The Loss to the Kingdom

26 people are dead.  26 people are gone, no longer able to do their part for God’s kingdom.  That is the first tragedy.  The second tragedy is that we will focus more on the never-ending one side versus another in the argument about gun control than on the loss of life.

This is insane.  And this is becoming far too common.

You see, I’m sick and tired of the same argument over and over.  I’m sick and tired of extremists on both sides trying to out shout each other.  I’m sick and tired of the hatred and the division.  Damn it, its time to stop all of this.

So if there is a way that we can agree on stopping the illegal purchase and use of weapons, can we work together and do it without shouting at each other?

If there is a way that we can increase the recognition and support for those suffering from mental illness without shouting at each other about our healthcare position can we do it?

Can we just work together and stop this insanity?

Twice in recent sermons I said the following:

Believe it or not, we can disagree on issues and remain in community.  We can disagree and continue to be in relationship.  We can remain together as the body of Christ even if we are on different sides of an issue. 

I want people who agree with this statement to do the following:  Pray.  Pray for the families of the dead.  Pray for the injured.  Pray for the emergency workers.  Pray for all affected But do not stop there.  Pray this as well:

Lord, how can we stop this insanity? What can we do to find a balance between the extremist factions regarding safety issues?  What can we do as united followers of Jesus Christ to end this violence in our communities?

I’m not looking for an argument.  I’m looking for reasonable people to put forth reasonable ideas to save lives; lives that are made in the image of God.

Lord, have mercy on us all.




Simple Acts

And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.  Matthew 10:42

Our church is hosting Science in the Summer this week.  It is an annual program that teaches kids some really great stuff.  One year was physics (simple machines) last year was DNA (they even extracted DNA samples from strawberries).  This year it is the science of sports.  And since it is blazing hot this week, we set out some water.

I believe the church should offer its building to organizations for the good of the hospitality

community.  We host AA, NA, Senior Citizen groups, an exercise group and a host of others. We even open the doors to the public during the Memorial Day Parade so people can use our rest rooms.

The church should be the center of a community, and simple acts like this create that environment.  Will we get tons of new people in worship through this?  No.  But that is not the reason we do it.  We do this because we are followers of Jesus, and He calls us to be hospitable and loving.  It’s as simple as that.  Yet when we love as we are called to love, these acts begin to add up.  And maybe, just maybe, someone who is in need of spiritual hope will remember that little church that offered a cup of water.

Grace and Peace,


If You Miss a Sunday, You Miss a Lot

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:24-25

Here is the church.  Here is the steeple.  Open the doors.  Where are the people?here is the church

It is no secret that worship attendance is on the decline in our country.  And yes, I know it is the summer, with many people away for the weekend.  But it is an overarching situation every week.  People just don’t feel that they “get anything” out of worship.  Or they don’t like the music.  Or they don’t like the sermon.  Or they don’t like the pastor.  Or some other reason.

But one of the things we have lost sight of is God.  You see, worship is not about us.  It is about God.  The Westminster Catechism reminds us that the chief end of humanity is to glorify God and enjoy God forever.  Catch that?  Glorify God not us.  That is the purpose of worship.

Yet we do get something out of worship.  We can (when we allow it to happen) encounter God.  We can experience God’s healing.  And (and this is a very important part), we can be a part of God’s mission in the world.

Last Sunday was an incredible worship service.  We started with a mini-hymn sing which included some congregational favorites.  I preached on Luke 13:10-17, the story of a woman healed on the Sabbath.  Realizing how humans have made the Sabbath a “rule” instead of a gift of God’s grace, I tried to open up the idea of the importance of taking a break in life, and being present in worship to experience God’s grace directly.  I reminded the congregation that the woman was at the place she needed to be for healing (the synagogue during worship), and that Jesus was at the place he needed to be to heal the woman.  We, as followers of Jesus, need to be where God wants us so that we can either be healed, or be the healing presence for another.  So often our presence in worship helps someone else far more than we realize.  Any person might be the vehicle for God’s grace.  Any person might be the one God has chosen to guide another, to help another, to pray for another, to heal another, to love another.  But if you are that person and you are not present…

After the sermon, our youth group led us in some songs, then we prayed for the youth as they went on a Summer retreat.  This was followed with some intense prayers for the congregation, community, nation and the world.  Our prayer time is definitely growing – and everyone present is a part of those prayers.

Worship is important.  It is important to God and so it should be important to us.  Yes, we all need some time off, we need rest.  But Jesus calls us to rest in Him.  What better way to do this than worship?

Grace and Peace,


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


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,


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,


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,


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,