Sunday, December 27, 2009
I hope, trust and pray that your holiday season was one to remember. This year we joined the Advent Conspiracy and became a part of a movement designed to return the focus of the season to its source, Jesus Christ. During our exposition of the associated concepts of worshipping fully, spending less, giving more and loving all, we raised nearly $10,000 for the work of the Lord. Our God never ceases to amaze me, nor do his people when they are actively and obediently engaged in his service. Though, contextually the people were engaged in something decidedly rebellious, Gen 11:6 records, “The Lord said, Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.” Surely we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
Post advent season, let us also remember that those who were in the presence of the Lord during his original advent did not experience the post Christmas doldrums, but instead were obedient, Matt 2:9-12, evangelistic, Lk 2:8-18 and were put in touch with salvation. Access http://simplechristianity.com/sermons.htm for details.
Now as we cast our minds and hearts toward 2010, it is my hope that we would be willing and able to exemplify the things we have learned over the last few weeks. In order to help us do this our theme will be “Revival!” Over the course of the year we will explore a variety of topics designed to help us renew and refresh our relationship with and commitment to the Lord. Romans 12:2 will be our guide: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
I thank God for each of you, the things we have witnessed this past year and the things we have accomplished in his service. As we enter the 50th year of O’Fallon’s existence (more about that soon), I know that we will be able to do even greater things in His name.
God’s greatest spiritual blessings to us all.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast which is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. This harvest meal has become a symbol of cooperation and interaction between English colonists and Native Americans. Although this feast is considered by many to the very first Thanksgiving celebration, it was actually in keeping with a long tradition of celebrating the harvest and giving thanks for a successful bounty of crops. Native American groups throughout the Americas, including the Pueblo, Cherokee, Creek and many others organized harvest festivals, ceremonial dances, and other celebrations of thanks for centuries before the arrival of Europeans in North America [historychannel.com].
In view of this history, much of our focus on stopping and taking time to give thanks is centered around this holiday. I submit to you however, that to the Christian, this should be a constant in our daily lives. The word instructs that we,"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." Phil 4:6 Being ever mindful of the provision of God and taking time to thank him through prayer is both the duty and the privilege of everyone who calls upon the name of his Son and our Savior. Further, Eph 5:20 states that we should do this "always for all things."
The encouragement to us all, this day and all days my beloved, far beyond and more frequent than this quaint tradition, is to simply thank God every day in every way for the vastness of his blessings.
Strengthening our Faith
Saturday, August 29, 2009
We are all aware of the tragedy that took place four years ago in New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst disasters our country has ever seen. 1,833 of our fellow human beings lost their lives and $81billion worth of damage was done.
During the time we were there we went on a tour of the city. On the one hand, it seems that many areas of the city have recovered and done so nicely. Though the population is 25% lower than what it was pre-Katrina, the average person on the street seems to have resumed life as before. On the other hand, there are still an amazing number of buildings and properties that haven't been touched since the day of the storm. The homeless population numbers in the thousands and that number is growing because the cost of living has risen.
I couldn't help but think of what life was like in Noah's time before the deluge came. The bible tells us that people were going about their lives doing the things that anyone does. It also mentions that God was so distressed about the "business as usual" sinful lives that virtually all of mankind was living, it repented Him that He made man, Gen 6:5-7. The word also reveals that He out of loving kindness gave man the time that it took for 8 people to build the ark to repent and get on the boat. Clearly, just Noah and his family were saved.
New Orleans doesn't deserve to be singled out for it sins any more than any other city, but it's reputation for fleshly pursuits among other things is well known. I'm likewise not saying that the residents thereof deserved this great tragedy any more or less than any victim of a tragedy. I'm simply saying that visiting the city did put me in mind of the time God had had enough.
As God allowed the earth to be repopulated, so has New Orleans. Though there were many who lost their lives both by the Great Flood as well as Katrina, it seems that sin survived.
During an evening walk in the French Quarter, we happened to cross and journey down a couple of blocks of Bourbon Street. If you've ever been there, you know what can be found. If you haven't, suffice it to say, that antediluvian debauchery is alive and well and has indeed survived the flood and Katrina.
This gives me one last thought. God is still giving us time. The next time destruction is brought upon the earth, it will be fire.
Strengthening Our Faith
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Over the last couple of months we have been pursuing messages Paul shared with Timothy and by extension, the first century churches in Asia and ultimately you and I today (in case you have missed any, they are available at www.simplechristianity.com/sermons). The point of the series has been threefold: we serve an awesome God, He equips us with all things pertaining to life despite our shortcomings and that as children adopted into his divine family, there is work for us to do.
• We serve an awesome God!-Being relatively simple fleshly creatures with limited capacity to understand all things spiritual, Yahweh can be a difficult Deity around whom to wrap our minds. Questions abound such as who created Him? Where did He come from? How and why does He do what He does and refrain from doing other things? Admittedly, some of these questions cannot be answered and some answers that are available are difficult for some to accept. In Springfield, Illinois, right of I-55 there is a massive power plant. It is easily identified by three huge smoke stacks that billow steam into the air. I couldn’t begin to tell you what goes on behind those secured doors, but I know the plant is there, I know why it’s there and I know that when I flick on a local switch, the lights come on. Naturally there is no comparison between God and a power plant, but I submit to you that whether you understand many things about Him or not, you can see evidence of His presence and His activity in YOUR LIFE all around you, Romans 1:19-20. The questions with no apparent answers fall within the realm of faith. We believe that all things will be revealed in His good time according to his promises. Surely He is an awesome God.
• He equips us!-Romans 5:8 shares most assuredly with us that, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That takes care of the point earlier made that despite our shortcomings; he is still awesome to us. You may recall during our study that in 1 Tim 4:13-15, Paul was reminding Timothy that he had been equipped for the task of, among other things, sharing the gospel and serving the church at Ephesus as its minister and, some say, elder. In his case, he had been prepared by a God who created him, a Mother and Grandmother that taught him, apostles that prophesied about him and laid hands on him that he might receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. You and I have likewise been created by God, taught by someone in your lives, are foreknown of God and received the gift of the Holy Spirit upon being baptized. It is surely not for me to say how you have been equipped in particular, nor can I say for what specific task(s) outside of contributing to the expansion of the borders of the kingdom. I do, however, have bible for the fact that it has most assuredly taken place. I might suggest a study of Romans 12 and 1 Cor 12 for illumination on this subject. Suffice it to say that God has work for us to do and being the awesome God that He is, has not sent us into the field ill equipped.
• There is work for us to do!-Where does one begin to discuss all of the things that we can and should be doing in service to our Lord? In our congregation, we are well rehearsed in the fact that we are to love God with all our hearts soul and might and love one another as we love ourselves, but truly, everything that is expected of us can be found in those two verses, Matt 22:37-39. I submit to you brothers and sisters that if you are curious about what you should be doing, first examine the word for what speaks to you individually. It never fails that after sharing the word in sermon, someone comes and informs me that either I was speaking directly to them or that the sermon was somehow for them. I’d like to think we know when God is speaking to us. Truly, he always is, but that is another subject for another time. Then, do a gifts inventory to determine what you are best equipped to do. Remember that suggested study in Romans 12. Take a magnifying glass to the 7th-9th verses and you’ll see exactly what I mean. The point is to recognize and understand that the Lord has given His all for us. Shall we not express our love and gratitude by giving ours to him? Think on these things.
Strengthening Our Faith
Saturday, May 30, 2009
As it invariably happens in conversations of which I am a part that last more than about 5 minutes, the subject of God ultimately came up. Now my friend is a "somewhat practicing Catholic" (in his own words) and therefore doesn't know a whole lot about my faith. He does, however, know that I am a preacher which I suppose he figures is somewhat different than the priests with whom he is accustomed. From this came the question, "So what does a preacher actually do?" He went on to clarify, "I mean I know you get up in front of people and talk to them about the bible, but is it to try to convert people, tell the how to live their lives or what?"
What happened after that, as it does with a frequency that is no longer surprising, reminds me yet again why I love God and His method of communication through the Spirit so much. You see the first thing that popped into my mind is the story of Noah (found primarily in Gen 6 and 7 for the purposes of our discussion). In that I'd never thought about what I do in terms of Noah before, I took it that God was giving me the assist and providing me with a way to relate my calling and responsibilities to someone who had honest questions, using something with which they could relate. To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
You might imagine the difficulty (and the space limitations) of accurately recreating a conversation in writing so I'll give you the high points of what the Lord shared with us both.
- The world is now as it was in Noah's time, in a pitiful state, according to verse 5-6 of chapter 6. Even a casual read of today's newspaper headlines or a glance at the evening news bears this out. No one is under the illusion that times are tough and that much of it can be attributed to our moral decay.
- As in verses 9 and 10, it is my responsibility to find favor with God by living my life in as clean and upright a manner as I possibly can. Surely this is something that all who call on his name should diligently pursue, however he who is the herald of God must walk an even narrower path.
- According to verse 3, time was limited as is God's patience. Acts 17:30 reminds us that God is long suffering with many of our sinful and ignorant behaviors but ultimately expects for us to make a change. To be sure, there is a consequence for failure to make this change. We know that the people of Noah's time, as with now, don't fully understand the implications and consequences of their actions, nor the sign of the times. I've got bible for that. Check out Luke 17:26, 27.
- Like Noah, my job is to convince people to get in the boat before it is everlastingly too late. Looking at 1 Pet 3:20 and 2 Pet 2:5, as well as Gen 6:3, we can surmise that Noah, while being given 120 years to construct an ark was likewise either charged or moved to warn people of the earth's impending doom and encourage them to get on the boat. Peter even refers to Noah as a preacher rather than a carpenter or a ship builder.
- I am also to be obedient to God and to have faith in Him. No matter how unusual the command or circumstance, no matter how inconvenient, my job is to do. This is what Noah did and it saved him and his family and by extension, all of humanity.
As far as the rest, well my job is also to teach and minister to (serve) those who wisely get on the old ship of Zion in the ways of our ultimate benefactor, the Lord, as commanded in Matt 28:18-20. We must all love each other as Christ loved us and then be obedient to his will by inviting others onto the boat.
Now if you've ever had any interactions with Human Resources on your job, you might have come across a phrase that may involve the following: "While these things do not include the totality of your responsibilities, they do make up the essential expectations and minimum requirements."
That is to say, this is not an exhaustive list but for an answer to a sincere question asked by an acquaintance over lunch, this is basically what a preacher does.
By the way, I did invite he and his family to get on the boat. Please be in prayer for that.
Strengthening our Faith
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Last night, our youth minister, Chris Hughes, and several of the congregation's young people put together a Good Friday Service. Truth be told, I had never heard of such a thing. But Chris is kind of a spunky guy who has a great love for the Lord and is always wanting to try something new (you know how youth ministers are).
The service began with each person being required to light a candle in the foyer before entering the sanctuary. Once inside, Chris informed those who had gathered about what the service would consist of in pretty specific detail. He warned that it would be a heavy service and that it was not designed to bring joy, but to put us in the place of a disciple during the time of the trial, scourging and crucifixion. The service was to be lit primarily by candle, leaving participants mostly in the dark. I made note that he said that at the conclusion of the service, anyone who had the need or desire to stay could have all the time they needed. Little did I know that I would be the last to leave his seat.
Billed as a multi-sensory experience, the service began with a video montage, consisting primarily of clips from the film, "The Passion." If you've ever seen the movie, you know how much it can move you around emotionally. It started right there for me. It went downhill from there.
A chorus made up of the youth, Chris and the Horn family sang a beautiful song that seemed to both frame and echo the emotional content of the video's last scene; Mary was holding the battered and bleeding corpse of her dead son as the wind whipped her hair and tears cascaded down her face.
There then came a very well done dramatic presentation written by Megan Schwartz that represented the anger, despondency and confusion felt by Christ's apostles immediately after his death. By this point, I was, as the saying goes, all in. I was no longer aware of sitting in the third pew in a business suit, fulfilling my obligation to the members of our congregation by being present to support Chris and his efforts. I was there. 2000 years ago. I was there. It was happening to me. It was as if I had just witnessed the crucifixion of God's son whom I personally knew and had followed for years. It is difficult to explain...and it got worse.
The next portion of the service involved a reading of the account of Christ's ordeal from his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane to the time he hung his head and died. Chris and the kids took turns reading the account. Of course these are passages that we've read dozens or even hundreds of times. I was struck, despite my familiarity with the words, by how they hung in the air, rang in my ears and drilled down to my soul. The words seemed to have come to literal life. Even this was tremendously amplified by the fact that at every juncture in the scripture that an injustice was done or a betrayal committed, a candle on stage was blown out. It was painful to watch and I must admit that my eyes were either closed or looking at my hands the majority of the time. Hearing those words, picturing those images, feeling the weight of what Jesus went through and why, examining my own life and it's place in the scheme of why such a sacrifice was necessary, and watching Samantha Hearn step forward and blow those candles out at juncture after juncture was more than I could stand.
I wondered which candle would have been mine.
By the time the next to last candle had been blown out, I was barely coherent. Chris had earlier explained that when the last candle was blown out, the candle representing Jesus' life, the service would be over. After hearing the words of the soldier's spear piercing Jesus' side, only to find him already dead reverently and somberly read, Samantha approached the last light in the room, which poetically and ironically enough was placed on the altar, and disappeared with it behind the table. For a moment there was a glow that cast shadows...
...and then it was gone.
The sanctuary had fallen into the darkness reminiscent of the darkness that fell on that day 2000 years ago at Golgotha between noon and three.
Chris' voice intoned, "As you leave, note that the only light left is that from the candles you lit in the foyer before you came in. The only light left is the light in you."
I don't know how long I sat there.
I don't know how long I sat there suffering under the weight of it all. There were so many thoughts running through my head. There were so many emotions running through my soul. There was an overwhelming sense of sadness, grief, blame and responsibility. It felt as though I had just experienced a very real personal tragedy. I had. There is one thing I know for sure however; I wanted to go and get that candle back more than I've wanted to do anything in a very long time. But I knew I couldn't. No one could. Not even God would.
When I was able to gather myself (somewhat), I found Chris, grabbed him, held him and thanked him with every word I could muster, which admittedly were very few. I told him how I wanted to go and get that candle and it was about there that I lost it again. He assured me that it would be better Sunday. Knowing he was right, I reluctantly released him, turned, walked past a singing Christiana Horn, left the sanctuary, grabbed my daughter Torri and walked out of the building. I can only hope that the many members who all seemed to be lingering in the foyer didn't think me rude for not staying and chatting. For the first time in a long time, the preacher didn't have the words.
Strengthening Our Faith
Monday, March 16, 2009
Unfortunately, that dear member of the Lord's body is dying.
Or is it unfortunate?
There is an amazing variety of ways people feel about death, particularly when they themselves are facing it. Many of us quote the apostle Paul who once famously said, "For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain." Phi 1:21. As Christians, we put a brave and confident face on the prospect and speak in spiritually if not politically correct terms about it. However, how would any of us really feel when we receive the somberly delivered terminal diagnosis from our physician? What thoughts would race through our minds? What concerns would be primary in our consideration? What fears would we face?
Surely these are questions that can only be answered by the individual. Even then, the realities cannot be fully known until one finds themselves in that situation. I'm reminded of Hezekiah's response to Isaiah's news that he had come to the end of his life in Isa 38:1-5. From his response, it does not seem that he experienced joy at the prospect of living in eternal heavenly bliss with God. Interestingly enough, isn't that at least ONE of the reasons we became Christians?
Perhaps we fear death because it is the ultimate unknown. Despite everything we think we know, none of us have ever spoken with anyone who has ultimately died and was able to send back a report from the "other side." Even then, the report would be controversial at best and difficult to believe at least, Luke 16:24-31. We know this because the bible contains a number of examples of what we can expect as we transition from one form of life to the other, yet still, many of us who call upon the name of Christ are filled with trepidation at even the thought of loosing this mortal coil.
Perhaps we can discuss in a later post why we feel this way. One way to relieve ourselves of this anxiety however, despite our reasons for having such misgivings, is to take Peter's advice: "...give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall" 2 Peter 1:10.
In speaking with our dear member, I was filled with the mixed emotions of both joy and sadness when he uttered words that still resonate with me and inspired this writing. He simply said, "I'm ready." What a powerful statement of faith! We talked about many things that day, his past mistakes, his repentance, the history of his faith and the history of his health. These and many more things discussed caused me to really feel the depth of his peace and assurance in the Lord. It is something to which I aspire.
The time has not yet come to say farewell to my dear brother. I will endeavor to spend more time with him while there is still time to learn more about that peace that passes all understanding and his preparation to see Jesus. For surely, we will all pass that way sooner or later. When that day comes, I want to be able to say with wide eyed enthusiasm and anticipation as Paul said and our dear member exemplified,
- "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." 2 Tim 4:6-8
Strengthening Our Faith
Monday, January 19, 2009
The day is made more significant by the fact that the President Elect has called for a day of service on this national holiday. It is worthy of note that so many have responded to the call to think and perform beyond their own needs and interest and look to that of others. Surely this an acknowledgement of King's legacy, the needs of the many, the efforts of those whose life work it is to assist and that inherent tendency in us all to reach out to those in need.
These should not be uncharted waters for the Christian. We should both understand and behave according to our greatest commandments; love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and love our neighbors as ourselves, Matt 22:37-39. I am also put in mind of the biblically derived "Golden Rule" found in Matt 7:21. It is likely that we all at one time or another have known need rather than mere want. If so, it is just as likely that the desire to have that need met by a compassionate heart closely followed. Should we not be proactive, inspired at least in part by the thought that, "there, but for the grace of God go I?"
As it was for our Savior, we who call upon his mighty name are in the "need meeting" business, despite our sometimes questionable performance. We are called upon to put the needs of others over our own (Rom 15:1), lend a helping hand (Gal 6:2), render aid (Luke 10:30-36) and to do good to all men (Gal 6:10). Clearly this is not an exhaustive list of our responsibilities to our fellow man, but is indicative of the mindset we should maintain.
What is a day of service to some should be a life of service to Christians. God has promised to honor such love and obedience. Let us create opportunities to enrich the lives of others even as ours have been enriched by Him.
Strengthening Our Faith