Saturday, November 26, 2011

Christ's Love and Puzzles

We began a 1000 piece puzzle yesterday.  It is based on a murder mystery and as you put the puzzle together you get clues as to "who dun it." There are times pieces seem to fit, but they don't.  We had no picture to go by, so we had to go piece by piece in putting patterns, colors, and words together.  Little by little pieces of the puzzle came together.  The picture was becoming more clear. 
   You have to be patient and persistent in working one of these things.  If you stare at the chaos long enough to find "the" piece, it all becomes a blur.  But if you are consistent in trying to capture the patterns it eventually comes together.  The pieces seem to come to you.
   In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul says, "The love of Christ compels us. . .   We are Christ's ambassadors. . . "  Because of what Christ has done for us, we are compelled to help others put the puzzle of life together.  Sometimes we get so focused on one piece for them, and we get frustrated when we can't find it.  We forget that Christ is working to bring the pieces together.  So we can patiently look for the pattern, the parts that seem to be coming together at this point that will give a glimpse of the greater whole.  Encouraging them through the process, standing beside them, and pointing out the "little victories" along the way helps them stick with it.  They begin to see Jesus more and more clearly until they finally "get it."  And life falls in place the way God intended.
   It reminds me to let the compelling love of Christ motivate me not to give up and not allow those I care about to give up.  Sometimes we have to change perspectives in looking at the pieces or even take a little time pulling back.  But we don't give up until the picture become clear.
   Come to think of it, its time to get back at it.  Our mystery is not solved yet.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Harvest Time

I love history.  When I was younger, I was taught that our Thanksgiving Day observance goes back to 1621, the first harvest after the Pilgrims arrived.  Pictures of Indians and Pilgrims together fill my mind.  And then I found that while this is a neat picture, it is not the real story.  Thanksgiving Day actually comes from events two years later in 1623.  The Pilgrims had moved from a communal approach to every family planting their own crops.  These individual farm plots were successful up until a hot late summer with little or no rain.  The crops wilted.  Gov. Bradford called the community to prayer and the Lord responded with rain.  The crops rebounded and the harvest was plentiful.  They celebrated a day of Thanksgiving to the Lord.
   Psalm 42 reminds me of the wilting times of life.  I read it this morning again.  At one point, the psalmist lamented:  These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. 
He then pauses amidst his depression and acknowledges the Lord's presence in his life.  His affirmation was this:  By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me--a prayer to the God of my life.  That is like having the rain fall on the wilted crops.  He then comes to a powerful, hope-filled conclusion:  Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.  Harvest time is coming when a day of Thanksgiving can be celebrated.
   On this Thanksgiving day, I know there are some who are in the wilted time.  Struggles, broken relationships, grief, financial challenges loneliness.  While any sensitive heart would wish we could take those seasons away for others, the reality is we can't.  But we can encourage one another as Gov. Bradford and the community did, by seeking the Lord with each other.  Today, we pray for you who are in the wilted time, crying with you for "rain" to come from the Lord.  As we put our hope in the Lord in the midst of the depressed times, we can be reassured that harvest time is coming. 

"I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God." 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Standing in the Road

I was reading one of my favorite stories today and had to ask myself a question:  Am I as aware and smart as a donkey?  Strange question I know.  But if you read Numbers 22-24 you may ask the same.  A Moabite king wanted a diviner/prophet to curse God's people Israel.  They were willing to pay handsomely for it.  They were afraid that God's people were going to take them over.  Balaam, the prophet, refused to go with them at first, and then agreed.  As he went, the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him.  Balaam did not see the angel, but his donkey did.  Three times the donkey turned to go away from the angel and three times Balaam, thinking the donkey was being stubborn, beat him to get him back on track.  Then the Lord opened two things:  the mouth of the donkey to speak and the eyes of Balaam to see.
   I laugh to think of a man talking back to his talking donkey.  But I cry to realize that I can be like Balaam.  The angel told Balaam:

32 The angel of the LORD asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me.33 The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.”

Sometimes the path we are on is reckless and God works behind the seen to oppose it so we are not destroyed.  A donkey can see it clearly.  But I may not.

I pray today that my eyes would be open to see the danger in the road I am on, or at least that I would be open to hear the warnings of any donkey God sends to question what I am doing.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Intentional.  We use that word a lot.  About our personal lives and about church life.  They are very parallel.  Today we spoke of the joy of the Lord, that He is God and He bids us to enter His presence with joy.  He is good.  Now to that word:  intentional.

   I feel almost overwhelmed by how good the Lord has been to us.  Operation Christmas Child; the giving of turkeys, coats and shoes; the 12 hour fast the kids did raising over $2500; the "Do Good" flash mob and campaign giving away over $5000; visions; protection in accidents; the Road to Christmas advent cooperative effort; the new classes being offered on Studying the Bible For Yourself and Christians and Depression; and the sharing of stories of thanksgiving and God's grace.  All of these are workings of the Lord in the hearts, heads and hands of His people.  But all these things represent us "engaging every person to become a passionate follower of Jesus Christ."  We are working hard at doing only what helps us achieve that goal.

   So I was thinking about that with personal life.  How intentional are we being at doing what will help us accomplish being doers of the Word and not hearers only?  Some people tell me they are upset at God for what has happened in their lives.  We must always honestly face the fact that some of those things are the fruit of decisions we have made or actions we have taken.  Even then God stands ready with forgiveness and grace if we ask.   In other things that are not by our choice, we can either see them as opportunities to see God "show up" or for us to grow up by trusting Him.  I believe the greater question is are we being intentional in living in Him?

I want to always make sure we are being intentional in church life so that every person has time, resources and encouragement to be intentional in their personal life in pursuing Him.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Couldn't Say It Better

Oswald Chambers has been one of the influential people in my life for a long time.  I was asked recently how to live out the life of Christ, like a part of the remnant of God in the land.  Oswald put it succinctly thus:

The test of the life of a saint is not success, but faithfulness in human life as it actually is. We will set up success in Christian work as the aim; the aim is to manifest the glory of God in human life, to live the life hid with Christ in God in human conditions. Our human relationships are the actual conditions in which the ideal life of God is to be exhibited.

 That's it.  It is a simple life and a challenging life.  The pressures are always present to get caught up in things that don't matter.  Living this kind of life will render you unnoticeable generally but will draw people to you because the Lord is oozing out of you.  Success is determined not by numbers, awards, acknowledgements or articles.  The sole determinant of success is whether the glory of God is being manifested in your life. 

I have to ask each day which I desire:  to be noticed or to have Christ be noticed in me?  The free and gloriously joy-filled life is the second.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Moving Forward

It has been said that if you are not moving forward you are moving backwards.  I agree.  If we think we are treading water or staying steady, I have found about the time you think you are keeping up the finish line moves and you are further behind.  Change is not an option. Neither is personal growth. 

So why do I think we as a congregation are moving forward? 

There are so many people who are taking seriously their personal growth in knowing and applying the Word of God to their daily life.  And the transformations are evident.  It is so exciting to watch and hear.

We are not afraid to change.  We embrace the need for change and are seeking ways to be effective.  And we are finding change is fun.

We are unleashing the troops even more.  Upwards Sports and Operation Christmas Child are two stunning examples.  Lay led, both are making a huge impact.  In fact, OCC, without direct staff leadership, is going to go beyond all levels of giving in previous years.  Your generosity and the excellent team effort make the difference.

We most of all are sensing, yearning for, and seeing the Spirit of God move among us in fresh ways.  Everything else would be meaningless apart from this. 

We will continue on this path, and the fruit will come as the Lord brings it.  And along the way, the joy of the Lord will be our strength. 

Let's spur each other on toward love and good deeds, never forsaking meeting together and encouraging one another.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Recurring Thoughts

For the past few days I have had some of the same thoughts floating through my head.  Dangerous, I know.  Glimpses here.  Pieces there.  But the same theme and goal.  So before I lose it all, I wanted to get it down.  I'm sure it will be a continual work in progress.  I just had to form it initially so I can view it again.  Feel free to help me process it.

   James comes to the end of his letter stating that the "prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."  I hear people speak of that phrase emphasizing that the more righteous we are, the more powerful our praying is.  But the more I study it, the key is not the righteousness of the man but the righteousness attributed to the man by God.  And therefore the praying is powerful because the man is closer to knowing the mind and heart of the Lord.  Peter states in his first letter that the prophets were searching intently trying to figure out what "the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing to" when He predicted the suffering of the Christ.  They were able to speak powerfully, not because they were so gifted but because they were walking closer to Christ and He was transforming them.

Here is the heart of my thoughts.  The health and wealth gospel, the name it and claim it crowd, and the purely attractional "come see what God wants to give you so you can feel good" group, have all done a disservice to the essence of the Gospel.  I know that is not earth-shattering.  But hear me out.  Every event in my life, including my challenges, my defeats, my achievements, my dreams, my everything, is meant to force me closer to absolute dependence upon and offering of praise to, the One who created me for His glory.  Peter describes it as  the "goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls."  (1 Peter 1:9)  So I'm never a victim because He is using the circumstance to either break me or help me trust Him more.  I'm never alone because He will never leave me or forsake me.  I'm not a loser because we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  The only purpose I have in life is to learn to trust Him and do whatever He says so that He is glorified in my life.  I'm not an authority in and of myself, I live under His authority.  I'm not a spiritual superstar because as John the Baptist said, "He must increase and I must decrease."  I'm not fighting for my rights because I have none.  I stand for His truth not matter the cost.  I live thinking about knowing Him and not what He can and does do for me.

Again, not new thoughts.  Just a feeling that they are essential thoughts being neglected.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Can't Wait

I have had the privilege over the past year to develop a more intimate working relationship and fellowship with three pastors in our area:  Roderick Hennings from Zion Dominion Global Ministries; Marty Macdonald from The City Church in Batavia and Jerry Gillis from The Chapel.  I am thrilled that the four churches are joining together for a special advent series called The Road to Christmas
Here is a video that explains the why:

In addition, the four churches are also working together to touch the community in a campaign called "Do Good."  Here is an explanation for that:

I believe this is an historic time in the Western New York area.  And the Spirit of God is working to bring His church together.  Join us in catching the Spirit and walk with Him in it.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Who Defines Our Faith?

My heart was broken this morning as I read a lead story of a bankrupt church's request.  The Crystal Cathedral was requesting that food be donated by parishioners for Mrs. Schuller because she is suffering from pneumonia.  A normal benevolent request.  But the food would be delivered by limo even though the church has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  The story also stated that the family has taken lavish salaries despite the financial picture.  I'm not casting stones.  Really.  I am calling for us to ask who defines a true picture of church and faith. 
   Steven Khoury told us that to maintain integrity when challenged about his support of Israel, he states clearly that some actions by the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) are wrong.  But those actions do not define his Biblical covenant support of Israel.  As Paul put it in Romans, Not all Israel is Israel.  In the same way, the actions of the Schullers do not define the church.  When there is anyone who claims to be a Christian and yet acts in ways that brings shame to the Name of Christ or His church, they do not define the church.  Some critics will say they do.  But remember that Jesus stated that there will be people like that whom He will clearly say, I never knew you.  

 We must stand firm on the true Biblical definition of who and what the church is. We can never defend or explain away sinful actions or abuses by those who claim a commitment to Christ.  If we do, we lose credibility.  The Lord is doing powerful things through His Church and we can glory and stand in that.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Absolute Loyalty to Jesus

I am crucified with Christ. . . .  That single phrase from Galatians 2:20 begs a practical question:  Is my absolute loyalty to Jesus Christ or not?  The question in most people's minds seems to be if Jesus Christ is absolutely loyal to me and not me to Him. 

   Loyalty means that I desire to know His heart.  It means I do what He wants.  It means that my relationship with Him takes first priority over all other relationships.  It means I speak up to others when He moves me to speak, without shame or hesitancy.  Loyalty means if asked to do something immoral, unethical or illegal, I don't.  Loyalty means I don't move in with my boyfriend or girlfriend before marriage just because it saves money.  Loyalty means that I pursue knowing what God desires of me by studying the Bible.  Loyalty means that I prioritize and am intentional about the things that are important to the Lord rather than assuming its ok to move those things to the back burner in lieu of other things.  Loyalty means that if a choice needs to be made between a friendship or standing with Jesus, Jesus wins. 
   Steven Khoury, our Arab Pastor friend who spoke this past weekend demonstrated that loyalty to Jesus may mean a beating; being disowned by your family; threats; and loneliness.  But there is no other way to live.  I am crucified with Christ.
   So let's ask it again:  Am I absolutely loyal to Jesus Christ?  Jesus has already demonstrated His absolute loyalty to us.  But God demonstrated His own love toward us in this:  while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  What would it mean for me to move from where I am to absolute loyalty?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

IF Silence is Golden; This must be Fort Knox

I've been away from this blog for so long I almost forgot I had it.  But I've been feeling the need to have a place to process some of the things I've been thinking.  So I'm back; and hope to be more consistent.

I've been in a number of conversations lately where I've concluded that there are many people who live with both fantasies and perceived losses.  They perceive that either through tragic events in their past or unfulfilled dreams now that they have missed something.  So they take steps to fill the gap.  While spending the money, playing with the toys or pursuing the forbidden relationship, they live in an unreal world where they are being "fulfilled."  That is where the rub comes.  To pursue the things to fill the void, people steal time, energy, resources and creativity from their spouse, their family, or their work.  Or all of them at the same time.  And while their fantasy "feels" more fulfilling, they are missing the opportunity to see what their reality would be if they had invested all those resources into their marriage, their family or their career. 

The sad thing is that the trust and character that are lost in the process are hard to rebuild.  It would be far less painful and far more productive to humbly draw on the grace of God to do the work of relationship with those you love then to pursue a fantasy world.  And the only way to resolve a hole in your heart from a past tragedy is to lose yourself in the person of Jesus Christ, the Healer of all wounded hearts.