Enjoy the Summer!

On Journey…

Looking out the window of my office and listening to children make one thing very clear…summer break is here!  I am grateful for a God who designs rhythm into life, who gives us change of pace.  As we head into the change of pace of summer, I would like to mention a few items to ask you to be much in prayer about for our church and community.

While many of us slow our pace down, youth ministry kicks into high gear.  Aside from the regular, important weekly gatherings, the summer provides more opportunities for our youth to gather and learn, minister, and grow spiritually. Camps, day trips, and mission opportunities are all a part of a summer youth ministry agenda.  Be in prayer for Jason and Amanda, the youth committee, and the young people as they grow together and in the Lord this summer.

For our children, summer will bring some special opportunities.  Again, there are wonderful weekly times for them to gather to learn about and grow in their faith.  There will also be a couple of excellent events throughout the summer for children and families. A special treat will be our Vacation Bible School event this year.  Hometown Nazareth-Where Jesus Grew Up will allow our children to spend some time learning about the life of Jesus as a child!  Rachel and the children’s committee have been hard at work planning this wonderful summer tradition. Listen and respond as God leads you to be a part of this ministry with our children.

As the summer descends upon us, keep in mind each week: as we see new faces in our worship, let’s make them feel welcomed; as teachers are preparing wonderful learning opportunities for your whole family, let’s continue to learn.   God desires to be more at home in your life.  Let’s make room for him.  Enjoy the summer!

Keep Walking!

Stan

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Listening?

Isaiah said, “Listen that you may live,” and Jesus said, “If you have ears, listen.” As we continue our study of the parables of Jesus, this call to listen becomes very evident in Jesus’s speaking.   Listening to Jesus might not sound very difficult… unless of course we actually listen to Jesus!

In my reading this week I came across an article by Charles Poole entitled “Steep Jesus, Not Sweet Jesus” that he wrote for the Baptist Studies Bulletin published by Mercer University. Referring to the transfiguration on the mountain when the voice of God says, “This is my son, listen to him,” Poole says the following:

“Listening to Jesus is a very dangerous and risky proposition. For instance

Jesus says, ‘Do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other also. Love your enemies and pray for those that hurt you.

                 Still listening?

You cannot serve God and wealth. A person’s life does not consist of the abundance of their possessions. None of you can become my disciples unless you give up all of your possessions.’”

Well, you see what I mean.  When the voice from the cloud says, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him,” all of a sudden the Mount of Transfiguration gets steep.  The one to whom we are to listen is more “steep Jesus” than “sweet Jesus.”  His words don’t fit our ways.  Our ways don’t fit his words.  In an odd sense, Jesus, who is our Savior, is also our problem.  He is our problem in the sense that we have to duck, dodge, and dilute his words in order to keep on doing life in ways that work in the real world.”

Maybe listening to Jesus is not as simple as we make it out to be. It seems that listening is to lead to doing. But as Isaiah says, this kind of listening and doing leads to real life. May God grant us the courage to listen and to act!

Keep Listening!

Stan

 

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Christ Is Risen!

“Christ is Risen!  He is risen indeed!”  It is the age-old proclamation of the church.  This Sunday, we join with millions, living and living again, who have claimed the truth of that statement and lived their lives accordingly.  And this, I think, is one of the difficult tasks of the believer, to live a life that reflects the resurrection. To put it into a question, does the reality of the resurrection find expression in your life?

In his book The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey tells a story of a time when he had to speak at three funerals in close succession of friends of his. He writes: “On the day Bob made his last dive, I was sitting, oblivious, in a cafe at the University of Chicago, reading My Quest for Beauty by Rollo May. In that book, Rollo recalls a visit to Mt. Athos, a peninsula of monasteries attached to Greece.  There, he happened to stumble upon an all-night celebration of Greek Orthodox Easter. Incense hung in the air. The only light came from candles. At the climax of that service, the priest gave everyone three Easter eggs, splendidly decorated and wrapped in a veil. “Christos Anesti!” he said — “Christ is Risen!” Each person present, including Rollo May, replied according to the custom, “He Is Risen Indeed!”   Rollo May writes, “I was seized then by a moment of spiritual reality: What would it mean for our world if he had truly risen?” Rollo May’s question kept floating around in my mind, hauntingly, after I heard the terrible news of Bob’s death. What did it mean for our world that Christ had risen?”

What does it mean for our world that Christ has risen?  What does it mean for your world that Christ has risen?  This is a question that every individual who claims to be a follower must wrestle with, and then eventually work into his or her daily living.  It is also the work we do together in the church through Bible study, worship, and ministry.  I am praying for you that the Risen Christ will indeed make a significant difference in your life this year!

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Stan

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The Sabbath

It is the season of Lent, a time in which we intentionally pay attention to our journey of faith as we move towards Easter. Let me offer a suggestion.

“The Sabbath was created for you, you were not created for the Sabbath.”  Mark 2:27.  Jesus reminds us that the one who made us also created for us a means by which we can become all that God intended for us. It is called Sabbath.  Unfortunately, the church seems to have abandoned this gift many years ago.

When I speak of Sabbath, I am not necessarily speaking of a particular day, but of a practice of living every day.  Learning to take Sabbath moments, times, and yes, maybe even a day, is important to the health of a Christian’s spiritual life. Another term that is used is learning to practice the presence of God.

Recently I heard a story about a man who had decided to dramatically simplify his life. In the process, he made a commitment to walk everywhere he went, and did so, eventually walking across the country. Along the way, he also made a commitment to stop talking for a while.

In sharing his experience, he made the following comment: “Not talking was very difficult at first, but as I stayed with the commitment, eventually all of the voices in my head quieted down, and for the first time, I could really listen.”

I am not suggesting that you start walking everywhere or that you stop talking, but I am pointing to the fact that until followers of Jesus make a conscious effort to practice Sabbath, we may not really be able to hear the voice of God through all of the noise that is in our heads.

How then do we begin to regain Sabbath, a practice that helps us turn loose of overwork and over consuming? Let me offer a few suggestions.

There must first be a commitment that Sabbath is a discipline we need.  Ask God to begin to give you a hunger for Sabbath, for time in which you do nothing else but listen and watch creation, read scripture, pray, worship, relax, and renew.

Second, let me suggest some resources for you to pick up. The following books have been helpful to me as I am attempting to regain this important Christian discipline in my life: Sabbath- Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives– Wayne Muller; The Sabbath– Abraham Joshua Heschel; The Spiritual Art of Creative Silence– Jeanie Miley.  There are others, and I will be glad to share them with you if you desire.

There are also some daily, practical things we can begin to do.  Light a candle or place some other object in your home or work space that is solely for the purpose to remind you of the presence of God with you.  Take a five minute break a few times a day and simply observe your environment and ask the question, “What is God doing in this place right now?  What is God trying to tell me?”  Also during one of these times, simply repeat the Jesus prayer – “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” This is a long standing practice of Sabbath among the followers of Jesus.  Attempt to plan a half day in your home in which you intentionally do no work, but maybe read scripture, talk with your spouse, listen to the wind.

I hope to be able to come back to this discipline with other suggestions from time to time.  Maybe, if there is interest, we could begin a short-term study for small groups and learn other resources to help us regain the Sabbath. Let me know.  Remember, the Sabbath was made for you.  Do not overlook this gift!

Breathe.

 

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Life, Abundant Life

It seems that in the last several weeks, my work has placed me alongside folks who are working through difficult health or relational issues, or dealing with death. Of course, that is a significant part of the work of a minister, walking with people through the events of their lives.

What has given me pause is that I have become aware of how much energy and resources we spend in trying to avoid death. Duh, you say? Of course, we want to avoid death and poor health! Think about how many of the following you are bombarded with everyday: exercise programs to make you feel younger, medical newsletters packed with information, the latest and greatest machine to keep you in shape, the most recent discovery of a miracle food or substance to cure us, new talk shows popping up to help you learn how to avoid old age, pain, and death! It is staggering.

Now, there is nothing wrong with avoiding bad health and death, but I wonder…are we spending so much time and resources on avoidance practices that we miss life?

Jesus said in John 10:10-“I have come that you might have life, abundant life.” So I ponder…might we spend our time and resources better focusing on the things that bring us life, rather than spending so much time on what we should be avoiding?

Do we miss a gift of life sent our way by our loving God because we are too focused on avoiding pain? Are we afraid of so many things in our living that we miss the life and blessing that God offers in the very things we decided to avoid? Do we really trust that God is for us, and will keep us in His hands?

My prayer for all of us this year is that God will help each of us learn to live a little more into the life, abundant life, He offers. As we make the journey of life together, let’s share what we are learning that makes for life together. In that way, we can live …not just avoid death.

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Share the Good News

On Journey…

Research tells us that currently for every three ministers who retire only one is being trained to fill those positions.  And given the fact that most ministers are over 45… well, you do the math.

Whether it is a call to serve a local church, or to go to the other side of the world to share the Good News with another people group, the data indicates that fewer and fewer individuals are choosing vocational ministry.

While my son Daniel was in Bali last semester, I found myself wondering, is God calling my son to serve in a place like Bali?  I had to listen to my own fears and joys as I thought about that possibility.  My son’s future is still being shaped, but I would like for us to make this matter a focus of prayer and conversation this year.  Who might God be calling out of our congregation to be a church staff minister, a missionary, a vocational minister of some sort?

Certainly we believe the truth that ALL followers of Christ are called to share the Good News in every place they find themselves.  Yet it is also true that God calls some individuals to vocational ministry positions.

How can we, as a congregation, encourage and enable our members to hear that word and obey?  That is a question I want us to engage this year.  The first and foundational activity we can do is pray.  Pray for your own hearing.  The Biblical Story we are reading reminds us that God has no limits as to who God will use to proclaim Truth!  Second, pray for our congregation that all ears and hearts will be attentive to the voice of the Spirit. Together, we can encourage, support and send out of this family ministers of the Gospel, from the local church to the other side of the world!

Keep Listening!

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May the Truth of God’s Coming Empower You

“The two stood facing each other.  God robed in light, Satan canopied in evil.  Satan rose slowly off his haunches.  Like a wary wolf, he walked a wide circle toward the desk until he stood before the volume and read the word: Immanuel.

“Immanuel?” He muttered to himself. “God with us?” He turned squarely toward the face of the Father.  “No. Not even you would do that.  Not even you would go so far.  The plan is bizarre! You don’t know how dark I’ve made the Earth.  It’s putrid.  It’s evil.  It’s…”

“It is mine,” proclaimed the King. “And I will reclaim what is mine.”  “Why?” asked Satan. “Why would you do this?”  The Father’s voice was deep and soft.  “Because I love them.”  (Cosmic Christmas by Max Lucado)

I have found Lucado to be a writer who stimulates my imagination in a wonderful way.  His adaptation of the Christmas story is one I enjoy every year.  And every year, I always pause at this point and let my mind imagine this scene taking place.

It is the truth of the season.  I believe sometimes each one of us have difficulty trying to comprehend what we proclaim: Immanuel, God is with us!   We ask why God would even consider coming into our world. And the answer sounds forth in loud exclamation and quiet whispers: for God so loved the world that he gave.

As we travel the Christmas season together, may the truth of God’s coming empower you for living and call you to praise and worship of God Almighty! Immanuel! God with us!

Keep walking!

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What Does Walking with God Look Like?

As I was meditating on my article for this month, I kept being drawn to the way I sign off–“Keep walking!” That got me to thinking, what do I mean by that? What does walking with God look like?

One way to begin to get a handle on this is to immerse ourselves in the Biblical record, the story of people walking with God. Sometimes, we find some clear information about what walking with God might look like. One of my favorite sections of scripture is the Sermon on the Mount. As far as I can tell, it gives some clear pictures of what God is doing and wants us to do. But other stories tell us something else. When Jesus called his disciples to follow him, the dialogue was simple, “Follow me.” No big instructions, no detailed directions about what or how or where, just follow.

As a person who loves to crawl around in caves, I have spent much time in that dark world underground where you really appreciate light. I discovered that the light will only go so far in the darkness. It is enough to let you see a little of where you are going…but not the whole way. I learned that as I took a step the light went a little further and illuminated just a little more of the path. This continued until I found my way out.

I believe walking with God is something like that. As long as we are walking with Him, the promise is there will be enough light to see the next few steps. But to see the whole path, we must keep walking or the darkness swallows up the path.

My prayer for you, for all of us, is that we will walk with God in the light He gives us each moment. Do what is clearly God’s desire as often as you can. And when the path before you gets a little dark, trust that the path will be illuminated as we are faithful to keep taking steps!

Keep Walking!

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We Have This Treasure In Earthen Vessels

On Journey….

Several years ago I heard a story on television about a group of ladies who decided to join together and buy a moderately expensive diamond necklace.  I believe there were about 13 ladies in the group.  No one in the group knew everyone else. Each just knew and heard about the activity from a friend.  Buying the necklace initially brought everyone in contact with each other.  But that is not ultimately why this group was interviewed.

The group scheduled each person the same amount of time to wear the necklace.  And here is where the story begins to change.  As the ladies began to tell stories about their time with the necklace, they began to develop caring relationships.  Eventually, the group of strangers became a close, loving community.  By the time I  heard this story, the necklace was secondary and the support and sense of belonging and shared stories became more important.

In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul reminds us of this truth: “we have this treasure in earthen vessels.”  This treasure he speaks of is our saving relationship with Jesus Christ.  It is this unsurpassed good news that brings us together. It is this immeasurable treasure that we celebrate together each and every time we gather. It is this truth that binds us into community as we share stories of our lives with this treasure.

Living in community can be difficult at times. We tend to let lesser things fill our times together. Things like struggling for power, talking about each other rather than taking with each other, letting personal hurts create revenge, seeking to get our way rather than seeking His way…..I could go on and on.

Let us, like this group of ladies, celebrate the truth that we have a treasure beyond anything here on earth! Let that treasure bind us together as the family of God and let us boldly tell our stories to anyone who will listen of the power of the treasure of grace in our lives!  It is our task.  It is our privilege.

Keep Walking!

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Something New Just Around The Next Corner

On Journey…

The exciting thing about a journey is that there is always something new just around the next corner!  The scary thing about a journey is that there is always something new just around the next corner!  It is a paradox of the human condition to be both excited and scared within the same context.  Much of our lives are experienced in this paradox: graduation from high school is both exciting and scary; marriage or a new job is both exciting and scary; the birth of a child; a move to a new place, the leaving of a child; changing roles.  Life is full of these exciting, but scary, moments. So is our journey of faith.

The writer of Hebrews draws this out in Chapter 11 where it begins with these words: “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd…By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going.” (Hebrews 11: 1, 8 Message).

So much of our faith journey is a call to just such an experience as Abraham.  It is a call to trust God, even when we cannot see a way or the destination.  First Baptist Church Clinton finds itself at just such a place.  Over the next few months, we will be asked to make a decision about new staff members.  What a rich heritage you have had in your past staff.  It is unusual to have the length of stay for staff that you have had.  It is a blessing, but can be a challenge.  The challenge is to give thanks for those past relationships and then embrace the new ones that God is bringing to us.

These new staff members will bring new gifts, new ideas, and new ministries, just as your old staff did many years ago.  I am praying that you will embrace these new folks and what they will bring with the same faith that Abraham embraced on his new journey.  If we will, God will indeed bless the world through our obedience just as He did through Abraham’s obedience.

I have come to strongly believe that you have done an excellent job of listening, talking, dreaming and planning about the future of our ministry emphasis and staffing.  The needs are clear.  Granted, the “path” might seem scary, but I believe you have listened and followed God to this point. And as the old song says, “He didn’t bring us this far to leave us.”

Do you believe that God wants to continue to work through this congregation as He has in the past?  I do.  Join us as we move forward together in this journey!

Keep Walking!

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