Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Shepastor: “God’s Silence During Tough Times…”

Psalm 77:1-12 (KJV)

77:1 To the chief Musician, to Jeduthun, A Psalm of Asaph. I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear unto me.

77:2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord: my sore ran in the night, and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted.

77:3 I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah.

77:4 Thou holdest mine eyes waking: I am so troubled that I cannot speak.

77:5 I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times.

77:6 I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search.

77:7 Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more?

77:8 Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore?

77:9 Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah.

77:10 And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High.

77:11 I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.

77:12 I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.

While the Bible declares that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiates 1:9), these days appear to be particularly painful. The senseless killing of nine faithful individuals at a prayer service/Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina has rocked our Nation to its core. Hatred, racism, terrorism, mental illness, gun control, the “N” word and the Confederate flag have all occupied our thoughts, conversations and prayers. "What is God doing? Why did this happen? What can we do to bring about change?"

We are not alone in these musings. The Psalmists from ages ago had their own questions about pain, injustice and evil. In this particular text, the Psalmist appears to be sharing some perplexing issues with a listener. The Psalmist is struggling to understand, “Where is God?” And while we might answer rather piously that God is every where, the Psalmist states his case that where he is, it appears God is not. The nature of his difficulty is not specified, however, the mental anguish is so intense that he begins to raise questions about God’s justice and love. For even though he has been crying out to God day and night it does not seem like God is listening. The Psalmist, to say the least is having a tough time. But in the midst of his hardship, in the midst of his torment and mental anguish, the Psalmist some how makes a decision to re-direct his thoughts.

THE SILENCE OF GOD
It is said that on a wall in a cellar in Cologne, Germany, where Jews had hidden from Nazis, there was found an inscription. The anonymous author who perished with his fellow victims left behind these words:
“I believe in the sun even when it’s not shinning. I believe in love even when not feeling it. I believe in God even when He is silent.”
Some years ago, the great National Baptist preacher, the Rev. Dr. Ceasar Clark preached a sermon on the silence of God or what he described as God’s pauses – the sermon focused upon the Hebrew term, selah. 05542 cela {seh’-law}. The exact meaning of the term Selah is not known, but it is thought to have been a musical term which was used at the end of a stanza or verse of music showing accentuation, pause, or interruption.

When we see it in the Biblical text, it is not to be read – it is placed there to instruct us to pause after the reading of the verse. Two of the verses in our text have Selah at the end – verse 3 which states, I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah…and verse 9: which states, Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? There’s that term again, Selah.

So when we read those verses, the Psalmist wants us to take speical note of what was said. In other words, the Psalmist is saying, “don’t just rush over these verses, read them, think about it, meditate over what I’ve just said.” Relative to what Dr. Clark was saying, sometimes God is silent. Sometimes it’s as if He pushes the “pause” button and we are left wondering, like the Psalmist – “God, where are you?”

Have you ever experienced God’s pauses? “God, where are you? Why have you pressed the pause button in my life? Why this unwanted, undeserved, unhappy, unbelievable interruption in my life? And why are you taking so long to answer? Selah!"

Have you ever experienced the pauses of God? Whatever the Psalmist was going through it was shaking the very foundation of his life. He felt abandoned by God. Listen again to what the Psalmist said from the Living Bible translation:

Verses 1-3

1 I cry to the Lord; I call and call to him, Oh, that he would listen.
2 I am in deep trouble and I need his help so much. All night long, I pray, lifting up my hands to heaven, pleading. There can be no joy for me until he acts.
3I think of God and moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help. I cannot sleep until you act. I am too distressed even to pray!
Verses 7-9:
Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be favorable? Is his loving-kindness gone forever? Has his promise failed? Has he forgotten to be kind to one so undeserving? Has he slammed the door in anger on his love?
The Psalmist got real! This is our first example from the Psalmist of how to make it through the tough times – We need to get real. We must admit that we are hurting, perplexed, struggling and without understanding. We must loose the “super Christian” mentality and spend some time processing the very real aspects of our human frailty. Before we can move forward, we must first “deal” with the gaping wound in our hearts. We must acknowledge that we have a problem and we don’t know how to fix it.

We have got to acknowledge that we are questioning whether or not God is going to move on your behalf. We’ve got to acknowledge that we have not gotten over the hurt and disappointments of the past if that’s an issue.

Whatever your situation is, before you can seriously begin to work through it, you’ve got to acknowledge that you have a problem that you can’t fix. The more time you spend pretending that you are not hurt, the more time you spend denying that you and God are not really on speaking terms, the more time you spend, denying that you are angy and resentful about issues from the past, the more time you spend denying that you are not over something that you are saying that you are over – that’s the less time and energy you have to truly move forward and progress through the tough times.

The Psalmist was real. He didn’t beat around the bush – he didn’t sugar coat the issue – he blantantly said, “God where are you? Why haven’t you heard me? Have you slammed the door on me?” I think we in the Christian realm have fostered an unhealthy view of our relationship with God. Many have been taught that we should not ask God, “why?” So we walk around feeling like we have to keep up this fake piety that all is well – that whatever is happening is not affecting us because we have great faith – get real!

Even when we don’t verbalize how we feel – God knows, God hears and God sees. When we are not true to ourselves and open with God – we hurt ourselves and prolong the journey through the tough times. But when we choose to “get real” like the Psalmist, we begin to release all of those toxic pinned up feelings that poison our hearts and minds and weigh us down.

Next, the Psalmist not only acknowledged his present situation, but elected to change his focus so that he could move to a new level of processing his pain. The Psalmist began to recall God’s blessings from the past. Listen to what the Psalmist declared in verses 10-12.

77:10 And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High.

77:11 I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.

77:12 I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.

Look at the Psalmist. In other words, he says, “Look, I know that I’m in a tough situation. I see all the pain all around me, I know that this is my current, or present state…but…”

When the English language was put in place, those responsible incorporated the conjunction, “but.” The conjunction, “but” signifies that something on the contrary is about to be said. In other words, when we hear the conjunction, “but” it signifies that there is something on the other hand that needs to be considered. It signifies that something contrary to expectation is about to occur. It signifies that there’s another side to the story. It signifies that all the cards have not been spread on the table. It signifies that “it ain’t over yet!”

The Psalmist changed his focus – he said, in so many words, “Despite my present circumstances, I’m going to remember that God has been good to me. I’ve got some blessed times that I can remember. I’m going to think about the miracles God has performed in the past. I’m going to remember the years of the right hand of the Most High

If you don’t understand the significance of the “right hand,” you’ll miss the profundity of what the Psalmist was saying. In ancient times, the right hand was the most honored place. Guests were seated on the right hand of the host. As a result in Hebrew, Greek and English, the right hand is a metaphor for power and honor. When the Bible speaks of the right hand of God, it is speaking of God’s omnipotence, his power to deliver, give victory and to preserve.

Maybe the Psalmist began to focus upon the miracles of God in his life. Maybe he was remembering the days when God made a way out of no way. Maybe he was remembering the days when everything seemed to fall right into place – days when he could feel God’s presence every step of the way. And maybe, as he began to recount all of God’s blesssings, all that God had brought him through all the promises that God kept in the past, all of the great things that God and only God could have done in his life – maybe he began to say within himself, “This too shall pass !” Which brings us to our third and final lesson we will look at from this Psalm to help us make it thru the tough times…remember the promises of God.

Although the Psalmist was having a tough time, although he didn’t understand why God had seemingly pushed the pause button, although he couldn’t see what God was doing or why God was doing what He was doing or how things were going to pan out – the Psalmist began to claim like Jeremiah, “this I call to rememberance, therefore I have hope – the tender mercies of the Lord faileth not, they are new every morning – Great is thy faithufulness!”

If you can call to rememberance God’s continual faithfulness in your life, if you can call to rememberacne all that God has done in the past and all God is doing right now…if you can call to rememberance all the miracles that God has performed in your life – you will get the strength to make it through the tough times.

Even though you may not see the answer, even though it may feel like God has forgotten about you – if you can call to rememberance the blessings of the Lord in your life, you’ll realize that God has never left you, nor forsaken you. You’ll remember like the writer of the now famous story, “Footprints in the sand” that the times you thought you were walking all alone, it was then that God was carrying you.

No matter what life’s circumstances are right now, ask the Lord to guide your feet, to order your steps to show you the way through the storm – remember his blessings and promises of the past and God will bring you through.

As the people of God, may we remember that the Lord has not left us, even in the tough times. By faith, we will get through this crisis. By faith, we will strive to create a better world. By faith, we will seek to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. By faith, we will remember that love is stronger than hate.

Post a comment or send me an email and Shepastor1@hotmail.com

Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris
www.shepastorchris.org


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Shepastor: “Honoring the Life and Legacy of the Rev. Dr. Valentino Lassiter…’A Son of Encouragement…’”

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. 36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

The Greater Cleveland Community, yea even the Nation and our world is missing the witness of a great man, the Reverend Dr. Valentino Lassiter. “Val,” as he was affectionately called, was a brilliant pastor, scholar, mentor and friend to many. Although he suffered from a physical ailment that made him legally blind, he never let that deter him from fulfilling his calling.

Serving in the community as the Senior Pastor of East View United Church of Christ, serving as the “Pastor in Residence” of John Carroll University, serving on various boards and committees never caused his head to swell. Like Barnabas, he gave all that he had to bless and help others.

At least once or twice a month he would email me an encouraging and or funny message about the blog…

As always, profound and spiritually powerful! (I was impressed on a week ago when you were away at a convention, and still got the newsletter out on time!! Go 'head on! )

Lassiter

Powerful "Connection" word! (It will come up again very soon! lol)

Dr. Smith

The "breakthrough" images are powerful. Go 'head on!
Lassiter …

I was not the only beneficiary of Dr. Lassiter’s kind and encouraging words. He regularly looked for opportunities to lift and encourage individuals, couples, churches, families, etc. Though scholarly, brilliant and much sought after as a preacher and teacher, he was a humble man. He never thought himself “too high” to take time to speak words of life into those around him.

The virtue of his spirit is sorely lacking in so many circles today. So many are too busy, too “important,” too involved, too haughty, just too much… too self-centered, too concerned about being in the “in” crowd, too eager to rub shoulders with those they perceive to be the “great ones.” But those who are truly “great,” are those who take the time, like Dr. Lassiter to love, lift, share, laugh, mentor and encourage. Like Barnabas, who gave all that he had to bless and help others, Dr. Lassiter was indeed the embodiment of that spirit.

We will miss you Doc! We know, however, you have joined that “great cloud of witnesses,” now cheering us on from the balcony of eternity.

May we too strive to be sons and daughters of encouragement.

Post a comment or send me an email at Shepastor1@hotmail.com

Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris
www.shepastorchris.org


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Shepastor: The Battlefield of the Mind: Understanding the Power of Our Thoughts…”

"The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. II Corinthians 10: 4-5

Highlights from Joyce Meyer’s book, Battlefield of the Mind: Winning the Battle in Your Mind, Harrison House, Inc. Tulsa, Oklahoma, 2000.

This passage of scripture reminds us that children of God have weaponry that is not of the world.

The child of God has weapons with “divine power to demolish strongholds.”

What is a “stronghold?”

The literal meaning of stronghold is,

A place that has been fortified so as to protect it against attack
Synonyms for stronghold are: fortress (A heavily protected and impenetrable building) - fort (A fortified building or strategic position) citadel (A fortress, typically on high ground, protecting or dominating a city.- castle - fastness – bulwark (a defensive wall)

In the spiritual sense, a stronghold is an incorrect thinking pattern that has molded itself into our way of thinking. Strongholds have the capability of greatly influencing our feelings, how we respond to various situations in life, and can play a large role in hindering our spiritual freedom.The enemy of our soul sets up fortresses, citadels, bulwarks, etc., that house old struggles, insecurities, fears and a host of other feelings and emotions. These strongholds seek to block the impact of prayer.

If we are not careful, we will view the stronghold as impenetrable. We will feel defeated even before we begin the conversation with God. But this fa├žade is only meant to stop us from using the lethal weaponry of faith, trust, hope and prayer. “Strongholds” are only as strong as we allow them to continue to be. The Word of God reminds us,

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. II Corinthians 10: 4-5
When the enemy comes in like a flood, raise up the standard of the Word of God against him. Our words alone are inadequate to defeat an ancient foe. But God’s Word is eternal. It is powerful, mighty and cannot be defeated.

What strongholds are seeking to imprison you? Shame? Past mistakes? Secret sins? Family or personal dysfunction? Jealousy? Unforgiveness? Foul language? The “what” does not matter. What matters is your awareness of the tactics that satan uses to try to keep you bound…telling you that your prayers won’t matter…telling you that you are too far gone…telling you that you will never be free.

All of those assertions are lies! As a child of God, you possess the power to be free…not through your own devices, but through Jesus Christ. Through His shed blood and resurrection power, the curses of sin and death have been broken. Whom the Son sets free is free indeed (John 8:36)While it may take specific steps to break through the strongholds (intentional and focused prayer, accountability partner(s), pastoral care and counseling, etc.) by the grace of God, faith and perseverance, you can be free.

Don’t allow your mind, heart and spirit to continue to be imprisoned in the enemy’s citadels. You can have victory and be free. Start your healing journey today. Use your God given spiritual weaponry of prayer, faith and obedience to the Lord. Seek the Lord for other godly individuals who can be a healthy, supportive and encouraging community. Study the Word and get involved in a community of faith that divides God’s Word rightly.

Practice speaking the Word of God over your life. Resist recounting those things that hinder your progress and your peace. Stand upon God’s promises. By His stripes, you are healed.

Post a comment or send me an email at Shepastor1@hotmail.com

Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris
www.shepastorchris.org

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Shepastor: "Preparing for the Harvest..."

"The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." Matt 9:35-38 (RSV)

Harvesting is the process of gathering the crops up after they’ve grown. There is a harvest season, that after the farmers have planted their vegetables, or their fruit, they wait for the harvest or their crops to produce whatever they’ve planted.

I’ve never lived on a farm or worked on a farm, but I understand that harvesting can be one of the most, if not the most labor-intensive activities of the growing season. I’m sure, before the days of modern industry when most of the harvesting was done by hand - farmers wanted to be sure they had as many field hands as possible to help in the gathering process. That may be one of the reasons why farmers tended to have large families with lots of children so that they’d have built in help to keep the farm going.

Because much of the community was agricultural, as Jesus spoke of the harvest being plenteous, but the laborers being few, the people of his day readily understand what he meant. Some years ago, a man by the name of Clarence Jordan, (he was actually a Greek Scholar) wrote a version of the Gospels called, The Cotton Patch Version. In it he used the colloquial language or the common language of the southern community. Consider the Cotton Patch Version of Matthew 9: 35-38:

Now Jesus went on a circuit of all the cities and villages, teaching in their churches, telling the good news of the Movement, and healing every disease and affliction. The sight of the crowds moved him to compassion for them, because they were as discouraged and disorganized as sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his students, "There’s a big crop, but not many workers. So beg the Harvest Master to recruit workers for his harvest."

There’s a big crop, but not many workers. As we know, Jesus was not talking about crops of food. Jesus was talking about crops of people. Isn’t it strange that with all the religious people, with all of the temples and synagogues, with all of the elders, priests, with all of the Hebraic laws passed down through out the centuries of their nation - isn’t it strange that Jesus would say, the harvest was plenteous, but the laborers are few - pray for the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into the harvest?

This same story is told by Luke, however, Luke begins it differently. In Luke, this story is couched between Jesus “setting His face resolutely” to go towards Jerusalem, where he will face persecution and crucifixion and his preparation of the disciples for the work that lay ahead of them. In each situation, he sent disciples before him to “prepare the way.” Listen to Luke 10: 1-2…

Jesus Sends Out the Seventy-Two
1After this the Lord appointed seventy-twoa others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.
Prior to Jesus going to a new town or city, He sent “laborers” to “prepare the way.” Jesus instructed the current laborers to “pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send forth laborers into the harvest…the harvest is plenteous but the laborers are few.”

As many times as I’ve read that passage, something new jumped out at me this time. While the Lord would have us to pray for the lost, the “harvest,” the Lord FIRST instructs the laborers to pray for MORE laborers because the harvest is so big. It is interesting with all of the churches – large and small – that Jesus declares that there are still only a few laborers! Lots of church goers, but only a few laborers.

We must invest time in praying for laborers for the harvest. The Lord instructs the disciples to pray for the “Lord of the Harvest to send forth laborers into the harvest.” In addition to being a laborer, we are instructed to pray for the Lord to send more laborers.

Everyone is not interested in making preparation for Jesus. Every time we show Christian love and service, we are preparing the way for Jesus. Every time we obey the Holy Spirit’s voice and move as the Lord says move, we are preparing the way for Jesus. Every time we give and support the work of the ministry, we are preparing the way for Jesus. In other words, when we live a righteous life, when we obey the voice of the Lord, when we do the things of God, our light shines and the people of the world see our good works and they in turn give glory to the Father in heaven. God uses us to prepare the way for Jesus.

Everyone is not interested in doing the hard work of harvesting the crops. There is work involved in harvesting. Harvesting takes time. Harvesting takes energy. Harvesting takes commitment. Harvesting takes determination and perseverance. You had to bend down to get the corn, the vegetables or the wheat. Maybe if the stalks were very tall, you had to reach up to pull the corn or the wheat. You had to get your hands dirty. You had to endure the heat of the day. You had to experience bugs and various kinds of insects in the process. Harvesting was not an easy task.

It’s no wonder why people did not want to go out and labor to bring in the harvest! The “harvest” today is lost souls. But it takes spiritual “work” to win lost souls. The term “labor,” suggests work. Jesus was telling his disciples to pray for more folks that will do the work of the Kingdom!

What does that work look like? Work…pray with intentionality. Work…tell others about Jesus…work, serve in the church with your time, talent and treasure…work, encourage somebody, work…be a good steward and tithe…work, see things that need to get done and help to do it instead of being critical and complaining…work…volunteer to mentor or tutor some young people in the community…work…stand up for what is right…work…obey the voice of God’s Holy Spirit!

While we are not saved by works, but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, faith without works is dead! The Lord wants us to pray for more laborers in the vineyard. The Lord tells us exactly what to do to make preparations for bringing in the harvest…pray to the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers.

The Lord of the Harvest is saying that it is ready, it is big, it is plentiful! But only a few laborers are working to bring the harvest in. The church needs laborers. The church not only needs membership. The Church needs discipleship. The Church needs men, women, boys and girls that are interested in following Jesus. The Church needs men, women, boys and girls that are interested in obeying Jesus…learning and following His Word, His way, His voice, His heart. The Church needs laborers…not just people who will periodically come to “church service,” sit, nod and then go back home until next week…but the church needs laborers who will work, pray, serve, give, love, stand up, and be faithful.

The Lord of the Harvest is looking for some laborers - will you obey the Lord’s instruction to pray to the Lord of the harvest that He will send laborers into the harvest? Will you be a laborer and help prepare the way of the Lord? Will you be intentional about asking the Lord to send help, laborers into the ministry so that we, together can go and reap the harvest?

Post a comment or send me an email at Shepastor1@hotmail.com .

Have you registered yet for the “Addressing the Elephants in the Pew: Pursuing Knowledge, Wisdom and Healing Conference,” July 31 – August 1st? For more information, visit, Addressing the Elephants in the Pew.

Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris
www.shepastorchris.org