Fathers. What do you say? First, there is the Father in heaven. The creator of all life. The one we pray to. The one we fear. The one we love. The one we count on for protection, guidance, support, approval. The one we count on for eternal care and shelter. In this one being we see the hope of all things. We see his love in the provision he made in sending his son to provide the bridge to all this contentment and hope. We knew his justice and wrath would have to be expressed and satisfied at some point. Yet, his love is so strong and his paternal character desires that none should perish, even though the consequences would dictate doom. But, he is not soft, passing over heinous crimes, transgressions, and lies. He is firm in his justice, but in true fatherhood looks for ways to satisfy justice and still save the child. So, he laid down his life for us. Like a father rushing to spare his child, as happened this week when a man saved his daughter from a vicious dog and lost his life in sparing hers, God the father laid down his life in the form of his son, sparing us eternal death.
Then there are fathers. This breed of father is only interested in the rush of lust and the accidental impregnation of a woman whether he cares or not. This breed of father is purely a biological function akin to breeding horses or cattle. There is no obligation, love, connection, nor care. This kind of father walks away, denies involvement, shirks responsibility. This kind refuses to support, pay support, or give the child any attention. This kind of father, if they take minimal responsibility, is abusive, hurtful, verbally destructive, and distant.
Then there are fathers. They marry the one they love. They have children, but have no sense of the needs of the child. They can be emotionally disengaged. They can be consumed with their career or work. They can be chasing fame, money, or power. Their excuses for the distance seem to be logical, defensible on the basis of “making a living.” So, the child grows with a father in the house, but also with an emotionally absentee father. Later in life, the child has difficulty with the whole concept and feeling of father.
Then there are fathers. They marry the one they love. They have children, but they realize the role of father is extremely important. They seek to engage with the child from birth. They are involved in the day to day of life for the child, the children. They see their role as stewardship to God. They really try to mentor the child in areas of life including character, manners, responsibility. They teach. They play. They advise. They discipline. They love. Also, they try to direct their child toward the Father in heaven. The fathers who admit their mistakes, ask forgiveness when wrong, are the ones that the child will come to year after year.
The goal of the father is to bring a child up in the admonition of the Lord and then to enjoy the lifelong friendship and companionship of the child in whom he invested.
You Encouraged ME
Last Sunday was one of the most encouraging Sundays I have experienced in a long time. Not, that we have not had great Sundays, but for me the response to the message was deeply heartening. As I went through all the areas that we need volunteers to plug in and serve, I had hoped to see some response. However, you all responded wonderfully. There were so many responses that area coordinators and leaders were excited at the end of the day.
Courtney had enough responses for the Children’s Ministry to cover the Connect Kids. That was wonderful. David and Teresa had multiple people volunteer to serve with them on the Greeting and 1st Impressions Team. I had two ladies say they would cover the procurement area; that is a relief for me. They both are good shoppers. We have a finance team in place. We have a public accountant now, Macauley in Bellville, as requested by our apostolic team. Serve the Valley is coming along. There are over 80 people from the churches ready to serve. Michaela had a number of people come up and are ready to serve the kids of the community in our Summer Sack Lunch program. Prayer notices and needs can be called in to Cathy or text her or iMessage her. Also, you can put the prayer request on the Connection App. Kay Clark was the first to use it! Way to go Kay.
There are still a couple of areas that need addressed, but the overwhelming response blessed me beyond my hope. Just so you know, I am still looking for decor help, maybe 2 or 3 could team up. Judy and Will had some ideas for the stage. Also, I would like for someone to take the coordinating the summer picnic scheduled for July 28th, just before the kids go to camp. All in all I am so pleased with everyone pitching in. This really feels like the Body of Christ working together!
The Connection APP is available in the Android and Apple stores. Go to your store and type “The Connection” into the search. Many apps will show up since the word “connection” is used by a lot of different churches and businesses. Scroll down through the list looking for our logo.
When you find our logo, download it. So far, the logo has been found quite a ways down the list since we are new to the stores. It is there. We have found it in both stores. The app is new and I am still learning how to work with it. It will get better as we go. Thanks for your patience.
The sign our front will be installed in its new location when Joseph gets back from his mission trip. It is very temporary, just leaning for the time being, but at least, it identifies us a bit. Someone at the Whiffletree Sunday mentioned the name change to me. She liked it. It will take a while for people to see and know our new vision and fresh approach to ministry.
This week, Helen has finished her season as the church secretary. She has served well for fourteen years. There are many things she has done in the background to serve the church beyond secretarial duties. Those things will have to be picked up by others in a voluntary way. She has used her position to support Children’s ministry, decorating projects, various art projects as needed and a myriad of little things for others. So, we want to thank her for her dedicated service.
As has been explained, the position will not be filled because the church is smaller and the need is not there. Computers, social media, and the change in the way people communicate has lessened many of the duties that a secretary would accomplish. However, the apostolic team has provided a very generous severance package to allow Helen and her family to make adjustments that will be required.
All that being said, thank you Helen for your years of service!
THE CONNECTION APP IS AVAILABLE IN THE APPLE AND ANDROID STORES
We received the approval from the Apple Review board and the app is active in the store. Go to the App Store and in the search section type in “The Connection.” You will need to scroll down through many different apps using the word “connection.” Look for our logo. When you see it, you can click on “Get” and it will load onto your phone. The app still needs some editing for our use, but I will be doing that as I learn and work on it. There is a prayer page, the Bible is available, the giving link is there. We will work to design it for our specific use.
As we continue to move forward I am hoping that everyone is beginning to see and support the vision being developed. We are not the only church going through transitions and name changes to express a new vision. There are several churches in the area and in the state that I know of that are in the midst of transition. When I came here the Lord said there was serious foundational problems that needed corrected. I received prophetic words from people from various areas that spoke of the work to be done and the cost of following the Lord’s direction. The cost was counted, but it did shock me the depth and extent of the cost. However, obedience is better than sacrifice. Obedience to the Lord can be costly, but it is right. Being called of God is not a popularity contest. Many times obedience makes you unpopular. But the Lord said that this church would not survive without making the necessary changes. We are still moving in the right direction and there are still attitude changes that need to be made to continue to open the door for blessing. We may look like Gideon’s army, starting with many and fighting and winning with few, but we will win as the Lord fights the battle. When everyone sees the future and quits looking at the past, we will have crossed the threshold of victory. Even in Gideon’s army, there were friends who turned back, who did not go to war. If we base our service on friends, we will miss the call of obedience.
All is Grace
It was the mid to late 70’s, we were planting a church in Waynesburg, Ohio which is where I grew up. Starting a church in a small town where you grew up is the same as a prophet is not without honor except in his home town. It was difficult going at times. We were renting an old pool hall. We had cleaned it up, painted the floors and walls, bought metal chairs, found an old upright piano and had been meeting there for a couple of years. We had drunks walk in, had someone shoot the window with a crossbow bolt and break it. We were making the best we could. It was the time of the Catholic Charismatic Movement and we had a number of Catholics and former Catholics coming. We had befriended through one of our friends, a Franciscan priest.
The priest’s name was Brennan Manning who became a fairly famous author and conference speaker. We invited him to come to our storefront church and minister. He graciously did so and brought one of his friends from the College of Steubenville with him. We all had dinner together and then he shared at the church. For a small, storefront church, we had a good turnout that evening. Brennan’s message was uplifting, exploring his primary theme of the grace of God.
Later, I went to Duquesne University to hear him speak. It was always thought provoking and inspirational. Through the years he authored a number of books which we would read. Abba’s Child was one of the first; then came Ragamuffin Gospel which became his most famous, top selling book. To this day it sells well and is recommended highly by those who have read it.
To me, he was a spiritual giant, an honest writer. Sometimes his writing was so bluntly honest about himself that you would cringe reading it; all the while it is hitting home. I would read it and think about being that blunt and honest myself.
Brennan became an alcoholic when he was 16. He battled the addiction all his life. This was what he was so honest about. Oh, he would have periods of sobriety and dryness, but in periods of depression, he would lapse. The grace he spoke of came from the grace he received. Abba kept calling him back and loving on him. Out of his pain he learned unfathomable grace granted and we were the beneficiaries of his journey.
I just read his last book he wrote, All is Grace. It was written just before his passing in 2013. It is a memoir and again, the most blunt of all his writings. He reveals the deep pain and rejection from childhood, his looking and hoping for someone to say, be my friend. He reveals the depth of his addiction which eventually took his life. Throughout all his life he struggled for acceptance and love, while we saw him as a spiritual giant, close to God. He described himself once as an angel addicted to beer.
Saddened by the end of his life and now privy to his suffering, I do not look down. I still look up and honor the man and his wonderful revelations of the grace of God.
Mesmerize, to view with exclusion of other things, or to focus solely with rapt attention.
I was given this word prophetically the other day. I was asked what it meant and I pretty much defined it the way it is written above; though the above is from Webster’s dictionary. I asked what the context of this word meant in the insight given. The person said that there were people coming to the church that would have that focus for the things of the Lord.
If you have ever watched a couple who are dating and have become mesmerized by one another, you will note that they can be right in front of you and be oblivious to your presence. They are in a world of their own design and pleasure. Do not interrupt the dream. Or, watch a kid at play with a new toy, they are lost in their own world of imagination, enjoying every minute. Or, someone reading a good book is caught in the pathos of the story, oblivious to events in the room since they are transported to the world of the story.
In the context of the prophetic word, I believe we are going to have more people coming who are mesmerized with the cause of Jesus Christ. I believe we will see first things first again. There is a returning of first love. To me, first love is where we once again are impassioned with the love of Jesus. It expressed itself in the intensity of care and concern for our families, our friends, for the world as we meet it. It gets back to the reason I came to Jesus in the first place.
I did not come to Jesus because I was righteous. I did not come from a place of perfection to judge others. I did not come with a priority to set other people straight. I came because I needed him. I knew I was lost, hopeless, and unworthy. There was no arrogance in my plea. I did not think Jesus was getting a bargain; that I would be great in his kingdom; that my talents were excellent and he could use me. No, I came out of desperation. I had no idea what he could do with me, maybe nothing.
First love comes out of appreciation. It comes from someone loving and caring for me. It starts with his unrequited love and then grows to be reciprocated as we see how we are loved. He first loves us. During that early phase we are completely, to use a current word, smitten. But we allow religion to kill us. We are surrounded sometimes by “do-gooders,” who tell us this rule and that rule and pretty soon we don’t love anymore. Jesus is shoved out of the picture by what we are doing to earn acceptance from those around us and supposedly from Jesus to. HEY, he loved you while you were still lost. What folly. No wonder Jesus warns in Revelation to return to our first love. What folly to start in grace and move to works and law. The new covenant is a revelation of his love. Let’s stay mesmerized.
I want to go back to simply being mesmerized by Jesus.
It is Mothers’ Day. This is the annual observance to remind people to pay attention to their moms. It is so easy to let daily pressures and busyness to push relationships to the background. It can happen in friendships, marriage, and family. Particularly easy is to neglect the relationship with parents. We all strive to be independent and establish our own families and businesses. So, sometimes family members fade to the background. Mothers’ Day is on the calendar to kindly remind us.
In the news this week was the birth of a royal baby. The interview with Prince Harry was respectful of his wife when he commented on how amazing it was what she went through to bring the child into the world. Each of us has had a mother who went through some difficult and painful moments to bring us into the world; then to instantly love us after we were the ones who took her close to death during the brith process. Even more amazing she would do it again in having your brother or sister.
There is something in the make up of mothers that is pretty awesome and God given. The maternal instinct it is called. It is the part that makes getting up in the middle of the night, feeding, changing, nursing, caring, hour after hour of attention, all a part of loving the child. Just thinking of it is fatiguing. Yet, moms continue to do it year after year as the child grows with its ever changing needs.
The problem for the kid is this: Mothers never turn off the mother instinct. You can be 30-40-50 and if your mom is still with you, you are still her baby. My mom is in her 90’s, me in my 70’s and I am still her kid. Your mom feels she has the right to say anything to you, to give you advice or just flat out tell you what to do. Every child, no matter the age, chafes under that at times, but most people when the mother is gone wishes to hear those maternal directions again.
We are called upon to care for our moms as they progress through life. Often it ends up that the one who cared for you becomes the one you have to care for. Life has its seasons. The one that used to chase us, spank us, work us, counsel us etc.; now we are helping her into the car, making sure she walks safely, and gets enough nourishment. I was amazed that the account of Jesus on the cross, while dying for the sins of the world, took time in his pain and suffering to look down and tell John that he was to take care of his mom and tell his mom to allow John to care for her. Mary went to live with John, the apostle.
Family is important. Mothers tend to be the heart of the home. Therein resides the maternal, the caregiving, the eternal never give up, the hopeful, the ready to forgive, the welcome home, the encourager, the “tell it like it is,” the nagging persistence, the unbounded love, all rolled into one woman who is called mom, mother, mum, ma, and mommy.
So, we celebrate the women who are moms and particularly, ours.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Recently, GM made a decision, a business decision that affected a large number of people. They closed the Lordstown assembly plant. The plant had been assembling the Chevy Cruze. The reality of the corporate decision was caused by the buying habits of the public. People are not buying cars. They are buying in large numbers the SUV whether it be small like the Ford Escape or large like the Cadillac Escalade. The sedan is a dwindling market. There was no animosity on the part of GM toward the workers; it was matter of saving the company and redirecting labor. Some have said that maybe another vehicle would be built there, or it could be like the GM plant in Mansfield that does not exist except for acres of concrete.
But Mansfield, Ontario, are in the process of making the space usable again. The mall has been transformed and exists with a health facility being built inside the space that Lazarus used to have. Life changes and adjustments are made. Health issues can change a person, a family. A wonderful wage earner can be limited by physical issues not of their own making. Loss of income, tragedies such as happened in Shelby can turn our world upside down.
You received my letter-email regarding our changes. We are becoming a younger, newer church. We are expressing fresh vision, fresh approach to our life as Christians. The name change is a part of that re-branding of ourselves as the fresh revelation of His gospel permeates our being.
The apostolic team is not mean spirited. The health and welfare of the church is its foremost concern and desire. Each one of the team has extensive experience in planting churches. Probably collectively, we have planted in excess of 100 churches. None of us are novices. The changes, while uncomfortable at times, are all steps to fresh life and spirit and survivability of this church.
One of the core issues that is being worked on and established is the right relationship with authority, with leadership. The writer of Hebrews exhorts the church to honor, respect, and follow the leadership. Paul writes of honoring, respecting, and following as they follow Christ. Leadership has plenty on its shoulders with the spiritual care and responsibility. The second guessing and complaining, rumoring, gossip which has been the history of this church is coming to an end.
The apostolic team is making the changes because they need to be made. In honoring Helen we are going way beyond what would be fair. We have expressed concern and know the changes will take time. To give someone over six months severance pay is unheard of and we have been told so, but we want to care for and allow an easy transition as possible for our sister and her family.
So, if you have questions, please direct them to one of the team and not to each other in gossip form. Please have the integrity to speak to one of us.
-Pastor Bill Ralph Howe Ministries Mobile Phone: +1 (306) 536-9574 Email: email@example.com
P.O. Box 31085, Regina, SK., Canada S4R 8R6 or Duane Flemming, firstname.lastname@example.org, (614) 325-0021
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!
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.
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
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!
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
The Amazing Gospels
This coming Wednesday we begin a new series in our Connect Group. Actually, by popular demand, we will begin looking into the Gospels. As I have mentioned several times, the Lord kept me in the gospels for cycles before releasing me to read or study further.
What I found was the teachings of Jesus are difficult. On the surface they seem so benign, easy, simple in the statement. Yet, as you ponder them, they become revolutionary, hard, complex. The challenge he puts before us contradicts our human nature. There is no way to live his principles without serious divine help. For instance, love your enemies. We are taught to hate our enemies, set traps for our enemies, misconstrue everything they do, fight our enemies, and ultimately destroy our enemies however that can be accomplished whether physical or character assassination. But love your enemies. Can you see how this teaching, along with many more, will upset your lifestyle, challenge your thinking, and force significant change in your actions.
I think that we have studied the gospels or least read through them on our way to Paul’s letters. We pull our favorite Christmas stories and Easter events from the gospels, but to really, really see the universe changing teachings of Jesus, not so much.
I know I really like the miracle accounts, the healings, the power over death. We can focus on the miracles and have a great time moving through the displays of his power over sickness, nature, and incurable diseases. We can see him as the healer, the miracle worker. We may even want to do the same. I know I do.
But, as you peel back the displays, the authority over the demonic, there is so much more. The compassion for humanity, the care of the outcast, the downtrodden, the disenfranchised begins to grab your attention. There is so much more going on than a prophet speaking to a corrupt system; there had been many of those before. He is so much more than a reformer, a teacher. There is something going on that had not happened before in anyone’s teachings. In fact, the remark that he taught with authority was made regularly. So powerful his assertions that it impacted the listeners that this was something new, a source that had not been explored before. The religious system could detect that in Jesus there was something that was going to ruin them. They decided to kill him before it went too far. Kill this 33 year old and be done with this new authority that was being expressed and enthralled the people, drawing them to him and his word.
It is this approach that we will take in our study. We will be looking for the teachings that turns the world upside down, that shakes the heavenliness, that moves nations and peoples. This teaching and lifestyle that will dictate and rule eternity. I am looking for Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life. Then to walk in the way.
- Pastor Bill
Winter is here with a vengeance. I do not think I have experienced a winter where there is such a roller coaster of a temperature ride. We have just experienced arctic temperatures that are dangerous. Then we race into the 50’s with a warming trend. We had snow last week which was 3 inches or so, plowed that out and the next day it rains with warm air. What a war of weather fronts!
Our granddaughter was married Saturday the 26th in the middle of snowing. It made for beautiful pictures and a chilling recessional. Yet, those pictures and memories will last their whole life. Sometimes adversity is difficult in the moment, but yields great memories and stories in the long run.
We have been somewhat in that arena for years now. However, being forged on this anvil of stress has yielded some really good things. When you are in the furnace of affliction you soon find what is of value and essential.
The Holy Spirit works with all of us. He is patient and kind. He gives time for change. While I am wanting change NOW, he works things around so that all involved can benefit if they will. I have thought at times, why are they not changing, or why do they not see this truth or that way? In those moments there are interpersonal conflicts. Believer is struggling with another believer. We want to form sides. Sometimes people want to win, defeat the other person or group, gather folks to their side and win. Some even go so far as to want the other side to die, fail, vanish. However, I have been surprised at God. He works with all. He lovingly guides each. For the one may have felt the leading of the Spirit in one direction and the other does not. They both may be right and the interpersonal conflict is necessary to free both to follow the Spirit’s leading for their lives.
To want to win at the expense of the others is human nature, but not godly. We all have been there until we are corrected by the Lord. The Lord will win in both cases. And each will have to spend eternity with one another. I do not believe we will hide in our corner and refuse to talk to the folks in the throne room. I do not think we will refuse to speak when we bump into them on the streets of New Jerusalem.
Like the weather our lives can be balmy, peaceful, and tranquil and then suddenly, there is a storm and a drop in temperature that is soul chilling. The illusion of life always being under control is shattered regularly. We, like the thermometer, can set new record lows and highs although we long for a steady 72 degrees.
What really matters is maintaining a sense of value, integrity, love for one another, and the knowledge of constantly growing in the direction of conforming to the image of Jesus.
- Pastor Bill
Sudden Life Change
Last Sunday was very weird for me. Not having church threw my whole sense of what day it is off. I kept thinking it was Monday. It messed up my normal routine. I missed the fellowship, the worship, the after church chats, going to lunch with someone, and my afternoon nap after preaching. Oh well, the weather changed all that. I understand that was the most snow in one event we have had in a number of years possibly as far back as 2005.
Mary, my daughter, texted me and said it must be really bad, dad canceled church. I really dislike having to cancel church, but this event was serious enough that it could endanger anyone who tried to make it.
Life lessons teach us that life can change drastically in a moment. You can be going along with plans that are good, everything in place, the day laid out, and suddenly it changes and forces everything to go another direction. Monday we were driving along, coming from Canton area back to the house. The roads had cleared up and were mostly dry. We were within a mile of the Hayesville exit on Rt. 30. I had the cruise control on and was passing a business van. I got to the place where my passenger side mirror was straight across from his when he drifted my way. I moved the truck as far left as possible and honked my horn and then suddenly “bang” he hit just behind the rear passenger side door. The impact sent my truck spinning. I think he hit us again as we spun in front of his van and then went straight into the guardrail. We hit the guardrail hard and spun to the left and ended up facing the way we came. The seatbelts kept us from being thrown forward into the windshield. We just sat there, stunned. We were all right.
There is no time to think or correct. It happens so fast that there is no control, no reaction time. You are totally at the mercy of time, space, and the laws of inertia. Where will this stop? My mind went to “Will we be hurt? Could this be the end?” “Will Cathy be all right?” There was no time to pray, repent, check in with God. As we sat there waiting on the State Patrol, we thanked the Lord for taking care of us, we called the kids. We kind of checked ourselves. “Are you hurt? Are you all right?” “You sure?!”
This morning I am all right. But the truck is damaged heavily, but still is slightly drivable. No engine damage etc. We were thankful to be in a large vehicle and sturdy. It can be repaired. The real blessing is we were not hurt, nor the driver of the van.
But the lesson, once again, is that things can change so rapidly. I have thought through the years that people who say they have time, really do not. Those who think that they will have time just before they die, it probably won’t happen. Either you take care of those things now or you will most likely not have time to care about it at the moment. “Today is the day of salvation.” This rings so true. The writers of the New Testament call out to us to make today the day. Do not hesitate, do not procrastinate, do not think that you will be afforded a long moment to repent.
I can think of so many cases through the years where someone’s life was snuffed out in a moment and others whose lives were drastically changed in a moment. Today is the day.
- Pastor Bill
GO FOR THE REBOUND
Pastor Doug Duble sent these quotes out to his church in Columbus. He, most often, sends his thoughts along to me as well. Often quoted too is falling down is not defeat unless you refuse to get up. Quitting is when you are defeated. Just as Duane was speaking last week about worry and how it can be debilitating, we can become overwhelmed with scenarios of defeat, failure, self recrimination, and even disgust.
These many quotes from famous people who have known the ups and downs of life and maybe spent a large amount of time in difficulty such as Winston Churchill are important because they are birthed out of the experience. Take a look:
“Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.”– Napoleon Hill
“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”
– Winston Churchill
“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” – Elbert Hubbard
“You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”– Wayne Gretzky
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”– Jack Canfield
“Remember that failure is an event, not a person.”– Zig Ziglar
“A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.”– John C. Maxwell
“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent in doing nothing.”– George Bernard Shaw
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”– Henry Ford
Reading the lives of the various apostles, there were so many experiences recorded that could have met failure and quit. The most famous one may be the denials of Peter on the night of the betrayal, the court cases, and the crucifixion. Riding high on the power of relationship with Jesus and his obvious leadership qualities, Peter would have never thought of failing, denying, repudiating his relationship. Wow, how quick things can change. Once the rooster crowed and Jesus glanced over to Peter, he was devastated, broken, personally disgusted with himself. He probably felt that it was all over. He was the biggest loser in the world and probably hated himself.
I think that he would never be, ever again, in the graces of God. When death came to Jesus, there was, in his mind, no way he could ever make it up, correct it. Possibly he thought he was out, no longer worthy to be a disciple, let alone a leader. Jesus knew this. Jesus purposely invited him to breakfast after the resurrection. As they were eating, the thrice denial was turned into a thrice confession of love. With each confession, Jesus renews the call, the commission, the forgiveness. The prophecies of Jesus came to pass. He did become the one to open the doors and lay the foundation of the church and yes, the prophecy of his denial came true was well. Two prophecies at opposite ends of the spectrum, both fulfilled.
Failure was turned into success. Peter lead the church into world changing power and influence.
- Pastor Bill
Transitions are not easy, but they are necessary. Life has a number of them. We transition from being an infant to a toddler. Bumps and bruises happen as we learn to walk and navigate. While we are struggling getting from one point to another, mom and dad are cheering us on. We transition from early childhood to school age. Now we are thrown in with all kinds of other kids. We are not the only ones in a small circle of care. We have to adjust and adapt to various personalities and schedules and study. Another significant transition is from childhood to puberty. All kinds of physical and hormonal changes are taking place. Some body parts are too big or too small, feet growing, limbs growing, turning us into gangly, uncoordinated messes at times. Hormonal changes are bringing acne, facial hair, moods, and strife with parents. Trying to grow up faster than the brain will allow. Another huge transition is the one from middle school to high school. Most freshman enter as still kids and are thrown in with guys with beards, fully developed muscles, many at their final height and you feel like a dwarf in an adult world, but it isn’t. The one from high school to college or the military will be just as huge as that first day in high school as a freshman.
Oh, then there is the transition from single to married. Lookout! The change from being married to having a kid in the mix is tantamount to a major earthquake. Down the road, there is the parenting job of raising teenagers, most difficult. But after the high energy of teens in the house, you tend to collapse into the empty nest which is a major shock to mothers. Then comes the transition to becoming a grandparent. For most, this is a welcome phase. However, for some, it is hard because they are not ready for the word, “grandma, or grandpa.”
Age transitions continue. These come at various ages later in life. Some can continue to function lively into the 80’s and 90’s; while others are physically old in their late 50’s or early 60’s. But the transitions are there and what you able to do changes. This transition affects the children since the middle aged children now become concerned and caring for the older parent.
Transitions. Hard, necessary, unavoidable.
There are transitions in the faith as well. They tend to parallel the pattern of life too. In our spiritual infancy, things are easy, exciting. As we grow, we learn, we struggle, and persevere. As we age in the faith it is too easy to fall into a dull routine. The relationship with Jesus can stagnate or it can prosper. It takes attention and work.
I sense, I know. We are in a period of transition. Not only us. I believe there is a birthing of a movement of God happening. It is in its beginning phase, but it is here. It is not full blown. It is the early, small tremors of the movement, but a shaking is in progress. God is speaking to many of his people. I have been sensing this for several years and am now getting a handle on it. We are transitioning. The ways of the past several decades are coming to an end. There is a fresh breath of God beginning to blow. We are about to discover the dynamic of the “Jesus Movement.” “The Way” that Saul was persecuting and “The Way” that Paul preached after the transition on the road to Damascus.
- Pastor Bill
2019 Peace and Joy
12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8760 hours, 525,600 minutes, 31,536,000 seconds comprise one year. Broken into these pieces it becomes a mathematical item, but it is the moments of our lives. We are breathing, heart pumping, thinking, and so many actions going on in the inside of our bodies without thought to them. Broken down into these pieces we have a small window of expression, interaction, and relationship. To remain healthy, you will need to spend a third of those hours sleeping. You will spend another third of those hours working. You will have to concentrate on your job. You will spend another large section eating, maybe three hours a day minimum.
The daily grind, the routines of life take a considerable amount of time. These routines are for sustaining life and providing for family and self. If you then multiply the annual time spent times the life expectancy of a man or woman, you will find that the weighted issues of life are relegated a very small portion of our attention and for some it is negligible. Time is ticking, but what about the eternal matters that must be decided in that ticking clock?
We have this very handy celebration every year called New Years. It is a moment to mark time, a crossroads, a mile marker. It locates us in the history of the world. It serves to set boundaries of people’s lives, their service, their responsibilities. It also is a count down. You look forward and you look backward and you get a sense of where you are. This barrier of sorts gives each person a moment to evaluate, a moment to say “that is past.” It is a moment to hope for the better, a new day, a new start. We make resolutions, turn over a new leaf, start fresh. We look ahead with a sense of renewal. There is an adventure in it. What does this year hold for me?
With the break of a new year, we cast vision for the next months. But, we also take a hard look at the past months and ponder, “what did I learn, what did I do, what do I need to change moving ahead?”
I have found that hope springs up in me at the change of the calendar. I hope for a better year than the last one. I hope for health for all. I hope that lives will be changed through Jesus. I hope for people to catch the message and purpose of being a follower of Jesus. I hope for prosperity for all my loved ones. I hope for unity in the family and the family of God. I hope I see Jesus more clearly. I hope I serve well and am faithful to Him. I hope for more revelation of his purposes, his word, and his Spirit. I hope to enjoy life, be content, be happy, smell the roses, imbibe in his wonderful creation. I hope for true friends.
I, through his grace, have another 8760 hours to live. You do too. I am familiar with the way life goes though. There will be challenges. There may be grief and sorrow. We are not exempt. But there will be some really great times too. The real joy does not come from events so much as from the relationships we have with loved ones. The events become great memories because of who was there with you.
I really want to see 2019 be the year of building wonderful, familial relationships in the church. I would like this to be a year of building, growing, being healthy, loving one another. I would pray for a year of peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
– Pastor Bill
Looking For Peace
Here we are at the last Sunday of 2018. It seems years go by rather rapidly. The world is filled with turmoil, anger, strife, hatred. We are bombarded daily with negativity through the media and other sources. When Jesus said that he would leave us with peace, his peace, he introduced something that the world does not and cannot have. In fact, most believers struggle to find that kind of peace. He said that his peace would pass all understanding. So, the peace that passes understanding is not attainable by exercises of the mind. His peace is revealed by the Holy Spirit to the inner man, you inside, down deep in the soul.
In the face of criticisms, complaints, negative talk, accusations, cyber bullying, lies spoken, personal attacks, and character assassinations, the Christian has a source of peace, positivity, and hope. In the face of the stream of negativity and angst, the Christian is called to swim counter culturally and provide a flow of hope and positivity. In the face of fear, worry, and hopelessness the Christian can truly offer and display a life and message of peace, meaning, eternal and temporal hope.
The battle for each believer is to not be drawn into the ways and speech of the world. This is not easy. We are to be in the world, but not of the world. We cannot run away and hide and fulfill our calling to go to the world. Hiding the light of Jesus under a basket, as he illustrated, is not our calling. Yet, many want to hide in the safety of withdrawal from the world, or bind themselves in such a legalistic approach that they are useless in reaching a dying world because they do not love the people.
Yes, we are called to reach out to the people who are negative. We have some who have dropped out of life choosing to waste themselves with pleasures, drugs, and any form of escape. We have others who are angry and are activists who choose violence and rage. There is no peace in their souls. There are those who lose themselves in the money chase and believe riches are the answer. They end up always chasing the carrot dangling in front of their eyes only to be disappointed in the long run. Even in the Christian world there are futile chases that lead to emptiness. We have the drop outs who sit and never share their faith. They are comfortable with church attendance, but there is no drive or joy in their faith. There are also those who use their faith as an escape, researching, reading, devotions, books, but never engage the world. For pastors and leaders it can be the push to be successful, numbers, finances, buildings, programs etc. It becomes a paper chase of success and comparison. Where is the peace? Where is the engagement with the mandate of Christ?
When we reach the place where the peace of Christ reigns we are positioned to be light and salt to a confused and angry world. The world is made up of suffering individuals caught in the turmoil of life and the battle for the souls of men and women.
Let us work to find that peace in Christ and let us live in peace with one another. Let us love one another and exemplify the desire of the Lord.
THE WONDER OF IT ALL
Remember the excitement, the anticipation, the sleeplessness? Remember Christmas being the moment of high excitement. You went to bed with a tree in the living room lit up with colorful lights, tinsel, and ornaments. That alone was beautiful, but what happened in the morning was spectacular. As you came into the room, the lights were still lit on the tree, but under the tree were numerous wrapped gifts in reds, greens, silver, gold and ribbons tightly embracing the contents. We knew better than to touch anything before the parents were up. So, we would knock on the door, make loud noises to arouse them. Once they came to the living room, the orderly distribution of gifts began. Each of us was excited for the others to see what they got. Especially important was to see if you received what you had been hoping for. As a child, Christmas seemed like it would never get here. As an adult, it comes and goes so fast that you struggle to grab the wonder.
Now, my favorite thing has become watching the faces of the little ones as they open something they had wished for. Their parents love to see clothes for the kids, but the kids pass over those quickly for the more exciting toys. All that preparation, buying, wrapping, anticipating, cooking, and the event is over in moments. Yet, during that short event, there are memories made. Things are remembered and simple gifts can become treasures that remain a lifetime. Looking back years later, you begin to realize the sacrifice of parents and loved ones to make Christmas special.
Yes, sacrifice. As a kid you do not realize that it may take a couple of months to pay for the gifts you received. Parents do that. Or maybe someone was working two jobs or working a lot of overtime to make Christmas special. The wonder of Christmas is in the willingness to sacrifice to make the moment wonderful for someone else.
Some of the toys were played with for awhile and then they faded. Clothing fit and was worn, but in the years of growing a few months made them too small. Yet, the sacrifice was made willingly and for that fleeting moment the reward was seen in the face of joy.
Gratitude should be present, but often is not. Sometimes it takes years to feel the gratitude for what was done. As a child, you do not know. You probably should not. Some have said that they did not know they were poor till they got older into adulthood. The sacrifices and love covered the reality so there would be joy. Then as adulthood awakens the reality of the past, you are awed by what was done for you.
I guess I do not want to lose the wonder of Christmas. The number of gifts do not matter to me, in fact, the fewer the better. You remember better with fewer. What is really important is having family together. The banter, the laughter, the stories, the little ones are the best gifts of the day.
Likewise, the wonder of the sacrifice that God made for us to have joy, fulfillment, and peace is paramount to our celebration. The birth is a wonder of God’s planning and grace, but without the cross it would have been a kid born to a Jewish carpenter and his young wife. The progress of the gift from birth to resurrection makes the wonderment beyond full comprehension. Jesus is a gift that keeps on giving to us daily. The opening of another revelation, another understanding, another prophetic fulfillment causes us to live in wonder. It is Christmas every time we see another facet of the plan and the eternal gift.
I am eternally grateful to Jesus!
– Pastor Bill
PEACE ON EARTH
We just finished a very fruitful weekend with our Holy Spirit Encounter Weekend. Ralph did an excellent job of teaching, Duane’s contribution was really good, and I enjoyed sharing as well. There were many good questions and numerous comments that were helpful. We had several guests come to the conference. They each reported how it really helped them. They made comments too about how friendly and loving the church was. (That is really good to hear)
We are fully in the Christmas season. Everyone is busy, decorating, family events, cooking, baking etc. I hope you are not getting stressed out and will be able to enjoy the season with your loved ones. We certainly want to focus on the birth of Christ and all the redemption contained in that miracle. One of the declarations of the angels was “peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” It can be translated, “peace on earth toward men of goodwill.”
In a time where peace seems so far away, it is important to know where that peace resides and where it comes from. The peace comes from knowing God, knowing Jesus, the one sent by God. It resides within our soul and spirit and not from some external calm in the world. In the face of trials and temptations, rumors of wars and wars, trouble and double trouble, the peace comes to the spirit and soul through the presence of the Holy Spirit. As I look around, if I were looking for peace, I would not find it in circumstances. I can only find it in the presence of Jesus.
I choose to be positive. I choose to not return evil for evil. I choose to love, not hate. I choose to look to the positive and not live in the negative. I choose to look forward and not look backward. I choose to forgive, not condemn. I choose to speak well, not complain and whine. I choose to have faith for the future and not doubt God’s provision. Life is a series of choices. What you choose, sows the seeds for your harvest.
The world does not understand the peace of God. Many Christians do not understand the peace of God. Often they are caught in the religious, the legalistic, the performance, the sad carnal responses to life. Caught, trapped. Finding and maintaining the peace of God is a test of endurance. Each trial tests our responses and feelings. Each trial causes the internal to rise up its carnal nature. Each trial then makes us run to God, run to the savior to find the peace that passes understanding. Peace was promised, was announced, was shouted by angelic choruses. The angels declared a new day because of the child to be born.
One day the Prince of Peace will come. One day the Prince will settle the accounts and bring justice and maintain the peace. One day we will do war no more. One day the lion will lie with the lamb. One day the saints of God will love one another like Jesus intended.
– Pastor Bill
Celebrate His Birthday
The birth of Jesus brought the beginning of one of the greatest changes to eternity that has ever happened in the history of the world. A set of events that are so obscure to the rest of the world that it would have gone unnoticed except for the apostles who recorded it. Yet, this string of events not covered by the media, or written by prominent historians, changed the world. Only, greatly after the fact, did people begin to understand the impact of a birth with eternity riding on its import.
Through the centuries volumes of books have been written expounding the miracle. Books written to explain how this birth fulfilled prophecies centuries old, one waiting for this moment. Books written to expound how the letter of the law was completed by this infant. Libraries are filled with the miracle and the wonder of a God-man, the Emmanuel.
We call it Christmas. In the celebration we exchange gifts, families are reunited, friends care for one another, children are excited, and traditions are played out and memories are made for life. The world has caught on, enjoying the celebration and the gifts, but often missing any mention of the true reason for celebration.
Even we who believe often miss the point too. I think we can make it very solemn, rather than a celebration. If we focus on the scene, the manger scene, we think about the problem of birthing in a barn, the struggle of no room in the inn. Really, he was born and swaddled in a manger foretelling the preparation of the perfect lamb of God. Hallelujah! Angels were singing, Hallelujah. Born in Bethlehem, fulfilling the prophecy of Micah and the House of David. Hallelujah! Born of a virgin fulfilling prophecy from Isaiah, Hallelujah! Shepherds who knew the art of raising and preparing the lamb for sacrifice were awed and understood. Hallelujah!
The need for a perfect, pure, man was being fulfilled. The years to the cross were years of obedience and testing. He passed! The purity remained and he was the perfect sacrifice to cleanse the heavenly altar and throne from the corruption of Adam’s sin. We needed someone without the blood strain of Adam coursing through their veins. Here comes Jesus with pure, untainted, non-Adam blood, the God-Man. This virgin birth becomes one of the pillars of the faith. Without the virgin birth and the pure life of Jesus, we would still be lost in our sin and there would be no hope.
BUT…He was born of a virgin. His blood was completely pure. Death could not hold him. He made the altar clean again. He is the propitiation for our sin. He paid it all. He established a new covenant. He abolished the old covenant. He prepared and made a way for us to live forever in his presence.
Remember…this is really important. Celebrate the birth of Jesus!!
Kinder, More Gentle
Several of you asked for the seven points I had listed in the sermon last week. Here they are:
So, taking one small byte today, let’s begin this adventure with a commitment to be a kinder, gentler people showing forth the love of Christ. How about this:
- Think before you speak. Say things that build the person up and if directness is needed, couch it in kindness.
- We want excellence, but not at the expense of loving one another. Relationship is more important than perfection.
- Let’s work together. Serve one another. Quit trying to boss people around and just get in there and serve.
- No Prima Donna’s. You are not the center of the universe. Give space and gentility to your brothers and sisters. We are all striving to do our best, but things happen to disrupt. Go with the flow. It will work out. Does it really mean that much? What is really important?
- Job One is to have a relationship with Jesus. Everyone in church should do their best to help themselves and others to experience the irresistible Jesus.
- Quit judging. If an immoral person comes to us (someone who is struggling with life and possible addictions), let’s receive them. If someone is different from us, receive them. Don’t impose your set of conducts on others who are just coming and learning. Youth will always be different in styles, language and some behaviors.
- Let’s be more family, support one another, love one another.
When we look at church as an organization too firmly, we lose the human element in the process of trying to make everything work. We may have been assigned an area to serve in and develop, but it is the Lord’s first of all. Sometimes I have found people loose the joy of serving because they grab something and possess it to the exclusion of anyone helping or participating. I had to learn that as a parent. When a child wants to help bake cookies, the kitchen will be a mess and there will be no prize at the fair for best decorated cookie. When a boy mows the lawn for the first few times the rows will not be straight and it may look like the lawn got a mohawk haircut. What is important is they wanted to help. They are learning and criticism and complaint and anger will just make them never want to help again. This same thing happens with adults.
Like I said, this is a new day, a kinder day, a more loving and tolerant day with one another. Remember telling your little ones to “share.” Let’s share the journey together and serve one an other.
– Pastor Bill
READY FOR GOD TO MOVE
Kirk DeVenney certainly has a way of inspiring and encouraging each believer. Like most of us, he has been through some very deep trials of his faith. He has faced them and lived through them and continues to serve the Lord. He has accomplished much in his missionary career. He has accumulated testimony after testimony of God’s faithfulness and power.
None of us are perfect. We are frail in many ways. If we were to weigh our deeds and thoughts against the purity of Jesus, we would be exposed as vile and corrupt. We would not need a “rap” sheet with the law, or the judgment of our peers. Outwardly we could look as righteous as any person who walked the earth, but against the life of Christ we would be polluted beyond redemption.
However, we are created in the image of God but have utterly disfigured that image in ourselves. Amazingly we are still sought after and loved by the One who created us. While some stand with fist shaking at the sky at a God that they feel is unfair or distant; we bow with the acceptance of a grace unmerited. While some say that there is no God because they have not scientifically or logically proved his existence; we can only cry out the preponderance of evidence that surrounds us in the universe and worship Him.
My failures, my frailties rise to constantly condemn me. My losses, rejections, loneliness are constantly before me. Yet, in the midst of these things there is the thought of obedience. I am here, in this place, in this condition as a result of the leading of the Lord. I am reminded to be comforted in the will of the Father. He said these things would happen and here they are. Trust becomes the battle of the mind. The spirit responds with a big “yes” and the mind responds with a big “What if?” The battle of faith and doubt war in the soul. Sometimes you wonder who will win. However, experience says “hold on,” he will come. I have had enough last minute experiences with God to know that he does come through.
History indicates that there are many, many testimonies of impending defeat when suddenly God shows up with a miracle. Something happens that changes the course of history. Sometimes it’s a wind storm that exposes land mines that were buried. Sometimes it is an army that stops for lunch. Sometimes it’s the sun going back in the sky. There are numerous miracles of provision, or life changing events. While the Israelites had their back to the Red Sea and an Egyptian army bearing down on them, God changed the course of history by shrouding the army in a dense fog while He was sending a wind so strong it parted waters and held them there long enough to move 3-6 million people to the other side on dry sea bottom.
Our situation is like a ripe fruit ready for God to pick. He has been working, He is working, and He will continue to work. He will use our frailties to bring about His glory. In our weakness, He is made strong.
– Pastor Bill
In every situation in life we would like to have a perfect explanation, a reason, a simple logical answer. We would also like to stand on the high ground and say we were right and “they” were wrong. It is not like that; yet we want people to take sides and make everything black and white. Take, for instance, divorces. In the heat of the problems there comes a place where neither party can continue as is. But what follows is problematic. The rules are that somebody has to be blamed, someone has to be the guilty party. However, the truth is that there are no blameless persons in the issue; some just handled them poorly and broke covenant. Then comes the court battles, the grab for property and money, the fight over child custody, and the campaign for allies to hate the other person. The collateral damage takes on huge proportions. It is not just the couple separating; it is the kids, the grandparents, the friends, and the business associates. All these are collateral damage and all receiving second hand offenses with little or insufficient facts, but true to their allegiance, they blindly hate, separate, accuse, and spread the one sided, insufficient story.
The strange thing is that down the road, the couple may come to a civilized, workable arrangement, but the second hand offenses remain. They remain because the couple does not go fix what they broke or tell the truth of their part in the sad affair.
Life is messy. Not every change is well received. Companies change leaders, schools change administrators, teachers, and churches change vision and direction. It does not mean that the administrator who left is bad or the teacher who goes is a poor educator. Companies change CEO’s, corporate officers, and management from time to time to keep the company viable. Sometimes in churches, there are changes in staff and leadership. All that is for the long term benefit of the church. Churches have to keep current with the current move of God and that is not easy.
As we are going through changes that are necessary for the welfare of the church long term, it is not easy. We have friends and loved ones who have chosen to move on and we have new folks who are joining our vision. It does not make those who are moving on bad people, it is just where things are at the moment. We are not bad people for staying and working on the change. The challenge lies before us.
When friendships are tested and each has to go a direction that causes some separation, it does not mean that friendships should not be maintained. It will mean that the paths will not cross as frequently, but they will cross from time to time.
I look forward to the process of growing and following the current move of God for us. This is a new day: Onward and Upward!
– Pastor Bill
Responding to the call of God at the age of 11 to be in ministry was exciting and meaningful to me. Who knew where it was going to take me. Studying through high school and college for the ministry was wonderful. I like to read and study. I like the challenge of learning. Learning to fly with an instrument rating on top of it was like another college education. I also like to teach. I used to substitute teach while in high school for short periods of time. I also taught school for several years while pastoring. I enjoyed the kids. I loved being a youth pastor early on. Cathy was always great with the kids. We usually had our house full of kids. We even took in run-aways for a season. We were visited sometimes in the middle of the night with someone needing help.
The joys of serving the Lord are found in people who have met the Lord and significant change has happened as a result of Jesus. For me, having someone accept Christ is thrilling. Baptizing a convert is a blessing. Praying for someone to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit is exhilarating. Teaching someone who is hungry for God is a mountain top experience. Talking meaningfully about the Lord with a fellow Christian is fun and the expanding of the soul. Really, being about the Father’s business is joyful.
What is not joyful are the power struggles of religion and organizations. Often the church is no better than the political circus we have witnessed. The hardships of personal relationships, the partisanship, the gossip, and accusations are exhausting and counter productive to the kingdom of God.
I am hoping and believing that as we move forward that we will have a new life of joy, satisfaction, and testimony to the goodness of God. Life is messy enough without our expressions of faith being tormented. While organization is important, it cannot be rigid. We must be able to adapt and flow with various situations and people. Times may change on us and we have to adapt. I really want to see us be loving, flexible, personal, serving one another, and flowing with the Holy Spirit. If we can be open and friendly, we may find people looking for us. The rigid purity that we think is the way to holiness is usually the way to uptight legalism. Jesus was loved and sought after by the disenfranchised and the down and outers. He was loving yet brutally honest and forthright. Pretense did not fly; neither will it now.
Me, I want to be happy again. I want to flow as the Lord called me and has directed me. This is a new day, a happy day, full of potential for all of us. I am looking for the birth and influx of people who want to live in freedom and joy. Let’s really GO…LOVE…SERVE.
Today, I am in Columbus at Connect Church. (Pastor Paul Walls) I have been speaking and ministering at their “Holy Spirit Weekend.”
There is an obvious decline in the pursuit of the baptism in the Holy Spirit throughout the Christian world. Francis Chan published a book called, “Forgotten God,” referencing this fact. Throughout the centuries the Holy Spirit is the one who gets left behind first. The early churches witnessed the decline of the baptism of the Holy Spirit until by the 4th century there is little said or movement known. The gifts of the Spirit became little known on the larger scale and were practiced by the few. It was not until the reformation that there were numerous groups experiencing the Holy Spirit as in the days of Pentecost. Even then, they were considered “fringe” groups and not main stream.
What is it about the Holy Spirit that gets put on the “back burner?” Even those who have received the Baptism and have operated in the gifts can drift quickly and walk away from the practice and demonstration of the Spirit’s power. I have known many who have gone into non spirit filled churches and cease to share the freedom they once had. In talking with some over the years, they admit to more comfort and ease. This is a result of giving up a portion of what they had.
It is easier to have a church that is fixed. Rituals, patterns, liturgy, all are good in a way, but when they formalize, create rigidness, they kill the opportunity of the Spirit to lead, adjust, or speak. Formalism is safe. Thus the human is more comfortable with safe than with something living and dynamic.
Following the Holy Spirit, being open to the Holy Spirit is an adventure. Yes, we have a certain order, but we have an open invitation to allow the Holy Spirit to arrange things. The devil is afraid of a group that would be open to the Holy Spirit. He works extra hard to disrupt, discourage, and destroy any group that wants to move by the Spirit of God. That alone should indicate how important it is to be open to the Holy Spirit.
Every believer gets the comfort and consolation of the Spirit, but He was intended to have more than that in us. He was intended to be the dynamo that works in us to empower us for the works of Jesus.
We are facing a time when we must hold fast what we have and continue to pursue more of Him. I am going to continue to preach these things and seek to live by them to the best of my ability. It is not a time to shrink from the Holy Spirit, but a time to embrace Him and allow Him to flow through us. Who knows what opportunities lie before us if we are faithful.
– Pastor Bill
You never know when there is going to be a “God Moment.” A God moment is when you get that prodding from the Holy Spirit that something is happening. A God moment can happen anywhere. It is that moment when you are talking to someone and the Holy Spirit prods you to say something. It can come from a question or a thought the other person has expressed. The conversation could be moving along some common topic and suddenly, there it is, right in front of you. The opportunity to gently answer a question that allows you to share your faith at some level.
Now what do you do? The tendency from our church training or witness training is to unload everything to them. Bob Mumford taught that when an animal is hungry, you do not give them the whole hay wagon load and force them to eat all of it. You feed the animal carefully and give them enough to satisfy their hunger. They will come back for more tomorrow. God moments are like that. You answer the question. You make the comment that is appropriate for the situation. You then stop and wait. If they continue to converse on the topic, then the door is open for giving more. If they do not continue, then stop completely. Do not force feed.
Other God moments are when Christians are together and sharing a meal, or time together in recreation, or just sitting around talking. Suddenly, the Lord can show up and change the atmosphere. Years ago, we were sitting around the table having dinner at our home in Waynesburg. We had laughed, had a great time, when suddenly the Lord became very present and we decided to finish our meal with communion. It was one of the most memorable communion times that we have had.
God Moments can be personal as well. You can be going about your daily work, your daily routines, when unexpectedly the Lord shows up. It can happen on a starry night as you look into the dark, starlit night or it can happen when you are holding your child. Some of the most mundane things can turn into the God moment. You are suddenly aware and in awe. You may stand there looking into space and declare to Him, “who am I that you love me or even care for me.” Holding your child, you may be overwhelmed with love for the child, but suddenly, there is the God moment where love is taken to a spiritual high and you know he loves more intensely than we can imagine.
Would it not be wonderful if we could have those moments at our will? They are not at our will, but His. When the God moment comes, embrace it. Obey them if there is a direction He desires. Try to sustain the moment by being quiet, allow it to echo through your being. Stop what you are doing, enjoy the moment. Maybe these God moments are like what Adam and Eve had on a daily basis. These are meant for us to enjoy, savor, and seek for more.
A move of God can be a spectacular revival type meeting across large areas or it could be that move of God in you. – Pastor Bill
A Move of God? Yes, Please!
When your heart is set on something you begin to look for it, research it, start moving toward it. You begin to look at current conditions in your life and begin to lay out a plan to get to where you want to be. In the process you must learn the hindrances to that goal. These hindrances can be exterior, extrinsic, or on the inside, intrinsic. Most times both are in play. There are things that must be moved to reach a goal. Also, there are mindsets, habits, and attitudes that must change inside our soul. The obstacles, first, must be discovered and then addressed.
It always seems easier to identify the exterior hindrances. It is far more difficult to identify the interior ones. It is so easy to rationalize the interior attitudes, prejudices, and habits because we can say “that is the way I was raised,” or, “that is just who I am.” But, if we are reaching for life change and a goal that requires change, we must be willing to work at it and make the adjustments. The excuse, “I am too old…” really does not fly. Life requires the ongoing adjustments to age and culture. (that is, if you care enough to stay relevant)
I am not talking about wholesale sell out to contemporary cultural trends because many of them are very temporal and very wrong. I am talking about staying current to be relevant to the generations around us, older and younger.
So, our goal is to see a movement, an awakening. It is about souls around us who are completely lost to the meaning and purpose of life. There are a couple of things present in this thought and vision. One of them is the world that needs Jesus and our responsibility to reach out to them. Secondly, is the church we has to prepare itself for such a move and be a part of it. There have been movements by God that large segments of the church have completely missed because they were stuck.
As I have been reading, studying, and preparing for a move of God, I have been pleasantly surprised that we have a few things in place already. We have pieces of the puzzle in place already, but need to work further on other aspects to host a movement. The Hope I preached about is one of the foundations for a movement. It is the positive trust in God for all things future and we anticipate them coming and their fulfillment.
My plan and desire is to take one step at a time. To keep us focused on the future and the move we look for. We have taken some baby steps in the right direction. We are reaching out to the community; it is responding some. We have broadened our leadership sources with the Leadership Council, and we are conscious of growing younger.
– Pastor Bill
We are on our Way to a New Day
Sunday we started the Leadership Council. The council is made up of 8 members from the congregation plus the elders. The council members are John and Courtney Lewis, Joseph Troyer, Helen Vernon, Lou Kaleel, Deb Marietta, Roy Levingston, and Tim Beougher. They will serve a one year term with the possibility of renewal. The council gives us a good cross section of the church.
The purpose of the council is to give voice and ideas from the various ages and understandings. We need to hear from younger thinkers, women’s ideas, and the voices of those who have particular passions. The purpose will be to drive the vision, adjust the vision, and take care of the business of the church. Out of the council we are hoping to inspire projects, build teams, put the church in a positive frame of mind and action.
This is a step to building next generation leadership while still engaging those who have been serving for years. As I was preaching Sunday, we all need refreshed and refurbished to handle new wine. The gospel does not change, but the cultures around the gospel change dramatically in seasons. The gospel is still good news to all people, all nations, for all time. The gospel speaks to the heart of man whether you were a Puritan from England looking for a new land of freedom to worship or a 60’s hippie who was checking out of society and looking for something to live for. Jesus impacted the Puritan and reached the hippie.
New wine is fresh and volatile, but it is still wine. It expands and works as it moves to smooth maturity. Life is like that. Babies make messes, we clean them up. Children break things and are untrained, we fix and train. Teens strive for independence and make bigger messes, we encourage them and speak of their potential. Then there is the striving of adulthood with career, family, getting started, buying a house etc. We advise and love and speak of our journey. All the while there is growth taking place. We do not reject the young, we love them. I like to share in their enthusiasm, their humor, their striving to be adult like.
Our goal in raising our kids was to come to a place where we were adult friends and family. I think we have accomplished that. We love being together with family and grandkids and great grandkids. This same thing should work in church. We should not be jealous because a young person has a gift that is better than ours or can do something better. We need to encourage them and give them opportunity to shine.
Too often the older generation is a roadblock for the young people in their growth and calling instead of being an on-ramp to the fast lane of ministry for them. As I said Sunday, there are way too many hoops that are created for the young to jump through for us to trust them or give them some responsibility. Could they fail? Sure, so could you. But, what if they succeed? Now there is something to consider and look forward to.
– Pastor Bill
Many of us had the experience of living through most of the Charismatic movement. At least, we caught the latter part. The movement began in “high church” circles such as the Anglican and Lutheran churches. It was pentecostal in nature, but got the moniker “Charismatic” which spoke of the gifts of the Spirit. The movement quickly spread to the Catholic Church and some of the early leaders were priests of Catholic or Anglican persuasions. It was an exciting time.
The problem came when people became dissatisfied with the regimen of worship that was rigid, formal, and lacked life. People began to meet in homes around the country. Many of these homes were large, fine, homes of mid to upper income folks. Churches opened their doors to these meetings in classrooms and libraries. Meetings were open ended with teaching, singing, prayer, deliverance, and anything that was God. People were seeking and hungry for the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.
Out of this movement many of the churches we know were started. The movement has had many upstarts and failures, churches opening and closing. Many of the churches flourished and grew. Networks formed and streams of favorite teachings formed and groups around particular teachers formed. We have the remnants of all those flavors with us today. However, missing today is the fervor and desire for the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Missing is the pursuit of the gifts of the Spirit. Missing is the anointing that comes with a move of God. Oh, we have remnants of the anointing. We have tried to create the anointing, but you cannot create the anointing, it comes from above as a sovereign expression.
While we could reminisce about the movement, it only becomes counterproductive. We have hoped that some of the short term events were a new move, but they only lasted momentarily. They were called revivals or blessings, but not a movement. As John said last Sunday, “not interested in revival, a regurgitated expression, but a new fresh move of God.”
Herein lies our dilemma: while desiring to see God move, we cannot define and demand a certain type of movement or expression because we will make it like what we have known and what we want. Having been a part of that movement, I was surprised and saddened at the time how few older people were a part of it. Oh, there were some who supported and imbibed of the new move of the Spirit, but oh so few. I was privileged to have a handful in our church which gave me some connection to the previous move of God known as the “Latter Reign Movement.” Those who had lived in it during the 40’s and early 50’s saw the Charismatic movement as God’s next move and joined. The new move was different. It had people that smoked. It had people who drank socially. It had people who wore fashionable clothes which seemed to some immodest. One young man at the time related how he came to the Lord. He said there was a group of guys who were sitting around smoking, cussing, and talking about the Lord when the Holy Spirit showed up and they were converted to Christ. Not your typical conversion. All these various people were coming to Jesus and being filled with His Spirit. God’s definition was different than man’s definition.
We are seeing the same thing happening today. Our definitions are being challenged once again. Things are not neat and clean like we like them. Styles have changed, mores have changed, communication has changed. Are we going to be upset because somebody reads the Bible on their smartphone and do not carry a book bible? That would be really close to the Catholic church centuries ago fighting the people having a Bible in their own language. If it were up to those folks, we would all be reading Latin and still stuck in works for salvation.
Can we change? Do we know what to change to? It is easy to want change, but where are we going with it? Are we just going to be iconoclasts and tear down, but have nothing to put in its place? Do we really know what God is doing right now? Are we to copy what others are doing just because they seem to be successful? I do not think so.
We do know that God is moving, but not in the dynamic way that a movement produces, but it does not alleviate us of pursuing and following what he is doing now. It may not be the big parting of the Red Sea, but it is the moving of the cloud for guidance and path choices. The day to day following of the cloud was not as exciting as the parting of the waters, but it did take them to the Promised Land.
In the interim there is hard, grunt work. Change will require attitude adjustment, it will require opening ourselves to new ideas, it will require us accepting people that do not fit our idea of what church people should look like or do, and it will require prayer to discern where we are going.
Do I want another movement? Yes, but remember, they are messy. You do not remember all the messiness because you have selectively remembered the good testimonies, salvations, and people being filled with the Spirit. You may not remember the wildfire, the false prophecies, the judgmental prophecies given, and the crazy teachings that flew around. You survived. Your selective memory may rejoice in the “good ‘ole days,” but they were not as good as remembered.
If anything, following the Lord is a journey requiring adaptability, flexibility, and lots of hope. We change, we have to. The survivors of the previous movement cannot be the cork to block the next move and the next generation. I want to be the Caleb or Joshua and join the movement that takes us to the Promised Land as it looks today.
– Pastor Bill
It is hard to see where you are in history or even how this generation will be judged. In Lincoln’s time he was vilified, hated, and treated poorly. Yet, with time, he is now considered one of the best presidents of the United States. He is credited with keeping the union together and upholding the Constitution. Hitler, on the other hand, was wildly popular in Germany and across Europe and even in the USA till he began to take nations and aggressively seek to conquer the world.
History has the advantage of looking back and seeing the results of actions and policies. Jesus was admired by thousands and hated equally. The masses were fickle in their affection; loving the healings and the food and hating the call to commitment and sacrifice. Healings and food were surface issues. The real was much deeper than that. History has judged Jesus to be the most effective person to ever walk the earth. He has received praise from all quarters as a great teacher or prophet. He has been seen as the one who has moved armies to fight, people to change, churches to be built, and governments to rule. He is looked at as a man of sorrow, a man of faith, and yet, he is far more than those things.
How is history going to judge us? Where are we in the time table of eternity? Are we living Matthew 24 where the signs of the end of this age are upon us? Or are we just experiencing another contraction of a birth yet to come? Are we going to see life go on into the 31st century, the 51st century, or are we coming to a conclusion?
One thing for sure, we are experiencing serious changes in how people respond to Jesus. In the face of a growing amoral society, discipleship will be a highly necessary part of our duty to the Lord. No longer can we assume everyone knows what is right or wrong. The world is preaching a message that breaks down moral conduct. There are those who are growing up without the restraint of moral teaching, manners, and social graces. The faithful have their hands full since the modern church has taken a position to accept the world’s definitions and make the church experience as non-convicting as possible.
How will we be judged I wonder? Our place in history will be judged. Jesus made it known that Capernaum would be judged more severely than Sodom and Gomorrah. He also indicated that the generation that rejected him while he walked the earth would be judged for all the prophets, martyrdoms, and persecutions. Some places in history are pivotal, paradigm shifting, and philosophically radical. For instance, the American Revolution and the French Revolution changed the way people think to this very day.
Are we being faithful to Jesus, have we considered where we are, have we seriously held our ways up to the pattern of Jesus? These are difficult to see while you are living it, but history will judge what is done in this time for sure.
– Pastor Bill
The Guidance of Prophetic Words
I have received a number of prophecies through the years. There are some unknown people who have a good spiritual gift that blesses other people from time to time. They are not published, they do not have webpages, twitter accounts, and facebook pages to promote their gift. Their notoriety is really just their faithfulness to hear and deliver a word of prophetic importance from time to time. Most of us are in this category.
But it does not take away from the importance of those helpful, encouraging words, and words of guidance that come at the appropriate times. I have found that following the word of God is important, but it does not always bring peace and tranquility. Sometimes the word of God gives you the strength to stand, to fight, to not be moved. In times of difficulty, we often look for a word of deliverance, the one that says God is calling you to Hawaii. Dietrich Bonhoeffer had traveled to England during the rise of the Nazis. He was fighting at home in Germany for the church and its survival. He was deeply opposed to the Nazi plan for world domination. The brethren in England begged him to not go back to Germany knowing the danger to his life. However, even with the opportunity for safety, Bonhoeffer chose to return to Germany and fight for the orthodoxy of the church. And yes, it cost him his life being executed as an enemy of the Nazi state. Likewise Paul, the apostle, was warned prophetically by folks in the churches he visited on his way back to Jerusalem that imprisonment awaited him there. His answer, was that he was bound by the Holy Spirit to go and face what may.
Sometimes we are held, restrained, captivated by the prophetic words we have received. We have weighed them, tested them, and found them to be God’s true word. The Spirit bears witness to the veracity of the prophecy. We then begin to live accordingly.
I have been led by confirmed words many times. I have received some words that I had hoped would not come true, but they did. I have wondered about my situation many times and have sought the Lord regarding it. We all like to read success stories, fantastic testimonies, positive results, and rightfully so. However, we must trust God that as we obey the word we received that somehow in the long run, it will become a testimony of his victory. John the Baptist, in a very dark hour, asked his disciples to check with Jesus if he, Jesus, was the one or should he look for another. Yet, it was John who said that he should be baptized by Jesus. It was John who declared Jesus to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus responded that John should not be offended in him. The way things were going to work, were not the way John had imagined it. However, the ministry of Jesus did accomplish what it was intended to do from the beginning.
Prophecy has been extremely helpful and a blessing. The words delivered have sustained me many times in dark times. The words have encouraged, meaning, gave me courage to persevere. Thanks to all those faithful, unknown, unrecognized prophets that have obeyed God and delivered the mail.
– Pastor Bill
It is scary to read in the gospels how Jesus addressed the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes. These are the categories of the well educated, the theologically superior people, the aristocratic religious elite. These were viewed as those who understood the law, lived by the law, and were the instructors of the people.
When Jesus comes along, he begins to unravel the web of deception that had been perpetrated on the people. Throughout the gospels, we read of how they attempted to trap Jesus in some debate and then make an accusation against him. If you read the questions, they were tough ones. Probably they had impaled many on their sharp sword of reason and debate. However, Jesus was never trapped. His answers were astounding and the people reveled in his wisdom. Many a time the Pharisees walked away bewildered by his sagacity.
Ever so much more the trapping attempts escalated in the final weeks of his earthly ministry. What is the greatest command? Do you pay taxes to Caesar? By what authority do you do these things? On and on the attacks came. Finally, his answers foiled them and they gave up trying to trap him in debate and, instead, switched to plots of murdering him.
The big problem with Jesus is that he does not fit the religious mold, but he is the Son of God. He does not fit the pattern of holiness; yet is the Most High in the flesh. He associates with, he loves the rabble, the outcast, the down and out, the sinner, but that does not fit the shunning and abstention of fellowshipping with such types. The religious avoided such people for fear of being tainted; yet Jesus fellowshipped with them hoping to infect them with grace.
I think our fears are based in our weaknesses. We are afraid of the sinner, because we are concerned that we do not fall prey to sin. So, we avoid the sinner fearing of being polluted and fall. We might start doing their things to our destruction. Jesus had no fear of that. We also, because we have lived in such legalism, are afraid of what people will say. Even the sinner likes to accuse, saying we were in a bar, or a place of questionable reputation. More so will the rumor mill work in church circles if one is seen or reported to be fellowshipping with certain folks.
In the book, The Gospel Blimp, Joseph Bayley related the story of people who wanted to reach the lost. The bought a blimp and used it to drop leaflets about salvation on their community. There was the big fundraiser, the training for the crews, the flying of the Blimp, the gospel bombs prepared and on and on it went. The town became aggravated with the litter of gospel tracts clogging the roads, yards, and roofs. Finally, one couple became disenchanted and quit the Gospel Blimp Outreach. They decided to just talk to their neighbor and invite them for a cookout. The Gospel Blimp team thought they had backslidden, but, lo and behold, their neighbors began meaningful conversation through the friendship and eventually became people of faith too. You see, Go, Love, Serve works when we love our neighbor as ourself.
– Pastor Bill
Often we are in the throes of the daily existence of being a Christian. WE are busy watching our attitudes, our temperament, our interactions with people, reading the Bible, striving for spiritual disciplines that will make us more Christian. We soon become victims of our own efforts. Slowly we are squeezed into works again. Ever so slowly, creeping into our lives comes all the performance based, feel good about myself, or feel bad about myself, based all my performance. It is really easy to do. No fault thrown at you from here. It is even more a susceptibility when in ministry because people have such high expectations of you.
The problem with all that strenuous trying is that it produces death eventually. It leads you so far away from the values of Jesus that you need binoculars to find it again. Jesus was doing the will of the Father. There was no parade of holiness, not special dress to show piety. There was no pomp and circumstance or long prayers to show his relationship with God was special. The will of the Father was that everyone believe in Him for eternal life. He did not self proclaim with ad campaigns, Facebook, Heaven written messages in the clouds (by the way, it would have be cool, skywriter deluxe). He actually never promoted himself, but never denied who he was when the revelation came to people.
All the time on earth he was declaring the Kingdom of Heaven of which he is the king. He was deeply concerned for the eternal life of each person. So, his ministry could take the time to stop and address the one. The one tax collector in a tree, the one who touched his garment, the one who responded that he was the Christ. He could and did take time for the unimportant, the children, the tax collector, the prostitute, the lepers, the outcast of society.
What on earth was he doing? He was doing the will of the Father which was pretty direct and simple. Make sure they know the way to eternal life! The way is Jesus, behold the Son!
I didn’t want to answer the phone. I was watching the caller ID to see who was calling, deciding whether I would answer or not. I was afraid to open emails. Working through everyday was a test of endurance. Going home and trying to rest while the mind was racing became the routine. Crawling into bed at night you prayed God would give the grace to shut the mind down long enough to rest. Prayer was offered to guard the sleep from tormenting dreams.
When I did answer the phone sometimes I could hardly catch my breath to talk as my blood pressure would pound my chest. Trying to maintain a position of grace in the midst of mental and spiritual torment was a constant struggle. What the humanity wants to do and what the Spirit of God wants to do are totally opposed.
We all want to live on the mountain top. I do. We all want to live by the shore to watch the waves and listen to the soothing sound of lapping waves. I do. But mountain tops have high winds and deep snows and ocean shores have heavy storms and hurricanes. There is no escape. Life will pound you. It is how we survive the pounding that counts.
We are urged to bring every thought into captivity that exalts itself against God. That sounds so easy. It is not. It is the hardest thing you will ever be commanded to do by the Lord. The warfare that goes on in the mind is relentless. We waver from calm to rage when we have been hurt, offended, or falsely accused. Sometimes, most times really, there is no recourse. You just have to wait on God. However, the waiting on God is not for a revenge factor; it is for God to heal you of the hurt, the growing unforgiveness, the thoughts of getting even somehow. We never walk through these things with some Mother Theresa ideal of just forgive and move on. Most of us are just too human for it to be that easy.
It takes effort. It takes pursuing God. It is confessing our weakness. It is surrendering our passions. It is utterly giving in to God. We come to the realization that we cannot do it. Every effort to be a Christian fails. Every effort of mind over matter is ridiculously faulty. We in our desperation will do anything but let go. We try to put it on the altar, but the least provocation causes us to grab it quickly off the altar and possess it again. We may do this many times until we can let go and walk away. I find that I cannot do that without God lifting the weight, the burden, the memory, the constant preoccupation of the mind.
But we must pursue or we will not see Him bring the deliverance. It is a work of His Spirit, not our will, mind, or strength. It truly is He. When it comes, there is freedom in the mind, lightness in the soul. You know it. It is transforming. It is relaxing.
The only way to peace is to continue to press toward God and wait, with persistence, for His grace to deliver.
Our Strategic Vision is to continue to involve ourselves deeply in the command of Jesus to go and disciple. While things cannot happen overnight, there can be steps taken regularly toward those goals. First there has to be a vision, which we have. Secondly, there has to be creative ideas toward that vision, we are working on those items and need the input of creative people. With a pool of ideas, there can be choices made that will best accomplish steps toward our vision. Thirdly, there have to be people who are committed to participating in the vision and the events that are chosen to be implemented. It is our vision to have everyone participate sometime and somewhere. Knowing each persons preferences differ, there will be opportunities to get out there and do something to serve.
Likewise, there are the internal fellowship and grow opportunities that need to be there. Freedom Groups have been especially wonderful and life changing. The Connect Youth are taking off and connecting well. Also, small groups are in the process of revamping and re-starting with fresh vision and purpose.
Where can you connect? Everyone can bring a food item that is needed for the community connect. That would be a start. Some of you could volunteer an hour or two a month to help stock some shelves at the food pantry; especially when we take our items at the end of the month.
You can connect with a small group when we launch them again.
You can connect in the future with the projects that will be coming along. Some of them will be one time events; others will need continual help and investment. We monthly give $75 to the Butler Nutrition Center which is now feeding 80 people in the Meals on Wheels program. We also give $75 a month to the Bellville Neighborhood Outreach Center. We invest $150 a month in helping feed the needs of the Clear Fork Valley. One problem, there are no faces on those checks. We want faces and hearts to touch the area.
While we have given thousands to the “uttermost parts of the world,” we have not done too well in our “Jerusalem and Judea.”
Our Strategic Vision is to touch our Jerusalem and Judea, Butler and Bellville and the surrounding communities.
It is not good enough to say be warmed and fed and bless you. It has to be backed up with real clothing and food. We recently helped a family save their home from foreclosure. The man had serious health problems that put them behind. We contributed to their recovery, knowing that once they were caught up, they could maintain.
There are projects and events coming. Please take this to heart and plan on investing your time sometime and somewhere in this Strategic Vision. Serve Simply, Love Deeply.
Last Sunday we watched the video clip called, “Test Your Awareness. Do the Test.” The video had us count the number of times the folks in white jerseys passed the basketball. We were all busy watching the ball and the white shirts. There were people in darker jerseys mixing around as well. We could see them as we concentrated on the white jerseys and the ball. The passing stopped and the announcer gave the total number of passes. There were 13. Most everyone in church raised their hand that they got 13. Then the announcer asked, “did you see the moon walking bear?” Then the video was played again and lo and behold, there was a man in a bear costume moon walking through the middle of all the passing of the ball, right in the middle. We all had a good laugh because we did not see the bear.
The lesson was that while we concentrate on one thing, there are other things going on. As powerful as our observations may be, we miss things right in front of us.
It always amazes me that when an accident takes place and there are witnesses; how many different accounts there are of the same accident. Some of the accounts actually clash as if they did not see the same event. I have been in court as a witness and was surprised by the varying stories of the same thing I saw. Was my observation correct? Well, from my vantage point it was, but another person had a slightly different account. Often our perceptions of truth are viewed from where we sit. In law, the Bible as well, there has to be corroborating testimonies in order for there to be a conviction or a judgment.
When I was a kid my grandmother Lewis took me to the county fair. We found a drinking fountain that would come on with a surge that would spray the face of the person looking for a cool drink of water. She said, “Let’s sit over here on the bench and watch, this could be fun.” So, we sat there and observed person after person deal with the surge of water. It was fun. We laughed and talked about the various reactions. Observation is an important part of life. Jesus was sitting watching the treasury at the temple as people came and gave their gifts. He had observed people praying in public. He sat at the well in Samaria. Stopping to observe helps build our awareness.
Life’s pace has certainly picked up. We barely allow ourselves to have a moment of quiet. We have at our fingertips so many devices of communication and programs that pressing us for attention. It is hard for us to imagine a time, not that long ago, that books and reading were the family entertainment. Or, families listening to the radio for evening programs of entertainment. But, with all the conveniences, we have lost some of the connectivity of humanity.
The challenge for the people of faith is to once again become aware of our surroundings. Some people may aggravate us, but do we know their situation? Have we stopped long enough to notice things around us? Driving a car along the road at 60 MPH is much different from walking along the road. Driving we often just see the distant view because we cannot focus on the things near because of speed. Walking we notice everything along the road, the flowers, the weeds, the junk that has been thrown, every pebble, crack in the road, everything comes into sharp focus.
Likewise, as we work on our strategic vision, things will come into sharp focus. The valley becomes a town, the town becomes people, people become a person, a person becomes an acquaintance, and maybe that person becomes a friend, and hopefully that friend becomes a follower of Jesus. Even if they do not, the kindness of the Lord can be extended to them. At the least, we can plant seeds and see if God does something with the seed.
I pray we become much more aware. Maybe we can see the moon walking bear.
New Glasses coming
There are great visions and small visions. There are clear visions and hazy ones.
I go to the ophthalmologist once a year. There is a general eye test, but he is extremely thorough putting me through a series of exams that are nearly blinding as he exams the eye intently for any abnormality or disease. My prescription has changed through the years. When I was young, I was near sighted needing glasses for distance. Now, I can see well at a distance, but need glasses for reading.
Vision changes with age and circumstances. I have learned that stress can play havoc with our health, our immune system, and our mental health. I remember being told that my grandfather Lewis when white haired over night when he learned of his sister’s death. Stress, emotion has a lot to do with our well being.
Vision for individuals, for businesses, for nations, and for churches can change rapidly with the changing tides of life. What works in a time of peace may not work in a time of war. The sensitivities of peace time may give way to harsher circumstances in times of distress. The victims of hurricanes and tornadoes have their lives and goals change in a matter of minutes. Where once they were thinking of how to beautify the garden, they are now forced into new goals and vision which is more survival in nature and recovery from devastation.
A recession will change the vision and goal of a business rapidly. The sales and vision are adjusted. Goals are shortened up and projections are far more conservative. Unemployment, cut in pay, unforeseen financial set back, health issues change an individual’s vision of life and look into the future.
Likewise the vision of a church regularly needs a check up. As you sit in the chair at the doctor, you go through a series of questions. “Better or Worse?” “A…..B?” “Now, is this better?” All the time you are making judgement calls for your own sight. As the test gets closer to what you need, the choices become harder and the differences ever so slight. Sometimes in your mind, you just go with one because it is so close the same that the distinction is negligible.
So, while we are starting with our Strategic Vision Statement we are sitting down knowing that we need glasses. Our vision is poor. The prescription has to change in order for us to be able to see and navigate life. We know that we will see better soon. We are looking deep into the eye to not only correct vision, but to see if there is some lurking disease or abnormality that needs addresses. We also know that the closer we get to the correction, the more difficult it will be to make the distinctions as to what is better or best.
In our situation we have diagnosed the poor vision as a lack of outreach. The correction of vision begins, but we also have a problem in the eye. Our vision is distorted from years of tradition, old ways, and some calcification. It is always fearful when they start messing with the eyes. We are very protective of our eyes. So, outreach has to have a new prescription. We need fitted with a fresh vision, corrective lenses. We need to see the world for the first time. No longer men as trees walking, but men and women clearly seen, no distortions. Can we with new lenses serve simply and love deeply?
We like camping. There is nothing like the great outdoors. We enjoy the Mohican Forest and River area. We like listening to the river in the quiet of the evening. I have seen geese flying up the river in formation and I have seen bald eagles with their regal wing span and grace. It is a time of unwinding and soul keeping.
One of the pleasures of camping is the campfire. Starting a campfire is a challenge sometimes if you do not have the proper equipment or the wood is damp or wet. You can start it with the council fire set up or the teepee set up, but the kindling in the initial phase is crucial to getting the logs burning. I mostly take a short cut with some modern aides like starter logs and starter fluid. (I have on occasion used gasoline with a starter trail poured in the grass to a safe distance. Not recommended) Once the fire is started we enjoy the flames dancing, the various colors of the flames, and the warmth provided to take the chill off the evening. It is a great place for conversation and stories, or just quiet contemplation.
But, after a while, you must tend the fire, move the logs for better air or closer to one another to aid the fire strength. Then comes the point when you have to add more logs to keep the fire going. It is now ready for marshmallows or s’mores. If you let the fire burn down to hot coals, you can cook over the fire and then bring it back to a blaze.
Jesus said that he would baptize us in the Holy Spirit and Fire. There has been ample thoughts and explanations as to what the baptism in fire is. I am not sure if we will totally understand that part. However, fire keeping is an important part of our Christian walk. What can I do to keep the fire going? We talk about people being on fire for God. That means that they are excited and active in their expression of love and commitment to the Lord. We also say that the flame has gone out when we see someone dropping out, not communicating, questioning their faith, doubting God.
We like to see people on fire for God. They are contagious; we are warmed by their enthusiasm, we are challenged by it, we catch fire too sometimes.
Fire keeping means we do something to keep our love alive for God. We tend it so we do not lapse into mediocrity and die. We tend the fire of God so that we are not found lukewarm and become disgusting to our Lord.
Tending the fire is extremely important. You keep the fire alive in your walk with God through several avenues. One of those avenues is investing in others. As long as you are sharing your walk with someone, you are strengthened and the fire is tended. Attending church, a conference, a rally, some large event of Christians like a concert will stir the flames. Personal study, reflection, and prayer fans the flames as well. Corporate worship, actively entering in through song and voice, will allow the Spirit within to burn up in you. Reaching out to serve those in need, caring for the lonely, the shut in, the elderly, the babies, the children will touch the heart of God and add the logs of continued fire into your being.
Metrics: The way things are measured, evaluated.
There are sciences that are fairly standard and measuring is standardized across the board. An inch is an inch and there is a standard, an official inch that is in the Bureau of Weights and Measures. When you pump gas, you will notice the sticker that it has been checked to be correct so a gallon of gas is really a gallon of gas. It is there to make sure you are not cheated. The Bible even talks about cheating measures and weights. So, in math you are sure that two plus two works every time. We learn math tables and they work in any country. The standardization of facts and measures is what makes science so logical and trustworthy most of the time.
However when it comes to measuring human performance, measuring becomes difficult. Metrics can change or be defined differently. Metrics can be established by consensus, by committee, by social pressures. For instance, we have a nation that has become formed by pressures of tolerance and relativism. Politically correct has become a force that chips away at everything, judges everything, perverts everything. This metric is making life difficult for everyone. Sensitivities are made extreme and everyone says they are offended when the least slight is expressed, many times unintentionally. In human circles, people in the same room can be working with entirely different sets of metrics.
The church world has the same problem. There are several different measures that are applied. Measures of numbers, finances, growth, properties, etc. are applied to churches. By what or by whom are we measured?
During this time of reflection and reaching for the reset button, I came to realize that the metrics, the measures that I had been reaching for were not the ones I had started with. Somewhere in the years, a subtle, persistent change had taken place. The joy of salvation was eroded and robbed. The idealism of ministry was replaced by the competitiveness of church life. Even the church members had lapsed into pettiness, bickering, territorialism, and missed the essentials.
I realized that I needed to return to the core values, the core metrics of the Bible, the words of Jesus, His mandate. He could have had crowds larger than he did. He could have stayed in Capernaum and had the largest church in the middle east. They wanted him to stay, to build a miracle tabernacle. He said he had to be about Father’s business. Obviously, Father’s business was not the way the world worked. Father’s business was building the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven. This kingdom reached everyone, particularly, the “deplorables.” To return to Bible metrics means returning to the love of God, the love of people. It means souls first, always first. It means reaching out to care and serve. Care and serve, not as a program, but as one who cares for the person.
THE PASSION AND VICTORY
This is Easter, Resurrection Day, 2016. It is a day to celebrate the most significant event in the history of mankind. It surpasses any great human event in history. No army has marched, a president lead, a victory won, a discovery made, or an invention introduced that has so changed the course of humanity for eternity.
While many hope that there is nothing more than this short journey across the face of the earth, the human soul knows differently. It is not a taught or learned response, it is set in the soul of man by the creator. Education and philosophy may try to rob the soul of its spiritual DNA, but it still is there. That first breath of God that made man a living soul has been in the heart of man ever since. It is not a discovery that the soul makes, but it is the response of that which lies within, seeking its creator and the touch of the divine once again.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead confirms what lies within us, that craving for eternity, life forevermore. His victory over death and the grave resonates in our heart. It touches something very deep in each of us. The resonance is hope, confirmation, and a direction home.
This week is called Passion Week. It is the high season for Christianity. No matter what the denomination, Passion Week forms the backbone of our faith. You cannot depart from these significant events and be a Christian.
I was born again on Good Friday 1956. Each time I walk through this season I am touched deeply. Watching the Passion as presented by Tyler Perry in New Orleans and in a very modern setting, I could not hold back the tears. Something very deep inside responds to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. As I watched with Cathy, the folks in the crowd had tears rolling down their cheeks. Even the singer/actor who played the part of Jesus was moved to tears in his portrayal of the Christ. I watched Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ once. I do not believe I could watch it again, my heart hurt too much to watch it again. Even though it was a moving portrayal of the events, the Passion (suffering) was too hard on my emotions and heart.
The Passion however changed the world and now death, where is your sting and grave, where is your victory. When Jesus arose from the grave, He overcame sin and death and brought us the victory and He lives to reign forevermore!
In High Hope,
Here is a topic that causes us pause. We do this every day actually, that is why the first meal of the day is call Break-Fast. We go without food for about 8-12 hours a day, but it is mitigated by sleep.
However, the real fasting we are talking about is the “I am awake and hungry..” kind. It means depriving ourselves of things that we normally do, eat, and enjoy. We go without food and listen to our stomach complain for a day or two. We cut out the sweets that we are addicted to. Sugar has a hold of most people. Or some choose to fast their connection or addiction to activities, like surfing the web, watching marathon TV, or FaceBook, or some form of social media. We probably are shocked by the amount of time we suddenly have available to us. We may even look around and wonder, “What am I going to do?”
Well, fasting is supposed to do that to you. It suddenly takes all the routine out of your life. It causes reflection, meditation, questioning. The body is going through a detox and so is your mind and soul. We are pretty well corrupted by daily living. We are not intentionally bad, but lifestyle does creep in from the affairs of daily life that corrupt our body and soul. Fasting is a real good wake up call.
We have entered a 21 day fast as a church. We have great expectations. There has even been an anticipation leading up to the fast. Today, as I write, is day 1. Day one through three are usually the toughest to get through. Your body usually screams, “What are you doing to me?” But the spirit begins to say, “Thank you, I have been needing this time.”
I am so pleased, we have had nearly 100% participation committed by our church. The kids have even committed to fasting. Proud of them. The kinds of fasts range from total fasts for a day or two at a time to Daniel fasts to one meal a day to media fasts. Everyone is participating and there is a joy in the church.
I want to encourage everyone that this is something pleasing to God and we are not alone in this time. There are churches all over the world that I know of that are doing the same at this moment. There is a God move afoot.
Mankind likes to communicate. We like to talk, be in the know, express our emotions. Mankind has painted on cave walls, sent smoke signals, hand written books, used quills, charcoal, pens, stylus, and every conceivable way to communicate. With Gutenberg’s printing press, life changed and the ability to mass produce books became available. Many historians consider the printing press as the most significant invention of the millennium.
Now, just in the past few years, short decades, we have moved to a digital age where communication is instant. I talked once with a man who helped develop the first fax machine. He related how amazing it was to send a document over a phone line and have it print out in another location. He said it took a long time, 10-15 minutes for the first machine, but it was huge in technological advancement.
We have moved so fast that fax machines are hardly ever used. Documents are passed through email, iCloud, airdrop, and other cloud mechanisms. There is the world wide web that now allows people from all over the world to communicate. Documents, artwork, videos, and FaceTime can happen in moments globally. Letters used to take weeks to cross the ocean and reach their destination. Now, oceans are covered in nanoseconds.
For all the wonderful things we have today, there is always an abuse of the miracles of invention.
For instance, the social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a number of other less known sites offer individuals the opportunity to communicate. I love to see some of the photos of my grandchildren, great grand children, and family members. I like the posts of significant events in people’s lives. However, Facebook has become and probably will remain a place for people to rant, to put out their feelings against someone or something without having the responsibility to answer for their anger or attacks. Expressing an opinion is one thing, but when social media is used for cowardly attacks or passive aggressive sniping, then it becomes harmful. The cyber bullying that takes place is horrifying, but it happens.
Likewise, we have become less social because we are engaged to our phones rather than the company around us. I have observed couples and families who are sitting together, but everyone is in their phone world. Watching two people supposedly in love, dating, and there they are engrossed in their phones rather than the person in front of them. In business, being tied to your phone will lose a client, lose a job, forfeit a contract. The disengaging that is happening is frightening culturally.
As a pastor, I watch people, particularly younger folks, engrossed in their phones, texting during worship, texting and surfing during the message. It has become so mesmerizing that when you speak to them, you eventually have to tap them or repeat louder their name. And the excuse they were looking at their Bible on the phone is lame.
I was speaking to an executive who said he had taken a message in a meeting and the speaker made a comment back to the CEO that he wondered if he was engaged in the seminar or his phone. Since that comment, he has left his phone in the car for meetings, he has turned the phone off during business dinners.
Actually, in any meeting, social gathering, dinner engagement, it is rude to be engaged in your phone and have it take priority over the person present. I have begun to let things ring, let things wait, just to be engaged in the moment. A text can wait a few minutes, a call back is simple, but being in the moment makes the person you are with important.
Advancements are great, but must be used wisely. We cannot lose the powerful communication of looking someone in the eyes and giving them your full attention.
The kindness of God is given to us on a daily basis. He provides all the necessary components of life. You breathe, there is oxygen in the proper blend. Your heart beats, there is the piezo electric start for every pump of the heart. You eat, food is digested and turned into energy and nutrients for the sustaining of life. You see, the eyes are taking light and by the miracle of God, the light is inverted and registered as an image. All around us are the daily miracles of life. If only one breaks down, life is unsustainable.
The Kindness of God is given to us in spiritual matters as well. We, the complex beings that he has created, are fallen by nature. Fallen, meaning we are broken beyond repair when it comes to the ability to live eternally in the presence and with a pure, holy, perfect God. Our brokenness is so familiar to us that most humans believe they are all right and that eternity is a matter of playing a weights and measures game. If we can tip the balance in the favor of good works, then we are supposedly owed a heavenly pass. Yet, even if we were able to tip the scales in the right direction, it still does not make one perfect, pure, holy. His kindness is that he will bring us to himself by his kindness as we acknowledge the impure, unholy, imperfect beings that we are.
His kindness has some requisites. HIs kindness leads us to understanding. It leads us to the self revelation of our poverty and inability to earn anything from Him. The best action of my heart is to give up. Quit trying. Admit defeat. I cannot do it. When that revelation comes, then we are in a position to repent, throw ourselves on his mercy, acknowledge the wonderful gift of Jesus and then live like we just found the most wonderful gift ever received. We did!
What wonderful kindness that is extended. Rather than the constant wrathful God, we really have a God who is very kind, longsuffering, forbearing, patient. He wants us to come to him in full surrender and enjoy his kindness forever.
P. Bill Lewis
It has been some time since I have written an article. Since we discontinued the newsletter due to cost effectiveness, I have not had the impetus to write. Since the last article the world has continued its change in dramatic and disconcerting ways. We have been assailed by the proliferation of the sexual revolution, the continued and intensifying war on terrorism (or maybe the lack of all out effort), and the continued racial divides.
Really, these are age old issues that continue to plague mankind. Racial and ethnic wars play out on every continent. Africa has had the tribal wars for centuries and that has contributed to our current struggle because of tribe selling tribe into slavery. Slavery continues to this day in the form of human trafficking. Globally this is a plague against millions of boys, girls, and women. Terrorism has been a tool of low grade war. It is difficult to fight because of the random nature of it. Brainwashing youth to terminate themselves in some kind of misguided passion and display has always been the mode of older ideologues who burn the lives of others to promote their agendas.
Yet, these are issues that each generation faces in some form or other. The Nazis enslaved people, tortured them, and exterminated them. Stalin’s Communist regime murdered more than the Nazis. Today these same issues continue in many nations. Africa is rife with rapes, murder, wars and disease; numerous Asian nations continue to use their people as nothing more than expendable pawns. The first century world was just as corrupt and dangerous as the present one. Humans can be cruel to one another. It is a result of the sin that corrupts and darkens every heart that has not had encounter with God.
The shock that we feel is real. The progress made through Christian principles is being eroded daily. But the shock is not meant to paralyze with hopelessness or defeat. The power of God through Jesus is still at work. He has not left His throne, or has he lost any power. He is still determinately moving toward His goals, purposes, and will. This is a time to speak, act, live. Live. because there is a God who has saved us from this corrupt world. Live, because one day He will rule in righteousness and justice and we with Him.
This is a time to Get Life…Give Life!
Overwhelmed by gender wars. Our culture has an agenda that has been destroying families and demeaning men. Advertising on TV usually makes the husband the brunt of the jokes since he is cast as a bumbling idiot who knows nothing. The wife or the children are cast as intelligent and just barely tolerating the father or husband. Sitcoms make the men stupid, out of touch, and inept. Children are cast as mouthy, disrespectful, and establishing their own culture and life apart from family.
On the other hand, we have movies that are violent and cast men as heartless murderers, drug dealers, gang members, tough guys. The question becomes, “where is the man that is revealed in the Bible? Where is the father who protects, provides, nurtures his children and loves his wife?” We have images of the stupid and we have images of the macho who considers women as sex objects.
Godly role models are hard to find in the depiction of men given in the TV media and the Hollywood film industry. Now those industries have added deeply to the confusion by the portrayal and promotion by gender confusion.
Our world needs a revival of men who care for their families. We need men who are interested in loving their wives and leading their children. We need men who are strong, intelligent, caring, and protective of their families. Men are going to have to overcome the images that are promoted and take their rightful, God-given duties.
The Bible calls for fathers to train, lead, care, empower their children. It calls them not to provoke their children to wrath. It calls men to love their wives and honor their place in God’s plan. It charges children to obey their parents. It calls them to honor their mother and father. God’s plan is for men to be life long mentors of their children, not just the conceivers of babies.
This month when we celebrate Fathers’ Day, it would be important for every man to re-visit his duty and love of his family.
If you are in leadership, you always face the problem of follower-ship. Leading has the idea of taking someone or something forward, toward a goal, a destination. These destinations can be personal growth, spiritual growth, financial growth, corporate growth. They can also be stability, long term health, healing of mind or body, education, or character development.
Being a leader in the church is not easy. It is really a long term project. Most business models expect company leaders to grow the bottom line. Aggressive companies look to grow the company by 20% annually. It is difficult to sustain that kind of margin for many years. So, usually there are periods of great expansion and then years of plateau and then some years of decline or loss of market share. The church is a complex organism. It brings together people who have all the frailties of humanity gathered together to worship God. There is a huge humanitarian element involved in church. There is an expectation of the members to be fed from the Bible, to speak the truth, but not too harshly. The church is meant to offer hope, grace, and love. The leaders are expected to be gracious, truth speakers without being too judgmental; yet not so soft that there is compromise of truth and morals.
The church leaders have people coming who have formed their opinions about most everything and expect a certain validation of those opinions. The church then becomes a mix of varied theological opinions, some of which have been derived, not from the Bible, but from books written that favor a certain view without consideration of opposing views. Often, there are those who feel they have arrived rather than being pilgrims in the pursuit of God. Leaders are constantly dealing with the balance of word and spirit, written truth and personal revelation, law and grace, end times and daily victory.
As in any human organization, the leaders are honored, respected or accused, second guessed, or openly criticized. Such is the nature of leadership. The church is a human organization that is divinely ordained and supported by the Holy Spirit. When it becomes solely human, the Holy Spirit makes corrections or moves on. Always those who leave their current church like to vilify their previous church as having been abandoned by the Lord. Yet, the previous church seems to move on and prosper without those individuals. The plan of God is much bigger than our opinions or preciously held doctrines. The primary job of leadership is to be faithful to the word of God and the Holy Spirit. How this is accomplished is the question to which we are constantly seeking the answer. One thing I have learned is that to attempt to please everyone is a prescription for disaster. Leadership must lead. Following the principles for church in the Scriptures provides guidelines, but execution can take various forms which may be necessary for the context.
When leaders lead there is an immediate response from the followers. Some are glad that there is finally a direction and embrace it and flow with the leadership. Others find the direction unappealing for reasons which are usually personal. These tend to move on to other places still looking for the place where their vision resides. Others will continue to move from place to place never finding what they are looking for.
As in any organization, when there is new leadership, it brings about tension and change. In the corporate world, procedures change, emphases change, new approaches are instituted. There is complaint, there is aggravation, then there is compliance since your job is on the line, and when success comes, everyone takes credit.
We are a church that has direction, goals, purpose, and vitality. Not everyone will like us, but a lot of people will. Not everyone will buy into our vision, but many people will. We are on the move. It is good and we need not look back, but look joyfully toward the future. Keep our eyes on the goal. We are not survivalists, we are overcomers!
Welcome to 2015. What will it hold for you? These are all questions we have and the answers are held in the future. Circumstances can change rapidly and the best laid plans can be changed in a moment. Goals may be fulfilled or delayed. But we need to plan, to set goals, to expect good things.
So it is, that I face and we face the potentials of 2015. Goals, yes we have some. Plans, yes we have good ones and more to come. During our elders meeting this week, we were all of one mind for the future. The heart of each man is for the will of God to be done and for the Holy Spirit to have room and influence.
Even as a result of last Sunday’s message and prayer time, I was able to identify some of what God wants us to do in this coming year. We are a New Testament church and as such, we are responsible to be a people of the Word and the Spirit. We are going to focus on the things of the Spirit in ways that will re-kindle the fire of God in you and your gifts. We will be encouraging people to come into the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and learn what their gifting may be and help release the exercise of those gifts in daily life.
Starting with the seminar with Ralph Howe, Supernatural Living, we will begin this journey and once again be a resource for those who are seeking the presence of God and His abiding anointing. The Seminar is this month of the 23rd and 24th. We will begin registrations next Sunday. The cost is a minimal $15 to cover materials and the luncheon on Saturday.
Following the seminar, the elders have been lead to continue the Supernatural Living with monthly meetings to primarily focus on worship, testimony, laying on of hands for various anointings, the prophetic, and word teaching emphasizing the supernatural nature of our God and how to participate in His nature.
Our particular call and anointing has been to bring folks from all around into the things of the Spirit. Churches in our area are blessed because of people who were trained here, filled with the Spirit here, found their gifting here, and began their ministry here. We believe we are poised to serve the Lord in that capacity once again, spread our wings and soar again.
With that in mind, we must bury the negative and press for the high calling we have been given. It is time to speak life, speak positive, live life, and live supernaturally.
Here we are standing on the edge of another year finishing and a new one beginning. Even though these are fairly artificial, they do provide a watershed moment. One day ends and another begins. December 31st slide into January 1st effortlessly, and if it were not for the calendar, it would just be another day passing.
Yet, we need these markers, these monuments of transition. Somehow it gives us a place of closure and a new beginning of sorts.
We even depict the change with images of Father time and Baby new year. For many, we breathe a sigh of relief as the year ends and say things like, “I do not want to go through one of those years again,” or, “This was one of the best years of my life.”
Each year I look to the hope of a better day, a better experience. I am not necessarily a negative person, but my makeup is to constantly evaluate and seek to improve. Often, as we seek to improve; things get worse first. The resolutions to improve health, fitness, the mind, or any business goal starts with worse first. If it is health, the changes in diet are tough to take. Can you remain on the program? If it is fitness, the soreness of exercise is the first experience before there is improvement. Want to improve the mind, it means reading and study. At first it is hard to be disciplined. Spiritual improvement are the same. The regimen of practiced discipline is not easy. Reading the Bible regularly, praying regularly, attending church consistently, all take time and effort. Not every Bible passage is going to be life changing in the moment. Not every prayer is going to feel like it is answered immediately or at all. Not every service is going to send you home thrilled and inspired. But it is the discipline of regularity that yields long term results. Laying one brick on the wall does not build the house, but consistent building of brick after brick finishes the house.
As a church we have been diligently building. Line on line, precept on precept. One step at a time, disciplined and consistent. It has not been easy, but we continue to build, one brick at a time. Sometimes it seems so slow, but the house is being built.
- We now are beginning to see some young folks come into the church. We now here the cry of babies from time to time in the church.
- Discipleship continues in the form of “Elevate.”
- We sent 17 kid to Church Camp.
- Roy Levingston became an Elder
- Had a successful outreach with the “God is not Dead” movie and series.
- We had the Outreach in the Park for the Summer with free ice cream for the kids, sponsored by Joy Wagon.
- Brought Josiah on as full time youth pastor and worship leader
- Hospitality Team hosted several successful events.
- The church ministered to families in crisis on several occasions.
- Ralph Howe held great seminar.
- Paid off over $25,000 in mortgage debt. Down to $15000 from the starting point of over $100,000 in just 3 years. Projected to be debt free by July.
- Celebrated our 50th Wedding anniversary
- Matthew and Robin got married.
- Matthew and Dani got married
- Bryan and Robin got married
- Cole and Kate had a baby
- Josiah and Whitney had a baby
- Miranda was baptized as were several others through the year.
Really, there were a lot of good events.
So, it is with hope and expectation that we face 2015. What will it bring? That is the mystery. We must continue to follow hard after God and see what He gives us. There probably will be hardships and great victories. There will joy and sadness. There will be giving and taking in marriage. Life will go on with all its messiness, but the Lord will be faithful!
When I was 11 or so, my dad and I sold Christmas trees out of the front yard of our house. It was big business for me, I loved it. We went to a tree farm and cut down the trees and hauled them home. I remember dragging them through snow and wet grass to the truck to haul them to the house. The smells of fresh pine as well as the tar stick with you and fill your memories. The smell of fresh pine still causes waves of nostalgia of Christmas’s past.
Then as I got older and the arguments of Christmas raged in Christian circles, it kind of lost its shine, its glow, its mystic. The arguments of pagan rituals, secular parties, hidden meanings all clouded the joy of childhood. I even went through a phase of having no tree which my wife and children delivered me from after a year or two of complaint and reality. For all the “truth” I had become somewhat of a religious Scrooge.
When I was a kid, I did not even think of such things. It was about mangers, pageants, wise men in bathrobes, kids dressed as sheep, angels with halos drooping, and lines forgotten and the fun of it all. Christmas was opening a present from Grandma I knew she could not afford. It was making gifts that were only useful for setting on the shelf as a memorial of a kid trying to be artistic. It was not a ton of gifts, but one gift that you had hoped for and maybe a couple of other gifts that were practical, like socks. It was running the electric train around the tree, having dinner with family and enjoying the day. It was the lights and festivities. These are the precious moments that are too lightly taken at the moment, but somehow build a palace of memories. Candlelight service at church was quiet and reverent. You could feel the awe of the new born savior.
Later, Christmas became more about the children as our family grew. Instead of me being the one to ask mom and dad to get up; it was I who was being jumped on early Christmas morning as the kids were full of excitement.
Christmas continues to change as the years pass. Now, it is just my wife and I on Christmas morning. No one wakes us. We enjoy our time together and then celebrate Christmas with the family on another day. We decided years ago that we would not make the holidays a battle for our children with divided allegiances with in-laws. We said that it was being together that counted, not the exact day.
So, now our memories are made on a day sometime following Christmas day. But there is still the joy of having family together, there is still the sharing of gifts, and there is gratefulness of the gift God gave to us in his Son.
Oh, the arguments are still out there. Sure, Jesus was probably born in the month of March, and yes, the tree had history in Norse traditions. Do I want to give up Christmas? No.
This is the opportunity to celebrate the virgin birth, this is the opportunity to marvel at the miracles surrounding his advent. This is a time when people are kinder, softer, and a little more open to hear the love of God expressed in the child who would die for them.
So, my wife has the tree up already. It is lit with several hundred lights. She loves Christmas. The decorations will slowly come out over the next few weeks and will slowly return to storage after Christmas and not be totally put away until, probably March.
We decided to do an Advent calendar again this year. In the midst and push of the holidays with Black Fridays and sales galore, I thought it might be nice to add a devotional side to things and keep things a little more simple.
So, I am all for Christmas. I think we should build every fond memory we can. I think we should embrace our children and grandchildren. I think we should honor our parents and indelibly write memories of these Christmas’s in our hearts.
Even though the season has gifts, our primary concern should be focused in the people we love and the savior who loved us beyond our greatest comprehension.
Search the web and you find about any opinion that you want. Some of the Christian postings are vehemently attacked by atheists in the comment sections. Follow a few of these down the column and you find atheists and Christians going back and forth with argument and hot comment. This means there is a lot of heat, but really no light produced.
Sadly, this type of approach applies to argument in the Christian community as well. Take any sensitive subject and you will find the heat rising.
One of these hot button topics is tithing, giving, and benevolence. The real sticking point is usually tithing. Tithing is setting aside a tenth of increase to the Kingdom of God. The French use the term “dime,” meaning the dime or tenth. Most Christians believe in giving something, but the idea of a tenth requires re-organizing priorities and budgets.
The opponents of tithing make a severe separation of the Old and New Covenants. Their primary argument says that there is no such command in the New Testament; although Jesus says to the Pharisees that they should tithe, but not neglect weightier matters of the law like justice and mercy. Paul speaks of special offerings for the poor. However, little was said of tithing since the church was based in former Jews who would have been practicing tithing as a way of life from birth.
If we follow the logic of the anti-tithe argument, there would be an increase of income to the Kingdom of God, not a decline. The New Covenant principle was always a greater response, not a lesser response. So, if we were to follow the principle espoused by Jesus then the anti-tithe group would be the largest donors to the work of God.
Following those who hold to the tithe, the preponderance of the scriptural support comes from the Old Testament. There the principles and instruction for the tithe are outlined. The Old Testament says the tithe is to be used to support those who minister such as the Levites and the High Priest. Offerings were used to support the temple and of course, the alms were set aside for helping the poor.
Our eldership team holds to the Biblical pattern of tithes, offerings, and alms, We have categories and accounts for each. Our tithes support four staff members and is the primary way of financing all activities of the church. We tithe from the tithe to missions; so 10% of all our tithe goes to missions. All the offerings go to support the general fund. Designated offerings are applied to the desire of the donor. Alms are given regularly by a few that is used to help, mostly our members in special need.
Primarily the load of the ministry financing is carried by those who tithe regularly. Historically and experientially, those who tithe have invoked the blessing of the promises in Scripture. Famous people through the years have been tithers. Many of those who believe in tithing have made it their goal to exceed the tithe pushing to give greater percentages. Some of these who believed in tithing were not even known as Christians i.e. J.D. Rockefeller.
Giving is really a matter of one’s heart. The axiom of where your treasure is that is where your heart is, or it can be stated, where your heart is there your treasure will be. If your heart is convinced of the work of God, you will be investing. Laying up treasures in heaven is not your money, but where you invest your money now.
The survival of Christianity is one of the greatest testimonies to the existence of God that I know of. We continue to try to kill it, deaden it, mortify it, and desecrate it. Individual churches come and go. Doors close, new ones open. Great cathedrals are empty and storefronts can be full. Standard denominations are losing members and high school auditoriums are full with fledgling churches beginning. Drive through the country and you see clapboard buildings that used to be centers of revival now empty and rotting. Some churches are held together by endowments where a handful of aged meet. Yet, there are bars serving as Sunday meeting places for churches and coffee houses with an evangelistic message.
Worship has changed. Luther was a radical for introducing “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” which were Christian words put to a German beer drinking song. Scandal. Tame are the songs that rocked the church in the 1960’s. Modern themes and tunes were shocking. The introduction of guitars was earth shaking and adding drums was sacrilege. Pianos and pipe organs were orthodox.
When the first hippie walked through the door of a church, people spread rumors scandalous and scathing. How dare they! Pastors who allowed such rabble in the church were brought before boards and fired. But scandal and gossip were a part of the Bible story too. What did Jewish Christians do as the first gentiles entered the church? Well, of course, they must become Jewish. The tendency of man is to always want things to stay the same. It is comfortable. The next logical step is to make comfortable a doctrine and liturgy. So, we can legitimize comfortable by making it holy.
Obviously God does not buy into that line of reasoning. Because comfortable becomes dead, quickly. And God does not do dead. He is alive and ever present to call His own to himself. The Holy Spirit is not put in a box of tidiness, but ever lives to reach the souls of men and lead those who come to God.
The stain glass windows of the great cathedrals were once like tracts. They told a story pictorially to an illiterate people. They could not read, but they could see the story as told in the alcoves of the cathedrals. Some one could teach using the window as an illustration. The Bible would not be available to the masses until the printing press of Gutenberg. While now we see those windows as representative of dead religion, they were once alive and vibrant for reaching an illiterate people.
When the Bible came and people began to increase in literacy, the word became paramount. Home meetings, Bible studies, Holy Clubs were formed around the Bible. The Methodist Church was founded on a method of studying the Bible. Small churches dotted the landscape and itinerate preachers visited and taught on a circuit schedule. People moved and industry affected the movement. Empty buildings were found because change happened.
The church did not die. The Holy Spirit continues to raise up new movements and church plants. Where one closes, another opens. Man makes mistakes, but God keeps reaching people.
Today, there is a current of a movement that we must engage. Will this movement last? Historically, no. But it is where we are now. It is what God is doing now. It will change. The message will remain, Jesus is still the savior, God is still on the throne, the end is still going to come as recorded, but how it looks, we do not know. It would be freaky to see a move that went back to Puritan dress, but maybe. Following the Lord is following the pillar of fire, it is following the cloud. Same God, different place, different look. Hang on, this is good
The Lost, who are they? The church speaks of the lost, the Bible speaks of the lost. What are they lost from?
The answers to those questions are important. There is an attitude in Christian circles regarding the lost. Often they are spoken of as the rabble of the earth, the down and out, the addicts, the surly, nasty people. They are the homeless, the criminal, the abuser, the foul mouthed, the unwanted. Yes, I am sure that comprises some of the lost. But there are lost out there that are financially successful, top of their profession, good moral character people, salt of the earth people, kind people, librarians and church goers.
The lost cover every strata of life. The lost come in all colors of humanity and they live in every nation. They are humans that are struggling to put food on the table and live an existence of some sort of meaning. They love and they hate. They are kind and they are mean.
The state of lostness may not be a down and out existence. It may be the high life. Lostness has nothing to do with social status or position.
First of all, what have they lost or what constitutes this condition? The Bible declares that ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. ALL mean ALL. Universal. No Exception. So, the state of being lost includes everyone to start with.
Humanity is lost from the original intention of God for his creation, including the individual purpose of each human being who ever lives. Vast is the purposes of God to be able to bring intention and purpose to everyone who breaks from the womb and breathes.
The lost condition is from the sin, rebellion, and huge loss to man that took place in the Garden of Eden. Man’s huge potential for learning, comprehension, spiritual capacities was completely retarded, stumped, and nearly destroyed. The ability to fellowship with God was cut off. The communication with God became solely based on His initiative. Man had not stance any longer with God; yet the love of God still reached out to the creation that forsook him, chose another path, believed a lie, and decided to lean on his own understanding rather than God’s. Since then man lapsed in worships of fantasy, idols, creatures, and self. Modern man particularly worships himself and the creation while denying a creator. Lostness primarily is a condition of ignoring the creator, concocting some philosophy that dismisses God, and choosing to use the worship capacity of the soul in some offensive manner to the creator, proclaiming to be wise they continue to be fools.
But the lost do not like to be called fools since so much of the lost state has to do with human intelligence. So, reaching for the lost is a tricky business. While we know they are lost, we must identify with our own lost condition prior to knowing Jesus. You remember well that religion and Bible thumpers were to be avoided and ridiculed. But then one day you met someone who challenged you without condemning you. You also noticed something in them that was appealing; yet undefinable. However, you knew there was something and you wanted it.
The Holy Spirit is always working to bring the lost to Jesus. He works at it patiently and sometimes for years before the person sees their poverty and cries for help. The lost need a friend who knows what it was like to be lost and found the path to life. The lost need friends that are Holy Spirit patient and Holy Spirit persevering. Because, “once I was lost, but now I am found!”
Cathy and I have always enjoyed the Olympics. Every four years athletes compete on a world stage pitting the best of the best against one another. National pride is often at stake. These athletes have trained for their events for years. Jesse Owens was quoted as saying “a lifetime of training for 10 seconds.”
These athletes have endured hours of training and criticism from coaches. For some sports it comes down to one hundredth of a second between gold and silver. Sometimes the spread between the top winner and the bottom loser is a matter of a second. Getting the little extra can be the difference between winning and losing.
Some sports however, are endurance based. They are not the fast out the blocks and full out for a matter of seconds. These sports take pacing and endurance. Often the athlete will hold a reserve of second wind to give a final kick, or push to the finish. I remember the scene from the movie Hildago, the horses are lined up for a long race of days. The starter gives the sign for the start of the race and all the horse riders charge their horses at full speed off the line only to bring them to a walk or slow trot over the first hill. It was an endurance race.
The apostle Paul uses this metaphor to describe the Christian life. The race. We are exhorted throughout the word that this is an endurance race not a sprint. It is “he who endures to the end” that receives the prize. We are also exhorted to not lose hope, to not give up, to press on.
What does this mean? Well in any endurance race there is the temptation to quit because it is too hard. I have watched marathon races and triathlon races where the contestant makes it to the finish line and collapses, having used every reserve in the body to make it.
The Christian faith requires endurance. The reason is we live a life with many complexities. There is no cruise control on life. We face the joys and sorrows of living. There are tragedies that blind side us and throw us into a turmoil of faith and life. We struggle with existence and our current meaning. We bring everything into question. Our faith is challenged to its core. The existence of God, even though we have been born again, is questioned. We ponder his purposes and we search for a cause and a point of blame. Some things in life are an accumulation of small errors and other times there is no reason or blame to be had. Sometimes the troubles are of our own making and other times it is a compilation of hurts perpetrated on each other, such as in marriage, or family issues.
But, out of the trials, hurts, and unforeseen tragedies, we have to hold fast to our faith.
The busyness of life can be another factor that begins to cause us to lose the momentum of our faith. Jobs, school, children and their schedules, all lend themselves to diminishing relationship with the Lord. Our endurance begins to wane and we want to sit on the sidelines rather than be in the game. It happens to almost all of us at some time.
But, at the moments when we are being tempted to stop, slow way down, or bail out, is the very moment we need to ask God for a second wind, or a third wind. In those moments we may not be leading the race, but we need to stay in the race.
We really want to be as the apostle and proclaim we have run the race and finished well. I really want to hear some day, “well done, good and faithful servant.”
Endurance and faithfulness go hand in hand. Where are you today? What is testing your faithfulness? What is impeding your endurance? It is a Marathon!
In the wee hours of the morning, when sleep escapes, and the thoughts come up like a computer booting up, the weight of the day takes hold and the concerns for souls, the existence of a vision, and the proper way to accomplish things holds deep care in the heart.
As thoughts roll and scenarios play out, the individuals who are living like there is no end to life and the pursuit of pleasure is all there is, seem to deepen the concern. Lost is the acute awareness of life and death. Even though tragedies are reported every day and some of them come close to us; it is usually covered over with platitudes of empty words and meaningless gestures. It is as though “our thoughts are with you,” or “we are thinking good thoughts toward you,” some how means something. Wake up, your thoughts are useless to the eternal destiny of the victim of the tragedy or the death by some disease. Praying for the dead is an exercise in futility. All it does is salve the conscience of the one who has promised to pray.
Life is taken so lightly and funerals are conducted like everyone is okay with God. They are not. This is not an attempt to be judgmental, but to be factual. The door to eternity is opened and closed quickly. There is a last breath and the door opens and then closes just as rapidly. The person is ushered into eternity and no great eulogy will change that destiny. It can be the lonely graveside of a derelict or the lavish state funeral, but the outcome was determined long before and it was sealed with the last breath.
The piles of flowers, the candles, the pictures are all nice to pay homage and respect, but it is done. The soul has departed and has entered their eternal state.
Lost is the burden in the saints for those who are on the road to perdition. We are not sending them to perdition; they are choosing it. How we present the gospel may seem like that when we are rude and judgmental. But, the truth is the truth and it can be presented in a way that is a plea, a hope, a light, an answer.
However, as long as we sit in church, or live separate from the world, we will never do our duty to the Lord. There is that fine balance of being in the world, but not of it. Too often we have taken it to mean, “do not be in the world.” Sadly, we have succumbed to separatism and lost the ability to impact a dying world. A good example of separatism is played out in our area daily. The Amish community grows by childbirth, not conversion. Good people, but an oddity that has become an industry of tourism. Christians are doing the same thing. We have lost the zeal for conversion of the lost and now are worrying primarily about protection.
While we want to protect our children and families, the sad result is that the children revolt against the protection and seek their own way. Now, rather than having faced the world and been a light in the world, they now, as did the prodigal son, run to explore an unknown world and taste everything that was forbidden. Of course, we know the outcome, but that does not stop the years lost to hedonism.
The faith was meant to be infectious. It was not to be rigid and sterile. It requires not an agreement on facts, but an encounter with the person Jesus. We all talk about relationship, but all too often it is works.
I think about these things. I worry about the young and their lack of commitment, and I worry about the older generation and their “I am done,” approach. No one is done until the door opens into eternity and then closes. Does this really concern us enough?