Monday, December 15, 2008

A challenging peace

“Peace on earth, good-will toward men.”

These are difficult words to proclaim at Christmas, particularly when the world is filled with such hatred.

In his book, Evil and the Justice of God, Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright appraises the conflict in the Middle East, and offers a reason why it remains unresolved. He states that for many, forgiveness is neither a duty nor a virtue, but a kind of “moral weakness.” The main moral standard guiding those who perpetuate the conflict is justice, which demands vengeance. Wright states, “It’s not just that they don’t want to forgive or that they find it difficult. They believe passionately that it would be immoral, totally wrong.”

I’ve seen first-hand such unrelenting conflict. Matters will only be “resolved” when the opposing faction is wiped out--so many claim. I sometimes think it will have to involve an army of chaplains to change matters. If we can live at peace with God, we can learn to live at peace with others. Forgiveness takes sin seriously, but aims at reconciliation. It works to resolve conflict, not perpetuate it.

A favorite non-traditional Christmas song I enjoy singing is Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon, which tells the true story of Brits and Germans celebrating a Christmas Eve truce during World War I. They joined together in no-man’s land and sang carols, shared some food and drink, and played soccer…then the next day went on with the business of waging war. This is the sad evidence of living in a fallen world in need of redemption.

Jesus came to face evil and destroy its power on the cross. In self-sacrificing love, He took our place that we might have His peace. He did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. The cross was a symbol of Rome’s imperial might--where Caesar did his worst, but the Cross has become a symbol of God’s love. It is the place where, and the means by which, God demonstrated the power of love and pardon. Such power produces peace. “When will we ever learn?”

In his best-selling book, The Year of Living Biblically, A.J. Jacobs describes how he was challenged by the Apostle Paul’s command to not keep a “record of wrongs” in the Love Chapter, I Corinthians 13. Jacobs stated that in his compulsive manner he kept a log of wrongs in his Palm Treo, especially things his wife did…and when he showed it to his wife, she laughed at him. He admitted this was pathetic, but A.J. is like a lot of people. At least he saw that this practice was unhealthy and unhelpful. If we keep a record of wrongs and keep people under our wrath till each matter is dealt with, we will find that we’re not able to open our hearts to receive God’s forgiveness.

Forgiveness releases not only the person who is being forgiven but the person who is doing the forgiving. Forgiveness is giving up hope that the past could be different. When we forgive, we in no way change the past, but we sure do change the future. We release those who’ve hurt us and we release ourselves from crippling, self-inflicted bitterness. Wright says that forgiveness means that “we shall not allow this evil to determine the sort of people we shall then become.” Let’s pray this Christmas for peace in our troubled world, and ask God what we can do to be His instruments of peace.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A family Christmas Tree Blessing

Many families bless their Christmas trees before lighting them. The evergreen of our Christmas trees is a symbol of everlasting life. It stands as a shelter over the Child in the manger. Here is a blessing you can use in your home...

Our Lord Jesus Christ died upon the tree of the Cross.
He overcame the sin caused by our first parents,
Who ate of the forbidden tree of Paradise in the garden.
We trust in the sacrifice of Jesus, Whose manger points to Calvary.
If there is no cross in the manger, there is no Christmas.

Prayer: Lord Our God,We praise You for the light of Creation:the sun, the moon, and the stars of the night.We praise You for the Light of Israel:the Law, and the prophets,and the wisdom of the Scriptures.We praise You for Jesus Christ, Your Son:He is Emmanuel, God-with-us, the Prince of Peace, Who fills us with the wonder of Your love.Lord God, let Your blessing come upon usas we light this tree.May the light and cheer it givesbe a sign of the joy that fills our hearts.May all who delight in this treecome to the knowledge and joy of salvation.

Sing together:
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, a lesson you can teach us.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, a lesson you can teach us.
That hope and love and faithfulness, are precious things we can possess.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, a lesson you can teach us.

Scripture reading – John chapter one (excerpts):
In the very beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. He created everything there is. In Him was life, and this life He gives to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not extinguish it…The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize him when He came. Even in His own land and among his own people, He was not accepted. But to all who believed and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God…the Word became flesh and lived here on earth among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one-and-only Son, Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

God of glory, let our hearts’ door be ever open, ready to welcome the newborn King.
Let us offer the best we have, to Him who gives us everything…Amen!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fire insurance or discipleship?

We study and take seriously the teachings of Jesus, yet there are some who think the only important thing is what Jesus accomplished on the Cross, which gets us into Heaven. Jesus' purpose was not limited to getting us into Heaven. It was primarily to get us into the Kingdom of God…and the difference between those two ideas is enormous. The first is non-transformative and ego-serving. The second is radically life-altering, unto eternity. Genuine faith is always accompanied by repentance--a radical change in how we think and live as citizens in the present and eternal Kingdom. We have a new direction, not just a new destination. We follow Christ as His transformed disciples, not mere converts who have the password to Heaven's gates.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Preparing for Thanksgiving

~Prepare home-made Thanksgiving greeting cards
~Invite a single or elderly person over for Thanksgiving dinner
~Visit someone who’s hospitalized or in a nursing home
~Make a Thanksgiving praise banner
~Read Psalm 100 aloud at Thanksgiving dinner
~Write a letter of thanks to God from your family
~Read the story of the Pilgrims aloud before or after Thanksgiving dinner
~Sing a few praise choruses or the Doxology (“Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow”) at dinner
~Check with a local religious bookstore for special Thanksgiving decorations
~Have everyone in the family write on a slip of paper one thing they’re thankful for and tape them to a poster-board with the headline: “We give thanks for…”
~Make Thanksgiving place mats, place cards, and a centerpiece for the table.
~Buy or make a cornucopia and fill it with fruit, nuts, gourds and/or Autumn leaves
~Collect a family Thanksgiving offering for a missionary, or relief agency
~-Volunteer at a community food pantry or homeless shelter
~Attend your community’s Thanksgiving Eve inter-faith service

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A life-and-death TEST

Paul regarded death with holy indifference. For many people, death is the greatest loss of all, but for Paul death was a promotion. Then he would see what he now believed. And so he declares in verse 21: “For me to love is Christ and to die is gain.” Christ was the purpose, power, and passion of Paul’s life.

This declaration poses a test for us:

“For me to live is ______________; to die is ______________.”

We fill in the blanks…

“For me to live is money--to die is to leave it all behind.”
“For me to live is popularity and prestige--to die is to be forgotten.”
“For me to live is pleasure--to die is the worst possible end of the party.”
“For me to live is power--to die is to lose it all.”
“For me to live is everything--to die is to cease to exist.”

Do we see death as our enemy, or as a gift? It's not easy to share Paul's ambivalence; let's at least try for his faith.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Praying & Paddling

For me, nothing beats kayaking down a calm river or around a lake. I get exercise, fresh air, great scenery, and a chance to pray and reflect on how God is working in my life. Unless I'm with another paddler, I can't help but pray while paddling. I've been paddling for about 5 years, and it's the best thing I've done for myself. There are many excellent put-ins in the greater Boston area. I wish I started this decades ago.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Tube Church

I invited a family to church recently and was told, “Our church is watching ____________ (a popular TV preacher).” I thought about this, and wondered:

--Does the TV preacher ever visit this family at their home (in person)?

--When there’s an illness in the family, does he stop by the hospital and pray with them?

--Will he get on his private jet and come here to baptize their children?

--Later on, will he conduct classes and confirm their children?

--Will he participate in their kids’ high school baccalaureate service?

--Will he attend graduation, birthday, retirement and anniversary parties at their home?

--Will he preside at weddings for them (after conducting premarital counseling)?

--Does the TV preacher ever call them on the phone just to see how they’re doing? Could they easily call him at his office or his home?

--If there’s a death in the family will the TV preacher conduct the funeral?

--How does this family receive Holy Communion? Will even one of the deacons or elders of any of the TV ministries bring the Bread and Cup to them?

--Will the TV preacher invite them over to his office for coffee?

--Does the TV preacher ever stop by where they work to see them?

--Can they list their TV preacher as a referral, for a character reference?

--When they don’t understand or agree with something they hear in a TV sermon, are they able to discuss this with the preacher after the service?

--When they are facing a tough decision or transition in their lives, does the TV preacher meet with them and offer pastoral advice?

--Do they enjoy fellowship activities with the people of TV preacher’s congregation?

--Do they really worship, or merely “watch” church?

--Do they use the Church Library of the TV preacher’s church to borrow devotional books and Bible study materials?

--If they’re having problems with housing, healthcare, employment, transportation, etc., will the TV preacher get involved, offer assistance, and give some good local referrals?

--What kind of religious education are their children getting, since they don’t go to Sunday School or Vacation Bible School?

--When they move into a new home, will the TV preacher come and do a house blessing?

--Will the TV preacher give them opportunities to serve the Lord on a church board or teach a class or sing in his choir?

--If he by chance happened to be visiting here on vacation and passed them on the sidewalk, would their TV preacher greet them by name?

Of course, none of the churches around here can attract the kinds of celebrities and musicians that flock to most TV ministries; none of the pastors here are best-selling authors, but the churches of our community can offer individuals a close, personal, caring relationship.

The only way TV preachers make a connection with people is by regularly asking them for money, to support their church. Jesus warns of preachers who “smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity…don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character…a genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook” (Matthew 7, the Message).

Most TV preachers, say some very good things, but they are no substitute for the worship and fellowship of a local church.

Perhaps the reason TV church is “enough” for some people is because it offers a no-commitment, “leave-me-alone” religion. The TV preacher is far enough away to pose no threat to people, who may even prefer him “at a distance”. They don’t have to be concerned that he might confront them with something they’d rather not hear…because they can easily grab their remote and turn him off or change the channel.

Church matters. Being involved in a local church is a vital as breathing. Church gives us strength to handle the tough choices and stressors that come to us, and gives us opportunities to live out our faith as we actively participate in church ministries. Church is rooted in community, being part of a family of faith.

“Let us consider how we can spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

"I'm thinking!"

Some of us remember Jack Benny. In a skit on his radio show, a robber held him up, pointed a gun at him and said, “Your money or your life.” After a long pause, Benny said, “I’m thinking! I’m thinking!”

“Is there a reason for living?” Solomon asks throughout Ecclesiastes. Many people find their purpose in material possessions, who live by the motto: “Greed is good.” Greed is more than wanting what someone else has--it’s wanting them to not have it. The Christian worldview does not mistake wealth for worth, nor does it endorse greed as a virtue. The Bible isn’t opposed to wealth, only to the unhealthy pursuit of happiness through any means apart from God. You can’t hug a mutual fund. If our primary goal in life is material wealth, we will end up with empty, futile lives and spiritual bankruptcy. So much for the idea that “I will be happy when I become rich.” Wiser minds speak of the “curse of riches.” Solomon in calls it “a grievous evil under the sun.” Materialism isn’t owning things, but being owned by things.

In the late 1800’s, an American tourist visiting Poland was welcomed at the home of a learned Rabbi, Hofetz Chaim. He was surprised to find the Rabbi’s home was a simple room filled with books, plus a table and bench. He asked, “Rabbi, where is your furniture?” “Where is yours?” replied the Rabbi. “Mine?” asked the puzzled American. “but I’m a visitor here; I’m only passing through.” “So am I”, said the Rabbi. Let’s not get too tied to this world, and we’re not home yet.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Quiet contemplation

In solitude we wait in the presence of God, away from cares and distractions, which is the heart of prayer, generating our conversations with God. In the quiet, consider the following:

· Think about what you need to hear from God…
· What do you lack/want from your spiritual life?
· How can you surrender to God?
· Is there some thing you’re holding back in your walk with God?
· Is there someone you need to reach out to?
· Are you in danger of spiritual indifference or apathy?
· Can you think of someone you need to forgive?
· Think about how the sacrifice of Christ touches your life.
· How do you deny yourself, take up the cross, and follow Christ?
· How can you increase your faith/trust?
· Consider with whom you might share your faith.
· What about God brings you comfort?
· What is your calling in life?
· What are you thankful for?
· How can you be a source of blessing to others?
· Is there anything about the Christian life that makes you uneasy?
· What is your greatest joy?
· What do you fear?
· What does God want you to do today?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

100 points

A man died and stood before the Pearly Gates. St Peter was there at a desk to greet him. Peter explained: “OK, here’s how it works. You need 100 points to make it into Heaven. You tell me all the good things you’ve done, and I will award a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.”

“All right”, the man said, “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and was faithful to her, and was a good provider.”

“That’s wonderful,” Peter answered. “That’s worth 3 points!”

“Only 3?” the man thought, a bit concerned. “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithes and volunteer service.”

“Excellent!” said Peter. “That’s certainly worth 2 points!”

The man at this point was definitely worried. He thought over his life carefully and said, “I was active in social programs in my community and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.”

“Terrific!” said Peter. “That’s good for 2 more points!”

Well, the man didn’t need to be a mathematician to realize he was in big trouble. “Just 2 more points? At this rate the only way I’m getting into Heaven is by the grace of God!”

Peter smiled, nodded and said, “Bingo--you just got 100 points! Come on in!”

Monday, June 23, 2008

God's questions

When God asks a question, it’s usually His way of inviting or encouraging His people to do some serious reflection, to draw them out...for example:

“Adam—where are you?” (Gen 3:9)
“Cain—where is your brother Abel?” (Gen 4:9)
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:4)
“Should I not be concerned about Ninevah?” (Jonah 4:11)
“Why are you here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:9)
“I am the Resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25)
“Where is your husband?” (John 4:16)
“Who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:20)
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” (John 6:7)
“Saul, why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:4)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

In praise of coffee

I realized how important coffee was to me, and just how much other knew this, one Sunday after church. As I made my way to the fellowship room, walking decisively toward the coffee table, the crowd parted like the Red Sea. “Am I that bad?” Yup.

But I’ve got a problem. I’m a Starbucks drinker in a decidedly Dunkin Donuts town (by the way, Starbucks coffee is “rich”, not “strong”). At last count there were at least a dozen DD places in Saugus (counting the small ones at gas stations and Home Depot). I think there’s a town ordinance that when you leave a DD you have to be able to see the next one.

And this affects church. Even though we have the coffee ready before church (to reward those who come to Sunday School), most people would show up with their DD in hand. We now buy the beans from Dunks and brew our own. I’m tempted to place a sign outside the church stating: “Now serving Dunkin Donuts,” or possibly changing the name of the church to Dunkin Congregational.

Theologically, the Seven Sacraments of Congregationalism are: Baptism, Communion, and five cups of coffee. It’s our “holy water”.

Every morning (6 am) I hang out at a local coffee shop (Panera, sorry, not DD) with a bunch of guys where we solve all the worlds problems and get caffeinated. One of our regulars forgot his wallet recently, which was excusable; how can anyone be responsible for anything B.C. (Before Coffee)?
As I prepare for worship, a local FM station plays a different Bach Cantata every Sunday morning, which has become part of my routine. Bach was my kind of guy. While nearly all his choral works are sacred, he wrote a cantata in praise of coffee. Knowing a bit of German, it’s even funnier hearing the singers exult over the joy of “kaffee”. One of the arias says, “Ei! wie schmeckt der kaffee süsse, lieblicher als tausend Küsse.” Translated: “Mm! how sweet the coffee tastes, more delicious than a thousand kisses.”

Surprisingly, even though coffee’s my favored beverage, I don’t over-do it. Two cups in the morning, and one after dinner is my rule, and it’s enough. I worked with a Major in the Army who was rushed to the hospital one day; he’d been drinking 15 cups a day. I think he asked for coffee in his IV. I also knew a soldier who, when it wasn’t possible to brew coffee in field operations, would take the instant coffee packet in his MRE and fold it in his lower lip (like Copenhagen)…pretty gross and hard-core. But if you don’t drink coffee in the military you can lose your security clearance.

I hope there’s coffee in Heaven. Part of “the fellowship of the saints” should be sitting around in a celestial coffee shop, talking over deep theological issues, and having a prayer together over a heavenly cup of coffee.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

What's that show really saying???

Take a few minutes and think about your favorite TV show...see if you can determine the show's worldview. Is the "world" the show's about one in which there's a God, and a sense of right and wrong, or is the philosophy of the show one in which values are arbitrary? If aliens from outer space were trying to figure us out by tapping into television transmissions, I wonder what they'd think. They might conclude that we're a culture devoid of any religious faith, where personal preferences have replaced convictions. Everyone has some kind of worldview, and unfortunately the secular voices of the media, education, and pop culture ignore religion or paint it as some anti-intellectual crutch. All the more reason to express our faith openly; how else will people hear the voice of faith?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

What I'd like to say to every graduate

Every day we’re faced with moral choices. The question of what’s right and wrong is always lingering around. You've had to make ethical decisions in school, and you'll continue to make them in life…even tougher choices. After you land a decent job and start making some money, you join the ranks of taxpayers. Let’s take two people preparing their taxes. Both are tempted to cheat but they don’t. One decides not to because there’s a fair chance of getting caught; the other doesn't cheat because it’s wrong.

A test of character is what it takes to stop you. Another test is what you’d do if you could get away with it. Ultimately our beliefs determine our behavior. If you believe there is such a thing as right and wrong, you’ll at least be somewhat influenced to live with some integrity, even if you don’t do it consistently. But if you really think there’s no such thing as morals, then you’ve nothing to stop you, except maybe the consequences of getting caught (if its against the law, and there’s lots of bad stuff that isn’t these days). You can’t have a moral conscience if you don’t believe in moral absolutes. Your conscience can’t be your guide if you believe “anything goes”. But if there is a God, and if He has a plan for life that includes a standard of living, then our behavior matters. We can’t just “do our own thing” without any consequences. If you don’t believe in moral absolutes, then all you’re left with is personal preferences, which can differ from one person to the next. Ethics are absolute, or arbitrary. If they’re absolute, they matter; if arbitrary, one guy’s opinion’s about as valid as the next. Does truth exist, or do we decide what’s true for us? Do we make our own rules? Many people do, because they’ve decided truth is relative.

When you go to the movies, you sometimes see some unrealistic bad guys who are very one-dimensional. They’re evil just for the sake of being evil. Most people don’t get up in the morning and ask themselves, “What would the devil do?” They don’t decide what is bad and then do it. That may be how some evil is portrayed, but it’s inaccurate and very unrealistic. Most “bad guys” do bad things because they think what they’re doing is OK. They’re convinced their behavior is right. They’re selfish because they believe pleasure is the best thing. Hitler was trying to create a master race by eliminating people he thought were inferior. And he decided the ends justified the means. What people believe--their worldview--can be scary. In life, the worldview of the guy next to you matters, and obviously so does yours.

Because there is a God, then truth exists, and it matters how we live. This means that God needs to be a vital part of your life. He will give your life meaning and purpose and hope. Jesus promised, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.” Have a terrific life as you turn the next page.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Rev. Wrong

According to media reports, Rev. Jeremiah Wright has charged that criticisms leveled at him are not about him, but are being launched against the black church itself, "by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition."

I was the Senior Pastor of two African-American Army Chapel congregations, called “Gospel Services” because they represent the collective Protestant worship of predominantly black denominations. The reason I served was because there were no African-American Chaplains available. In both instances I utilized numerous black soldiers who were ordained ministers to provide a good deal of the preaching. And we always had an awesome Gospel Choir. I learned a lot from the experience, to include a love for the African-American worship tradition.

I never offered or heard any political ideology from the pulpit during the years I served. I admit that perhaps this is due to the venue being a military chapel, but I suspect that the real reason is that most African-American preachers are too busy proclaiming the Gospel message to criticize the government. They may deal with social issues from time-to-time, but from a positive perspective. The only one I ever heard condemned was the devil, and no one ever suggested that he was someone in public office.

I once heard the President condemned in very harsh terms in a mostly white Protestant church in Tennessee. The speaker was criticizing a President I did not vote for. Nonetheless, I was deeply offended and to my regret, I lacked the nerve to stand up and walk out. I don’t think that would happen again.

The Bible is clear that we are to respect and pray for our governmental leaders. We did this in recently in my town at our National Day of Prayer observance. We did so without any partisanship, and we all left our politics at the door. We prayed, by name, for politicians whom some of us probably didn’t even like…and it didn’t matter. I think most people of faith, while they certainly have strong political opinions, do not feel that church is an appropriate place to be political. It’s admittedly tempting, especially in an election year--just as it is tempting to talk about the Red Sox in church during the World Series. But most churches focus on matters of eternal significance, and spiritual values that relate to the world around us. That’s as it should be.

The only thing political a minister should say in church is to urge the congregation to participate in the electoral process by knowing the issues, by supporting their candidates, and especially by voting. That’s it. I hang out at a local coffee shop most mornings with some buddies, where we attempt to solve all the world’s problems, but generally I try to keep my mouth shut regarding political matters, and stick to the Gospel. In my church we sing a verse of a patriotic song each Sunday out of respect for our nation, but we focus on honoring the Lord of the nations. We believe that we need to urge our nation to prayer and righteousness, as our founders did so long ago.

Turning nationalism into idolatry is wrong; so is condemning a nation that is trying to be “one nation, under God.” May God bless America.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tough questions in need of reflection

How will God accomplish His redemptive purpose? Will the One who loved us into existence abandon some of us in the end?

Is Hell eternal conscious torment? If so, how does God console the intolerable loss of believers who have non-believing friends and loved ones in Hell? In Heaven God will wipe all tears from our eyes. Will He remove the memories of lost friends and loved ones (some kind of amnesia)? Or will we somehow be convinced to rejoice even though we know our lost loved ones are forever suffering?

Punishment exists in eternity, but is it eternal? Does Hell go on forever? Or does God eventually determine that a million years in Hell is sufficient for a lifetime of rejecting His love on earth? Is punishment retributive or restorative?

One day “every knee will bow” before Christ confessing Him as Lord. Is this willingly, or by coercion? Will people be given another opportunity to be reconciled to God, even after death?

Who is in the “driver’s seat”? Who is sovereign? Us, or God? We pray, “Thy will be done.” Will God’s purpose fail? Or will God overcome the obstacles that human unbelief and wrong choices present? Will God convince and compel people to receive His love?

All roads do not lead to God, but will people be shown the error of their ways after death? Will those who were taught false religious systems be eternally condemned for their misguided ways, or brought to the Truth?

God’s desire is for all to be saved; He’s not willing that any should perish. Is the suffering of the lost a hollow victory for God? Can God be content knowing that much of His Creation is lost forever? Or will He not rest till all are reconciled to Him?

What are the limits (if any) of Christ’s atonement? Scripture says Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. Does our Savior's sacrificial death extend to them? Grace can be refused, but can human choice ultimately overrule God? Would God really grant people freedom to reject Him forever and suffer irreparable harm? Does Hell really have, as some suggest, a door locked on the inside?

Which is more reasonable--to view eternity through eyes filled with hope or despair?

Sunday, April 13, 2008


The facts about the Gospel message are important, but once we understand them, we should also want the Person who died so we might live. It’s similar to knowing your minister. I get calls from people all the time who basically are looking for a “Religious Service Provider” to conduct a wedding or baptism or funeral. They’re not interested in having a Pastor who knows them and cares about them. Once the procedure is done, they’re done. No on-going relationship. Some young people mistakenly think that after Confirmation they’ve met the requirements and they’re done, like graduating from school. But the Christian life is never over. It’s a commitment to a lifetime of learning and growing and relating.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A dose of REALITY

Years ago I read William Glasser's book Reality Therapy. His basic idea is that we all have legitimate needs, but we often get them met with irresponsible behavior. We can get our needs met in better ways. When I see people involved in self-destructive lifestyles I want to tell them that, while their needs are valid, how they're getting them met isn't. Life works so much better when we're doing healthy things. God gave us His law, not to make our lives miserable, but so that we can have a better, more abundant life. It may not seem like that, especially when all we see of Christianity is a list of "thou-shalt-nots". But God really has our best interests in mind. We can enjoy life to the fullest when we choose His will, and say "yes" to Him.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Lent--don't just give up something, DO something!

-Display a picture of the death of Christ in your home or office space.
-Make a list of ten people you’ll pray for daily during Lent.
-Memorize Bible verses about Jesus’ sacrifice, recite them when saying family grace.
-Make a table-top Easter Egg tree (the egg is a symbol of new life) with Christian symbols.
-Display a palm cross in your home or on your front door, and/or a banner proclaiming the victory of Christ.
-Observe a family Passover Seder or foot-washing in your home; include singing.
-Construct a crown of thorns for display and contemplation.
-Pin sequins on a thick candle; on one side, a cross, on the other, spell out JOY.
-Make (or buy) hot cross buns
-Play a recording of Handel’s Messiah or attend a sacred music concert.
-Read a devotional book; give one to a friend.
-Participate in a small group Bible study; carry your Bible with you.
-Give up something pleasurable during Lent to show repentance for your sins. This is not to gain favor with God but to show we’re under His Lordship and we identify with our Savior’s sufferings.
-Wear religious jewelry as an expression of your faith.
-Visit an art gallery, taking special note of its sacred art.
-Set aside a day for prayer and fasting.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

"I don't need to go to church to be spiritual"

I usually hear this explanation when asked to perform a wedding for someone who doesn't attend church. If you can worship God outside of church, how exactly do you do it?
  • How much time do you spend weekly in prayer?
  • How often do you read the Bible?
  • What kind of religious education program are you pursuing?
  • What religious training are you providing your children?
  • What religious fellowship activities are you involved in?
  • How often do you sing God's praises?
  • What are you giving to God in terms of your time, talent, & treasure?
  • How often do you share your faith with others?
  • What kinds of social ministries are you assisting?
  • How many hurting people do you comfort and encourage?
  • How do you remember Christ's sacrificial death without Holy Communion?
  • What do you do with the holy seasons of the year (Lent, Advent, etc)?
  • Who do you call on when hospitalized or in need of counsel?
  • How conscious of God are you in times of solitude?
  • Do you really focus on God when your enjoying some natural setting, or do you merely relax, enjoying the scenery?
  • Is recreation an act of worship, or is it focused on your own comfort?

"Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

What does it take to build a church?

There are 5 essential building blocks...

Church is a place where God is taken seriously. What we do on Sunday is directed God-ward; we benefit from being here, but God is the audience we’re hoping most to please. In worship we interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves. There’s something much bigger than our needs going on. Worship is also our attempt to express the inexpressible. It is how we express to God our wonder and thanks. Worship enables us to experience reverence in the presence of God.

The church isn’t a classroom, but it is a place where we can grow in our understanding and application of God’s word. The only exams occur when we depart. If we’re not learning, we’re not growing spiritually. In church we engage our hearts and minds. We need a working-knowledge of the Bible, and church is a key place where that can occur.

Church is a family…we’re in this together! We don’t grow in isolation, but as we connect with others. The “seven sacraments” of Congregationalism are baptism, communion, and five cups of coffee! Fellowship is the relationship that defines how we will connect to one another in Heaven. It is the ministry of selflessly caring for one another. A large church took a survey and one of the questions was, “If your minister left, would you leave?” 93% said “no” and the reason was, “Because I have friends here.” Our message to the community needs to be simply and clearly: “If you come here, we’re going to love you.”

We’re saved to serve; passive attendance isn’t good for anyone. We grow by finding ways of serving the Lord and using our talents for Him. A young woman admitted that, “It was easier to stay anonymous and aloof than to do the hard, intimate work of actually becoming part of a church” (Lauren Winner). God wants our active involvement, for our own good. “A non-ministering Christian is a contradiction in terms” (Rick Warren).

Churches that don’t reach out die out! We exist for others. We may not all be evangelists, but we can all share our faith. If we can talk to people about sports and politics, restaurants and movies, we can talk about our Savior. And we don’t have to be perfect to do this. “The church is not made up of spiritual giants; only broken people can lead others to the Cross” (David Bosch). The greatest thing we can do for someone is to introduce them to our Savior. If we really believe the Gospel is Good News, we wouldn’t want to keep it from others. We should strive to be: a voice through which Christ speaks, a hand through which Christ helps, and a heart through which Christ loves.

Are we mobilized to fulfill the Great Commission? Our purpose is to make disciples. There are many un-churched people wandering aimlessly in life, spiritually lost, without direction, without God and without hope. The church is the great Lost and Found department.