Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Shepastor: "Lessons From Ants, Badgers and Lizards..."

Proverbs 30:24-28, RSV

24 Four things on earth are small,
but they are exceedingly wise:
25 the ants are a people not strong,
yet they provide their food in the summer;
26 the badgers are a people not mighty,
yet they make their homes in the rocks;
27 the locusts have no king,
yet all of them march in rank;
28 the lizard you can take in your hands,
yet it is in kings’ palaces.

This week’s focus: “Lessons from the Ant…”

Proverbs 6:6-8, KJV

6 Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
7 Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,
8 Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.

Verses 7-8 in the Living Bible say it this way…

7 For though they have no king to make them work, 8 yet they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter.

The necessity of internal motivation…

Have you ever watched ants work? I can remember as a little girl being so fascinated in the summer months, watching black ants on the side walk coming together to carry small crumbs to their ant hills. The crumbs that appeared so small to me, seemed huge to them. I watched as their little legs moved and struggled to carry a crumb, undeterred, undaunted, ever marching towards their destination. They did not appear to have a chief ant standing at the top of the hill demanding that they do the work. They just did what they had to do.

The scriptures advise us not to be lazy, but to consider the ways of the ant. Although we may not consider ourselves to be “lazy,” we can become spiritually lazy if we are not careful. With the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it is easy, if we are not careful, to neglect nurturing our spirits. The spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation, fasting, contemplation etc., are just that – disciplines. “discipline,” closely related to the term, “disciple,” suggests that one is following something, adhering to something, becoming a student of something in order to learn, to cultivate, to become, to transform. True discipline is transforming.

The one who chooses to “discipline themselves” to follow after a way of thinking, living and or being does not need a school master over them, demanding that they do this or that. The desire to change, to become stronger, to get ready, to prepare, etc., propels the individual into behaviors that line up with the desired goal. When we desire a deeper relationship with the Lord, when we want our ways to please the Lord, when we yearn to know the Lord better and become spiritually mature, those desires emerge from within. No one has to force us to pray, read scripture, spend time alone in meditation and fasting. We listen for the Holy Spirit’s voice and accept the invitation to come away with Him.

The ant teaches us the value in having internal motivation and discipline. If we embrace these disciplines we will be wise and prepared…

Prepare for Winter in the Summer…

In general, we don’t see ants in the winter. That is because they have prepared their meals and stored them up for the winter, in the summer. Most prepare their nests under ground, in trees or in acorns to get ready for the cold winter months. They are not bothered by the snow and the subfreezing temperatures – they have made preparation for the winter…

The “winters” of life can be brutal…health challenges, difficult relationships, grief, depression, burnout, financial upheavals, “church,” etc. Christians are not exempt from “winter.” However, if we prepare for the winter by strengthening our spirits through the aforementioned disciplines, during the proverbial summers, we, like the ant will have what is necessary to sustain us until winter passes.

The good news about God’s grace is that even if we have not done our part to get prepared for the winter, God will still meet us where we are and provide strength to help us through. Our trudge through the snow, however, will be with greater ease if we have gotten prepared with the necessary “snow gear!”

Let’s learn from the ant and wisely prepare for winter. The Lord has promised to be with us in every season of our lives. May we choose to be intentional about strengthening our spirit and walking with Him daily.

Next week we’ll consider lessons from the Badger!

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

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Shepastor: "Reaching For Your Breakthrough"

And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years, And had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment. For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole. And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague. And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes? And his disciples said unto him, Thou seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing. But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth. And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague. Mark 5: 25-34 NIV

We live in a "hurry up, get it now, get it fast" society. But life has a peculiar way of ignoring our technological and societal trends. Life will make you wait. At times, God will make you wait. Waiting is not easy. A lot of times waiting can be painful.

The woman in this text was waiting in pain. She not only had physical pain, but as an infirmed, no doubt husbandless, childless female, she had a great deal of emotional pain. Her condition made her an outcast. This woman, however, exhibited some things that can inform our way of thinking and behaving. She can teach us some things!

I'd like to suggest that this woman can teach us some things about reaching for our breakthrough.

Breaking through takes time: It took this woman 18 years to finally get her break through. We get upset if our answer, our deliverance, our healing doesn't happen immediately or soon after. Healing, deliverance, answers may take years to come - not always - but sometimes. Time does not determine breakthrough. Keep reaching until it comes. Understand that healing and deliverance can take different forms.

Breaking through takes determination: This woman was determined to get to Jesus. Even after spending everything she had, had gone to every doctor possible, had done everything she knew to do, had gotten worse, not better, she was still determined to keep reaching for her breakthrough. Have you quit too soon? Have you given up because of the difficulties you are facing on the way? Have you given up because things seem to be getting worse, not better? Has The Lord spoken to you in no uncertain terms and said, "STOP?" Or have you simply grown tired of reaching? Breaking through requires determination.

Breaking through takes ignoring 'haters:' This woman had to ignore those who said she had no right to press through and touch Jesus. She had every reason to stay back. But she made a conscious decision to ignore those who were critical of her pursuit. Not everyone will be excited about your victory pursuit. There are those who forsook their dreams, gave into the struggle, lost sight of their goals and are nervous that you just might break through. Misery loves company. Everyone will not rejoice with you. If you want a break through, there will be times when you have to ignore those who are not on board with your reach.

Breaking through takes humility and faith: This woman humbled herself and reached out in faith. She had to accept that people may look down upon her for literally crawling and reaching for Jesus' hem. When you desire a breakthrough it does not matter if people think you are crawling. You just want to reach Jesus! Faith encourages your heart to know that if you humble yourself in the sight of The Lord, He will lift you!

As we reach for our breakthrough, we must remember it takes time, determination, ignoring haters, humility and faith.

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

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Shepastor: "Spiritual Hoarding..."

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4: 31-32, ERV

Merriam Webster defines “hoard” as, “a large amount of something valuable that is kept hidden.” Might I add, “something perceived to be valuable…” When we hear the term hoard, images of junky houses, offices or garages are conjured up in our minds. If we’ve seen the cable TV show, “Hoarders,” we may think of lonely old women or men who are mentally ill and or eccentric.

Have you ever considered that we can be spiritual hoarders? We become spiritual hoarders when we “store up junk” - past hurts, anger, bitterness, injustices, etc., and perceive it to be too valuable to release. The perceived value comes from our notion that if we let it go, we somehow exonerate perpetrators of our pain from getting “what’s coming to them.”

As Christians, it is all too easy to hide this spirit of hoarding emotions from others while visiting the proverbial junky room regularly. Letting go is easier said than done. Deep wounds are not necessarily healed by time. Letting go requires the healing balm of God’s Holy Spirit. It requires a decision to release our pain to God and trusting Him to “settle the account.” It requires understanding that spiritual hoarding keeps us locked up in a dirty, smelly, cluttered psychological environment that threatens our spiritual, emotional, psychological and even physical health. The value of the “junk” is only perceived. It is not valuable. It is toxic.

If you are struggling with spiritual hoarding (at times, we all do!), ask the Lord for the strength and the faith to throw out the garbage so that we can make room for the beautiful.

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

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Shepastor: “The Embodiment of Victory Over Circumstances: A Salute to Rev. Carolyn Clark”

3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. II Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV

Periodically, Shepastor stops to reflect upon the journeys of particular women in ministry. Today, we will highlight The Rev. Carolyn Clark, Associate Minister at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, Cleveland, Ohio. I have been privileged to know and love Rev. Clark as a sister and family friend for more than 20 years. Vibrant, sassy, bold, funny and tenacious are a few words that accurately describe her. She is a woman of great faith. She is also a five times over cancer survivor.

I watched her as she pressed her way through seminary. I watched her as she pressed her way through a demanding Clinical Pastoral Education program through the Veteran’s Administration – earning 5 CPE units. And I watched her, undaunted as she experienced bouts of cancer – breast cancer, double mastectomy, cancer in the knee, cancer in her thyroid, spots of cancer in other parts of her body. None of these challenges, however, kept her from coming to church, preaching when given an opportunity, singing solos and encouraging others – always encouraging others.

Yesterday I learned that cancer has invaded, intruded, crept up once again – this time in her lungs. I called Rev. Clark today to see how she was doing. We chatted, laughed and talked about how this “fella cancer just doesn’t seem to get it – he keeps comin back!” We talked about how she has more lives than “the cat with nine!” But then seriously, we talked about how this is impacting her spirit. Rev. Clark responded, “Chrissy, after all I’ve been through and am still alive, I know that my experiences are meant to help encourage somebody else – to let them know that they can make it too. God still has work for me to do.”

What a testimony! I love and appreciate my sister, Rev. Clark. Truly she is the embodiment of II Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV,
3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Oh the lessons we can learn from Rev. Clark. Maybe we don’t have cancer, but we all face trials, struggles, disappointments, setbacks, pain and at times, confusion. May we learn to mentally and spiritually reframe our plight. May we see our experiences as opportunities to “comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

Surely, we don’t know what tomorrow holds. But if our hope is built on the foundation of Jesus Christ our Lord, we know who holds tomorrow. Please join me in prayer for Rev. Clark. God is able, and He won’t fail.

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