Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Everything We Do Must Be About Jesus

"Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).

We are becoming a community where all people encounter...what? who? The object of our encounter is not just a nice experience, or a warm, fuzzy feeling. The church does not exist to provide nice programs or simply a handout. The church exists for one primary reason—to help people encounter Jesus Christ. No one else, nothing else. Jesus is the reason we exist, and connecting people to him is why we do what we do.

We do that, however, in a variety of ways because no two people will ever encounter him in the same way. Jesus himself showed us that; he met people where they were. Were they broken? He offered healing—not for the sake of the healing itself (something we've often forgotten in American "showmanship" Christianity) but so that a barrier could be removed from that person's life, so they could see him. Were they hungry? Jesus fed them, sometimes making a meal out of very little (two loaves anyone?). Were they lonely? Jesus offered them friendship. In every situation, Jesus removed the barriers so that they could encounter him. Paul did that too: "I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings" (1 Corinthians 9:22-23).

So where there are hungry people, we offer food. Where there are cold people, we offer clothing. Where there are wounded people, we offer healing. And above all and in all of this, we offer the good news that Jesus wants to meet us, save us and love us for eternity. That's the reason we exist. That's the reason the church has endured. It's not because we have great programs or nice music. The reason the church has endured and will continue to endure until the end of time (Matthew 16:18) is because everything we do is and must be about Jesus.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Have You Ever Fallen?

"The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord and he delighteth in His way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with His hand" (Psalm 37:23 & 24).

Have you ever fallen?  Of course you have!  You did so a lot when you were learning to walk.  Just ask your parents.  You've all very likely also fallen a few times after being full-grown and how embarrassing that is!  Some of us will remember the low budget ad from the early eighties with the memorable line, "I've fallen and I can't get up."

We've also fallen spiritually; all of us.  The Apostle James says, "We all stumble in many ways" (3:2).  Sometimes we fall "big time", but more commonly in the "small ways". The seasoned Christian pilgrim recognizes spiritual bruises from plummeting falls.  The persevering believer has a testimony of overcoming falls.

I liken my Christian journey to hiking through the heavily wooded forest.  Because of the uneven terrain, the extensive tree roots, rocks and underused trails, I often stumble and might even occasionally fall.  I can linger in a fallen position or I can choose to get up, brush off the debris, and trudge on. And when I'm unaware of what made me fall I need to examine the terrain and see what obstacle I stumbled over. That's a good lesson for the Christian life.

In the latter part of the daily text the Psalmist acknowledges that the godly man falls, but gives us two great promises.

  1. "He shall not be utterly cast down."  Thank God that we have no excuse for staying down after we fall.  God has promised that we will not "be utterly cast down.
  2. "The Lord upholdeth him with His hand."  Grip hold of that truth today, believing friend. The immutable God continues to uphold His children. What an assuring promise.

Have you goofed up, messed up, or even blown it big time?  Perhaps this is even your condition as you read this today. Call on the Name of the Mighty God of the universe.  He will come and save you.  We simply have no reason for saying, "I've fallen, and I can't get up."

This morning's song is Faithful One by Brian Doerksen

Faithful One, so unchanging,
Ageless One, You're my Rock of peace.
Lord of all I depend on You;
I call out to You again and again.

You are my Rock in times of trouble.
You lift me up when I fall down.
All through the storm Your love is the anchor;
My hope is in You alone.

Monday, September 22, 2014

After Worship

So you've been to worship. You've sung the songs. You've heard the Scripture. You've said your prayers and you've endured the sermon. What now? Is worship just something we check off our "to-do" list, or is there some way we should respond?

If we have come ready to encounter Jesus, expecting him to show up, and if we have in fact been in God's presence, such a time should change us in some way. We should not leave worship the same as we came in. And part of the way we express that is by responding to whatever it is we heard God say to us in worship. Sometimes that message comes to us through the music, or the prayers, and sometimes, miraculously, even through the sermon. We should leave worship ready to change our world, to make a difference this week, to live differently this week from the way we did last week. Worship should energize and shape our entire week.

James says that we must find a way to not only hear what God says, but to do it. "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at him or herself, goes away and immediately forgets what he/she looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do" (James 1:22-25). 

Perhaps one way to approach this is to spend the day of worship reflecting on what you have heard in worship, and considering ways to express that. This could happen in private prayer or around the dinner table or in conversation with friends over coffee. How will I live out what God expects of me? And then, the rest of the week becomes an attempt, however fumbling, to actually live it out. To, as James says, do what the Word of God says. 

After worship is not a time to put the experience behind us. It is a time for the experience of worship to be internalized first and then externalized or lived out. To do less is to take worship for granted, to treat is as just another thing we have to do. Worship should change us. Our worship might even change those around us.

What did you hear in worship last weekend? In what way will you live that out?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

RMCC Barn Party! 
When: October 11
Time: Dinner at 5:00 p.m.
Where: Sue & Nancy's 8680 Vestal Drive, Saranac

Campfire/Roast your own dog!
Apple Cider/Make a SMORE!
Hay ride featuring "Rosie the Rhino"!
Children Welcome
Bring a Lawn Chair/Bring a Friend!
Bring a Dish to Pass!

Sign up sheet at church for what to bring.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


“I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).

We can understand when someone wants to celebrate the life of someone who had a great impact on our world. Consider Paul Bunyon, for example. Several communities in the upper Midwest celebrate the larger-than-life lumberjack. Contests and festivals honor him. Woodsmen compete, people play games, and there’s all kind of food. Here’s the problem: these activities and events commemorate a person who did not exist.

In Tampa, Florida, there is a huge annual festival called Gasparilla Days. People skip work and school. There are parties, a flotilla, a mock invasion in a real ship, and a giant parade. The celebration takes its name from a pirate named Jose Gaspar. The problem is Gaspar never existed either.

During Communion, we honor a person who most certainly existed. It is quite rare today to find anyone who does not acknowledge that Jesus lived. Even nonbelievers and Jesus’ enemies admit that he existed. When we come to the Lord’s table we commemorate someone who really lived. He walked our streets and breathed our air. He felt the heat on his face and experienced pain when he stubbed his toe. He felt temptations akin to ours, yet won the battles. He faced criticism and disapproval. Finally, Jesus went to a cross and really died.

Yes, he existed, but we believers go a step further. We not only honor One who existed, but One who still exists. We believe Jesus rose from the dead and lives forever and reigns at the right hand of the Father. He is present with us in the celebration, just as he promised. We also believe he will come for us and take us to our eternal home. Even there, we believe he will join us at the table.

While the way we celebrate might be quite different than others, it is real because Jesus is real and has a real impact on our lives.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Extravagant Generosity

Extravagance, noun. Lack of restraint. Excessive elaborateness. From the Latin meaning "diverging greatly."

When we hear the words "extravagant generosity", most people immediately  probably think of money, and that's certainly involved here, but "extravagant generosity" refers to more than money. It refers to our talents and abilities. It refers to our time. It refers to our resources. And it refers to our money. Extravagant generosity calls us to look at how we use what we have.

Our calling to extravagance comes from the example and life of Jesus himself, who gave everything that he had for our sake. Jesus came from heaven, lived a perfect life, and then gave his life on the cross in order to save us from our sins. Now, we may want to debate how that happened or why he had to die—but that's not the point right now. The point is he gave absolutely everything he had to give. He gave his very life—there is nothing more extravagant than that. "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends" (John 15:3). More extravagant love has no one than to give what they have for the sake of others.

Many a pastor's favorite story of extravagance is found in Exodus 36, where preparations are being made for building the Tabernacle and the call goes out for the people to donate what they have to build this place of worship. And the people respond—too well. In fact, Moses has to tell them to stop bringing stuff because they had too much. The people, Exodus says, had to be "restrained" from bringing more. Wouldn't we love to see that happen in our time—where we had to ask people to stop giving what they have because the mission was already accomplished? That would be a great problem to have! Unfortunately, we're far from that. The average Christian today gives about 2% of their income toward God's work. We have a ways to go toward become extravagantly generous.

Maybe the question is really bigger than our giving. Maybe the question has to do with what's important to us. Remember this word has its root in the idea of "diverging greatly," which to me means that our priorities, as Christian people, are quite different than the priorities of the world. We place a high priority on the mission God has called us to. Which begs the question: is the mission of the church really that important? Is it worth giving what we have in order to see it accomplished?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Faith Muscles

Opinion polls repeatedly reveal that most Americans claim some sort of belief in God, or a god, or a higher power/supreme being. (Whether or not they mean they believe in the God of the Bible is up for debate.) And yet, despite high profession of "belief," attendance at houses of worship continues to be low (some reports say around 30% of the population). In most mainline churches, getting a 50% attendance versus membership rate is considered a success. We believe in...something...or someone...but somewhere along the way, we seem to have gotten the idea that we quit there. As long as we believe and live a "reasonably good life," we don't have to do any more. Somewhere we have bought the idea that faith just "happens."

Some think that because their parents were Christian...or had some sort of faith...they, too, instantly are that same faith. As if the nutrients that flow from the mother to the baby in the womb contains some sort of "faith seed" that makes you the same as your parents. You believe whatever they believe (though, of course, that's changed in recent years) or you believe because they believe. But that still supports the false notion that faith just "happens."

It doesn't. Many churches over the years consist of grandparents and parents that are heavily involved in the church and have been for generations, but where are the kids? And the grandkids? No where to be seen. Faith didn't just "happen." And the idea that they will "come back someday" is increasingly being proven false.

Developing our faith takes a deliberate act.  Even for those who are active in the church and do attend worship, faith doesn't just rub off. Faith doesn't just "happen." Like anything worth doing, faith takes work and planning. We don't inherit faith like a genetic disposition. We can't hang onto our father's or mother's faith. Faith has to be our own. We have to develop it and allow it to grow in our lives.

What does it look like when we are intentional about developing our faith? I suppose it's different for each person still, here are some ideas of how people deliberately work at their faith.

It looks like a parent reading the Bible to her children before bed.
It looks like a parent taking time to pray with their children even before they know what prayer is.
It looks like a family worshiping together.
It looks like a businessperson  making the time to join a small group Bible study even though there are a thousand demands on his or her time.
It might look like simply going to worship every week rather than once a month.
It looks like getting up early to study the Bible and pray before the day begins—or carving out consistent time during the day to do the same.
It looks like a Sunday School teacher studying before arriving at church so that he or she is ready to help shape younger people's faith.
It looks like making a commitment to a long-term Bible study so that you can stop making the excuse, "I just don't understand what's in there."

It looks like this and a million other things we do to develop our faith. People spend millions of dollars and maybe as many hours to develop their healthy lifestyle, to lose weight, to work out—to do things that help their body be stronger and live longer. Why are we not willing to invest the same effort in developing our faith muscles?

What intentional step will you take today toward developing your faith muscles?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Putting Your Whole Self In

Do you remember (of course you do!) the children's song, "The Hokey Pokey"? Yes, a favorite at every skating rink in America because it's an action song, and action songs on skates don't work very well. But, as you remember, you put various parts of your body "in" and then pull them "out" of the circle, then clap along to the refrain, "That's what it's all about!" While I could ponder whether or not the Hokey Pokey really is what it's all about, what I'm more interested in today is the last verse...one that usually went like this: "You put your whole self in..."

Put your whole self in...that would be a good mission statement or action statement for the church. You put your whole self in...to the kingdom of God. You put your whole self in...to the cause of changing the world. You put your whole self in...to doing acts of kindness and relieving human suffering. You put your whole self in...to mission. That's really what it means to participate in the fourth of the five practices: risk-taking mission and service.

All too often, we have reduced "mission" to writing a check to send a missionary somewhere around the world. (We don't even have to put out that much effort anymore, because most mission boards will automatically deduct your monthly contribution from your checking account!) Or we reduce "mission" to bringing in canned goods, school supplies, or winter coats for donation to "the needy." And while those are good and worthwhile (and needed!) actions, they are hardly risk-taking. It is not a risk to write a check or buy an extra can of soup at the store. To truly be involved in mission involves putting our "whole self" in—taking a risk, putting ourselves on the line.

Now, this doesn't have to be going to a far-off land (though it might involve that). It might be as simple as crossing the street toward that neighbor you don't like very much and offering to help with a landscaping project. It might look like going to the inner city of a nearby town and helping in a community center or soup kitchen. It might mean going to another state and working in the midst of impoverished people, knowing you can't change their circumstances, but you can make a small difference for the week you are there. It might mean doing whatever is needed to offer a cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty (both literally and metaphorically). But the point is this: risk-taking mission involves ME, not just my checkbook. Risk-taking service changes ME, not just my account balance. Risk-taking mission and service means I am willing to be touched by "the least of these" and transformed by the God who calls us into mission in the first place.

Are you ready and willing to "put your whole self in"?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

As for me, I call to God

"If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers." (Psalm 55:12-14)

These words literally leapt off the page at me this morning. Psalm 55 is a psalm of David, which could mean David wrote it or it was written about him or in his honor, but as I read the raw, naked emotion that flows out of much of the psalm, and knowing David's own life experience (where even his son turned against him and tried to take the kingdom from him), I imagine David himself writing each and every word, each verse flowing out of his own experience and his own pain. Especially these verses—it's at moments like this that we know the persons in the Bible are real people with real pains, people just like you and me.

Often, as Christians, we take verses like these that pop up in the psalms and apply them immediately to Jesus and to his betrayal by Judas. And I certainly think there is room for that sort of interpretation. But let's take a step back, because even in Judas' betrayal, we see our own lives, and the times when someone we trusted, someone we were close to, someone we loved, took everything precious to us and threw it away.

For some, that may have happened when life long loving relationship comes to an end. A lifetime of hopes, dreams and memories suddenly evaporate and disappear. Someone once asked, "Is this what it comes to, the dividing up of the things we own? That seems so small after all these years." For others, that has happened between close friends. Sometimes we know why and sometimes we don't. Sometimes we are the cause and other times no one is. And it is no comfort to hear that some friends just come along for "a season." In our day, true friends are hard to find (no matter how many "subscribers" you have on Facebook or Twitter), and to lose one, especially in a painful way—it can feel like the world is ending.

Promises broken. Words hurled back in anger. Misunderstandings with no opportunity for resolution. Secrets shared that become fodder for public discussion. We know the pain David is feeling. If an enemy were against us—that we could take. But when someone we treasured turns on us, when someone we worshipped alongside betrays us—that strikes us to the core.

The only thing that ultimately gives David comfort in this psalm is that he still has someone to talk to, someone to turn to. He says, "As for me, I call to God, and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice...God, who is enthroned from of old, who does not change..." (Psalm 55:16-17, 19). In all times of distress, but especially in those times when "companions" turn away from us, David reminds us that there is one who will never leave us or forsake us. There is one who is closer than anyone else. There is one who will ultimately judge each person's actions. And that one will always listen to us, and will always be with us.

"As for me," David concludes, "I trust in you" (Psalm 55:23). We can't always trust in people, but we can always trust the one who loved us from before the world began. And that, dear readers, is good news, the very best news of all.