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Posts from the ‘Food for Thought’ Category

Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor – A League of Their Own

Love Your NeighborKey Bible Verse: “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'”Matthew 25:40

Dig Deeper: Matthew 25:31-46

On his way to work one day, Chicago insurance broker Bob Muzikowski saw a derelict ball field full of trash in a gang-infested neighborhood. The kids there could use a real Little League to play in, he thought. He teamed up with a friend to create the Near North Little League. In “pretty wild” early practice sessions, coaches dealt with 250 boys long on enthusiasm but short on fundamentals. Each game began with a prayer. Cursing was strictly forbidden.

“While I had no illusions that I’d change the world, I had no doubt that God wanted me to play baseball with these kids,” said Muzikowski, converted not long before. “My faith had taught me that being a Christian means truly believing what Jesus said about loving my neighbor.”

The next year, 400 kids joined the league. Today 900 fatherless kids in 100 Little League teams are learning self-respect and community values. Reporters wonder why a wealthy businessman lives among the poor, coaching other people’s kids. Muzikowski answers, “Jesus didn’t say, ‘When you’ve paid someone to do it unto the least of these. …’ What he said was, ‘when you have done it. …'”

—Charles Colson in How Now Shall We Live?

My Response: I will take time to reflect on today’s Key Bible Verse, prayerfully considering how the verse applies to me and my own neighborhood.

Thought to Apply: I never knew how to worship until I knew how to love.—Henry Ward Beecher(preacher, orator, writer)

Adapted from How Now Shall We Live? (Tyndale, 2004).

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, open my eyes to the needs of my neighbors; move my heart to reach out, serve, and share your love in everyday ways.

 

 

Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor – Meeting the Need

Love Your NeighborKey Bible Verse: Seeing the people, he felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited.  – Matthew 9:36, NASB

Dig Deeper: Matthew 9:35-38

A Sunday school class planned a ministry activity to sort and organize items donated to a shelter for battered women. The shelter is a secret location where women and children stay, temporarily when they have escaped dangerous living situations. They often bring few items with them—and have nothing with which to care for themselves or their children. People from the community donate clothing and useful items, but the shelter staff was too busy to organize them and use them.

So the Sunday school class from a local church sorted and rearranged the sheds and listed what was available. They found many items the shelter and its residents needed immediately.

As they worked, some of them talked with women who were staying at the shelter. Others talked with the children. At the end of the day, they joined hands and prayed with the supervisor of the center. To follow up, one person from the class found donated Bibles for the women to read at the shelter and take with them as they leave.

—Bob Moffitt in If Jesus Were Mayor

My Response: What needs similar to the one above could my Sunday school class or men’s group help meet? How could I motivate others to join in this act of service?

Thought to Apply: Only a life lived in service to others is worth living.—Albert Einstein (theoretical physicist)

Adapted from If Jesus Were Mayor (Monarch, 2006).

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, open my eyes to the needs of my neighbors; move my heart to reach out, serve, and share your love in everyday ways.

 

 

Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor – Eyes Wide Open

Love Your NeighborKey Bible Verse: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  – Luke 10:27

Dig Deeper: Luke 10:25-37

Shayne and Corey Earley were born with a rare genetic condition that practically guarantees they’ll never see their fifth birthday. They have to be fed intravenously and must be aspirated frequently to help them breathe. The cost of caring for Shayne and Corey has been astronomical. Before long, the Earleys found almost all of their income going to the boys’ care and were unable to pay their bills and their mortgage.

As neighbors learned of the Earleys’ plight, they started to help out. One resident dealt with their creditors and got them off the Earleys’ backs. Another resident organized fund-raising events for the Earleys, and a local garage fixed their cars for free.

Love your neighbor as yourself. Men, let’s keep our eyes open for those who may be in need. It could be a homeless person, a lonely senior citizen struggling to get by, or a young person who has trouble fitting in. Let’s teach our kids the value of helping someone out, as well. Serve in a soup kitchen as a family, take meals to a shut-in, invite a lonely person over for dinner, or just put an arm around a hurting child. Let’s use the example of the people [in this story] as an inspiration to extend a hand of friendship to someone in need.

—Bill McCartney in 4th and Goal

My Response: I will keep my eyes wide open for opportunities to serve.

Thought to Apply: Your neighbor is the man who needs you.—Elbert Hubbard (writer, publisher)

Adapted from 4th and Goal (Tyndale, 2002).

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, open my eyes to the needs of my neighbors; move my heart to reach out, serve, and share your love in everyday ways.

 

 

Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor – Dishing Out Service

Love Your NeighborKey Bible Verse: “Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:16

Dig Deeper: Matthew 5:13-16

The group Ken leads from his church went to Bob’s Big Boy restaurant for dessert one evening. As they ate, they couldn’t help but notice the harried look on their waitress’s face.

“Are you okay?” someone asked as she whizzed by.

“I’m okay, it’s just that our dishwasher quit tonight and all the servers are now serving and washing. It’s a little overwhelming. …”

That was all the information Ken’s group needed. As soon as they finished their pie, they sprang into action. Two took on the dishwasher, several toted plastic dish containers.

The waitress walked past the head volunteer dishwasher in the kitchen and with a startled look on her face asked, “Aren’t you the guy at table 10? Why are you back here, doing dishes?”

“Because you needed some help! We believe God’s love is better shown than just talked about.”

“But I don’t think we can let you just do the dishes like this. I’d better check with the boss.”

Within a few minutes that waitress had begun gossiping the gospel to all the other servers: “They’re doing it to show us God’s love. …”

—Steve Sjogran in Changing the World Through Kindness

My Response: Opportunities to serve in small ways surround me every day. What could I do about it?

Thought to Apply: Kindness has converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence, or learning.—Frederick W. Faber (British priest, hymn writer)

Adapted from Changing the World Through Kindness (Regal, 2005).

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, open my eyes to the needs of my neighbors; move my heart to reach out, serve, and share your love in everyday ways.

 

 

Christians and Racism: 2 Views

Here are two articles with two different perspectives on Christians and racism that are worth the time to read to help you decide where you stand on this pressing issue.

 

 


 

  • The first article, more typical of articles on this subject generally, is entitled, “White Christians Need to Stop Being Apathetic About Racism” by Carl Lentz.

Here are a few excerpts from the article:

The pastor believes one of the reasons why many white Christians are not fighting for those who are hurting from racial inequality is that it will cost those believers money, acclaim, and power. Another is that some do not understand how to be a true peacemaker. To truly make peace instead of merely keeping it, said Lentz, “You have to go find war. You have to find trouble. You have to find the hurting in order to bridge this gap.”

He says that it would be helpful if believers fought racism with some of the principles we are using to fight COVID-19.  For example, we should act as though we were all racist, just as we have been acting as though we all might have the virus. “The reality is you could be more racist than you think,” he said. “I don’t think I’m a racist man. I don’t want to be, but I love you enough as my brother to go look at it again.”

It does not help to compare ourselves to others and to comfort ourselves by thinking that at least we are not as racist as other people are. What we should do is compare ourselves to God and whether we measure up to his love for justice. In the Old Testament, we see that God wants “oceans of it.”

“So unless I’m part of the oceans of justice team, I’m not doing enough,” said Lentz. “I’m a part of the problem.” When George Floyd was murdered, the pastor asked himself if he was contributing to the problem more than he was to the solution. He concluded the answer was yes and started making some practical changes.

These include taking teaching moments with his children, as well as marching in protests. Acho asked the pastor what he would say to a white person reluctant to march with a group of black people in a protest because it feels disingenuous. “Welcome to being black in America,” said Lentz, “to being the only person who doesn’t really know if you fit in.” The fact that a white person even has the option to choose not to participate is in itself an example of racism.


  • The second article posits the position that, rather than issue blanket condemnations, the more productive and Scriptural approach is to levy specific charges against specific actions.  The article is entitled, “If You Can’t Demonstrate Specific Sins, Drop the Race-Baiting Rhetoric”, by Grayson Gilbert.

Here are a few excerpts from the article:

He says that racism still rears its ugly head, no doubt.  It isn’t as if this sin is the one exception to the many sins which plague humanity.  Yet the way many speak on issues of race in the church today is as if it is single-handedly the sin which the majority of people, particularly white Evangelicals, are guilty of committing. Rather than giving concrete examples of particular, explicit forms of racism that need to be repented of, many cite the implicit racism in place in various systems and people groups, which they argue is at fault for any number of perceived social issues.

For those unaware of what implicit racism is, the basic premise is that despite your best intentions, you hold stereotypes and assumptions about people groups, which informs every aspect of your life.  You are de facto guilty of implicit racism simply by virtue of who you are as the dominate people group.  The problem with this entire line of thinking is that it assumes from the start that this is the case.

My honest assessment of the movement as it currently stands is that it is designed to be an emotionally manipulative tool in order to perpetuate guilt through racial animus. The reason for this is that for one, it has become an incredibly lucrative field for those who can milk it for all its worth, but for two, nobody wants to be on the wrong side of the cancel culture.

The difficulty with implicit racism, of course, is in being able to ascribe any particular, explicit examples of this sin.

Per Scripture, sin is explicit. There’s really no way around this from the teaching of the Bible, in that while it may remain hidden for a season, it is still by nature and practice, sin, and all such sin is revealed. For the Christian, the notion of implicit racism poses some rather obvious contradictions with what the Scriptures state on the nature and duration of hidden sin, yet simultaneously, the ability one has to repent.

People are making the leap to say that they can judge the thoughts and motives of the heart by assuming as much.  Yet the thing that makes such judgments altogether more perilous is that they are subjectively based value judgments.

Unless we have explicit reason to believe that something is racially motivated, we ought to be extremely hesitant to place something in that category. What happened may have been wrong; it may have even been an injustice according to the Law—but unless we can explicitly point out partiality, we ought to drop the rhetoric.

If we are to call out actual instances of partiality, we must be sure we can substantiate our claims beyond the theoretical realm of implicit racial bias.  We must be able to point to explicit sins, specifically in this case, ones where racial animus is overtly clear.

One rather glaring inconsistency I see on behalf of social justice proponents is an unwillingness to give specifics; specific sins of specific people and specific ministries, or specific and current laws and practices on the books that perpetuate systemic racism.

That means if we are to come to the table with the charge of racism, we must be able to demonstrate that it is clearly so, otherwise we are slandering, bearing false witness, and likely even being found guilty of the very same crime we are seeking to denounce: partiality against a particular people group.

We are a people beholden to the truth of all things because we are a people who love the truth, which very simply means that if we can’t demonstrate actual, substantiated evidence of racial prejudice, we need to drop the race-baiting rhetoric and stick to the facts.


  • After having had an opportunity to consider both views, which do you think is the better way to combat racism?

World Map of the UMC and affiliated denominations

FYI – Here is a map of the UMC presence ((including current mission initiatives), concordat denominations, other affiliated Methodist denominations, and affiliated united denominations) that  offers a perspective on the global extent of the UMC.

Notice some significant grey areas, especially in Latin America and Asia.

Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor – Everybody Knows Zack

Love Your NeighborKey Bible Verse: When we have the opportunity to help anyone, we should do it.  – Galatians 6:10, NCV

Dig Deeper: 1 Thessalonians 2:8

If you were to walk the streets with Zack, you’d be convinced that he knows everyone in his neighborhood. He’s never too busy to stop and say hello. After his MBA, Zack purposely looked for a job that would put him in daily contact with the people in his neighborhood. All of the regular shoppers at the [neighborhood grocery store he manages] know Zack.

Zack is known for his willingness to help. He regularly takes care of his neighbor’s boxer—[doing so allows him] to be engaged in the life of the career-driven couple who live next door. He’s also become a surrogate son to the elderly lady down the street. Without Zack, her sidewalks would never be shoveled in the winter, and he regularly delivers her groceries.

In the summers, Zack does everything he can to make his deck barbeque central, inviting someone to have a meal with him almost every weekend. Zack is a natural evangelist, but not in a forced, button-holing way. By the time Zack begins to talk about his relationship with Christ, the people around him are already attracted to who he is, and they already wonder what makes him tick.

—Paul Tripp in A Quest for More

My Response: If I wanted to be known for my “willingness to help,” what changes might I need to make in the way I use my time?

Adapted from A Quest for More (New Growth, 2007).

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, open my eyes to the needs of my neighbors; move my heart to reach out, serve, and share your love in everyday ways.

 

 

Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor – Imagine the Possibilities

Love Your NeighborWho Said It … Richard Land

Richard Land has served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission since 1988.

During his tenure, Richard has represented Southern Baptist and other Evangelicals’ concerns in the halls of Congress, before presidents, and in the media. In 2005, Richard was featured in Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America.

What He Said … Imagine the Possibilities

What if just half of those Americans who claim to be evangelical Christians were truly to practice their faith in their local communities as responsible citizens?

Every volunteer social organization in the country seeking to meet the needs of less fortunate people would be transformed overnight. There’d be so many volunteers they’d have to be put on waiting lists.

The databases of crisis pregnancy centers and prison transition ministries and foster-care agencies would be crammed with the names and numbers of families ready to take in young women and ex-cons and children who need hospitality, practical help, and loving care.

Food pantry shelves would overflow. Homebound senior citizens would never be isolated. School children would have mentors for literacy programs and reading enrichment, and adults committed to staying involved in their lives. Nursing-home residents wouldn’t pass time in empty days, neglected by family and ignored by society.

Even those not influenced to accept Christ by such radical, positive changes in society would live better lives.

Adapted from Imagine! A God-Blessed America (Broadman & Holman, 2005).

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, open my eyes to the needs of my neighbors; move my heart to reach out, serve, and share your love in everyday ways.

 

Frederick Swann on the Value of the Pipe Organ to the Worshiping Church

An article from the March 21, 2017 issue of Patheos – Ponder Anew contains an interesting article on the value of a pipe organ in worship.

Famed American organist Frederick Swann was recently asked for his view on the value of the pipe organ in the life of the church. This was his reply.

“As a church organist for 75 years (starting at age 10…and making it my life’s work) I have been privileged to be the organist of three major churches in the country, each with fine pipe organs and musically literate congregations. And, as a concert organist, my travels have taken me to churches large and small in each of the United States and several foreign countries.  I have frequently either attended worship or played for worship in many, many of these churches. Thus I have had the opportunity to observe what the pipe organ can mean to a wide variety of congregations.  The stories of how the organ in worship has literally changed lives are legion.

In reading the responses to your blog in response to A Case For the Pipe Organ it is abundantly clear that those most critical have been written by people who have never experienced what a good organ well-played can mean to the emotional and spiritual life of church members.  And/or the writers have minds that are so tightly closed that they would not be willing to give themselves the experience.  Prejudice and closed-mindedness are crystal clear in many of the comments. So there is nothing I, nor anyone can say to change their minds until they are willing to sincerely give themselves the opportunity of experiencing worship with a pipe organ, or one of the excellent digital organs (more determined and unfounded prejudice shown there!) and about which they have no knowledge.

The first duty of the church organist is to lead congregational singing.  No hand-waving ‘song leader’ can inspire a congregation to sing as can an experienced hymn player…in fact they are more often than not a deterrent to good congregation singing. I have been experiencing hopeful signs lately in many of the churches who eschew the organ and think they are filling their pews with the use of a praise band, some of which are quite good from a pure musical standpoint.

Interestingly, these musical groups are beginning to disappear from many churches as YOUNG church members (who have somehow been able to experience a pipe organ and traditional church music) are losing interest in their praise band and very much wanting to experience an organ and more ‘traditional music.’ The pendulum has swung widely throughout history in regard to what music works best in church. Thus it is encouraging to see it swinging again!”

Let it be so!

Frederick L. Swann is an American church and concert organist, recording artist, choral conductor, and former president of the American Guild of Organists. Music critic Tim Smith called Swann “one of the country’s most distinguished organists”. He is Organist Emeritus of the Crystal Cathedral and the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. Swann currently lives in Palm Desert, California, where he is Artist-in-residence at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church and University Organist and Artist Teacher of Organ at the University of Redlands.

Fuel Your Soul with Encouragement – Spiritual Encouragement

encouragement-2The 23rd Psalm is quite possibly the best loved and most quoted psalm in the Bible.

Penned by King David, this psalm provides comfort for the grieving, hope for the hopeless, and encouragement to persevere through dark and desperate times.

As you read, study, and mediate on these familiar words, look for fresh insights that will deepen your trust in your good and loving shepherd.

Key Study Passage:  Psalm 23

  1. In verse 1, David claims, “I have all I need.” How is that possible? How do you think David defines “need”?
  2. Consider the image created in verse 2: “He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.” When was the last time you experienced the kind of peace and tranquility pictured in this verse?
  3. What is your role in having your strength renewed (v. 3)? (See Job 17:9; Ps. 138:3; Isa. 40:31; 2 Cor. 12:9-10.)
  4. List ways that a shepherd might “protect and comfort” his sheep (v. 4). When have you recently felt protected and comforted by God? What did God’s protection and comfort look like in this situation?
  5. Look for ways you experience God’s “goodness and unfailing love” (v. 6).

Spend Time in Prayer: Read Psalm 23 slowly, letting God use each verse to speak life-giving truth into your heart. Read the psalm a second time, turning each verse into a prayer of thanksgiving, confession, or supplication.

Psalm 23

A psalm of David.

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, thank you for comforting the hurting and encouraging the discouraged; thank you for caring friends who speak words of encouragement into my life; this week help me to look for ways to be an encouragement to my family, friends, and coworkers.

 

Fuel Your Soul with Encouragement – Ultimate Life Coach

encouragement-2Key Bible Verse: The Eternal One will never leave you; he will lead you in the way that you should go. When you feel dried up and worthless, God will nourish you and give you strength.  – Isaiah 58:11, The Voice

Dig Deeper: Isaiah 58:7-14

Believe in God’s ability to mentor you, to teach you, to groom you, and to be your life coach. You have heard of the coach-of-the-year award. Well, God is the coach of all generations, and he is offering to teach you to live life as he intends.

God’s inspiring Word contains compelling evidence of his desire to be your companion for life. He is there when you need to grow. When you call on him for a lift, he will hear. He is always with you.

Let these additional words of encouragement inspire you to turn to your heavenly Father:

  • “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you” (Deut. 31:8).
  • “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope'” (Jer. 29:11).
  • “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast” (1 Pet. 5:10, NIV).

—Steve Kubicek in Up and In

My Response: What verses from this week’s readings have encouraged or helped me the most? I will try to commit at least one of those verses to memory.

Thought to Apply: Without the message of the Scriptures we would have nothing with which to encourage one another.—Gene Getz (pastor, writer)

Adapted from Up and In (Thomas Nelson, 2013)

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, thank you for comforting the hurting and encouraging the discouraged; thank you for caring friends who speak words of encouragement into my life; this week help me to look for ways to be an encouragement to my family, friends, and coworkers.

 

 

Fuel Your Soul with Encouragement – Best Guide Ever

encouragement-2Key Bible Verse: The humble will see their God at work and be glad. Let all who seek God’s help be encouraged.  – Psalm 69:32

Dig Deeper: Psalm 69

God encourages us. We may not be able to meet with a mentoring friend each time we need encouragement, but at any time we can chat with our heavenly Father. He listens to us and promises to meet us in our time of need. As David declared in Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (NIV, et al.).

Your Lord genuinely desires to hear from you and develop an intimate, hope-filled relationship with you. Talk to him through heartfelt prayer, and let his Spirit affirm you.

God is a holy mentor. Are you skeptical that God wants to play the role of mentor in your life? Consider what he intends when he says in Psalm 32:8, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”

Jesus promised his support, too, when he stated this in John 14:26: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

These Scriptures confirm the truth that God desires to guide us throughout our lives. Trust him; you could have no better guide.

—Steve Kubicek in Up and In

My Response: In what areas of my life do I need God’s guidance right now?

Thought to Apply: I think God is nearer to suffering than to happiness, and to find God in this way gives peace and rest and a strong and courageous heart.—Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German theologian, pastor)

Adapted from Up and In (Thomas Nelson, 2013)

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, thank you for comforting the hurting and encouraging the discouraged; thank you for caring friends who speak words of encouragement into my life; this week help me to look for ways to be an encouragement to my family, friends, and coworkers.

 

 

Dancing Priest Does Hamilton – Church Parody – “You’ll Be Back”

Social distancing got you missing church?  You’ll be back!

 Here is the priest from St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Tifton, Georgia, with his parody of the hit Hamilton song that turns King George’s threat into a joyful promise.

To all who miss worship, fellowship, and–yes!–Communion at your churches, just remember: we will get back together even better than we ever were before. Da da dat daa!

 

 

LYRICS:

These days

we can’t get together

and church doesn’t quite feel the same.

 

We sigh,

and we long for the day

when we’ll kneel down and pray side by side.

 

It’s true, we know,

we’re more than a building

but assembling would make us feel fine.

 

Our worship’s online,

but Facebook and YouTube

can’t give you the Bread and the Wine.

 

You’ll be back.

Wait and see.

Just remember how it used to be.

 

You’ll be back.

Time will tell

when we’ve kicked this virus back to Hell!

 

Oceans rise, empires fall.

We have seen each other through it all.

 

When we finally open then door,

we will get back together

even better than we ever were before!

 

Da da da dat daa

dat da da da daya da

da da dat dat daya da!

Da da da dat daa

dat da da da daya da

da da dat dat daa!

 

Our church is strong

thanks to God and me and you.

This can’t last long,

and our love will see us through.

 

And then we’ll have Communion!

Our favorite thing, Communion!

You know you like Communion.

Mystic, sweet Communion!

 

Together.

Together.

Together forever amen.

 

You’ll be back

with all your friends,

and you’ll belt out all your favorite hymns.

 

You’ll say your prayers

and pass the peace

even with the ones you like the least.

 

So wash your hands

and just stay well

so you’ll be here when we ring the bell.

 

When we finally open then door,

we will get back together

even better than we ever were before.

 

Da da da dat daa

dat da da da daya da

da da dat dat daya da!

Da da da dat daa

dat da da da daya da

da da dat dat daa! Everybody!

Da da da dat daa

dat da da da daya da

dat dat daya da!

Da da da dat daa

dat da da da daya da

dat dat daya daa.

 

Written and performed by the Rev. Lonnie Lacy, St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Tifton, GA.

 

Based on “You’ll Be Back” from Hamilton, the original musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

nuel Miranda.

Fuel Your Soul with Encouragement – Encourage Yourself

encouragement-2Key Bible Verse: Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. – Philippians 4:8

Dig Deeper: Philippians 4:4-9

As beneficial as the support of positive companions is, we still need to encourage ourselves.

For my own self-encouragement, I have an expandable folder labeled “When I Need a Lift.” I keep my folder in a drawer next to the desk in my home study.

This folder contains numerous letters and cards from loved ones and friends that I have accumulated over the years. It serves as tangible evidence of lives I have touched or lives that have reached out to touch me. It is a reminder of joyous moments when I let the Lord work in me and through my life. Flipping through this folder brings joy to my heart when I need it most.

Perhaps the best part about this encouraging tool is that it takes no effort at all to start and maintain. Just grab a folder and start filling it with Scriptures highlighting God’s promises to you, notes from family members sharing their love for you, special cards from birthdays and other occasions, e-mails of special significance to your life, photos that remind you of your blessings and value, and whatever else tends to lift your spirit when you’re down and not thinking clearly.

—Steve Kubicek in Up and In

My Response: What do I usually do when I’m down or having a bad day? How might I benefit from creating and maintaining a “When I Need a Lift” folder? What would help me get the most out of this “encouraging tool”?

Thought to Apply: Encouragement is oxygen to the soul.—George M. Adams (politician)

Adapted from Up and In (Thomas Nelson, 2013)

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, thank you for comforting the hurting and encouraging the discouraged; thank you for caring friends who speak words of encouragement into my life; this week help me to look for ways to be an encouragement to my family, friends, and coworkers.

 

 

Fuel Your Soul with Encouragement – Spiritual Nourishment

encouragement-2Key Bible Verse: So encourage each other and give each other strength, just as you are doing now.  – 1 Thessalonians 5:11, NCV

Dig Deeper: 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

Companionship with those who trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior is a tool God often uses to nourish us with encouragement. Fellowship with believers is a divine resource that we should not miss.

The Lord also uses fellow Christians who have suffered a hardship or endured a painful experience to encourage others who are going through similar situations. Let them love on you and restore you.

And one of the ways God works all things for good (Rom. 8:28) is by comforting us in our times of trouble and so equipping us to comfort others: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4, NIV).

Whether you start with an encouraging friend, an uplifting mentor, or the companionship of other believers, make sure to regularly feed your mind, heart, and soul with encouragement. Take the necessary measures to guard against becoming mentally and spiritually malnourished.

—Steve Kubicek in Up and In

My Response: When have I been comforted or encouraged by someone who has faced past difficulties or struggles? When has God used my own struggles to comfort and encourage someone else?

Thought to Apply: Often the most loving thing we can do when a friend is in pain is to share the pain—to be there even when we have nothing to offer except our presence and even when being there is painful for ourselves.—M. Scott Peck (psychiatrist, writer)

Adapted from Up and In (Thomas Nelson, 2013)

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, thank you for comforting the hurting and encouraging the discouraged; thank you for caring friends who speak words of encouragement into my life; this week help me to look for ways to be an encouragement to my family, friends, and coworkers.

 

 

Fuel Your Soul with Encouragement – Listen to Your Heart

encouragement-2Key Bible Verse: The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain. – Proverbs 10:11

Dig Deeper: Proverbs 10:10-14

When we need the nourishment of food, our stomachs get our attention, either with hunger pains or the sounds of gurgling. We tend to respond to these signs of hunger like responding to the call of a dinner bell. We seek snacks and sit down for meals like clockwork. However, we often ignore the longing of our hearts for a serving of life-sustaining encouragement.

When we deprive ourselves of encouragement, our attitudes and self-esteem dwindle. A shortage of inspiration negatively affects our performance and severely stunts our growth. A lack of affirmation shrivels our confidence and hope.

Are your mind and soul starving for encouragement? Listen to your heart. Is it signaling that it is feeding time? If so, take the initiative, and tend to this need.

This is my challenge: find a dependable, encouraging friend or mentor to build you up with affirming words and needed encouragement. Strive to meet with this person at least once a month. Let your mentor’s uplifting spirit feed you with right thinking and positive motivation. Consume that fruitful energy as if you were drinking a high-impact smoothie. Let your friend’s encouraging words satisfy your inner hunger and thirst.

—Steve Kubicek in Up and In

My Response: A friend who speaks words of encouragement into my soul is … Who needs to hear words of encouragement from me?

Adapted from Up and In (Thomas Nelson, 2013)

Prayer for the Week: Heavenly Father, thank you for comforting the hurting and encouraging the discouraged; thank you for caring friends who speak words of encouragement into my life; this week help me to look for ways to be an encouragement to my family, friends, and coworkers.

 

 

Fuel Your Soul with Encouragement – Like a Cool, Refreshing Drink

encouragement-2Key Study Passage: Psalm 23

Who Said It … Steve Kubicek

Steve Kubicek has more than 30 years of corporate experience, including 18 years as an executive with Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Company—the world’s largest publicly traded copper company.

Retired since 2005, Steve leads a men’s group at his church and is involved in various other ministries. He is the author of Up and In.

What he Said … Like a Cool, Refreshing Drink

Encouragement spurs on the downtrodden and heavy-burdened like a cool, refreshing drink can restore a weary traveler on a sunny day. Imagine packaging liquid encouragement in bottles and offering it to the masses. Just think of the spirit that would prevail throughout the world if we could all reach into our cabinets or refrigerators and pull out a bottle of refreshing encouragement, the lemonade for the soul, which truly would be an uplifting drink.

Medical science has observed that our bodies require a balanced supply of nutrients for good health and long-term sustainability. When the body lacks an essential nutrient, physical symptoms appear that highlight the deficiency. These symptoms serve as warning signals so that we can recognize the issue and take remedial measures. Does the same principle hold true for the essential life ingredient of encouragement? I contend it does. Our bodies signal us when we need to correct our encouragement deficiency. We receive warning messages when we are about to go down like a sinking ship.

Key Study Passage: Psalm 23

Adapted from Up and In (Thomas Nelson, 2013)

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, thank you for comforting the hurting and encouraging the discouraged; thank you for caring friends who speak words of encouragement into my life; this week help me to look for ways to be an encouragement to my family, friends, and coworkers.

 

 

Live the Adventure – Christian Life

christian-life-2With Judas out of the picture, the 11 remaining disciples gathered at the mountain where the resurrected Jesus had told them to meet him.

When Jesus showed up, they all worshiped him, even those who struggled with their doubts. Then Jesus prepared them for the most exciting adventure ever with these words:

“I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

  1. Before Jesus gave his disciples specific instructions for reaching the world, he said, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.” Why is this significant? (See Luke 10:22; John 5:19; Eph. 1:19-22; Col. 1:15-19.)
  2. Do you believe the instructions in today’s passage apply to every Christian? Why or why not? (See John 8:31-32, 15:4-9, 17:9-26.)
  3. Why is it essential to realize that we can’t live the faith adventure on our own power? (See John 15:5; Eph. 2:4-10; James 4:4-10;2 Pet. 1:2-4.)

Key Study Passage:  Matthew 28:16-20

Spend Time in Prayer: Pray for two or three men you’d like to see come to faith or live as better disciples. Ask God to show you how you might help at least one of these men on their faith journey.

Matthew 28:16-20

The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[a] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Prayer for the Week: Dear God, whether my adventure is in a 9-5 office, on a foreign mission field, or someplace else, may I live in a way that draws others to you and to the adventure you’ve prepared for them.

 

 

Live the Adventure – Never a Dull Moment

christian-life-2Key Bible Verse: Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God.  – Luke 9:2

Dig Deeper: Luke 9:1-6

When Jesus called the disciples to follow him, the average person in the first century never traveled outside a 30-mile radius of their birthplace. These men were planning on living their entire lives fishing the Sea of Galilee, but Jesus sent them to the ends of the earth. He took them adventuring with him—they hiked the Mount of Transfiguration, sailed the Sea of Galilee, and went on long camping trips.

Along the way, they witnessed remarkable miracles on a regular basis. And they did more than witness them. They filleted the miraculous catch of fish and ate it. They toasted the water that Jesus turned into wine and then drank it to the dregs. They hugged Lazarus while he still had his grave clothes on. You can’t put a price tag on those kind of experiences, but once you’ve had them, they define you forever.

The very nature of the gospel is Jesus inviting the disciples on an adventure. To do what they’d never done and go where they’d never gone. Never a dull moment!

Jesus is calling you to the same adventure as his original disciples. He is offering you a life full of daring. Don’t you want in on the action? The moment you say yes, the adventure begins.

—Mark Batterson in A Trip Around the Sun

My Response: What adventure might Jesus be inviting me to? What would keep me from taking on this adventure?

Thought to Apply: I am discovering that in trying to find God’s will and the shape of the Christian life I have begun an adventure so great that its total completion will always be ahead. —Keith Miller (Christian writer)

Adapted from A Trip Around the Sun: Turning Your Everyday Life into the Adventure of a Lifetime by Mark Batterson and Richard Foth with Susanna Foth Aughtmon. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group (BakerPublishingGroup.com)

Prayer for the Week: Dear God, whether my adventure is in a 9-5 office, on a foreign mission field, or someplace else, may I live in a way that draws others to you and to the adventure you’ve prepared for them.

 

 

Live the Adventure – Join the Adventure

christian-life-2Key Bible Verse: Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12, ESV

Dig Deeper: John 12:44-46

Jesus was the quintessential adventurer. Leaving the comfort of heaven, he entered the four dimensions of space and time. He created and set out on the craziest adventure of them all: restoring broken image-bearers to himself. He didn’t do it with angel armies. He didn’t overthrow the Roman government or claim the kingship that was rightfully his.

He was a middle-of-the-marketplace Messiah, who rubbed elbows with the masses. He hung out at wells and in living rooms and on hillsides and invited anyone and everyone to join him. Jesus didn’t come with an agenda; he was the agenda. He came that he might draw all men unto himself. With his grace, with his truth, he lets us get in on the action with a life-altering invitation: “Come, follow me” (Matt. 4:19).

When Jesus invites us to do life with him, he invites us to rub elbows with those he loves: the lost, the broken, the misled, and the misfits. Just like Jesus, we need to find ourselves in the middle of the marketplace. If we are separating ourselves from the world around us, we are off mission. And even worse? We are missing out on the adventure Jesus has for us.

—Mark Batterson in A Trip Around the Sun

My Response: What ministries in my church or service programs in my community might help me more consistently “rub elbows with those [Jesus] loves: the lost, the broken, and the misfits”?

Thought to Apply: We can find and fulfill our purpose by responding to the clear, simple call of Jesus Christ: “Follow me.” He is the doorway to fulfilling our destiny, where our divine design and God-ordained purpose live in perfect harmony. —Charles Swindoll (pastor, writer)

Adapted from A Trip Around the Sun: Turning Your Everyday Life into the Adventure of a Lifetime by Mark Batterson and Richard Foth with Susanna Foth Aughtmon. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group (BakerPublishingGroup.com)

Prayer for the Week: Dear God, whether my adventure is in a 9-5 office, on a foreign mission field, or someplace else, may I live in a way that draws others to you and to the adventure you’ve prepared for them.

 

 

Live the Adventure – Boldly Go

christian-life-2Key Bible Verse: The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!” – Mark 4:41

Dig Deeper: Mark 4:35-41

Jesus meets us where we are [and] says, “I’ve got a place for you. A new life. A new character. A new way of seeing things. How would you like to go on an adventure?”

Sometimes getting a clear view of Jesus is the greatest challenge [to following him]. Time and distance can obscure him and make him insipid.

Dorothy Sayers [said]:

The people who hanged the Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore—on the contrary; they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality. … We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him “meek and mild,” and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.

I don’t want to muffle up the shattering personality. I want to revel in it, then reflect it.

When we go adventuring with Jesus, he takes us places we never dreamed we could go [and] gives us ideas we never thought we could have.

Source of quote: A Matter of Eternity: Selected writings of Dorothy L. Sayers.

—Richard Foth in A Trip Around the Sun

My Response: In what ways has the church in America tamed Jesus? According to the four gospels, what is Jesus like? What sets him apart from other religious leaders?

Thought to Apply: “Here be dragons to be slain, here be rich rewards to gain; if we perish in the seeking, why, how small a thing is death!”—Dorothy Sayers (British crime writer, poet, playwright, essayist)

Adapted from A Trip Around the Sun: Turning Your Everyday Life into the Adventure of a Lifetime by Mark Batterson and Richard Foth with Susanna Foth Aughtmon. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group (BakerPublishingGroup.com)

Prayer for the Week: Dear God, whether my adventure is in a 9-5 office, on a foreign mission field, or someplace else, may I live in a way that draws others to you and to the adventure you’ve prepared for them.

Live the Adventure – Gather Experiences

christian-life-2Key Bible Verse: “But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.”  – Matthew 6:20, NET

Dig Deeper: Matthew 6:19-24

May 27, 2005, ranks as one of the most memorable days of my life, and I learned a lesson that has defined my life ever since. It was the last day of our mission trip to Ethiopia.

The date is stamped in my memory because it was one of the craziest days of my life. After a week of intense ministry, our team journeyed into the wilderness of the Ethiopian outback. We got held up at gunpoint by shepherds with AK-47s, went swimming in a natural spring heated by a volcano, and did a game drive through Awash National Park—all in a day’s adventure.

We ended the day worshiping God around a campfire. That night, tucked away in my pup tent, I was journaling about the amazing day I had just experienced and I heard the still small voice of the Holy Spirit say, “Mark, don’t accumulate possessions, accumulate experiences.” That moment, in the middle of an African game park, reshaped the way I viewed life.

That two-word mantra—accumulate experiences—is my modus operandi. It frames my life. It also frames our family. Lora and I want our kids to get in on the action, and it’s our job to engineer those experiences.

—Mark Batterson in A Trip Around the Sun

My Response: What are the benefits of accumulating possessions? What are the benefits of accumulating experiences?

Thought to Apply: The way of Jesus cannot be imposed or mapped—it requires an active participation in following Jesus as he leads us through sometimes strange and unfamiliar territory.—Eugene Peterson (pastor, scholar, writer)

Adapted from A Trip Around the Sun: Turning Your Everyday Life into the Adventure of a Lifetime by Mark Batterson and Richard Foth with Susanna Foth Aughtmon. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group (BakerPublishingGroup.com),

Prayer for the Week: Dear God, whether my adventure is in a 9-5 office, on a foreign mission field, or someplace else, may I live in a way that draws others to you and to the adventure you’ve prepared for them.

 

 

A Hymn of Hope and Comfort: “Ask Ye What Great Thing I Know”

Today’s hymn is a gem of a text by Johann C. Schwedler, German pastor and poet, translated into English by Benjamin Hall Kennedy.

The tune is HENDON, which many will associate with another hymn, “Take My Life and Let It Be.” It’s played and sung by the musicians and congregation of South Main Baptist Church in Houston, Texas.

The hymn begins at 18:37 at:  https://vimeo.com/273228863

(…and, by the way, for those of you who pretend to complain in good nature about Postludes in your home churches, take a listen to the one played by South Main Baptist Church’s talented organist starting at 1:00:43!)

Ask ye what great thing I know
that delights and stirs me so?
What the high reward I win?
Whose the name I glory in?
Jesus Christ, the crucified.

What is faith’s foundation strong?
What awakes my lips to song?
He who bore my sinful load,
purchased for me peace with God,
Jesus Christ, the crucified.

Who is life in life to me?
Who the death of death will be?
Who will place me on His right
with the countless hosts of light?
Jesus Christ, the crucified.

This is that great thing I know;
this delights and stirs me so:
faith in Him who died to save,
Him who triumphed o’er the grave,
Jesus Christ, the crucified.

The original hymn had six stanzas in total, including these from Kennedy’s translation:

Who is He that makes me wise
To discern where duty lies?
Who is He that makes me true
Duty, when discerned to do,
Jesus Christ, the Crucified.

Who defeats my fiercest foes?
Who consoles my saddest woes?
Who revives my fainting heart,
Healing all its hidden smart?
Jesus Christ, the Crucified.


Do We Have to Resume Our Breakneck Speed?

Do We Have to Resume Our Breakneck Speed?Years ago I went to see a film called Koyaanisqatsi. It was like Ecclesiastes without the resolution of chapters 11 & 12. It consists of slow-motion and time-lapse footage from natural landscapes and from cities, accompanied by a carefully crafted score. It opens with shots of deserts, rivers, waterfalls and progresses through images of power lines, to aircraft and traffic patterns during rush hour, to people sorting mail and manufacturing electrical goods, to circuit board patterns and telecommunications wires, to space travel.

Wikipedia says: “The frenetic speed and pace of the cuts and music do not slow as shots of modern leisure are shown. People eat, play, shop and work at the same speed.”

As the pace builds and builds the film ends with a rocket’s flaming booster engine slowly spinning earthwards and the word which had been chanted at points during the film ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ appears on screen with its definition:

ko.yaa.nis.katsi (from the Hopi language), n. 1. crazy life. 2. life in turmoil. 3. life disintegrating. 4. life out of balance. 5. a state of life that calls for another way of living.

 Life at a Breakneck Speed 

I’ve thought of it several times over the last number of months: Life out of balance—that’s what life was before the Coronavirus slowed us all down.

One of the things that I have really enjoyed over the last few months has been the fact that people have time—time to talk, to chat, to catch up.

Even in our own family it has been nice to have everyone round the kitchen table at lunch and at tea—and for meal times not being hurried for me to get out to meetings or the girls to ballet.

Life has been lived at a different pace. And it has been good. More balanced.

I don’t know if you have found that too—but I suspect that many have. (I know for some it has meant working extra hard as you have had to cope with far greater demands. Thank you.)

We have lived life at an increasingly breakneck speed over the last decades. Allegedly labour-saving devices have only allowed us to cram more in. Social media has fueled the need to be insanely busy—for fear of missing out. Stress and stress-induced depression, and a whole new raft of anxieties have been afflicting us.

We weren’t made to live at breakneck speed. And I think we’ve found that life doesn’t need to be lived at it either. We were designed to work and rest: to work—because we are made in the image of a creative, working God; to rest—because we are only image bearers, and not God. We read that after his work of creation he rested—not because he was tired but to set the pattern for us to follow.

Work or busyness aren’t to be gods to us. Yet somehow they are. No one admits to not having much to do. We all like to impress others with how busy we are. Toxic patterns of being the last to leave the office plague work environments.

How do you know when work has become a god to you? When your identity and happiness come from it. Or when your sorrows and despair are dictated by it.

How do you know when your family has become a god to you? When you feel you have to cram their lives so that you feel a success. Or when their success/failure dictates your happiness or identity.

We weren’t made to live like this. Out of balance.

You know how it is with technology—the best thing you can do is hit reset or restart, and all the clutter and files that have been clogging up the system disappear and the device runs smoothly. Well, we have been given a God-ordained reset. Let’s be careful what clutter we bring back into our lives. And let’s not resume at breakneck speed.

One of the things I have appreciated during lockdown is going for a walk on a Sunday afternoon or evening—and what specifically I’ve appreciated is the quiet, the calm, the restfulness of it all. I’ve appreciated that there is no sport on, no shops open. In fact, our gods of sport and the temples of retail have been taken from us, and people are doing what God, in part, intended them to do. Rest.

And so when we resume normality, one of the things I long to see is the continuation of that restful Sunday—to see people keeping the Sabbath as God intended as a day to rest. And to do more than rest, to turn their eyes from the gods of sport and retail and work and family to the true and living God. Because to know him is to find rest for our souls. That’s where life finds its balance.


This article originally appeared here:  https://gentlereformation.com/2020/07/04/resuming-breakneck-speed/

 

 

 


Don’t Look for Contentment Like You Used To

1 PeterBefore you came to Christ, your life aspirations arose from a wrong way of looking at the world, what the Apostle Peter calls the “desires of your former ignorance” (1 Peter 1:14 CSB).

You thought, for instance, that romance was the key. But at some point, you realized it wasn’t quite as fulfilling as you’d hoped. Hip-hop star Drake put it well:

There was a point where I felt like I needed to keep the company of a different woman every night. I was trying to fill a void. But in [those moments after sex,] I’d know it wasn’t working. Those quiet moments are the realest moments a man will ever have in his life. The next day I’d convince myself to do it again. But during that time, I knew it wasn’t working.

So you moved on, thinking making lots of money would make you happy. Then, perhaps you noticed that the people with the most money didn’t seem to be the happiest, either.

You thought you’d find “it” by being the best. But that’s a fool’s errand, too. Just look at Michael Jordan, a guy who is the best basketball player there ever was. I’ve been watching his documentary, and as inspiring as his story is, it’s also clear that achieving everything didn’t lead him to happiness—but to emptiness and an unsettledness.

You assumed that life with you in charge would make you happy, but something woke you up to the fact that it just wasn’t true.

Or maybe you just considered the cross and discovered that if Jesus Christ is true, then the way of rebellion against God leads only to death, and real life is found only from the resurrection. And so you turned your back on your self-willed way of living and surrendered to Christ. You showed that by being baptized, declaring that you were being buried to your old way of living and raised to new life in Christ.

But Peter is recognizing how easy it is to fall back into those old ways of living. You sense some unhappiness or discontentment, and you slip into thinking you just need more money or a different living situation or to get vengeance on someone.

If you’re in Christ, you know that doesn’t work! So don’t go back there. Those old desires come out of ignorance.

About 10 years ago I developed an acid reflux problem that kept me up throughout the night with a really upset stomach. I didn’t know it was acid reflux at first, and I assumed I was eating too much meat or spicy food before bed. I didn’t want to stop eating meat or spicy food, of course, because what kind of life would that be? So I thought I’d counter-balance the spicy stuff with something more anodyne, like popcorn or yogurt. So I had a popcorn or yogurt snack every night for a few months.

It didn’t work.

Eating popcorn and yogurt didn’t help the problem. It was just making me gain weight. Later the doctor told me what the real problem was and gave me a prescription for it. That helped it immediately.

Now, if I feel like I have an upset stomach at night, I know better than to go back to the popcorn and yogurt. My old self didn’t know better (He should’ve, but he didn’t), but now I have no excuse. I am no longer ignorant of the real problem.

In your old life, you had desires that came from wrong ways of dealing with the emptiness in your heart. But now, as an obedient child of God, you don’t have to go back to your old way of ignorance (1 Peter 1:14). You don’t have to believe the lie that you need more money or a different spouse or a better circumstance to feel content.

If you are unhappy, press into the hope of knowing Christ, being like Christ, and being with him one day.


J.D. Greear, Ph.D., is the President of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastors the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. Tagged by Outreach magazine as one of the fastest growing churches in America, the Summit has grown in the past 8 years from 400 to over 5,000 each weekend. The Summit Church is deeply involved in global church planting, having undertaken the mission to plant 1000 churches in the next 40 years. J.D. has authored Breaking the Islam Code and the upcoming Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary.

 

Live the Adventure – Defining Moments

christian-life-2Key Study Passage: Matthew 28:16-20

Who Said It … Mark Batterson

Mark Batterson is the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. He is The New York Times bestselling author of The Circle Maker and The Grave Robber. Mark lives on Capitol Hill with his wife, Lora, and three children. Visit him at markbatterson.com.

Mark and his friend Richard Foth, minister-at-large in Washington, DC, coauthored A Trip Around the Sun—the source of this week’s readings.

What he Said … Defining Moments

Alfred Adler, the famed psychologist, is said to have begun every counseling session by asking his clients to tell him about their earliest memory. They would share those memories, and no matter what their answer was, Adler would say, “And so life is.”

If your earliest memory is flying in an airplane to visit your grandparents, life is a journey. If your first recollection is huddling under the covers on a summer’s night as thunder claps and lightning strikes, life is a storm.

I genuinely believe our outlook on life is determined by a few defining moments when God meets us and we meet God. It’s Jacob’s wrestling match with God. It’s Moses at the burning bush. It’s Peter walking on water. Those moments are more than memories. They are the lenses through which we perceive the present and dream of the future. Those are the moments when God helps us see ourselves for who we really are.

Adapted from A Trip Around the Sun: Turning Your Everyday Life into the Adventure of a Lifetime by Mark Batterson and Richard Foth with Susanna Foth Aughtmon. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group (BakerPublishingGroup.com),

Prayer for the Week:  Dear God, whether my adventure is in a 9-5 office, on a foreign mission field, or someplace else, may I live in a way that draws others to you and to the adventure you’ve prepared for them.

 

 

Healthy Fear – High-Tension Line

fear-of-the-lordKey Bible Verse: Smoke poured from his nostrils; fierce flames leaped from his mouth. Psalm 18:8

Bonus Reading: Hebrews 12:18-21, 25-29

Jann, a European who emigrated to the U.S. in his teens, dedicated himself to career success. Then a cousin gave him a copy of Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict. His analytical accountant mind grappled with what he read, and came to the logical conclusion that the Bible accurately recorded the life and claims of Jesus, and that as the Son of God only Jesus could provide access to God. Jann became a follower of Jesus and started to explore his new life with some deep study of the Old Testament.

When I asked what he’d learned about God, he pondered a moment and said, “God is one tough guy. You don’t mess around with him.” Too many of us have overlooked that truth. Just before presenting the Ten Commandments, Moses warned the people of the consequences of lightly entering into covenant with God, because, he said, “The Lord your God is a devouring fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24). In effect he was saying, “If you don’t carry through, you’ll get burned.”

God’s nature surpasses ours. He’s 220 volts and we’re only wired for 12. Experiencing God in his fullness would blow our circuits. That’s why God told Moses that no one could look directly at his face and live (Exodus 33:20).

—Tim Riter in Not a Safe God

My Response: How Can I get close to this scary powerful God without getting “burned”? (See Hebrews 4:13-16.)

Thought to Apply: The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men. —C.S. Lewis (British scholar & author)

Adapted from Not a Safe God (B&H Publishers, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: God, I confess that I’ve minimized your breathtaking holy otherness in my mind. Restore the fear that puts my sin and your salvation into focus.

 

 

Healthy Fear – High-Tension Line

fear-of-the-lordKey Bible Verse: Smoke poured from his nostrils; fierce flames leaped from his mouth. Psalm 18:8

Bonus Reading: Hebrews 12:18-21, 25-29

Jann, a European who emigrated to the U.S. in his teens, dedicated himself to career success. Then a cousin gave him a copy of Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict. His analytical accountant mind grappled with what he read, and came to the logical conclusion that the Bible accurately recorded the life and claims of Jesus, and that as the Son of God only Jesus could provide access to God. Jann became a follower of Jesus and started to explore his new life with some deep study of the Old Testament.

When I asked what he’d learned about God, he pondered a moment and said, “God is one tough guy. You don’t mess around with him.” Too many of us have overlooked that truth. Just before presenting the Ten Commandments, Moses warned the people of the consequences of lightly entering into covenant with God, because, he said, “The Lord your God is a devouring fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24). In effect he was saying, “If you don’t carry through, you’ll get burned.”

God’s nature surpasses ours. He’s 220 volts and we’re only wired for 12. Experiencing God in his fullness would blow our circuits. That’s why God told Moses that no one could look directly at his face and live (Exodus 33:20).

—Tim Riter in Not a Safe God

My Response: How Can I get close to this scary powerful God without getting “burned”? (See Hebrews 4:13-16.)

Thought to Apply: The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men. —C.S. Lewis (British scholar & author)

Adapted from Not a Safe God (B&H Publishers, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: God, I confess that I’ve minimized your breathtaking holy otherness in my mind. Restore the fear that puts my sin and your salvation into focus.

 

 

Healthy Fear – Why It’s Called Grand

fear-of-the-lordKey Bible Verse: “The Lord Almighty is the one … you are to dread.”  – Isaiah 8:13 NIV

Bonus Reading: Luke 12:4-5

Not long after our Toronto visit, we went to the Grand Canyon, where you can stand at the South Rim and peer 6,000 feet straight down. There you’re not separated from your doom by blocks of glass 2 1/2# inches thick. So every year an average of four or five visitors die. Some deaths happen because of (in one website’s words) “overly zealous photographic endeavors.” Still, the same awesome beauty of the Grand Canyon that caused me fear also drew me toward it.

When the Bible talks about “fearing God,” what is it talking about? Is it the kind of fear I felt at the CN Tower? Or is it more like the fear I felt at the Grand Canyon? Christian preachers and writers have maintained it’s like the fear I felt standing on the glass floor at the CN Tower—1,100 feet up but completely safe. Feeling any terror with God is unnecessary, maybe even irrational. But the Bible disagrees. Read Isaiah’s words [in today’s Key Bible Verse]. It’s not just awe, and not just reverence. It’s the kind of fear I felt at the Grand Canyon, where I was drawn to the amazing beauty, but also felt a realistic fear at the danger, because people who acted foolishly near it have died.

—Kevin Miller in PreachingToday.com

My Response: Since perfect love banishes panicky fear (1 John 4:16-18), what healthy fear should I retain?

Thought to Apply: The highest point a man can attain is not knowledge, or virtue, or goodness, or victory, but something even greater, more heroic, and more despairing: sacred awe! —Nikos Kazantzais (Greek author)

Adapted from PreachingToday.com.

Prayer for the Week: God, I confess that I’ve minimized your breathtaking holy otherness in my mind. Restore the fear that puts my sin and your salvation into focus.

 

 

Healthy Fear – Heightened Fear

fear-of-the-lordKey Bible Verse: “Remove your hand from me, and don’t terrify me with your awesome presence,”  – Job 13:21

Bonus Reading: Deuteronomy 5:23-29

A few summers ago, we took a family vacation to Toronto. The guidebooks said that the CN Tower, the world’s tallest freestanding structure, was a must-see. I have acrophobia, a fear of heights, but the kids said, “Aww, Dad, c’mon; we gotta go.”

I was last into the elevator. As I turned around and we started the rapid ascent, I realized that this elevator rides a track up the exterior of the CN Tower and that its walls are of glass. So I was only inches from the air outside—and freefall—as the city fell away at our feet. My throat got tight and I started breathing really fast. Just hang on, I told myself; soon you’ll be on the observation deck floor.

I stumbled out of the elevator, only to find that some sadist had installed a glass floor on the observation floor, so that people could walk on it, and look straight down to the surface 1,815 feet below. The kids were laughing as they walked onto the glass floor, jumped up and down, and even lay down.

“C’mon, Dad!” they yelled.

I didn’t care how thick those blocks of glass were; they were installed by the contractor with the lowest bid. I wasn’t going to chance it.   [continued tomorrow]

—Kevin Miller in Preaching Today

My Response: Is fear of God, like Kevin’s fear of heights, reasonable or imagined?

Thought to Apply: If Christianity has never frightened us, we have not yet learned what it is. —William Temple (English diplomat & author)

Prayer for the Week: God, I confess that I’ve minimized your breathtaking holy otherness in my mind. Restore the fear that puts my sin and your salvation into focus.

 

 

‘Please Read the Bible,’ Tony Dungy Says after Don Lemon Alleges Jesus Wasn’t Perfect

Tony Dungy, Dungy calls out Don Lemons for saying Jesus sinned

Football commentator and well-known Christian Tony Dungy defended the sinlessness of Christ in a series of tweets last week after CNN’s Don Lemon said Jesus was not perfect.

Lemon made the comment while discussing statues and monuments of the Founding Fathers.

“Jesus Christ, admittedly, was not perfect when He was here on this earth, so why are we deifying the Founders of this country?” Lemon said in a comment that sparked both debate and confusion.

Dungy, though gracious, pushed back on Lemon’s remark in a tweet.

“I’m sorry Mr. Lemon but just who ‘admitted’ that Jesus Christ was not perfect here on earth? Not anyone who believes the Bible,” Dungy wrote. “Not anyone who trusts in Jesus as their savior. I’m not sure the point you’re making but your premise is dead wrong. That was the point in Jesus coming!”

Dungy then defended the doctrine of Christ’s sinlessness in follow-up tweets with those on Twitter.

When one person alleged that “a lot of stuff didn’t make it into the Bible due to human interference and a lot more has been creatively edited,” Dungy responded, “If you don’t agree with that fact that Jesus was sinless on earth then you can throw out the whole Bible because that’s the premise Christianity stands on.” 

Dungy added, “Just investigate what Jesus said about himself and make your own decisions. Don’t be influenced by what me or anybody else thinks. Make up your own mind.”

Another person said Lemon’s point was focused on the Founding Fathers and statues, and not Christ. Dungy tweeted, “As I said I don’t even know the point he was trying to make but his original statement is wrong. We can’t let him just throw around wrong information.”

When one person wrote “It’s debateable if [Jesus] even existed,” Dungy retorted, “No debate at all on the existence of Jesus. Just look at your secular history books. Even your time is divided into BC and AD. Was that paying homage to some fictional cartoon character?” 

Several people said they agreed with Lemon about Jesus. To them, Dungy tweeted, “Please read the Bible. ‘For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.’ 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT.”

Healthy Fear – Awe-full!

fear-of-the-lordKey Bible Verse: The highest angelic powers stand in awe of God. Psalm 89:7

Bonus Reading: Matthew 8:23-27

I remember an animated discussion with my high school freshman English teacher over the word awful. I insisted on using awe-full to describe something so exalted as to arouse reverence. She preferred that I stick with the word’s common spelling and its usage to designate something dreadful.

We should have looked in the dictionary. My old Webster’s lists as its first definition “inspiring awe; highly impressive.” Not until its fourth entry does it supply the definition usually assumed in idiomatic English: “very bad, ugly, unpleasant.”

But the teacher had the final word that day in class. Even at age 14 I felt that a vital perception was being lost—the sense that something, someone, was higher than we. I longed to verbalize awe-full-ness; my teacher made class awful.

Today teenagers apply the related word awesome to clothes, food, music, and cinematic effects. The word is so overused that when people sing Rich Mullins’s “Awesome God,” they seem to trivialize the Awe-full One and put the Trinity on the same level as toothpaste and togs.

As our culture has worked hard to establish equality among persons, we’ve somehow put God into that parity and gradually reduced our sense that this is the breathtakingly transcendent GOD we’re talking about.

—Marva Dawn in Talking the Walk

My Response: What would help me recapture a sense of God’s breathtaking transcendence?

Thought to Apply:I have seen a fraction of God’s glory, and it is awesome. —Bernard of Clairveaux (French monk)

Adapted from Talking the Walk (Brazos, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: God, I confess that I’ve minimized your breathtaking holy otherness in my mind. Restore the fear that puts my sin and your salvation into focus.

 

Coronavirus and Masks – Why Covering Up In Church Makes Sense

Masks in church

Rev. Don Underwood (Christ UMC Plano, in Plano, Texas) offers his reasons for wearing face masks when returning to in-person worship

 “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful…” (1 Cor. 13: 5, 6)

Don UnderwoodFor some reason, there appears to be a raging debate over the issue of requiring masks in Phase I openings of in-house worship. Some thoughtful analysis really puts this issue to rest.

The following three reasons to require face masks in worship are more than sufficient to make this decision a clear-cut one for both clergy and lay leaders.

  • PERSONAL AND PUBLIC SAFETY. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with nearly every epidemiologist in the United States, recommends the wearing of face masks when in the company of other people because it dramatically reduces the opportunity for the spread of disease.

Face masks provide some protection for individual wearers, but they dramatically reduce the chance of transmission if everyone wears them. John Wesley’s first rule was “Do no harm.”

This is a simple calculation for those responsible for corporate worship: the wearing of face masks can save lives, and it contributes positively and responsibly in guarding the public health of the community.

  • INCLUSIVITY. There are a number of qualifiers for those who are considered part of the “vulnerable” population. These include older individuals, those who are immuno-suppressed (persons receiving chemo, high doses of steroids, etc.), and those with serious underlying conditions (heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, etc.).

In each of these categories, which in total likelihood represent a majority of the membership of many congregations, a decision to not require masks is an implicit decision to not invite everyone back to in-house worship. This very concept is anathema to every United Methodist congregation and to the biblical mandate to care for the most vulnerable.

  • BRAND. A congregation that decides to not require masks is gambling with its reputation and brand. Even if the possibility of disease transmission is small, any infection linked to the gathering of the congregation will harm the church’s brand for a long time.

It will surely cause the church to once again close its in-house worship venue; the challenge of reopening the next time will be much greater; and, when it finally happens, there will inevitably be a demand for mandatory masks.

This is in addition to the very real possibility of litigation and a weakened position in defending the litigation when the discovery phase discloses an intentional decision to disregard CDC guidance.

Why risk it? Southwest Airlines, along with countless others, knows what it is doing from a business and brand perspective when it requires a mask to board one of its planes.

What is the downside?  For those who choose to maintain, for whatever reasons, that masks are ineffective and unnecessary, what is the downside of wearing them for one hour in worship?

Is it worth even the slightest possibility that someone might get sick and die? Is it charitable to “insist on my way” when it means excluding cherished brothers and sisters from congregational worship? Is it worth even a slight risk of involving the congregation in contentious and costly litigation?

Rev. Don Underwood is pastor emeritus at Christ UMC Plano, in Plano, Texas.


Central Church has resumed in-person worship services on Sundays at 11 am.

In addition to other precautions outlined by the CDC, folks are required to wear masks and sit in our Sanctuary where they can be physically distant from other household groups.

You can also catch Pastor Jan’s sermons on WBVP each Sunday at 10:30 am.

 

Healthy Fear – A Time for Trembling

fear-of-the-lordKey Bible Verse: Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  – Proverbs 9:10

Bonus Reading: Exodus 20:18-21

Fear of the Lord, it seems to me, is like fear of firearms. Whenever the phrase “fear of the Lord” occurs in Scripture, Christians rush to hedge and qualify it: “It really means to reverence God, not to be afraid of him.” We easily dismiss the idea of truly fearing him because we don’t see ourselves as objects of his wrath. Yet God’s wrath is revealed against all unrighteousness, not just the unrighteousness of everybody else.

I suspect that the word “fear” captures precisely the attitude men should have when they approach the Holy One of Israel. The Old Testament priests approached God with literal fear. It wasn’t the kind of fear that a lone pedestrian feels when he walks down a dark alley; it was much worse! That’s because the approach to the Almighty is brilliantly lit and nothing is hidden from him. All the imperfections, base desires, and petty indulgences that we rationalize are open to God’s view; and he is a righteous judge. Only the innocent need not fear him, and none are without sin.

Reverence is part of a right relationship with God. But the fear that is the beginning of wisdom is a healthy fear that trembles at the power and unfathomable perfection of the Creator.

—J. Mark Bertrand in Rethinking Worldview

My Response: What so-called secret sins in my life should cause me to fear God?

Adapted from Rethinking Worldview (Crossway, 2007)

Prayer for the Week: God, I confess that I’ve minimized your breathtaking holy otherness in my mind. Restore the fear that puts my sin and your salvation into focus.

 

 

Healthy Fear – A Good Scare

fear-of-the-lordWho Said It … J. Mark Bertrand

While in college, Mark received a form rejection letter in response to his first attempt at writing a novel—about spies. He says he’s now grateful that it never saw the light of day! While obtaining a master’s degree in Houston, he was production editor of Gulf Coast magazine. Mark now lives with his wife Laurie in South Dakota. He’s the fiction editor at Relief Journal and teaches at Worldview Academy, an academic summer camp for high school students.

What He Said … A Good Scare

My lifelong interest in guns meant that, early on, I devoured everything I could read about weapons, studying how they work and what they’re capable of doing. I learned how to fire them safely and accurately, how to take them apart and clean them, and most importantly what you must never do with them. One thing I never did was fear them. I’ve never quite understood the genuine, deep-seated fear that some people experience at the sight of a pistol. Respect? Sure. But fear?

Then again, I’ve never had a gun pointed at me. It’s one thing to know and appreciate power in the abstract and quite another to be its object, to feel threatened by it. If someone points a gun at you, you’d be foolish not to be afraid. Understanding how the mechanism works (and how unlikely the mechanism is not to work) should give your fear a fullness that the fright of the ignorant never achieves. The more you know, the more afraid you should be.   [continued tomorrow]

Adapted from Rethinking Worldview (Crossway, 2007)

Prayer for the Week: God, I confess that I’ve minimized your breathtaking holy otherness in my mind. Restore the fear that puts my sin and your salvation into focus.

 

 

Try Liking Your Neighbor – Loving Your Neighbor

loving-your-neighbor-2The fright-inducing Son of Man whom John saw in his vision was flanked by seven lampstands.

These, he explained in a booming voice, represented the seven churches to which John would write commendations and warnings.

These congregations were commissioned to serve as a source of light to their surrounding communities. But Jesus warned that if their lights sputtered out, he’d remove them.

Interact with God’s Word:  Revelation 2:1-5

  1. How do you react to the realization that Jesus cares about the people and events in specific congregations and wants them to fulfill their potential?
  2. For what successes (vv. 2-3) in the midst of an immoral culture and religious persecution did Jesus praise his followers in Ephesus?
  3. What failure (v. 4) did he single out and urge the Ephesian believers to correct?
  4. For what (Ephesians 1:15) had Paul commended these same Christians a generation or so earlier? What may have happened over time?
  5. Why can battling to maintain sound teaching and moral and doctrinal purity have the unintended side effect of undermining a charitable spirit and weakening love for the unsaved ?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to help you relate to people around you in a manner that whets their appetite for your Savior and Lord.

Revelation 2:1-5

1″Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands:

2 “I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. 3 You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.

4 “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! 5 Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.

Adapted from Adapted from Relationships: A Mess Worth Making (New Growth Press, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me build at least one friendship solid enough to create openness to your good news.

COVID-19 Risk Index – 4 Main Risk Factors

Throughout the pandemic, in some portions of the country, people have questioned why congregations have been banned from meeting in person while grocery stores have been allowed to remain open.

In addition to categorizing activities by risk, a newly-released chart identifies four risk factors that shed light on why each activity is dangerous, and therefore why certain public activities are riskier than others.

4 Main Risk Factors

According to this chart, those risk factors are:

  1. Enclosed space
  2. Duration of interaction
  3. Crowds
  4. Forceful exhalation

texas medical association

This chart separates risk into five risk categories, from low to high.

Attending bars, concerts, and sporting events are in the high category, as is attending religious services.  According to the chart, the reasons why attending worship services are classified as high risk are:

  • people are in an enclosed space for an extended period of time; and
  • there is a high chance that attendees will cluster, sing, and touch the same surfaces.

Reducing Risk in Worship Services

Central Church, like many churches, has made changes to our in-person worship services in order to help reduce that risk.

For example, during this stage of the pandemic, at Central Church:

  • People are urged to remain at home if they are feeling sick.
  • Each person coming to our Sanctuary door has their temperature checked by a touch-less, infrared thermometer, and those with a fever (exceeding 100.3 degrees) are directed to return home.
  • Seating capacity has been sharply reduced by roping off pews so each person or household group is sitting at least 6 feet away from other folks.
  • Everyone must wear a mask.  Extra masks are on hand for anyone who didn’t bring their own.
  • Hand sanitizer and disposable gloves are also available at the door.
  • Our choir is on “vacation”.
  • Singing of hymns has been sharply curtailed to an opening and closing hymn (2 verses only), and people are asked to only sing softly or hum.
  • To greet each other, we smile or wave instead of shaking hands or hugging.
  • We use our big screen to project our Scripture, words to the hymns, and communion liturgy instead of using our hymnals or pew Bibles.
  • We do not pass the offering plate.  Congregants place their offering in the offering plate as the ushers pass by.
  • Our communion bread and grape juice are commercially prepared and sterilized in sealed containers which are delivered by our communion stewards on a serving tray to people where they are sitting.
  • Our worship services have been shortened to reduce the amount of time folks are in gathered in our Sanctuary.

All of these precautions, and others, such as special cleaning and disinfecting protocols, are being taken to reduce the risk of inadvertently being exposed to COVID-19 while gathering for worship.  At the same time, we have attempted to retain lower-risk aspects of our familiar, traditional worship service.

We also continue to provide Pastor Jan’s weekly sermon each Sunday morning on our local radio station for those who currently may be more cautious about returning to in-person worship.

While each person must assess whether returning to in-person worship is appropriate in their own situation, we at Central Church are taking prudent and practical steps to reduce the coronavirus risk to anyone coming through our doors.

 

 

 

 

Try Liking Your Neighbor – Relationship Investing

loving-your-neighbor-2Key Bible Verse: Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. Philippians 2:4

Bonus Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:8

Recently I attended a ballet recital in which the 13-year-old daughter of a new friend danced in key scenes. Do I know a grand battement from a relevé? No. And to be honest, watching ballet isn’t one of my favorite pastimes. I went because my new friend and his wife invited my wife and me to participate with his family in something important to them. And I had a surprisingly good time.

It’s as if non-Christians are saying to us, “Show me that you really care about me! Invite me to go cycling with you. Show up at the hospital when my daughter has surgery. Lend me a book that has been special to you. Invite me to see a movie with you. Notice when I’m feeling down. Invite me to walk with you. Call me to say hello. Lend me a tool I need.”

God calls us to cultivate genuine, loving relationships with non-Christians. That does take time. And the spiritual reward may not come for many years—even during our lifetimes. A friend told me that for four years she walked an hour a day with a non-Christian woman who never became a Christian during that time. But she sure learned a lot about God and how he helped meet her needs.

—Stephen Sorenson in Like Your Neighbor?

My Response: A nonchurched acquaintance I’ll reach out to is ____.

Thought to Apply: Before you can convince a man of anything, you must first convince him that you are his true friend. —Abraham Lincoln (16th U.S. president)

Adapted from Like Your Neighbor? (InterVarsity, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me build at least one friendship solid enough to create openness to your good news.

 

 

Try Liking Your Neighbor – A Moving Experience

loving-your-neighbor-2Key Bible Verse: May the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow …  – 1 Thessalonians 3:12

Bonus Reading: Romans 13:8-10

When my wife, Chrissy, asked me to rally the men of our couples group to help move a family, I reluctantly agreed (because I hate to help move). Who enjoys lugging heavy refrigerators and tons of boxes, especially when it’s somebody else’s junk? But Chrissy had become acquainted with Tina (the wife), and she saw an opportunity for us to meet a need.

Tina’s husband, Hans, was certainly grateful when so many helping hands showed up that Saturday morning. We moved everything, including their redwood Jacuzzi, to their new address just a mile away. While moving isn’t my first choice for male bonding (I’ll take a half-day mountain-bike trip any day), there’s something about carrying furniture and lifting boxes that bonds people. And the pepperoni pizza party afterward didn’t hurt either. Despite my bad attitude regarding the move, by the end of the day I felt that we were beginning a special friendship.

The next time I ran into Hans was a month later. I asked him how the move finished up and then mentioned how I thought God used the time to bring us together that day. When I said that, his eyes immediately filled with tears.

“Hans, are you okay?”

“Kenny,” he choked out, “I was so alone.”

—Kenny Luck in Every Man, God’s Man

My Response: How could I help another man break out of his isolation?

Thought to Apply: People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges. —Joseph Newton (pastor)

Adapted from Every Man, God’s Man (WaterBrook, 2003)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me build at least one friendship solid enough to create openness to your good news.

 

 

Try Liking Your Neighbor – Divine Complaint

loving-your-neighbor-2Key Bible Verse: “You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!” Revelation 2:4

Bonus Reading: Revelation 2:1-5

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus praises the believers at Ephesus for their deeds, perseverance, knowledge, and endurance. He notes that they don’t tolerate evil and have not grown weary in the faith. Yet he has something against them for they “have forsaken [their] first love” (Revelation 2:4).

This is often interpreted to mean they have lost their initial spiritual passion toward God. Yet the text literally reads, “You first love you have left.” That is quite a charge for a group that is being obedient, persevering, suffering faithfully, and not tolerating evil.

Christian scholar D.A. Carson notes the “failure of these Christians was not primarily loss of love for God but loss of love for people.” These believers lost love and compassion for those who are far from God. The remedy is to turn around and do the things they did at first (Revelation 2:5).

Over 30 years earlier, Paul commended the believers at Ephesus for their love for one another. Now Jesus threatens to remove their light because they don’t love others. He literally threatens to step away from this church because they no longer love people. This is how serious Jesus is about us loving those from all walks of life and all corners of society.

—Jud Wilhite in Stripped

My Response: Why is loving my neighbor critical to the advance of Christ’s kingdom?

Thought to Apply: Be careful, lest in fighting the dragon you become the dragon. —Friedrich Nietzsche (German philosopher)

Adapted from Stripped (Multnomah, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me build at least one friendship solid enough to create openness to your good news.

Try Liking Your Neighbor – Ice Breaker

loving-your-neighbor-2Key Bible Verse: A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people.  – 2 Timothy 2:24

Bonus Reading: Mark 12:28-31

We have two very unfriendly neighbors: a man who lives three doors down and a woman who lives half a block up our street. When we first moved into our home, they didn’t wave, smile, or in any way acknowledge our attempts to be neighborly. I figured I didn’t have time for mean people, so I basically ignored them. I wasn’t mean, but I wasn’t kind either.

Then I began to pray about taking this whole “Love thy neighbor” thing seriously. I decided to wave, honk, and smile any time I drove by them. This had nothing to do with getting them to wave back. It had everything to do with my willingness to love them even if they weren’t loving to me.

For weeks I did this. I even took my two-year-old over to introduce myself to one of them. (I figured the two-year-old might disarm some of the meanness.) We had a great talk, and my son picked up some new and colorful words. I just asked this guy how long he’d lived in the neighborhood. It was amazing to hear his life story.

And the mean woman up the street actually waved back at me three weeks ago. I couldn’t believe it.

—Mike Erre in The Jesus of Suburbia

My Response: Whom might God be prompting me to befriend?

Thought to Apply: We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbor. —G.K. Chesterton (English journalist & writer)

Adapted from The Jesus of Suburbia (W Publishing, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me build at least one friendship solid enough to create openness to your good news.

 

 

New CDC guidelines say you need these 7 things to combat Coronavirus

http://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=4XfGk1_0PPFtNVM00
  • The CDC has issued new guidelines for protecting yourself from COVID-19, including several crucial coronavirus tips.
  • Included in the CDC’s new advice are seven things in particular that the CDC says everyone needs in order to protect themselves and their families from contracting the potentially deadly virus.
  • Among the things the CDC says everyone should have, face coverings and hand sanitizer are at the top of the list.

Economies across the United States are now reopening after months of closures, and the inevitable is happening: new coronavirus cases are spiking in many regions around the US.

New coronavirus cases are skyrocketing in many states like Florida, Arizona, Texas, and California, where people simply aren’t taking enough precautions to protect themselves and people around them from coronavirus.

If you’re wondering what you should be doing in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect yourself, it’s really not that complicated.

  • Wear a face mask whenever you leave your house.
  • Use hand sanitizer or wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds anytime you touch an object or surface in public.

There are a few other things you should do as well though, and newly revised coronavirus guidelines from the CDC specify seven things that everyone needs to protect themselves and their families from coronavirus infections.

1.  Face Masks:

Face masks are the most important item on the list right now because person-to-person transmission via aerosols has been found to be the main way people get infected by the novel coronavirus.

When people with COVID-19 cough, sneeze, yell, sing, or even just speak, they shed clusters of the coronavirus that float through the air in microscopic saliva drops. When other people breathe in those tiny micro-droplets, they can catch the disease.

Wearing a face mask is an absolute necessity when you leave your home, and doctors believe we’ll all continue having to wear face masks for at least another year, so you may want to purchase a supply of them now since you’re going to need a lot of them if you want to stay healthy.

(Amazon’s best-selling coronavirus face masks are on sale right now for just 54¢ each, and you can also load up on discounted JB Medical KN95 face masks for higher-risk situations like riding public transportation or visiting a doctor’s office.)

2.  Hand Sanitizer:

Amazon has a huge hand sanitizer section on its website with plenty of great options that are in stock and shipping right now, including Purell hand sanitizer that’s actually in stock and ready to ship.

3.  Hand Soap:

Just as important as hand sanitizer is hand soap.  Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds whenever possible.

4.  Disinfectant Wipes:

While face masks, hand sanitizer, and hand soap are all easy to find these days, disinfectant wipes are still very scarce in stores and online.

(Clorox wipes are in stock right now and available to ship quickly, but prices are inflated so only people with a desperate may want to buy them now.)

5.  Paper towels:

The run on paper towels at the start of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States was nowhere near as severe as the run on toilet paper, and that continues to be the case.

Paper towels never expire and you’ll always need them, so you might as well stock up on paper towels while some decent options are currently available.

6.  Tissues:

The CDC includes facial tissues on its list of must-have products, and it’s pretty obvious why.

There’s are plenty of top brands available currently, including Puffs Plus.

7.  No-touch Trash Can:

Last, but certainly not least, is a product that most people probably didn’t think much about until now: trash cans.

The CDC says that everyone should have no-touch trash cans in their homes and offices, especially in common spaces where several different people are likely to use the trash can.

COVID-19 – Risk Level for Various Activities

Here is your risk of getting the coronavirus during various activities:

As you can see, attending church with 500+ other worshippers has a risk rating of 9.
 
(Not to worry – You won’t face that situation at Central Church unless you see a line of about 450 folks are following you into our Sanctuary on Sunday!)

Try Liking Your Neighbor – Whatever It Takes?

loving-your-neighbor-2Key Bible Verse: “Love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”Leviticus 19:18

Bonus Reading: 1 John 4:19-21

Not long after we moved into our first house in California, Janie and I picked up on tension between a couple of neighbors. One, an outspoken churchgoer, told me, “We’re committed to fulfilling the Great Commission. We go door to door … whatever it takes to win souls.”

The other neighbor was unchurched. As we were both working in our yards, he ventured, “Say, Steve, aren’t you a pastor?”

He then unfolded a history of numerous conflicts over small issues with this neighbor and his family, whom he’d never understood. He perceived them as “trying to make us feel bad because we aren’t like them.”

“We just got a letter from his attorney,” he continued, “threatening to sue if we don’t trim a tree that borders his yard. Why didn’t he just come over and ask me to take care of the tree? I was getting ready to trim that tree until this letter arrived. But now,” he said with a wink, “there’s no way I’m going to do anything until he forces me. I’ll gladly go to court just so I can have a story to tell about being sued by Christians over an orange tree.”

“I guess sometimes Christians love us,” he concluded, shaking his head, “—they just don’t like us.”

—Steve Sjogren in Changing the World Through Kindness

My Response: What opportunity to love has God placed in my own backyard?

Adapted from Changing the World Through Kindness (Regal, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me build at least one friendship solid enough to create openness to your good news.

 

 

Try Liking Your Neighbor – A Real Neighbor

loving-your-neighbor-2Who Said It … Terry Muck

Terry Muck first made a name in handball, winning the U.S. championship for that sport in 1973. He went on to edit a handball magazine.

He next transitioned to two publications, first as executive editor of Christianity Today and then as editor of Leadership.

Since then Dr. Muck has specialized in world religions, teaching first at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and now at Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is also the editor of Missiology: An International Review.

What He Said … A Real Neighbor

A man with no interest in spiritual matters related casually to the Christian who lived next door—they talked over the back fence, borrowed lawnmowers, stuff like that. Then the non-Christian’s wife was stricken with cancer, and she died three months later. Here’s part of a letter he wrote afterward:

“I was in total despair. I went through the funeral preparations and the service like I was in a trance. After the service I went to the path along the river and walked all night. But I didn’t walk alone. My neighbor—afraid for me, I guess—stayed with me all night. He didn’t speak; he didn’t even walk beside me. He just followed me. When the sun finally came up over the river, he came over and said, ‘Let’s go get some breakfast.’

“I go to church now. My neighbor’s church. A religion that can produce the kind of caring and love my neighbor showed me is something I want to find out more about. I want to love and be loved like that for the rest of my life.”

Adapted from The Jesus of Suburbia (W Publishing, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me build at least one friendship solid enough to create openness to your good news.

 

 

COVID-19 Update: Answers to the Big Questions

It’s been a few weeks since COVID-19 has commanded the headlines, but as we head into the 4th of July holiday weekend, our national attention is refocused on required wearing of masks and fears surrounding the increasing infection rates of coronavirus since mid-June.

CDC data this week shows an overall 1.1% increase in positive COVID test results―the second week in a row of increased positive test results.  It seems that now is a good time to reflect on what we know in context to other pandemics from the past and, most importantly, what we can do as individuals to help keep ourselves, our families, and our communities safe.

THE BIG QUESTIONS:

  • How infectious is COVID-19?
  • How long do pandemics last?
  • Should I get tested?
  • What is close contact?
  • Wearing face masks?

 


 

  • How infectious is COVID-19?

Infectious disease has ravaged humanity since Bible times.  Parasites, bacteria, and viruses are spread sometimes by animals and sometimes from person to person as is the case in coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

Periodically experts will discuss the R0 factor (“R Not”) which is a measure of how easily an infection passes from person to person.  In the case of coronavirus, it is more infectious than the typical flu, but relative to other common viruses, it is in the middle of the pack.  When the R0 falls to less than 1, an infection usually dies out.

Source:  Popular Science, Feb 2020, https://www.popsci.com/story/health/how-diseases-spread/

 

Experts predict that in the case of COVID a population immunity of approximately 70% will be needed to decrease the R0.  However, it is important to emphasize that several variables will impact these conclusions.  First, how long antibody immunity lasts; and second, whether significant viral mutation will occur, which may mean antibodies will not provide long lasting protection.  Answers to these questions will affect long term public health strategies.

 

  • How long do pandemics last?

Another perspective to re-visit is the predictability of the stages of a pandemic and the public health strategies that align with each stage.  Regardless of medical advances in treatment or vaccinations, public health strategies are vital to combating the coronavirus and will remain so until this infection dies out (R0=<1) or the infection becomes one that is managed over the long term.

Historically, pandemics typically last 1-3 years.  However, some never really die out and measures are put in place to “live with the virus.” 

Each numbered strategy is added to the previous one.  For example, Case identification/voluntary quarantine would be used in all 6 stages. 

  • Should I get tested?

As noted in #1 and #2, case identification/testing and voluntary quarantine are the cornerstones.  People who are ill should stay home and stay away from other people.  Testing is certainly more readily available, but as treatment is still supportive, testing is not necessary unless you need to know your COVID status so you know whether to quarantine. 

Perhaps you are trying to differentiate between allergies and COVID, for example.  Anyone who is having difficulty breathing should go to the hospital.  People who have close contact with someone who is COVID-19 positive should quarantine.

  • What is close contact?

According to the CDC, someone you’ve been <6 feet from for longer than 15 minutes up to 48 hours before they were sick.  

If this is you, quarantine for 14 days.  You don’t need to get tested, just quarantine.  This is why social distancing is so important.  Maintaining distance from people outside of your household decreases your risk and your family’s risk.

  • Wearing face masks?

The topic of the face mask is now a frequent news and social media focus.  While it can be helpful, and certainly is a small sacrifice, it is not more important than washing your hands, staying home when you are ill or in contact with someone who is COVID positive, and social distancing.  In fact, for some, the constant touching of the mask as they pull it over their mouth, under their nose, on and off without hand washing may have the opposite result.

 In places where you cannot sustain 6-feet of distance, face masks make sense.  Put it on, then wash or disinfect your hands and leave it alone until you leave the environment and can take it off.  If the mask is wet from your breath when you remove it, put it away and wash your hands.  Wash and dry your mask frequently.

While headlines can be scary, it is important to keep them in context.  Diagnosed COVID case rates in the US are going up by about 10 per 100,000 people per day.  This is a reminder for all of us to pay more attention to those public health cornerstones and a simple way to avoid the need to go back to more drastic distancing measures.

 Stay safe.  Stay healthy.

 “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts,” – Colossians 3:15a

Freedom is a Choice

Independence DayKey Bible Verse: Choose you this day whom ye will serve . . . as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.   – Joshua 24:15

Bonus Reading:  Joshua 24:1-28

In America, every year July 4th brings with it festivities, fun, food, family and friends, and fireworks—all as a celebration of national freedom.  But even with all the celebrating and fun, many Americans are still caught in the web of bondage on a mental, emotional, relational, financial, vocational or spiritual level.  Most often, we ourselves create the chains that bind us by making poor or sinful choices.

The longer I live, the more convinced I am that life is a series of choices, each choice has a consequence, and we must live with the consequences of our choices.

In order to have true freedom in your life, then, you must make wise choices.

Will you choose:

Good over evil (Psalm 34:14; Romans 12:21)?

Obedience over rebellion (Proverbs 10:8; Hebrews 13:17)?

Truth over deceit (Colossians 3:9; Proverbs 12:22)?

Kindness over dishonor (Ephesians 4:32; Proverbs 14:2)?

Every day you make hundreds of choices and these form the basis for your lifestyle.

Seek God’s wisdom in all of your decisions, not the wisdom of the world, the flesh or the devil (James 3:17).

Take the sometimes difficult step of saying, “I’ll do it God’s way!” even though it may mean avoiding the easy road.  In the long run, the freedom that comes with making godly choices is definitely something to celebrate!

– Ann Shorb

Prayer for the Day:  Lord, we lift to You our praise and adoration for the blessings You give us each day as we choose to walk Your way.

 

A Bulletproof Faith – Heightened Faith

Central - Sanctuary - South 5-Lancet Stained Glass WindowThe Bible doesn’t tell us everything we’d like to know about our resurrected bodies, but it does assure us that we’ll still have personalities and recognizable characteristics.

And what it does describe stirs anticipation of a state perfect beyond anything we’ve experienced.

Some passages to whet your appetite for your future in Christ are 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, Philippians 3:21, 1 John 3:2, and Revelation 21:4.

Interact with God’s Word:  Corinthians 5:1-8

  1. In what ways is your present body (v. 1) as temporary a home as a camping tent? How will your transformed body compare to it?
  2. How has your body made you grow weary, groan, and sigh (vv 2-3)?
  3. How does Paul make clear (v. 4) that heavenly existence isn’t, as was believed in Greek culture, a matter of souls without bodies?
  4. What hopes do you have for your heavenly existence? What fears?
  5. The Bible teaches that the body and the soul are not permanently separated. How will our “dying bodies” be “swallowed up by life”? (See 1 Corinthians 15:51-53).
  6. How (vv. 6-8) does Paul turn the saying “seeing is believing” on its head? What factors (in v. 5) bolster our confidence? (See also Ecclesiastes 3:11 & 2 Corinthians 1:22.)

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God for a solid confidence in your future with him that outweighs any hurt of separation from loved ones and anxiety about the unknown.

Corinthians 5:1-8

1 For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. 2 We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. 3 For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. 4 While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. 5 God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

6 So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. 7 For we live by believing and not by seeing. 8 Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.

Adapted from Adapted from Relationships: A Mess Worth Making (New Growth Press, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Give me a heightened awareness of the next life, Lord, so that I may strike a truer balance in this one.

 

 

A Bulletproof Faith – In-Your-Face Sermon

Central - Sanctuary - South 5-Lancet Stained Glass WindowKey Bible Verse: We want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life.  – 2 Corinthians 5:4

Bonus Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:1-8

I went to my first black funeral when I was 16. A friend of mine, Clarence, had died. From the pulpit the pastor talked about the resurrection in beautiful terms. Then he descended from the pulpit, went to the family, and comforted them from John 14: “Let not your heart be troubled … Clarence has gone to heavenly mansions.”

Then for the last 20 minutes he preached to the open casket. “Clarence! Clarence!” He yelled at the corpse with such authority, I wouldn’t have been surprised had there been an answer.

“Clarence,” he said, “there were a lot of things we should have said to you but never did. You got away too fast, Clarence.” He went down this litany of commendable things Clarence had done for people. When he finished, he said, “That’s it, Clarence. There’s nothing more to say. Goodnight, Clarence.” Grabbing the casket lid, he slammed it shut.

Lifting his head with a smile, he concluded, “Goodnight, Clarence, because I know that God is going to give you a good morning.” The choir started singing “On that great getting-up morning we shall rise.” We were dancing in the aisles and hugging each other with the joy of the Lord, because for us there was no sting to death.

—Tony Campolo in Preaching Today

My Response: Does sobs of pain over death being overwhelmed by cheers of victory strike you as plausible?

Thought to Apply: So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side. —John Bunyan

Adapted from Preaching Today (212).

Prayer for the Week: Give me a heightened awareness of the next life, Lord, so that I may strike a truer balance in this one.

 

 

Central Church – Thoughts on Meeting Together Again

As you know, most states are in some stage of “re-opening,” allowing restaurants to get back to serving meals in their dining rooms (except, for example, in Allegheny County for the next week), freeing gyms to welcome members inside, and permitting churches to hold in-person services once more.

It all comes with a lot of continued restrictions, and as some states see new spikes in COVID-19 infections, more than a little bit of concern.

What is a local church to do?

At Central Church, we resumed gathering for in-person worship, while observing all of the federal and state restrictions, on Sunday, June 14, after Beaver County turned “green” on June 12.

  • It’s important to understand that Central did not “reopen” on June 14. We have remained very much open throughout the pandemic.  What we did on June 14 could more accurately be called “re-gathering.”

Think for a moment of all the work that has continued at Central throughout the pandemic.

  • We conducted worship services online and on the radio each week, and, now that we have resumed in-person worship, our weekly sermon broadcasts on WBVP are continuing for those whose high-risk status urges caution about rejoining in-person worship.
  • As other downtown venues found it necessary or advisable to curtail their meal ministries, we have not only continued our free community feeding ministry to the folks in downtown Beaver Falls, we have vastly expanded it, literally giving out thousands of hot, nutritious meals to anyone who comes to our Fellowship Hall door!
  • Despite media reports about churches that have been “shut down” or debates as to whether churches belong on the list of “essential businesses,” our church has remained active and engaged in meeting many of the absolute most essential needs throughout our community.

It’s important for each of us to realize that, and to know that in continuing to support our church financially, you are directly involved in these efforts as well.

We’re living in times of great tension, divisiveness, and weariness. In important ways, the church—our church—can be a source of calm and healing as folks see the motivation behind the actions we’re taking right now.

Central Church didn’t comply with government orders to stop holding in-person services out of fear.  Nor did we see those orders as a violation of our First Amendment rights.  We complied as an act of love, as an expression of the biblical call to love our neighbors.  It was the loving thing to do to make sure our neighbors and other attendees did not get sick by coming to our church.

By the same token, our decision to re-gather, and especially how to re-gather, is motivated by love as well.

Everyone is eager for life to return to normal.  For the church, the desire to begin meeting in person again was fueled by biblical teaching to “not neglect our meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25).

There is something very powerful that happens when God’s people gather.  It satisfies people’s natural hunger for fellowship, encourages people through whatever afflictions they may be experiencing, reminds people of their shared purpose, and empowers people to go and boldly live out their faith.

So, yes, there is an urgency to re-gathering.  And at the same time, there is a need to re-gather carefully.

As we consider, and take steps, to re-gather, we are mindful of the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines for houses of worship.  The CDC’s guidelines include many helpful ideas.

Whether they are recommendations or mandates largely depends on the rules issued by our state and local governments, so we also work every day to keep up to date on what the governing authorities in our area are saying as well.

Consistent with our Conference’s recommendations, we have gone beyond the basics of making sure people are practicing social distancing and wearing face masks, such as gathering information that may be needed for the purposes of contact tracing if necessary. That includes noting who is in attendance each week.

So far, we have not received word of any COVID-19 active cases in anyone attending one of our worship services, but, if that were to happen, we have the ability to let everyone who was there know so they can chat with their PCP or have themselves tested.

Above all else, all of our plans and all of our actions as we move to re-gather have been wrapped in prayer.

  • We ask everyone to pray for wisdom as we make plans about how we continue to re-gather.
  • We also ask everyone to pray that God would put a hedge of protection around our church, keeping people from becoming ill.
  • Pray that through all the trials brought on by the pandemic, people’s faith would be strengthened.
  • Pray that at a time of such uncertainty, God would draw many new followers, attracted by His unchanging love.
  • And pray that as our church ministers through this historic time, God would be greatly glorified.

Central Church’s Congregation welcomes you!

Whether you are one of the masked folks sitting in our Sanctuary’s physically-distant pews for in-person worship or are worshipping with us in spirit with Pastor Jan on WBVP each Sunday morning, know that you are an important part of the Central Church family.

You are loved, and, as part of Central’s community of faith, we ask you to let folks know if you have a concern or need, and to reach out if you are able to help someone else.

COVID-19 continues to require us to think and act in new ways as we move through these troubling times, but the coronavirus has not, and cannot, change who we are as members and friends of the special community of faith that we call Central Church!