Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Shepastor: “Sometimes Blossoms Skip a Season…”

And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts. Malachi 3:11, KJV

This verse of scripture is the 2nd portion of a promise God gave to His people regarding the tithe…giving God the “first fruits” of all of their increase at a level of 10%. For those who “put God to the test,” and trusted Him enough to put Him first in their finances and in every aspect of their lives, God promised to “rebuke the devourer” for their sakes.

Sometimes it feels, no matter how faithful we’ve been that the “devourer” gobbles up various aspects of our lives. When doors remain closed, when children go astray, when finances are devastated, when sickness prevails, when death knocks at the door, it can feel like we were left out of the “blessed crew…”

But things are not always what they seem…

The other day while shopping for a special gathering in my home, as I entered the store I was greeted with a beautiful display of big, bright, lush fuchsia colored hydrangea. I started to walk past them, but they were so incredibly beautiful I could not resist…I bought two! I proudly brought them home and placed them on our front portico steps. Our children and our guests were thrilled when they saw them. I beamed with joy as they enjoyed the beauty of these gorgeous flowers.

Because I am not a gardener by any stretch of the imagination, before going to sleep I decided to read up on how to care for these flowers. While reading I was particularly drawn to one aspect of their care….

The gardening guide advised that if hydrangea become dry and begin to die, “cut them down to the base, removing all blooms and leaves…leaving only the stem.” It further explained that the following season, the stem would produce no blooms, only leaves. Blooms would skip a season. But the season after that, the blooms would be strong, bountiful and lush.

This analogy spoke volumes to me. Just like hydrangea, when the Lord sees us getting “dry,” maybe even dying in some respects, He may elect to “cut us down to the base.” We may experience seasons without blooms…seasons of a few scraggly leaves so to speak or no leaves at all! But God knows exactly what He is doing! During those seasons of pruning, it may feel like we will never blossom again…it may look like we are barren and fruitless…it may appear to others that we have little or nothing going on…but our GREAT and AWESOME GOD sees the blooms coming in the next season!

Sometimes God strips us to the base to rid our lives, our hearts and our spirits of dead things, diseased things, harmful things that if left hanging on our stem would do irreparable damage and ultimately destroy our blossoms. Knowing all things, God intentionally cuts away those things that will stop us from experiencing the full, lush, bright and beautiful blossoms He desires us to produce.

Sometimes blossoms skip a season. Trust God…although you may be cut down to the base, know that your season of blooming is coming…coming strong, lush, big and beautiful!

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Shepastor: “When Did We See You Lord?”

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25: 37-40 NIV

Our Nation is currently grappling with major pieces of legislation that will greatly impact the lives of many. Healthcare, education, jobs, the environment and national security are all on the table. How do these matters effect individuals in their day to day lives? Insensitivity, greed, racism, hatred and ignorance have all impacted the conversation. “What shall we say to these things?” A modern day rendition of Matthew 25 31-46 has been going around on Face Book.

Thanks to Jim Obergefell for sharing this powerful piece…

When I was hungry, you canceled my food stamps
When I was thirsty, you diverted lead & coal into my water
When I was sick, you tripled my insurance rates
When I was naked, you raped me & blamed me because I was naked.
When I was in prison, you enslaved me to corporations
When I was a stranger with brown skin you deported me
From the lonely you took away social programs
From the elderly, you took away meals & medicine
From the workers, you took away legal protections
From the young, you took away school funding
From the victims, you took away shelter
Instead of diversity, you encourage intolerance
Instead of caring, you encourage isolation
Instead of equity, you encourage military excess
When the 1% has ground us into the dust, taken all of our money, and let us die for lack of insurance - who will you feed upon?

Thanks to Jim Obergefell for this share

Remember, in order to “pull yourself up by your own boot straps,” you must have boots!

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Shepastor: "Something about the Wilderness..."

Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness
4 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]”
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[e]”
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
Matthew 4: 1-11, NIV

There is something about the wilderness…after Moses fled Egypt, he remained in the wilderness of Midian, tending sheep and marrying the daughter of Jethro, tradition suggests for forty years, unaware that the Lord was preparing him for a critical, historical, prolific role. Due to complaining spirits and unbelieving, hard hearts, the children of Israel were made to wander in the wilderness for forty years…a generation dying and another one rising before entering the promise land. After experiencing great victory defeating the prophets of Baal, Elijah fled to the wilderness of Horeb, after having his life threatened by Jezebel. He traveled forty days and nights by foot, depressed and desiring to die…unaware that God was preparing him to anoint the next kings and to prepare his successor Elisha.

There is something about the wilderness…God appears to use it as a tool of testing, processing and preparation. Jesus himself spent forty days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. Fully immersing himself in the “human experience,” Jesus subjected himself to the condition of human frailty…to be hungry, lonely, hearing suggestions that he abandon his purpose and his Father’s plan… “tempted in all points, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Are you in the wilderness? You are in good company! Although we have the record, the heroes listed above had no clear path or way out. They simply had their convictions to trust, listen to and follow God. Jesus taught us how to press our way through the wilderness by relying totally upon God’s Word. At every turn, at every temptation, at every suggestion that was contrary to his purpose, Jesus responded with the Word.

Your wilderness is a time to pass tests, process and prepare. Each victory will help you some other to win...Although you may not be clear about where you are and why you are there, God knows exactly where you are and what He is preparing you to do. Like Moses, the wilderness can make you tired, frustrated and angry…but you don’t have to miss entering the promise land. Like Elijah, the wilderness can make you lonely, weary and depressed. But you don’t have to go and hide in a cave, waiting to die. Like Jesus, YOU WILL be tempted to forsake your purpose and God’s plan, but LIKE JESUS, you can overcome by the power of God’s Word.

We all face wilderness experiences. Through grace, faith, fasting, prayer and looking to Jesus, may you stand on God’s Word, press your way and remember, God will send angels to minister to you in time…

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Shepastor: “Sometimes the Fastest Way Forward is to Turn Around…”

Seek the LORD while He may be found,
Call upon Him while He is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Let him return to the LORD,
And He will have mercy on him;
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.
Isaiah 55: 6-7, NKJV

Let’s be honest…it can be embarrassing and ego bruising to admit that we have been going in the wrong direction…especially if we have been “beating a drum” defending our path! But if we are serious about getting closer to the place we feel called to reach, we must be willing to admit error and turn around.

If for some reason we have taken a wrong turn on our journey, going forward does not make sense. If we are on the wrong road, “real” steps forward mean turning back and getting on the correct path.

Maybe you have experienced driving in a car with someone who is resistant to asking for directions. Although you are not sure, you and the driver can sense that you are going the wrong way. But the driver, because of pride or some other reason refuses to stop and ask for assistance. Frustration builds, the feeling of wandering off into obscurity intensifies and the hope of reaching the desired destination anytime soon begins to fade!

In the words of C.S. Lewis,
“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. There is nothing progressive about being pig-headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world it's pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistakes. We're on the wrong road. And if that is so we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on”
May we, by faith, have the courage to admit our “wrong turns” and turn around. When on the wrong road, “going back is the quickest way” forward.

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Shepastor: "Forty Days Towards..."

7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
9Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.
10Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
11Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
12Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.
13Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
Psalm 51: 7-13, KJV

As a little girl growing up, “Lent” was a time when we gave up candy, baked goods and meat on Friday. We could not listen to loud music or dance on Sunday. Even if we did not attend church most Sundays, “Good Friday” was the day that we all went.

For me, it was a forty day march towards eating sweets again! We couldn’t wait to boil and color Easter eggs, make beautiful baskets with jelly beans, malted eggs, and big, beautiful chocolate bunnies! It wasn’t until years later that I began to grasp the wonderful opportunity the Lenten season offered to walk with the Lord in a very special and intimate way.

While we should daily come before the Lord with a desire to be cleansed, revived, renewed and restored, Lent is a time to magnify and increase our level of prayerful introspection.

Lent offers:

Forty days to pray intentional prayers of repentance and cleansing…
Forty days to fast for greater clarity…
Forty days to pursue God’s direction in a more focused way…
Forty days to pray for healing and reconciliation in our relationships, starting with God…
Forty days to seek God’s face…
Forty days to prepare for and cultivate a renewed excitement for the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

What do these forty days of Lent mean for you?

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Shepastor: “Lessons From the Life of Cain…”

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD.4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering,5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. 6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” 8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”[d] While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
(Genesis 4: 1-9, NIV)

Next Wednesday, the Christian Church will launch into our 40 day observance of the Lenten season. Lent is a time when we are called to reflect upon our lives, our shortcomings, our relationships with one another and with the Lord. During this time we are encouraged to sacrifice something…to “fast” from some treasured activity, some delicious food or something that pleases our senses in a solemn act of contrition. The sacrifice is meant to help empty us of ourselves and our selfish desires, in exchange for a greater awareness of our need for God.Today’s passage is a critical reminder of how easy it can be to allow “crouching sin” to enter the door of our heart.

The struggles of Cain can teach us some very valuable lessons:

- Both Cain and Able brought from the “first fruits” of their produce, but Cain did not receive the Lord’s favor. This passage has always been a bit troubling. Why wasn’t Cain’s offering accepted? What more could the Lord have wanted from him? Could it be that Cain’s offering did not cost him anything? Able chose to sacrifice the best that he had and bring it to the Lord. It seems that Able offered the Lord his very best. It seems that Cain’s offering lacked sacrifice. Do we give our best to the Lord? Does it cost us anything? God wants the best of us, not just what is easy and convenient.

- Cain became angry and downcast because he was jealous of his brother. Human nature torments us with angry and jealous thoughts as someone else is preferred before us. Cain, however, did not take time to discover why his offering was not accepted. When we focus all of our attention on what someone else has, rather than considering our own ways, anger and jealousy can overtake us. This is not to suggest that injustices don't create inequitable conditions in this world. It is saying, however, that there are times when our own choices, our own foolish and selfish ways, our own irreverent spirit causes us to miss out on the favor and rich blessings of God. If you find yourself angry and jealous of others, first look at yourself.

The Lord spoke to Cain and said,
"If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

- God spoke to Cain about the “sin crouching at his door,” but he was too angry to listen. The Lord in so many words was warning Cain that if he did not get a handle on the unjustified emotions of anger and jealousy in his heart, it would overtake him, ruin his life and destroy others. Sin is crouching at all of our doors, tempting, lurking, waiting to pounce upon us and take control of our lives. But the Lord let’s us know that we can conquer sin.

We all have sin crouching at the door of our hearts, but through confession, repentance, and crying out to our Lord, we can and must conquer its call. There is good news in this story. If Cain did not have the capacity to resist sin, God would not have warned him ahead of time. Cain could still hear God speaking, even after he had killed his brother. God does not stop talking to us, even when we make tragic mistakes. His desire is that we avoid the painful downfall, listen and turn back to the right path. But if we fall, God still desires to win us back. The Lord has no pleasure in the death, the separation of his children from Him (Ezekiel 18:23).

The Lord wants our best. There is a cost to discipleship. Are you willing to pay the cost and give the Lord your all?

When we focus all of our attention on what someone else has, rather than considering our own ways, anger and jealousy can overtake us. Is your anger and hostility misdirected? Could it be that you are withholding something that is hindering your own favor and blessing from God? Has the Lord spoken to your heart, warning you of impending danger, yet you are too angry to listen? What sin is crouching at your door? What warnings are you ignoring? Through God’s grace and faith, by the power of God’s precious Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ, you can overcome the power of sin in your life.

Have you already made that tragic and or painful mistake? The Lord wants you back. Although you will still have to face the consequences of your choices, God still loves you, cares about you and will protect you from the onslaught of the enemy who seeks to devour you. You still belong to the Lord.

May we spend time praying, reflecting, repenting and listening to the voice of our Heavenly Father who loves us and desires only what is in our best interest, contrary to the lies of satan.

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Shepastor: “The Importance of Encouraging One Another…”

“The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” Proverbs 18:14, NIV

For some, the phone never rings, the mailbox is filled only with advertisements and bills and physical touch is absent. One might think I’m speaking of the elderly who frequently face these painful realities. But for many individuals, not only the elderly, this is an issue.

Our society is rapidly creating an environment of isolation. The “self-serve” isles in grocery stores are increasing, removing interactions with cashiers. Automated operators have taken the place of human receptionist, eliminating conversation. Hand written letters and “snail mail” cards are becoming a lost art. More and more services are being offered online, reducing the need for individuals to get out into the market place to shop, engage and enjoy others “in the flesh.”

Depression appears to be on the rise. Many are feeling isolated, lonely and cold. Now more than ever we need to reach out and encourage one another. While social media is a great tool to reach many at once, we need to spend time nurturing “real friendships,” in person, on the phone and in snail mail letters when possible.

Those with lonely hearts and broken spirits need more than a Facebook message with an emoji. Twitter, Instagram, Facetime, etc., are fine, but they cannot take the place of a warm touch, a hug, a conversation over a cup of coffee, a stroll in the park, a phone call that simply asks, “How are you doing?”

Take time to encourage others in person when possible. Show up other than online. Take the extra step to reach out the “old fashion way.” The more we do this, the fragrance of peace, love and joy will break through the gloom of despair, repairing crushed spirits. The love and warmth in your voice, the kind emotion that exudes from your handwritten note or card, the hope and encouragement transferred from your body to another as you embrace in a hug can produce a healing that no keyboard stroke, text or instant messenger can provide. Who the moment you reach out, God's hand through you may keep someone from giving up. Determine to be a minister of encouragement today.

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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris