Why Pray?

See the source image

image courtesy of bing images

I am preparing to do a series of teachings on prayer at one of the local churches Betsy and I have the honor of helping out at.  I’ve been giving this much thought because I know what a vital piece prayer can be to a person’s life.  Yet as important  prayer is to me, I was having trouble coming up with a way to present the idea to this church family.

I found the answer this morning as my wife and I took our morning walk with dog.  I asked Betsy what would be the first thing she would say to a group that wanted to learn about prayer.  I wanted to know what she thought would grab their attention.  Her answer grabbed certainly mine, and so the following brief blog entries will examine the wonderful topic of prayer.

“The first thing to say would be this,” my wisdom-filled spouse said, “Jesus prayed.  And if prayer was something that the Son of God saw as important, we all ought to devote some time to it ourselves.”

Jesus prayed!  What wonderful encouragement for us all! Over the next couple of days lets explore some of the reasons why the Lord prayed; as well as His instructions on how we should.  But for today, simply let the fact that Jesus Himself prayed sink in.  If God’s Son saw the importance of being in communication with His Father, shouldn’t we as well?

Blessings,

Pastor Chuck

PS: Here are a few examples from the Bible that tell that Jesus prayed:

Matthew 26:39, 42, 44

Mark 1:35

Luke 5:16; Luke 6:12; Luke 9:28

John 11:41-44; John 17:1

 

What was I thinking!

See the source imageimage courtesy of Bing Images

(The idea for this entry came out of our Saturday morning prayer group as God downloaded it to my wife Betsy’s spirit.  As she shared it with me, I jumped on that wonderful insight to guide my thoughts for this time)

One of my favorite accounts of God doing over-the-top stuff in the Old Testament can be found in 1 Kings Chapter 18.  In this chapter we read about the Prophet Elijah calling out the 400 or so prophets of Baal, one of the main false gods of the time.

The extremely condensed version goes like this: Elijah had become fed up with King Ahab’s leading of the people astray by worshiping this Baal character.  Basically, Elijah tells the king to make a choice, either follow Baal or the God of their ancestors.  He even makes it a visual choice.  Elijah advised Ahab to gather the prophets of the false god and prepare a sacrifice.  If Baal answers their petitions, he will indeed be the god.

Elijah, full of faith in the God of Israel, allows those poor guys to go first.  They prepare the bull on their altar and begin to loudly plead with Baal to do his thing by bringing fire down to consume it.  This goes on for some time which causes Elijah to speculate, tongue in cheek, that perhaps their god is sleeping and can’t hear them.  The ever more frustrated prophets of Baal become greatly agitated and even begin to cut themselves in a show of devotion to the empty deity they are praying to.

Elijah finally says it is his turn.  Just to make it interesting, he tells the Baal followers to douse his sacrifice three times with plenty of water.  They use so much in fact that the Bible says it filled the trench around the altar Elijah had prepared.  As you may have guessed, Elijah then calls of the name of the God of heaven who promptly answers by sending a consuming fire from heaven that burns up both altars with the sacrifices on them.  Elijah then commands the people who saw this powerful display to gather up the 400 hundred prophets of Baal and put them to the sword.

I share all this as introduction to my main point for today, that being what Elijah did next.  You might assume that after an affirming display like he had just witnessed, Elijah would be going all in and all out for God.  Well, don’t assume.  Reading on in the narrative we find Elijah hiding out in the desert, the very next day, afraid for his life after he learned that Ahab’s wife, the evil Queen Jezebel, has sworn to kill Elijah for what he has done before the sun goes down that day.

I can understand the fear Elijah felt, but not so much the pity party he throws for himself.  The Bible says that he came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die.  “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4 NIV)

I have struggled with his reaction for quite some time.  How could he so quickly feel as if God was going to leave him alone after what he has just seen done the day before! Obviously, we can’t know what was going on inside Elijah’s head and heart, but perhaps that’s not the point.

No, I believe the point is to relate to Elijah rather than judge what he said.  Now, I haven’t called any fire down from heaven lately, but that’s not to say I haven’t seen God at work doing wonderful things around me.  In fact, I have witnessed God do two healings that should have me shouting about it on the rooftop of our home.

Instead, I find myself at my laptop at 4 am unable to sleep (again) because of the poison ivy covering my right arm and leg.  Using all my willpower not to scratch as I wait for the morning dose of medicine to kick in, I find myself lamenting what I am currently going through.  My itchy limbs have all put driven the mighty work of God from my mind.

OK, being troubled by some nasty poison ivy doesn’t quite compare with a queen swearing to kill me before the sun goes down today, but I hope you catch my drift.  I, like most of us if we’re to be honest, am self-centered to the core.  My current situation almost always takes position in the forefront on my mind, whatever it is.

I’ve been at this Christian life for quite a while now but it’s times like this that make me wonder what, if anything, I have learned along the way.  I stop myself right there! For this is yet another veiled ‘pour me’ line of thinking.  Though I’m no Rhodes Scholar or Mensa candidate, I have learned much on this journey as a follower of Christ.  Most importantly, that God is faithful even when I am not at the top of my game.

This morning, that realization leads me to once again ask our always faithful Lord to forgive my self-indulgence on the pity pot.  My prayer is a simple one, and you may join me if feel so moved:

Dear Jesus, Thank you for all you have done for me and around me.  Please forgive my shortness of sight and thinking.  Help me to stayed better focused on you, the Great Sustainer of my life.  Give me the courage and opportunity to speak often of your Greatness.  Help me to rise above current circumstance that wants to distract or discourage me.  May I never forget how much you love me, itchy limbs and all.

Though I know Jesus knows me by name, I sign this for you, Faithful Reader,

Pastor Chuck

There is Life in Hospice

Two years ago I was asked to join our local Hospice organization as part of their pastoral care team.  I was honored by the invitation and gladly accepted.  The Oswego County Hospice has long been recognized as an outstanding provider of care to the terminally ill and their families.  I have known many people who have worked or volunteered for them, and to a person they tell what rewarding work it is.  Helping to bring dignity to the end of life has been some of their most fulfilling work.  When I joined the team, I hoped to discover this for myself.

Truthfully, though,  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Not much of my training or experience had prepared me for what I assumed was to be a monumental task.  After all, much of my ministry background has had me with folks, both saved and not, who seemingly give little thought to their own mortality.  Our primary focus has spanned from helping people meet their daily needs to counselling and leading Bible studies.  All of these types of activities have focused on improving both physical and spiritual life.  This Hospice work was going to bring physical death squarely in my face

Thankfully, Oswego County Hospice has an excellent training program.  It taught me much concerning the physical aspects of the dying process.  This information would be valuable as I entered into the patient’s family dynamic.  Although I knew that each case would be different, I felt that the training I had been given had prepared me for what was ahead.

All this excellent training did nothing, however, to prepare me for the awesome power of God I was (and still do) see! How did God display His power you ask? Has there been miraculous healings of bodies? These are legitimate questions especially when asked in light of Psalm 77:14 where the author describes God as: You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples (NIV).

To answer these questions, I must reply that to the best of my knowledge, I have not seen tumors removed through the power of prayer.  Yet what I do give witness to is at least equal to, or perhaps even greater than, a physical miracle.  What I have seen is unquestionably a move of God.  In His mercy I have seen estranged families reunited and lost individuals coming to realize the full life that the Lord Jesus promises.

Allow me to share some of the ways God has moved through Mary (not her real name), her family, friends and even some strangers during her time under hospice care.

I met Mary a little over a year ago.  As with anyone under hospice care, she faced the certainty of impending death.  On my first visit, she asked me what was going to happen to her when the inevitable happened.  Given this wonderful opportunity, I shared with Mary the Scriptures pertinent to salvation and the promise of eternity in heaven.

As Mary listened, a peace came over her.  Though I did not know it at the time, she had been a regular at a bible preaching church years ago before slipping into what she referred to as ‘the wild side of life.’ Hearing the words of John 3:16-17 and Romans 10:9 stirred in her the truth she had known so long ago.  I could tell that the issue of life after death was settled in her heart.

It was what happened since that initial conversation that has showed God’s power at work.  Mary, with her faith renewed in the goodness of her Lord, has become a powerful advocate for Him.  At any given time in her home there are extended family members, neighbors and acquaintances present.  Each and every time I am privileged to be in her company, any and all others with her are invited to pray with us or to be prayed for by me.

One such occasion allowed me to pray for a young man, Danny.  One look at him as I walked in told me much about him.  He was in a dark place, wallowing in self-pity at the turn life had taken on him.  He was homeless and obviously on the downside of whatever he had taken most recently.  A friend of one of her grandkids, Mary let him sleep on the couch, no questions asked.  After she and I finished our scheduled meeting, Mary asked him if it was alright for me to pray with him.  With a ‘what’s the use look,’ Danny agreed.  We held hands and I prayed.

I don’t have a formula for praying, I simply attempt to quiet my mind so that God can work through me.  I prayed for Danny in this way.  In this case I have no recall of what I said specifically and when I finished, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  At my Amen, Danny looked at me with tear filled eyes and told me that what I had said moved him deeply.  I thanked God and him for allowing me to pray with him.

Though I thought of and prayed for Danny frequently, several months passed with no word about him.  As always, God is working even when I don’t know it! My next encounter with this young guy nearly blew me away.  He had a big smile on his face, was cleaned up and generally had the look of someone who knew he had come through something awful into something far greater.  He excitedly told me about his new job and the nice place he had found to live.  His life had taken a 180-degree turn, at he counted our first meeting as the place it started.

I relate this account to you my friends in order to tell you that God is indeed still in the healing business.  The lesson it teaches me is to be looking beyond what I consider needs to be healed and to anticipate the greater thing God is up to.  There is life and there is joy in hospice care, for all involved.  God is healing.  The bible says that nothing is too hard for God.  Oh, and by the way, Mary has been discharged from hospice!

Thanks for reading and be encouraged, God is working!

Pastor Chuck

Peace by Peace: The Full Armor of God

See the source image

 

I put my armor on first thing today.  No, I’m not re-enacting a joust or trying to blend in at a Renaissance Faire, I’m referring to the full armor of God that the Apostle Paul wrote about in Ephesians 6:10-18

It might seem peculiar to some that the God of peace, love and forgiveness would also make a soldier’s armor necessary.  However, if you have been a follower of Jesus Christ for any length of time, you know all too well the battle that rages on around you.  Thankfully, nothing about this struggle is a surprise to the Almighty.  Therefore, He gives us access to all we need to carry on each day.

Paul knew full well the spiritual battle that was happening in his time.  He used the familiar picture of a Roman, dressed in full battle regalia, to describe what and how God was providing for our spiritual protection.  The Apostle then describes why we need it:

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:11-12) NIV

Paul establishes that there is an unseen battle going on around us and that we do have a common enemy, the devil.  Not to give the old liar too much credit, but he is a powerful and nasty adversary who wants nothing more than to cause strife and division, especially among those who profess faith in Christ.

I am eternally grateful that our God is more powerful than Satan.  (Spoiler alert: if you read the Bible all the way to the end, you’ll see it proved forever!) Having said that, the Bible also teaches that the devil is still active in this world.  Peter describes him as a roaring lion prowling around looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Knowing this, putting on the full protection of God’s armor seems like a no-brainer.

Let’s go through the various pieces of this God-given armor to see how they work to protect us.

The belt of truth is the first piece.  Whereas if may sound weird to us to put a belt on first, in this case it makes sense.  A Roman soldier put this piece of his armor on first because all the rest of his gear would be attached to it.  This holds true for our spiritual protection as well.  We must be able to ‘wear’ the truth of who God is if we are going to be able to stand at all in the battles we encounter.

With apologies to those who hold that truth is a relative thing, the truth of God is all encompassing and unchanging.  God is who He says He is and does what He promises to do.

The truth is that Jesus is the Savior of the world; there is no other way to heaven accept through His death and resurrection.  This has to be firmly buckled into our being if we are to put on the rest of the armor of God.

The breastplate of righteousness then attaches to the belt of truth.  A soldier’s breastplate protected his vital organs from harm.  This piece of godly armor does the same for us.  Righteousness, a term that sometimes gets thrown around in Christendom, simply means to be in right standing with God.  The position of being righteous in God’s eyes is necessary because He is perfect and without sin.  I, for one, am not.  The bible says He imputes righteousness to believers and I could never hope to be in His presence if He didn’t.  Because of this breastplate He provides, I am protected from His wrath.  God hates sin; the breastplate of righteousness keeps me shielded from the eternal consequences of it because He provides it to those who have put their faith in Him.

Verse 15 of Ephesians Chapter 6 then tells us that our feet are fitted with readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  I love the fact that this is fitted to each of us personally.  God’s peace, which we cannot fully grasp, is tailor made in such a way by the Master that even though we don’t understand it, we can live and move about with the assurance of the peace that salvation brings.

Once our shoes are on, we are to take up the shield of faith because by carrying it we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  The Roman soldier’s shield was curved in such a way that things would bounce off it.  As we carry our shield of faith, the lies and deceptions our enemy throws at us will also be deflected, bringing us no harm.

With our bodies now protected, we are instructed to put on the helmet of salvation.  Helmets, of course, are designed to protect the head.  The helmet of salvation does the same in a spiritual sense.  By donning it, we are to keep in the forefront of our mind the salvation God has given us.  By staying mindful of the of the grace of God that has been poured out on us, we are better able to stay focused on Him.  As we go through our days in this way, we are far less likely to fall victim to wrong thinking of the deceitfulness of the world around us.

As we are now fully clothed in the armor of God, we are then to pick up the only weapon we need, the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17).  Much as a sword was the common weapon of the foot soldier in Paul’s day, the word of God is for us.  However, this sword has no equal.  In fact, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews describes it thus: The word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), God’s infallible Word is unmatched by any other weapon or tool.  It contains the very essence of God, making it supreme to all things.  What weapon would we possibly want to carry in its place?

Paul concludes this teaching of the full armor of God by reminding us all that once clothed in it, we must never forget to pray.  The list of what we could pray about is endless, but in this context, I would recommend praying to have awareness of the battles going on around us, and the wisdom to now when to engage the enemy and when to wait for re-enforcements.  It is then a very good idea to be praying for others that are on the battlefront, that they too are fully protected and moving within the will of God.

There you have it, my friends.  The full armor of God.  As was recommended to me years ago, I pass on to you.  Get into the practice of thinking about putting on this armor every day.  As you do, consider what each piece represents and how God has supplied it for you and the specific battles and struggles you are up against.  Remember, He who has made this armor is perfect.  What He makes is also perfect and perfectly molded to fit your needs.  All that is left is for us to put it on.

Thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

Corrective Lenses

I remember the day long ago while riding in the backseat of the family car when I told my folks I couldn’t read the road signs we passed.  I was 10 years old and in the 5th grade.  My parents didn’t panic, they send a note to my teacher the next day asking that I be moved to the front row until they could get me an appointment with the eye doctor.  A week later I was given my first eye test (I could barely make out the large E on the top of the chart) and soon after those dorky looking black glasses became part of me.  Though thankfully the styles have changed, some 50 years later I am still wearing my glasses.

No surprise there, as that long-ago doctor had told my mother that I would need to wear them the rest of my life.  And if my blurry vision without them wasn’t reminder enough, my drivers license notes under Restrictions that I need corrective lenses to legally operate a motor vehicle as well.

Through the ensuing years I have gone to get my eyes re-checked when I notice things stating to getting fuzzy around the edges again and when advised to, I have purchased new glasses with a stronger prescription (and finally line-less bifocals to help in reading!).  I thank God for the technology and those who administer it so that weak-eyed people like me can have normal vision.

It is fair to say that my bad vision has been ‘fixed’ when I wear my eyeglasses.  When I think about this, I get a little better understanding of what the Bible says about fixing our eyes on the Lord. The author of the Book of Hebrews puts it this way:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 NIV).

Obviously, this is a different use of the word fix, but you get the idea.  Here’s my simple analogy: I ‘fix’ my weak eyes every time I don my glasses.  In regard to my faith, each time I stop to ‘fix’ my eyes on Jesus, I allow myself to see life with a clearer perspective.  Stopping to consider what the Savior of the world has done for a sinner like me gives me the ability to see the ‘eye-chart’ of life with greater clarity.  Though things will still be a little fuzzy around the edges, I can see perfectly through the eyes of faith that God is indeed in control.

Which brings me to the next thought about my vision as I ponder what the Apostle Paul wrote: For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7 NKJV).  Is he saying I don’t need my corrective lenses after all? Did I waste all that money on exams and new specs all these years? Of course not! I would be foolish to go bumbling through life, tripping over unseen objects because I chose to not wear them.

But the Scripture plainly tells me to walk by faith.  Other translations render it we live by faith, so I rightly conclude, then, that it would also be foolish of me to stumble through life with compromised spiritual vision.  The question becomes: How to do this? I believe the answer lies in the ability to perceive more than just the surface of what is going on around me.  This is the fixing my eyes on Jesus part.

When all is well in my world, it can be quite easy for me to remember to thank and praise God for His care and abundance.  My spiritual vision, if you will, is operating just fine when I do this.  But what about when conditions are not to my liking? How do I see things if someone is in my face about something; or if my employer seems to be putting unreasonable tasks on me and no one else? How I perceive situations like these will go a long way in determining how well my eyes are fixed on Jesus.

For example, do I take immediate offense at being misused in the workplace? If I do, my eyes on squarely on me and my situation and the resultant affects on my life.  I’m not saying we have to be doormats, but I would suggest that we might make the effort to find out the root cause of the problem.  If that is not an option, here’s a better one: pray for the other person(s) involved.  For me, I find this very helpful because it takes my focus off of me and allows me to see the other person as someone who may have issues of their own.  Even better, I believe that all my prayers are heard.  What better way to find a solution to a problem or at least come to some common ground than by going to God Almighty, seeking His guidance.

Being honest, how well and often I follow my own advice varies from day to day.  What I gather from that fact is that my spiritual eyes need corrective lenses just as much as my natural ones do.  It only makes sense; with my glasses on, I pass every eye-test with 20/20 vision.  When I walk and live by faith, my spiritual vision is vastly improved as well.  I put my glasses on first thing each and every day and have done so for decades; now if only I could get into the same habit of fixing my eyes on Jesus!

How about you? Got any spiritual insight (pun intended) lessons to share? I’d love to see them.

Blessings to all,

Pastor Chuck

Learning from Jesus (and others!)

 

I love the way Jesus taught.  To the pride-filled and arrogant who felt threatened by Him the Lord did not pull any punches.  He let them know exactly how He felt about their self-seeking ways.  Jesus would spell out the truth to them even though that would only stir up more hatred against Him, He would not compromise the message merely to stroke their egos.

Jesus also didn’t hesitate to address the lack of understanding His disciples often displayed.  I can relate to the Twelve in this regard.  Like me, Jesus had to help them in their confusion many times.  I greatly appreciate that the Lord would always do this in love, yet making sure His point was made.

When teaching larger crowds, Jesus often spoke in parables.  By doing this, the Lord used things familiar to His audience that would help them to better understand what He was teaching about.  In this way, Jesus brought the very kingdom of God to folks in everyday terms they could best relate to.

I could go on, but you get the idea: Jesus, though never changing the truth of what He taught, spoke in ways that intentionally targeted His audience.  From my personal experience, I have learned much because of the easy-to-relate to teaching style the Lord employed.  I strive to bring this same approach when I am blessed with opportunities to share the Good News.

As awesome as Jesus is, to say He is the only one who teaches within the Scriptures would not be accurate.  The follies, struggles and successes of the characters mentioned in the Good Book all provide us much to learn from.  The list is far to extensive to get into here, suffice it to say almost anywhere you look in the Bible, you can find a person experiencing feelings or going through something similar to what we all have felt or gone through at one time or another.

With this myriad resource material available to us, we might be tempted to say, ‘this ought to be enough, no need to look any further.’ Yet if we stop here, we miss another important lesson; this time from a demon!  The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 5 verses 6-7 are a case in point:

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? (NIV)

A brief background of what is going on here: After miraculously calming the rough seas they were on; Jesus and His disciples had just come ashore in the region of the Gerasenes.  The ‘he’ mentioned in verse 6 is a man described as having an evil spirit. He lived alone in the tombs above where they had landed their boat.  This man was reportedly violent and extremely strong as the bible says that no chains could hold him.

Looking again at the two verses above from Mark, I see at least four things I (we) can learn from this disturbed soul’s actions.  First, he saw Jesus from a distance and recognized who He was.  Maybe he had witnessed the miracle of the sea suddenly becoming calm from his vantage point, or perhaps the demon within him knew intuitively who Jesus was.  Either way, he acted in a way I would like to think I would if I saw the Lord; that is to run to Him.  He didn’t stroll or amble, he beat feet to come before Jesus.

The next teaching moment comes when this man reaches Jesus: he falls on his knees in an act of homage.  Though more powerful than any human, this supernatural being is fully aware of the greatest power there is and reacts accordingly.  The demon’s act of respect is a strong reminder for all of us that no matter where we ‘make it’ to in life, we must always pay the respect due or Creator, without whom we would never achieve anything eternally worthwhile.

Thirdly, this evil entity proclaims aloud who he knows Jesus to be: Son of the Most High God.  For those reading this verse closely, you’ll see that he makes this proclamation at the top of his voice.  I’m not saying we all have to go around shouting to the world who we know Jesus to be, but I will suggest that as we do share this awesome news, we do it with some excitement in our voice.  This is no hum-hum announcement appearing on your news feed, rather it is the telling that the Son of God is indeed alive and still saving souls.  Shouldn’t that raise our decibel levels some?

Lastly for this time, our demoniac asks Jesus a question that ought to be on every believer’s lips each day: “What do you want with me, Jesus?” I realize that the man in question asked this selfishly, but why can’t we use this same query in our times of prayer? It is a fitting conclusion to all we have seen so far: Recognize who Jesus is, run to Him, fall down in reverence before Him proclaiming to all who He is.  This puts us in the perfect posture to then ask of the Lord of Lords what His will is for us today, be it in the moment or season of life.  For me, I know I am best able to hear from Him when I am most fully aware of who I am in relation to Him.  That is, created to Creator.  I need and want Him and my desire is to live this out each day.  Confused about what God’s will is for you? Ask: What do you want of me today Jesus?

I conclude today with a shout-out to all the teachers recorded in the bible (including the demon-possessed). Thanks for sharing your life and experiences with me, the lessons have been helpful thus far and I look forward to learning so much more in the days to come!

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.

Copy right status is public domain

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?

 

 

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!

 

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.