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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Resignation and Acceptance

I've often helped people through the classic 5 stages of grief:
 
Denial.  Anger.  Bargaining.  Depression.  Acceptance.
 
We can understand and relate to the denial, anger, bargaining and depression part.
 
It is the "acceptance" part that is hard to wrap our minds around.
 
How can I "accept" the suffering that I am going through?
 
Some look at the idea of suffering with a "Doris Day" type philosophy (Now bringing up her name dates me).  She used to sing, "Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be.")
 
In other words, whatever happens will happen.
 
To a certain extent, our Muslim friends have the same kind of philosophy:  "Whatever Allah wills."
 
Whatever happens, happens.
 
But acceptance is where you keep on believing God for a miracle even as you accept the reality of your present situation.
 
Acceptance doesn't demand that God work in a certain way (a predetermined conclusion) but rather leaves the nature of the miracle to the wisdom of God.
 
It may mean some kind of divine intervention in the circumstances of life.  Or it may come as a miracle in our spirit, enabling us to experience peace and even a godly joy in the midst of suffering.
 
That, in and of itself, is a miracle.
 
Acceptance means that we stop fighting God.  We stop blaming him.
 
And.....it may mean that we start forgiving Him for what has happened to us.
 
Now then, wrap your mind around that.
 
Who are we to forgive God?  And who are we to presume that God needs forgiving?
 
One author writes this:  "We are not forgiving God because He has done something wrong, for He hasn't.  Rather, we are forgiving Him in the sense that we have blamed Him, held Him responsible, and our feelings have alienated us from Him.  When we "forgive" Him, we let go of those feelings - all of the hurt and anger, all of the bitterness and distrust.  It means we stop working against His purposes in our life.  Instead, we yield ourselves to Him, we work with Him.  And as a result, we experience His supernatural peace."
 
Are you struggling with acceptance today?
 
Let me leave you with this from Elizabeth Elliot:
 
"Resignation is surrender to fate; acceptance is surrender to God.  Resignation lies down quietly in an empty universe.  Acceptance rises up to meet the God who fills that universe with purpose and destiny.  Resignation says, "I can't," and God says, "I can."  Resignation says, "It's all over for me."  Acceptance asks, "Now that I'm here, Lord, what's next?"  Resignation says, "What a waste."  Acceptance says, In what redemptive way can you use this mess, Lord?"
 
Just a thought for a Thursday.
 
 
 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Laughter and adversity

I must admit that I haven't had a lot of reason to laugh in my life recently.

During times of difficulty, it is like you are walking in a fog.  Life goes on around you - routines are followed, but there is that "other something" that is always with you.   That "other something" that can rob you of joy.

Yet here is what I know:  Laughter can bring healing to your soul.

Genuine laughter.

Proverbs 17:22 tells us, "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones."

I believe that laughter has an incredible capacity to heal our bodies, our minds, and our spirits.

Humor has the unshakable ability to break life up into little pieces and make it livable - and that in the midst of suffering and adversity - we can find something to smile about if we look for it.

Today, at our "goodbye" lunch with Pastor Amanda, we sat around eating Jimmy John's sandwiches, told stories and laughed.

If felt really, really good.

Laughter helps relieve stress.

It is like the following diet plan that I read today (It is called the Stress diet):

Breakfast:

1/2 grapefruit
1 Piece of whole-wheat toast
8 ounces skim milk

Lunch

4 oz. lean broiled chicken breast
1 cup steamed zucchini
1 Oreo cookie
Herb tea

Mid-afternoon snack

Rest of the package of Oreo cookies
1 quart Rocky Road ice cream
1 jar hot fudge

Dinner

2 loaves garlic bread
Lard mushroom and pepperoni pizza
Large pitcher of Coke
3 Snickers bars
Entire frozen cheesecake, eaten directly from the freezer.

Come on now, that smile look good on your face.

I guess what I am saying is in the form of a prayer, "Thank you Lord for those moments of laughter in the midst of the "stuff" of life!

Just a thought for a Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The year of outward connection

Andrew did it really well.  The Samaritan woman at the well was phenomenal at it. I know of many people in our church family who excel at it.  

What is  it?  Inviting people to come to Jesus.  Inviting friends and family to come to church.  

Do you know someone who doesn’t come to church?  I would suggest that we all do.  

William Temple has written, “The church is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its nonmembers.”

Someone once wrote, “Evangelism is witness. It is one beggar telling another beggar where to get food. The Christian does not offer out of his bounty. He has no bounty. He is simply a guest at his Master's table and, as evangelist, he calls others too.”
 
Our theme at Stone Church for 2014 is, "The Year Of Outward Connection." 
 
We desire that people, non-churched people connect to Jesus Christ!

I was recently reading an article by R. Thom Rainer entitled, “Ten surprises about the unchurched.”  These “ten surprises” will inform you as well as challenge you.  They are taken from a survey that was done amongst a segment of the unchurched across America. 

Surprise number one: 

Most of the unchurched prefer to attend church on Sunday morning if they attend. 

Rainer writes, “Perhaps the unchurched responded in this way because that is the time they have always heard church should be.” 

Surprise number two: 

Most of the unchurched feel guilty about not attending church for different reasons. 
 
For some it’s because they have children they feel need to be in church.  For others, it’s because it’s tough to start a habit of doing something they’ve never done before.   

The question was asked, “Why do the unchurched continue to avoid church?”  Rainer writes, “As strange as it may seem to the churchgoing Christian, the church intimidates the unchurched person.  They do not think they can fit in a place they have never attended.  And they are uncertain about church protocol.  They just fear that they will feel out of place.”   

So the question arises, “is there anything that could get the unchurched to attend church? 

Here’s what I want you to catch.  It leads us to surprise number three: 

Ninety-six percent of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if they are invited! 

Let me write this in another way.  MORE THAN NINE OUT OF TEN OF THE UNCHURCHED SAID THEY WOULD COME TO CHURCH IF THEY WERE INIVITED.   

If you take 160 million people in the United States that are unchurched, and if we define unchurched as attending church two or less times in a year, the implications are enormous.  Over 153 million people would start attending church if they were invited! 

You might ask, “What constitutes an invitation?”   

For many of the unchurched, it is a simple invitation to come to your church. 

For others, it is an invitation that includes an offer to meet them at church to show them around or walk them through in our building.  

In either case, it’s pretty basic.   

IF WE INVITE THEM, THEY WILL COME. 

Let’s go on and ask another question.  Are Christians inviting non-Christians to church?  Rainer writes, “The heartbreaking answer is “no”.   

Only 21% of active churchgoers invite anyone to church in the course of a year.  Only 2% of the church members invited an unchurched person to church.   

Rainer writes, “We who are leaders in the church must challenge the church members.  When is the last time they invited an unchurched person to church?  When is the last time they offered to meet someone and show him or her around the church?  The answers they give could make the difference in the eternal destiny of a person.  Perhaps it is time we sounded the clarion call to invite the church.  It may be that simple, and it may be that profound.” 

Don’t ever say “no” before you give an invitation to someone.

John Ortberg writes, “When it comes to inviting people [to hear the gospel], never say no for anyone. Never say no on anyone's behalf. Jesus didn't give up on the people everyone else gave up on. You just never know."
 
Ortberg writes, "I remember a banquet in a secular setting. A group of us were sitting at a table, and there was one empty seat. This guy sat down in it. He was a smooth character. I sat on one side of him, and a very attractive woman sat on the other side of him. When he sat down, his first comment was to the woman: "Well, what have you been doing here except turning the heads of everybody in the room?"

I said, "Well, just eating lunch."

That launched us into an interesting conversation. The discussion turned toward spiritual things, and at one point I talked about being at a church for people who don't like church. He said, "That's interesting," and told me about his background. He grew up Jewish and had no involvement in that faith beyond age 12. He had been to a Unitarian church a couple of times and had been divorced three times.

If I had to assess someone on the basis of one conversation who was as far away from faith in Christ as could be, it would have been this guy. His name was Steve. I invited him to come to our church, and I never thought I'd see him again.

The next Sunday he came to our worship service and sat in the front row. He talked with me afterwards and asked where we got our material. I told him about the Bible, and he got a New Testament. He had never read a New Testament in his life. He started getting up early, and he read 20 or 30 pages of the Bible every day. He came back to church the next week and the next. We kept talking, and he started thinking about making a decision to believe in Christ. It would be a costly thing for him because of his heritage—his family told him if he became a Christian he would be dead to them. But he finally said yes to God.

The last time I saw him he was with a friend. He threw his arms around me and said to his friend, "I want you to meet the person who helped bring me to Jesus."

I almost missed that because I almost said no for him.”

Surprise number 4: 

Very few of the unchurched had someone share with them how to become a Christian.  And Christians have not been particularly influential in their lives. 

Follow the logic:  if Christians don’t invite non-Christians to church, we can’t be surprised if they don’t share the gospel or influence the unchurched. 

Rainer writes, “You might be surprised that, when some Christians may think “the time is just not right,” the unchurched are wondering why we are so reticent.” 

Surprise number 5: 

Most of the unchurched have a positive view of the pastors, minister and the church.   

Only a few said the ministers are hypocritical, only after money, always drive nice cars, and have a condescending view of others. 

Rainer writes, “The scandal of the televangelist and other Christian leaders is a faded memory for most of the unchurched.  And for those who still have vivid recollections of the tainted past, most do not believe that all pastors and ministers are like their fallen brethren.  Perhaps even more surprising was the generally positive attitude the unchurched had toward the church.  For the vast majority of the unchurched, the church IS STILL RELEVANT, today.  Indeed many of them perceive the church to be the most relevant institution in society today.” 

This brings up the question, “if the unchurched see the church in a positive light, and if they perceive the church to be relevant, why are they still unchurched?” 

For some the answer lies in experiences that have been negative as they have visited a church.  Unfriendliness, unkempt facilities, poor signage, and general confusion have been some of the descriptions about the church from the unchurched. 

But what is amazing is that most of these men and women still view the church positively after a negative experience.   

But the other reason lies in the fact that we have mentioned before.  Most of the unchurched have NEVER been invited to church.  AND MOST OF THEM WOULD COME IF INVITED.   

If you get nothing else from this blog, hear this main point.  

THE UNCHURCHED MUST BE INVITED TO CHURCH. 

Surprise number six: 

Many of the unchurched have a church background.   

Some had previously been members of church and left for various reasons.  Others visited one or more churches for a season.  Still others were taken to church as children. 

Here’s the point, and I quote Rainer, “do not assume that all unchurched persons are clueless about the church.  A majority can recall many years of church in their past.” 

Why did they leave the church? 

Some had negative experiences.  Others who went as children dropped out when their parents dropped out.  And a number of unchurched tried church but left unimpressed and inspired. 

Rainer writes, “Conventional wisdom about the unchurched suggests that these men and women are total strangers to the church.  Such is not the case with the majority of the unchurched.” 

Surprise number seven: 

The unchurched do not mind being asked to church, but don’t show up at their home without an invitation.  As one person said, “it reminds me of a telephone solicitation, only worse!” 

However, being asked to church in the midst of a casual conversation is welcomed.  Peter W. of San Diego said about a Christian friend of his who works with him, “Eric is a trip.  We will be talking about the Chargers or the Padres and, before I know it, he’s telling me something about his church or God.  I really respect him, you know.  He doesn’t beat me over the head with his beliefs, but he sure isn’t shy to talk to me about it.  Most of the church people I know act like they are ashamed of what they believe.” 

Rainer writes, “The bottom line of cold-call evangelism seems to be to make the most of every opportunity that God gives you.  Pray for such opportunities.” 

Surprise number eight: 

The unchurched would like to develop a real and sincere relationship with a Christian.   

But be sincere.  Twyla Fagan writes, “Most of the unchurched can easily tell the difference between ‘drive by’ evangelism and a person who really cares.” 

Most unchurched people respond positively to a genuine Christian who spends time with them in a non-judgmental relationship.  People don’t care how much you know or what you know until they know how much you care. 

Rainer writes, “If we who call ourselves Christian really believe that a person is lost outside of salvation through Christ, we would make the lost and the unchurched one of our highest priorities.  And if we really had broken hearts for the unchurched person, we would take whatever time is necessary to get to know them and to share the love of Christ in word and deed.” 

It’s not a big mystery.  There are thousands of men and women in Battle Creek who are waiting for one of us as Christians to spend time with them and to show them we really care.  Jesus desired that none would perish.  In the midst of his packed schedule, he took time to show his love to sinners.  Are we willing to do likewise? 

Surprise attitude number nine: 

The attitudes of the unchurched are not correlated to where they live, their ethnic or racial background, or their gender.   

Surprise attitude number ten: 

Many of the unchurched are far more concerned about the spiritual well-being of their children than themselves.

You might be saying, “George, that’s interesting stuff, now what do I do with it?” 

Let’s look at Andrew. 

Andrew is just a great example of someone who brings people, invites people to Jesus.  Almost every time you see him in the New Testament he is bringing someone to Jesus.   

Andrew couldn’t preach like Peter and he couldn’t lead like Peter.  Yet Andrew had an important place in the kingdom.  He brought people to Jesus. 

In John 1:40-42 we read, “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ).  And he brought him to Jesus.” 

How can you invite people to Jesus? 

1.    Go 

You must go. 

You must tell. 

“The first thing that Andrew did after coming in contact with Jesus was to find his brother Simon.” 

Andrew didn’t know everything there was to know about Jesus.  But that didn’t stop him from bringing his brother to Jesus.  That didn’t stop him from immediately and urgently bringing Simon to the Lord. 

What gave Andrew that sense of urgency?  The joy of the Lord!  

Andrew grew up in a time when Jewish people in Israel were expecting a Messiah.  And In Jesus they found Him!  Andrew is full of joy and the wants to share that joy with the one person in the world whom he loved more than any other –his brother. 

Andrew was also grateful for what Jesus had done for him. He wanted to share with Simon out of a heart of gratitude. 

2.    Tell 

John 1:41 states, “the first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “we have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 

Notice Andrew's approach. 

It was personal.  He says to Simon, “we have found the Messiah”!  Andrew wasn’t giving Peter something second hand.  It wasn’t something he read in the “Jerusalem Times.” 

Andrew shared with Peter something he knew not only in his head but also in his heart. 

Let me stop right here and challenge all of us to examine our philosophy of bringing people to Christ.

In most Assemblies of God churches we HOPE that someone will walk through the church doors, and we HOPE that the pastor will preach an evangelistic message, and we HOPE that he will give an altar call and we HOPE that someone will come forward and we HOPE that they will make a confession of Christ and we HOPE that someone will follow up on them and we HOPE that they will come back.

Someone once said that “the definition of insanity is doing what you’ve always done expecting different results.” 

I am convinced that one of the most powerful ways of bringing people to Jesus is on an individual, one on one personal basis. 

Andrew brings Peter to the Lord.  And then Peter brings thousands of others who bring hundreds of thousands more – well you get the idea. 

Andrew was also humble.   

Notice that Andrew didn’t say, “I found the Messiah, but “we have found the Messiah.”  He didn’t make it sound as though he was the only one who knew of Jesus. 

Nothing will turn off someone who is unchurched more than a feeling that some Christians give of elitism.  That they have the truth and others don’t.

I know you are in agreement with me that the only reason that you have a relationship with Jesus is by the cross and grace of Christ Himself.

The first season of the TV show The Apprentice tracked the lives of 16 up-and-coming business people as they vied for a highly coveted job with Donald Trump. It was the top-ranked-show among new TV series in the first half of 2004, with over 20 million viewers.

In this scene, Donald Trump faces two of his apprentices at the opulent boardroom table. On the left is Kwame, the polished Harvard MBA, and on the right is Troy, a business-savvy risk-taker without a college education. They have earned their place among the final few contestants, but now, one of them must leave.

Trump turns on Troy and in his gruff manner says, "Troy in reality we're dealing with multibillion dollar companies here. The consequences of hiring a live wire like you could be costly and devastating. So I have to say, you're fired!" The camera fades to Troy, head bowed in disgrace.

How different from the scene Jesus promises his people. In the opulent boardroom of heaven, Jesus turns to us and says, "In reality, we're dealing with something far greater than multibillion dollar businesses here—we're talking about the salvation of the world. The consequences of hiring someone like you could be costly and devastating. So I have to say, you're hired!"

In a world full of “un-grace”, Jesus gives grace.

By His grace He forgives us for our mistakes and failures. 

Andrew is saying, “John and I have found the Messiah.”   

THE UNCHURCHED CAN SPOT A PHONY A MILE AWAY. 

The unchurched are turned off by spiritual elitism and pride.

John Orberg writes, “Our fallenness makes us want to be a part of not just any group, but an exclusive group. By definition, every society includes people who connect, who belong to one another. Yet every society includes people who feel left out, who don't get chosen at recess, whose invitations to dance get turned down, who get blackballed and cold-shouldered and voted off the island. We exclude others because of pride or fear or ignorance or the desire to feel superior.

I thought of this tendency we have to divide people the last time I was aboard an airplane. The first-class passengers were served gourmet food on china and crystal by their own flight attendants; those of us in coach ate snacks served in paper bags with plastic wrappers. The first-class passengers had room to stretch and sleep; those of us in coach were sitting with a proximity usually reserved for engaged couples in the back row of a movie. The first-class passengers had flight attendants bring them moist Towelettes for comfort and personal hygiene; those of us in coach had to sit and stew in our facial sweat.

On almost every flight, once the plane is under way, a curtain gets drawn to separate the two compartments. It is not to be violated; it is like the Berlin Wall or the veil that separated the Court of the Gentiles from the Holy of Holies in the temple at Jerusalem. The curtain is a reminder throughout the flight that some people are first class and some aren't. Those who aren't first class are not to violate the boundary. They can't even see what's going on behind the other side of the curtain.

On a recent flight, a voice came on the intercom system, telling us that because of new security measures, the attendants were not allowed to fasten the curtain. But the airline wanted all of us in the Court of the Gentiles to know that we were not allowed to use the facilities in the Holy of Holies, even though there was one restroom for eight people up there and two restrooms for several hundred of us (mostly children under six who had been drinking Jolt Cola the whole flight) on the other side.

Let the curtain stand for a tendency deep inside the fallen human spirit—the tendency to exclude. In the act of exclusion, we divide the world up into "us" and "them."

Good stuff.

Andrew was positive.  Humility doesn’t mean that you can’t speak openly and with boldness. 

Andrew is saying, “There may be things about Jesus I don’t know, but I do know what he as done for me and that he is the Messiah”! 

3.    Bring 

John 1:42 states, “And he brought him to Jesus.”   

John doesn’t write that Andrew converted or “saved” Simon.. 

It says that Andrew persuaded Peter to understand how he needed to investigate this opportunity for himself.  Andrew knew that only Jesus can change our lives. 

In a TV commercial by one credit card company, the scene opens with a couple standing at the check-out counter. The woman says, "'Tis the season," and takes out her credit card to hand to the cashier. Her husband looks alarmed and says, "Wait, what credit card are you using?"
 
Suddenly hordes of barbarians begin surging into the store. They run down the store aisles yelling, with weapons drawn, toward the couple making the credit card purchase. The point of the ad is that making yourself liable to the finance charges on credit cards is like bringing on the barbarians.
 
One quick scene in the ad gives us a spiritual metaphor. As the barbarians charge past one store clerk at the perfume counter, she sprays perfume on them.

Trying to civilize a horde of bloodthirsty barbarians, to get rid of their foul aroma, with a few squirts of perfume, is what we are doing if we hope to transform sinners by squirting them with religion. Religion cannot change the barbarian at the heart of every child, teenager, or adult. Only a relationship with Christ brings the soul conversion that changes a sinner into a saint.

But there’s the key:  In order for Jesus to do what He could do, Andrew had to first do what he could do – inviting people to Jesus.

 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:
 
If you can't get excited about Easter - your "wood is wet" - and your need your fire lit once again!
 
Powerful services yesterday.  God's spirit was present.
 
Many, many thanks to all of our volunteers who helped make it such a special Sunday.  The list is long - greeters, ushers, choir members, children's workers, etc.  Each person so important to our ministry here. 
 
From my heart to yours - thank you very much!
 
Many raised their hand for salvation or a recommitment to Jesus Christ.  Praise God!
 
There is a sense of excitement in our church - for which I am grateful to the Holy Spirit.
 
This whole thing is about Jesus.  Lifting up the name of Jesus.  Praising the name of Jesus.  Giving glory to Jesus.
 
Thanks also to our pastoral team.  What a wonderful group God has put together!
 
He is risen!  The cornerstone of our faith.
 
I spoke with a young man yesterday who rebooted his relationship with Christ.  Powerful stuff!
 
Once again, let me say with gratitude how much I have appreciated your prayers the past few weeks. 
 
It is a great encouragement and comfort to me to know that so many people are lifting me up to God in prayer.
 
We had 68 kids in Kid's Hub yesterday!
 
I am prayerfully anticipating us carrying our spiritual momentum into the summer.
 
Ministry opportunity:  I encourage all of us to reach out to people we don't know in the foyer.  Shake their hand.  Ask about their life.  Let them feel the love of Jesus which is in all of our hearts.
 
It is an old cliché now in the kingdom of God:  People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.
 
Here's what I know:  I can deal with the ambiguities and insecurities of life as long as my focus is on that person who is certain, who is secure, who can not be moved - and that person is Jesus Christ.
 
A story I didn't get to in the second service:
 
Ben Patterson writes:
 
"Bruce Larson had an unusual way of convincing people to turn their lives over to Jesus Christ.  When he was working in New York city, he would walk a man or woman downtown to the front of the RCA building on Fifth Avenue.  In front of the building there is a gigantic statue of a massively proportioned, magnificently muscled Atlas, the world resting on his shoulders.  As powerfully built as he is, he is straining under the weight, barely able to stand. 
 
Larson would say, "Now that's one way to live, trying to carry the world on your shoulders.  But now come across the street with me."
 
Across the street is St. Patrick's Cathedral.  There behind the altar is a little shrine of the boy Jesus.  He appears to be no more than eight or nine years old.  As little and as frail as he appears, he is holding the world in one hand!  Then Larson would says, "We have a choice.  We can carry the world on our shoulders, or we can say, "I give up, lord; here's my life.  I give you my world, the whole world."
 
Love you all.....
 
 
 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

God is in control

Let me first of all say a huge thank you to all of you who have sent meals, cards, emails and made phone calls or visits to Debbie and I the past few days and weeks.

We deeply appreciate it.

I've been ministering as a pastor for 34 years.  During those years I have sent countless "get well cards", made phone calls and visits to those who are in pain.

From that, many if not most, have given thanks for my doing so.  They have shared how meaningful it was to them.

But I never really understood how meaningful it was (on a person level) to have some kind of "touch" when you are suffering.  I now completely understand.

Just a card during the day is like jumping in a cold swimming pool on a hot, muggy day.  It refreshes your soul.

Again, thanks so much.

I do have another hurtle that has come my way.  While the tumor was completely removed, after testing it, it was found that I am in the "intermediate risk" category for another tumor of the same type to come back.

That being said, I am meeting with an oncologist on April 29th, to determine whether or not I should take some kind of preventive medication.  Debbie and I would appreciate your prayers as we make that decision.

Throughout all of this, I have clung to the thought that God is in control.  I mean, doesn't he have to be in control?  Think of a world where things "just happen", with no rhyme or reason.

Here's what I know:  God is in control of the events of this world.  Nations rise and nations fall at his whim.  And if that is true (and it is) than surely God is in control of my life and your life.

With God - there are no accidents, there are no coincidences.  Everything you and I go through - God has sovereignly surveyed and approved.

There is a purpose to our suffering. 

Let me put it this way:  Nothing touches me that has not passed through the hands of my heavenly Father.  Nothing.

We may not know why (we may never know why), but we do know our pain is no accident to the Father who guides our lives.  He is in no way surprised by it all.

God is in control.

Reminder:  Good Friday service, tomorrow evening, April 18th, 7:00 P.M. 

Easter Sunday!  This coming Sunday, April 20th!  Invite a friend.

In fact, I encourage you to invite non-churched friends....an appeal will be given to accept Christ at the end of each service.

Love you all......

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Fleeces and faith

I want  you to know as one of the spiritual leaders of our church that I have been thrilled at the number of our church family who have taken up the 40 Day Prayer Challenge devotional book by Mark Batterson (Entitled, "Draw The Circle).

To be candid with you, I see the evidence of spiritual growth in many lives - there is a heighten awareness and hunger for God's presence.

For this I am grateful to God.
 
I encourage you to finish the 40 day challenge!
 
On day 22 of the 40 day prayer challenge, Mark brings up the idea of giving a prayer fleece before God.  What he shares is really "spot on".

As a pastor, I am often asked about the validity of a prayer fleece (brought up in Judges 6).

Generally speaking, we do not rely upon prayer fleeces to precede our steps of faith (and I am quoting here) but to follow our steps of faith.

Some have relied upon a notion such as, "If I come up to the stoplight and it is yellow, then I know that is it God's will for me to get married," or some such silliness as that.
 
Normally, God doesn't give us a "Damascus experience" whereby he reveals His will to us.  He almost always reveals His will to us step by step.

When I leave the church at night, I can't see the lights on at my house a few miles away.  I can only see what the lights of my car show me 300-400 feet ahead of me.

It is almost always like this as I seek God's direction and will for my life.
 
Step by step.
 
To be candid with you - asking God for a fleece is a sign of a weak faith and insecurity.  In other words, I need to see before I can believe (most of the time God asks us to believe before we see).

Mark Batterson writes, "But there are occasions when it's okay to ask God for confirmation because of our uncertainty."

Then he gives us some principles of caution:

1.  If God has already answered your question in Scripture, then you don't need to even ask it.  The first place to seek God's answer to prayer must always be God's Word.  I might add here that God has also given us the Holy Spirit (especially as Spirit-filled believers - by speaking to us personally).

2.  Check your motives to make sure they aren't selfish.

3.  Be willing to accept whatever answer you receive without second-guessing it.
 
I would also add that many times I have received a sign that I was "on the right track" and that "God was directing me in a way that was his will."  But it was almost always because of His grace and concern for me - not as a tool to increase my faith.  It was a tool to confirm that I was going in the right direction, giving me a sense of spiritual peace in my spirit.
 
For example, on three separate occasions, I have, in the midst of seeking God's direction for my life, and receiving His will, have observed a rainbow in the sky, a beautiful rainbow that seemingly came out of nowhere (one time in particular when we were in France). 
 
Was I asking for a "sign" from God that would show me the direction I was to go?  No.
 
Did God graciously show me a rainbow to confirm the direction I was going?  Absolutely.
 
Can God honor a fleece in the midst of our weak faith?  Yes he can.  He can do anything he wants to do.  But does he desire that we trust Him enough to walk hand in hand with him throughout our spiritual pilgrimage, knowing that He knows what is best for us?  Certainly so.

At the end of the day, even more important than receiving the answer to our prayer is receiving God himself and knowing that God is for us.  That God is for you and God is for me.

That's why, Mark ends Day 22 with this thought, "Don't seek answers; seek God.  And the answers will seek you."

Perhaps, just perhaps God is enough for today.

Just a thought for a Thursday.





Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Teaching moments with your children

I've always tried to go by the theory (when we were raising our kids) that the best way to teach your children is to watch and wait for those "teaching moments" that inevitably come up each day.
 
Spontaneous moments where you can share a practical and spiritual truth that is birthed out of the moment.
 
Now, don't get me wrong. 
 
As Debbie and I raised our children, we did have a season where our family had devotions.  Those ARE important. 
 
The best resource that I have found for family devotions is a book by John Maxwell entitled, "Your Family Time With God."
 
Here is the description on the back of the book:
 
"Are you looking for family devotions that are fun...short..and do-able?
 
If you want your family to grow in the faith, then Your Family Time With God is an invaluable tool.
 
This one-year devotional brings the whole family together for short, meaningful times of study, discussion, Bible memorization and prayer.  Each week's devotional is centered on one of fifty-two key foundational values to the Christian faith, such as forgiveness, patience, holiness, and attitudes."
 
Here's what I know about parenting:  Kids do what kids see.
 
I saw a commercial on T.V. recently that showed how kids are influenced (in a negative way) by their parents.  The mom was drinking - the teenager was drinking as well.  Dad was physical abusing the mom, their son was shown striking mom as well.
 
The challenge and the opportunity in raising our kids is that they are constantly watching us and emulating us in what we do or say.
 
That is a huge responsibility.
 
One of the greatest player to ever play the game of professional baseball was Cal Ripken.
 
One time he was searching for parenting tips.
 
He says the sagest advice he ever received about dadhood came not from the usual child development experts but a former Orioles teammate named Tim Hulett, whom Ripken regards as "the best dad I've ever known."
 
In one clubhouse conversation still etched in his memory, Ripken recalls Hulett observing, "Your little ones are a blank tape, constantly running and recording information. Whose information do you want on that tape? Yours or somebody else's?"
 
Cal Ripken replied, "I want my information on that tape."
 
I get that - and agree with that - as long as it is godly, sound, Holy Spirit anointed information.
 
Will their be times when you "blow it" it front of your children either through anger or unkind words?
 
Absolutely.  You are a Christian parent who is fallible.  Again, when that happens, that is a "teaching moment," - a moment to model repentance and forgiveness.
 
I have faith in you, mom and dad, that you are raising your child as "unto the Lord."
 
Keep at it!  Persevere!  God is with you!
 
Just a thought for a Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Waiting and trust

You have heard me say several times that I am not good at all at waiting.

It is true.

When the host or hostess at a restaurant says, "your table will be ready in 10 minutes," I about have a heart attack.

For most of you reading this - you are in a period of waiting.

There is something that you can't get by your own wit, by your own schemes, by your own finances, by your own endurance - you even tried your own charm.

And it is just not working to get that one thing that you long for - the thing that in actuality only God can give.

So you pray - and your bargain with God. 

"God I'll do anything.  I'll go to church.  I'll read books.  I'll read the Bible, I'll even listen to George's sermons (you must be really desperate)."

And nothing is working.

You even try manipulating God.

It doesn't work.

It is a season of waiting.

In the English language the word "wait" means stop, dead in the water, red light.

"I'm not going anywhere."

That's what it means in our language.

In the Hebrew language it means to "trust".

It has the connotation of putting your eyes on God and recognizing that during the time of waiting that He and He alone is the one who can answer your prayer.

It is recognizing that God is up to something good in your life.  God is teaching you and I something.  Just as important as receiving what you are waiting for - is the process of what God is taking you through.  He is building you up.  He is establishing godly character in your life. 

I guess what I am saying is this:  As a follower of Christ - there is always a purpose to our waiting times.

Easy to write - hard to put into practice.

Waiting can be hard (especially for those of us who don't like to wait).

But I encourage you today - during those times when nothing makes sense - and when what you are going through is not fair - when  you feel all alone in God's waiting room, to trust in God.

God simply says, "Trust me."

God says (and this is a word to your specifically) - God says, "Trust me, I have everything under control."

Just a thought for a Tuesday.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend

What a thrill it was to see three different generations of our church family baptized in water yesterday!

A youngster - Anthony Roebuck.

A 30 something man - Clif Novak

A 69 year old man - Arsenio Reyes.

Each of the testimonies were heartwarming and inspiring!

God is up to something good!

Congratulations to these three:  We rejoice with you at what God is doing in your lives!

It was my privilege to dedicate little Willem Insalaco as "unto the Lord" yesterday.

He is a beautiful baby boy.

One of the Insalaco boys was walking up to platform for the baby dedication (with the rest of the family) and after seeing all of the people being baptized in water, blurted out (on his way up the platform), "I don't want to take a bath".

I guess he thought we were going to dunk him as well.

Great stuff!

We love you Insalaco family!

Congratulations to our students who participated in Fine Arts this past Saturday.  We are proud of all of you!

Three of our youth group girls qualified to go to the National Fine Arts Festival in Columbus, Ohio:

Camryn Stuart for Flash Fiction (short story).

Bridget Cusack for Female Vocal Solo.

Marcella Herrera for Female Vocal Solo.

Applause and congratulations!

I appreciate all the prayers for me - and would ask that you keep on praying for my physical body.

We would encourage you to consider attending our leadership seminar this coming Friday evening at 7:00 P.M.  It is open to everyone - spouses included.

Dick Hardy is one of the foremost Assemblies of God church consultants that we have.

7:00 P.M.

We would also encourage you to "bring a friend" for one of our morning services on April 13th.  The vast majority of people accept Christ through a friend - especially a friend who invites them to "church."

Why not take a step of faith and not only invite a non-Christian friend but bring them as well?

You might be surprised at what the Holy Spirit can do.

Just an fyi:  Brian and Angela Bougher are coming to us this weekend.  Brian is our new worship pastor.  He officially starts in our church office this Friday - and will be working with Pastor Amanda through the month of April (Pastor Amanda's last Sunday is April 2th).

Brian comes to us with a wealth of experience (15 years) and is a godly, spiritual man of the faith.

Michigan State lost yesterday.  Really disappointing for us "Green and White Fans."

Baseball starts today!  Let's hope "real" spring weather is not far behind.

While the White Sox and Cubs will both be crummy this year - I still can't wait to get out and go to the ball park!

Love you all......

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Walking in the boldness of Christ

Are you scared of the demonic?

Do you fear even talking about the devil and his demons for fear that they might overcome you?

Would you be hesitant in dealing with someone who is demon-possessed or minimally oppressed by the enemy?
C. S. Lewis once wrote that we often fall prey to two equal yet opposite errors concerning the Devil.
Sometimes we take him far too seriously. Other times we do not take him seriously enough.
So, the Devil is happy if you are preoccupied with him all day long.
And he's just as happy when you hardly give him a thought at all.
I believe that most of us fall into the latter error—we don't take him seriously enough.
We need to be reminded that Satan is a living enemy, crafty in the way he seeks our destruction.
We wonder why there is so much violence on our streets and in our homes.
We wonder why there is so much greed.
We wonder why our sexuality is so backwards. It's Satan!
Satan is preoccupied with your relationship with Christ and your relationship in Christ's cause.
Before you became a Christian, his main interest was to blind you to the truth about Christ.
Satan sought to seduce you into his terrain. Once you become a Christian, he will do everything he can to render you ineffective for Christ and Christ's cause.
At the same time you can overcome him with the boldness and authority that is given you through Jesus Christ - and your standing in God. 
You do not need to fear the enemy!
You do not need to fear the enemy because you are a child of God!
I encourage you to realize who you are in Jesus!
You have been given a spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind!
Repeat after me: 
"In Jesus, I am an overcomer."
"In the name of Jesus, I bind and cast out all spirits that would attempt to keep me in a low place."
"Lord, You are the God of the valleys.  Cast out every valley spirit in the name of Jesus!"
"In the name of Jesus, I break and divide every demonic confederacy against my life."
"Greater is He in me, than He who lives in the world!"
Just a thought for a Wednesday.