Posts Tagged ‘call’

The First Thanksgiving

November 1, 2017

The Pilgrim’s journey to America began in 1608 when they left their native England for Holland. They had decided to leave England because their Puritan religious beliefs were in conflict with those of the Anglican Church. However, by 1620, the Puritan’s experience in Holland had gone sour and they returned to England.  Plan B was to set sail for America.

Problems plagued their departure from the start. Leaving Southampton on August 5 aboard two ships (the Mayflower and the Speedwell) they were forced back when the Speedwell began to leak. A second attempt was thwarted when the Speedwell again began to leak and again the hapless Pilgrims returned to port.  Finally, after abandoning the Speedwell, 102 Pilgrim passengers, plus 30 crew members, departed aboard the Mayflower on September 6.  On the Mayflower, there were only limited sleeping quarters, and no bathroom facilities.  Because the ship was 100% wood, all of the food brought along for the journey was eaten cold, because of the fear that lighting a fire to cook the food might result in the ship burning down.  The intended destination was Virginia where they planned to start a colony. After a journey of 66 days they made landfall at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, more than 600 miles off course.  Two people had died during their journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

Upon arriving in the new world, William Bradford helped to draft the Mayflower Compact:  the first truly independent form of civil government in America. He went on to guide the settlement as governor or assistant governor for upwards of 30 years. The Puritan Ethic of that time, as well as the concepts forged by the Mayflower Compact, and its eventual development into a somewhat democratic form of representative government, laid the foundation for later American government and made an influential impact that can be seen even today.

The Puritans were so named because of their desire to “purify” the Church of England above and beyond the perceived inadequacy of the initial reformation of the sixteenth century.  The Puritans sought a return to the “…ancient purity and simplicity of the church as established by Christ.” Their feeling was that even after the initial reformation of the church, there still existed unacceptable traces of Roman Catholicism.

The focus of the Puritan doctrine was on the sovereignty of God, our human dependence on God for salvation, and the importance of the individual’s personal religious experience through purification of self and society. This is the Puritan Ethic: Strict self-discipline and devotion to God and church, accompanied by contempt for sinful pleasures and luxuries. It is an ethic that lends itself well to a group of settlers about to face some of the harshest living conditions of their lives.

One of the key scripture passages for the Pilgrims was Matthew 5:14, where Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”  They believed they were coming to America to be a city set on a hill.  They had a missionary mindset.  They wanted their world to see the goodness of God.  They wanted to share it with others.  They believed that God was calling them to influence the new world they were settling.

But, their first year in the new world was full of pain, suffering, and hardship.  Almost half of the people in their group died.  They faced a severe winter that they were not prepared for.  They did not know how to survive in the wilderness that was so foreign to them.  If it had not been for Squanto, and the other members of the Wampanoag tribe, more of them would have died.  They gave the Puritans food to eat when they ran out of food they had brought from England.  They taught the Puritans how to fish and how to plant corn.  They taught the Puritans how to survive.

The first Thanksgiving was celebrated at Plymouth Plantation by 53 Pilgrims and about 90 Native Americans in October or November of 1621.  The feast lasted for three days.  They were praying and thanking God for their survival through that first, difficult year.  They were grateful for a successful growing season and for their first harvest.  The feast was cooked by Eleanor Billington, Elizabeth Hopkins, Mary Brewster, and Susanna White, along with their daughters and their servants.

The Thanksgiving holiday was celebrated off and on throughout the early days of our country.  Abraham Lincoln made it an official national holiday during the Civil War.  Each year, it’s a good idea to sit down with family members and loved ones, and take time to remember what we have to be thankful for.  It’s good to take time to pray and thank God for helping us survive another year.  It’s good to develop habits that make us a grateful people who don’t take our lives for granted.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  Happy Thanksgiving.

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Breakthrough Prayer

October 2, 2017

Do you believe prayer makes a difference?  Most church people would answer, “Yes”.  If you have gone to church for a while, you are probably used to hearing prayers said in a worship service, a Bible study, and a small group.  You are probably used to church meetings that open and close with prayer.  You are probably used to praying before you eat a meal.  You are probably used to praying for loved ones who are sick or for families whose loved ones have died.  But, do you really believe that prayer makes a difference?  Do you remember a prayer that you prayed that was answered?  Do you remember a person or a situation that changed because of prayer?

In the most popular devotional book of all time, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers wrote, “Prayer is not a normal part of the life of the natural man.  We hear it said that a person’s life will suffer if he doesn’t pray, but I question that.  What will suffer is the life of the Son of God in him, which is nourished not by food, but by prayer.  When a person is born again from above, the life of the Son of God is born in him, and he can either starve or nourish that life.  Prayer is the way that the life of God in us is nourished.”  So, do we treat prayer as a snack – something small that we take every now and then when we feel like it?  Or do we treat prayer as a meal – something we have to have a couple of times a day, so that our bodies won’t break down, but can become stronger?

Sue Kibbey writes about a kind of prayer called Breakthrough Prayer in her book Floodgates.  Breakthrough Prayer is not just a prayer class, a prayer committee, a prayer meeting, or a sermon series on prayer.  It is when God’s people join together in an intentional prayer movement across all ages to simply and repeatedly pray, asking God to break through in new and miraculous ways.  We pray for breakthroughs in our personal lives, in the lives of our fellow church people, in our church as a whole, for God to use us in unimagined new ways for Christ, and to break through anything that has been holding us back, including resistant thinking and negative attitudes.

The simple focus is to pray for God’s Holy Spirit to break through anything that is holding us captive, so that we can boldly move forward and fulfill God’s intention for why we exist as part of Christ’s Body on earth.  Breakthrough prayer is asking God to do new works and new miracles we cannot do ourselves.  It is a prayer to ask God to open our hearts and our minds to what we do not expect, and move us beyond what we tend to resist and close ourselves off from.  It is a prayer for God to open a door to transform us and our church without any limits or restrictions.

Sometimes when we pray, we feel that God is present.  We sense His Spirit and we know He is there listening to us and speaking to us.  Other times when we pray, we feel nothing.  We ask God to speak to us, and all we hear is silence.  We ask God for a sign, and we don’t see anything.  We listen for God, but we don’t hear anything.  The truth is that God is equally present and responsive to us in both situations.  God is with us when we realize it and when we don’t.  God is present whether we can feel Him or not.

So, this month, we want to encourage everyone to try praying a Breakthrough Prayer.  What is one area where you would like to see God breakthrough in your life?  What is one area in our church life where you would like to see God breakthrough?  What is one part of our community where you would like to see God breakthrough?  Let’s pray expecting to see God do something.  When you see something happen, don’t keep it to yourself.  Tell someone else.  We don’t pray in order to control God or manipulate God, but in order for us to be open and responsive to what God might want to do in us and through us.  Let’s make ourselves available to God.  Let’s open our eyes to see if God might choose to do something new.

 

 

The Blessings of Difficulties

September 1, 2017

When we read about the creation of the heavens and the earth in the first two chapters in the Bible, and when we read about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we read about a perfect world that sounds fabulous.  But, then it all seems to unravel very quickly.  It not only becomes bad, but it goes from bad to worse.  From Adam and Eve, to Cain and Abel, to Lamech and the other descendants, the condition of our world kept going down and down and down.  It got so bad, that God decided to flood the world and start over.  It’s a pretty bleak picture.

This is our family tree.  This is our family history.  It is not a history to be proud of.  We have descended from a long line of rascals, scoundrels, robbers, thieves, murderers, and selfish narcissists.  The Bible is not revisionist history that tries to show us only the best side of our ancestors.  It puts all of their faults and sins front and center for all to see.  The stories show us as much about how not to respond to tough situations as they do about how to respond.  We learn from other people’s mistakes and sins as much as we learn from their accomplishments and achievements.  We learn from their failures as much as we learn from their successes.

In his book Falling Upward by Richard Rohr, he writes that the way up is often the way down, and the way down is often the way up.  Sometimes we have to fall down, to learn something valuable, before we can get up and move forward.  He says that loss comes before renewal.  He says that losing, falling, failing, and suffering are necessary experiences of the human journey.  We grow more through pain than through joy.

In the book of Genesis, the wrestling and the wounding of Jacob are necessary for him to become Israel.  In the book of Exodus, Moses discovers that experiencing God involves being burned without burning up.  In the gospels, Peter denies even knowing Christ before he can become the leader of the early church.  Jesus has to go through crucifixion, pain, and death, before He can experience the resurrection.  Paul has to become blinded and confused before he can regain his eyesight, understand the error of his ways, and become one of the greatest church leaders in the first century.

Richard Rohr says that there will always be at least one situation in your life that you cannot fix, control, explain, change, or even understand.  He says before the truth will set you free, it will make you miserable.  But eventually, it will change you.  Jesus said that anyone who wants to save their life will lose it (Matthew 16:25-26).  Paul says that when we are weak, then we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).

The good news of these stories is always the grace of God.  Time after time, when we read about people failing, we see that God continues to reach out to them in grace.  God passionately pursues a confused and disobedient humanity, offering us love and grace and redemption.  He gives second chances where they are not deserved.  He doesn’t kick us when we are down.  He helps us get up, dusts us off, and helps us move forward.  This is the good news of the Bible.  The Stories from the Beginning of Time describe a God who lives in the midst of our awful, sinful world, but it doesn’t scare Him off.  He doesn’t get fed up and walk away.  He doesn’t get so frustrated with us that He gives up on us.  He stays connected with us, always close at hand, always ready to respond to our calls for help.  He offers us His Son Jesus, as a way for us to be forgiven and always stay connected to Him.

Whatever you are going through, God is with you.  Whatever you have done, God wants to help you through it.  No matter how bad you have been, God is extending His grace to you through Jesus, with an offer for a second chance.  Take it.

 

Where Did We Come From?

August 7, 2017

Do you ever remember a time when you were little and you went to your parents and asked, “Where did I come from?”  If you are a parent, have you ever had one of your kids come to you and ask, “Where did I come from?”  If so, what kind of answer did you get?  What kind of answer did you give?

A lot of us have asked this question.  We start asking this question when we are little, and some of us keep asking it after we grow up.  It is basically a question of identity.  Behind this question, we are asking, “Who am I?  What am I like?  Who are my parents?  How did my parents get together?  What kind of people are we?  What are we known for?  Where did we come from?”  There is a whole avalanche of questions that comes as we try to figure where we belong, where we fit, and what our place is in the world.  These questions are foundational for our identity and self-image.

Many people who have been adopted, struggle with this.  Even when their adopted parents are great people, even when they get adopted into a loving family, there is still something inside of us that wants to know who we are, who our parents are, and what that means for our lives.

I think these are the same questions that the Hebrew people were asking 6000 years ago.  I think the reason that the Book of Genesis was written was to answer these questions:  Where did we come from?  Who are we?  What is our identity?  The Book of Genesis is one of the most important books in the Bible.  As the first book in the Bible, so many of the themes that run throughout the scriptures begin in Genesis.  People often say, “If you don’t know where you came from, you can’t know where you are going.”  There is a lot of truth to that.  Knowing where we have been, knowing our history, and knowing how the world began, are key to knowing where we are going.

The Book of Genesis provides us with the pictures and the stories that are foundational to our lives and to our faith.  These are stories that shape us, that make us ask hard questions, and that stimulate our imagination.  If we can understand what the true stories of Genesis are trying to teach us, we can be strong people of character, with a mature faith, that can weather the storms of life.

This month, we are beginning a new message series, at the Northside Community Church in Terre Haute, and at the Emmanuel Methodist Church in West Terre Haute, called “Stories from the Beginning of Time”.  We are going to take nine weeks to look at these important, foundational stories from Genesis 1-11.  What are they really saying?  What do they mean?  And what difference does this make for us today?  I would like to invite you to join us as we take a look at these old, old stories in a fresh, new way.

Genesis is where it all begins.  It’s where the story of earth and outer space begin.  It’s the story where the plants and the animals begin.  It’s the story of where human beings begin.  It’s the story of where our relationship with God begins.  Once we have a good understanding our how we began, a lot of other things will begin to fall into place.

 

Re-Framing Your Life

May 31, 2017

In their book Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans tell a story about a woman named Janine.  In her mid-30s, she was starting to reap the benefits of decades of dedication.  Her willpower and hard work had gained her a number of accomplishments.  She was the picture of success and achievement.  But, she had a secret.  Some nights, after driving home from work, she would sit out on her deck and cry.  She had everything she thought she should have, but she was profoundly unhappy.  Who wakes up every morning as the picture of success and goes to bed every night with a knot in her stomach, feeling as if she is missing something, and that she has lost her way?  In America, 66% of workers are unhappy with their jobs, and 15% actually hate their work.  Janine had a dysfunctional belief.  She believed if you are successful, you will be happy.  She needed to re-frame her thinking:  happiness comes from designing your life with God.

In their book, Bill and Dave also tell a story about a man named Donald.  He had worked for more than 30 years at the same job and had made a lot of money.  His home was almost paid off.  His kids had all graduated from college.  He had money for retirement.  He had a solid career and a solid life.  Get up, go to work, pay the bills, go home, go to bed.  Wake up the next day and do it all over again.  Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.  But, for years he had carried the same question around inside of him as he went to coffee shops, dinner tables, church, and the bar.  The question would wake him up at 2:00 am.  He would look at himself in the bathroom mirror and ask, “Why am I doing this?”  Not once had the guy in the mirror had a good answer for him.  He had a dysfunctional belief.  He believed that a life of responsible and successful work should make him happy.  He felt stuck.  He thought he didn’t have any other options that to continue to struggle through an unfulfilling life.  He believed it was too late to change his life’s work.  But, he was wrong.

Many people today operate under the dysfunctional belief that they just need to find out what they are passionate about.  They think that once they know their passion, everything else will just magically fall into place.  But, most people don’t know their passion.  Only 20% of people between the ages of 12-26 have a clear vision of where they want to go and what they want to accomplish in life.  80% of people of all ages don’t really know what they are passionate about.  In the United States alone, there are more than 31 million people between the ages of 44-70 who want an “encore” career – work that combines personal meaning, continued income, and social impact.

Many people today struggle with dysfunctional beliefs and don’t know how to change them.  This is why we go to church.  This is why we read the Bible.  We all grow up with beliefs and ideas that we think are true, but really aren’t.  They shape who we are, what we do, and how we live.  But, we don’t realize they aren’t true.  And if we do discover they aren’t true, then we don’t know how to change them and how to re-frame them.  This is why we need Jesus in our lives.  This is why we need the Holy Spirit leading us through life:  because all of us need to re-frame our thinking in our major ways.  But, we don’t know how to do it.  And we can’t do it alone.

Your life cannot be perfectly planned.  None of us are perfect.  We all make mistakes.  There is no one single solution to your life.  If you keep looking for the one right answer, you’ll never find it.  Our God is a much more creative God than we realize.  When we surrender our lives to Him, He doesn’t just open one door of possibility for us.  He opens many doors for us.  He gives us choices we never had before.  The Holy Spirit leads us to design a life that makes sense.  Life is all about growth and change.  It’s not static.  It’s not about answering the big life question once and for all and then it’s done, never having to be re-visited ever again.  It’s about going on a journey with Jesus, with a Christian community, for the life of the world.  There will always be twists and turns, sunshine and rain, cold and heat.  There will always be signs and wonders, plants and animals, unexpected guests and new friends.

We need God’s help to think differently.  We need Jesus’ help to live differently.  We need the Holy Spirit’s help to dream differently.  We need the church’s help to focus our attention on the right things, to develop disciplines and practices that will pay off, and to help us get out of the rut we are stuck in.  We need to take off the blinders that keep us from seeing the possibilities God has waiting for us.  We need to understand where happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction really come from.  We carry around too many dysfunctional beliefs.  And we need the Bible and the church to re-frame our thinking and our lives.

God doesn’t want us to waste our lives.  God doesn’t want us to feel miserable or stuck.  God wants us to soar like eagles as we discover how He designed us, and how the Holy Spirit can help us design a life that makes sense.  But, we have to be willing to let go of our dysfunctional beliefs.  We need to let the Bible re-frame how we think and how we live.  And we need to be willing to follow Jesus down some life paths that we never thought we would walk down.

 

Your Questions

May 1, 2017

This month, we are taking a look at the questions that people are asking about God, faith, and life.  If you had one question you could ask God, what would it be?  What is the one question that keeps you awake at night?  We don’t have time on Sunday mornings to discuss all the questions that were submitted, so here are some responses to three others:

1.At what point does temptation become sin?  Or is temptation sinful?  What about Matthew 5:28 where Jesus says “If a man looks lustfully at a woman, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart?

There is a difference between temptation and sin.  It is possible to be tempted and not sin.  Sin is giving in to the temptation, and acting inappropriately on what has been seen or heard or felt.  Hebrews 4:15 says “15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”  This verse is telling us that Jesus was tempted in every way that we have been, yet he never sinned.  The sin comes when we take action on the temptation.  When Jesus talks about lust in Matthew 5:28, this is more than just noticing an attractive person.  This is more than feeling drawn to someone you are not married to.  This is dwelling on someone in your heart and in your mind.  It is allowing your imagination to go down a road it shouldn’t.  While perhaps not acting physically inappropriately, it is an inappropriate mental action.  It allows your heart to stray and your mind to go to places it shouldn’t.

It is hard for us to say “no” to temptation in American society today, because so much of our advertising and our cultural philosophy encourages us to give in to temptation.  We are told that all of our desires are good.  They are not.  We are told that all of our feelings are healthy.  They are not.  We are told to indulge every emotion we have.  We shouldn’t.  Hebrews 2:18 says,

“18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”  And James 1:13 says, “13 When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.”  God will never tempt you to disobey God.  He will never lure you towards evil or to act vs. your original design.  Because Jesus was tempted too, He is available to help you whenever you ask.

2.What does God say about drinking?  Should we drink or not?

We know that drinking alcohol is not a sin because Jesus drank wine.  Some people will argue that the wine is Jesus day did not have as high of a level of fermentation as our alcohol has today.  That may be true.  But, there is nothing wrong with one or two drinks.  What the Bible says is a sin is getting drunk.  Ephesians 5:18 says, “18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”  In other words, instead of being filled with alcohol, be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Drinking too much is a problem.  Some people get addicted to getting drunk.  Some people are in denial about it.  Getting drunk can ruin your life.  But, if you don’t get drunk, having a beer or a glass of wine is fine.

In Romans 14:1-15, Paul was addressing a controversy in his day around eating meat that had been offered to idols.  Some people thought it was OK to eat the meat, because they didn’t believe in the idols.  Others thought it was a sin, because it had been offered to idols.  Who was right?  Paul’s answer was that there is nothing wrong with eating meat offered to idols.  It was not a sin.  However, if you cause a weaker Christian to sin because you are eating meat, then you shouldn’t do it.  Don’t put a stumbling block in someone’s way.   This verse can be applied to our present day concerns about alcohol.  Having a drink is not a sin.  But, if it causes a weaker Christian to sin, then give up your freedom to drink, for their sake.

3.What does the Bible say about Christian values for families?

Colossians 3:20-21says, “Children obey your parents, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.”  Ephesians 6:1-3 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise— so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

 These verses remind us that parents need to teach their kids to obey.  Parents should not give their kids everything they ask for.  Parents need to discipline their kids and teach them right from wrong.  Parents who always praise their kids are not doing them any favors.  This teaches them the world revolves around them when it doesn’t.  They will raise kids who are brats that nobody wants to be around.  On the other hand, these verses also tell us not to embitter our children.  Parents should not expect perfection from their kids.  They should not be the kind of parents who are never satisfied.  You can crush a child’s spirit if don’t notice their accomplishments and tell them when they are doing a good job.

The Bible gives us a pattern in Luke 2:52 when it tells us that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.”  These are the four key areas we need to help our children grow in.  They need to grow mentally, physically, spiritually, and relationally.  We need encourage our kids to grow mentally by letting them know the importance of an education.  We need to teach them the value of reading, writing, doing their homework, turning in their work on time, and getting good grades.  We need to encourage our kids to grow physically.  Less than 1% of kids will grow up to be professional athletes, but we can teach them how to take care of their bodies, how to eat healthy, how to exercise, and the values of good sportsmanship and working with a team.  Kids need to learn how to win and how to lose.  We need to let our kids lose.  We need to let them fail.  They need to experience failure if they are going to become mature, healthy adults.

We need to help our kids grow spiritually.  We need to read stories to them from the Bible.  We need to teach them to pray at meal time and at bed time.  They need to see that faith is important to their parents, and that we don’t skip church for less important matters.  And, we need to help our kids grow relationally.  They need to learn how to make friends and be a friend to others.  They need to learn how to share and how to care for others.  Social skills are important, and kids need to see their parents modeling healthy relationships.

I hope you will join us on Sunday mornings this month as we continue to reflect on people’s questions, how to think about our faith, and how the Bible relates to the everyday, practical realities of our world.  Don’t be afraid to ask any question.  That’s how we learn.  God wants us to keep learning all the time.  Asking questions is what helps keep our faith growing.

 

What are the Big Rocks?

August 1, 2016

There’s a story about a teacher who took a glass jar into his class and filled it with big rocks.  He asked the class if they thought the jar was full.  They said yes.  He said no, it isn’t.  He then poured some small pebbles into the jar around the big rocks.  Then he asked the class, is the jar full now?  They said yes.  He said no, it isn’t.  Then he poured some sand into the jar.  Then he asked the class, is the jar full now?  The class said yes.  He said no, it isn’t.  He then poured some water into the jar.  He asked the class if the jar was full now.  They said yes.  He asked them, what is the moral of this story?  One student said, “No matter how full your life is, you can always squeeze more things into it.”  He said no.  The moral of the story is:  if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in.

The point is that we have to make sure we have the most important things in our lives first.  It’s easy to get busy doing so many good things, that we don’t have time and space in our lives for the most important things.  If we don’t get the most important things right, we won’t get the rest of our lives.  What are the Big Rocks for the Christian Church?  What are the most important things for us to focus on?

We believe that our Big Rocks are the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.  The Great Commandment is found in Matthew 20:37-40, where Jesus says Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  The Great Commission is found in Matthew 28:19-20, where Jesus says Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you, for lo, I will be with you always, even to the ends of the earth.

When we put the Great Commandment and the Great Commission together, we see that our Big Rocks are Loving God, Loving our Neighbor, and Loving our Neighborhoods.  These are the three big areas of focus for our ministry.  We want to help people come to Believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior for the first time and then to spend a lifetime growing deeper in their knowledge of God.  We want to help people Belong to a community and a purpose that is bigger than all of us.  Loneliness and isolation are the great social dysfunctions of our time.  We were all created with a sense of belonging.  And we want to help people Bless their neighborhoods and serve the community where we live.  We have been saved to serve.  We have been Blessed to be a Blessing.  We call these three Big Rocks:  Believing, Belonging, and Blessing

These are our Big Rocks – Believing (spiritual growth), Belonging (relational growth), and Blessing (missional growth).  Some people think that the Big Rock is numerical growth.  But, churches that make numerical growth their Biggest Rock, often do not grow spiritually, relationally, and missionally.  However, churches that focus on spiritual growth, relational growth, and missional growth, often discover that God is causing some numerical growth to happen as a result.  We do want to reach more people for Christ.  But, numerical growth typically follows spiritual, relational, and missional growth – not the other way around.

This month marks the beginning of a new school year here in Terre Haute.  It also marks the beginning of my second year “back home” as a pastor in this community we love.  Kim and I are delighted to back in the Wabash Valley again and we are grateful that God has led us to be a part of this community.  I have a lot of hope for this coming year.  I believe that God is doing something in our churches and in this community.  I believe that if we keep our eyes open, we will see many opportunities for ministry and new doors that will open for us to make a difference in people’s lives and in our community.

I want to invite you to join us for another important year of ministry.  I don’t know what God is going to do, but I believe He is going to do some significant things, and I want us to be a part of His mission on earth.

These are our Big Rocks – Loving God, Loving our Neighbor, and Loving our Neighborhoods.  We call these three rocks Believing, Belonging, and Blessing.  We want to help people grow spiritually, relationally, and missionally.  Please pray for me.  Please pray for our church.  Please pray for our community.  Pray that we can stay focused on what is most important – our Big Rocks.  And pray that we will be open to all the ministry opportunities God brings our way.

 

Your Questions

June 1, 2016

Recently, I asked people to submit some questions about faith and life that they would like to hear some sermons on.  I am now preaching a six week series on some of the questions, but I don’t have time to cover all of them.  Here are some of the other questions that were asked, and some ideas to think about:

1.”My boss is an atheist and every time I try to talk to her about Christ, she becomes defensive and has lot of reasons.  How can I witness to her?”  That’s a good question.  There are no easy formulaic answers.  It requires a lot of prayer and discernment.  Many people react negatively to Christians they perceive to be too “pushy”, so you have to be sensitive.  Jesus engaged people more with questions than answers.  Instead of trying to give your boss answers, you might want to try asking her more questions.  What does she enjoy in life?  What is frustrating for her?  How does she cope with problems?  Does she ever feel lonely?  Does she feel empty?  Does her life have a purpose?  Sometimes questions have a way of opening people up.  If she realizes something is missing in her life, she might become more open to a spiritual conversation.  But, don’t rush it or force it.  It may take a long time.

2.”What is the difference between believers and angels in heaven?”  The Bible doesn’t spend much time on this question, and there’s probably a lot more that we don’t know, than what we do know.  But, 1 Corinthians 6:3 says “Do you not know that we will judge angels?”  So, when we enter the new heaven on earth, we will judge angels.  This probably means that we will be higher than the angels since we will be judging them.  Hebrews 1:14 tells us that angels are ministering spirits sent to serve us on earth.  So, they minister to us now, and perhaps they will continue to minister to us in heaven.

3.”I hear people talking about a moment in time when an experience happened that made them realize God was right there with them and it changed their life. How do we make ourselves open to know when that happens? Does this moment come for everyone?”  That’s a good question.  There is no “one size fits all” answer that fits everyone.  When we read the Bible, we see that different people have different experiences of God in their lives.  We are all different and God chooses to work differently in some than in others, based on what we need.  Some people have dramatic conversion stories when they became a Christian.  For others, it was more of a slow process over a long period of time.  Neither is better than the other.  The important thing is that we have a relationship with God through Jesus.  How it happens may be different for each person.  They key is to be open and to allow God to be at work in your life.  I believe that engaging in spiritual practices – studying the Bible, praying, attending worship, fasting, extending hospitality, solitude, stewardship, and the Sabbath – these kind of things open us up to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Being too busy can be an obstacle.  Sometimes we need to slow down, turn off the noise, and be still.

4.”In regards to psychics, mediums, and people who claim to talk to the dead, are they “gifted” from God or the devil?  What if their abilities are used for good, like police work?”  In Deuteronomy 18:9-13, God commands us not to practice divination, sorcery, engage in witchcraft, cast spells, consult mediums or spiritists or consult the dead.  Doing this kind of thing can open up our lives to evil forces that can overpower us and ruin us.  It is “playing with fire” and we will likely get burned.  God wants us to consult Him with any questions we have.  The Bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  To consult any other spirit is dangerous.  Satan is called the Deceiver and we never know if we can trust any information we might get from another spiritual source.  Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, so if we want the truth, we need to look to Jesus, not someone else.  Some people look to other spirits as a way of gaining control of our world.  Christianity says we should not try to be in control, but that God is in control, and we need to trust Him, and look to Him, not to anyone else

5.”What is the Methodist Church position on Masonic organizations?” I don’t know. I don’t know if  there is an official position.  Prior to last summer, I had spent the last 17 years in California.  There, I don’t remember seeing any Masons, and I wasn’t even sure they still existed.  So, it was never a big issue that I looked in to.  If you look it up on the web, you will find some people who think Masonic organizations are compatible with Christian teaching and some who do not.  I do not feel qualified to speak to this without doing a lot more research.  The key is always to compare a group’s teachings and practices with the scriptures and see if they are consistent and compatible with one another.

6.”God, Lord, Jesus – which one is the proper title?”  There is no one proper title for God.  There are many names for God that are used.  One of the foundational beliefs of Christianity is the Trinity – that we believe in one God Who exists forever as three person – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  In the Old Testament, when Moses met God at the burning bush, he asked God what His Name was, and God said, “I Am Who I Am” or “Yahweh”.  The Jewish people also believed God’s name was too holy to say, so they would often call Him “Lord” instead.  After a while, the Greeks added some vowels to the name Yahweh and that became Jehovah.  Jesus is the Messiah.  The Greek word for Messiah is Christ.  Whether we are referring to the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, it’s all the same God.  Any of these titles are acceptable.

I want to encourage all of us to keep asking questions about faith and life.  This is how we learn.  Being curious and inquisitive is a good thing.  We shouldn’t be afraid to ask any question.  The more we seek, the more we will find.  The more we search, the more we discover.  The more we want to know, the more our faith will make sense.  Any answers that we give are not meant to shut down conversations, but to stimulate more conversations.  Let’s keep asking, seeking, and knocking.  The more we do that, the more we will become like Christ, and the more mature we can become as His disciples.

 

 

The Absence of Leadership

January 4, 2016

In the 2015 year end issue of Time magazine, they ran an article called “The absence of international leadership will shape a tumultuous 2016.” Here is part of what they said:

“In a world of emergencies, leadership matters – and in 2016 it will become unavoidably obvious that the world lacks leadership. The days when heads of the G-7 industrial powers like the U.S. and Germany controlled geopolitics and the global economy are gone for good. The international group of today is the expanded G-20, which is much larger – including important emerging powers like China and India – yet agrees on much less. The result might be called a G-zero world, a global caucus whose members don’t share political and economic values or priorities. They don’t have a common vision for the future. Many years in the making, a G-zero world is now fully upon us.”

The article goes on to say “Few U.S. officials … are able to make a clear case for the role they think the U.S. can and should play in a new world. Europe can’t help – its leaders are too busy coping with migrants, maneuvering around populist political rivals, working to keep the U.K. in the E.U. and helping Greece find long-term financial footing. China won’t fill the G-zero vacuum – it’s more active on the international stage, but only in pursuit of narrow national interests. Who will take the lead in destroying ISIS, stabilizing the Middle East, containing the flow of dangerous weapons, mitigating climate change and managing international risks to public health? No one. The world’s main wildfires will burn hotter in 2016, because no one believes he can afford the costs and risks that come with putting them out.”

Wow. Those are some strong statements. And yet, to my ears, they accurately describe the world we are living in today. “The absence of leadership. Leadership matters. The world lacks leadership. People agree on much less. We don’t have a common vision for the future. Leaders can’t make a clear case for the role they should play. Who will take the lead? No one. No one believes he can afford the costs and the risks.” Wow.

Regardless of what you think should be done on specific issues, the overarching theme is that we live in a time that is desperate for leaders. We are so desperate, that polls seem to be telling us that American voters are becoming increasingly supportive of presidential candidates who will provide strong and tough leadership, even if they are narcissistic, dangerous, emotionally unhealthy, unreasonable, undiplomatic, careless, and offensive. We are so desperate for leaders that we are now willing to consider electing leaders who could lead us to an even worse place than we are today. But, who cares, as long as they are leading us somewhere, right?

Approximately 2000 years ago, a leader was born into our world to save us from our chaos, our infighting, our selfishness, our short-sightedness, and our tendency to self-destruct. His name was Jesus and he is The Most Interesting Man in the World. He stepped into a leadership vacuum in his own country and showed people a different way to move forward. People wanted to make him a political king, but he walked away from it. Zealots wanted him to start a revolution and overthrow Rome, but he didn’t do it. He did not condemn people, but He told them to go and sin no more. He told people to turn the other cheek, to bless those who curse you, and pray for those who persecute you. He turned the thinking of our world upside down and modeled an alternative way to live. He rejected hatred and revenge. He rejected fear for faith. He brought hope to the hopeless. He reached out to the marginalized and paid attention to those who were ignored. He lived to please God, not other human beings. He did the right thing, even when it wasn’t the popular thing. The religious leaders of his day were not providing healthy, positive leadership, so He did, and it ended up costing Him His life. He stepped into a vacuum and provided the leadership that was needed.

A couple of thousand years later, we still study His teachings and try to walk in His footsteps. We live in a world crying out for leadership. As Jesus’ followers, we have a responsibility to provide leadership in the places where we live, work, and play. Our churches are in need of leadership. Our schools are in need of leadership. Our communities are in need of leadership. Our households are in need of leadership.

Who will step forward? If we keep waiting for someone else to step forward, we may be waiting for a long time. Why don’t we step forward? Why don’t we provide leadership? Isn’t that what Jesus calls us to do? Leaders don’t have to be extroverts. They don’t have to be public speakers. They don’t have to be loud. They don’ have to be rich. Many leaders are quiet, working behind the scenes, doing the day to day functions that need to be happen to get things done.

Leaders pull people together to solve tough problems. Leaders aren’t afraid to talk to people who have different opinions and perspectives. Leaders aren’t afraid to have conversations with people who see the world differently. But, leaders are proactive rather than reactive. Leaders think and dream and plan. Leaders aren’t afraid to experiment and use their imagination. Leaders aren’t afraid to fail if they might learn something in the process. Leaders are both principled and pragmatic at the same time. Leaders work to discover common values and common ground.

Most of us will never become international leaders. But, I believe most of us can be leaders in our households. I believe we can be leaders in our businesses, our churches, and our schools. I believe we can be leaders in our local communities. Jeremiah 29:7 says “Seek the welfare of the community where I have sent you, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare, you will find your welfare.”

Have you considered that God might be calling you to make a difference in your local community? Have you considered that God might be calling your church to make a difference in your local community? Our world is desperate for good leaders. The need for leadership begins in the homes we live in, on the streets where we reside, and in the neighborhoods where we exist. What if the community saw the church exercising leadership that was lacking from other sectors? What if our cities saw our churches as key players in providing leadership on the tough issues of the day? What if our regions saw us as positive, proactive leaders willing to join hands with others for the common good? I think that is the kind of witness people today are hungry for. I think that is the kind of leadership needed in 2016. What if we made a new year’s resolution to provide that kind of leadership? We live in a leadership vacuum. Someone is going to step in and fill that void. If we don’t step in, someone else will. Where does God want you to lead in 2016?

The Age of Generosity

November 2, 2015

In 2009, Joshua Cooper Ramo wrote a best-selling book called The Age of the Unthinkable. In it, he describes how we have arrived at a moment of peril that not long ago would have seemed unimaginable. All around us, ideas and institutions that we once relied on for our safety and security are failing – and the best ideas of our leaders seem to make our problems worse, not better. He argues that we live in a time of ceaseless, unthinkable change, yet many of our organizations are stuck in bureaucracies that are inflexible and out of date. The unthinkable has become the inevitable, and we wonder where the leaders are who can bring people together to address tough, complex problems.

Recently, David Brooks wrote an article in the New York Times called Enter the Age of Outsiders. He said that whereas our world used to function as planets revolving around the sun, with a gravitational force that kept them connected to the center, now we live in an age where the outsiders have the greater gravitational force, and they are pulling us apart. Our political systems and social systems used to work, but they no longer do. The secular vision of capitalism no longer appeals to many people and our democratic system has become dysfunctional. We are losing confidence and heading for an Age of Exhaustion. But, he suggests, our real problems are mental and spiritual.

We can make a difference in our world if we address the mental and spiritual issues of our time. Our problems will not be solved by political solutions alone. They will not be solved by economic solutions alone. They will only be solved if we also address the mental and spiritual issues that exist beneath the surface.
One way to do this is to “swim upstream” against the dysfunction of a self-centered culture. As followers of Jesus, we have to learn to “go against the grain” and not participate in unhealthy patterns of blaming, shaming, intransigence, arrogance, and narcissism. Instead of being completely focused on ourselves, we need to pay more attention on God. Who is God? How does Jesus want us to live? What changes does the Holy Spirit want to make in our lives? How can we become more like Christ? We can become more humble, teachable, and open. We don’t have to go along with every idea, but we compare them to the teachings of the Bible and see if they are consistent with what God has revealed to us.

In this age of frustration and cynicism, we don’t want our churches to be dysfunctional. It is important that we understand who we are, what we are called to be and to do, and to carry out our tasks with competence. In an age when so many organizations and institutions have become dysfunctional, if our churches can function in healthy and missional ways, we can be an example and a witness to others. We can be a breath of fresh air to those who are looking for places of healing that know how to get things done. We can be a quiet example of what people can actually accomplish when they set aside their own personal agendas, humble themselves, and come together.

What does it look like to live generously? How does a generous heart, coupled with generous actions, change the tone of our communities? If we reject the me-first, individualistic, accomplishment paradigm of our culture, and reverse it to become generous, team-oriented people who seek the welfare of the community where God has sent us (Jeremiah 29:7), what kind of impact can we have? Can we actually be used by the Holy Spirit to bring a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11)?

It begins with God. It begins with us. It begins with our own spiritual condition. It begins with our local congregation. It begins with our neighborhood. It begins with our local community. Through our daily words and actions, we can begin to usher in an Age of Generosity. We have been saved to serve. We have been blessed to be a blessing. We have received grace to be generous with others. The more we give away, the more we will gain. The more we share what we have, the more others’ lives will be touched. The more we share our resources, the more our communities will be recalibrated. Living generously can change our hearts, our relationships, and our communities.

We could buy into the cynicism, pessimism, and dysfunction of the current culture. We could be overwhelmed by the Age of the Unthinkable and the Age of Exhaustion. Or we could let Jesus change our lives and follow a different path. We could usher in an Age of Generosity and see what happens.