Death of a Salesman

 

My first job out of college was in retail sales.  I hated it.  No matter how much I knew about the product or how much I would reduce the price to entice a customer to buy, my sales figures never matched those of my colleagues.  As much as I struggled on the sales floor, my other primary duty was an absolute nightmare.  I had to design and implement both the window displays and the in-house sets that were to promote the latest and greatest items in the inventory.  Of the many things that I am not, being a flashy attention-grabbing designer is near the top.  You can imagine may trepidation whenever one of my regional managers showed up.  He or she was never satisfied with what I had done, and usually with good reason.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want the displays to look nice and improve sales, I just lacked that creative gift.

It has now been over twenty-five years since I left the world of retail sales, and I can honestly say I haven’t missed it one bit.  The frustration of not being able to improve my skills finally caused me to look for work elsewhere.

I found my niche in the workplace as a painter.  As you may have guessed, not as an artist, but rather a contractor.  With training and a great mentor in the trade, I learned to be quick about my work and extremely neat.  I relished the fact that I didn’t have to design anything, merely put the proper coating on it!  This skill set allowed me to work in nuclear plants, factory settings and finally on a maintenance crew at a local college.

While working my 40 or more hours a week, I also slowly completed my schooling and training (though the training is always on-going) to follow the call God has put on my life to be a pastor.

That’s quite a way from retail sales you might be thinking, but consider this.  I entered this stage of life with the enthusiastic approach of a new salesman because I now had the single best-ever product to promote: Jesus Christ! How could I miss with this material?

But miss I did.  I realize I’m not the most gifted public speaker, but with abundant research and the occasional funny and applicable story from my past, I thought I would at a minimum be able to inspire folks to want more of this Jesus.  Unfortunately, my preaching lacks the ability to really grab a hold of people.

Not to be discouraged, I approached small group leading and teaching with the conviction that if I took the time to really explain what we are studying from God’s Word, those in the group would dive in with me to plumb the deep truths of Scripture.  Again, I experienced only a limited return on my investment of time and study.

Doubt in my pastoral abilities and the persistent voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t any better at pastoring that I was at selling had me once again wondering if I had better find something else to try.  Maybe this unnamed something would finally be my ticket.

Before heading in a different direction, I decided to first to follow the advice I so often counsel with: Don’t make any big life changes without first earnestly praying about it.  With a fair amount of self-pity, I approached the throne of grace with my tail between my legs, telling God I was pretty useless in this kingdom business and that He better open us some other way for me to serve Him.

I chose the term ‘throne of grace’ for a reason.  It is exactly what I experienced! God in His unending grace listened to my pity-party.  Once I got it all out, He simply let me know that it was my “sales” approach that needed changing.  I came to realize I could talk a good game about what living life for Jesus meant, but these words are hollow unless they are backed up with living life as an example of what I was suggesting others do.

What freedom! What a release it is to live ministry instead of merely doing ministry.  To wrap up the salesman analogy, I had to wear the product I was showing, not just talk about it.  The practical application is simple, if not always easy.  The love I feel toward God has to be evident in more places than just my office or prayer room.  It must be the thing people remember about me after we have met or as we build a relationship.  Wearing this love can/should take many forms, but a short list ought to always contain: patience, compassion, willingness to listen and to help (outside of my comfort zone), forgiveness and kindness, to name just a few.

In the short time since God has begun revealing this to me, He has allowed me to see tangible results as people are responding to Him through me in some new and powerful ways.  I am deeply grateful to the Lord for His grace, gratified for the people who are growing in their faith and extremely pleased the old salesman has passed away.

My Chains are Gone. Now What?

 

I’ve been asked if I have a favorite Bible character.  The answer is no, simply because during the various seasons and times of my life, different characteristics (both good and bad) of the folks mentioned in it have had deeper meaning to me.  Jonah’s running from God, David’s sinning and Peter speaking without always thinking first have, like so many others, given me insight into my own faults and shortcomings.  Likewise, the miracle of Bartimaeus receiving his sight and the transformation of Saul from being deadly opposed to Christ to Paul who goes all-in for Him have been powerful encouragements to me.

When asked if I have one particular account in the Bible that I cherish above all else, the answer is a resounding yes! It is the telling of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment and miraculous release found in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles: 16:16-34.

I encourage you to read it for yourself in its entirety, but for now here’s a brief description of the events.  Paul and Silas were in Philippi spreading the news of Jesus Christ as Savior.  They were thrown into prison after Paul upset some men as he cast a demon out of a slave girl these fellows were making money using.

Without trial, Paul and Silas were severely beaten and then put into the inner cell of a prison, their feet locked in stocks.  Around midnight, and in spite of their pain and uncertainty of what was going to happen to them, they were singing songs of praise to God.  The Bible then says that as they were, a powerful earthquake hit the area, so strong that the chains that bound them fell away.

It is what happens next that makes this account so deeply meaningful to me: Paul and Silas not only talk the jailor out of taking his life, but they present the salvation message to him! We are then told that this man and his whole family came to faith in Christ that night.

This all brings me to the point of the title of this entry: My Chains are Gone, now what? Many of you who regularly read these jottings know of my life of alcoholism.  That chain held me completely in the dark and hopeless of any way out.  The ‘earthquake’ in my experience was realizing the saving power of Jesus as I sat in a detox center.  The chains of addiction fell away that day as I admitted my sins before Him and asked His forgiveness.  I give Him all thanks and praise for it.

The journey I began those 27 years ago has led me to being an ordained minister.  No one, myself at the top of the list, saw that one coming way back then!  Though I was not instantly cast into a position of bearing the Good News like Paul and Silas were, I can still see the similarities in how God works.  He removed my chains for me so that I would in turn work for Him.  Because He chose to do this for me, I live with a peace that can only come from Him.

If He has removed the chains that bound you, won’t you join me in spreading His love that is so desperately needed in our hurting world.  Share your story, take the time to invest in the lives of others so that relationships can be built.  No matter what blessings you have received from the freedom granted you by God, there are greater ones still awaiting if you will only acknowledge the wonderful work God has done in/for you.  These blessings probably won’t come in some material form.  More likely it will be you realizing more deeply than ever how much God loves you.

The chains He removed from us make us uniquely qualified to help others find the freedom that only God can give.  I would never for a second go back to the life, it you could call it that, that I was chained to.  But today I remember how it was so that I can always remember the depths from which God saved me.  My chains are gone.  Today I willingly submit the life God transformed to Him, that He use me in ways that promote His freeing power to all who would accept it.

A Grand Re-opening

 

My writing style, such as it is, attempts to inform and instruct both followers of Jesus Christ and those who do not.  It is my goal to present the truth of Scripture in meaningful ways to all who might read these jottings.  This entry, however, is written specifically to those who profess to have put their faith in Christ.  Please read on, even if you haven’t made that decision for Christ yet, for even this discussion might contain something you can relate to.

I recently attended an area meeting of Elim Fellowship.  This is the group that has ordained me and that provides headship over independent ministries like ours.  These bi-monthly gatherings give the opportunity to meet and network with others in our geographical area.  There is also time set aside for praise and worship and usually a message from the Area Director, Rev. William King.  What he shared the other day has had a positive impact on my walk with Christ.  I share it in hopes that it will do the same for you.

It came to him as he was reading through Genesis, specifically Chapter 26:18 which states: Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them (NIV).

Meditating on this verse brought a question to Rev. King’s heart and mind: “What wells of mine have been stopped up.”  In other words, what things had he gotten away from or had lessened in importance to him in his walk with the Lord over time.  He mentioned several things that he became aware of and has since asked for the Lord’s forgiveness and is now making the effort to walk in them more fully.

I took his experience to heart as I too contemplated the question about filled in wells in my life.  Two things jumped out at me as I did: my personal prayer life and my attitude of gratitude (I wonder if they are connected?).

I thought about the mornings some years ago when I would simply stand in my kitchen and pour out my needs to God and then take some time to simply be silent before Him, allowing His Spirit to speak to mine.  Somewhere along the line I have allowed busyness and the need to get things done to crowd out and diminish this precious time.  It didn’t happen all at once, but in keeping with the illustration of the well, it slowly filled in with other things I thought more pressing.

The well dug next to this one I named Gratitude.  I was told early in recovery (the timing of which coincides with my Christian life) that gratitude was an action word.  If I was grateful, my life should reflect that fact in how I lived.  By daily remembering that God was sparing me from the scourge of addiction, my life ought to be a joyful one filled with giving of myself wherever He led me to.  Alas, this well too has gotten somewhat filled in by the cares and concerns of my life.  Gradually, as I look back, I can clearly see how I have allowed them to overshadow my gratefulness.

Here’s another thought about wells: in this part of Central New York, most wells need to be dug 15-20 feet to hit water.  The wells Isaac was reopening were generally dug to a depth of 70 feet! To carry this analogy further then tells me that there is quite a bit of work involved to get my wells flowing again.  The key for me is to remember how sweet and fresh the ‘water’ tasted when I first dug them, thus encouraging me to open them up more fully again.

The same quality of the water Jesus offers is abundantly available to all.  Only His water can give life to the fullest.  It is the same spiritual drink that the Lord offered to the woman at the well; life giving water that quenches our thirst in/for Him forever.

If these thoughts have helped you to realize that some of your wells have been stopped up as well, won’t you join with me in asking the Lord’s forgiveness for our negligence? I have found that by doing so, He has allowed me the pleasure of experiencing once again the joy of His loving touch.  My prayer today for me and you is that we make every effort to keep anything from blocking the flow of the living water He has for each one of us. Amen.

What a Friend, Part 2

 

Many, myself included, have sung the wonderful old hymn What a Friend We Have in Jesus.  As I prepared to preach a message recently on what the friendship offered by Jesus can mean to us, I did a little internet research into the origins of this classic.  What I story behind its writing!

The author of the lyrics is Joseph Scriven. He born in Ireland in 1820.  We pick his story up on the eve of his wedding.  Incredible tragedy strikes as his fiancé drowns that very night.  It was this trauma, coupled with some other family issues, that drove Joseph to discover salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

His life of trials continues after he moves to Canada.  He meets and falls in love with Eliza Roche and they become engaged to be married.  As hard as it is to believe, his wife to be got sick shortly before their wedding date and also passed away.

Faced again with the difficulty and pain of going on, Joseph begins to fulfill his life’s call by providing care for the elderly and other less fortunate folks.  Rather than wallow in self-pity, he opts instead to carry on with the work of God’s Kingdom.

It is during this time (1855) that he receives word that his mother is extremely ill back in Ireland.  He wrote the words to What a Friend We Have in Jesus to be an encouragement for her as she lay dying.  I have an incredible amount of respect for this man who allowed God to use him despite his personal struggles.

I’ve included the lyrics to this great song here.  Please consider them and note the Scripture references I’ve added. I hope it helps you, as it has me, to see the validity of the friendship Jesus offers today to each one of us.

  1. What a friend we have in Jesus,                 John 3:16-17
    All our sins and griefs to bear!
    What a privilege to carry
    Everything to God in prayer!
    Oh, what peace we often forfeit,                Philippians 4:6-7
    Oh, what needless pain we bear,
    All because we do not carry
    Everything to God in prayer!
  2. Have we trials and temptations?               John 16:33
    Is there trouble anywhere?
    We should never be discouraged—
    Take it to the Lord in prayer.
    Can we find a friend so faithful,               Hebrews 2:18
    Who will all our sorrows share?
    Jesus knows our every weakness;
    Take it to the Lord in prayer.
  3. Are we weak and heavy-laden,                Matthew 11:28-30
    Cumbered with a load of care?
    Precious Savior, still our refuge—
    Take it to the Lord in prayer.
    Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?      John 15:18-19       
  4. Take it to the Lord in prayer!
    In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
    Thou wilt find a solace there.

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John 3:16-17: All our sins Jesus has taken on Himself that we might be saved! We find this at the beginning in order that we get it from the start!

And yet, I/we don’t live in the constant all-encompassing peace this friendship offers. Philippians 4:6-7

Part of the reason for our unease was foretold by Jesus: John 16:33

            Take heart= action required on our part

Faith= Has He overcome your world?

In Him, our Friend, we have peace

A friend knows what it feels like to . . . Hebrews 2:18

            Jesus knows what it feels like to go through whatever we’re going through. He can help (if we ask Him)

Still, we get weary.

Our Friend Jesus knows and tells us what to do Matthew 11:28-30

            “All you,” that’s you too!  When you allow Jesus to lead, we can find rest and peace

However, there’s no pink cloud here; John 15:18-19

Strong words about being hated, but true.  The world hates Jesus, the world sees Jesus in us, therefore the world hates us.

One other constant throughout this Hymn: Prayer.  Take everything to the Lord in prayer.  Open up, admit your needs, shortcomings and insecurity.  Your Friend Jesus cares for you and will care for your needs, if you ask and then let Him.

What do you think? Is Jesus a friend worth having?

 

 

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Jesus said to His disciples, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:12-15 NIV)

Jesus calls us His friend. What a friend indeed!  Our human experience with friendship pales when compared to the friendship offered by the Son of God. Sure, most of us get blessed with that one close friend in life.  Someone to confide in and that you trust completely.  The friend who wants to be around you; not because of your stuff or your home, but just to be with you.  As kids it’s called inseparable; impossible to see one without the other.  Plenty of laughter and good times; a person you spend time with and it seems completely natural to do so.  They stand with you in trouble or even get in the middle of it if they see you are hurt or threatened.  This rare kind of friend is a blessing for sure.

Yet I, for one, have never been a perfect friend to anyone.  Likewise, even my closest friends during my life have all had their share of imperfections as well.  Not so with Jesus!

Friendship with Jesus is an immeasurable upgrade over even the best we have known here on earth.  In the scripture passage at the top, He tells us all about it.  We are no longer simply servants, but in fact we become co-laborers with Him.  Jesus let’s us in on His business, which He has learned from His Father.  We can’t go any higher than that!

To be sure, this is not an ‘all get and not give’ relationship for us.  Jesus is also clear that if we are to be His friend, we will voluntarily obey His command to love Him.  We demonstrate this love for God as we unselfishly love each other.  Though this may seem difficult (or at least it does to me when I consider some of the people I know that seem pretty unlovable), God supplies the means: We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

It is simple, but not always easy.  When we struggle in this area of loving others, might I suggest we take a step back to consider what it is Jesus offers when He extends friendship to us.  It is a friendship I haven’t earned or deserve, but it is offered to me nonetheless.  We get the opportunity to love Him simply because He loves us.  When I stop looking at others through the lens of my understanding or perception and start to consider them simply as others that the Lord loves equally as much, my heart softens.

When we obey the call to love others, we are directly involved with God’s business.  Remember Jesus said He no longer called His disciples servants because He had let them in on the Father’s work.  The same applies to us to today.  We don’t know God’s Master Plan, but we can participate in our part of it: Love others as Jesus loves us.

Never forget that it is Jesus who brings the ‘weight’ to this friendship relationship.  He has already done immeasurably more than we ever could hope or imagine.  He proved His love to mankind by dying in our place that our sins could be forgiven.  What a friend! If you know that forgiveness, you have a pretty good idea of What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

If you don’t know Jesus as your friend but find yourself interested in doing so, open up your heart to Him.  I have experienced enough of His faithful friendship to know that if you want His friendship, He will make the way so that you can.

 

When Good Enough Isn’t

In his devotional book titled My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers wrote the following for May 25th: Whenever right is made the guidance in life, it will blunt the spiritual insight.  The great enemy of the life of faith in God is not sin, but the good which is not good enough.  The good is always the enemy of the best.

I/we tend to settle for the good.  Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with good.  In fact, Scripture encourages us to not grow weary of doing good (Galatians 6:9 NIV).  The stumbling occurs when we decide something we have done is ‘good enough.’  It’s almost like admitting we know that it is not the best, but that it, (whatever it is), will have to suffice.

Jesus had much to say on this topic.  If you have a bible handy, please read Luke 10:38-42.  In case you don’t, here’s a quick paraphrase: Jesus and His entourage are passing through a village on their way to Jerusalem.  As was the custom of that time, He and the group with Him stopped at the home of some people He knew, Martha and Mary (whose brother was Lazarus).

As was also customary then, the hostess, in this case the older sister Martha, was expected to provide a meal for these guests.  With no microwave or take-out available, meal preparation was an involved process back in the day.  Martha goes about these preparations while her sister Mary opts to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to Him talk.  Martha is so upset by this that she goes to Jesus in an attempt to have Him intervene on her behalf and make Mary help her.

I love Jesus’ response: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will  not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42 NIV).

Though compassionate toward her heart, Jesus tells Martha straight-up that Mary had chosen what was better.  Yes, preparing a meal for guests was a good thing, but being in the presence of the Son of God was (and is!) infinitely better.

We all need to be careful to not fall into the ‘it’s good enough’ trap because it is almost always a self-serving one.  I can rationalize with the best of them that my reasons (excuses) for not going the extra mile are legitimate.  After all, look how busy I am, and at least I’m doing something, are frequent thoughts I struggle with in this area.

The bottom line is this: if I say something is good enough simply for my own reason(s), it isn’t.  When I honestly look at a certain set of circumstances over which I have said or felt this way, this truth is invariably revealed.  The root of the vast majority of my ‘good enoughs’ is selfishness.  There is usually something I have/want to do that seems more important, hence the need for the good enough label placed on what I was doing.

How shallow this is, particularly when viewed through the lens of eternal matters. Jesus’ mild rebuke to Martha thankfully is speaking to me today, reminding me that I am but a small cog in the cause of Christ.  Today, I choose what is better, which means I am closer to Jesus than I was.  As I get closer, I realize how much more I need Him.  He offers the absolute best, why would I want to settle for anything that is merely good enough?

Two Tickets to Paradise?

Maybe I spend too much time alone.  Why else would some of the random thoughts I have pop into my mind.  For example, I recently experienced the tune and lyrics of Eddie Money’s Two Tickets to Paradise running through my head and in my Christian worldview filter at the same time. Two tickets? How’d he manage that? What I know of the Bible tells me that we each get one ticket to our heavenly home, and it is punched by Jesus Christ Himself!

‘Ok,’ my wandering minds continues, ‘so where did he get those two tickets he’s singing about?’ ‘Did someone lose them, or possibly set them down and subsequently forget where?’

Then some of my bible study comes back to me.  I remember that neither Elijah or Enoch of the Old Testament needed their ticket, as God whisked them into heaven before they suffered physical death.  Maybe Mr. Money had some inside info and grabbed them up.

Usually, at about this point is my mental revelry, something will jolt me back to reality.  I may be in my office, standing on a ladder with a paint brush in my hand or maybe just taking Violet for a walk, when I realize I’ve been on another rather silly goose chase through my convoluted thought process.

In this particular case, I was overjoyed to come back because I do know beyond any doubt that my one ticket to Paradise has already been purchased by the death and resurrection of my Lord Jesus Christ.  I know a heavenly dwelling awaits me.  I don’t deserve it and certainly could never earn it.  I simply thank God for His grace that covers all my sin!

Setting Eddie Money aside, let me tell you what brought on this latest journey through the recesses of my mind; where nooks and crannies contain the lyrics of hundreds of songs I have heard and seem to live on.  You see, my brother-in-law, Stan, passed away several days ago from complications to exposure to Agent Orange during his tour in Vietnam.  Having death hit so close to home must have activated the file containing ‘classics’ from my younger years.

Late last year, as his health took significant down turns, I made it a point to talk to him about faith.  Stan was an extremely intelligent guy; being well read on a wide range of topics.  He was opinionated, but he was always able to discuss/argue things reasonably.  He seldom lost an argument because of his wealth of knowledge and uncanny memory.

Not surprisingly, Stan was well versed (pun intended) with the Christian Bible.  We had had some discussions prior to this one I set out to have with him, but they were usually more fact-based with regards to events and time-lines in the Old Testament.  Again, without fail Stan could pull out more dates, names and facts than me.

As a lover of Jesus who happens to be a pastor, I felt compelled to address the essence of salvation with my brother-in-law.  Bracing myself with supporting scriptures, I brought up how we are saved by God’s grace alone through faith in Jesus.  Not really knowing what to expect, I awaited his response.

With a gentle smile, Stan thanked me for my concern.  He then assured me that he had asked Jesus for forgiveness of his sins, believing that He was/is the Son of God and that His resurrection from the dead purchased his salvation.

Stan had his one ticket to Paradise.

On the Road Again

As I sit, still waiting for inspiration as to what to blog about, it occurs to me that I have not updated you all on what Lakeside Christian Ministries has been up to (or if this serves as an introduction as to who we are, that’s great too!).

First, let me say that we chose our name with much prayer, and recent events have made me more aware of how God wants to use us for His purposes.  When we started out some 5 years ago, we were sure of only one thing: that God did not want another small church that was 75 % empty on Sunday mornings.  Hence, we went with ‘Ministries’ in our name in hopes of letting people know we were up to something a little different than the other faithful, yet small, local churches were.

At first, we thought having home ‘church’ was going to be the answer.  An intimate setting with no stain glass or pre-set conditions was what we offered.  The idea, however, was greater than what occurred.  This is not to say we didn’t experience some sweet ministry in the name of Jesus in our home.  We met some new folks and even held a baptism in the living room!

And yet, at the end of two years, we had experienced no growth.  Back to God in prayer we went.  As we did, it became evident to us four founders of LCM that God was calling us out into our community to be a resource for the existing ministries/churches in our area.  God has blessed this as we continue to build relationships with local pastors and leaders.  As we get better acquainted with them, we express our desire to help.  Also, by visiting various churches on Sundays, we have been able to renew old friendships and make some new ones.  In fact, several of these churches have taken us up on our offer to help by asking Betsy and me to come lead worship and preach.

Even with those exciting opportunities, we were still missing something.  After all, lending our help on a Sunday morning is all well and good, but it is still only Sunday morning.  What about the other six days of the week?

The Bible is filled with accounts of God always being faithful.  I continue to read these knowing this to be true.  God is faithful! He is so faithful that He decided to let us see how much first-hand!  Lakeside Christian Ministries was about to go on the road.

It started when a retired work acquaintance, Ken, with whom I had stayed in touch  through Facebook, saw we were hosting a study on Paul’s letter to the Colossians on Wednesday evenings.  He and his wife starting coming, traveling some twenty miles to get to our home.  The study was blessed by God as He opened our hearts and minds to more of His truth, as well as deepening the relationship between my Ken, his wife and Betsy and me.

As the eight-week study was concluding, they asked if they could bring their son-in-law, an unsaved man, to come meet with us.  Of course, we said yes and to make a long story short, after several months of bi-weekly discussions, answering questions as best we could, this man gave his life to Christ!

Soon after, Ken called to see if we would be interested in beginning a bible study in his home.  We did (we’re now on our 2nd study), and LCM was on the road!  We continued to press in through prayer for more opportunities, and sure enough, God showed His faithfulness once again.

A family I have come to know as I provide pastoral care through Hospice inquired about the possibility of starting a bible study at their apartment complex.  These are hungry people, both spiritually and physically.  Once again, we knew God was providing us a way to show His love to people who are often overlooked or down right forgotten.

Along with being faithful, I have come to realize God’s timing is always perfect too.  A little over a year ago we prepared a seeker-friendly study titled, You’ve Got Questions, the Bible Has Answers.  As excited as we were to offer this in our home, there was little to no interest shown by the community.  I simply shelved the idea as a good one that didn’t work out.  God had other plans for it though, as we now meet weekly at the ‘Projects,’ answering questions and talking about the things of God with a group of people.

As the folks present at these meetings have gotten to know and trust Betsy and me, they have opened up their hearts to the Lord, which culminated in a answered prayer for healing this past week.  A woman with a badly swollen and unusable hand from arthritis was relieved of her pain and regained much of the use of it.  This all happened about an hour after we had prayed for her.  She was so happy she called her mother to tell her she was doing the dishes, something she had been unable to do up until then!  In speaking with the family since then, I have been able to encourage them to thank God for his touch, for it is from Him, not us!

Lakeside Christian Ministries is indeed on the road.  We look forward to whatever God has in store for His kingdom here in Fulton New York, and doing whatever part He has for us to do in it.

For more information about us, we have a Facebook page under Lakeside Christian Ministries.  You are also invited to check out our website: www.lakesidechristianministries.org.  There you will find a more detailed description of the ministry God has us doing as well as uploads of all the preaching/teaching I have done over the last several years.  If you do stop by, let us know what you think and please pray for us that we faithfully carry out God’s plan for Fulton.

But pardon me if I don’t get back to you for a couple of days, I will be on the road somewhere!

 

You Think This is Hot?

I enjoy reading and occasionally commenting on the blogs I follow.  It was as I read the various accounts of a heat wave being felt in various places around the globe that I got the inspiration for this entry.

It is hot here in Central New York also! The temperature (Fahrenheit) is above 90 today and will remain so for the next 4 to 6 days, with an expected high temperature of near 100 degrees later this week. A genuine heat wave like we are experiencing is rare here.  We are much more accustomed to cold and snow than we are to the heat.  My little city averages about 250 inches of snow (that’s over 20 feet!) each year and the air temperature rarely gets above 30 from January through March.

Some places get a ‘dry’ heat, which in theory makes the high temperatures more tolerable.  I have spent time in Denver Colorado and the desert of the southwest US; trust me, 95 degrees is hot whether it is dry or wet! Closer to home, when we get a heat wave it is always a ‘wet’ one.  The dew points will be in the low to middle 70’s during this event, which will make journeying outside for even the briefest time make you feel and look like an extra in a jungle safari movie.

As you may have guessed by now, it’s not the air temperature that I really want to talk about; but as long as we are on the subject of heat, let’s talk Hell for a bit.  Admittedly, I don’t know much about that place, but I can say my understanding has grown from thinking it is simply a hot, nasty place (se Dante’s Inferno).  The Scriptures do plainly say that a place of eternal punishment exists, I just don’t think it’s fire, brimstone and devils wielding pitchforks.

The punishment for those there, as I understand it, will be the eternal realization that life was spent wasted by non-belief in Jesus.  Regardless of the treasures and pleasures amassed, all will be found for naught when the last breath is drawn.  A separation exists between the Holy God of heaven and this place of hopelessness.  Jesus alludes to this unbridgeable expanse in the parable of the beggar Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31).  This is horrible news for those blinded to the truth of salvation through Christ alone.  Maybe fire and unquenchable thirst might be preferable, at least in so much that the physical suffering might temporarily take one’s mind off the eternal ramification of being separated from God.

However, this bad news is more than counter-balanced by what we preachers often call ‘The Good News.’  Knowing that there is a bad makes the good that much more wonderful. The Gospel (gospel=good news) proclaims that God has prepared the way for sinners like me (and everyone else) to stand guilt-free before His throne when life as we know ends.

The certainty of salvation is based on where it comes from; God Himself.  Jesus Christ somehow bore the sins of the world in Him as He died on the cross.  In His mercy He took my/our/all who would believe place.  We cannot earn nor do we deserve what He has done; we need simply to believe it.  The Apostle Paul describes how salvation works: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 NIV)

It really is that simple.  The hard part is coming to grips with it.  I have heard it said that we are all born with a God-shaped hole in our hearts that can only be perfectly filled by Him.  I love that imagery.  It describes my need (if I want to be complete) as well as the complete solution.  And it is all done for me!  God takes the pressure off us; asking only that we submit our will to His as we accept by faith His salvation: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

Let’s review: The current (outside) heat wave plus humidity is oppressive but with history on my side, it is safe to say that it will end sooner than later.  The far bleaker forecast is for those who are feeling the heat (whether they admit it or not) of not choosing to have faith in Christ.  Crushing loneliness and helplessness are their future, the worst possible news.

My friend, if you haven’t ever considered eternity, please do in the context I’ve tried to describe.  Deciding not to decide is still a decision, and a bad one at that.  Put your trust in Jesus, He is who the Scriptures claim He is.  Though I cannot promise you that your life on earth will be all sunshine and roses, I stand (as you can) on the foundation of God’s saving love that continues to bring peace to those who believe.

Uncomfortable weather conditions come and go like the seasons.  Only God is constant.  Hebrews 13:8 tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  No number of fans, a/c or cool showers can give the lasting relief and comfort that the certainty of God’s love can, if only we will let Him.

Is God Non-Denominational?

 

I am blessed to live and minister in an area where there is a great amount unity displayed among the various Christian churches.  Many of us have been able to recognize that God calls us to work together for His purposes.  This is not to say that the pastors I know, along with other church leaders, aren’t caring for their individual flocks.  They are, but they manage to do it in ways that keeps their focus outward toward the greater community, where there is still so much need.

Allow me to share several examples of the unity of the Spirit that exists here.  One Sunday per month a different church will host a community worship service.  Upwards of 11 different fellowships will be represented at one of these.  The hosting church supplies the worship music and those who organize these gatherings bring in preachers/speakers from outside our immediate area to help us see even more clearly God’s plan to reach all people.

Another way in which God displays His unity is through the Saturday morning prayer group.  Every Saturday morning at 7 (that’s right, 7 am) this group has met to pray, seeking to know God more deeply that we may be better able to minister His love to our community.  The group has faithfully gathered for the past 6 years for this purpose.

God calls us to be unified under His banner.  On any given Saturday, pastors/leaders from the Assemblies of God, Methodists, Lutherans and non-denominal churches gather to cry out to God, together!  Though each of our Sunday worship services has a different flavor, we are learning together that the ‘Main Course’ is the same throughout.

Therefore, I’ve titled this brief blog, God is Non-denominational.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to the earth to make salvation possible for all mankind.  Having done this, the Lord also established His church.  At no point in the Scriptures do I find Jesus declaring anything about denominations.  It is His church, with Him at the head.

Please don’t conclude I am bashing denominations.  I’m not.  I merely point out that they are a man-made add on to what Jesus had established.  As man-made, they are immediately flawed because of our less than perfect nature.  My admittedly brief study of the history of denominationalism seems to make one thing clear: the more rules and regulations we make regarding our particular brand of church, if you will, the murkier we make the way to knowing Christ.

Again, let me be clear, I am not picking on denominations or calling them a bad thing.  I have dear friends both in leadership and in congregations  who faithfully serve God under these different headships.

The caution I extend to all, myself (a non-denominational pastor) included is this, we must be conscious of who are we edifying through what we do.  Is it God our Father or some long-standing tradition in our church.  I have sat in on board meetings where much time was spent discussing what were the appropriate colors to have on the altar for a particular season.  To the tradition that might be important, but wouldn’t that time have been better spent talking about how we could meet the spiritual and physical needs of both people inside and out of that church?

Is there value in denominations? Absolutely! I came to know the saving grace of our Lord Jesus while attending a Lutheran Church many years ago.  Many people are still receiving excellent spiritual care in many various houses of worship.  This is a good thing.

But let us all remember, it is God first, last and always.  Anything we construct on the path to Him must not serve as a roadblock to faith.  May we all, regardless of our denominational affiliation, recognize the call to unity God has placed on us.  Together, with the Lord leading all of us, we can truly impact our communities for the Kingdom of God.