Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Shepastor: "Understanding Your Mind, Body and Spirit..."

Proverbs 4:7 King James Version (KJV) 7 Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore, get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.

Some years ago, I served as a teacher in a private Christian school for 5th and 6th grade students. At the beginning of the year, I placed a large board in the front of the class with rules. The rules included such things as being respectful of one another, taking turns, raising your hand if you needed assistance, etc. When the principal of the school came in to visit my room before class began, he looked at my “rule board,” chuckled and said, “Ain’t nothin like an understanding!” 

I’ve often reflected upon that moment and smiled. Getting an understanding is of utmost importance in life. Knowledge without understanding is futile. Understanding is gaining insight into a matter. Understanding can help you to cope, process through, accept, gain patience and perseverance. As a young woman this matter of understanding became very clear to me as I experienced changes in my mood at certain times of the month. I remember trying to figure out why I would all of a sudden feel sad when nothing was wrong. A bird would fly by and I’d feel like crying! One day I shared my experiences with a slightly older, young woman. She wisely told me to mark down on the calendar each time I felt that way and see if there was a pattern. Sure enough, I would experience feelings of sadness just before my monthly cycle started. Once I understood what was going on, it helped me to cope with the feelings better. I gained the understanding that I wasn’t “going crazy,” but rather, my mood was being impacted by hormones that were shifting and changing based upon my cycle. 

The writer of Proverbs was urging his readers to couple wisdom…good judgement, knowledge…with understanding…insight. Understanding or insight can help us in a number of ways. Understanding helps us to better cope, to figure out ways to change where possible and to gain a greater perspective. Often “believers” wrestle with admitting, accepting and processing common realities facing us as humans. For some, admitting pain and struggle cannot live in the same space as trust and faith. Such musings are based upon faulty theology. Although we are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, we are human and frail. We will experience pain; for “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels” (II Corinthians 4:7, KJV). 

Whether it is pain in our body, mind or spirit, pain is real and should not be swept under the rug. For example, chronic physical pain due to any variety of illnesses can be daunting. Quite frankly, for some, it can be embarrassing. Personally, I have experienced this struggle as I face advanced osteoarthritis pain. It can be embarrassing when I have to take longer to stand up, walk slower and experience difficulty climbing stairs. This “new normal” can also be daunting and depressing. However, I have found that having conversations with my physician about options, looking at tests and images where I can see the origins and current triggers for my pain and learning how to alleviate my pain in healthy, consistent ways helps me to process, cope and change where possible. Coupling that knowledge and understanding with prayer and faith helps me to persevere. It also helps to know that I am not alone in this struggle. 

Many are going through similar situations. It’s good to tell yourself, "It's not just me!" Gaining  an understanding of your condition can help to shape your perspective in healthy and productive ways. Having the attitude to gain understanding of our mental, physical and spiritual health can help us gain some level of control over our individual responses. Before that can happen, we must be willing and open to facing our realities, learning what we can about our condition and prayerfully discerning the best course of action. Prayer, wise counsel and faith, coupled with action goes a long way towards healing. 

Understanding is a POWERFUL tool in the hands of the believer. Seek God’s wisdom. Ask God for an understanding heart…insight to see beyond what is readily apparent…to see beyond what it looks like in the physical…to gain clarity about what things are and why things are…to make better decisions regarding every aspect of your life. Yes, there will be things that we will never understand on this side of the Jordan. But even that is “understanding” because you will learn by God’s grace to “accept the things that you cannot change, the courage to change the things that you can and the wisdom to know the difference.” 

Are you in pain? Take a deep dive into the process of gaining understanding. First spend time in prayer with the Lord, asking for guidance, help and strength. Prayerfully discern with whom you can share your struggle whether it be a physician, a counselor or therapist, a pastor or a friend. You are not alone. God is with you as well as a host of other human beings who are also in the struggle. With the help of the Lord, you can prevail! 

In Faith, Hope and Perseverance, 
Pastor Chris 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Shepastor: “Lessons from Trees…”

12 The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
13 planted in the house of the LORD,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green,
15 proclaiming, “The LORD is upright;
he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”
Psalm 92: 12-15, NIV

Scripture frequently uses trees to teach lessons:
The Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden
The Juniper Tree that Elijah ran and sat under when he was depressed
The Tree that Absalom got hung on when his hair was caught in the thicket
The Tree that is spoken of in Psalm 1
The Tree that bears fruit
The Tree that Jesus cursed
The Tree of Life

But in our particular text for today, the Psalmist lifts up two trees:
The Palm Tree and The Cedars of Lebanon

The Psalmist said that the righteous shall flourish like a Palm Tree. What is so special about a Palm Tree?
- Palm Trees are tall, majestic and beautiful
- Palm Trees are resilient. They flourish even in drought because of their deep root system
- Palm Trees are able to withstand hurricanes and massive storms because they know how to bend

The Psalmist also likened the righteous unto the Cedars of Lebanon.
-The Cedars of Lebanon stood 120 feet tall and 30 feet wide.
-They were firmly rooted and were very strong. They were so high that they could see far above the city out into distant lands.

The Psalmist said that the righteous, like the Cedars of Lebanon are firmly planted and they flourish in the courts of the Lord. They continue to bear fruit even in their old age. They stay fresh and green.

Sometimes we have to be like Palm Trees, getting our thirst quenched by our deep root systems. There will be times when “surface faith,” won’t be enough. In other words, it’s easy to trust God when everything is going your way. It’s easy to have faith when you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. But can you trust God in the darkness? Can you trust God when the answers are not clear, when the outcome is uncertain, when it appears that everything is falling apart. In times like that, you need DEEP faith! Deep faith requires us to go way down on the inside and pull up what we know to be true about God…that God is faithful…that God has seen us through before,… that God did not bring us this far to leave us…that God has promised never to leave us or forsake us…that many are the afflictions of the righteous but the LORD delivers us out of them all! It takes deep faith to continue to hold to God’s unchanging hand when the enemy is screaming let go.

Sometimes we have to bend like the Palm Tree. We’ve got to learn how to be flexible. We’ve got to learn how to bend down and be humble. We’ve got to learn how to make it through the storm. We must be flexible. We must learn the “Serenity Prayer,” that says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” There will be times when we have to accept that there are things that we cannot change. We cannot change others, but with the help of the Lord we can change ourselves. We can’t do everything, but we can do something. We can’t make everything better, but we can do what is possible to bring hope, and joy and light.

When storms are raging, we must learn how to bend with the wind. Palm trees don’t snap because they know how to bend. Bend down and pray. Bend down in your heart and let God do the heavy lifting. Bend, and let God fight your battles. Bend and let God make your enemies your footstool!

Sometimes we’ve got to be like the Cedars of Lebanon. Sometimes we’ve got to stand firm, stand tall and stand strong. We’ve got to learn how to be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, in as much as we know that our labor is not in vain in the Lord.

We’ve got to stand tall and stand strong. In order to do that, we’ve got to be firmly planted in the courts of the Lord. The courts of the Lord, the house of the Lord, the ways of the Lord, the Word of the Lord. "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the council of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law doth he meditate both day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water. His leaf also shall not whither and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away..." Psalm 1.

This past week we celebrated the life and the legacy of Congressman John Lewis. His mantra was, “Get into ‘good trouble.’" The son of sharecroppers, and the great, great-grandson of slaves, Congressman Lewis stood tall for human equality and justice for all. He was determined to speak out, to march, to endure beatings, rejection, misunderstanding from family and friends and risked life and limb for the greater cause of freedom, equality and justice in America! And while we will not all be called to endure the things that Congressman Lewis did, we ALL are called upon to stand for that which is right whether it is popular or not…to speak truth to power, and to speak up when we hear or are engaged in conversations where people are saying racist, hateful and ignorant things!

The Lord is looking for those who will be like Trees, Palm Trees, Cedars of Lebanon who know how to be resilient through Christ, who know how to bend and be flexible, but also who know how and when to stand tall, stand firm and will not move. Will you learn the lessons of the palm and cedar trees? Embrace their wisdom today!

In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Shepastor: “Their Perceptions Don’t Determine Your Value…”

Zechariah 11:12-13 New International Version (NIV)
12 I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver.
13 And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the handsome price at which they valued me! So, I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord.

“Their Perceptions Don’t Determine Your Value”

30 pieces of silver was the amount of money that a slave owner would receive for a slave that had been gored by an ox. The text says that the people for whom the Lord had done so much treated Him and His representative, His prophet, Zechariah like a severely wounded slave who was viewed as being of little or no worth. These verses foreshadow the acts of the Pharisees as they payed Judas 30 pieces of silver for betraying our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as if, Jesus was worthless.

The term “value” means, “…the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.” We ascribe “value” or worth to objects as well as to concepts, relationships and ideas. For example, we might value or hold in high regard a vase or a painting. We might value or hold in high regard a friendship or someone’s opinion. When we value something, we make a decision about how much importance it has, how useful it is, how much we think about this or that. But this psychological exercise gets off track when it is used to judge or determine the importance of a human being, or more importantly the importance of our relationship with God.

Think about it. The pharisees placed little value upon Jesus. They paid Judas the price one would pay for a slave that had been run through with the horns of an ox! Judas was paid 30 pieces of silver for betraying our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In our text, Zechariah says,

13 And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the handsome price at which they valued me!

Potter’s were viewed as nothing…poor, dirty, vagabonds traveling around the town selling their pots. The Lord says they placed Him in the category of a gored slave and a “potter’s field.” THE LORD!!! Now think about that in terms of our lives. Did the perceptions of the foolish people who rejected Zechariah as their shepherd make Zechariah any less valuable as a prophet called and anointed in the sight of the God? Did the perceptions of the foolish, wicked people diminish the awesome power and greatness of the LORD? Did the foolish and wicked perceptions of the pharisees about Jesus make Him any less than the who He is, the Son of God? NO!!!

There will always be those who don’t understand who you are. There will always be those who want to place you in certain boxes, and corners and lists and categories, placing “less than,” values upon you. But their perceptions don’t determine your worth! Their thoughts about you don’t determine your value. Their little ideas about you don’t change who you are. Don’t allow what they think about you to shape the way you think about yourself. Like the Proverbs 31 woman, you must “perceive that YOUR merchandise is good!!!” (Proverbs 31:18).

Yes, it hurts when people you hope would see your value treat you like a gored slave. Yes it hurts when society, shaped by institutional and systemic racism imposes upon your life values that are less than what they think of their pets, literally. Yes, it hurts when we see systems that view our lives as expendable, our gifts as commodities to be used for their pleasure and their entertainment. Yes, it hurts when doors are slammed shut, when promises are broken, when you experience rejection, when individuals and groups and entities treat you as if you are nothing. IT HURTS!!!

But you must raise your thoughts above their ignorance. You must remind yourself that their perceptions don’t determine your value. You must remind yourself that God made you and God don’t make no junk! You must remind yourself that God has created you, that God has gifted you, that God has formed you and that God has given you GREAT VALUE. Your merchandise IS GOOD!

Don’t linger in the darkness of their ignorance. Don’t linger in the foolishness of their underestimation about you. But rather, stand in the reality of your value, given to you not by man, but by God himself. Know yourself. It does not matter how many mistakes that you have made, how many flaws that you may have, how many dreams you have yet to fulfill. Those are simply aspects of your life, they are not the totality of your life. Get your understanding of your value from GOD and not from the flawed, ignorance of others!!!

God valued us so much that He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus to die for our sins. God gives us our value. Get to know your value rooted in Christ Jesus. Stand up in your spirit. Run to the cross. Look up and live! Embrace your beauty, your giftedness, your uniqueness, your value, your worth. Walk in who the Lord made you to be and not in the shadow of the opinion of fools.

In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Shepastor: "What Were You Thinking?"

Today, Shepastor highlights my article, "What Were You Thinking?" Realities and Responses to Systemic Racism in America, published by Ethics Daily. You can read the entire article by clicking on the link shared below the preview message...

"Our nation seems to be on the verge of a breakthrough. Like never before, people of all racial backgrounds are joining together by the thousands, demanding change and declaring, '#BlackLivesMatter.' We are at the door." -- Christine A Smith

Article link, "What Where You Thinking..."

In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Shepastor: "Shine Your Light..."

1 Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations. 2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.Isaiah 9:1-3 (KJV)

In our text for today, Isaiah tells us of how the people of Judah had rebelled against the word of the Lord time and time again. God would send his messengers to teach them the ways of righteousness, to tell them how to worship and serve him, to teach them how to live holy lives. But time and time again, the people refused to listen. They angered God by their willful and disobedient ways. They worshipped and served other gods. They sought counsel from mediums (what we would call “psychics”), they sacrificed to other gods, they turned themselves over to every evil thing and even their kings forsook the God of their fathers and turned to folly.

Therefore, they were a people misguided by their own sinful hearts and minds. They were a people who forgot all that the Lord had done for them. They were a people with blinded eyes and burdened souls. They were a people who walked in darkness.

Thus the prophet declared:

… Vs. 2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
Isaiah 9:2 (KJV)

In our nation, in our communities, in our world, people are hurting. People are angry. People are suffering. People are afraid. Not only are we being pounded by the Corona virus, over 100,000 people have died in America over the last three months. But in the African American Community we have witnessed, yet again the brutal, hate-filled, death of Mr. George Floyd.

We watched with agony as a cold, hate-filled, insensitive, cruel Minnesota police officer suffocated a black man as he lay on his stomach, hands cuffed behind his back, two other policemen kneeling on his body and the main culprit putting the full weight of his body, using his knee to compress Mr. Floyd’s windpipe. We watched as he cried, begged, pleaded and gasped, “I CAN”T BREATHE!” People are TIRED!!! People are FRUSTRATED. People are ANGRY! While we do not condone or advocate rioting and violence, we must acknowledge the root causes of the mayhem. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Riot is the language of the unheard.”

We must ask the hard questions. We must face the consequences of generations of oppression, abuse, disenfranchisement, racist systems that perpetuate cycles of dysfunction, poverty, inequality and destruction. The blood of Trayvon Martin, the blood of Tamir Rice, the blood of Philando Castille, the blood of Sandra Bland, the blood for Freddie Gray, the Blood of Armond, the blood of Breonna Taylor, the blood of GEORGE FLOYD is crying out from the ground! JUSTICE MUST PREVAIL!!!

If we are going to shine the light, we cannot give the masses standard lines. We must HEAR their cries for justice. White and Black, and Brown and Red and Yellow Sisters and Brothers must band together and shout with one voice, ENOUGH! We HEAR the cries of the oppressed and we WILL NOT TOLERATE this injustice any more. Do you want the buildings to stop burning – STAND FOR JUSTICE. Do you want the rioters to stop rioting STAND FOR JUSTICE…Do you want police brutality to stop?
CHANGE THE LAWS that allow for unchecked abuse of power.

SHINE YOUR LIGHT at the ballot box. SHINE YOUR LIGHT at the State house…SHINE YOUR LIGHT in the community. Love is stronger than hate. Love is more powerful that hate. LOVE WILL PREVAIL. Love is an ACTION WORD!

Be determined to shine your light. We can waste our time cursing the darkness or we can be determined to shine the light of Jesus Christ. Jesus showed us the true meaning of love and light. Jesus encouraged us to speak truth to power. Jesus taught us to be concerned about the needs of the less fortunate. Jesus taught us not to be hypocritical, but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. Someone is hurting today. Can you see Jesus in them? Someone needs a hand up today will you help them?

Someone with whom you don’t want to be bothered is pleading for guidance today – will you walk with them? We all are called to be missionaries to spread the good tidings of God’s goodness, mercy, grace and salvation. As God’s people, we all are called to shine the light for those walking through the darkness. We are called to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. (Isaiah 61).

Be determined to shine your light!

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Shepastor: “You Can Make It!”

Proverbs 30:1, NIV
The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh—an inspired utterance.
This man’s utterance to Ithiel:
“I am weary, God,
but I can prevail.[a]

Our focus verse for today has been attributed to an individual named Agur. We don’t have any additional information about Agur. His words presented here provide for us the only information we have about him. Agur starts out this section with a profound statement. Certainly, he is not the only Biblical writer to confess this psychological and emotional state, but he follows his initial statement with a declaration of faith… Agur says,

“I am weary, God,
but I can prevail.

Every translation of this verse does not say this.

The King James Version does not even include these words. The Contemporary English Version says it like this…

"Someone cries out to God,
“I am completely worn out!
How can I last?[a]"

The Living Bible combines verses 1-2 and declares,

2 "I am tired out, O God, and ready to die. I am too stupid even to call myself a human being!"
The New Revised Standard Version says it just like the Living Bible…
I won’t bore you with other translations. You get the picture. Of all of them, however, I was intrigued by the New International Version’s translation that has Agur declaring, in spite of his weariness that he can prevail.

Weariness is a condition that goes beyond physical exhaustion. To be weary involves more than aching joints, sweat rolling down your face, wanting to flop down on the bed and go to sleep. “Weariness” has several components. Weariness impacts the totality of a person. Weariness involves the psyche, the spirit and the body. The Hebrew writers suggest that this weariness means feeling completely spent…you’ve given all you’ve got, you are poured out like water out of a pitcher with not even one drop left to give. In other words, you are just DONE!

The man in the text says, “God, I am weary!” All of the translations agree on that. The man is weary, spent, poured out, feeling as if he can’t go one step further. But then the translators diverge. They break off from the one translator who, in spite of explaining the weariness of the man, has the man making a shocking statement… the NIV translator has the man declaring, “but, I can prevail!” The conjunction “but” suggests something to the contrary. The man is making a declaration that is contrary to the way he feels. He feels weary. He feels spent. He feels like giving up, BUT, he declares, “I CAN PREVAIL!”

The term “prevail” means,“to prove more powerful than opposing forces; be victorious.” The man is talking to the right one. He is expressing his weariness to God, but he then decides to that in spite of his weariness, that he can be the victorious over his circumstances. After spending time in the presence of the Lord, he comes to the realization that he can prevail. He realizes that he can be more powerful than the opposing forces… Whatever is making him weary, with God’s help, he can prevail!

There is much in life to make us weary…situations that keep dragging on long after they should have been over, disappointment, physical and psychological pain, poverty, loneliness, defeat, the death of dreams…the list can go on and on. Weariness is a condition of the heart, mind, body and soul. But if we like the Psalmist tell the Lord about how we feel, tell the Lord about our pain, our sorrow, our disappointment, our struggle, our trial…whatever, when we get before the Lord in sincerity of heart, something will begin to happen down on the inside.

When we turn our focus away from our weariness and instead begin to look at our GREAT and awesome and powerful God, then we like Agur will declare, I CAN PREVAIL! Whatever you are going through, know today that you can make it! As we move in faith, as we serve the Lord with gladness, as we listen and obey God’s Word and follow God’s way, our weariness will be replaced with energy. God energizes us when we make up our minds to walk with Him. God strengthens us by reminding us of His promises and revealing His beauty even in the midst of dark and trying times. God reveals Himself in unexpected ways when we make up our minds to search for Him with all of our hearts.

Yes, YOU CAN MAKE IT! God is with you, God is keeping you. God is for you! You are more than a conqueror! You can do all things through Christ that strengthens you! You are the head and not the tail! You are above and not beneath! You are a child of the King! Make up your mind today to cast down the enemy of fear, depression and defeat! Make up your mind to cast off everything that seeks to way you down. Make up your mind to focus on your GREAT AND AWESOME GOD! Tell yourself, “I CAN PREVAIL!” Tell yourself, “With the help of the LORD I WILL MAKE IT!!!”

Be encouraged! Be blessed by this song, “You Can Make it!” By Betty Griffin Keller…

You Can Make It

In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Shepastor: “Are We Perishing from a Lack of Knowledge?”

6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. Hosea 4:6, KJV

As leaders in the faith community, we are held to a higher law – that of teaching, preaching and leading people to know and love the Lord and to trust and follow His Word. We also have the very important responsibility of serving as community leaders – exemplifying and teaching what it means to “do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.”

Like no other time in recent history, the covers are being pulled back on the health, economic and educational disparities between the majority culture and minorities in America. False information is leading some to believe that minorities and younger individuals cannot be infected by the Corona virus. According to a recent news report, African Americans comprise approximately 13.4% of the U.S. population, yet they account for approximately 60% of deaths related to COVID-19 (Read more at "Black communities account for disproportionate number of Covid-19 deaths in the US, study finds")

Many, believing and hoping that somehow COVID-19 will just disappear and we can return to life “as usual,” are ignoring the realities of science and the cautions of the medical community. It is incumbent upon us as faith/community leaders to help people to understand the elusive, dangerous and deadly nature of this disease. Without inciting fear, but instead by faith, we must encourage our congregants and others to listen to the facts, follow the guidance of our health professionals and avoid engaging in activities that unnecessarily expose themselves and others to the virus.

We also have the responsibility to challenge “the powers that be” to do all that they can to increase testing, pursue a viable vaccine and support local governments financially, enabling them to issue the necessary finances to individuals, families, small business leaders, etc., so that people can survive.
May we arm ourselves with the necessary knowledge to address all of the above. May we do what we can to help support one another…call others, send cards, make donations, offer to help someone who cannot help themselves, practice social distancing, wear gloves and masks. Walk in wisdom!

Refuse to perish for a lack of knowledge!

In faith, hope and perseverance,
Pastor Chris