Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Shepastor: “Lessons From the Life of Cain…”

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD.4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering,5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. 6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” 8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”[d] While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
(Genesis 4: 1-9, NIV)

Next Wednesday, the Christian Church will launch into our 40 day observance of the Lenten season. Lent is a time when we are called to reflect upon our lives, our shortcomings, our relationships with one another and with the Lord. During this time we are encouraged to sacrifice something…to “fast” from some treasured activity, some delicious food or something that pleases our senses in a solemn act of contrition. The sacrifice is meant to help empty us of ourselves and our selfish desires, in exchange for a greater awareness of our need for God.Today’s passage is a critical reminder of how easy it can be to allow “crouching sin” to enter the door of our heart.

The struggles of Cain can teach us some very valuable lessons:

- Both Cain and Able brought from the “first fruits” of their produce, but Cain did not receive the Lord’s favor. This passage has always been a bit troubling. Why wasn’t Cain’s offering accepted? What more could the Lord have wanted from him? Could it be that Cain’s offering did not cost him anything? Able chose to sacrifice the best that he had and bring it to the Lord. It seems that Able offered the Lord his very best. It seems that Cain’s offering lacked sacrifice. Do we give our best to the Lord? Does it cost us anything? God wants the best of us, not just what is easy and convenient.

- Cain became angry and downcast because he was jealous of his brother. Human nature torments us with angry and jealous thoughts as someone else is preferred before us. Cain, however, did not take time to discover why his offering was not accepted. When we focus all of our attention on what someone else has, rather than considering our own ways, anger and jealousy can overtake us. This is not to suggest that injustices don't create inequitable conditions in this world. It is saying, however, that there are times when our own choices, our own foolish and selfish ways, our own irreverent spirit causes us to miss out on the favor and rich blessings of God. If you find yourself angry and jealous of others, first look at yourself.

The Lord spoke to Cain and said,
"If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

- God spoke to Cain about the “sin crouching at his door,” but he was too angry to listen. The Lord in so many words was warning Cain that if he did not get a handle on the unjustified emotions of anger and jealousy in his heart, it would overtake him, ruin his life and destroy others. Sin is crouching at all of our doors, tempting, lurking, waiting to pounce upon us and take control of our lives. But the Lord let’s us know that we can conquer sin.

We all have sin crouching at the door of our hearts, but through confession, repentance, and crying out to our Lord, we can and must conquer its call. There is good news in this story. If Cain did not have the capacity to resist sin, God would not have warned him ahead of time. Cain could still hear God speaking, even after he had killed his brother. God does not stop talking to us, even when we make tragic mistakes. His desire is that we avoid the painful downfall, listen and turn back to the right path. But if we fall, God still desires to win us back. The Lord has no pleasure in the death, the separation of his children from Him (Ezekiel 18:23).

The Lord wants our best. There is a cost to discipleship. Are you willing to pay the cost and give the Lord your all?

When we focus all of our attention on what someone else has, rather than considering our own ways, anger and jealousy can overtake us. Is your anger and hostility misdirected? Could it be that you are withholding something that is hindering your own favor and blessing from God? Has the Lord spoken to your heart, warning you of impending danger, yet you are too angry to listen? What sin is crouching at your door? What warnings are you ignoring? Through God’s grace and faith, by the power of God’s precious Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ, you can overcome the power of sin in your life.

Have you already made that tragic and or painful mistake? The Lord wants you back. Although you will still have to face the consequences of your choices, God still loves you, cares about you and will protect you from the onslaught of the enemy who seeks to devour you. You still belong to the Lord.

May we spend time praying, reflecting, repenting and listening to the voice of our Heavenly Father who loves us and desires only what is in our best interest, contrary to the lies of satan.

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Shepastor: “The Importance of Encouraging One Another…”

“The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” Proverbs 18:14, NIV

For some, the phone never rings, the mailbox is filled only with advertisements and bills and physical touch is absent. One might think I’m speaking of the elderly who frequently face these painful realities. But for many individuals, not only the elderly, this is an issue.

Our society is rapidly creating an environment of isolation. The “self-serve” isles in grocery stores are increasing, removing interactions with cashiers. Automated operators have taken the place of human receptionist, eliminating conversation. Hand written letters and “snail mail” cards are becoming a lost art. More and more services are being offered online, reducing the need for individuals to get out into the market place to shop, engage and enjoy others “in the flesh.”

Depression appears to be on the rise. Many are feeling isolated, lonely and cold. Now more than ever we need to reach out and encourage one another. While social media is a great tool to reach many at once, we need to spend time nurturing “real friendships,” in person, on the phone and in snail mail letters when possible.

Those with lonely hearts and broken spirits need more than a Facebook message with an emoji. Twitter, Instagram, Facetime, etc., are fine, but they cannot take the place of a warm touch, a hug, a conversation over a cup of coffee, a stroll in the park, a phone call that simply asks, “How are you doing?”

Take time to encourage others in person when possible. Show up other than online. Take the extra step to reach out the “old fashion way.” The more we do this, the fragrance of peace, love and joy will break through the gloom of despair, repairing crushed spirits. The love and warmth in your voice, the kind emotion that exudes from your handwritten note or card, the hope and encouragement transferred from your body to another as you embrace in a hug can produce a healing that no keyboard stroke, text or instant messenger can provide. Who the moment you reach out, God's hand through you may keep someone from giving up. Determine to be a minister of encouragement today.

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

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Shepastor Highlights: "Yet They Walked..."

A couple of years ago, I wrote this post, reflecting upon the perseverance of those who were escaping brutal conditions. In light our country's current struggles to embrace or reject those who are similarly fleeing, these words seemed appropriate...

Hebrews 12The Message (MSG)
Discipline in a Long-Distance Race

12 1-3 Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

Recently, my husband and I had to take a driving trip “down south” to attend a family memorial service. Our geographical location requires us to cross the Ohio River, the commonly referred to demarcation between the North and the South. Each time we make the trip…coming and going, I reflect upon our tortured history in America.

As an African American woman, I can’t help but think about the impact of slavery upon our lives…then and now. Crossing that river in a car draws me into a place where I think about the men, women, boys and girls who didn’t drive, but WALKED literally thousands of miles to get to the North. They knew not their future...going who knows where to escape the horrific realities of plantations, kidnappings, lynchings, beatings, degradation, humiliation… inhumane conditions.

Fleeing on foot…hiding in bushes, muffling children’s cries…soaking in water to hide their scent from vicious dogs all in hopes of freedom. Praying, searching, crying, hurting, looking for relief…trusting in the whispers of others who found solace in the homes of godly men and women along the Underground Railroad who risked life and limb to provide food, shelter, protection to run- away slaves.

Yet, they walked…thousands of miles to cross that river. Yet they walked…looking for another city…yet they walked, uncertain of the future but so happy to leave that pain in the past…they walked, and walked and walked towards freedom. Broken digits, mangled limbs, aching feet, cramping uteruses, filthy, sweaty bodies, hungry stomachs, thirsty tongues, praying minds, determined spirits…they walked.

When we are tempted to give up, may we remember they walked…when we are struggling and in pain, may we remember they walked…when we are thinking of complaining, may we remember they walked. They are part of that great cloud of witnesses. In our hearts, in our deliberations, in our struggles for what is good and right and holy, may we remember their walk…let freedom ring!

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

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Shepastor: "How Blessed Are You?"

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Matthew 5:3-12, NIV

How would you define blessed? For many, being blessed means being financially well off, in good health, own lots of shiny things, “good looking,” and popular. Jesus, however, gave quite a different definition of being blessed.
The overall biblical concept of being blessed is “satisfaction from experiencing the fullness of something.” (read more at ) Our relationship with the Lord draws us into a state of "blessedness."

In the Beatitudes, Jesus teaches that we are blessed when we approach life from a certain perspective. From the perspective of Christ, We are blessed when we hunger to be filled with God. We are blessed when we desire to be filled with the mercy of God, the righteousness of God, the pureness of God and the peace of God. We are blessed when we become so filled with a desire to live for God and to be used for the glory of God that we are even willing to face persecution “for His name’s sake.”

In the light of this understanding of being blessed, “happiness,” is not tied to our external reality, but rather our internal convictions. We are blessed as we experience the fullness of Christ through embracing the “be-attitudes” in our hearts.

How blessed are you? May we gain the perspective of Christ and be blessed according to His standards and not our own.

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