Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Hard Week

Judah Ray Jones
This past week has been one of the hardest weeks I have ever experienced in my life.  Over the past month, I've preached about how our backgrounds may not be great, but God has a greater destiny for us.  I've spoken about how we may not know everything but we should act on what we know to bring glory to the Lord.  Just last Sunday we explored how we feel like if we do right we will get right.  So if our circumstances aren't happening the way we thought or planned, we can feel God is not there working.  But that is not the truth.  This week we experienced the birth of our grandson Judah and all this truth has served as the foundation on which we have stood.

Since his conception, we have prayed for the Lord's hand to be on this little boy.  We didn't know his name yet.  But we believed (and still do) that God had (and has) a destiny for him that will honor the Lord.  In his first hour or two of life, there were moments of question whether that destiny was going to come to fruition, but God........

I had never heard some of the medical terms used to discuss the lung issues affecting Judah.   As they described what they were doing and the potential possibilities of what could happen, it was hard.   In the most critical moments, when we were watching the anguish of our son, Justin, as he was torn between deep concern for his wife and wondering if his son would survive, we didn't know what to do.  I have never felt such deep pain.  Never.  As a man you want to protect your family and alleviate the pain.  I had no power to do that.  So I acted on what I did know, that we have a Sovereign, loving Heavenly Father.  So I knelt on the floor in front of our son, pulled Pam and Jalonna around as well, and prayed through my tears with pain pulsing through my chest.  I boldly reminded myself and the Lord of His promises and asked for His will to be done in the life of this little boy and for our son and daughter-in-law.  And God........

Justin and Janelle had visions of how Judah's birth would take place and what those first moments of bonding would be like just like all parents.  None of it happened the way they pictured it.  In fact, everything was the exact opposite.  We have spent most moments the past few days weeping at the drop of a word.  But it is the most fascinating experience.  While some of the tears are flowing because of the shattered dream or struggles Judah has experienced in the first couple days of his life, most have come because of the overwhelming grace of God.  People have risen up to intercede from PA and WNY, from Africa (where his Aunt Sherrill is a missionary) to Israel (where a friend put a prayer in the Western Wall); from California to Michigan to Tennessee to Indiana and Ohio; from multiple denominations and churches.  And testimonies have suddenly surfaced of the early struggles of others with their children and these have been an encouragement.  Its God.......

This Pappy wanted to affirm today that God is trustworthy, His Word is true, and He is a present help in times of trouble.  Its not always easy but He is God. And we will always praise Him.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Salvation: Our Action or God's?

Assurance of our salvation is an issue for some.  Can I know for sure that I have done enough to be acceptable to the Lord?  In a similar vein, when we have conversations with people about a relationship with Christ, many believe they can do enough good to be acceptable to God.

So how much of our salvation depends on our actions and how much is God's action?

Here is what the Scriptures say:

2 Timothy 1:  8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

Titus 3:  3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

Ephesians 2:  8 For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Colossians 2:  13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

Isaiah 64:  4 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf,  and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

God is amazing.  We are not deserving of anything because of our sin.  And nothing "good" we do is acceptable to pay the debt of our sin against the holiness and righteousness of God because it is all like filthy rags in comparison.  Yet God's grace "makes us alive" and gives us the opportunity to respond to Him by faith.  He forgives our sins based on Christ's death on the cross.

So our salvation is a work of the love, grace and mercy of Almighty God toward and in us.  And if it were not for His grace, we couldn't even respond to Him because we are dead in our sin.  Our salvation does not rest on us being acceptable to God by doing good.  That way none of us can boast about anything except the gift of God we have been given.  And any good that flows out of us after that is God carrying out His workmanship through us.

If you have received Him, thank Him.  If you have friends who are trying to earn their way to God and wonder if they have done enough, tell them.  Its all about God's amazing grace.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Its Time

1 Peter 4: 12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[a]

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

Its time. Judgment has begun. In fact, it has been going on for some time. But as we edge nearer to the end of time, it will increase. Just as those in Peter's day were facing "fiery ordeals," we face some today. Believers like our pastor friend Cedric are boldly preaching Christ in increasingly dangerous environments. We can pray for them.

We also will and do face some testings of various kinds. And what words of encouragement do we find here?

1. We get to share in the sufferings of Christ. And as we do that He reveals His glory in it. Notice what is said: When we are insulted for the sake of Christ, His Spirit of glory and of God rests on us.

2. We get to praise God for the opportunity to bear His name.

3. We get to understand the concept of eternal rewards. In quoting Proverbs 11:31, Peter is underscoring that the righteous will receive some of their rewards while here on the earth. This is in keeping with Jesus' teaching that the meek will inherit the earth. So while we receive some blessings now, the rewards that await us later are far greater. In the same way, the consequences the wicked receive now are only a taste and will be far greater for them in eternity.

This is why we are encouraged in the face of suffering to commit ourselves to our faithful Creator and keep doing good. Ever wonder where the phrase "whole hog" comes from? I believe it came from a conversation a chicken and pig had one time about a ham and eggs breakfast. The pig reminded the chicken that for the chicken that breakfast involved a contribution but for the pig it meant whole hog.

Let's not grow tired or discouraged but rather rejoice that we can be whole hog for our Savior, keeping eternity in view. Its time.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Consider This

One day unplugged and my inbox is jammed with over 100 emails.  I'm talking really important stuff, like 3 invitations to Farmville from my Facebook account; 7 spam messages claiming I have won millions; advertisements I never asked to receive.  I have texts, tweets, voice messages and Instagrams to either view or listen to.

I stopped to look at my calendar to try to find time to have coffee with someone and can't seem to carve out an hour slot for the next two weeks.  What is wrong with this picture?

We live in a culture of over-communication.  We are so connected that we are disconnected and distracted.  We exchange words without exchanging meaningful dialog.  Some people have forgotten (or never learned) how to have a meaningful conversation face to face with someone.  We are exposed to an estimated 500 to 2000 messages a day.  And we aren't geared to process all that.

We also live in a culture of over-commitment.  Too many "yeses" and not enough "no's."  So much to do and not enough time.  We look for moments to cram more into and miss decades.  We refuse the discipline of limiting ourselves and our children to less options.  The story I usually hear from families involves traveling leagues; musicals; tutoring; camps; overtime; community involvements.  Important things and relationships are sacrificed on the altar of "just a little bit more."

We also live in a culture of confusion.  As one writer put it:

Cultural confusion results from a growing lack of consensus about what is proper or appropriate in given circumstances. If people get the idea that there are no society-wide or community-wide standards of behavior and comportment that one really ought to follow, not because one might otherwise be punished but because it is simply the right thing to do, cultural confusion can result: There seems to be no answer to many of life’s daily questions of manners, etiquette, and propriety. People might come to conclude that more or less anything goes in the service of people’s individual preferences—as a former professor of mine put it, “you should do whatever you can get away with.” Although this kind of freedom may gratify and serve the individual in the moment, it threatens social order in the long run.

  In such a culture, Jesus said we are to come to Him and He will "give us rest."  But how?  The essence of it is this:  He will simplify our lives around His purposes.  We can turn off all streams of communication that don't keep us connected or informed about His mission and those we are engaging.  Second, He gives us the ability to sift through the infinite possibilities of commitments to those He has outlined for us.  Again, simplification, the ability to say "no" to over-commitment.  And finally, He clarifies life for us and gives us a consistent standard to live by.

Jesus brings rest.  Satan brings rush.  Jesus teaches with clarity.  Satan desires to keep us in confusion.  Jesus loves us eternally.  Satan leads us to exhaustion and frustration and ultimately, death.

I encourage us to unplug from the over the top life and plug into the real life found in Jesus Christ.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ebb and Flow

   Ever notice the ebb and flow of life.  High times and low times.  Times of great success and times of set back.  Times where we take giant steps forward to times where it feels like we are stuck or losing ground.  It is funny how in the upswing times we feel invincible and in the other times we feel like we are abandoned by God or missing His blessing.  But the work of God is demonstrated over time.

Haggai was a prophet during the time after the Israelites had returned to the land following their captivity in Babylon. (Set back)  They were trying to recover and the first job was to rebuild the temple.   They got discouraged in the endeavor and started to back off, allowing their energies and attention to be diverted to other things.  They were remembering happier days, days of glory in their past.  When we are in ebb times, we tend to lament back to our past rather than focus on the fulfillment of God's promises now and in the future.

Haggai asked the old folks among them, those who had been taken 70 years earlier as young people, if they remembered the former glory?  They did.  And this place looked nothing like the glorious place they once knew.  He then reminded them of the covenant God made when they came out of Egypt.  Did they remember that?  It should be their motivation to work because all that God said in that covenant was true.  He then spoke God's word of encouragement to them:

6 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. 8 ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LordAlmighty. 9 ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

EVERYTHING is His.  And He will bring His glory back to this place.  So when we are in ebb times of life, we must avoid becoming paralyzed by lamenting the glories of days past.  We must hold firm to the promises of God and work in light of the coming glory.  And His glory and peace will abide there.

God says, "I am with you and my Spirit remains among you."  Therefore we don't have to fear.

So let's get up, work and watch in anticipation as the glory of the Lord is revealed.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Life Lines

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:Who, being in very nature[a] God,    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;rather, he made himself nothing    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.And being found in appearance as a man,    he humbled himself    by becoming obedient to death        even death on a cross!   Philippians 4:5-8

Life is all about relationships.  Our relationships enhance our lives.  There are some people that use relationships to draw out things for themselves.  Their lives are all about them.  Their conversations revolve around themselves and their experiences.  And they hardly ever show real  interest in the other person.

All this description goes against what God says about relationships.  We are to have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.  He showed what it is to have true desire for relationship with others, even for others who are estranged from us.  What does this mindset involve?

It begins with not thinking about ourselves but rather emptying ourselves of self.  Then we are free to pour into others.

It takes humility.  This is reflected more in how we relate to others.  Rather than looking to get something from others we look to serve others for their good.  And that good is found in obedience to God's will, no matter what it takes.  For Him, it was obedience to the point of dying on the cross for us.

The amazing thing about having this mindset is that we find all our relationships more fulfilling because they are valued by what we do for others rather than what we get out of them for us.  I am blessed everyday by the relationship opportunities God gives me.  I pray that I may be found faithful for these special gifts from God.  They are the essence of life.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Life Takes Training

When I was in Junior High, my basketball coach was fairly hard core.  We weren't tall, so our game had to be based on speed.  We had to be quick to the ball when it was loose and get down the court faster than our opponents.  If we couldn't jump higher than them, we had to be there to box them out further from the basket.  In a tough environment, you have to train to win.

One practice after a game where the coach felt we coasted and lost the game because of it, we ran.  And we ran.  Suicide after suicide (ball players may know what this is, and it isn't fun).  Sprint after sprint.  I still picture my friend Mark's face as pale as a sheet and guys doubled over ready to pass out.  We never coasted in a game again.  And I would argue that we were in better shape than most any team we faced.  I didn't appreciate the approach at the time, but it trained us for battle.

Parents, we are to "train" our children (Ephesians 6:4).  Christian, we are to "train" in order to win the prize that doesn't fade away. (I Timothy 4:7-8); be trained in righteousness by the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16); train ourselves so we can distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:4); and view any hardship we face in life as discipline, or a part of our training (Hebrews 12:11).

Training involves discipline.  Training our children is not taking them to church and trying to be good people at home.  Training is knowing your child, instructing them in the Bible, understanding how they think and where they need correction; directing them; helping them learn proper eating, handling of money and developing healthy relationships, all in a way that honors Christ.  It is taking time with them, helping them develop their minds and hearts in godliness.

Training takes time, effort and intentionality.  Training is discipline.  It takes exercising your mind, body and soul.  Training requires correction and rebuking for things that are not right.  Training takes constant encouragement, support and mentoring.  It is the daily task of life.

Many of us weren't trained, we were raised.  And many of us avoid training today because we don't want to put forth the effort.  But the harvest of training is a righteous life.  And isn't that the goal?  Not a righteous life that comes from us, but from the Father who trains us.

Let's not just do life or raise our kids.  The time is short.  Let's be in training and train those around us.  Rather than falling into the trap of thinking we must sin and our children must sow their wild oats, let's stand strong in Christ and prepare them so that the stories of brokenness do not have to be passed down from generation to generation.

But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s childrenPsalm 103:17

Friday, March 8, 2013

Holy Land Tour - February 10-23, 2014

Imagine yourself in this picture.  You are at the top of the Mount of Olives, looking down on the Old City of Jerusalem.  You are about to walk down the Palm Sunday trail, hearing the faint voices of people shouting "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord."  At the bottom of the hill you walk into the Garden where Jesus prayed, "Father, not my will but yours be done."  Later you walk the very stones where Jesus walked, and the Bible comes alive before you.

Our Holy Land tour for 2014 will be different than any Pam and I have led.  We will begin our journey by heading south upon entering the land of Israel and following the journey of the Israelites up out of Egypt.  Our first night will be by the Dead Sea.  Following a morning dip in the Dead Sea, we will then visit Qumran where the Dead Sea scrolls were found; Masada; and travel south to the port city of Eilat.  We will spend two days here, visiting the Tabernacle set up in the wilderness; ride camels into the desert for those who desire; and scuba, snuba or simply enjoy sunshine in the midst of the Buffalo winter.  We will then cross into Jordan, taking in Petra, Mt. Nebo and one or two other sites before spending the night near Amman.  We then will cross back into Israel, visiting the ancient city of Bet Shan and traveling north along the Jordan River Valley until we reach the Sea of Galilee and the city of Tiberias.  We will spend three nights here, touring Jesus' hometown, the cities He ministered in, the Mt. Of Beatitudes, take a ride across the Sea of Galilee; visit the Golan Heights and the three northern borders of Israel; Caesarea Philippi where Peter made his profession of faith in Jesus; Capernaum; Cana; Nazareth; and have the opportunity for people to get baptized in the Jordan River.  We will then head along the Via Maris (the way of the Sea) to Megiddo, Mt. Carmel; Caesarea, Joppa and then up into Jerusalem.  Our last four days and nights will be taking in all the treasures of this ancient city; Bethlehem; the Elah Valley where David slew Goliath; visit with our pastor friend Steven Khoury; and make our way back to Tel Aviv and home.  The price for this fourteen day trip includes air; bus transportation; lodging, buffet breakfasts and dinners; guide; entrance fees; all tips; and health insurance.  A $300 deposit is due by June 15th to reserve your place on the trip.  A more detailed itinerary, including hotel links, a FAQ section, and additional travel info is available by contacting me at  Anyone is welcome to go, so if you have friends, family, or co-workers who have expressed an interest at some point, the trip is open to anyone.  We have room for the first 30 people who register.