Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Shepastor: "Prayers for Those in the Storm..."

From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:2, KJV

While many face "figurative" storms in life, this week we pause to remember all of those being pounded by Hurricane Harvey. Several feet of water, homes destroyed, hospitals and nursing homes evacuated, families trapped, thousands without electricity, clean water, dry clothes, and food. Hurricane Harvey has pummeled Texas without mercy! But we praise God for the rescue workers, the Red Cross, the National Guard, the police, fire fighters and everyday volunteers who have come from the north, south, east and west to provide whatever help they can.

"Our hearts, Lord, are overwhelmed. You, oh Lord, are above all. Lead us to you. May we your people rise to the occasion to give help in whatever ways that we can. May the love of Christ shine through our hands and feet. May we give liberally to assist with rescue efforts. May the people in the midst of the storm feel your help and know that they are not forsaken. In the name of Jesus we pray, amen."

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

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Shepastor: "Lessons from a Mad Man..."

A Psalm of David, when he changed his behaviour before Abimelech; who drove him away, and he departed.

1I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2My soul shall make her boast in the LORD: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad.
3O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.
4I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.
5They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed.
6This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
7The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.
8O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.

Psalm 34: 1-8

The Hebrew word, “Halal,” serves as the root for our word, “Hallelujah.” It means "to be clear, to shine, to boast, to show, to rave, to celebrate and to be clamorously foolish.”

In this passage of scripture, David was fleeing for his life from King Saul. Out of desperation he runs to the land of the Philistines to hide. David sought refuge in the enemy camp because he thought that Saul would not look for him there. But even David’s enemies recognized who he was. They ran and told King Achish, “isn’t this David, the one about whom the Hebrew women sang, “Saul has killed thousands, but David has killed 10 thousands?”

At that, the king went out to see if in fact the mighty warrior David was in the land. David had to think quickly – there was no where to run or to hide, so he decided to act crazy – like a mad man in order to disguise himself from the king of the Philistines. The scripture says that David began to foam at the mouth, began clawing and scratching at the city gates and writing on the walls. When the king saw this he said, “Surely this mad man is not the mighty warrior David – you all are wasting my time!”

So David, by behaving like a mad man was spared and was able to get out of Gath unharmed. When David escaped both Saul and Achish, he began to praise God. In Psalm 34, David is clear, he is boasting, he is raving, he is celebrating, he is being “clamorously foolish” about praising God - his deliverer, his keeper, his provider, his protector, his mighty battle axe.

This story teaches us some powerful lessons about praise:

Praise consoles us during difficult situations

David had developed a life of praise. David understood that when we elect to praise God, we take the focus off of our situation, our challenge, our fear, and place our focus upon the power of the awesome God we serve. David didn’t make that declaration “I will bless the Lord at all times – His praise shall continually be in my mouth…” when all was going well. David was able to make that bold statement even in the midst of his deepest darkest hour of pain, fear and distress because David developed a deep relationship with God. David knew God intimately. David took time to learn what it meant to walk with God, trust in God, wait on deliverance from God – to see God as a shield and buckler. David’s praise grew out of knowing God.

When we praise God, we remind ourselves that we are not in this battle, this struggle, this difficulty, this situation or circumstance alone. When we praise God – we remind ourselves that God has all power in His hand and no battle is too difficult or hard for Him. When we praise God, we release a super natural power and strength in our lives to help us to focus – to persevere, to pursue, to keep on running, keep on pressing, keep on striving, keep on keeping in Jesus’ name! Praise consoles us, strengthens us and helps us to keep moving ahead.

Powerful praise gives rise to victory

All throughout the Old Testament, we find the prophets telling God’s people to praise Him. Often as Israel was preparing to go out to war, God would send the prophets to have the musicians, the singers and the priests to go out before the army – to lead in the procession to the battlefield. The prophet would declare, “Don’t fear – the battle is not yours, it’s the Lord’s!” The Levites – that priestly clan of musicians and singers would rise up and start singing in loud voices, “Jehovah the God of Israel reigns!” They marched before the army saying, “Glorify Jehovah, because His mercy endures forever!” When confronted with human enemies, the Levites responded by praising the Lord with a “strong and loud voice.” Whenever they did that – God gave them the victory. The result of powerful praise was total victory! Praise gives rise to victory. When we combine an intimate relationship with God – a relationship of prayer, reading, studying and applying God’s Word to our lives with praise, the result is victorious living. There is great power in prayer and praise.

Praise is a mighty weapon against the enemy of our souls.

Although we may appear “mad” or foolish to others, when we praise God through our struggles, our focus turns towards God and away from the valley. When we by faith choose to “look up and live,” we frustrate the enemy’s plans to defeat us. Praise releases something within us. Praise empowers us to trust God in every situation and circumstance. Praise reminds us that we have something and someone greater that what our eyes can see.

Even in the midst of your pain, disappointment and struggle, begin to bless the Lord. Give God your praise. God will honor your “sacrifice of praise,” and give you victory in the days ahead.

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Shepastor: "Fake Religion..."

Amos 5: 21-24, NRSV
I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

A phrase we keep hearing is “Fake News.” These words refer to reports that individuals refuse to hear or accept because the information does not “jive” with the messages they want conveyed…be they true or not!

In our text for today, however, the prophet Amos receives a message to share with God’s people…a message that they may not necessarily want to hear but need to hear. The people were practicing a “fake religion.” They were having elaborate festivals of “praise,” singing loud songs, making sacrifices, dancing, shouting, performing various religious rituals, etc., but were ignoring they true ways of God.

The Lord said,

“Take away from me the noise of your songs: I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5: 23-24, NIV
It was offensive to God that “religious people” were ignoring the more important aspects of worship and praise. God wanted the people to have “true religion…” According to Isaiah 58: 6-9, NIV, really worshiping and serving God looks like this…

6“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and God will say, ‘Here I am.’”
Amos’ message still rings true today. God is looking for more…more than loud “hallelujah’s,” more than praise fests, special frocks and garments…more than men’s and women’s retreats and conferences, more than huge, elaborate edifices…more than live streamed gatherings with thousands of people…

God is looking for women and men who will “do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” (Micah 6:8). God is looking for the Church to speak up against, hate filled rhetoric, extreme “nationalism” and supremacy of one people over another. God is looking for a Church that speaks up against policies and legislation that oppresses the poor, unjustly prosecutes the alien, discriminates and marginalizes minorities, women and children…that mistreats and casts down anyone.

God is looking for leaders that walk in integrity…that won’t take bribes, that won’t, abuse their power and authority, that won’t crush others in order to climb the proverbial ladder, that can’t be “bought or sold” for a price…

God desires a people that look more like the love, mercy, grace, peace, justice, compassion and healing that God gave us through Jesus Christ. May we do all that we can, by the power of the Holy Spirit to live out true religion…not according to our standards, but according to God’s Holy Word.

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

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Shepastor: "Good Things Have Emerged From an Unfortunate Outcome..."

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to God's Purpose." Romans 8:28, KJV

For many, the current state of affairs in the United Staes of America since the election of our 45th President has been alarming, disturbing and frightening. For a plethora of reasons, many threw caution to the wind and elected an individual they believed would "deliver." Painful realities, however, have begun to set in...racial divisions and hate crimes are at an all time high in recent history. Individuals are fearful of losing health care coverage they recently received under the Affordable Care Act. Those living in "Coal Country" are anxiously awaiting the return of jobs that more than likely will not return. What was once known as the "Middle Class" is rapidly declining. The vast majority of Americans feel that they cannot trust the words or assertions of the President. It appears that world war three is on the horizon...

But in the midst of all of this mayhem, some very beautiful things are emerging. Although violence, hatred, ignorance and greed are swirling all around, a spirit of kindness, compassion, unity, hope and courage is breaking forth. Recently a local school district made the decision to provide breakfast and lunch to ALL children regardless of their ability to pay. Voices around the Nation are rising to challenge the unfair treatment of people of color, immigrants and those struggling through gender issues. People are beginning to pay more attention to the environment and how our behaviors are impacting climate change.

Ironically, what is best in us frequently emerges as we face the worst. In the final analysis, something deep within many reminds us that we are better than the ugly, the evil, the greed and the selfishness. Love always prevails. It may not happen overnight but slowly, steadily, surely, love prevails.

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

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Shepastor: "Standing Up to Bullies is Hard but Necessary..."

24 And all the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him, and were sore afraid. 25 And the men of Israel said, Have ye seen this man that is come up? surely to defy Israel is he come up: and it shall be, that the man who killeth him, the king will enrich him with great riches, and will give him his daughter, and make his father's house free in Israel. 26 And David spake to the men that stood by him, saying, What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine, and taketh away the reproach from Israel? for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God? 1 Samuel: 24-26, KJV.

Standing up to bullies can be tough! In the above text, the giant Philistine warrior Goliath stood and threatened and challenged the armies of Israel day after day. Understandably, the people were paralyzed with fear. After all, he was a GIANT!!! He was fierce! He looked like he could crush their bones in one pounce!

It took a young shepherd boy, seemingly harmless and no match for this bully to stand tall in the name of his God to bring Goliath down. Because we have the record, we know how the story ends. David, on the other hand only had his faith.

This past week, two female Senators, Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) were proverbial "Davids." Whatever your political persuasion, one must concede that it took courage to withstand political peer pressure, thinly veiled threats and the prospect of being pushed out of the Senate to vote their conscience. "Goliath" came at them strong!

According to the July 28th edition of the New Yorker, "Murkowski did so despite being the object of crass insults and bullying from President Donald Trump, conveyed via tweet, telephone, and emissary." ("Lisa Murkowski, Lindsey Graham, and How the Health-Care Vote Went Down," by Amy Davidson Sorkin, ).
In the final analysis, Senator John McCain (Arizona) boldly stood with Senators Murkowski and Collins to vote against what they saw as a bad bill.

Three senators resisted the pressure to vote for something that they believed was wrong for millions of people. Three people may have literally changed the course of history.

Bullies exist in every sphere of schoolyards and classrooms, in homes and neighborhoods, in communities and governments, in churches and every other relationship. Bullies, however, cannot prevail where faith, courage and love stand up. May we, by faith have the courage and love to stand up to bullies. Our GREAT God will cause us to triumph and in so doing, save the lives of many.

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