Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Shepastor: "Revisiting the Essence of True Praise and Worship During this Thanksgiving Season"

"God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” John 4: 24

“God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food… Good bread, good meat, good God lets eat!” These are the prayers of childhood and hurried schedules! As we prepare to dive into Thanksgiving meals, some may not even take time to say, “Thank you Lord!” This holiday, however, provides for us an opportunity to revisit the “thankfulness gage” of our hearts.

When we with grateful hearts truly worship and praise God we develop intimacy with Him. We see Him not just for what He can do, but for who He is – the awesome powerful God who in spite of His greatness and majesty looked upon us with love and mercy, sent His only begotten son into the world to die for us, to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, to forgive us of our sins and to make us joint heirs with Jesus– we have become God’s children.

Writer Jerry Bridges in an article entitled, “Beyond Sunday: Making Worship a Way of Life” in Discipleship Journal (March/April 2001) suggests that we ask ourselves the following questions concerning our worship:

1. Have I presented myself and all I have to God as a living sacrifice, so that my way of life is a life of worship?
2. Do I take time daily to worship God privately and to thank Him for all His blessings to me?
3. Is there some cherished sin, some practice I’m unwilling to give up, that hinders my worship?
4. Do I seek to enter wholeheartedly, “in spirit and in truth” into worship or do I simply go through the motions without really worshiping?
Bridges further states,

“None of us will score perfectly on these questions. That is not their intent. Rather they’re designed to help us honestly assess ourselves and pinpoint areas of our lives that need improvement. Only then, and as we take steps to improve, will they benefit us.”
When we worship God, we give glory and honor to His name. When we worship God, we broaden our perspective of life and our life’s purpose. When we worship God, we open our hearts to sing His praises. We join with the song writer who declared,

Oh Lord, our God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the works thy hand hath made… I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, thy power throughout the universe displayed. Then sings my soul, my savior God to thee. How great thou art, how great thou art. Then sings my soul, my savior God to thee. How great thou art, how great thou art!
May we truly worship and praise God with hearts of gratitude, not only during the Thanksgiving Season, but every day.
May you and yours have a grateful, peaceful and joy-filled Thanksgiving Holiday!

Until next Wednesday,
In faith, hope and perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Shepastor: “True Gratefulness is Something that Emerges, Not Something Imposed…”

“Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for He s good; for His mercy endureth forever…” Psalm 136:1, KJV

I grew up hearing the story of a young mother of three who was raised in an affluent home in another country. A series of unfortunate circumstances caused the mother’s family to lose their wealth. Her husband, from the same country, grew up in a decent but poor household. Together, they decided to come to America and make a life for themselves. They had little or nothing. It was a struggle, but by faith they persevered and “made it.” A portion of the struggle included the husband receiving a partial scholarship to attend college in one part of the country, and the wife living with relatives in another part of the country, working to raise money to assist him with school and support their family.

The wife and mother humbled herself and accepted “day work” in order to make ends meet. She rose up early in the morning, walked to work – scrubbing floors, doing laundry, babysitting for wealthy women. On one occasion, after working extremely hard, back hurting, feet tired, bones weary, her employer, at the end of a full week, handed her a limp $5.00 bill and said, “Now what is a ‘girl’ like you gonna do with ‘all’ that money? Aren’t you grateful?” The ‘girl’ responded, “It is not the size of the gift, but the heart and mind with which it is given.” Puzzled, the wealthy employer looked at the woman and asked, “Where did you learn such a thing?” The day worker just smiled and walked away.

To tell someone that they should be “grateful” in the face of injustice and oppression is a travesty. To engage in discriminatory practices that keep individuals down and perpetuate poverty, pain and disgrace is sin.
The concept of gratefulness should never be used to impose guilt upon those who dare question oppressive and discriminatory practices. It is a twisted theology that somehow suggests that an individual should be grateful in the midst of abuse, inequality, and “door-mat-ism.”

True Gratefulness emerges from the hearts of those who recognize some measure of grace bestowed upon them. True gratefulness emerges as individuals acknowledge that in spite of mean spirited and ignorant behaviors, God is still good, God still makes a way and God still causes us to triumph over painful situations and circumstances.

True gratefulness emerges as individuals look back over their lives and declare they have a testimony…”my soul looks back and wonders how I made it over…” True gratefulness emerges when one recognizes that greater is the one with us, than the one within the world. True gratefulness emerges as we say with the saints of old, “what the devil meant for evil, God meant for my good!”

The young mother and wife referenced earlier was my mother. I am grateful that she was able to see beyond the ugliness of an abusive employer, trusted God, did her best, later joined her husband, together they raised their family, bought two homes and lived their lives successfully…gratefulness, not imposed, but emerging from our hearts.

“Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good. His mercy endureth forever!”

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

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Shepastor: "Even in the Midst of Tragedy, God Still Speaks..."

”God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in the time of trouble…” Psalm 46:1

Sandyhook Elementary School, Hurricane Sandy, now the typhoon in the Philippines…10,000 or more suspected dead. Sickness and evil on one hand, natural disasters on the other. Someone is asking, “Where is God in the midst of all of this tragedy?” Flippant and shallow theological responses will not do. As pastors, leaders and teachers, we should not pretend to know the answers to such painful conundrums. “From whence cometh evil?” That is the puzzlement that has bewildered humanity throughout antiquity to the present age.

We can, however, reflect upon and seek to replicate the spirit of love, unity, compassion and benevolence that arises in each of these instances from the ash heaps of despair. God shows up when we embrace each other with tender loving care, providing a shoulder to cry upon. God shows up as we as individuals, communities, and nations do what we can to provide food, water, shelter and clothing to those who have been stripped of everything.

God shows up when we, at least for a moment, put our differences of race, gender and class aside, and see our common humanity.
Could these things be the “refuge, strength and present help” that God chooses to use in the time of storm?

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.” Psalm 46: 4 English Standard Version
Could we be the “river” that God uses to “make glad the city of God?” May rivers of peace, compassion, healing, support, encouragement and deliverance flow from the hearts, hands and spirits of God’s people so that the world may see and hear God even in the midst of tragedy.

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

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Shepastor: “Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired! Continuing the Conversation on Equity and Access for Women Clergy”

I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.[a]
The LORD’s Answer
2 Then the LORD replied:
“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald[b] may run with it.
3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it[c] will certainly come
and will not delay.
Habakkuk 2:1-3, NIV

Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer’s famous phrase, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired…” could appropriately be used by clergywomen in 2013. I’ve thought about the struggles of Mrs. Hamer frequently over recent days. As I have reflected upon her triumphant and painful story as a female civil rights activist, it grieved me also to think about the disparities and inequalities women clergy face, causing them spiritual, psychological and even physical pain.

While we may not have lost our jobs, been given a hysterectomy without our permission during a surgical procedure, been hauled off to jail and beaten so severely that our kidneys were damaged (all experiences of Mrs. Hamer as she led protests for the right for African Americans to vote – see her powerful biography by visiting, ), clergy women are still having to fight for equity and access into the pastorate. Someone reading this is saying, “there is no comparison…” I respectfully beg to differ…

During the Equity and Access for Women Clergy Conference, it amazed me to listen to the striking similarities between clergywomen who literally, 30 years ago could not get a “call” to a solo pastorate or had to accept small, dying, economically depressed congregations and take on a second job to make a living wage and clergy women in 2013 saying the same thing!

I am encouraged by the great strides that have been made…women are beginning to be called to more stable congregations…women are being licensed and ordained, women are beginning to earn higher salaries than before.

I am discouraged by the snail’s pace of progress and lethargy that has seemingly developed around the issue of equity and access for women clergy. It discourages me when I hear women giving up on the idea of becoming a senior/solo pastor simply because they don’t see doors opening wider for us. I have been equally discouraged by denominations that “support” women clergy with words and maybe even printed materials, but do little to seriously take steps to assist women clergy in the process of receiving a living wage.

As a result of the lack of true support, women clergy are suffering. Their bodies are worn and run down from wearing a million hats to serve struggling congregations. Their minds’ are taxed because out of necessity, they take on additional work to make ends meet. Their hearts are broken because despite the “anointing,” excellent credentials, broad experience and willing hearts, they are constantly passed over and or made to play “2nd fiddle.” Their spirits are strained because they contort their gifts and calling to fit into other areas of ministry and “make do” serving where ever they can with heavy hearts – never able to live out their true calling.

I am encouraged because of the recent developments with the Equity and Access for Women Clergy Conference. My prayer is that the five “Activist Groups” (see last week's Shepastor)which have emerged will, by God’s grace, “Make the Vision Plain” and break open the stained glass ceilings that still exists. Truly we are sick and tired of being sick and tired!

I encourage you to read two additional blogs reviewing the “Equity and Access for Women Clergy” Conference held last week at Wake Forest University by Rev. Dr. Jann Aldredge Clanton, and Rev. Dr. Eileen Campbell Reed,

While we all experience discouragement and weariness over the struggle for worthy causes, may we never forget that our hope and our help is in Christ Jesus, our Lord! May we be reminded of the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 126:5-6,

5They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.

6 He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.

May our tears, bearing “precious seed” create great rejoicing as we reap the harvest for our labor that truly is not in vain!

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