, vibrant preacher who can hold the attention of a crowd. They can either be very entertaining or very good teachers, and many of them are both.

How long a destination church remains so depends on the length of the movement. For instance, The River church was a destination church during the Charismatic Renewal. It was exciting. This destination church reached its peak in the mid 1990’s with a top attendance of 360 people. From that point on it dropped slowly at first, but continued downward as the movement waned and the excitement dwindled.

During this whole period of success, excitement, and being the “Destination” church, the community was not affected. As I have been in the community the church is little known. People down the street do not know where the church is. The name is unknown. Oh, there are a few, but asking some, they would not know how to direct you to the church. To me, that was shocking. When I was in Waynesburg, everyone knew where we were. We may have been known as the Jesus Freaks, but they knew where we were.

We are in the process of changing that. When I was starting in my 20’s a Presbyterian minister told me we would never last. He said denomination remain and independents die after a decade or less. I thought to myself, that will not happen. Sadly, many have come and gone, splashes in the pan. Looking at this now, I realize that being a “destination” church can have a short lifespan if it does not impact and become a part of the community, or at least be an option in the community. We are in the process of reaching into the community with our vision of GO-LOVE-SERVE. It is going to take some time. We will have to be persevering in our vision and goals. This becomes a vision that is long term and engaging.

The book on becoming a welcoming church is a first step. If we catch this truth and make it part of our culture, our opportunities to speak of Jesus and our faith in Him will increase. If we see people in the community as friends and neighbors and not targets, we may earn the right to share our faith, our reason to be. “raison d’être” I know that you are great people, love the Lord, and now are being poised to reach others with the love of Christ!

  • Pastor Bill

Preparing…

Preparing…

The website is now up and running. The address is theconnectionbutler.com. The name change will continue as we can accomplish things. When you visit the site, we have two drawings by Tim Beougher that could be used as a sign. I would like you to look and see what you think. Let me know.

Also, the book, “Becoming a Welcoming Church” by Thom Rainer is one that I want everyone to read or download to listen to. It is a short book with a BIG message. Thom Rainer has done church consulting for years and has worked at keeping current with trends in culture and church. This book is similar to the one I had the hospitality team read years ago called, “The Five Star Church.” However, this is shorter and to the point.

The reason I want everyone to read or listen to it is to create a common culture in our church that prepares us to receive new people, unchurched people, and post Christian people. We are facing new challenges to share the gospel, the Godspell, the good news. Once this book would have been given to the greeting and hospitality teams, but now it is imperative for all members to understand. This fits our vision of being a new covenant people, a people who will go, love, and serve.

An observation that I have thought about, but was articulated well, I would like to share with you. This church for years was a “destination” church. It was where people came from the region to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit as it was a part of the Charismatic Movement. Then it became a “Destination” church for pageantry and was recognized far and wide for the arts. It was a “Destination” church for the prophetic as there was a prophetic movement nationally. All these were good in their time. They were following movements and trends as they flowed through spirit filled circles. That was the past.

In spite of all the good things, the community was never impacted. In spite of all the good things, people coming to Christ were few in comparison to the seekers of spiritual growth. Growth came as people were seeking or were coming out of various denominations. Long term, there was a severe lack of go, love, serve. The theme was more of come, seek, be blessed.

The culture that developed was more exclusive rather than inclusive. It had more elitism and less get dirty reaching others. It became rigid with rules and regulations rather than supple and loving to take people where they were and allow changes to come as the Holy Spirit led.

Times have dramatically changed. We are preparing ourselves to do better. Preparing to reach people through connecting with them through the love of Jesus Christ.

Pastor Bill

Hungry Within..

Hungry Within…

Here we are in March. It is coming in like a cold lion and I hope ends with a warm lamb. The vagaries of weather have certainly effected our ability to have regular services. We have had to cancel a Sunday and a couple of Wednesdays. Even when we have had church, attendance has been affected since some folks could not get out or risk the severe temperatures. So, I am looking for a warm lamb finish to March.

In the midst of all this, we have been making progress in revealing our vision, journeying along a path of discovery. We have been focused around GO-LOVE-SERVE, but we are learning the depth and intention of what Christ meant. In reading the New Testament, I am reading with fresh eyes and heart. I am looking deeper and looking for clues as to the new covenant.

I realize this whole life has been a journey of discovery. We start with what we are taught. We are influenced by traditions, habits, and the limit of the revelation given around us. If you were Catholic, you grew up with a certain bias, training, and tradition. In the midst of that you were able to experience God, hopefully meet Jesus, and deal with eternal issues. Likewise, if you grew up Baptist, you came from a different perspective, but you were looking for the eternal issues as well and probably met Jesus in some form of conversion. But neither of those traditions and all others were the complete picture, the full understanding. There is so much more.

Personally, I thank God for my upbringing, the church of my youth, and the few traditions we had. The church taught me to respect the word of God. It was in this fellowship that I received my call to ministry at an early age. However, as I grew in faith and relationship with God, it became starkly clear that this church practice and doctrine, while good, was incomplete, not enough, rigid. As a teen, I began to question and look for more. Although there was some doctrine, theology, that I wanted; that was small. What was missing was the vibrancy of faith and life that I saw in scripture.  Something was just missing. There was inside a call that was not being satisfied or touched. Oh, there were moments, at church camp and mostly when alone with God. 

To this day we are still seekers. There resides in us an unrest, a spiritual unrest. It will not be satisfied in doctrine, a song, or a message. We will have it touched and assuaged momentarily. Like this past Sunday, it got touched, or when we hear lyrics that reach inside, it gets touched. Yet, it fades and recurs with the hunger. Our journey of discovery will continue to touch that part of us and throw us a promise of being filled. We will more readily and steadily have that in us filled regularly as we learn of Christ and this new covenant.

There is much to be learned by seeking the face of God.

  • Pastor Bill

GO LOVE…

GO LOVE…

Planning for Serve the Valley 2019 has begun. The team had its first meeting this past Tuesday. The participation level is increasing this year. It is so good to have all three churches working together for the good of the community.

With our GO-LOVE-SERVE vision and theme, it causes us to focus on the true meaning of being a Christian, a Jesus follower. The greatest of the three is LOVE. When Jesus delivered his new commandment, it was love one another as I have loved you. The challenging part of that statement or command is “as I have loved you.” How does Jesus love us? Well, for one thing, he loves before we love him. Secondly, even after we know him, he loves us regardless of our faults, foibles, and failures. His love is not performance based. It has never been how good we are. He has not prerequisites of attaining a certain level of cleanness, holiness, or dress style before we become acceptable. And then after becoming acceptable, we have to grow or comply to a certain creed before we get the love. Nope. Never.

He loves where we are and even before we are aware he cares. How do you do that? “Love as I have loved you.” This has to mean that love is not defined they way we define it. It has to be way beyond what we consider love to be. Jesus introduced a new kind of love that is reflected in the Greek as AGAPE. This word speaks of the “God love” that reaches us before we can respond and return any affection. It is the kind of love that parents have for wayward children. They do not deserve it or have not earned it. There has been no giving, just taking. Yet, God extends that love, “Just as I have loved you.”

I have become a little annoyed using the word “outreach.” Sorry, it sounds to me like a club that is having a program or a recruiting drive. That may sound cranky, but I really would not want to be considered anyone’s outreach program. I would like someone to care about me. I would like someone to help me. I would like someone to love me. But I do not want to be a number, a special project, an object that makes people feel like they fulfilled a religious duty.

“Just as I have loved you,” should become our reason. Someone loved us. Someone cared. So, when we venture forward, we should be wanting to help, wanting to serve, wanting to go. The goal is the interactions. The goal is to provide or create opportunities for genuine caring. 

I have noticed how sour some folks look as I walk through life in the common things we do. But I have been forcing myself to speak to more people and I am wonderfully surprised by how many people perk up when someone takes an interest in them. A casual comment can turn into a conversation of some time and importance. Other times, it is just a comment acknowledged and a returned smile. Who knows what can happen when you love “as he loved us.”

  • Pastor Bill

Godspell

Godspell

Good news, Godspell, Glad Tidings, these are all translations of the Greek word used to describe the four books of the New Testament. This word had some special meaning to those who heard it. They did not read it. If anything, it was read to them. And it was not in the form of a book with 27 items in it. It probably came alone. Greeted with enthusiasm and listened to intently because it may have to be passed along to another gathering of believers.

Not unlike Russia during the Communist regime or China, people thrilled at having a piece of the bible. In those cases, they often, upon having a bible given, they would tear it into sections and pieces and hand it out to everyone. Then as days passed, they would trade their precious piece to another for their reading. We are so blessed to have the Bible around for us. We have numerous copies, different translations, commentaries, and ones we have not opened for years as we find a favorite for this period. I know I have a shelf of bibles that are not being used; some fragile from a lot of use and others collection pieces.

But the early church got the good news from people who were eyewitnesses or knew an eye witness or studied with someone who was taught be someone who was with Jesus. It reminds me of two of my professors who were discussing and debating an issue of theology. The one made a quote or attempted one of a German theologian, possibly Karl Barth, and the other said that was not accurate. The first thought it was so, but the latter said, no, I was in class in Germany sitting under his teaching and this is what he said. You could have heard a pin drop for the one who was there and heard the teaching had the experience and knowledge of the famous theologian. The eye witness trumped the observation of the other.

The Gospels were great news, but the good news preceded the writing of the good news. There was good news as the believers shared their powerful life stories. Somehow the good news was transmitted without a written document. The documents came 30 to 50 years after the resurrection. For the Jews, the believers could take some prophecies of the Jewish scriptures and make a case, but the overwhelming power was not the pulling of prophecies, but the power of the resurrection. Why do you think the Jewish leaders tried to spread rumors? The resurrection was such good news that they had to try to destroy it or muddle the belief in it. Yet, there were over 500 witnesses to the resurrection. IN a court of law, that would be such overwhelming evidence that it would be irrefutable.

The power of the new covenant is the resurrection. The power is Jesus. When he said that he IS the resurrection and the life, we can take him at his word since he proved it and had so many witnesses that the good news remains powerful to this moment!

  • Pastor Bill