Why The Church Matters

There are a lot of questions asked by the churches today, especially “where are all the people?”  Church attendance has decreased across the majority of mainline denominations and even the non-denominational churches as well.  While asking hbpc“where did everybody go?” is a good question, it is not the most important one.

The pivotal question of the day in the church is this.  Why do we exist?  Why do we matter?  What would the community miss if we just closed?  Why church?  And recent news shows us the answer.

A mass shooting in Alexandria, Virginia

A mass shooting in San Francisco

Terrorist attacks in London

Terrorist attacks in Iran

Ongoing conflict in Syria

And I haven’t gotten started on the ongoing issues of world hunger (including here in the U.S.), homelessness and lack of clean water, not to mention the shootings that have occurred without the huge headlines.

Where does the church fit into this?

The church is the most unique institution on the planet.  We are not just another charitable institution or NGO.  We are not another social services agency.  We are not another club or organization to belong to.  We are the church, and the church is the most generous institution on the earth.  The church is the most forgiving institution on earth.  The church is the most transforming institution on earth.  The church is the most loving institution on earth.  Or we are called to be.

Yes we sometimes mess up.  Yes we sometimes put inward needs over the outreach of Jesus.  But we try.  We try to follow the teachings of Jesus.  And when we do – when we love our neighbor as ourselves, we:

Feed the hungry

Clothe the naked

Visit the imprisoned

Heal the sick

Forgive the sin

Love-Love-Love

We are the church.  It is our call to go out into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and to teach everything Jesus has commanded us to do.  And when we follow His commission, people change.  Even people inclined to use violence on others.

Rise up O Church of God – band together and love one another.  Love your neighbors.  Love the stranger.  Create places of peace and joy.  And let’s change the world.

Grace and Peace,

Bill

Blessings and Achievements

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

            Brothers and sisters, we are blessed.  God has showered incredible blessings upon us – and quite honestly, sometimes we do not recognize our blessings.  Personally, I have been blessed with an incredible wife – a woman who stands behind me and supports me.    We have an amazing daughter who we never envisioned – yet God knew the plans he had for us.  We sometimes face a tight budget but we never want for food.  And even in the younger days of my life, when I did face want – when at home we did not have enough, or the bills were long overdue, I was blessed.  There were always family members who provided some care.  But blessings are not just about physical things.  I am blessed by God and so are you.  God has seen me through all sorts of bad times, and He has given me an abundance of good times.  When I turned to Him, He provided a path for me, a path filled with blessings and hope.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.

But if we are so blessed by God, why do we put so many limits on ourselves?  Why can’t we “be all that we can be” or better put, why can’t we be all that God wants us to be?  After all, God has plans for us.  He has plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future.

In the 29th chaper of Jeremiah, the prophet is telling the people in captivity to live a life of blessings – to get married, to purchase homes, to live fully and see God’s blessings.  Imagine that – Jeremiah is declaring God’s blessings on a people who are in exile – but it is true.  God will fulfill the promise of returning them to their homes – but in the mean time, God has plans for them, plans for a bright future filled with hope.  And he has those same plans for us.  Even if you are in the middle of a crisis, or a tragedy, or great pain, or a bad situation, you are blessed because God loves you, God knows about your suffering, and God will provide.  He has great plans for you.

Yet we sometimes shortchange ourselves – we limit ourselves.  And in doing so, we shortchange God. We shortchange God because we say “it’s not in the budget”, even though we have proven time and again we could afford it.  If everyone who attends church on a regular basis found a way to give just five dollars more a week, across every church in this nation, imagine how much more ministry churches could do?  Just $5.00 – about the cost of two cups of convenience store coffee – or the price of a bag of cookies.  $5.00 could mean the difference in the lives of someone without food, or clothing, or shelter.  It could mean the difference between churches offering no outreach and offering great outreach and sharing God’s love.  It could mean life to someone who is currently dead in the spirit.  It could be a blessing to others, which would become a blessing to us.

But money is not the only way we shortchange our blessings and God. We shortchange God when we make all kinds of excuses why something cannot work, instead of looking for ways to do it.  We squelch ideas out of a sense of loyalty to the past or an attitude that neglects to use the magnificent brain God gave us.  While on vacation, we went to the Kennedy Space Center.  It is a fascinating place, one that just truly floored me.  I love space exploration – I can remember sitting in front of the TV at my grandmothers house watching moon launches.  And in High School, I wrote a research paper on the space discoveryshuttle.  So we jumped at an opportunity to see a display on the shuttle which started with a movie.  In 1969 A NASA leader called together a team of engineers.  They were wondering why they were called together when all of a sudden a small model glider floated down and made a perfect landing. The team leader stated how the moon landing was child’s play compared to their task – creating a reusable space launch vehicle – the space shuttle.  All of the engineers were excited for the challenge, and after lots and lots of hard work we saw Columbia, the first shuttle launch into orbit in 1981.  And this happened because a small, dedicated team worked together to create something.  They faced challenges.  They faced adversity. They faced difficulties, but they believed in their goal and they worked together towards that goal.

And here is the great part.  When an idea was presented, nobody shot it down as “impossible” or “not our way of doing things.”  When an obstacle was encountered, they didn’t give up, rather someone threw out an idea and they worked with it.  Can’t land the shuttle in Florida?  Okay, land at Andrews Air Force Base in California and transport the unit back to Florida.  Can’t keep weight down with current technology?  Create something new!  At the end of the movie, I got to see the Space Shuttle Discovery – one of the most complex vehicles ever imagined and created.

During our long ride home, we talked about this, about how the scientists and engineers worked together to create something previously inconceivable.  And we related it to the church.  Quite honestly, we hear too often why we cannot do things.  We hear that things are impossible, or should not be tried.  Why?  Because “That is not the way we have done things in the past”.  How many times has that phrase been said, uttered, whispered or thought of in our churches?  Let’s be honest, we all say it whenever some crazy pastor tries to change things up.  “That’s not how we have done it.” No matter how constitutional or biblical or God ordained it is; if the idea goes against our traditions, or our desires we say shoot it down.  And truth be told, we crazy pastors say it as well when we go to our regional meetings with other churches.  We sit in Presbytery meetings hearing about something new and we shout “that’s not how we have done it.”  But we are not looking at blessings when we thwart ministry that way.  We are trying to protect and control the status quo.  Imagine if we just let go and allowed ministry to happen.  Imagine if we let the new person do the new thing without negative comment, or better, if we blessed and supported them as much as we were blessed with our new thing so long ago.  Imagine the blessings we would both give and receive!  Imagine the blessings when we turn back to God and follow His will for us.

In John’s gospel, Jesus says these words: I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  Jesus’ vision for abundant life is not about material goods – but a life lived out in service to God.  A life of incredible blessings as we follow God’s will for our lives.  Imagine if we lived life as God calls us, knowing that he has a plan for us, a plan not to do us harm but plans to prosper us, to give us hope and a future.  Imagine life if we actually lived up to God’s expectations for us.  Imagine, or better yet…instead of imagining this, let’s just do it.  Let’s recognize all the blessings God has bestowed upon us, let us give Him all the thanks and praise, let’s live every step of our lives with him and share our blessings with the world. Let’s go forward knowing that when we do God’s work, we can achieve far more than we can imagine.

Grace and Peace,

Bill

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen

 

On the Road

In the Gospel of Luke 24:13-49, we read of a trip taken by two disciples of Jesus.  Cleopas and his unnamed partner, decided to leave Jerusalem.  Now this might make sense if it happened right after the crucifixion on Friday, but it didn’t.  They waited until Sunday.  In fact, they left after hearing the news that the tomb was empty. When they are approached by Jesus (who they are prevented from recognizing), they tell him what happened to this prophet Jesus who they thought “that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”  Their expectations were not immediately met in the way they wanted, so they left.  But before they leave, they heard some interesting news:

…In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus…

How often have we done this?  How often have we focused on the negative or the lack of meeting OUR expectations that we fail to see the positive standing right in front of us?  How many times do people stop coming or leave the church all together because they only see the negative?  How often do we lose an important relationship because we only see bad habits while missing all the good?  How often do we criticize things – and miss the good that happened?

The other day we went to the movies.  And at the end, we were talking about how good the movie was.  Then, we started focusing on how the people behind us were kicking our seats – but only for a moment – we stopped and thought about it.  We just experienced a great movie as a family – and had a lot of fun.  Why ruin that by focusing on the little negative instead of the huge positive?  We refocused on the good and enjoyed the rest of our day.

In our gospel story, the two disciples continue their journey away from the big event – but Jesus stays with them.  And when they have reached the evening destination, they invite Jesus to eat with them, following appropriate hospitality rules. And then it happens.  Jesus breaks the bread and their eyes are opened.  They get it.

There is good news for us.  Even when we have momentary doubts, Jesus is with us.  Even when we don’t see Him, Jesus is with us.  But we need to be willing to open our eyes.  We need to see the good over the bad, the positive over the negative.  Sometimes we need to look beyond the immediate negative and see the hope.  After all, isn’t hope what Jesus brought us in the first place?

Grace and Peace,

Bill

I Believe. Help My Unbelief.

Prayer.  It is probably the single most important thing a Christian can do.  And I know, Jesus gave us the Great Commission – which we need to follow, and he gave the New Commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.”  But Jesus tells us to pray – through words and action.  His was a ministry of prayer.  Time to decide on the apostles?  Go and pray.  Time to go up onto the mountain and meet Moses and Elijah?  Go and pray. Time to sacrifice my life?  Go into the garden and pray.  Jesus’ life was one of deep prayer.  And I believe that without prayer we cannot evangelize nor can we love very well (think about it – it is easy to love my daughter, but what about my enemies?  I can only do that with God’s help).

Prayer works and I believe in prayer, yet sometimes my faith waivers.  Yes I said it.  I am the one who preaches on prayer at least four times a year; the one who sends out a weekly email asking “How can I pray with you this week?” (And I say those prayers faithfully).  I am the one who stresses prayer constantly.  But my prayer life is never what I want it to be – or what God wants it to be.

And so I am challenging myself to increase my prayer life – to reach out and pray like never before.  To pray before, during and after events, not as a “tacked on prayer” but as the work itself.  I am challenging myself to let go and let God guide me, change me, use me.  And I am challenging myself to believe even more in the power of prayer.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief (Mark 9:24).

Grace and peace,

Bill

 

And Darkness Fell Upon the Face of the Earth

It is the beginning of January, a new year has started, and the world has moved on from Christmas.  All up and down my streets are trees awaiting tomorrow’s trash collection and the lights are going off.  A few of us still have our decorations up (after all the Epiphany isn’t until January 6th), but pretty much it is all over.  SIGH.

For me this is one of the most depressing times of the year.  We’ve been inundated with Christmas carols since the beginning of November, but they disappeared from the radio on the 26th of December.  We had brightly lit neighborhoods, but now it is dark.  Television was filled with commercials and now…well they are still trying to sell us stuff.  Let’s not go there!  Let’s go back to the dark.

It was so nice.  All the neighborhood decked out in bright lights. Some homes had white, others multi-colors, but the theme was there.  Light.  And now it is dark.

And yet that is the point.  The darkness has been around for a long time.  But one day, so long ago, something changed.  The light entered into the world.   And “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  Ever.

So the Christmas lights may be turned off for another year, but the true light is still here.  We are the light of the world, and if the darkness did not overcome the light, we should be shining bright.

And so, in this time of “after Christmas”, the time when the decorations are taken down and put away, the time when the natural light is still dim and the Christmas lights are put back into the basement we need to shine extra bright.  We need to show the world the light, bringing a true meaning to the celebration of Christmas.

Brothers and sisters, shine bright.  Show the world all the light you possess.  Remind us all once again the real celebration – the Light of the World.

Peace,

Bill

Making Connections

There are many mysteries in the universe, such as:

Why do we park on a driveway and drive on a parkway?

If a fork were made of gold would it still be considered silverware?

Isn’t Disney World just a people trap operated by a mouse?

And then there is my favorite:

What, exactly, does a pastor do besides the one hour on Sunday morning?

“Simple”; we make connections.

Yes we do a lot of administrative work in the church office, we prepare our sermons (which is not an easy thing to do week after week after week and takes far more time than any of us truly comprehend), we choose music, we plan bible studies and then teach them, we meet with people in need,  we meet with individuals, families and, of course, committees and boards (and often spend a lot of time planning for those meetings).  We correspond through phone, email, texting and in person.  We attend workshops, gatherings and community events.  We study the word of God, and we pray.  And pray some more.   And in all of these things, we make connections.

The Honey Brook Food Pantry http://www.honeybrookfoodpantry.org/ (please check it out and consider how you can support it) is a very important service organization in the Honey Brook area.  We have a lot of hungry people in this community – far more percentage wise than most of Chester County.  But the pantry needed a little help.  Many are unaware of their existence.  And so, when asked, I made a simple contact, connecting the food pantry to some of the churches.  This was a straightforward connection, nothing extraordinary on my part, but incredibly important.

A woman had gone to church her whole life.  She believes in Jesus, she knows the stories, she has great faith.  But she was unsure of one thing, the Doctrine of the Trinity.  In a sermon, the pastor preached the Trinity in a way that connected her to the doctrine, and more important, to God.  Simple, but great impact.

A person was feeling low and abandoned during a bible study.  The pastor looked up a passage of scripture and read it to that person.  A connection between God’s holy word was made, bringing comfort.

A woman was upset about being an outcast from her family.  The pastor pointed at the cross and spoke the good news of the gospel to her, connecting her to the God of the Universe.

Connections.  It is one of the things Jesus did, and one of the things pastor’s do.  Can you write it in a report?  Not really.  Can you quantify it and put it on a time card?  Of course not.  Can we live without connections?  No; especially the connection between people and God.

Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Bill

Get To Work!

It’s Tuesday morning and we have been in the usual morning rush – getting breakfast made, packing lunches, finding clothes (I swear it was right here in the closet!).  The breakfast dishes are finally done, the washer is running, and now I need to get myself ready to go to work (as if I have not been working since waking). work

But that is how we view things.  We go to work, even if our occupation or calling is one that is done anywhere.  We have housework, we have occupational work, we have family work and we have work to do for God.

Yet our Godly work is in everything we do.  When we make lunches, we do so with love for our families – and love is Godly work.  When we go to work and greet our co-workers, this also can be Godly work.  What if a co-worker is having a terrible day or a crisis in their life?  We can pray with them.  And prayer is Godly work.  What if they are having a wonderful day?  We can rejoice with them.  And rejoicing is Godly work.

Today, as you “go to work”, be on the look out for God’s work.  Look for those times in your office, your school, your home, or anywhere else when you see God at work – or you see someone in need of God.  And get to work!

Peace,

Bill