Sebring Christian Church
Sharing the love of Christ in Highlands County

Tod's Two Cents


December 2016

This year I will celebrate my 55th Christmas on this earth.  Over the years, I must have received over a thousand Christmas presents.  I decided this week that I would try remember as many of them as I could.   While I cannot recall every celebration, I have in my mind’s eye a collage of Christmas experiences.  I can remember the different houses that we celebrated in.  I remember the different cities where we attended the annual parade.  I especially remember the different people with whom we celebrated. 

Oddly enough, I cannot seem remember the specific presents.  I remember that there were always presents under the tree. Even during our most difficult financial times, my mother always found a way to buy us Christmas presents.  The phrase, “just what I always wanted” was uttered on many occasions. But still very few presents appear on my Christmas collage.  There was the Miami Dolphin jersey in 1972, number 42, the number  worn by Paul Warfield.  My dad told me that he had spoken to Don Shula and they were reserving that number for me when I made the team.  (I’m still  holding out hope.)  Another present appearing on my collage is a very colorful stick horse I got when I was 4 years old.  Even at that young age, it was a pretty boring toy so I’m not sure how it made it onto my collage, but it’s there, right between a picture of the family in the living room and one of my brothers and I playing football on Christmas Day. 

As I pan out across my mental collage, I see people getting older, new people being added and others dropping off.  Different family friends celebrated with us from time to time.  Then in 1984, something amazing happened.  A beautiful girl begins to dominate the space on my collage.  Her dimples seem to light up the images around her.  Before long, the living room scenes begin to be filled with Cora’s family members. Panning out a little further I see two little kids with mischief in their eyes, trying to out-do one another.  I see them playing together with new toys.  I can almost watch Clint and Beth grow up on my collage.  There is one snapshot of them throwing snowballs at each other and another one of in front of a Christmas tree.  It looks like the tree at church.  It must be, because beside them is Tom Balser serving at the ladies’ tea and next to him is a shot of the congregation lighting candles and singing “Silent Night” (in a mental collage you can have audio if you want.) 

Finally, as I reach the edges, of my collage, grandchildren begin to appear. The excitement on their faces is reminiscent of the expressions of my brothers and me nearly 50 years ago: hopes and expectations of what is yet to come.

Of the thousand Christmas presents I received in my lifetime, only two of them made it onto my Christmas collage.  I wonder what ever happened to that stick horse and Dolphins jersey.

 

November 2016

1 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Worship the Lord with gladness;
  Come before him with joyful songs.
3 Know that the Lord is God.
  It is he who made us, and we are his;
  We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
  And his courts with praise;
  Give thanks to him and praise his name.
5 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
  His faithfulness continues through all generations.

- Psalm 100

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.  Last week, when the Chicago Cubs made the final out that moved them to the World Series, 42,000 fans cheered in unison.  I suspect for those in attendance, the adrenaline rush in Wrigley Field was an experience like no other.  Imagine the experience for God if everyone on the planet were to cheer in unison.

Even with all of its faults and distractions, our annual Thanksgiving Day celebration may come closest to that experience than any other.  Sure we have traditions that wrestle with each other to become the main event.  Sure, much of the celebration has little to do with God and His blessings.  Nevertheless, it is one day more than any other where multitudes pause to give thanks.  And while there is such great momentum, lets you and I make sure we join in the chorus and truly shout for joy.

Serve the Lord with gladness. Often times when we want to show our appreciation to somebody, we ask the question, “what can I do for you?”  Doing or serving is a powerful way to demonstrate our thanksgiving.  A few years ago after I had surgery, I was weak and unable to do certain things around the house.  A 1-acre lawn.  I thanked him, and he replied that he was showing his appreciation for things I had done.

 Jesus said, "Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me."   If we witness on behalf of the Lord, feed the hungry, or clothe the naked, we are serving the Lord.  There are ongoing opportunities to serve the Lord by serving in the church.  We are always in need of help in the area of lawn care and church upkeep.  Stephanie our Children’s Director is always in need of teachers, teachers’ helpers and other volunteers.  We have several involved in our prayer chain and prayer card ministry. 

 Come before Him with joyful songs.  Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.   God took every bone, every joint, and He welded them together with sinews and muscles, and covered them with skin and gave us eyes that see, brains that think, and fingers that can pick things up. God made us, inside and out. He made you the way He wanted you to be. And He made me the way He wanted me to be.

That is a mystery. I don’t understand why, but somehow in God’s providence He decided that He wanted a medium sized man, not too good looking, not outstanding in anything, but just a faithful father and husband who would keep plodding along. So He made me. Someplace along the way He had you in mind, and He made you.

And He is still making us. He’s not satisfied with the unfinished product. He’s not satisfied with your temper. He’s not satisfied with the weak areas of your life where you are giving in to temptation. So He’s still making us. He’s still working on our lives.  God is your maker, and you are created in His image. Give Him thanks for who you are.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise.   In ancient Israel, the temple symbolized the presence of God. So whenever the people came to the temple and entered the courtyards they knew that they had come into the presence of God.

Today we know that God is everywhere. He is with you as you drive on the highway and He is with you at work. He is with you as you care for your children and He is with you on the golf course. He is with you every moment of your life. Through Jesus Christ, we have access to His throne, 24/7.  Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, He can have access to our hearts and minds any time He chooses.  Yet still it is appropriate for us at times to exit our everyday activities and enter a time and place dedicated to honoring Him.  It is still appropriate to enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.

 Over the years, we have developed a custom of coming together on the eve of Thanksgiving Day to have a special worship service.  We encourage one another with songs of praise and personal testimonies.  Join us on Wednesday, November 23 at 6:30 PM.  Our usual Wednesday night meal will be canceled on this evening.

 

October 2016

 As we enter the fall of the year, we begin to experience the change of seasons.  Our northern residents will see these changes sooner and more distinctly.  Nevertheless, even here in Florida, we experience seasonal changes, albeit mild ones.   I for one, welcome those changes.  I enjoy the shorter days and cooler breezes we occasionally experience in October and November.  I look forward to the few nights in December and January that I get to throw a couple logs in the fireplace.  And then I’m excited when the spring arrives again.  I guess I just like a change of scenery.  I get bored with the same old thing. 

Even though I like a change of scenery on occasion, there are some things that I don’t like to change.  I don’t like it when a bill that I am accustomed to paying $110.00 a month for changes to $123.99.  I don’t like it when the pickles that have been on aisle 13 for the last 7 years have been moved to aisle 4. In essence I don’t like change in the things or people that I have come to rely upon.  Most of us don’t.  Isn’t it great to know that we serve a God who never changes?  He is the same yesterday today and forever.

As we have read through The Story, some have gotten the impressions that God is different today than he was in ancient times.  “Boy,” they say, “God sure was different in the Old Testament.” He slaughtered nations. He had adulterers put to death.  He was such an angry God then but in the New Testament we read that God is Love that he so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son.  It’s as if we are reading about two different Gods.

God didn’t change, that’s the Jesus factor.  The fact is, God was the same then as He is today.  What He hated then, He hates today.  What angered Him then, angers Him today.  The difference is Jesus.  The crucifixion is a pivotal point in human history.  You and I live after that point so those of us who trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness are able to receive grace - not because God has changed and become a softy, but because His justice has been satisfied.  When Jesus died on the cross of Calvary, the fullness of God’s wrath was poured out on Him. 

That may be one of the overriding themes of The Story.  God didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to send His Son to die at Calvary.  It was the plan from the beginning. 

It was pronounced to a garden snake; 

It was promised to a barren couple; 

It was previewed to desert wanderers;

It was prophesied to a wayward nation

It was fleshed out in a humble carpenter; and

It was finalized on a Roman cross.

The plan never changed, because God doesn’t change. Yesterday, today and forever, God loves us.  Because our sin required punishment, and the only one who could possibly stand the wrath of God, is God Himself,  He came down in the person of Jesus Christ and allowed the fullness of His own wrath to be poured out on Him.  That’s the Jesus Factor!

I appreciate the change of seasons.  Isn’t it great to serve a God who consistently provides them for us?

 

September 2016

Why is church attendance so important? I grew up in a home where my parents had two opposing points of view.  To my mother, it was absolutely essential that her children be in church every Sunday unless they were sick, and she knew when we were faking.  On occasion, she would allow us to get away with faking on a school day, but never on a Sunday.  My father, on the other hand, saw little value in religious activity.  I can count on one hand the times I remember him inside a church and that included his funeral.  However, to appease my Mom, and not have to listen to her, he enforced her policy on my brothers and me.  I’m glad he did.

 

In the days of the Apostles, regular church attendance was not a question.  The Jewish believers were already accustomed to weekly observance of the Sabbath and the Gentile converts were so eager to learn about God’s grace, that that they couldn’t get enough.  In the early chapters of Acts, the church having record attendance on a weekly basis, but by the end of that first generation of Christians, a change in attitude cropped up among some.  This new attitude was brought about by false teaching and resulted in the eagerness to learn being replaced by a sense of entitlement.  The Hebrews writer was prompted to address this new trend.

 

9 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

 

Worship is a privilege – This idea of privilege seems a little foreign to the 21st century American.  On your way to church on any given Sunday, you probably pass several other places where you could stop and “attend worship.” If you don’t like the time of your church service, you can opt for a service as early as 8:00 AM and as late as 6:30 PM.  You could even choose Saturday night service if that appeals to you. 

 

Seeing worship as a privilege can be a stretch for many of us. However true worship does not happen somewhere because the place has the label “church” on it.  Two elements must be present. True worship happens when you are among God’s people and seated around His throne.  The privilege to enter the most holy place was made possible by the blood of Jesus and is granted to the body of believers called the church.  The best way to experience true worship is with the body of believers that you have become a part of, your local church.

 

Worship is a cleansing – It is essential for spiritual growth to regularly attend church, for the worship, for the involvement and for the study.  I saw this statement recently, "the service you miss is the service you need." Each service is intentionally tailored and designed. You can praise and worship God and you can learn things that you didn't know before. You will be challenged and hopefully motivated. Church is where you will be inspired to go higher than you've gone, to live a life that is godlier and greater than you've been living, to sync your life up with Jesus and His purpose and plan for your life. You will come to understand why you're here on this earth: to serve, to give and to love.

 

Worship is an encouragement - the Bible says, we should keep on encouraging each other. We all need encouragement. Life is hard. Life is difficult. We all run into various kinds of challenges; health problems, financial issues, and conflict within our families. We have an opportunity to encourage one another and that is part of what church is about. Sunday service is where fellowship begins. Being in classes, groups and serving is where you get to know people on a deeper level, but it starts on Sunday; the launching point to fellowship and community is in church services. Every Sunday that you come, there are going to be people who are looking for you, wondering if you're there. People will miss you. And the longer and more consistently you come, the more you will be missed. Because the more that you are in church, the more you are involved, the more people miss you and notice that you're not around.

  

It is a marvelous thing to be a part of a local church it is like having a much larger family.  Don't settle for attending church occasionally.  You will suffer, and so will your church.  

 

August 2016

Throughout the Bible we can find different images on the subject of friendship.  The theme is woven into the fabric of the Word from Genesis to Revelation.  Some images jump off the pages at us to grab our attentions and to challenge us in our own friendships.

The first image that comes to mind is God as a Friend that is, God’s demonstration of friendship toward us. When Jesus was preparing to His disciples for the upcoming events that would lead to His death, He said, Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13  Jesus’ intent was not to establish some new axiom but to call their minds to a principle which they would already understand and agree with.  True friendship can be determined by sacrifice and the highest sacrifice one can offer is his own life.  Jesus would soon be offering His on the cross of Calvary.  God as a friend could be the theme of the entire Bible.   Our Creator desired to have a different relationship with us than He did with the rest of creation, a relationship of love, fellowship, friendship.  He would experience death on a cross to demonstrate the supreme level friendship He is offering.

The second image that comes to mind is that of being a Friend of God or our demonstration of friendship toward God.  James, the brother of Jesus wrote, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God's friend - James 2:23.  The specific instance that James is referring to is the occasion where Abraham took his son Isaac up Mount Moriah to offer him as a sacrifice to God.  Though God never intended to permit Abraham to kill his son. Abraham was willing to because he believed that God would raise Him from the dead.  So being a friend of God is being willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for Him while at the same time trusting in His promises.

The third image that comes to mind is Friends with One Another -  a demonstration of our mutual friendship.  In the late chapters of 1 Samuel, we read about this mutual friendship.  181 tells us “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”  In 18:4 Jonathan gave David his clothes and military garb. Jonathan recognized that David would one day be king of Israel. Rather than being envious or jealous, Jonathan submitted to In 19:1-3  King Saul told his followers to kill David. Jonathan rebuked his father recalling David’s faithfulness to him in killing Goliath. Finally in chapter 20  we read of a plan concocted by Jonathan to reveal his father’s plans toward David. Jonathan was going to practice his archery. If he told his servant that the arrows he shot were to the side of the target, David was safe. If Jonathan told his servant that the arrows were beyond the target, David was to leave and not return. Jonathan told the servant that the arrows were beyond the target, meaning that David should flee. After releasing his servant, Jonathan found David and the two men cried together.

Considering each of these Biblical images, the common elements of friendship are sacrifice and loyalty.  Sacrifice is the willingness to give up that which is precious to us in order to promote the benefit of someone else.  Loyalty is that continued commitment, in spite of changing circumstances.  Jesus Christ, therefore, has proven to be the ultimate friend Who laid down His life for us, and promised to be with us until the very end. In fact one of the last images of Him in the Bible is that of a rider who is called Faithful and True.

These images should challenge us to be the best possible friends that we can be.

V How do you measure up as a friend? 

V What are you willing to sacrifice for others? 

V How far can your loyalty be stretched? 

 

July 2016

The Apostle Peter was writing to Christians in the first century who found themselves at odds with the ruling authorities.  To be exact, they were hated.

V James was executed in Jerusalem by the Sanhedrin.

V A few years later Paul is executed in Rome by Nero.

V Peter was executed, being crucified upside down.

The historian Tacitus reports that when a huge fire destroyed at least a quarter of Rome, the emperor Nero pinned it on the Christians in order o divert attention away from himself. Having the masses turn their rage on the Christians, was not difficult as this new religion was already being viewed with suspicion. The resulting persecution was brutal:

“Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired…”

 - Annals XV.44

In light of all this hatred towards Christians, the Apostle Peter’s instructs his readers to live in such a way that God could use their good deeds as a testimony to to their enemies.  It worked. In fact, it has always worked.  History testifies that the church experiences more growth during times of persecution than in times of peace. 

The church may be on the cuffs of another season of persecution  Acts of Terrorism by those who hate Christians are growing with seemingly no consequences to those behind the acts.  No sooner is our flag raised before we are compelled to lower it for yet another attack.  Even within our own country, Christian beliefs are mocked by both the entertainment community and many in political office, and the religious liberties of Christians are declining while those for other faiths seem to be on the rise

What if this anti-Christian attitude is being permitted in order to provide opportunity for God to bring revival to His church?  What if this is what it takes to shake things up?  What then should our response be?  Peter has some instructions for us.

Live as servants of God – Peter warns his readers not to use their freedom as a cover up for evil.  Man’s laws will always have loopholes to be exploited.  In a land where everybody demands their “rights,” it is no longer acceptable point out anything that is “wrong.” Society no longer looks favorably upon moral standards.  Holiness is despised.  “Live and let live” has replaced, “In God we trust” as the prevailing motto.  In a society where the moral bar has been lowered, it can be tempting for the Christian to join in.  We need to remind ourselves that we are called to live as servants of God.

Show proper respect to everyone – As our culture continues to drift away from God’s standards, there will be more and more people whose lifestyles do not measure up to our beliefs.  Some of them will even interpret God’s Word in such a way to condone such lifestyles.  If God is going to use our good deeds and behavior to impact others, it will likely not be from our bashing them on social media, or wearing tee-shirts that insult them, but from a position of respect for them as fellow image bearers of our Creator.

Love the brotherhood of believers – Jesus said that the world would know that we are His disciples by our love for each other.  Living by higher standards may not always be recognized. Being treated with respect may go un-noticed.  But the church’s love for one another will get attention.  After all, if not love, what does the church have that the world wants?  The church in the first century had a strong bond with one another.  They worshipped together, prayed together and even ate together.  They shared life together.  And while they were hated by the world, they had something that the world did not – and that something drew people to their Savior Jesus Christ. 

 

June 2016

The Story of the prodigal son is found in Luke 15.  Maybe you’re familiar with it.  A young man came of age, and decided that he was tired of living in his father’s house and by his father’s rules. So he went to his father and demanded to receive his inheritance early.  As the younger of two brothers, his inheritance would have been 1/3 of the total of his father’s estate.  Since his father was still alive, much of that value would have been tied up in property, equipment and livestock.  Liquefying the assets in those days would have been no small task.   In addition to the hassle this demand put his father through to come up with the cash, it was one of the greatest insults a son could give his father.  In that culture, the inheritance was not presumed to be part of the estate until the father was deceased. In essence it was as though he was saying, “you’re as good as dead to me, just give me my inheritance now.”

In spite of the hurt, the father honored his son’s request and handed him the money.  As soon as the boy could get out of there, he packed his bags and headed off to see the world.  After blowing his money on expensive parties and wild women, it was only a matter of time until he found himself hungry and homeless.  Just to survive he took a minimum wage job feeding pigs and wishing he had it as well as they did.  He came to realize how much better he had it when he had lived with his father and by his father’s rules.  He came to his senses, swallowed his pride, and mustered up the courage to return to his father’s home.  Though he had no inheritance waiting for him there, he realized that even his father’s employees were better off than he was.

When he returned home with his head down and his tail between his legs, he was surprised to find his father waiting for him with open arms.  In fact, his Dad threw a party and invited all the neighbors.  Instead of being treated like the spoiled brat that he was, he was treated like a royalty.  Instead of returning as a hired hand, he returned as a son. 

Though this was a wonderful reception for him, it infuriated his older brother.  While the younger boy was out playing, the older brother was home working; while the younger boy was out spending his father’s money, the older one was on the farm, laboring to restore his father’s wealth; while the younger boy was out disrespecting his father’s name, the older boy stayed at home being industrious and bringing honor to his father.  It’s not difficult to imagine how upset he was when he returned from a 14-hour day in the fields to discover this loser of a brother was home and a party was being thrown in his honor. 

When the older brother expressed his displeasure in his father’s treatment of his good for nothing brother, his father replied “we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

The younger brother is who I was.

Sure I can identify with the younger brother.  Like him, I have made bad choices.  I’ve squandered resources and burnt bridges.  On many occasions I have found myself in need of forgiveness and been pleasantly surprised to have had that need met.  We all have.  This story speaks highlights the forgiveness we all receive from our heavenly Father when we return to live under His roof.  The younger brother is who I was, but . . .  

. . . the older brother is who I’ve become.

I’m sad to say that I can also identify with the older brother.  In spite of my many forgiven transgressions, I am still quick to notice when someone else gets equal reward without putting forth equal effort.  I became a Christian when I was a boy, and while I have done some things that have disappointed God, I’ve not wandered as far away as so many others have.  I’ve been a faithful servant of God for many years, plodding along seeking to honor him with my life.  And like the older brother, I find myself looking down with arrogance on the other prodigals in this world. The older brother is who I’ve become, but . . .

. . . the father is who I want to be.

The main character in this story is the father.  He loves his sons equally even though their loyalty towards him is vastly different.  When the boy returned, the father’s focus was not on the money that was squandered nor was it on the relationship that was devalued. The Father’s focus and attention was on the boy’s decision to return home. 

He recognized his son while he was still a long way off, as though every single day he had been watching out over the horizon, waiting for his return. Finally, when he saw the distant silhouette of his youngest boy returning home, he gathered the pleats of his rope, leaped over the railings of his front porch and charged full speed across an open field to meet him.  Holding nothing back and ignoring the smell of failure he threw his arms around the boy and smothered him with affection.  The father is who I want to be.

 

May 2016

On September 11, 2001, our world changed forever.  The homeland came under attack by an outside terrorist group and 2996 people lost their lives.   This enemy was not an easily identified nation that we could retaliate against.  They were but a deceptive group that spread out, moved around and hid in many different lands including our own. They had little fear of death and a reckless desire to destroy the US and anything that was labeled Christian.  They were much craftier than our enemies before them, hijacking our own airplanes and flying them into our own buildings.  While we had dealt with terrorist attacks in the past, never had we experienced anything near the magnitude of the attacks of 9/11.

Within a few weeks of the attacks, our president established the United States Department of Homeland Security whose primary responsibilities are to protect the territory of the United States from, and respond to terrorist attacks.  For the last 15 years our nation has spent an average of $60 billion each year in an attempt to keep our homeland safe.  While the cost seems extremely high, we have no choice.  We must pay the price to guard ourselves against an enemy who seeks to destroy us.

While Al Qaeda, ISIS and Boko Haram are some of the deadliest groups known to modern man, they are not the fiercest enemy we have ever faced.  A greater  enemy is described in the Bible as being craftier than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.  In terms of deceptiveness, he is described as the father of lies.  As for recklessness, his fate is sealed, he has nothing to lose and he would love nothing more than to take us down with him.  For years, he has been waging war on the family.  We must guard ourselves against an enemy who seeks to destroy us.

On May 8, I will begin a new sermon series entitled Homeland Security A Family’s Defense Against The Enemy. What better time to begin a series on the family than the day we set aside to honor our mothers?

 

April 2016

Each year, as the spring approaches, I try to remember to cut back my crepe myrtles, those beautiful tree-like bushes with colorful flowers.  I cut them back because that’s what I’ve seen other people do, and because in the past, when I have cut them back to a sturdier point on the plant, I’ve found that the branches don’t sag so much and the bush is more full of blooms.  I have also learned that when I fail to cut back my crepe myrtles in the spring, the old dead branches dry up and take away from the beauty of the living ones. 

The Christian life could be compared to crepe myrtles.  The new branches full of colorful flowers are the acts of faith and righteousness in our lives.  Worship, Christian service and fellowship decorate our lives with vibrant color and we become a blessing to those around us.  The dead and dried up branches are those things that we do for ourselves and for the moment.  The Bible calls them deeds of the flesh.  They may be either good and wholesome or they may be self-destructive.  What makes them dried up and dead is that they serve only a short term purpose and do nothing to advance God’s agenda.

This year, I had some decay on one of my larger bushes so I had to break out the chain saw and cut it back even further than I wanted to.  Two to three weeks ago new shoots were coming out on the other plants but this one looked destined to become firewood.  There was no sign of life, until yesterday morning.  On Easter Sunday, dozens of reddish green sprouts began to emerge from this hard little stump.  I can’t wait to see the colorful flowers during the summer.

As Christians, we need to on occasion, step back and examine our lives.  Do you feel weighted down by your activity in Christian service and worship? Are the things you are doing for God’s agenda hidden beneath the clutter of dead leaves and twigs?  Perhaps it’s time to get out the pruning snips and remove some dried up branches.  Pruning snips may seem to be a bit harsh, but they’ve got to be better than a chain saw.

 

March 2016

Springtime has arrived.  For some of you it’s felt like spring since you arrived in Florida.  For many of who live here full time, there is hopeful anticipation of resuming out door activities, planting flowers and visiting the swimming pool.  Spring is the season that ushers in new life where colors change from dry and barren to vibrant and alive.

I think it’s fitting that our annual Easter celebration falls at the beginning of Spring.  What better time to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ than the time of the year that reminders of new life are everywhere around us. 

Whenever I consider Jesus’ resurrection, I am impressed by the amount of evidence that God provided for the occasion. 

- The empty tomb: After Jesus walked out of the grave where He was buried, He left behind the empty grave clothes to prove that He had been there.  But He didn’t leave behind a body.  The best way to squash the claims of a resurrection would be to produce a body.  Both the Romans and the Jews had every reason to scour the area and find His body, but it couldn’t be done.  Jesus is alive.

- The appearances: After Jesus rose from the dead He appeared to many people.  First He appeared to the women who were the closest to Him.  Then He appeared to the disciples who had followed Him for three years.  Since its conceivable that 20 people could conspire to make up such a story, He appeared to over 500 people at one time. For those who did not believe, the solution was a simple one: cross-examination.  Surely if they were lying, all 500 witnesses would not say the same thing.  Surely their contradictions would discredit them.  Jesus is alive.

- The changed lives:  After people witnessed the resurrected Christ, their lives were dramatically changed.  The same man who denied Jesus three times in one night went on to preach the power sermon at Pentecost.  The once timid disciples became bold proclaimers of the Gospel, even to the point of becoming martyrs.  For that there is only one explanation: Jesus is alive.

Those who had the most to lose by Jesus’ resurrection were in the best position to disprove it, yet they could not.  Jesus is alive.

Before Jesus went to the cross, He made the bold prediction that he would be arrested, tried and put to death, and on the third day He would rise again.  He also promised that He was going to prepare a place and would one day return to earth to take all believers to heaven to live for eternity.  That is the great hope of the Christian faith.

That hope would be shattered were Jesus still lying in the grave.  The resurrection demonstrates two important characteristics of Jesus: 1) He has the power to deliver, power even over death;  and 2)  He can be taken at His word.  The Apostle Paul wrote that if the resurrection were not a historical fact then we (believers) are to be pitied above all others.

The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection therefore,  is critical to the Christian faith.  God knew exactly what He was doing.

 

February 2016

As I attempt to empathize with Jesus in the suffering that Jesus endured, the part that gets me most is not the feeling of being forsaken by the Father.  While I have no doubt that it was the greatest suffering, it’s beyond my comprehension.  Having stepped on a nail a few times in my life, I think I can relate to the physical pain that he endured.  But what hurts me most is the way that Jesus was treated by those closest to Him. 

The week began with His triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  The drama quickly increased when he confronted the money changers and accused them of

turning God’s house into a den of thieves.  As the week neared its end, Jesus would find Himself sweating drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, being arrested by a mob, tortured by lynch man and eventually nailed to a

Roman cross and left to die.   Yet on the night of Jesus’ arrest, he was abandoned by His disciples.  Earlier in the evening, during His final meal on earth, He spoke directly to two of them. 

After washing His disciples’ feet, He announced that one of them would betray Him.  When they all questioned whether or not it was them, He identified Judas as the betrayer and said, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” Shortly after Judas left the room, Peter vowed that he would lay down his life for Jesus.  Jesus looked him in the eye and said, “Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!”  In the midst of the most stressful week of His life, our Savior had to call out two of the men most close to Him, two of the men that He called to be his followers, and tell them how they would “let Him down.”

Couched between those two confrontations, Jesus made a statement to us all: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."   - John 13:34-35

I don’t believe it’s by coincidence that Jesus gave this “new command” in the context of betrayal and denial.  From time to time, Jesus’ followers are going to let Him down.  Church members will fight with each other, husbands and wives will be unfaithful to one another, Christian employees will steal from their bosses and those representing the body of Christ will act in ways unbecoming of the body.  As sure as Judas would betray Jesus, and Peter would deny Him, these other things will happen today.  And when they do, we are to

remember Jesus’ command that we love one another.  This is how the world will know that we belong to Him.

 

January 2016

New Year’s resolutions, most of us have made them.  Most of us have broken them and a few of us have kept a few of them on occasion. They must have been things we knew we ought to have done or we wouldn’t have made them in the first place.  Yet somehow, when they were broken, we managed to convince ourselves that they weren’t that important in the first place and that January 1st is no different than December 31st.  Once we resigned ourselves to that reality, the commitments we made conveniently fell out of sight and out of mind.

As we approach another New Year, let me challenge you to revisit some of those long forgotten resolutions that fell conveniently by the wayside, and determine whether or not they are important enough to keep this year.  If they are, then make a plan to keep them.  Forget about the fact that you’re beginning a new year. Refuse to give up after the first or second failure.  If they make you a better you, then start why not start again?.  Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness & put on the armor of light. - Rom. 13:11-12

Let’s face it, our time on earth is getting shorter by the day.  I just turned 53 and I only expect to live to be 105 so half of my life is already gone.  Furthermore I’ve been at Sebring Christian Church for 16 years so if I retire at 65, I have only 12 years remaining.  I don’t have a lot of time left to waste. 

The Psalmist wrote, "Show me, O Lord, my life’s end & the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life" - Ps 39:4. I don’t think God reminds us of this reality for the sake of discouraging us, but because He wants us to treasure our time because that is limited.  I have spent far too many days and weeks reviewing the things I could have accomplished.

Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes once said, “God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I’m so far behind I’ll never die.”  Sometimes I feel that way, but I realize that time moves on whether I am ready or not.  And the Bible tells me not to count on tomorrow because tomorrow may not come. All I have is today.

Consider all the time wasted in sinning. Think of the time wasted in bars or in gambling casinos or in shallow affairs. Think of the time wasted in gossiping or spreading rumors. Or think about all the time wasted worrying about the consequences of the sins we have committed. Satan is a thief and a robber!  He loves for us to waste our lives on sin and insignificance.

But it is not just sin that makes demands on our time. Sometimes busyness does the same thing.  Jesus went to the home of Mary, Martha & Lazarus. He sat down to teach, and Mary was sitting at His feet just soaking in every word. Meanwhile, Martha was out in the kitchen preparing dinner.  As the story goes Martha got upset because Mary was not in the kitchen, with her. So she complained to Jesus, and He answered, You are worried & upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better. - Luke 10:41-42.

We have to determine to choose what is better.  We can get so caught up in the here and now that we fail to deal with the eternal, the things that will last forever.

So we have to ask ourselves. . .

· What is God’s will for me? 

· What is God’s will for His church?

· What does God want for me this year?

I’m assuming that since you’re reading this article that you believe God should be a part of your life.  So ask yourself, "Who or what is most important in my life?"

And I’m hoping that your answer will be, "My relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, is most important to me." If so, then put that at the top of your list of priorities, & say, "This will affect my decisions, my scheduling, my relationship with others, and my whole outlook on life."  Here are a  few suggestions.

Make church attendance a priority.

When Sunday rolls around neither rain nor shine nor football kickoffs will interfere with my being in church, because He comes first in my life. I’ll worship the Lord & nothing will interfere with that."

Make God’s presence a reality in your everyday life.

Schedule some definite time each day to pray & to read His Word. Pray for yourself & for your family & for people around you. Pray for the church.  Pray as if your talking to a God who is right beside you.

Learn to live for today.

The two greatest enemies of time are regrets for things we did in the past, and anxiety about what will happen to us in the future. Many of us are living either in the past or in the future, and we fail to see the opportunities of the day.

Someone said, "Life is what happens to you while you’re making plans to do something else." Another year has come & gone. A new year stretches before us. Help us Lord, to redeem the time.

 

December 2015

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. - Galatians 4:4-5

God is never late.  And God is never early. He delivers in His time and His time is always right.  What made that time so special?

It was a fulfillment of prophecy.  Daniel 9:24-27 speaks of a period of 483 years from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Messiah would be “cut off.”  That reckoning of time would bring us to approximately 27/28 AD.  Assuming that being “cut off” refers to Jesus’ crucifixion, His birth must have come some 30 years or so prior.  The 1st century Jews were expecting Him.  The scribes were quick to answer Herod that He was to be born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2) and Simeon was assured that he would see the Lord’s salvation (Luke 2.)

The political landscape was ripe under Roman Rule.  The term "Pax Romana," literally means "Roman peace," and it refers to the time period from 27 BC to 180 AD where there were  peaceful conditions throughout the world  that provided for the advancement of the gospel.  The Mediterranean world was united in language allowing communication between different people groups and those carrying the gospel were beneficiaries of the Roman road system which made travel more feasible than any other time in history until the last 300 years.

The spiritual landscape was also ripe.  The Jews were beginning to realize that they were unable to keep the Old Testament Law.  Paul referred to it as a school master who led him to his need for Jesus Christ.  The Greeks were also realizing that their religious activity was impotent and that their countless pagan gods were powerless to save.

In each of our lives the fullness of time comes where we recognize that we need a Savior., that there is more to life than our simple existence and we are compelled to place our trust in Jesus Christ.  This year as we celebrate the most wonderful time of the year, I would like for us to  turn our focus on the most wonderful time in history and be reminded once again of our need for Jesus.  I will use Galatians 4:4-5 as a guide for my preaching.

 

November 2015

Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.  James 1:16-18 

Whenever I reminisce of Thanksgivings gone by, my mind goes back to childhood days. 

· I remember running around outside and playing games with the cool fall breeze in the air and then entering a home warmed by an oven that had been working overtime.

· I remember the aroma of pumpkin pies and roasted turkey and the gathering of family from miles around to assemble for this annual meal.

· I remember watching the  Miami Dolphins beat the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving day and listening to my Dad argue with the broadcaster. 

· I remember late the night before Thanksgiving Day, my brothers and I laying 2x4s on Highway 27 to create some vibration for passing semis carrying citrus.  We usually had oranges and grapefruits  added to our Thanksgiving spread.

· I remember years that we had our Thanksgiving dinner in a large dining room with twelve people present and I remember years that we had the same meal in the carport and spread all over the yard because only twelve people could fit inside.

· I remember celebrations and I remember arguments. 

· I remember gatherings with new family members and I remember gatherings marked by the absence of one who would be there no more.

The one thing that makes my memories so special to me is FAMILY.  There is something very special about the family.  From the very beginning of our nation, the family has played an important part of our society.  Even across the world in different cultures there is a strong sense of loyalty towards family members.  The family is definitely a gift from the Father of lights. 

Could it be that God created us with needs that can only be met in the context of a family?   Is it possible that He worked it out that way so we would long for an even greater relationship with our real family and our heavenly Father?

 

October 2015

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens.

Ecclesiastes 3:1           

I had just finished my first summer as a full-time preacher.  I had presented myself as a conservative when it came to my position on the inspiration of Scriptures.  I believed and taught that a God who cannot lie and cannot make mistakes, supernaturally guided the Biblical writers to write down His message to ensure that it was without error.  If the Bible said it then it’s as true today as it was 2,000 years ago.  The nucleus of our small congregation was ultra conservative and so they were pleased to have found such a young man who held such an “old fashioned” view on the authority Scripture.

What I soon discovered, however, was that many of these folks assumed that since we saw eye to eye on the authority of Scriptures, we would naturally agree on every other value that they held near and dear.  Some expected me to embrace the King James Version of the Bible as the only true English translation.  They thought I should preach, teach and quote only the KJV and renounce all other versions.  Another expectation was that I would discourage clapping and hand raising during worship.  I would not comply with either of these expectations.

There was one thing though that I did reconsider, my position on the celebration of Halloween.  While I had never taken a stand against it in the past, I had always found it inconsistent for God’s people to parade their children around town dressed up to look like demons, witches and other characters that were anything but God-like.  I had also wondered from time to time how much wisdom could be found in making light of the world of darkness and glamorizing signs and symbols of the occult.  The Christian slogan of ‘90s, WWJD had me trying to envision Jesus dressed up in orange and black, and going door to door collecting candy bars and lollypops.  It was settled, or children would no longer go trick or treating. 

As the evening came that year,  the streets filled up with robots and princesses, Smurfs and Rugrats, even movie stars.  Very little of what I saw resembled the dark side of the holiday.  Had I overreacted?  Had I allowed someone else’s convictions to pressure me into changing my own?

I concluded that a personal stand against Halloween is a valid position.  But not the position I hold.  Rather than sit it out, I asked, “why not use it for God’s glory?”  Instead of turning off the lights, closing the shades and lowering the TV volume, and pretend  to not be home, why not provide the children with a positive experience in the name of Jesus?

For the past 8-years, each Halloween, we have hosted Trunk or Treat.  Church members and friends park their cars, decorate their trunks, and pass out candy.  Hundreds of children from all over the county come through, dressed as pilots, firemen, ballerinas and even occasional ghosts.  They play games, collect candy, eat hot dogs, drink soft drinks, bounce on inflatables, and enter drawings for prizes, all in the parking lot of a church. 

How is this used for God’s glory? 

· The children experience God’s people reaching out to them. 

· The parents realize that Christians are not just a group of closed minded, bible thumping haters with nothing else to do but point out someone else’s sin. 

· The church family fellowships with one another and engages in conversation with those who do not know Jesus. 

· The church office collects addresses of local families, many of which do not have a church home.

If you would like to participate this year, there are many different ways.  You can choose to decorate the trunk of your car and be on the front line with the children and their parents.  You may also choose to help in another area such as cooking or serving hot dogs, monitoring inflatable toys, helping with the drawings, or donating candy, bikes, or other prizes.

 

September 2015

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. - Ecclesiastes 3:1

I don’t believe that Solomon is referring only to the four seasons of the annual calendar.  His words refer also to every thing in life.  He goes on to say, there is a time for everything and lists the following  contrasts:

a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace

and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

Isn’t it great that when God created the universe and set the planets in motion that He created seasons?    By His design, we have winter, spring, summer and fall. The differences between them are more noticeable in some places than they are in others, but we all experience the changing of seasons no matter where we live.  Wouldn’t life be boring if every day was spring?  Winters may be cold and bitter, but without them we would never have the need to warm up around a fire.   Summers, especially in Florida can be hot and humid, yet hundreds of thousands of people come here daily to enjoy our beaches and attractions.

The reality is that for every negative situation in our lives, if we try, we can find a positive counterpart.    The financial mistakes we made when we were younger brought pain and hardship, but the lessons we learned through them bring blessings today. The loss of a loved one brings heartache and sorrow, but the ability to identify with, and minister to someone experiencing that pain today, brings immeasurable joy.

Paul writes in Romans that  “in all things, God works to the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”   When we’re committed to serving God and fulfilling His calling in our lives, then in all things He will work to our good.  He will bring triumph even out of tragedies.

Our church family has bid farewell to two very active couples in our fellowship.  Dwight and Becky Webster have sold their home and are moving back to Atlanta.  Dwight taught Bible study, delivered communion mediations, and served Sebring Christian congregation as an elder.  Becky worked diligently in the children’s ministry and played the piano when called upon.  Blake and Bethany Rushing have relocated to Savannah, GA where Blake has accepted a position with the Savannah Church of Christ. 

I choose to call on God’s promise to work for the good of those who love Him . . . in all things.  While both these couples will be greatly missed at Sebring Christian Church I trust that God will use them mightily in the days and years to come wherever he fits them into His kingdom; and  I am confident that God will raise up faithful servants here to fill the void that they will leave behind.

 

August 2015

I was once at a conference where I met a gentleman who immediately introduced me to someone else as his “new friend.”  I’ll admit that I was flattered, but I realized that this man barely knew my name let alone my character.  He was using the term friend rather freely in a way that he might, “win friends and influence people.”

More recently, I received a friend request on Facebook.  Since I didn’t immediately recognize the person, I clicked on his name to see if we had any friends in common.  This evidently likeable individual had over 1900 friends, but the one friend we had in common was a guy I went to high school with and haven’t seen in 30 years.  I’m sure he’s waiting with bated breath for my acceptance of his friend request.

Has it ever occurred to you that God does not use the word “friend” as loosely as we do?  In the Bible, being called a friend of God is a great honor.  In fact, the designation was used only two times.  Speaking to His disciples, Jesus uses the word “friend” to indicate the personal knowledge that they had of Him.  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 15:15 James, the brother of Jesus wrote, And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. - James 2:23

 

I want to be called “God’s friend.” Not by me, but by Him.  Not simply by virtue of being a church goer.  Not I’m His Facebook acquaintance because He and I know some of the same people.  I want to be called “God’s friend” because I am someone who shares His values, someone He can count on, someone He can talk to, and someone who spends time with Him and enjoys it.  I want to be a true friend.

I believe David in the Bible is specifically that kind of a person.  A man of loyalty, integrity, humility and passion, he is described as “a man after God’s own heart.” 

This year on Friend Day, I will begin a sermon series exploring different events in the life of the great man of God.  The series title will be, “After God’s Heart” and I hope we can identify not only the character traits that make up a friend of God, but how we can demonstrate them in our own lives.

 

After God’s Heart

Aug 23

A Peculiar Motive

Aug 30

Respecting The Lord’s Anointed

Sept 6

Restoring God’s Position

Sept 13

Remembering Where You Came From

Sept 20

Mourning over Sin

Sept 27

Lessons From Unlikely People

Oct 4

Water From Bethlehem’s Well

Oct 11

Worship Should Cost Me Something

 

 


July 2015

There is a lot of confusion over the recent Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriages.  Does the ruling require each state to issue licenses or recognize those married in other states? Is the Supreme Court’s role to create new laws or is its role to determine the legality of the laws passed by congress? These questions will be debated on cable news and hashed out in our government over the next several months and perhaps years.  I have no doubt that when the hashing is complete, same sex marriages will be common place in all 50 states.

What is common in our culture, however, is not necessarily acceptable to God.  In fact, throughout the ages, the church has been counter cultural.  My greatest concern is not how our government or society reacts to such an issue, but how the church reacts.  I have read many “Christian” responses to the issue, some in favor and most in opposition and I must say, “I am concerned.”


Right position, but wrong motive.

Many of those who object to same sex marriages hold a Biblical position but do not present themselves in a Christ-like manner. The love of Christ is overshadowed by human characteristics and emotions.

Pride - Some in opposition seem frustrated simply because they wound up on the losing end of a battle.  They are angry like the Sunday afternoon football fan whose team’s quarterback threw an interception to end the game. Their responses to the LGBT community amount to little more than negativity and name calling. If that is their only reason to object, then they need to get over it.

Selfishness - Others seem to resent the fact that homosexual couples can now share the same status and privileges as they themselves do.  They don’t think it’s right that filing joint tax returns and getting a family rate on insurance premiums should be afforded to a gay couple. How sad that life to them is about one-upping someone else.

Party Spirit - Many I’ve heard seem angry because they despise our current president and see this as his “single handed” effort to destroy our nation by continually chipping away at the moral fiber. I would agree in their assessment of the moral erosion, however, these winds of change have been blowing for several decades, through the terms of multiple presidents and Supreme Court justices.

Having read and listened to many Christian objections to same sex marriages, I’m a little embarrassed.  I can understand why the world is not convinced to take their positions seriously.

Wrong position, right motive.

Some churches on the other hand have effectively reached out to the LGBT community.  They have lovingly affirmed them and teach that since individuals are born with their “sexual orientation,” then the God who made them that way cannot fault them for acting naturally.  They embrace them into their community and “love” them as they are.

Is it possible to demonstrate Christ’s love and at the same time hold to the Biblical standard?  Not only is it possible, but it is the only consistent Christian position. True, Christ-like love cannot condone what God clearly opposes.

In the Genesis creation account, God’s Word is clear that His intention for the marriage relationship is to be between one man and one woman.  (Gen. 2:19-26)

In Leviticus 20, the act of a man lying with another man was to receive the same punishment as adultery, death.  Jesus, however, taught grace and forgiveness. In John 8, when men were seeking to exact the death sentence on a woman caught in the act of adultery, Jesus instead forgave her and told her to go and “sin no more.”  While Jesus stands ready to forgive sexual sins, he does not condone them but calls the ones committing them to leave their sinful practices.

Jesus charged His followers to go into all the world and make disciples. That would include crossing cultural barriers.  Making disciples requires calling sinners to repentance.  Calling sinners to repentance requires identifying sin. Therein lies the challenge. Sharing Jesus is an act of love, while identifying certain sins has come to be seen as an act of hate.

Not everybody believes in God and therefore do not subscribe to Biblical values. That is their prerogative.  But their choice to ignore God’s standards does not make them any less accountable to Him.  No Supreme Court ruling, church counsel statement, or majority opinion can help them overt judgment.  They can only  cause them to believe that they are ok.  And that’s not ok.


June 2015

The first of June represents the beginning of summer here in Florida.  I know that officially, summer doesn’t begin until June 21.  And for those who are still new to Florida, it may seem as though summer began six weeks ago.  But the beginning of June ushers in summer vacation for school kids, hurricane season, and temperatures that seldom dip down to the 70s.  Baseball season is in full swing, afternoon thundershowers are a regular occurrence and lawns must be mowed weekly.

For Sebring Christian Church and our staff, summertime is both exciting and challenging.  Its exciting, because opportunities abound for us to minister to youth and children, some of which seem to have an endless supply of time on their hands (and energy to match it.)  Its challenging because these opportunities often come without the same resources we enjoy during the winter.  When our northern family is here, there are more hands to trim a hedge, vacuum a floor, teach a lesson, and help out when needed. 

Each year, as we enter the summer, we have increased areas of service that are in need of servants.  While some of these needs have been filled, we still have a few remaining. 

Lake Aurora

On June 21, a group of us will be heading up to Lake Wales to direct a week of Christian camp for 4th-6th graders.  Lake Aurora Christian Camp offers several programs throughout the summer to provide a Christian camping experience for up to 2000 campers from churches around the State.  Many of our children and youth will be attending different programs while several of our members will be volunteering and a few will even be employed.  Many thanks to those who have already given financially to ensure that all of our children that want to attend are able.  If you would like to help in this area, simply  note on your check or offering envelope, “campers.”

 

Everest

This coming Monday night, we will begin our annual Vacation Bible School.  Early registrations indicate that we may see our greatest number of children ever to participate in our VBS.  If you’ve already signed on, get ready for a ride.  If not, let me give you some things that you can do:

Þ Pray - By the end of the week, we will have some stressed out volunteers.  We need God’s help to make sure that our stress level does not interfere with what God is doing in these children’s lives.  Pray that the kids will leave with God’s Word embedded in their minds.

Þ Like us on Facebook - We attribute the influx of early registrations to a successful Facebook ad.  That ad gets even more successful each time somebody “likes” or “shares” it.  Even though it appears as though our attendance will be extremely high, we will readily accept the challenge to add more.

Þ Decorate - One of the things we do to make this an exciting event for the kids, is decorate the building.  As we approach this final week, there are still some areas that need attention.  Even if you don’t think you are crafty or artistic, if you have the time, you can help. 

Þ Snacks - We have the refreshments pretty well planned for the time being.  But there are some nights when the snack requires more preparation like making Rice Krispy Treats, or baking cupcakes.  If our numbers exceed our current expectations, we will need some more help.  If you would be willing to be on call for such a task, let Kristy know.

Þ Crew Helpers - Just like with the snacks, we have recruited enough crew leaders and helpers for more children than we expect.  But if that number rises even higher, we will need to convert helpers to leaders and recruit more helpers.  The prerequisites can be found in Galatians 5:22-23.

Þ Daily Prep - The building will get more wear and tear in one night than it usually sees in a month.  At the end of each day, decorations will need be freshened up and repaired, floors will need to be vacuumed and bathrooms need to be cleaned and well stocked.

As usual in Christ’s church, there are varying needs that can be met by different sets of gifts.

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.   1 Corinthians 12:12-14

Help us make the most of this year’s program!

 


5/1/2015

A Soccer Mom, according to Wikipedia is a North American middle-class suburban woman who spends a significant amount of her time transporting her school-age children to their youth sporting events or other activities.  A dance mom, at least those seen on TV, is a little more competitive in nature. She pushes her child to excel, while secretly wishing the other girls will twist an ankle before the competition.  That is the often the image we have of one of the women in Scripture. 

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.  21 “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”  22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered.  23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”  24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. - Matthew 20:20-24

How embarrassing that must have been for her boys.  I often imagine Peter and the others, years later, poking fun at James and John because they needed their mommy to do their talking for them.  But when I think about it, I believe this woman is actually an example for mothers today.

Mothers should encourage their children to take part in church activities.  Maybe it’s the preacher in me that’s driven by attendance numbers, but I am very concerned about parents allowing children to participate in events that conflict with the regular church calendar.  I value extracurricular activities as much as the next guy, but the older I get, the more confident I become that 6-year old Megan is better served in the church children’s program learning about God and experiencing the love of a church family than she would be dressed in pink shin guards and soccer cleats, learning about teamwork while the coach’s kid hogs the ball.

No doubt, motherhood can be very demanding today with deadlines, schedules and household chores, but what more important task of motherhood could there be than to ensure that your children know Jesus and His love for them. 

What good is it if our children are successful in making money, driving fine automobiles, and living in good neighborhoods, but they don’t know God?  What does it matter if they grow up to gain the whole world, but are unable to secure their souls?

We can give our children the finest education.  We can teach them responsibility. But the greatest thing that we can do for our children is to encourage them to be followers of Jesus.

Mothers should teach their children to be servants. The Godly mother understands that nothing done in life will last except that which is done for the kingdom.  One of the greatest sources of encouragement for me is to see our church kids show up and participate in church work days. 

Maybe it is not enough just to be saved. Churches are full of people content just to fill a pew on Sunday mornings. There are plenty of people willing to sit back and receive the blessings, but not get involved in doing the work of the church.

So where does the spirit of service begin? It begins at home, with mothers and fathers setting the example.  Children should understand that their commitment to the church of Jesus Christ requires involvement, and consistency and at times even sacrifice.  The request of James’ and John’s mom was that her children would be actively involved in the work of His kingdom.

Mothers should set the bar high for their children. I don’t believe parents should rob their children of the joys of childhood by enforcing their own unfulfilled goals on them.  But they should teach them to do their best, to strive for excellence, and to believe in themselves.

James’ and John’s Mom’s request may seem a bit presumptuous, but she wasn’t content with ordinary.  She didn’t just ask that her children become doorkeepers. She wanted them on the right hand and left hand of Jesus.  What boldness?  She didn’t quite understand the humility requirement of Christ’s kingdom, but you can’t fault her for her high standards. 

Too often we have settled for mediocrity in the church. For too long we have been content to sit back and let things happen. We have too often accepted just barely making it through the door. It is time for all us to take our positions on the right and left hand of Jesus.  It’s time to share His goals and passions.  It’s time to become leaders, molding and fashioning the outreach of the church and mobilizing ourselves to make sure the message of Christ goes into all the world and not just the places of convenience.


4/1/2015

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  - 1 Corinthians 15:1-2

 1 Corinthians 15 is often referred to as the great resurrection chapter of the Bible.   While the gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all record Jesus’ resurrection as part of history, the Apostle Paul explains how essential the resurrection is to the Christian faith.

 Jesus’ resurrection is part of the gospel that saves us. 

Gospel means good n­­­ews, and t­­­­he good news is that Jesus saves.  The good news according to the Apostle Paul was summed up in Jesus death, burial and resurrection.  The good news was not only that Jesus died for our sins, but also that He rose to life again.  The good news would not be good if Satan had the ability to foil God’s plan.

It is the resurrection that validates Jesus’ claims.  While Jesus walked the earth, He made many claims.  In particular, Jesus claimed to be divine.   In fact, the Jews tried to stone Him because He claimed to be God.  He also claimed that He would be put to death and that He would rise to life on the third day.  Only God could make such a claim, and when Jesus rose to life, He proved that He was God. 

It is the resurrection that confirms Jesus’ power.  When He was with His disciples, He promised that after His death, He was going to prepare a place for them and that He would one day return for them.  That promise would have been seen as ridiculous while He still hung on the cross.  But on Sunday morning after the news of His resurrection, the disciples were filled with hope because there was power behind the promise. 

It is His resurrection that differentiates him from all religious leaders.  Confucius, Buddha, Mohammad, and Abraham all have one thing in common.  They are all dead and buried.  Jesus is the only one who rose to life, never to die again.

Jesus’ resurrection was accompanied by hard evidence.

The resurrection is so critical to the Gospel message, that if it could be disproved, the gospel would be powerless. Even the Jewish leaders understood this.  That is why they requested that His tomb be sealed and guarded by soldiers, otherwise, in their words, “this last deception would be greater than the first.” God ensured the validity of the resurrection claims by a series of events that would make Jesus resurrection undeniable.

The empty tomb – The last thing the either the Romans or the Jews wanted was a missing body.  For them, the worst case scenario would be that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. The best case scenario would be that they were overpowered by a small group of fishermen. 

The defeated soldiers – not only would it have been embarrassing for the Romans to lose Jesus’ body to His disciples, it would be absolutely dis-believable that the most powerful nation in the world could not protect a body from civilians.

Eyewitnesses – After His resurrection, Jesus intentionally appeared to different groups of people on different occasions.  On one occasion he occurred to over 500 people at once.  Could it be possible that all 500 were hallucinating?  And if they were all lying, it would be pretty easy to catch them under cross examination.  The resurrection is so critical to the Christian faith, that God ensured that we would have no reasonable doubt that it happened.

 Jesus’ resurrection gives purpose to the Christian Life.  In verses 17 - 19 Paul writes, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”  Without the resurrection, our salvation is meaningless, our faith is hopeless and our witness is powerless.  The Christian life would be an entire waste of time and energy.  But the fact is, Jesus did rise and defeat the otherwise undefeatable.  “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. - 1 Corinthians 15:55-56


2/1/15 - Love

The great love chapter of the Bible, is introduced by these words, but eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.  Paul wanted his readers to understand that while Spiritual gifts were important to the church, they could never make up for the absence of love.  This is a truth that every generation will need to be reminded of.

 

Love is powerful – The Corinthians, as well as many in the church today were very showy about their spiritual gifts.  Those with visible gifts of speaking in tongues or prophesying were guilty of exercising those gifts merely to receive attention and applause from others.  Such misuse of spiritual gifts is counterproductive.  The Holy Spirit gave gifts to men for the building up of the body, but these Christians were guilty of actually breaking down the body because of their attitudes.  Spiritual gifts must be accompanied by love in order to accomplish their purpose.  This is still true today.  How many of us have met gifted musicians who thought so highly of themselves that their music was difficult to listen to, or eloquent preachers whose lack of love destroyed their message, or church elders whose inability to be caring has rendered them ineffective in shepherding the flock?  Love is the power behind the gifts.  1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

 

Love is attractive – The Corinthian church was downright ugly, at least at the time of Paul’s writing.  They were competing with each other on many levels.  Some were boasting that they were better than others because of who baptized them.  Some were boasting of the liberty they had in Christ, thinking that since they were already saved they could commit any sin they wanted to.  Some were impatient, not wanting to wait for others when taking the Lord’s Supper.  The church was divided, arguing over nearly anything they could.  Their witness to the world was ineffective while their love support for one another was virtually non-existent.  If we are not careful, ugliness can lift its head in the assembly today.  It’s easy to rush about attending to Sunday morning details while being oblivious to the lonely soul who simply needs a listening ear.  When helping a brother or sister with a financial need, it’s tempting to offer a lecture on personal responsibility in a tone that is condescending.  How many of us has a favorite seat that we’re unwilling to give up, even when a visitor is left standing and searching?  4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

 

Love is enduring – the gifts that the Corinthian believers were coveting were temporary at best. While the proper use of such gifts could have an eternal impact on lives, the misuse of the gifts would bring only temporary gratification.  However, the expression of the love of Christ in the life of a believer will endure long after the immediate situation is forgotten.   8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  The reality is that many of us are Christians today, not because of the organization of a leader, the eloquence of a speaker, or the talent of a singer, but because of the love of Christ expressing itself in the life of a humble servant.


1/1/2015 - New Year

For the New Year, I prefer setting goals over making resolutions.  You may think I’m being picky, after all, it’s just a difference in words right?  Well to me it’s a huge difference.  It’s a difference between eventually celebrating victory, turning back with my tail between my legs. 

A resolution leaves no room for error or inconsistency.  It is a “resolute” commitment to act a certain way, no matter what.  Failing to keep a resolution, amounts to “game over” and reciting the old Chicago Cubs motto, “wait ‘til next year.” 

A goal on the other hand is more of a vision of what I would like to take place in the future.  It is more of a general picture that might employ a series of strategies.  A slip-up here or a failure there can be viewed as set-backs, but the goal is likely still attainable in part if not in full.

So my first “Two-Cents” in 2015 will share some of my personal rules on making and pursuing New Year’s goals.  

1) Decide what is most important – Sometimes we may fail to reach our goals because we have set too many goals for ourselves.  In an effort to excel or improve in multiple areas of our lives, we spread our efforts too thinly and fail to make progress in any area.  We can be like Martha in Luke 10 whom Jesus told “you are worried about many things but only one thing is needed.” 

You may have several areas in your life where you need to make some changes, and each of them valid, but if you try to tackle all of them at once, it’s a good possibility that you will become discouraged by your lack of progress and wind not following through on any of them.  Instead, prioritize your list, identify the changes you would most like to make and focus on numbers 1 and 2.

2) Set realistic expectations – Goals are often aborted because the people who set them conclude that they are unattainable.  While it is good for us to be ambitious in our goals, it will only be a matter of time before the unrealistic nature of a goal becomes obvious.  When that happens we can find ourselves discouraged and ready to toss in the towel.  I would much rather achieve a slightly lower goal than quit early at the realization that a goal cannot be reached.

3) Establish manageable checkpoints - Since a goal represents a place where I would like to be, or a condition that I would like to meet, there must also be a path to reach that point.  For example, if I would like to reach certain results in six months, then I can calculate what results I might expect in two or three months.  These calculations help me set checkpoints along the way that indicate whether I am on track or not.  It helps me evaluate my plan, whether or not it is working and what I might be able to do differently. 

4) Build in reminders – God wired me in such a way that I deal with the situation at hand.  Sometimes there are so many situations to deal with that I put long term goals out of my mind.  If I’m not careful, I can find myself going two to three weeks without even thinking about my goals.  For this reason, I like to set up reminders for myself.  When my goal had to do with losing weight, then I made sure the scale was easily located.  When my goal had to do with reading the Bible, I made sure that a Bible was kept by my favorite chair.   I have also posted notes on the dashboard of my car.  These reminders keep my goals from falling into the shadows of my busy mind.

5) Allow for adjustments – In the past, as I have moved towards my goals I have come to the realization that my course of action was not going to produce the desired result.  Not being one who likes to admit defeat or give up, I would need to either adjust what I was doing and become more aggressive, or adjust the goals themselves.  Making adjustments, in my mind is the best way to salvage the original motivation and momentum. 

6) Celebrate accomplishments – Whether your goal is to lose weight, to save money, to read your Bible daily, or to cut down on your use of unwholesome words, if you reach some measure of success, celebrate it.  Take pride in the fact that you are able to change and become a little closer to your ideal than you were when you started.  And be prepared to turn it up another notch in 2016.

Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.…  Philippians 3:13-14


12/1/14 - Christmas

I love holidays.  When I was growing up, Easter of course was a favorite with Easter baskets, egg hunts, breakfast at church, and spring in the air.  Fourth of July was always special with community wide “God and Country” celebrations and fireworks displays.  Halloween, in spite of its darker side, was always a lot of fun as we flooded the streets with empty sacks, aiming to fill them up with a year’s supply of candy that would be devoured in a single weekend.  Thanksgiving on one day brought all the family together from different parts of the state and country.  But Christmas has always been my most favorite holiday.  Even in lean years when there were few gifts ( if any) under the tree, Christmas for me has been as the songwriter said “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Christmas is different than most holidays.  It’s not simply a day, but a season that usually lasts about a month.  During the Christmas season our culture is virtually transformed and a spirit of giving and generosity prevails.  Christmas has its own colors, symbols and even its own type of candy.  There are candy canes, ribbon candy, divinity, all kinds of fudge and sugar plums just to name a few.  Christmas even has its own type of music.  From Christmas carols to Bing Crosby and Perry Como songs, Christmas music can be heard on nearly every radio station, 24-hours a day during the month of December.

Christmas music is very traditional.  While most of the Christmas songs you hear have been around for ages, every now and then a new song comes onto the scene that captures peoples’ hearts -- and the Christmas collection grows.  In recent years, this would be true of “Christmas Shoes” and “Mary Did you Know?”  A recently added Christmas song that I believe will become part of the Christmas classics was written by Chris Tomlin and it asks a series of questions whose answers explain why Christmas is so special:

 

How many kings stepped down from their thrones?

How many lords have abandoned their homes?

How many greats have become the least of these?

How many gods have poured out their hearts

     to romance a world that is torn all apart?

How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

. . . Only one did that for me!


11/1/14 - Thanksgiving

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed through-out the whole world. – Romans 1:8

As I take up my stylus (keyboard) and write (type) these words, I am overwhelmed by a sense of appreciation for my church family and how much God encourages me through you.

- Over the past few weeks, I have been encouraged by the return to Florida of a handful of our northern family members.

This reminds me that we will get to see the rest of them very soon.

I wonder how many others would benefit from our church family.

- On Wednesday night I was once again preparationally (new word) challenged while I attempted to teach and overcrowded if not over energized middle school class.

This reminds me of the growth we are experiencing in our youth and children’s programs.

I wonder what we could accomplish in the area of college students and young marrieds.

-    On Sunday, I was presented with a very generous gift for Pastor Appreciation month.  Though I believe the term “pastor” in the Bible is a reference to the church elders, you don’t see me turning down the gift.

This reminds me of the gracious people that God has blessed me to be able to serve alongside.

I wonder how I in turn can bless God with these blessings.

-  Over the past few months, we have made some significant accomplishments in respect to our building and property.

This reminds me that God has blessed us with not only a beautiful facility, but dedicated individuals to maintain it.

I wonder what God has in store for us in the future.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:19


10/1/14 - The Harvest Lord

Ben Monts was a small town farmer who owned a lot of land.  Not miles and miles of land, but several acres scattered around the south end of the county.  He planted several different crops and sold them to the local fruit stands and grocery stores.  He grew cantaloupes and watermelon, green beans and yellow squash, and several acres of sweet corn.  He usually had local workers picking his vegetables including many of his family members. 

When Kenny and I would want to make some extra spending money, we would stop by Ben’s home and ask if he had any work for us.  At ten and twelve years old, there were not many things that we could do to earn cash, so Ben usually accommodated us.  He would tell us to be ready at 7:00 on Saturday morning and he would pick us up and take us to one of his fields.  Typically it was a field that had already been harvested by adults who had been in too much of a hurry to fill their baskets so they left behind a lot of good produce.  One day when Ben was taking us home, he stopped by a produce stand to sell a few bushels of beans. I listened in and learned that he got $8.00 a bushel.  I didn’t understand why he only paid me $1.50 a bushel.

My brother explained, “Ben picked us up and was taking us home; it was Ben’s tractor that plowed the field; it was Ben’s seed that was planted, Ben’s pumps that watered it for 6-weeks, and Ben’s fields that we had been working in.  It was Ben’s harvest, and no matter what he sold it for, our share was $1.50 a bushel.”

Jesus referred to God as the “Lord of the harvest.”  The harvest belongs to the Lord and as harvest workers, the church would do well to consider the implications of that reality.  1.) Nobody wants to see the church grow any more than God does.  Just as every farmer is hopeful of a bumper crop, God desires men and women to come to Him.  Jesus said in Luke 15:7 “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”  And Peter teaches us in 2 Peter 3:9 that God is not willing that any should perish. If you think you want to see people come to Jesus, just think how God feels about it.

Since God wants to see a bountiful harvest, it wouldn’t make sense that He would properly equip His workers.  Ben Monts could not have expected my brother and me to fill up many baskets if he had left the baskets in the barn.  He couldn’t expect the quality to meet his standards if he had not explained the necessary sizes and shapes to us.  The Bible teaches us that God has gifted each of us to do the work He has prepared for us.  And Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:28 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If you are aware of a person who needs to come to know Jesus, it’s probably not by coincidence.  Remember that God wants to save them too.  Tell them about your faith, or invite them to church.  You may just find out that you are gifted there after all. 


 

9/1/2014 - The Importance of Baptism

18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand--with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. 1 Peter 3:18-22

There is much disagreement today over the importance of Christian baptism.  One common belief is that baptism is no more than the act of a Christian showing his/her appreciation for the salvation that he/she has already received.  This belief contends that since baptism is a work, it cannot “save” anybody because we are saved through faith and not works (Ephesians 2:8).  This thinking however, is not consistent with the abundance of New Testament teaching on baptism, specifically 1 Peter chapter 3.

Peter’s words, however, are very clear here that baptism plays a key role in the salvation process and to further clarify, he states that it is not the physical process of going under water, but the simultaneous mental process of "pledging a good conscience toward God."

So how can we reconcile the phrases “baptism that now saves you,” and “by grace you have been saved through faith, not of works?”   The latter refers to works or deeds that Christians are called to do in their service to Jesus.  These works might include serving others, giving of one’s resources and sharing the Gospel.  While these are commendable deeds, the Apostle Paul wants us to understand that they do not save us.  Being baptized, however, is not a work. It is a passive act wherein somebody else does the work.  There is no conflict between these two passages.

To get a good handle on what the passage is teaching, one would do well to read the entire chapter two to three times first and then reread these verses.  In the first part of the chapter, the Apostle Peter challenges his readers to live in harmony with one another and to endure whatever suffering the Christian life may bring them.  In these specific verses, he compares this challenge of endurance to the ancient event of Noah’s flood, where Noah remained faithful for a hundred years, building the ark in spite of the fact that the rest of the world was living in disobedience. 

Christians today may relate very well to Noah’s lonely predicament. Our society rejects six days of creation in the name of science, embraces homosexual behavior in the name of tolerance, and condones the slaughter of human life in the name of women’s rights.  Peter’s challenge to us would be to remain faithful to God in spite of cultural pressure.  Then Peter makes a doctrinal statement that often goes ignored: and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you. This water symbolizes baptism – the Greek word translated symbolizes refers to an event that prefigures a future event of much greater significance.  The Passover lamb of Moses’ day for example, symbolized the greater sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God.  The greater event never symbolizes the lesser event. 

In our text, the water that that flooded the earth during Noah’s days symbolized the water used to baptize individuals into Christ.  Genesis 7:11-12 describes the first water, In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, on the seventeenth day of the second month--on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.  If the water used in the earth changing event of Noah’s flood is the lesser event, how important does that make baptism, the greater event, baptism?