Sunday, August 20, 2017

Reflections From Sunday Evening

Been off for a couple of weeks and much has happened.  Charlottesville has been on my mind each day.  I was in the mountains without connectivity when I first got a hint of what happened.  In the following days I read up on the events and also read many different opinions.  Frankly I don't have much to add but after reflecting thought it would be good to share a few things.
White supremacy, white nationalism, racism and violence are wrong.  These things are referred to as evil, wicked and something to be condemned.  But the worst word to describe these things is sin.  Let me try to illustrate.
A year or so ago I realized that the altitude in the Colorado mountains affects me negatively.  In preparation for our recent trip to Georgetown, Colorado I checked with an over the counter pharmacy.  They told me some things that would treat the symptoms of altitude sickness.  Ibuprofen for headache and something else for upset stomach - it was motion sickness stuff -.  They would treat symptoms but the doctor gave me a prescription that is meant to address the problem.  It worked pretty well.  I did not miss a meal on our trip!
I share that to lead to my witness regarding the ugly head of racism that is rising up yet again.  White supremacy and nationalism and racism are manifestations of sin.  We may condemn racist activity but until we find repentance we only work on the symptom.
I write as an Orthodox Christian who knows the redeeming power of faith in Jesus Christ.  I understand our human nature to be fallen from God's original intent and therefore deeply marred by sin.  I see our human efforts at self-redemption as fruitless.  But I do know the power of Jesus Christ to change lives.  Jesus speaks to the root of our issues, not merely the symptoms.
Even as I have thought about this I have an increasing appreciation for my progressive friends who are fearlessly leading the way to resist evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.  (That is right out of our baptism liturgy)  Protesting injustice and evil (I should say sin) moves us in the right direction.
I see an opportunity for Christians to come together and make a common witness to the Gospel.  Call attention to the issues.  Trust in Christ to change lives.  Be hopeful.
On another matter...
Cindy and I celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary Saturday.  Wow.  I am so grateful for the life God has been making all these years.  What joy.
On another matter...
Don't look directly at the sun tomorrow.
On another matter...
It was good to be in church this morning and worship from the congregation.  Jake blessed us with his preaching and Nancy truly ministered through prayer and serving.
On another matter...
Peter Babalian... We celebrated Peter's 90 years of life yesterday.  He will be missed but his witness lives on.
It's been a great day.  I trust you've had a great day as well.
steve

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Reflections From Sunday Evening

When I began preaching a number of years ago I was in seminary and preaching at a little church on Sunday's.  I don't remember how I prepared but have some remembrance of putting the finishing touches on a sermon outline on Saturday night.
Sometime after finishing seminary I heard someone teach, or read something, that persuaded me to make Thursday my sermon writing day.  To this day the majority of the sermons I write are done on Thursday.
A few years ago there was another step in preaching development.  The seeds were sown when I was a district superintendent and one of our district's preachers always worked a week ahead.  She would be writing the sermon she would preach in two weeks was able to stay ahead in her preparation.
When I read an Andy Stanley book on preaching and listened to him I gave serious thought to working ahead.  Since we preach series it lends itself to developing a series outline and writing the sermons at least two or maybe three weeks ahead.
I told you that to tell you this.  Cindy and I are getting ready for a few days off and I am going to try to get away from the norm.  Our church is blessed with good communicators.  Pastor Jacob will be preaching this month while I take the time to get ready for our fall series.
Advance preparation.  That is actually a good idea whether you are talking about preaching or anything else you do.  Teachers practice advance preparation.  Coaches practice advance preparation. Business managers practice advance preparation.
There are other ways we do advance preparation.  When we devote our lives to prayer and searching the scriptures we are practicing advance preparation for the new thing God is planning.
We may do this on a daily basis.  What would it be like to begin your day with prayer and conclude your prayers with "God, I look for what you want to offer me this day."  You have just prepared yourself for the new work of grace God has in store.
Get prepared.  God is moving in your life.
blessings,
steve

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Reflections From Sunday Evening

I was listening to a podcast this week.  It was a podcaster named Carey Nieuwhof and he was interviewing someone - I did not know him and can't remember his name.  But what he said stood out to me.  What I remember about the conversation could be boiled down to "look for a new thing rather than the next thing."
Like many people I tend to think in a linear manner.  Do one thing and begin to look to the next thing.  That includes strategic planning and moving forward to the next thing on the agenda.  Certainly when we walk with the Lord we continually move to the next thing in the Christian life.
Without discounting that what if we looked for God's new thing.  A new thing is not necessarily anticipated.  A new thing is not planned.  A new thing is a thing God creates and does.
Perhaps it goes along the line of "I saw a new heaven and new earth."  We might make a case that God specializes is new things.
History has witnessed God doing a new thing on the earth.  Who could have anticipated the resurrection of Jesus?  God has done new things in nations.  Who could have anticipated the Wesleyan Revival when scriptural holiness spread across the nation?  Who could have anticipated the new life God gives to the one who opens their heart and finds the Holy Spirit moving in and transforming their life?
What if we were to pray; God do a new thing in the world in our time; God do a new thing in the Church; God do a new thing in my life?
It's been a great day.  I hope you've had a great day too.
steve

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Reflections From Sunday Evening

This week I have been reading a devotional called "Great Grace Upon All".  We speak a lot about grace - a free, unmerited gift of God.  We recognize the grace of God that works upon us long before we even know there is a God who loves us.  We speak about the grace that forgives and gives us new birth.  We speak of the grace that sustains and leads us in the holy life.
Think about adding some other dimensions to the grace we know.  It is "great" grace.  That would have been the experience of the earliest followers of Jesus when they experienced the power of the Holy Spirit.  It was great grace.
Grace is Amazing
Grace is Abundant
Grace is Abounding
Great grace upon all.  Certainly all believers.  Perhaps grace upon those yet to know the Lord but with faith coming in their future.  Grace is available to all.
Think about God's grace in your life.  Think about God's great grace empowering you and sustaining you today.
It's been a good day.  I hope you've had a good day too.
steve

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Reflections From Sunday Evening

It is not an easy task to convince people that judgment is a good thing, but that was a big point in the message today.  A basic Christian teaching is that we will all stand before God and He will judge us.  That thought tends to produce a sense of foreboding.  I mean, who likes to be judged?
We do not like it when other people judge us. (Sometimes that does not stop us from judging others but that is another subject.)  But I can make a case that when a Christian is judged it is a good thing.
I didn't necessarily plan to say it in the sermon but I saw Cindy and that prompted me to point out something.
I like to be right.  The other point is that I may not always be right.  I do not necessarily like to be corrected.  (That was where Cindy comes in).  She is so gracious and always has my best interests at heart.  She is able to see things I don't.  She helps me see things rightly and get on track.
But back to my thought.  I like to be right.  I am not always right.  I do not like to be corrected.  But I would rather be corrected than go on being wrong.
This is where I turn to the Lord.  It is a good discipline to spend daily time in the presence of God.  When we open our hearts to the Lord He tests our hearts.  God examines our hearts.  In a foretaste of judgment the Holy Spirit confirms us where we are on track and confronts us where we are wrong.  God's confrontation then leads to correction.  It may not be fun but being corrected by God is much better than going on being wrong.
There you have it.  Open your life to the Lord and welcome His divine judgment to make you all He has created and called you to be.
It's been a great day.  I hope you've had a great day too.
steve

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Reflections From Sunday Evening

We are on the verge of our annual Vacation Bible School.  With 600 kids and another 150 volunteers signed up it promises to be a busy and eventful week.
Pastor Jessica and the entire children's ministry staff work hours and hours to prepare to give our children the best experience possible.  We  could not do what we do without the many, many volunteers who serve this week.  People teach, lead crafts, recreation, songs and Bible stories.  Of course the snacks are vital!  People help and serve.
It is hard for me to imagine the "old days" when VBS would go for 2 weeks.  Years ago there was a pastor who insisted on a 2 week VBS and then would leave town on the first day!  I would not have the nerve to try that one.
It is an exciting thing to think about the people who will walk through the doors of our church this week.  Many of them are members and regular attenders.  At the same time we will have many people coming this week who do not have a church home.  They have yet to discover the joy of a community of faith.  They are people who may soon develop a relationship with Jesus Christ and know the peace of a vital spiritual life.
We are all part of what God is doing in the life of the Church.  Serve.  Pray.  Help.  Give thanks for all God is doing in the church, especially through VBS.
It's been a great day.  I hope you've had a great day too.
steve

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Reflections on the Fourth of July

The Fourth of July is a great day.  I have a couple of personal reasons to say this.  Certainly we celebrate the tremendous gift of freedom we have as citizens of America.  We can reflect on the Founding Fathers.  We have so much to be grateful for.  We enjoy fireworks and hot dogs.  There is baseball and picnics and many other things to associate with this Independence Day holiday.
But here are two personal experiences I hold dear.
On the Fourth of July in 1970 (yes, that is 47 years ago) I was driving around in Butler, Mo. when I saw a friend of mine who was taking the girl he was dating to the fireworks display that night.  He asked if I wanted to go along and also invited his date to bring her sister.  So Cindy and I got together and watched the fireworks.  I guess you could call it our first date.  We have kept it up ever since.  We like the 4th of July.
A few years later, the Fourth of July weekend in 1976 (our nations bicentennial) Cindy and I were with another couple at a Lay Witness Retreat.  The preacher was Dr. Jimmy Buskirk.  The sermon was based on Acts 10 and titled "Where Do You Live?"  The invitation at that camp meeting setting was to "come put your knee in the sawdust and make your commitment to God.  Then tell someone before you sleep tonight."
I went and prayed.  Then I wandered away from the tent and in a field under the stars prayed that if God wanted me to be a preacher I would do so but He would have to make me one.  That was what I shared with Cindy that night and we committed to a life-long journey in ministry.
I have great reflections on the Fourth of July.  July 4 initiated a relationship that I considered the most significant (other than my relationship with Jesus) and meaningful in my life.  Thanks Cynthy, for being the spark of my life.
July 4 also stands as the day I said yes to the call to preach the Gospel.  This has become the life defining experience of our life together.
There you have it.  It's a great day.
steve