Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Shepastor: "From Detour to Destiny"

Matthew 2:13-23. And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

Detours…I don’t know about you but I hate detours. I like to have things all mapped out. And because I can be directionally challenged, I even have my husband to take me on what we call, “dry runs” a few days before I have to be wherever I am going so that I won’t have the frustration of trying to figure out how to get there on that day. I suspect that I am not the only one directionally challenged, for the auto industry and technological industries are making a fortune on devices such as the GPS, google maps, android and Apple “apps,” just to help folks to get to where they want to go.

But even those marvelous apps get thrown off at times because of detours. They even have disclaimers that will say something like, “these directions do not include detours that may occur.” Detours – they can be pesky things. They take us off of the course that we have planned. They change the pattern of our direction. They may add time to our journey. They may put us way out of the path that we are accustomed to following.

But detours are designed to take us around dangerous places, holes in the ground, construction sites etc. The thing about detours is that if you follow them, they are designed to put you back onto the path that will carry you to your destination.
Life is filled with detours.

Jesus’ journey began with some detours. Mary and Joseph were espoused to be married but God sent an angel to visit her, tell her that she was highly favored by the most high God and that she would have a baby without being involved with a man…a detour.

Joseph gets the word about his beloved Mary, that she is pregnant and he is not the daddy. He therefore makes plans to “put her away privately,” but an angel comes and tells him not to do it – God is in the midst. God is the baby’s father – marry her anyway… a detour.

When Mary was “great with child,” the Scripture says that a “decree went out from Caesar Augustus that “all the world should be taxed/registered.” That meant that Joseph had to take his very pregnant wife and travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Scholars suggest that it was about an 80 mile, four day journey. Some suggest that they may have joined a caravan in order to get there. But whatever the case, it was a long, long distance for a very pregnant woman – a detour.

When they finally arrive, they can’t find anywhere to stay – no room in the inn – a detour. They ended up in a stable – you know the Christmas story. We glorify it but it was a painful, smelly, uncomfortable inconvenience – it was a DETOUR! One would think after all of that the detours would be over. Not so. Now Herod with his crazy, jealous self tries to trick the wise men into telling him where the baby Jesus was born. But God sends the wise men on a detour and tells them to go home another way.

Next the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him to take the baby and Mary and flee into Egypt because Herod is about to order the execution of all of the children age two and under – trying to destroy Jesus…another Detour! But in each instance, God was moving…moving Mary and Joseph, moving the wise men, moving you and I…moving Jesus closer to destiny.

Because of the detours, prophecy was fulfilled. Because of the detours, lives were saved. Because of the detours a Savior was born!

We too experience detours – they don’t make sense at the time. They may frustrate and anger us while they are happening. They may make us uncomfortable and even be painful at times – but every detour is moving us closer to the destiny God has for us. Our plans and God’s plans are two different things. It does not mean that we should stop planning. It does not mean that we shouldn’t get prepared. It means that we must be flexible in our planning.

We must be open to listen and obey. What if Joseph didn’t listen to the angel? What if the wise men hadn’t paid attention to their dreams? What if Joseph would have ignored the warnings he received to get up and flee into Egypt? We must avoid being so rigid in our planning that we ignore the voice of God. Know that even if your plans must change, God has a plan for your destiny. God knows just where you will end up. God knows just why He is taking you around some things, by some things, over some things and through some things.

The detour is necessary to preserve you. The detour is necessary to protect you. The detour is necessary to fulfill God’s divine will and purpose for your life. Don’t despise the detours. Don’t ignore the detours. Don’t plumb through the detours. Obey the signs. Go with the flow. Trust God enough to be obedient.

In 2015, let the Lord lead you all the way around. Let the Lord guide you in the direction that He would have you to go. In 2015, trust God even in the detours. Know that His plans for you are good. God’s plans for you are right. God’s plans for you are just. God’s plans for you are your destiny.

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May you and your family have a joy-filled, “on purpose,” “To God be the glory,” New Year!

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Shepastor: "Blessings in Unexpected Packages..."

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father's one and only Son. John 1:14, New Living Translation

Who knew that the baby born to a poor, young, teenage girl and her fiancĂ©e (an “average Joe”) would be “the Word made flesh dwelling among us!” God has a way of surprising us. God frequently sends us blessings in unexpected packages. So often we miss what God is sending because we are looking for the wrong thing. When Jesus presents himself to us through His Word, or through a stranger, or through a child, or through someone we prefer to avoid or through someone needing our help, what is our response?

Sometimes God sends our blessings wrapped in the disheveled and wrinkled papers of struggle and periods of silence. Sometimes God sends our blessings during times of waiting and uncertainty. Blessings and divine favor don't always look like we think. The people of God must remember that the appearance of God's favor and that of the world's are two different things.

That which the Lord smiles upon is frequently despised and rejected by the world.

What blessings are we missing because we overlook God’s packaging? As we prepare for the “Coming of the Christ,” not as a baby wrapped in rags, but a risen Savior, let us take time to hear, see and respond – attentive to the Holy Spirit’s utterances.

May you and yours have a peace-filled, joy-filled, faith-filled, Holy Spirit-filled Christmas and New Year.

In faith, hope and love,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Shepastor: "Blossoms in the Desert..."

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.
2 It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing; the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon: they shall see the glory of Jehovah, the excellency of our God. 3 Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. 4 Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; he will come and save you
. Isaiah 35: 1-4

Deserts come in our lives. Dry places come in our lives. Sometimes we have experiences like the hot and dry desert. Sometimes in our lives we face trouble – something so troubling, something so disturbing and disconcerting that it feels like someone has flung us into a hot, dry desert with little or no relief. Sometimes we face debilitating physical ailments that seem to drain the life out us.

Particularly for older individuals who used to enjoy walking or sewing, or drawing. Arthritis has set in and now they can barely straighten their hands and legs out. They are facing the desert of grief and loss – loss of activities they used to enjoy. Sometimes it’s the loss of independence. When you wanted to go somewhere, you just jumped in the car and went. But now you have to wait for someone to come and get you. It feels like a long, hot, dry desert.

Sometimes our life feels like the semi-arid desert. We are in a dry place, but we get a few drops of rain every now and then. Just when you began to feel like no one cared, or that you are becoming a burden or life has just become a drag – some small blessing comes your way and you begin to feel small drops of relief. Someone sends you a card expressing gratitude for your years of service. Some little child brings you a fist full of dandelions and tells you, “The pretty flowers are for you because you are so nice…” Or maybe nobody notices, but you hear an encouraging word on the radio and you are reminded that even in the midst of your desert, God is with you.

Sometimes life is like a coastal desert. It gets hot, but it also is enough cool, shelter and rain to help us to make it through. Have you ever felt like you were under the gun – under so much pressure – deadlines to meet, obligations to fulfill, expectations to meet, responsibilities to carry out? Have you ever felt burdened down, but at the same time feeling, “With the grace and help of almighty God, I can make it!”

We are in a place where we are getting just enough encouragement, just enough support, just enough inspiration where we can press our way and make it. It’s not the ideal place, but at least you aren’t stuck. Sometimes the desert can make you feel stuck – make you feel like there is no way out – make you feel like you are just spinning your wheels. You’ve been working the same job for over 20 years and you still feel unfulfilled. You’ve been following the same routine most of your life and you feel absolutely bored and ready for a change but don’t know how to turn the corner. You wake up each morning and there’s this nagging, dull pain that something is missing – in the desert.

Quite possibly, however, one of the worst deserts may be the cold desert – that place that is dark and snowy – where the sun is anemic and very few plants can survive. That place has lots of snow and rain. That cold place – that lonely place that dead place. Sometimes we walk through the cold deserts of life – separation and or death, grief, irreconcilable differences, broken relationships, broken dreams, damaged self- perceptions, self- loathing, tormenting thoughts, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness – cold deserts in life.

The people in our text had probably experienced each kind of desert, symbolically as they endured attacks and imprisonment from enemy nations. As they saw their great nation defeated, their temple destroyed, their places of worship desecrated, their families ripped apart – all that they held dear trampled upon – they were standing in the need of deliverance and vindication.

Hurt, defeated, lonely and on the verge of giving up – God sent a word of refreshing to his beaten down oppressed people. He said to Isaiah,

1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.
2 It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing; the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon: they shall see the glory of Jehovah, the excellency of our God.
3 Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees.
4 Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; he will come and save you.

Sometimes life can leave individuals feeling robbed, beaten, defeated, ashamed and dead. But God’s Word declares something that appears to be impossible. God’s Word declares that He will take that old dry, cold, cracked land and make it like fresh topsoil so that it may blossom like a rose.
Roses don’t blossom in the desert. Roses need lots of water, good soil and pruning. In our lives, the rain or the trials that come can help roses to blossom in us. The scripture says that we, “glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulations produce perseverance, and perseverance character, and character hope” and our hope in Christ will not leave us disappointed (Romans 5: 1-5).

No one likes trials, but they are like the much needed rain in the desert. Trials teach us how to learn to lean and depend upon the Lord. Trials give us the strength we need to make it in this life. When we come through the storms of life, God produces beautiful flowers or roses in us – the rose of compassion, the rose of faith, the rose of hope, the rose of maturity, the rose endurance, the rose of patience. If we will let Him, He’ll prune away the thorns of bitterness that try to take up residence in our hearts, tearing away at the fabric of our lives.

If we’ll allow Him, He’ll prune away the thorns of apathy that sometimes develop when we feel like there’s no use any longer. The fire in the crucible of life can either melt you and burn away the impurities, making you shine like pure gold or make you hard, cold and bitter, not better.

God’s Word declares that He will give us springs in the desert. He will make a road in the wilderness. He will make the crooked places straight. Isaiah wanted the people to know that when Messiah comes, He will make all that is wrong, right. When Messiah comes, He will make the sick well, the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind see.

Jesus the Messiah has come and is coming again. He wants to make you whole. He wants to heal you. He wants to help you to hear – hear His will for your life, His Word for your life, hear His promises for your life. He wants you to see – to see His blessings for you – see His way for you – see His love for you. The Lord wants to take your desert life and make it blossom as the rose. Messiah has come and He’s coming back again – will you be ready for Him?

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Shepastor: “The Lingering Effects of ‘3/5th’s of a human,’ Upon Imagery and Relationships…”

26And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. 27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Genesis 1: 26-27, KJV

The Constitution and Slavery:
Provisions in the Original Constitution
Article I, Section. 2 [Slaves count as 3/5 persons]
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons [i.e., slaves]…

Delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 hotly debated the issue of slavery. George Mason of Virginia argued eloquently against slavery, warning his fellow delegates:

"Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven on a country. As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects, providence punishes national sins by national calamities."

Southern delegates, on the other hand, argued strenuously that the new government should not be allowed to interfere with the institution of slavery. Delegate John Rutledge of South Carolina, for example, told delegates that "religion and humanity have nothing to do with the questions" of whether the Constitution should protect slavery--it was simply a question of property rights.
The Constitution that the delegates proposed included several provisions that explicitly recognized and protected slavery. Without these provisions, southern delegates would not support the new Constitution--and without the southern states on board, the Constitution had no chance of being ratified. Provisions allowed southern states to count slaves as 3/5 persons for purposes of apportionment in Congress (even though the slaves could not, of course, vote), expressly denied to Congress the power to prohibit importation of new slaves until 1808, and prevented free states from enacting laws protecting fugitive slaves.
(Excerpts taken from, Exploring Constitutional Conflicts – The Thirteenth Amendment: The Abolition of Slavery, )

The above excerpts detail the struggles our country faced regarding slavery, immorality, politics and property. At issue was whether or not slaves should be counted as a “whole person” or a percentage of a person. It was determined that slaves would be counted as “3/5ths” of a human being. Ultimately, they were viewed as property like cattle, cats, dogs… Slave owners had to convince themselves that Africans were not human beings, therefore, it was ok to treat them as property.

Imagery is powerful. Although legally our Nation has long since abandoned this barbaric practice, the lingering impact of the “less than human” imagery has infiltrated, inculcated and deeply embedded itself into the fabric that constricts our relationships. “Less than human” imagery feeds painful stereotypes… stereo types that suggest that an individual has a high tolerance for pain because they are “big and strong as an ox...,” stereotypes that suggest that an individual may not even feel the pain and if they do, they deserve it!

I remember when I had my first son. The young lady sharing the maternity room with me cried day and night, screaming in pain. A nurse said to me, “She is screaming in pain because she is too lazy to get up and walk. I tried to get her to walk around and she refused so she will take much longer to heal. You don’t want to end up like that do you?” I had just had a c-section the day before with staples still in my abdominal area. My son was in the neonatal intensive care unit clinging to life. He was located, literally on the other side of the hospital.

The nurse told me that I needed to walk to go and see him. Although I was in pain, I wanted to see my son and thought that maybe walking would be the best thing. So with I V pole in tow and in hospital footies, I drug myself slowly down to the nicu. As I arrived, the nurse on staff with my son was horrified. “How did you get down here?” she exclaimed. When I told her that I walked she was livid! She explained that I could have hemorrhaged or passed out. She immediately ordered a wheel chair for me and told me never to do that again while in that condition.

As for my roommate (a young, unwed African American woman), her mother came in and demanded that the doctors re-examine her. It turned out that her uterus was hemorrhaging after the birth of her baby. She almost died. So much for the two of us “lazy” women! I never saw that nurse again. Hopefully he was removed from the staff.

In recent days our Nation is processing inequities regarding law enforcement and minority communities. The mantra, “I CAN’T BREATHE,” is being heard across America. The image of an unarmed African American man being choked and pressed face down to the ground as he gasped for breath is haunting our consciousness. If he were of a lighter hue and smaller stature would he have been treated differently? Locally, a twelve year old boy, mistaken for a “20 year old male” received mixed messages while carrying a toy gun (unfortunately too realistic in appearance). He was shot to death in less than two minutes after police arrival… “Put up your hands and drop your weapon.” The toy gun was in the boys pants. In order for him to “drop it,” he had to pull it out. The police shot him even before exiting their vehicle.

A famous line in the 1970’s movie The Godfather, declared (after discussing where to drop and move drugs…) “We’ll keep it among the dark people. They are animals anyway. Who cares if they lose their souls?”

It is easier to abuse and oppress those we view as less than human. The Lord, however, said that we are all made in God’s image.

To consider the imagery concept further, I encourage you to view the following:

CNN News Anchor, Anderson Cooper's documentary

"A Look at Race Relations Through A Child's Eyes"

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Shepastor: "Committed to Change..."

17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. II Corinthians 5:17, KJV

The other day I had the privilege of being asked to accompany a group of women to our local “pre-release center.” This is the place where incarcerated persons go a few years before being released from prison. The women going to visit the prison were representing a local church ministry entitled, Committed to Change. This particular session was the last of a twelve session program.

I was invited to speak with the incarcerated women about our church’s prison aftercare ministry entitled, COTAAN (Covenant Outreach Through Advocacy and Agency Networking )What a wonderful experience it was to see how the “Committed to Change” Ministry members had cultivated rapport with and deep respect from the prisoners in the room.
Throughout the twelve week session, each of the women in the group were asked to share their stories in letters. They also were asked to identify areas where they made mistakes, how they wanted to change and the goals and dreams they had for themselves. One by one, the ministry leader would allow each woman to share her desire for a life change. Then, one by one, she would ask, “Ok, so what plans are you developing to make that change. In order to change you must have a plan!”

As I listened to that statement over and over, I began to think not only about those women, but all of us. I kept hearing in my head the old adage, “To fail to plan is to plan to fail!” I thought about how frequently I hear people talking about their desire to change, even their determination to change. However, little change is realized. The problem? No plan. No strategy. No specificity. Just words and a temperamental will!

Change is not easy. It takes prayer, consistency, persistence and time. Whether we want to lose weight, exercise more, alter our way of thinking and perceiving, improve our time management, stop procrastinating or change a system it will not happen without a plan. Our plans do not necessarily have to be elaborate. They may be simple or complex. However, if we desire sustained change and success, we must have a plan.

Prayer is always a good first step. However, it should not be the last step! According the Scripture, “Faith without works is dead,” James 2:26

Here are some things to consider as you prepare your “change plan…”
- Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you on the specific thing(s) you need to change

- Ask the Lord to order your steps

- Wait for the answer from the Lord (keep serving while you wait!)

- By faith, begin taking the steps you’ve been given

- Prayerfully invite one or two people to “hold you accountable”

- If you “slip up,” get up and remember that tomorrow is a new day (don’t wallow!)

- When discouraged and tempted to give up and turn back, put one foot in front of the other and remember what you are trying to accomplish!

- Identify others who have been successful at your desired change and seek to connect with them through conversation and or observation

- Learn from them and their mistakes/Learn from your own mistakes

- Write down specific steps you will take

- Read your steps often

- Reflect upon how far you have come

- Remember that you are not alone
Change is never easy. It is, however, possible. Stay committed. A change is going to come if you plan and by faith execute the orders given.

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