Pastor Chris White
There was a man who worked for the Post Office whose job was to process all the mail that had illegible addresses. One day, a letter came addressed in a shaky handwriting to God with no actual address. He thought he should open it to see what it was about. The letter read:
I am an 83 year old widow, living on a very small pension. Yesterday someone stole my purse. It had $100 in it, which was all the money I had until my next pension payment. Next Sunday is Christmas, and I had invited two of my friends over for dinner. Without that money, I have nothing to buy food with, have no family to turn to, and you are my only hope. Can you please help me?
The postal worker was touched. He showed the letter to all the other workers. Each one dug into his or her wallet and came up with a few dollars. By the time he made the rounds, he had collected $96 which they put into an envelope and sent to the woman. The rest of the day, all the workers felt a warm glow thinking of Edna and the dinner she would now be able to share with her friends.
Christmas came and went.
A few days later, another letter came from the same old lady to God. All the workers at the Post Office gathered around while the letter was opened. It read:
How can I ever thank you enough for what you did for me? Because of your gift of love, I was able to fix a glorious dinner for my friends. We had a very nice day and I told my friends of your wonderful gift. By the way, there was $4 missing from the envelope. I think it might have been those darn thieves down at the Post Office!
Aren't we all a bit like Edna sometimes? God does something great for us and we focus on what we don't have. God supplies His child with everything they need and if we perceive something is missing it might be so by design. I have had some wonderful additions to my life as well as a few painful subtractions over the years. But I have learned that I am under the mighty hand of God and both, yes both, are from One in the same and are part of the wonderful story He is unfolding in this world.
As many of us celebrate the Christmas season, there will be empty chairs at our dinner tables, less than happy prognoses about our health, heart-breaking relational strains, reminders of failures and unreached goals, maybe even the specter of job loss and a very uncertain future. Life is messy and has a lot of moving parts and things don't always go the way we have hoped or prayed.
But here's my point: are you going to focus on what you don't have or will you focus on the goodness of God and what He has already done for you? God, in sending His Son to earth, the Incarnation we celebrate each year at Christmas, did so that we might have life and have it abundantly. He has taken care of the "big stuff" so there's no need to sweat the "little stuff". The joy of the Lord will overshadow any and all of our present sorrows in eternity. As a dear friend said to me once, "When we are finally with the Lord in heaven, this life will just seem like one night in a bad hotel."
And we can always make it through one night in a bad hotel.
With eyes on the Savior this season,
Pastor René Bogue
We’ve been hearing a lot about politics lately. One clear message that is repeated on both sides of the ideological aisle is: “vote!” In fact, we hear that word so much that it can become like the background music in a grocery store. Familiar, even sometimes pleasant, but easy to ignore.
It got me thinking this morning about the parallels between this right we have as citizens, and the freedom we have in Christ.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Galatians 5:1 succinctly sums up the point Paul is making throughout the entire book. Freedom is a good thing. It was hard-won, sacrificed for, and precious. Don’t, he emphasizes, lose that gift.
But, equally important, don’t take that gift for granted. He continues in that same chapter to urge his Galatian brothers and sisters to use their freedom “to serve one another humbly in love.” It is indeed a gift, but an important, costly gift. One given to us from the depths of Love. One we should – must – cherish.
Free doesn’t mean without worth.
There are the plastic lids you find in the “free” box at a yard sale, the free prizes you get just for shopping, and trinkets, and totes (so many totes).
Then there are the gifts. The things made precious by our love for the giver, and often the great cost to them. Your grandmother’s mirror, your mother’s dishes, your beloved’s ring. Such a difference between a careless cast-off, and a dearly-held, carefully given gift.
Freedom in Jesus is a great gift.
And, like the hard-won privilege to vote as citizens, we should not take this freedom for granted. We can be circumspect, grateful, sober, and full of joy as we embrace what we’ve been given. And then use those gifts to act, to serve one another, and to show our love for God and man.
Pastor Chris White
The American church of today needs to learn a lesson from the churches of the Civil War era. Now 150+ years past, the conflict between the Blue and the Gray has softened around the edges a lot and we associate the ‘Stars and Bars’ more with the Dukes of Hazzard than the Confederacy. But at the time, there was nothing quaint or homely or laughable about it. It was not merely a war of political differences, it was truly a religious war in a 95% Protestant nation that led to fratricide en masse.. Both sides of the slavery issue had festered since the days of the Constitutional convention and long before the first shot was fired on Ft. Sumter, nearly every American church denomination had divided over the slave issue.
In the Christian debate over the issue, both sides agreed that you could find slavery justified in scripture (and surprisingly, the law of Moses did cite a lot of laws regarding slaves). The crux of the argument lay in whether the race-based chattel slavery of the South was anything akin to the slavery of the Bible. Northern Christians said no, Southern Christians said yes. The Black church of the day argued that Matthew 7:12 (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you), if taken seriously, really ends the discussion. But as we all know, the Civil War, though spiritual, was settled militarily and for the most part “right” was settled by “might”. All told, nearly 620,000 people lost their lives as a result of the war, more than any other in American history. With casualties that numerous, nearly every family in America would have been grieving for a lost son.
So what can the Christian Churches of today learn from this national tragedy?
religious then logically those who disagree with us are not on God’s side and
therefore, if our opponents are fellow Christians, we must break fellowship. This
is just where Satan wants us. This is not to say religion shouldn’t inform our
politics or efforts to reform the ills of society or create a more just society, but we
need to give real care that politics never informs our religion. Politics are restless,
opportunistic, contradictory, complex and only temporal. This should always
remind us as Christians to approach politics with a healthy dose of skepticism and
never as articles faith. Someone once said that he who marries the spirit of the age
(and politics is the embodiment of that spirit) will certainly find themselves a
widow very quickly.
Pastor Chris White
One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). John 1:40-42
The first disciples of Jesus were John and Andrew. Earlier they had been disciples of John the Baptist but when he identified the Messiah, he sent them to Jesus. Jesus must increase and I must decrease was the motto of this prophet of God. Andrew never became part of the inner circle of disciples as James, John and Peter became. But every time Andrew is mentioned in the Gospels he is introducing someone to Jesus. Few of us will ever be great leaders and preachers but we all can endeavor to connect people we know to Jesus. This is the ministry for the connectors in the world like Andrew.
First on Andrew’s “to do” list was introduce his brother Simon to the Jesus. I don’t know if it was brotherly love that motivated Andrew or that his older brother seriously needed a “come to Jesus” moment (we all have a sibling like that don’t we?). Whatever the cause, the Bible said Jesus “looked at him”. In the original Greek this is more of a long gaze or what we would call sizing him up. Jesus then speaks momentous words to Simon: “You shall be called the Rock (Peter or Petros).” I wonder if there is a bit of double-entendre intended here. When we say someone is our rock we mean they are steady, dependable, and generally unmovable. But also when we are laying down a foundation for a new building we don’t build it on sand or bark-dust. We dig down to rock or bring a large amount of rock in. In Matthew 16 and Acts 2, Peter clearly becomes part of the foundation for the Church Jesus is building on earth.
What I think we should hopeful about in Jesus’s words to Peter is that while these things were eventually true of Peter, neither of them were at the time. Peter was loving and loyal but a fairly unstable and impetuous person. Our cultural grid for thinking about people is that they are always a product of their past and if you ever did something terrible in your past, you cannot be trusted in the future. There is an element of truth to this especially if a person has not yet been transformed by the Gospel and the Holy Spirit. But that is not how Jesus sees us or even thinks of us. With Him, we are not a product of the past but a product of our future. We become in the future what He says we will be. If any man is in Christ he is a new creature, the old things are passed away (2 Cor. 5:17). Like Peter, when we walk with Jesus, we are always becoming something new and better than we are today. And that is some very good news.
Pastor Dave Metsker
Pastoring an amazing group of dedicated people, I nevertheless grew weary. I carried the weight of speaking during the services most Sundays, noting a decline in income, strategizing again and then again, family priorities, counseling, leading, organizing, caring, and caring some more. Regrettably, in the midst of these, I found that my spiritual life was not keeping up with the demands of church leadership. I lamented, “How could this happen to me, the spiritual shepherd?”
This crossroads on my journey with Jesus caused me to go back to the basics. Distractions were aggressively addressed. I repented, understanding that a vibrant spiritual life remains indispensable. Following are a few things I learned as I renewed depth with Jesus.
The most important facet of life is our relationships with God. First, God initiated his relationship with us and longs to be intimate with us. He incomprehensibly sacrificed of his own son for us. Paul explains,
God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8 NIV)
The foundation of spirituality rests, not in our meagre, dogged efforts, but in our response to God’s overwhelming, fatherly compassion. He highly values us (Psa. 86:15).
Fruitful ministry flows first of all out of the spiritual leader’s relationship with God, making an effective spiritual life unequivocally essential. Jesus explains,
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful…. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:1-5 NIV)
Paul laments, we will find people “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” This state is so onerous, he tells Timothy, the primary elder of the Ephesian church, “Have nothing to do with such people” (2 Tim. 3:5 NIV).
Therefore, the most crucial responsibility of a fruitful leader continues to be the maintenance of a vital, dynamic and powerful spiritual life. Jesus calls us to the heart of spirituality:
“The most important [commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31 NIV)
By definition a "spiritual person" actively engages in a range of disciplines through which he or she actually loves God and intimately relates to him, experiencing a spiritual order derived from God's response. Paul explains, Spiritual=Gr. pneuma, breath
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. (Rom. 8:5 NIV and see 4-14)
"Spiritual disciplines" are activities of mind and body purposefully undertaken by a follower of Jesus to bring his or her total being into effective cooperation with God and his Kingdom. Paul continues,Material for A and B from Willard, pp. 67-68.
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. (Rom 6:11-13 NIV)
"Spirituality" at its simplest is the inner person united with the Holy Spirit:
The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. (Rom.8:6 NIV)
The pattern we are so often accustomed to in the Western church, "church lite," engenders a shallow misrepresentation of biblical spirituality. As Paul clarifies,
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom. 12:1-2 NIV)
We yearn for this posture of worship. In what ways has spirituality been difficult for you and others, and how have you especially increased your depth with Jesus?
By Pastor Chris White
We live in a time of great uncertainty where change seems to be constant and most of it doesn’t seem to be “change for the better.” From frightening natural disasters and unexpected job losses, to broken relationships and protracted illnesses, life can throw a lot of difficult things in our path. Back in the early days of Christianity, the Apostle Peter was leading the church of Rome through a terrible persecution (this was when Nero burned Rome and scapegoated the Christians) and decided to write his Christian friends in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) to tell them to prepare their minds and hearts for persecution that was most certainly on the way. This document (the Epistle of 1 Peter in the New Testament) is just as vital today as it was then in teaching us how we are to think and act in difficult times.
Pastor René Bogue
For all the flowers you see around this time of year, you might not know how hard a time this can be. You might not see the eyes averted as broken people walk past the displays. We cannot see inside the heart.
Your story might be a good one. Your mom may fit the Hallmark verse, and this might be an easy day for you to honor her. You might be that mom yourself. You may be woken up on Mothers’ Day with cold eggs, warm orange juice and a fist full of flowers. I had those beautiful mornings years ago, and it is precious.
But you may be in the majority. You may be missing your mom who has gone on before you. You may be missing those little faces that greeted you too early in the morning. You may, like me, have had a mom who didn’t know how to be present, who doesn’t fit any of the cards. Your own arms may ache for the baby you lost, or the one you never had.
For those – for us – the magnifying glass that is “Mothers’ Day” can be brutal.
This year, let’s let the day be, and let’s celebrate all women.
This year, let’s be about the nurturing heart, the love of beauty, and the strength of the feminine soul. This year, I invite you to join me in looking past the cliché and the sales pitch, and embracing our womanhood. Let’s buy our own flowers – for us, for others – and treat ourselves gently this year. Let’s acknowledge our pain, and let’s share ourselves and our stories.
Mostly, let’s take time to fully realize our belovedness in Christ. Let us take a little time to see the beauty that He made, His creative goodness in us, and remember that His care and love for you is unique, deep, and beyond any hope or expectation. You are His child. You are His best work.
“Our lives are unique stones in the mosaic of human existence -- priceless and irreplaceable.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved
Pastor Chris White
“Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Cor. 1:3-4
At age 32, Ludwig von Beethoven was so deaf he could no longer perform in concert. As a virtuoso pianist, Beethoven was the ‘rock star’ of his day having both popular acclaim and financial rewards for his music. But deafness robbed him of more than a career. Ludwig von Beethoven was also a real people-person and enjoyed socializing and intellectual conversation. No longer able to hear most things, he felt it better to withdraw from society rather than ask people to shout things or constantly repeat them.
Despite the grief of losing the ability to perform or socialize, Beethoven made a choice to continue his work as a composer. Tempted to despair and suicide, Beethoven found solace in his art and wrote some of his best works after losing his hearing. In making a decision to persevere despite his personal suffering, he also made the world a richer place through his music. Some people say his condition could be cured or alleviated today with hearing aids or cochlear implants, but it begs the question: would we still have some of the great works we do if personal loss hadn’t forced him to stop performing? I don’t know the extent of Beethoven’s faith commitment, but I do see here an example for all of us on how to face suffering and loss in a Christian way.
First of all there is no sense in pretending that loss isn’t painful or real. We are not spared from sorrows or grief as believers, only hopelessness. Secondly, the suffering we encounter is only temporary and always purposeful. Just as the Father wouldn’t have sent His only Son Jesus to the cross if there was a better way, our afflictions are not without a purpose for our highest good.
We don’t usually struggle with that unless we are in the thick of things and then we question how this could possibly be good for us at all. The short answer to our question is we tend to confuse our personal happiness with God’s highest good and they generally are not one and the same. To quote another preacher, “We want pop-beads when God wants to give us pearls.”
Finally, we need to look and see where our lives and ministries can be maximized in our current reality rather than continually mourn what is forever lost. In 2 Corinthians chapter 1:3-7 (see above) Paul and Timothy tell of their afflictions but note that in them they found God’s comfort in great measure and found they were also able to minister in a greater way to all who were suffering and afflicted. In persevering in their suffering, their ministry was expanded in an unexpected way. Humbly submit to the pressures of the Master’s hand that you might become the vessel of honor He desires. The final result will always be something greater if we persevere in faith.
Pastor Dave Metsker
Knowing who God has called us to be and what he called us to do can provide welcome security and guidance. In his letters Paul often references his calling, indicating its importance. Regrettably, people who are uncertain of their calling may hesitate to serve in various arenas even though the opportunities seem consistent with their spiritual gifts, passion, personality, etc. Often the uncertainty results from believing that a call should be as clear as Paul’s on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-31)! The “call” is often thought to require a highly emotional, super-spiritual event that leaves no room for doubt. When we do not have this experience, we may hold back from allowing God to use us to the full. Thankfully, the Bible gives a broader image of calling than the Damascus road experience.
During my undergraduate studies at Oral Roberts University I was required to attend twice-weekly chapel services. Navigating a particularly dull service, God seized my thoughts. I had wandered from the speaker’s to questions about how I might be more than average, how I might be ordinary and yet impact the world. As a follower of Jesus I simply could not be indifferent, maintain the status quo, or follow the crowd. I wondered, not aware of the weight of my questions, “How can I be a revolutionary? How can I lead many in the Kingdom? How can I do the right, regardless?”
As the chapel speaker continued, the profound rushed into my mind; it had to be God. I recognized that I had primarily thought of leadership as a focus on training followers rather than developing leaders. A pastor can shepherd a flock of sheep to follow him or her to greener pastures. A manager can oversee employees to get things done. These focus on their followers. I began to understand I could also be a leader who develops many other leaders. This would allow me to not only positively influence leaders, but also to indirectly influence their followers!
The simplicity and breadth of this understanding gripped me. I saw that a leader who influences 50 followers could be very fulfilled and productive. However, I further understood training and releasing 10 leaders can positively impact each of their 50 followers, potentially benefiting 500 people! As each of these trained leaders continues to do the same, the leaders influence thousands more. This foundation could yield vast impact, a revolution. The chapel service ended with a song, but my journey began with a heart-pounding vision.
Despite this turning point, when people discussed calling in the ensuing years, I would confess that I did not know my calling. I had no announcement from heaven, no visits from angels, no loud word during prayer, and no prophetic that made my calling clear. Nevertheless, I had a desire to serve God in any way I could. I went on to earn a master’s degree in ministry, pastor youth, and direct a Bible college in Nigeria. While serving at the college, my calling became clearer. It had come, not as a Damascus road experience, but as Spirit-directed realization that my passion, spiritual gifts, abilities, and fruit indicated I had been called to develop leaders. This was my design, my God-given identity. This calling had to be accepted by faith, which is the way almost everything occurs in our journey with God. If I had not embraced my calling by faith, I would have missed it.
Pastor Ron Swor
Some thoughts on team building:
Question - do the people around you feel like they are working WITH you or FOR you??
If they feel like they are working FOR you here are some possible outcomes;
They are an employee and not a partner.
Their productivity will be par and not excellent.
They will feel used and not appreciated.
Their vision will be short-sighted and not long-sighted.
They will discourage others to get involved.
If they feel like they are working WITH you here are some possible outcomes:
They will be long term ministry/ life co-workers.
Their loyalty will endure through the most difficult of times.
Their leadership capacity will exceed your own.
Your legacy will be people and not projects.
They will feel they belong and the Kingdom will grow.