Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Endings and Beginnings

Today is the last day of 2008. Did you accomplish everything that you hoped to accomplish? I hope so, but I figure that you (like me) did not get everything done that you would have like to get done. I have good news, you get to start over tomorrow!

As we end one year and take stock of what we were able to do and what we failed to do, let us do so with the knowledge that we still have time to do the things we didn't get done this year. As long as we are still working toward our goals, we haven't "failed" we just simply haven't achieved them yet.

If you got everything done that you wanted to do...then congratulations! If not, join with me in pledging to continue to do our best in 2009 to do ALL that the Lord has for us to do.

Let me be one of the first to say, "Happy New Year!" and God bless!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Not Home Yet

A veteran missionary was returning home to the U.S. after several terms on the field. Aboard a ship bound for New York harbor, a secularist challenged him by pointing out the futility of giving one's life in missionary service. He ontinued by noting that no one on board ship was paying any attention to the veteran missionary, a sign they apparently considered his efforts quite wasted.

The servant of God responded, "I'm not home yet."

The agnostic assumed the missionary was referring to a large crowd that would meet the ship, and he scoffed again when they disembarked--not a solitary person welcomed the missionary. Once again, the missionary said, "I'm not home yet."

A lonely train ride lay ahead as he made his trek from New York City to his small Midwestern hometown. Reaching his destination, the missionary could no longer fight back the tears as the train pulled off. Again, he stood alone. It was then that the inner voice of God's Spirit brought comfort by reminding the faithful servant,
"You're not home yet."

--James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 172


There is really no place like home. As we near the end of another year, remember, we aren't home yet. Live every day with anticipation of our final homecoming. Make every day count. When we do thins, we will never be disappointed when the time comes for the Lord to tell us, "Welcome Home!"

Monday, December 29, 2008

Disaster Averted

Yesterday I wrote about the power surge at the Manse and wasn’t sure what the final results would be. The final tally looks like we lost an alarm clock, a TV, a modem, and a DISHtv network box. It could have been much worse. As it turned out, my laptop, external hard drive and printer were plugged into a ground plug that was burned out (saving everything plugged into it!)

It reminds me of how in our lives we sometimes have more than we can handle. Without help we would be overwhelmed. We would be “fried” just as surely as the appliances that didn’t have a surge suppressor on them. The good news is that as Christians we have a “surge suppressor” for those times of trouble—the Holy Spirit. When we are bombarded with more than we can handle, it is the Holy Spirit that steps in to protect us from the crushing problems that are besetting us. Instead of standing in our own power (and failing to survive) we are standing in the protective power of the Triune God.

The next time you feel that the world is beating you down, remember that you have a Protector, a Comforter, and God who loves you and seeks to shield you from the worst that the enemy has for you. Stand firm. Stand tall. We are overcomers because “the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world!”

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Out of Control

Last night, the ground wire going into the manse came loose and caused the normal loop of power to go out of control. Instead of the normal 110 volts flowing through the house, 240 volts went coursing through the system reeking havoc. In most of the house, the power simply went out, in others appliances were fried. Normally, this could have been averted by the main switch at the breaker box being tripped (to keep the power from causing all the trouble), but for the main breaker had been removed in order to add an extra circuit. Without the main breaker, there was no way to control the misguided power and the result was not just a loss of power, but a loss of many electrical devices as well. Later on today, we will find out the extent of the damage.

The “out-of-control” power going into the house reminds me of Christians who have “zeal” but lack the proper knowledge of how to us their zeal. Romans 10:1-4 speaks of this,
“Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

Without the proper knowledge of God to control zeal, we see bad things happen. For example: the Branch Dividians and Jonestown. The opposite is also bad as knowledge without zeal leads to passivity. Balancing zeal and knowledge is the key. We have the power as Christians to make a difference in our world, but only when we keep knowledge and zeal in balance.

As we head into the New Year, let us be prepared to make a difference with a zeal that comes from God balanced with the knowledge that also comes from God. Without this balance, we will either fail to do anything (knowledge without zeal leading to passivity) or we can do much harm (zeal without knowledge leading to legalism).

Friday, December 26, 2008

Returning Gifts

All across the nation people will be headed to malls and stores to exchange the gifts they received for what “they really wanted.” I hope that doesn’t include you. I hope that you were happy with every gift you received.

Unfortunately, the best gift everyone received may be the one most ignored—God’s love. God so loved us that he sent his unique and beloved Son to be our Savior, yet many people continue to reject His love.

As we enjoy all of the wonderful gifts we received yesterday, don’t forget the most wonderful gift of all. Let God’s love fill you and flow over to all the people you meet today, tomorrow, and into the New Year and beyond!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Christmas Guest

The following is a recitation of Helen Steiner Rice's "A Christmas Guest" by Grandpa Jones.


Today is Christmas, and I pray that each of you makes room for this very special Christmas Guest. He is after all, the Reason for the Season! Merry CHRISTmas to all and to all a good night!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Greatest Christmas Gift Ever

There is a series of commercials out this year for a luxury automobile that has each spot stating with a view of "the greatest Christmas present ever" for various people. A Big Wheel, a pony, and an Atari video game are three of those. The commercial then morphs into the present day where the car is now the "greatest Christmas present ever."

The ads are a sad picture of what Christmas has become--an attempt to come up with the "greatest Christmas present ever" every year. I news for you, the greatest Christmas present ever was given by God nearly 2000 years ago. On that first Christmas morning, our Savior was born to bring us back to God.

Enjoy your Christmas. Enjoy giving and receiving gifts. But remember this, the greatest gift is one that was given a long time ago in the little town of Bethlehem. When you remember that, then everything else will fall into its proper place.

Merry CHRISTmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Keep Your Fork

The following is from A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul

There was a woman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live.

So as she was getting her things "in order", she contacted her pastor and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes.

She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in.

The woman also requested to be buried with her favorite Bible. Everything was in order and the pastor was preparing to leave when the woman suddenly remembered something very important to her.

"There's one more thing," she said excitedly.

"What's that?"came the pastor's reply.

"This is very important," the woman continued. "I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand."

The pastor stood looking at the woman, not knowing quite what to say.

"That surprises you, doesn't it?" the woman asked.

"Well, to be honest, I'm puzzled by the request," said the pastor.

The woman explained. "In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, 'Keep your fork.' It was my favorite part because I knew that something better was coming...like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful, and with substance!"

"So, I just want people to see me there in the casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder, "What's with the fork?"

Then, I want you to tell them:

"Keep your fork....The best is yet to come".

The pastor's eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the woman good-bye.

He knew this would be one of the last times he would see her before her death. But he also knew that the woman had a better grasp of heaven than he did.

She KNEW that something better was coming. At the funeral people were walking by the woman's casket and they saw the pretty dress she was wearing and her favorite Bible and the fork placed in her right hand.

Over and over, the pastor heard the question,
"What's with the fork?"

And over and over he smiled.

During his message, the pastor told the people of the conversation he had with the woman shortly before she died.

He also told them about the fork and about what it symbolized to her. The pastor told the people how he could not stop thinking about the fork and told them that they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it either.

He was right.

So the next time you reach down for your fork, let it remind you oh so gently, that the best is yet to come.


As you enjoy your Christmas dinners this year, hold on to your fork, the best is yet to come!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Travel

Amy should make it in to Philadelphia in about 10 minutes. Her flight from Chicago was canceled last night and she was forced to spend the night in the airport. Traveling at this time of year often has its difficulties. I know that she will be tired and need to rest before she makes the last leg of her trip up to Stillwater (where it is a lovely 9 degrees this morning!)

Though I wish her flight would have been easier for her, I can't help but think of that time about 2000 years ago when Mary and Joseph were forced to make a trip to register for a census. Nine months pregnant and riding on a donkey is not the most pleasant way travel. Yet, they made the journey. Lost in the crowd and confusion, without even a place to stay. They end up in a lowly stable where Mary would give birth to the Prince of Peace.

A birth that most people would not even notice. A birth that would make all the difference in the world. A birth proclaimed by angels and witnessed by shepherds. A birth that all to often still remains unnoticed by many today. Emmanuel, God with us!

God with us, then, now, and forever! That is the reason I can say to all I meet and to all who may read this, "Merry CHRISTmas!"

Friday, December 19, 2008

Excitement and Preparation

We are expecting 5-10 inches of snow in our area today. I received an automated phone call from the Newton schools at 5:05 am to tell me that school was canceled (even though I have no school-aged children and I am not in the Newton school district!) Everyone seems to be excited about this first major snow storm of the year. People have stocked up supplies and firewood and are ready to "let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!"

It just leads me to wonder why a little bit of snow can make people so excited and get them prepared for any emergency the storm can bring, yet the celebration of the birth of the Son of God can get so little attention. It seems to me that if people were just half as excited about the true meaning of this season as they are about this upcoming snow storm what a wonderful world this would be!

Christmas is coming (whether or not the goose is getting fat). Don't let any last minute rushing around close the "Inn" of your heart to Jesus. Use these last few days of Advent to prepare yourself for the best CHRISTmas ever!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Listening "To" or "For" the Word of God?

Before the reading of Scripture, does your Pastor (or whom ever is reading) say listen "to" or "for" the Word of God? The preposition makes a great deal of difference. Is the Bible the Word of God, or does it simply have some of the Words of God hidden within its pages? Is the Bible reliable and authoritative, or must it be deciphered by scholars who can tell us what parts are the "Word of God" and which parts are just "stories of man?"

I don't claim to be able to explain everything found in Scripture, but I do claim it ALL to be the Word of God. We may never understand it all until we are in our glorified bodies in heaven, but that doesn't change the fact that the Bible (all of it) is the Word of God. It doesn't make since that the Lord would provide us with His Word and then have it full of errors or untruths. I am not against critical study of the Bible, I am simply against those who go into the study with an agenda of separating the "true" Word of God from the rest of Scripture.

The difference is in how we look at the Bible. Is it a book that we are looking at judgmentally, or is it the Book that stands in judgment of us? The attitude we take makes all the difference. We live in a time where too many people believe the Bible is scientifically inaccurate, historically confused, and full of errors. Because of this perception, many people feel that it is intellectual suicide to accept the whole Bible as the Word of God.

It comes down to this--either the Bible (the WHOLE Bible) is the Word of God or it isn't. There really isn't a middle ground. Given the option of trusting a scholar to tell which words are God's words (and not all scholars agreeing as to which words are God's words) or trusting God to have provided His Word to His people, I choose God over scholars every time!

As a final note, I believe that the reason we have so many people who do not read and know the Bible today is a direct result of scholars having demeaned the Scriptures for so long. Why should we study and learn something that isn't true? Well, the answer is very simple. The Word of God IS true and that is why we should know it and live it!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Rainy Days and Mondays

Karen Carpenter sang that rainy days and Mondays always got her down, but that is not normally the case for me. This Monday was an exception. On Monday, I got a weird message on Facebook from a former Preceptor of mine. When I realized it was junk and deleted it, it was too late, now MY account had been hijacked. Messages went out to everyone of my contacts with the possibility of infecting every single one who simply open it up to see what the message was about. On top of that, I was not feeling well and couldn't even work to fix the problem.

Well, I think the problem with Facebook is fixed (at least I hope so) and I am no longer feeling sick. Now it is time to reflect on what happened and how it relates to our Christian walk. Amy will tell you that's just what I do--I try to relate everyday things to our Christian walk in order to find ways to communicate the Gospel to others.

I received the message that started the whole problem from one person. The message was then sent to my 86 friends on Facebook (yes, I don't have as many as most people!) Then, any of these people who opened the message are potentially the next round to spread it to those people they have as their friends. One bad message could have affected 100's or 1000's of people by the end of just one day. The biggest problem for me was that it made ME look like I was sending the messages and some people were actually mad at me (until they settled down and realized I was a victim of fraud, not some mass spammer!)

How many people's reputation is ruined by people who get only some of the facts and then run off to tell other people (while making just a FEW embellishments). These people in turn go out and do the same thing and soon a good person has everything they do questioned. You have seen that and so have I. As Christians, I urge everyone everywhere to be quick to listen and SLOW to speak. It is Biblical, and it just might keep us from hurting innocent people!

P.S. Other than the Facebook thing, this is not really about me in particular, except that I have seen good people hurt by innuendo and false allegations from so-called Christian people and it has to stop!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What If?

Jadon Lavik writes these words in his song, "What If?":
What if I climbed that mountain, what if I swam to that shore
What if every battle was victorious then would you love me more
Would you love me more
What if I were everyone's first choice, what if I went farther than before
What if I stood high above the rest than would you love me more
Would you love me more

You say I belong to you apart from the things I do
You say I belong to you I'm in awe of why you do
Why you do, why you do, I'm in awe of you, ooh

What if I ignored the hand that fed me, what if I forgot to confess
What if I stumbled down that mountain then would you love me less
Lord would you love me less

What if I were everyones last choice what if I mixed in with the rest
What if I failed what I passed before then would you love me less
lord would you would you love me less, oh no oh no oh no

You say I belong to you apart from the things I do
You say I belong to you I'm in awe of why you do
You do you do you do

What have I done to deserve your son sent to die for me
What can I give I want to live give me eyes to see
In a world that keeps changin' there's one thing that I know is true
Your love is stayin' there's nothing else I'll hold onto

You say I belong to you apart from the things I do
You say I belong to you I'm in awe of why you do
Why you do

At this time of the year it is easy to get caught up in "earning" love by giving the "best" gifts to those we care about. isn't it great to know that we don't have to be the best to be loved by God? God loves us whether or not we are a superstar. As we continue our Advent journey, let us share this love with all we come into contact!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Just Whose Birthday is it Anyway?

I have decided that the next birthday party that I am invited to, I will send the host a wish list of what I would like to get. Crazy you say? Well, as I watch TV, read the newspapers, and go grocery shopping, all I seem to be hearing form those conversations I pick up is, "I want this for Christmas" or "I want that for Christmas."

Now, I am not saying that we have to stop giving gifts at Christmas (besides, I like giving and receiving gifts just as much as anyone I know!) What I am saying, is that it is time once again to remind everyone just Whose birthday it really is! Can you imagine how happy Jesus would be (and how shocked your pastor would be) if every member spent as much time, effort and money in doing something for Jesus and the church at this time of year as they do for everyone on their Christmas list?

This is not an attempt to make anyone feel guilty, or sad. I just think it would be wonderful if we could rekindle the excitement for pleasing Jesus with our Christmas gifts as much as we get excited giving to our friends and family. Oh well, I don't mean to sound like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, I just want to give us all some food for thought!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

BRRRR!!!!!!

When I got home from Bible Study last night, my furnace was not working. I checked the breakers, the kill switches and the thermostat and everything seemed OK. I even checked to make sure the filter was clean--it was. Well, since I did not want to bother anyone last night, I settled in for a chilly evening.

This morning when I got up, it was just 51 degrees in the house! I will tell you that this is a good way to get a quick shower and out the door to an office with heat! At 9 am I called our building and grounds person to ask if there was something I could do to make the furnace work (since I am not really familiar with oil furnaces.) He told me that there was a little red button to push and to try that. So, back over to the manse to find the "magic" button. It took a while, but when I found it and pushed it PRESTO, the furnace kicked in!

All of this sort of reminds me of some Christians that I have dealt with in the past. They look like they are doing everything right. They come to church and Sunday School, they give, they help out with projects, but they seem to be missing something. There is no joy in what they do. What they lack is "pushing the red button" of letting Christ's love rule their hearts.

We can do all the right things, but if we don't do them in, with, and through love, we will always miss out on the joy that is there for us. The Third week of Advent is all about joy. Don't you think it is time to let love bring the joy into our lives? Me, I now know where the button is and I, for one, will make sure to use it when I am "feeling cold!"

Grace, Peace, and WARMTH for you as we continue our time of Advent.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Holding on to the Wrong Things

Recently, my wife Amy was fixing some items around the Manse as she worked on getting it ready for Christmas. There was a broken ornament and a chimney from a lighted courthouse that needed attention. She went to work with the superglue and soon everything was fixed! Unfortunately, there was a small problem, not only was everything fixed, but her thumb was now stuck to the superglue container.

Now when you get you skin superglued, it is not a pleasant experience. So I got on the internet to find out how to free Amy. The first article said to use fingernail polish with acetone. Unfortunately, Amy's nail polish remover did not have acetone. The good news was that one of our neighbors had the right kind of nail polish. The bad news was that it didn't work!

Back to the internet. The next article said that WD40 would work. I had some WD40 so we tried it and it worked, she was free!

Now I am not writing this to embarrass Amy. Things like this happen, and since I am the one who asked her to help, it was partially my fault she was in that situation. What I learned (again) from this experience is that even good things, when used inappropriately, can have bad results.

We live in an era where too many people are using good things in inappropriate ways and suffering the consequences. Sex within marriage relationship is great and a God-given expression of our love for one another. Sex outside of marriage is like the thumb stuck to the superglue container--there is a problem that only an outside agent (like WD40) can fix. Sports, jobs, family, and movies all have theirplace, but when they become more important than God, they are a problem.

The good news is that whatever mistakes you have made, they aren't a permanent. God is willing to forgive us for our failures. God has provided the WD40 to our Spiritual failures--Jesus. As we continue our Advent journey, let us all take the time to repent of our shortcomings and allow Jesus to restore us to the proper relationship with the Father. Then we can truly have a Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How Hot is Hot?

Following the Vesper's Service Sunday night our congregation provided a chili supper for those who attended. Since I normally make my chili too hot for most people in New Jersey, I decided to make a "toned down" version. The goal was to keep the flavor and reduce the heat. I think I did a pretty good job of accomplishing that goal. I did, however, still warn the people that it would be hotter than most chili they usually have.

What was the result? Some thought is was just the right heat, some thought is was way too hot, and some felt that it wasn't hot enough! For me, that meant I accomplished what I set out to do--middle of the road heat. While this was an appropriate way to fix chili, it is not an appropriate way for the Church to behave!

For too long, too many churches have tried to be "just right" in how they appear to those who come to services. We have to make sure we are not too liberal or too conservative. we have to make sure we are not too filled with the Spirit or too lacking in the Spirit. I think that it is high time we quit trying to reach people by watering down Christianity. It is time for us to take a stand. We need to teach that there are absolutes. Jesus told us that there is no way to the Father except through Him. That is absolute. There is no other way.

Will this be a popular stand? For some yes, but for others, no. The question is, are we trying to please people or God? If we are trying to please people, we will always be changing our beliefs. If we try to please God, our beliefs will remain constant, but our methods may change (After all, Paul did say "To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." 1 Corinthians 9:22).

As we continue in Advent, let us remember the Reason for the season. Let Christ be first in CHRISTmas. May the spice of Christ fill you this year!

Monday, December 8, 2008

More about Peace

Thomas Merton writes, “Man is not at peace with his fellow man because he is not at peace with himself. He is not at peace with himself, because he is not at peace with God.” Peace involves harmony, being able to live with people from diverse backgrounds. Within the fellowship of believers, peace means working for unity. Peace should rule our relationships. Unity is not uniformity. We have different personalities and different gifts. These are necessary for us to accomplish all that God has for us to do.

We need to learn to accept our differences (as long as those differences are within God's established patterns). Peace will come from using our differing gifts to work together for God and not when we use our gifts to wage combat with each other. We all have a role to play in God's kingdom. It is high time we realized that we MUST work together in order to accomplish all of the work the Lord has for us.

I can only do so much, you can only do so much, but together we can do so much more. It is amazing how in God's kingdom, working together doesn't just double the productivity, it grow is exponentially!

Do I have to agree with everything that someone else believes in order to work (ecumenically) with them? Of course not. There are fundamentals that must be agreed upon--for example that Jesus is Lord, but in the non-essentials, there must be more tolerance. I wore a robe last night for our ecumenical service not because I wanted to, but because it was what was expected by the people from the other congregations that were attending (OK and expected by some of my own congregational members!) Did wearing a robe make a difference? To me, no. To others in attendance, yes. That is what I mean by tolerance in non-essentials.

If we truly want to see peace in our towns and churches there is only one place for it to start. As the song says, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me." So, are you ready and willing to work for peace today? If you are not willing to work for peace, I can guarantee you this--you won't find it!

Jesus said in John 14:27, “My peace I give to you.” Don't you think it is time to take Him up on his offer?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Second Sunday of Advent

Tomorrow is the second Sunday of Advent. Just as the first week was all about "Hope," the second week is all about "Peace." I wonder if anyone else out there finds it strange that this year the Second Sunday of Advent falls on Pearl Harbor Day?

While many pulpits across this country will have sermons preached on peace, many people will be remembering one of the darkest days of the last century. In a way, I think it is more than fitting to be preaching peace on this day. In fact, I think that we should probably be preaching peace more often than we do. We still live in turbulent times. The threat of terrorism and and even pirates still make the news. Many people live in fear.

This can only change when we let the Prince of Peace into our own lives and share Him with others. As you continue your Advent journey, make sure you do your part to spread peace wherever you go: the mall, the grocery store, Wal-Mart, or even church!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Rest

I spent the day doing virtually nothing (Well except for the phone calls from the office and the phone calls from one of my elders!) I found it interesting that at certain times during the day, I felt that I should be doing "something."

I sometimes have trouble taking a whole "day off." I know that I should, it is just hard to not let my mind wander to the things I could be doing if I wasn't "resting"(especially since I don't have Amy here with me to help keep me away from work).

I have to admit, that now that the day is mostly over, I don't regret taking most of the day to do nothing. I think that many of us press on (even when we don't need to) to accomplish more and more. Don't get me wrong, I don't have any problem with working hard, I have a problem with people who work hard and then wonder why they burn out or have relationship problems!

The LORD expects us to take a Sabbath. It doesn't have to be on Saturday--for me it was on a Friday this week! We need to rest, so that we have the stamina to do what we are called to do. So, the next time someone wants to give you a hard time because you are taking time out to rest, you tell them that Tim said it is OK!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Advent

Advent is (or should be) a time of preparation. We are to take these weeks before Christmas to prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus. As I look around me, I see "signs of the season" everywhere. Lights, trees, wreaths, and the like are popping up everywhere. Christmas songs are beginning to be played at every store I stop into.

Everyone is excited about Christmas--but for the wrong reasons I am afraid. Christmas has become all about getting (and receiving) the "right" gifts, parties, baking cookies, and a big family get together.

One of my favorite Christmas specials is "A Charlie Brown Christmas." The scene where Charlie Brown finally asks, "what is it all about?" and Linus quotes the passage from Luke 2 always impacts me.

It is OK to do all of the things we do at Christmas, but not at the loss of the true meaning of Christmas. I will not say, "Happy Holidays." It will always be "Merry Christmas" to me. I just hope and pray that everyone I know and love does not get so caught up in the fluff of Christmas that they miss the point.

God came to earth--for me, and for you. THAT is what Christmas is all about. God loves me (and you) so much that he would take the human form of a baby, live and die a horrible death, for me (and you). Then on the third day--resurrection! may you never forget the reason for the season. Start preparing your heart now so you can truly say, "Merry Christmas!"

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Discount Christianity

'Tis the season for bargain hunting. Black Friday, Cyber Monday--deep discounts offered to entice spending. Everyone loves a good deal and seems willing to wait for hours in the cold for the chance to nab a bargain.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to save money, but there is something wrong when we take that same philosophy and apply it to our Christian lives. It seems that today there are too many people looking for a "discount Christianity." They want the good things God has to offer without the willingness to "take up their cross and follow Jesus." In 2 Samuel 24:18-24 we read:
On that day Gad went to David and said to him, "Go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite." So David went up, as the LORD had commanded through Gad. When Araunah looked and saw the king and his men coming toward him, he went out and bowed down before the king with his face to the ground.
Araunah said, "Why has my lord the king come to his servant?" "To buy your threshing floor," David answered, "so I can build an altar to the LORD, that the plague on the people may be stopped." Araunah said to David, "Let my lord the king take whatever pleases him and offer it up. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood. O king, Araunah gives all this to the king." Araunah also said to him, "May the LORD your God accept you." But the king replied to Araunah, "No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing." So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them.

David knew the importance of sacrifice--it should cost us something or it isn't truly a sacrifice. We learn in 2 Chronicles 3:1 that this land David purchased becomes the place where Solomon's Temple was built. Had David simply taken the Arauah's gift for the sacrifice, the land would not have been available for the Temple.

We have too many Christians today that are very happy to sacrifice other people's things without considering the ultimate cost. What we give to God MUST cost us something, or it is not a true sacrifice. We live in times where everyone wants to get more and more "stuff" for themselves while neglecting their Christian obligations to feed the hungry, clothed the naked, and to take care of widows and orphans.

While I believe it is great for you to save money and get a great deal on the things that you need, is it right to purchase more than we need (25 pairs of shoes, four winter coats, etc.) and fail to help those in need because "we can't afford it?"

What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus without sacrifice? It is an oxymoron. Jesus has called us to a life that costs us our life, to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. Our tithes and offerings are just one part of that. The fact that they are a sacrifice that costs us something is what makes them a real gift.

I had to deal with this myself recently. We don't have an HDTV and they are becoming more and more affordable. I really looked hard at getting one, but decided that, at least for now, it was money that could be used better elsewhere. Don't get me wrong, I really wanted a nice, big HDTV, but it was not the best use of the resources God has provided us right now.

The money that could have bought the TV will be better used to help people and not to help myself! Is it easy to do this? Nope! I really would like to see sports in High definition. For me, to splurge on me and ignore those hurting would be to try and discount my Christianity.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Disappointment

I arrived at the church this morning a little before 6 AM to work on the soup that will be served after church and before we decorate the sanctuary for advent. it was cold (and dark!) After I spent about an hour working on the soup, I looked out the window and saw snow. No problem, it was just a few flakes. Then I checked the weather report--winter advisory warnings. I was hoping to spend a few more hours with Amy and Rachel, but now it is best for them to start packing and get on the road while it is still somewhat safe for them to do so.

I am disappointed. I enjoyed the time we had together, but I was expecting to get a little more time before they had to leave. I guess that is how we all feel at times. We expect to have plenty of time for our loved ones, but life interrupts. It can be the weather or illness or something else, nonetheless, the time we expected to have is cut short.

I have always tried to make the most of the time we have together, but this is another reminder that we are never truly sure just how much time we have, so make the most of the time you have.

This is true for all of us. We never know how much time we have for family, friends, and God. Let us all do our best to make the most of the time we have, then when time runs out, we will know that we spent our time wiesly!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving

Yesterday was a day of cooking, eating, parade and football watching. What was almost forgot was being thankful! Trying to get to food on the table (with everything at the right temperature) is always a challenge.

As I reflect today, I realize how much time I spent preparing for the meal (and suffering from the after-effects) and how little time I actually spent being thankful!

This post is my attempt to fix that. I have a wonderful family. We are healthy, relatively happy, and actually like each other. I am blessed to serve a congregation in a beautiful area of New Jersey. I have turkey left over for sandwiches (my favorite way to eat turkey). I have more than a few treats that still haven't been tried yet.

I am very blessed. I intend to work harder to make sure others in my area can share these same blessings. We are in tough times. Our congregation helped a few families have a better Thanksgiving--that is not enough. People who need help at Thanksgiving most likely need help more than once time a year. How do we plan to help? I don't know, but I do know that we must find a way to share our blessings more than we currently do. True thanksgiving to God has to include reaching out with His love to those in need--and not just at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

So, here is my goal--starting now, I need to lead in such a way as to help those who need help. Food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, peace to the stressed, home for the homeless, friendship to the friendless, and grace to all.

If I can do those things, then true thanksgiving will happen!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Feed My Giraffes

Jesus spoke to Peter on the shore following His resurrection. As he spoke to Peter, Jesus repeated his command to Peter to, "Feed my lambs and to take care of My sheep, and to Feed My sheep." No where in this passage do I hear Jesus tell Peter to, "Feed my giraffes." What is my point? Simply this; I feel that too many times the Gospel message is proclaimed to the giraffes and not to the sheep.

Men and women leaving seminary have just spent 3 or 4 years digging deep into theology and it seems to me that they can't wait to shovel it out as fast as they can! Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with theology and theological sermons. What is wrong is preaching with words that have no meaning to the average person in the pew. What good is it to preach in such a way as to make yourself look "highly educated" if in the process you fail to reach your target audience? After all, isn't that the goal in preaching?

I have been told in the past (by those who should know better!) that my sermons are too "simple." To be honest, I don't think there is such a thing as too simple. I received an email this week from someone who didn't understand what I meant when I talked about being "Reformed." They are new to this congregation and new to Presbyterianism. So who is to fault in their lack of understanding; Them or me? Well, me of course. If I preach with terms that people do not understand, I might as well be preaching in a foreign language (because in essence that is exactly what I am doing).

Lord, help me (an any other preacher who will accept this advice) to preach the Word in such a way as all can both understand and be challenged. Let me take a back seat to your Word, and let the Spirit be free to work in the minds of those who hear the Word preached. AMEN!

Friday, November 21, 2008

True Faith

In Charles Swindoll’s book Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, he shares the following illustration of true faith:
Many years ago a house church of the former Soviet Union received one copy of the Gospel of Luke, the only Scripture most of these Christians had ever seen. They tore it into small sections and distributed them among the body of believers. Their plan was to memorize the portion they had been given, and then on the next Lord’s Day they would meet and redistribute the scriptural selections.
On Sunday these believers arrived inconspicuously in small groups throughout the day so as not to arouse suspicion of KGB informers. By dusk they were all safely inside, windows closed and doors locked. They began by singing a hymn quietly but with deep emotion. Suddenly, the door was pushed open and in walked two soldiers with loaded automatic weapons at the ready. One shouted, “All right—everybody line up against the wall. If you wish to renounce your commitment to Jesus Christ, leave now!”
Two or three quickly left, then another. After a few more seconds, two more. “This is your last chance. Either turn against your faith in Christ,” he ordered, “or stay and suffer the consequences.”
Another left. Finally two more in embarrassed silence with their faces covered slipped out into the night. No one else moved. Parents with small children trembling beside them looked at them reassuringly. They fully expected to be gunned down or, at best, to be imprisoned.
After a few moments of complete silence, the other soldier closed the door, looked back at those who stood against the wall and said, “Keep your hands up—but this time in praise to our Lord Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters. We were sent to another house church several weeks ago to arrest a group of believers—“
The other soldier interrupted, “…but instead, we were converted! We have learned by experience, however, that unless people are willing to die for their faith, they cannot be fully trusted”

I doubt that most of us will ever be called to die for our faith. Since that is true, I have a better question, “Are you willing to LIVE your faith?” We all have opportunities each week to make an impact for the Lord. It may be at the grocery store or at a PTA meeting; it may be with a family member, neighbor, friend, or co-worker. When the chance appears, are you willing to take it? Remember that faith that costs nothing, is worth nothing. What is your faith worth

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Keep Your Powder Dry!

The old motto of soldiers during the Revolutionary War applies to most areas of our life: “Trust in God, but keep your powder dry!” In other words, trust God, but be ready for action. Do everything you can to be prepared realizing that the ultimate outcome is in God’s hands. We need to trust God to be in control without forgetting that we have a role to play.

Whenever I have looked for a job, I trusted God to lead me, but I still sent out résumés! I did my part to “keep my powder dry.” We need to trust God with our lives, but that isn’t a blank check to act foolishly. If I spend more than I make, trust in God will not keep me out of trouble. If I act carelessly, trust in God will not necessarily keep me from harm.

Trust in God is not some “safety net” that allows us to act as with please with no thought to the consequences. Trust in God is a life response to how He has been there for us in the past and will be there for us in the future. David trusted God in his battle with Goliath, but he still had his slingshot and five stones ready for the battle. Trust in God allows us to become all we can be, but it does not allow us (in most cases) to achieve more than we are able to do. I can trust God to keep me safe, but if I fail to look both ways before I cross the street, that trust will not save me from the car that is barreling down on me.

So, what is the bottom line? Trust God, but prepare yourself for whatever He has in store for you. Prayer, preparedness, and trust in God will always be rewarded!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Family or Organization?

In the 1940’s and 1950’s going to church was the thing to do. Social conformity delivered people to the church. It was an era of institutionalism and the church therefore could get by with being slightly more organizational, denominational, and institutional. Times change. People change. Unfortunately, as times and people have changed churches (mainline denominational churches) have not changed to meet their needs. Don’t get me wrong, I am not talking about watering down the gospel, I am talking about how we approach people and how we “do church.”

We live in a society where most families no longer live in the same state, much less the same city or neighborhood with each other. My own family is a case in point. I live in New Jersey; I have a sister in Virginia, a sister in Kentucky, and a brother who splits time between his homes in Kentucky and Florida. Many, if not most, families in America have similar situations. Since the normal family has become so scattered, people are looking for a new extended family. The church is one place that people can look for that “new” family.

That is why I believe that “how” we do church has to change. A congregation lives together as a family. A church functions as an organization. It is high time we stopped being just another organization that people “belong” to and start being what we are called to be—a family. We need to embrace the old song by Sister Sledge—We are Family.

We are family; often a very dysfunctional family, but a family none the less. It is time that we started acting like it—a family that cares for each other, looks out for each other, and truly loves each other. When the church starts becoming the family that God has called us to be, we will begin to do all of the things God has called us to do. Don’t you think it is time to quit playing church and start living as a family of God? If so, I’ll see you at our next family reunion—Sunday morning at 10:00 AM!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Follow-Up on Tozer

Part of the passage I quoted yesterday from Tozer’s Pursuit of God says, “The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all.” We live in turbulent times. The world is in an economic crisis. There is fighting is various parts of the world. Violence seems to be the norm in many of our cities across America. Peace is seemingly nonexistent.

The Bible holds the answer (doesn’t it always!).
Philippians 4:4-9 says this:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Are you missing out in peace in your life? Here is the answer. Rejoice, don’t worry, and pray. Then think the right thoughts and do the right things. Simple, right? Well, I admit that it is easier said than done. When you are wondering whether or not the next round of layoffs will include you or there is a mysterious lump in your body peace can be hard to find.
The good news is that God cares. He knows you better than you know yourself. Therefore we need to trust Him at His Word; rejoice, don’t worry, pray, think right thoughts, and do the right things. When we do these things, we will truly find the peace of God. Peace that you will never find in the world. Peace that transcends all understanding.

May the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Wisdom from A.W. Tozer

During a train trip from Chicago to Texas in the late 1940s, A.W. Tozer began to write The Pursuit of God. He wrote all night, and when the train arrived at his destination, the rough draft was done. The following is an excerpt from that work:

Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all.

If we would find God amid all the religious externals we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity. Now as always God discovers Himself to "babes" and hides Himself in thick darkness from the wise and the prudent. We must simplify our approach to Him. We must strip down to essentials (and they will be found to be blessedly few). We must put away all effort to impress, and come with the guileless candor of childhood. If we do this, without doubt God will quickly respond.

When religion has said its last word, there is little that we need other than God Himself. The evil habit of seeking God-and effectively prevents us from finding God in full revelation. In the "and" lies our great woe. If we omit the "and" we shall soon find God, and in Him we shall find that for which we have all our lives been secretly longing.

I find it interesting how “current” the thinking of Tozer is today even though this was written sixty years ago. We are caught up in an age where many fail to realize the peace that only God brings. We are too busy; we are too “intelligent” to simplify our approach to Him. It is time for us to seek God and not God-and something more. There is nothing more. When we truly make knowing God our highest priority, everything else will fall into place. This is simply another way to say, “But seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well,” (Matthew 6:33).
Seek God first. It is that simple and that complex. When are we going to abandon our misplaced priorities and come with child-like faith to the Father? When we do that, everything else will fall into place!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

First things First

The longer I am in the pastorate, the more I realize how inadequate I am on my own and how much I become with God’s help. I have started programs and ministries in the past (after careful thought and planning) and then prayed for God to bless the effort. As I grow older (and hopefully more mature) I realize that for so many years I have put the cart before the horse. Don’t get me wrong, I have been blessed to have seen more than my fair share of successes in the ministry. Unfortunately, I fear now that those successes could have been so much more had I only asked for God’s blessing before I even started planning.

I am a “big picture” person that has to push himself on the detail work. I like coming up with the idea and having others help me implement the program. Not anymore. I am making a concerted effort to spend more time in prayer and less time in planning; more time listening to God and less time asking Him to bless my efforts. Why? Because it is His church, not mine. God wants us to succeed, so why shouldn’t I listen to Him rather than try to have Him bless my efforts. Rather than ask God to bless my best intentions, I will begin at the beginning and the blessings will be built right in!

I truly believe that that is what is happening in my ministry right now. In the past I would have formulated a handful of projects for our congregation to reach out to our community. Right now, I am waiting on the Lord to reveal to me (or someone else in the congregation) how we are to reach those in need. Is this a cop out? By no means. This is simply putting first things first!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

History of Fusion at SPC

As I was reading about the history of the Stillwater (NJ) Presbyterian Church I learned that this congregation has a great history in fusion. In fact, it was fusion that actually began this congregation. On September 12, 1769, a group of Lutheran and Reformed brethren came together to build a House of God. By sometime in 1771 the original Stillwater Church was completed. While early reports are at best sketchy, it appears that the first congregation consisted of a union of German and Calvinist (Reformed) settlers of Hardwick (Stillwater was at that time a part of that community).

The original records are written in German, later to be written in both German and English before finally moving to just English. The early years saw the congregation flow back and forth in its theological interests based upon the current pastor. Finally, on June 13, 1823 the church became officially the Stillwater Presbyterian church. Under the care of the Presbytery, the congregation was able to hire a full-time pastor and growth followed.

The congregation has had its ups and downs since that time. Now at the tender age of 239 (or 185 if you only count the years as a Presbyterian congregation) fusion must again be the norm if we are to be all that God has called us to be. We need to reach out to the unchurched, the under-churched, and those who have simply fallen into the habit of not worshipping.

The challenges before us are no more daunting than those facing this congregation in the past. We simply need to respond by remembering who God is and what He calls us to do in our community. We have the greatest gift in the world to give and it is time that we quit being so stingy in sharing it!

God is faithful. Sometimes we are not. We live in tough economic times and if we allow our financial situation alone to determine how we do ministry, we will fail. God will supply our need (and not necessarily our wants) so let’s get busy doing the work and trusting Him for the results (after all, according to Scripture, it is God that provides the increase).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fusion and Mission

The Smaller congregation is not able to fund as many mission projects as a larger church. It is simple economics. The important issue for the small congregation then is to make sure that their mission focus is thoughtfully and prayerfully considered. Just because a congregation is small does not mean that their mission impact must be small. I believe when a congregation allows the Spirit to lead them to a specific Mission, they will find many benefits.

First, the congregation will begin to work together on a common goal. Whether it is reaching the youth of the community, or the elderly, or some other group, they will be able to combine their various talents to make a significant impact on those they are reaching out to.

Secondly, as they work together they will grow closer to each other—fusing them into one body and not a collection of individuals.

Lastly, the community as a whole will begin to see the congregation as a valuable resource and as they do, more doors and outreach opportunities will open up.

I guess what I am saying is that if we truly want to fuse older members with newer members, one of the best ways to do it is to roll up our sleeves and work side by side on a project that interests both old and new. The project will be a varied as there are congregations, but if we allow God’s Spirit to lead us, our projects will be the very ones that we have the talent to provide for those who need our help.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Running Out of Bulletins

Yesterday was a first for me in Stillwater--we ran out of bulletins! I have mixed emotions about that. First, I am very happy that we had so many people in church that we didn't have enough bulletins. But, on the other hand, I am saddened to think that I did not have the optimism to have enough bulletins printed. While vastly overprinting is a stewardship issue, why do I feel that printing an extra ten bulletins (just in case) is poor stewardship?

This morning, I have made a promise to myself to never let that happen again. Why? Simply because it is poor hospitality to run out of bulletins. I tell everyone that will listen that we need to be more hospitable, and then I fail to lead by example.

What are some of the other ways we fail to practice hospitality? Do we greet people warmly as they enter our building but ignore them as they leave? Do we notice that they have infants or children and fail to tell them how to get to the nursery or Sunday School classrooms? There are many ways to fail at hospitality, but only one way to make sure it happens--work at it!

Hospitality is free, yet too many times hard to come by. I preached on the Good Samaritan yesterday, and passed by some people that needed me (by failing to print enough bulletins). Rest assured, with God's help, this will NEVER happen again.

How about you? Are there areas of hospitality that you are neglecting? I pray that we all work to become the most hospitable people we can possibly be--both in church and out of it. Bulletin anyone?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Family Matters

Today I get to head down to Princeton and be with my family for a couple of days! While we know that what we are doing is the right thing, it is still hard. It has been almost three weeks since I got the chance to hold Amy. When I get really busy, I can forget about missing her, so I do keep busy. Unfortunately, too many Christians have decided to become so busy that they don't miss God in their lives.

We have more time-saving devices today than ever before, but we always seem to be decrying the fact that we don't have any time for the things we want to do. I am guilty of that myself. I do work a lot of hours, but I also waste too many hours. I watch TV, not because I really care about what is on, but because it is there. I am working on that. I go to the office early so I can spend time alone with God. I tape programs so I can watch them is less time (and set aside a time to watch them while I am doing laundry or waiting for a meal to finish).

What I am trying to say is this. I love Amy and I want to spend time with her and now that I can't do that as often as I would like--it hurts. How do you think Jesus feels when we are too busy with insignificant things to spend time with him? We all want to spend time with people we love. Jesus loves us--you do the math!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Awareness Test

First take the following test (courtesy of youtube).



Now, be honest, did you see the bear? I thought not! I have yet to find any person who sees the bear the first time they see the video. It is an example of how we get so focused on one thing that we completely miss others.

For me, it is a picture of the church that is in survival mode. The church is so worried about keeping their doors open, about bringing people for numbers sake (after all, more people means more giving) that they forget the whole reason that the church exists. The "moon walking bear" in the church is the mission of the church. We are to seek and save the lost, not simply keep our doors open so some might enter in!

So what about it? Isn't it time we quit focusing on the wrong things so that we can focus on what really matters? (In case you were wondering, that IS a rhetorical question!)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Just Vote

Finally, election day is here. I hope that all Americans take advantage of the opportunity to be a part of the process. Indeed, while I am pretty sure that many of the candidates I voted for will not be elected, that does not mean I shouldn't vote (and after standing in line at 2 different polling places, I did vote!)

There is a much larger "campaign" we need to support than any on the ballot today. We need to get people voting for Jesus -- not just with their words, but with their lives. No matter who wins the presidential election, there will be people who die without Jesus tomorrow if we don't tell them about His love for them.

While I was standing in line to vote today, I had an opportunity to talk about my faith and why I know Jesus is Lord. Now, to be honest, when I left the manse this morning I never thought I would be talking about Jesus in a polling line. After I voted, I got back in the car and thanked God for the opportunity to share the gospel. I think this is what Jesus had in mind when He told us, "as you are going, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." As you are going--every day, every place let those you come in contact with Jesus.

I got to vote twice today--once as an American, and more importantly I had to chance to vote for Jesus!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Finishing the Race

Yesterday the NYC marathon claimed another victim. 58-year-old Sao Paulo resident Carlos Jose Gomes had just passed the finish line Sunday afternoon when he complained about feeling ill. They say he was taken by ambulance to a Manhattan hospital, where he died shortly after. Now, don't get me wrong, this is a tragic event, but I see in it a picture of how we should run the Christian race.

The race for the Christian is a marathon and not a sprint. In a marathon there is pain that must be endured in order to complete the race. We are going to have times in our Christian life that are painful. Do we quit, or do we press on? Only if we press on do we finish the race. Paul states in Philippians 3:12-14, "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

How about you? Are you pressing on or dropping out? Remember, it is not how we begin, but how we finish that matters...finish strong!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Time to Get Out of the Stands

The Texas Tech football team has an interesting side story this season. I student who was picked to kick a field goal to earn free rent for a year has been added to the team! After winning the free rent, the Texas Tech coach offered him a position as kicker (the current kicker was having problems). He went on to kick 9 extra points in his first game and he had 4 extra points and two field goals in his second game (though he did have a third field goal attempt blocked.)

How amazing is this? I kid comes to the game to watch and now he is an integral part of an undefeated team that just beat the number one team in the country! Can you even imagine what is going through this young man’s heart and mind? How did I get here, can this be true?

I think that the Lord is calling for all of us to get out of the stands and onto the field! We have the ability to step in and do what the Lord is calling us to do (because it is, after all, the Lord that gives us those gifts). What we all too often lack is the desire to become a part of the action. It is high time we stopped being simply a face in the crowd and took our rightful place on the playing field. Will we always be successful? Yes and no. We will have setbacks (like a blocked field goal), but when we trust in the Lord and give Him our best, we will see many more successes than failures.

Here comes Coach Jesus, He is asking you to get out of the stands and come play for Him. What is your answer? In the words of John Fogerty, “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today!”

Friday, October 31, 2008

Is The Bible True?

Yep, and that is all I have to say about that! Well, that is probably how Forrest Gump would answer that question, but I feel that I owe you a better explanation. I know many of my peers will laugh if they read this post, but that is something that matters little to me. I am unapologetically a Bible believer. I know that there are questions that I can’t explain; there are passages that I may not fully understand, but this one thing I do know—The Bible is the Word of God, and I will never apologize for preaching and teaching the Truth.

We live in a world that has no absolutes. This is unfortunately even true in many churches. I will tell you right now, there are absolutes. The Word of God is true, absolutely.

This leads me to two questions. First, if you don’t believe the Bible is the Word of God, why would you ever spend three years of your life in Seminary and then follow that up with years of ministry preaching from a book you don’t even trust to be the Word of God? The second question is for the rest of us—if you do believe the Bible is the Word of God, then why aren't you preaching and living it passionately? If the preacher isn’t passionate about the Word of God, then why in the world should anyone else be?

Well, I know that this post will leave some of my peers shaking their head, and wondering how a Princeton educated pastor could say such things, but you know, it is OK, because God and I know the truth!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Vision Follows Money

It is the time of year when churches that have stewardship campaigns are working to find pledges to meet next year’s budget. As I was rereading Ministry Loves Company (by John Galloway, Jr.), I found his chapter “vision follows money” to be a good reflection of how I feel about this time of the year. Too many times, we allow the money that is pledged to determine our vision, rather than our vision to lead us. It is the author’s contention that money follows vision.

As leaders, we must cast the vision and allow for God to provide the money to meet that vision. Another point the author mentions (and I will implement this year) is to drop the word “pledge” and replace it with “estimate of giving.” Budgeting is not an exact science and the word “estimate” means no one is locked in. If the person’s situation changes for the worse, they are not forced to feel guilty if they can’t make their estimate. However, should their situation improve, they are able to give more, sometimes much more.

If we are to be the church God wants, we need to focus on mission and make that the key part of our stewardship campaign. Don’t get me wrong, we need to pay the electricity, the insurance, and of course the preacher! The thing is, we need to major on what is the most important for the kingdom—missions. It is up to the leaders in the church to make this a priority in their own lives if we ever expect the people in the pew to feel the same way.

So, what does your church do when the pledges don’t meet the budget? Is mission’s giving the first casualty? Please, let’s all take a stand this year to make missions the priority it should be. Trust me, it will make all the difference.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Repeat After Me

My name is (say your name), and I am an evangelist. If you are a Christian, you ARE an evangelist. Now whether you are a good evangelist or a poor evangelist is up to you, but you are an evangelist. As a pastor that is trying to fuse new people into the church, this is a major concern. How can I help fuse people that aren’t there? And just whose job is it to reach them? According to the interviews of the formerly unchurched in the book Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, 42% came to church because they were asked by a family member and 16% came because they were asked by a co-worker or neighbor. Now, to be honest, once they get into the building, the emphasis shifts. 90% said the pastor/preaching and 88% said the doctrine of the church led them to chose the church. But, 58% came to church in the first place because they were asked by a friend, co-worker, or family member (of the rest 25% came because of a life-crisis).

When asked what about the preaching led them to join the church, the two top answers were: preaching that teaches the Bible, and preaching that applies to my life. So, what I garner from this is that the preacher must take the time to prepare sermons that are both Biblically sound and have life application. This is a heavy burden; in order to prepare sermons like that week in and week out takes time. The average time to prepare a sermon in churches that are reaching the unchurched takes 22 hours a week. On the other hand, churches that are not reaching the lost have preachers that are averaging only four hours a week in sermon preparation. This means that preachers that are effectively reaching the lost are spending more time in the Word and more time honing the sermon to reach out with practical life application.

The bottom line is this, if we want to reach the unchurched, the preacher MUST spend adequate time preparing the sermon and the congregation has to do their part in inviting the lost to church. So, back to where I began, we are all evangelists. Are you doing you part in reaching out to your family members, friends, and co-workers? If not, why not?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Preacher’s Wives and Families

I think there are a lot of us male preachers who can benefit from the following video:



What do you think? Is it about time to give our wives a break? There are too many good illustrations to use that we don’t have to constantly use our wives. I know that I have occasionally used my family (I remember using my Mom’s cooking in a sermon once while she was in the audience and how embarrassed she was), but I am making a vow (that I honestly hope I always remember) to only use my family in sermons in a positive light. Funny stories about our family have a place in our lives, but not in our sermons. Tell them at family reunions or at the Thanksgiving dinner. The added benefit of this approach is that our congregations will see our family in a more positive light, and they will see that you love your family enough to refrain from embarrassing them!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Boring Preaching

I came across this “top ten” list on the internet (Top Ten Ways to Put Your Congregation to sleep) and I thought I would share it.

1. Make sure that your material is dry and boring. Make sure that your material is either highly technical or complex. If at all possible fill your sermon with specialized academic content that is not easily understood without prior study and research.
2. Do not include any explanations or illustrations to make the content understandable to the average person in your audience.
3. Schedule your sermon to be at the end of a long day or after a big meal. This will give added incentive for drowsiness and lethargy.
4. Speak softly and avoid any expression or vocal variety that might distract or interest your audience.
5. Stand still behind the pulpit for the entire sermon. Any movement or sudden gestures could wake up your audience.
6. Avoid any variation in style in your presentation. Do not change from talking to using a flip chart, PowerPoint or any other kind of visual aid or prop that will attract attention.
7. Do NOT include any humor or stories in your sermon that might illustrate the important points you wish to communicate.
8. Do not keep to the topic of the sermon. Spend a large amount of time rambling about subjects or personal experiences that are boring and totally off topic.
9. Speak about a topic that is very familiar to your audience. Keep your content to things that they already know.
10. Provide highly detailed handouts, so that your congregation will not miss out on any important information during their snooze. Make sure that you do not say anything that is not included in the hand out. For best results, just read the handout word for word.
Hopefully, by following carefully the ten tips outlined here, you will have the satisfaction of seeing an entire congregation snoring quietly and happily throughout your entire sermon. If you do not follow these tips you may be alarmed to discover that your audience is alert and interested in what you have to say!
So, how about it, don’t you think it is about time we preachers made sure that our sermons are not just Scriptural, theologically sound, and uplifting, but also interesting and useful? I do!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

It’s Not Trespassing

A comment from a video I watched at a recent Pastor’s Conference I attended was, “It’s not trespassing to go beyond your own boundaries.” Cool statement, but what does it mean? To me, it means that I have to continue to work beyond my own comfort zone. The Lord is forcing me to do that this week. Those who know me know that I love to preach sermons in “series.” As a matter of fact, I am in the middle of a series right now. I am happy with where this series is headed, but evidently the Lord has something else for me to preach this week! The bulletin is done, but it is no longer accurate!

I woke up yesterday morning (about 2:50 AM) with three scriptures running circles in my mind. They had nothing to do with my sermon that I was nearly finished preparing. To make sure I didn’t lose the thought, I grabbed my cell phone and made a voice memo to myself and went back to sleep. When I awoke, I found that I had no need for my voice memo; the scriptures were still pounding at me. What should I do? Abandon my nearly complete sermon to start from scratch or figure that I could preach this sermon at a later time?

The answer was simple, but not easy. I must change my sermon to deal with the Scriptures that the Lord had given me during my time of rest. Today and tomorrow, I will take the time to write a completely new sermon. It is what I must do. How can I expect others to follow the leading of the Spirit, if I won’t do it myself? Will it be a wonderful sermon? I don’t know. Will it be the right sermon? Absolutely!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I Think I May Need Help

OK, that may be a little misleading (or true, you will have to decide). I had a member take me to his former church's rummage sale today. I was looking to see what items we could possibly use at the church and for people in need in our area. This sale is HUGE. The church gives away stuff the first day (today) to people in need. For those a little better off, they get half price merchandise tomorrow and the rest of the public gets their chance on Friday and Saturday (until noon when the load up the leftovers and take them to Goodwill). The Church makes about $12000.00 twice a year with this event (the money going to missions).

So, what do I think I need help? Well, I left there today with 7 boxes of cookbooks, 2 brand new pairs of Cowboy Boots (don’t sigh so loud Amy), and a set of Titanium golf clubs (including the bag and a rolling cart to tote them) all for $20.00, YEP, $20.00! The clubs were to have on hand just in case I ever get invited to play golf and the boots were comfortable. The problem is the 7 boxes of cookbooks. I took the time to count my cookbooks after working 45 minutes to find room for most of them on my shelves and I now have over 220 cookbooks. I know I will never read all of them even if I want to, but I hope to at least skim them for interesting recipes. I am thinking about starting a 12 step group for recipe-a-holics, but I am not sure that anyone would come (they will too busy reading recipes!)

Oh, well. I know this isn’t a normal post; it is just that I am feeling guilty for owning so many cookbooks that I will never fully be able to use. There are recipes that I will never fully understand how make properly. Now because I won’t be able to understand them all, do I simply throw out all of them or do I use the ones I can understand? I will use the ones that I understand!

As Mark Twain once said, "It ain't what I don't understand in the Bible that bothers me, it's what I do understand in the Bible that bothers me." We may never fully understand all of the bible, but my question to you today is, “What are you doing with what you do understand?”

Monday, October 20, 2008

Screen Door

In the Fall of 1988 I had a unique opportunity as a Youth Minister in Creve Coeur, IL. to host a Rich Mullins concert. Our church was half way between St. Louis and Chicago and the band was looking for a place to hold a concert on the way between the two. The story is too long to tell here, but the bottom line is that we had Rich and the Ragamuffin band in concert for the grand total of $50 of Italian food and housing (in homes of various members of the congregation).

The concert was great and I was able to video most of it (and the warm up time as well) on a very heavy video camera. Because it was heavy (and I didn't yet own a tripod!) the video is a bit shaky, and because I had to change batteries, I missed the first part of the Screen Door song! BUT, I did get most of it (which is available at the bottom of this post).

"Faith without works, it just ain't happening...it's about as useless as a screen door on a submarine." So says Rich, and the more I read the book of James, the more I have to agree with Rich. We are saved by grace, but that doesn't mean we don't have responsibilities in the kingdom. Teachers teach, preachers preach and nursery workers give the best care possible to those left with them.

We all have a job (or jobs) to do for the Lord, and if we fail to do our part, we are the screen door on the submarine that is the Lord's Church!

video

Decently And In Order

Thanks to Amy, I am rereading a book that I read a few years ago and really liked. It is a book that ought to be required reading at every one of our Seminaries. The book is Ministry Loves Company: A Survival Guide for Pastors by John Galloway, Jr. I actually think I will make a note to myself to read this book at least every year or two—it is that insightful.

There is a passage in the introduction that is worth repeating here.
“One of the reasons our denominations have declined is that we are dying of sanity. We are terribly rational. We are programmed. We just don’t get funky and say shocking things or take chances or run risks or see a new opportunity and run headlong for it. We do things decently and in order. And, oh my goodness, are we sane! Did you ever stop to think that the place that most exudes doing it decently and in order is the local cemetery? The people who manage it have their procedures down pat. New members are received in solemn ceremonies. An organizational chart on the office wall explains in detail where all the members stand (OK, lie) in relation to all the other members. There are no conflicts. Nobody ever encroaches on (or under) anyone else’s turf. People don’t quit and join another cemetery. They are all in their proper place every Sunday. Everyone knows his or her place and stays in it. It is the most decently and in order place in town. There just isn’t a whole lot of life there.”

Obviously there is more to what we ought to be than just decent and in order! We need to also be a people of vision and action. We need to do more than just read the Word (if indeed we are doing that) we need to DO WHAT IT SAYS! James tells us that. I believe one of the reasons James gets overlooked by many people is that it gives us simple, practical advice on how to be what God wants us to be, and we really don’t want to be that radical.

Truly following God is radical. Taking care of orphans, widows, the poor and sick is not flashy, but it is required. We spend way too much time working on textual criticism, form criticism, rhetorical criticism, source criticism, and the rest of the criticisms. We take apart words and put them back together to have them say what we want them to say. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in proper exegesis of the text, but what I don’t believe in is exegeting to the point that we totally forget what the passage is truly trying to tell us! Rather than working hard to find a way to make the passage say what we want it to say, maybe it is time to let the Word be the Word and do what it says!

We need men and women of vision, who are willing to let the Spirit and the Word direct them, to lead our churches and our denomination. The time is long past for petty squabbles and nit picking. The time is NOW to get busy about doing our Father’s work! In the words of James, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Well, how about you? Are you going to stick to doing things decently and in order or are you willing to be led by the Spirit and the Word? I am.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mess Up, ‘Fess Up, Get Up!

This morning I will be preaching from Psalm 51. It is generally agreed that this Psalm was written following the sordid affair with Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite, and David’s role in having Uriah murdered. It was definitely not one of David’s finer moments. Yet, this is the same David that is described as a “man after mine own heart” by the Lord. How can this be?

David followed the same steps they we need to take if we are to be a man (or woman) after God’s own heart. After David sinned (adultery and murder undeniably fall into this category) or “messed up,” he didn’t wallow in self pity or blame someone else, he “’fessed up” (Confession). Confession is not only good for the soul, it is imperative if we want to regain our lost relationship with God.

The last step that David took was to “get up.” He had to move forward with his life in a changed way. He couldn’t let his past control his future. It is time that we learn these steps from David—when you mess up, then ‘fess up, and get busy doing the work the Lord has out there for you. Don’t let past mistakes keep you from the work of the Lord!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Out of Gas

I hurried home from Princeton today (where I got to spend some quality time with my family) in order to mow the lawn at the Manse. As I tried to start the lawn tractor, I got a big surprise. I was out of gas! Now, for some people that might not seem like a big deal, but for me, that means a 20-30 minute round trip to purchase the gas and to be honest, I don’t feel like driving anymore right now!

My lawn tractor reminded me of the importance of having our “tank full.” Just because the machine is there, the blades are sharp and the battery charged does me absolutely no good is there is no gas in the tank! How many people think that dressing up, going to church, and listening to a sermon is enough for them to be all that God wants them to be?

Guess what? If you don’t have your spiritual tank filled by spending time in the Word and time in prayer, it will dry up and when you most need to do something, you’ll be out of luck! I thought that I had mowed for the last time, so I didn’t go out and buy more gas….now I am paying for that oversight. It is inconvenient and frustrating, but I will get out to buy some soon and problem solved. But (and this is a big one), if we aren’t keeping our Spiritual tanks filled, it may not be so easy to get a fill-up when we really need it.

So, get out the Book, get into the Word, and spend some quality time alone with God. Now! Don’t put it off until it is too late!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Flu Shots

Amy was able to get a flu shot today at the Seminary. Hopefully this will keep her from getting the “real thing” later this winter. That is after all the reason to get any vaccination. You get a little of the virus in a small enough dose that your body’s immune system will be able to fight it off and then be strong enough to battle the virus when it attacks your body later on.

Well, I think vaccinations are a good picture of what is wrong in our churches today. We vaccinate people with Christianity and then they build up a tolerance so they don’t catch the real thing! We have a whole generation of vaccinated Christians (some attend our services and others don’t even do that anymore.) They know “enough,” they do “enough,” and they are good “enough.” Folks, that just isn’t true. None of us is good enough—if so, Jesus would never have had to come down to earth to provide salvation to us.

It is high time that Pastors, Sunday School teachers and elders quit being happy with people just being in the pew on Sunday and never really truly giving their lives over to Christ. We live in a society where we are afraid to offend someone (even if their very soul is at stake!) As I look toward my preaching for the New Year, I have a confession to make, I will be offending some people. It is time (at least for this preacher) to quit preaching only sermons that make people feel good and give them “little” things to do for Christ. I feel that it is important that I challenge everyone to truly give their all for God. You heard it here first—I will preach Christ and Him crucified. I will preach love, service and sacrifice. And I will do it unapologetically!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Unbelievable!

Dr. Scott W. Sunquist, Professor of World Mission and Evangelism, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary has written a 2-part article for the Presbyterian Outlook that actually says the same things I have been trying to say to those who would listen for few years. To read the articles you can follow the following links: The Dangers of the Unconverted Seminary, part1 and The Dangers of the Unconverted Seminary1,part ii.

While there is a lot more to the articles (and really, you should read them!) the best part for me was the fact a seminary professor is willing to say the same things that I have been saying about our seminaries – they aren’t really preparing men and women to be pastors! As the author states, “We spend far too much time on questions that, for the most part cannot be answered.” We need to have men and women who love the Word, and will they learn to love the Word if they don’t even KNOW the Word?

When I did my exit interview from NCPC, the Committee on Ministry wanted to know my “secret.” How had I been able to take a congregation that was about to be closed and have nearly triple in size and become the second largest giving congregation (per capita) in the Presbytery? Well, guess what? There is no secret. I simply preached the Word of God and got out of the way! We live in a time where pastors are looking for the quick fix or a new program that will do the work for them. As Paul told Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:14-17). The simple fact is that if we preach the Word, it will do the work, but if we preach anything else, we are fooling ourselves and cheating our congregations.

Gotta go for now….I need to get into the Word for this week’s sermon!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Economy

As I write this, we don’t yet know what the week will bring to the stock market. Will it continue to plummet? I certainly don’t know, but one thing I do know is that God is still in control! Churches all across the country are in the time of year where budget setting and stewardship campaigns begin to take place. In an uncertain economy will people still pledge? I don’t know. One thing I do know is that God is control! Should we make our budgets based upon our pledges or based upon what we want to accomplish for God in the next year? If we limit our vision to the money that has been promised, does that leave room for faith? I grew up in a congregation that never had a pledge campaign, instead, they presented a “faith” budget detailing what they wanted to accomplish and then had the faith that God would provide for their needs.

I think it is time for us to plan and budget, not based on what monies have been promised, but to trust God to provide for our plans and to dream big. Will everyone be comfortable with this approach? I doubt it! And doubt is the key word. We have become comfortable in our faith and are no longer willing (at least for the most part) to truly have FAITH. Faith that allows us to at least step out of the boat, even if we don’t have the faith to keep on walking on the waves; faith to let God be God and to trust Him for our needs.

Will a faith budget work? I don’t know for sure, but one thing I do know—God is in control!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Beginnings and Endings

It seems that the two events that bring the most people to a church (or back to the church) are births and deaths, beginnings and endings. It is good that so many people come with their children to have them baptized and it is also good that many want to be back in the church for their funeral. But what about the in-between-times? Don’t people realize that the Lord wants to see them during the rest of their lives?

We have unfortunately become an increasingly busy society; too busy to do the things that matter most. We run here and there for meetings, ballgames, and family obligations while we ignore the greatest obligation of all—the Lord. I am in a situation right now where I only get to physically see Amy for just a few days a month. It is hard. I love her very much and not being able to be with her is a hole that nothing else can fill. I talk to her daily and even get to see her a few times a week (the magic of webcams!) but it isn’t really the same. I miss holding hands, talking about everything and nothing, and her help in so many ways that I can’t even begin to list them all!

How do we think the Lord feels when we neglect to spend time with Him? I can only believe that He misses our time together and looks forward to the time when we will return and spend our time with Him.

We are busy people, but that is absolutely no reason to ignore the ones we love and the ones who love us, especially the One who loved us so much He gave EVERYTHING for us. Don’t you think it is time for all of us to spend the in-between-times with Him? I do!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Motion Activated Light

I spent the last few days in retreat with fellow pastors “down the shore.” Each evening, we sat and talked and snacked under a pavilion overlooking the Atlantic. The only downside was that every few minutes, someone would have to jump up and wave their hands in front of the motion detector in order for us to have some light. I seems that just sitting and chatting wasn’t enough movement to keep us in the “light.”

I wonder if that is also true in the church. Do we sit around and talk and end up outside of the light, when we should be up and about and keeping the light shining? I am afraid that this is too often the case. We talk about missions, we talk about helping our neighbor, and we talk about a lot of things until the light goes out, but nothing ever happens.

I think it is time for us to stop talking about what we ought to be doing and (borrowing the Nike phrase) Just do it! James tells us to stop merely listening to the Word and so deceiving ourselves. Instead we are to do what it says. The Great Compassion chapter of Matthew 25 tells us the same thing. We are to help the least of those in our society. Don’t you think it is about time to get off our duffs and do the work we are called to do? I believe that if we all did that, the light of Christ would shine brightly and never seem to go out!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Learning to Rest, Resting to Learn

Well Indian Summer (the Pastor’s retreat) is over and I am back in the Pastor's Study. One of the hardest things for me to do in the ministry is take time to rest. I have never been good at getting away. I check my email and I check my phone messages just to make sure that everything is OK. I wasn’t able to check my email this time and it really was a blessing. Instead of worrying about things I could not do anything about (until I got back to Stillwater), I decided to read and rest. I brought both academic and recreational reading with me. As it turned out, my 4 hours of afternoon free-time was spent equally reading recreationally and taking naps! It is definitely not something I can do all the time, but is was incredibly restful.

This break had me fresh for the discussions during the “work” part of our retreat. I was able to focus and not let my mind wander because I was “fresh.” At night, I had the window open to hear the waves from the Atlantic crashing below me. While the bed was certainly not good for my back, the time spent at the retreat center was most certainly time well spent. The only problem is, I have to wait 12 months to do it again!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sunrise Over the Atlantic


For the third and final time for a while, I watched the sun come up over the Atlantic Ocean this morning. The sky had already begun to lighten up for thirty minutes before the Sun decided to make its appearance. What struck me was how fast it seemed to rise from the water. I was expecting a slow ascent, instead, the sun shot up like toast from a toaster! I was struck by the beauty of the surrounding sky before the sun appeared and how quickly those beautiful colors disappeared when the sun shown forth in all its splendor.

I helped me to reflect on my role as a pastor. The positive things that people see in me (and I hope that they see them!) should disappear when they see the Son. Just as the sky is simply filter the light of the sun to produce the wonderful colors only to see them disappear in the glory of the sun, I trust that the things I do will have people looking for the Son and when they see Him in all His glory, they will forget all about who it was that pointed the way!

Lord, please let me be the reflection that turns eyes to your Son, today, and every day. AMEN

Friday, October 3, 2008

Do You Want Your Change?

My wife will tell you, that I really, really HATE when a server asks me that question. If I wanted them to keep the change, I would have told them to keep the change! Unfortunately, as a pastor, one of the hardest parts of ministry is seeking to change a congregation that doesn’t really want the change. If we wanted you to change us, we would have told you! Well they did tell us that, but in reality, many of them were lying to themselves. We are by nature creatures of habit, even in church. Look around the next time you enter the sanctuary. Chances are, the people will arrive around the same time and be sitting in the same pew that they were the week before (and the week before that…)

Churches want to have a good name in the community, a surplus in the budget, new people coming in, and to do it without any change on their part! Guess what? If you keep doing the same things in the same way, you will get the same results!

So, how do churches change? They change when they begin to let the Spirit take His proper place in their lives. The Spirit of God is the most ignored aspect of the Trinity in many, if not most, mainline denominations. I grew up in a fellowship that had its beginnings in the camp meetings of the early 1800’s. In these camp meetings, people would faint, run around, sing, and even bark like dogs! They were so enraptured by the moving of the Spirit that they couldn’t help themselves. Yet, if any of those would have happened in my home congregation when I was growing up, they would have dialed 911 (well, there wasn’t 911 back then, but you know what I mean!)

Now I am not saying that we need to start barking like dogs in order to see the Spirit at work in our congregation, but I am saying that it is time to quit pouring water on the fire of the Spirit and let the Spirit take control. What will that mean for a congregation? I can’t tell you for sure, because I have never seen a congregation that was totally willing to surrender to the Spirit. What I can tell you is this; if we truly want to change and become what God has called us to be, we better start listening to the Spirit and DO what the Spirit leads us to do!