Help My Doubt

Faith seeking reason- Mark 9:24

Lost Books of the Bible (7)- Habakkuk

Any book that has 3 “K’s” in it’s name is destined to be ignored in my mind! True, many books of the Bible are just plain strange. That is, until one does their homework and discovers the meaning there. After my study this week, I just love Habakkuk. I love the way he yelled honestly (and humbly) at God! I love the way God answered him.

Today I encouraged our people to pray aggressively to God. Especially when frustrated or angry. I also encouraged them to do something I’m sure we all do very little- listen for God’s answer. I suggested that they write out their prayer (like Habakkuk did) and then write out God’s answer to their prayer (like Habakkuk did). I have done that a few times and it is a really interesting experience. We are not entitled to the same type of revelation that Habakkuk was but God does promise to communicate with us when we approach Him with humble faith.

May 24, 2010 Posted by | Sermons, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lost Books of the Bible (6): Nahum

I’m sure no one who attended worship this week had any idea who Nahum was or what his book in the Bible says. I know I didn’t, until I sat down to study it, and I’m the pastor! That’s the whole point of this sermon series. These small books we call the “minor prophets” are unpopular and unfamiliar to us.

Lately I have been preaching with a narrative style. That means I teach the history of God’s word by telling stories. I like that. I also try to include some new information and review of details such as people, places and dates, but in a novel form. I want everyone to know that these “stories” are historically accurate and true.

Nahum’s vision from God can be traced all the way back to Noah so I retold the history of the Ark, his 3 sons, one bad son and his great-grandson who build Nineveh. Nahum’s vision from God is about Nineveh about 3000 years later. It was a good reminder of the often repeated truths of Scripture- God’s incredible foreknowledge, mercy, power and justice. We need to be careful to be on the right side of his justice but, even then, it is no picnic waiting for him to deal with evil powers around us.The war is over through faith in Jesus but smaller battles rage as we show and tell the good news to those who have not heard or been yet convinced.

May 17, 2010 Posted by | Sermons, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lost Books of the Bible (5): Philemon

Paul’s letter to Philemon is not a very popular book of the Bible. I have never preached on it or quoted any verses from it. Yet it is a book of the Bible so it is God’s word and I don’t want to miss out on any of God’s words.

Personally, I had a great time studying for this message. I love discovering what was going on in normal life by studying the historical context. I also love discovering who the people were and how their short lives fit into God’s history of salvation. As far as Philemon goes, I learned, for the very first time, who he was, where he lived, who his wife and son were and what the whole drama over his run-away slave was about. When I preached this message I did my best to tell it like a historical novel involving all of these people.

I also paused to make some specific points about slavery. I thought it was important to emphasize the huge differences between Roman slavery and American slavery. There is just no comparison and those who used Paul’s teaching as an excuse for the evil practice of racist abuse were idiots.

Since this was also Mother’s Day I made a point that Paul’s letter was not just written to Philemon but also his wife, Apphia, whom God used in powerfully influential ways to save many. When we slow down and do our homework we can see so much more divine beauty and truth in God’s word.  I can’t wait to study next week’s “Lost Book of the Bible”.

May 11, 2010 Posted by | Sermons, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lost Books of the Bible (4)- Lamentations

In my studies I have discovered that there are several books of the Bible that I have never mentioned while preaching in the 6 years since becoming a pastor. Last year I covered 3 of them and this month we will review 3 more. Today we began with Lamentations. What a gloomy book!

I call Lamentations, “Jeremiah’s poem of tears”. He tells, in gory detail, of God’s judgment in Jerusalem because of their persistent and wicked sins. Actually, it was a fairly easy invitation for communion because we all sin and that’s why Jesus volunteered to die on the cross.

Like with all of God’s word, there is always hope for a happy ending if we are willing to turn to Jesus and ask for help. We don’t need to continue in sin and experience the pain of God’s judgment if we are willing to accept the forgiveness and power of His Holy Spirit.

Several young people celebrated the Lord’s Supper with us for the first time this week. Many adults confessed their need for Jesus again and received renewed power to live in love. God is good.

May 3, 2010 Posted by | Sermons, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Overflow- Postlude

My delegate and I returned from a denominational conference in Florida on Saturday night and tried to share our experience with everyone during worship. For my part I continued working from God’s use of David in earlier history and James in more recent history of the church.

My conclusions were that God wants us to submit to our leadership by trusting His Spirit’s work through them. I think that was probably hard for our people to hear. I have been critical of our leadership but have confessed that as sin. There are times to criticize leadership but not the way I was doing it.

Another conclusion I think was hard to hear was my conviction that we are ready to, and must, make ministry to those outside our church a higher priority. There is a time for introspection and membership care but I have worked with our leaders to do that for 6 years and now, as James said, “it seems good to us and the Holy Spirit…that we should not make it hard for the outsiders who are turning towards God”.  God loves sinners much more than we are and I confessed my unloving attitude too.

I’m already feeling less excited as my soul returns to the daily grind but my convictions remain. In the months ahead I will be talking with our leaders to see how God can guide our worship, small groups and work teams into more inviting ministries for our neighbors without abandoning God’s family. Change takes time and it is ultimately God’s work in the heart and mind but I think we all know it is necessary. Love is patient.  God is love.

April 26, 2010 Posted by | Sermons, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Christian Journey (1)- Intro.

Ray Comfort is a popular Christian evangelist of our day who likes to talk to people about God’s salvation as if it were a parachute. They say, “Imagine that you are flying in an airplane and the captain of the ship has just announced over the loudspeaker that ½ the engines have failed and there was a 50% chance that it would soon crash into the ground leaving no survivors”. The good news is that there are plenty of parachutes on board for everyone and the flight attendants would hand them out to anyone who wanted one with plenty of time to spare. As the stewardess walked around she was shocked to see that some people took a parachute but did not put it on. They said, “I want the parachute but I’ll wait because it would feel very bulky, awkward and uncomfortable to wear while sitting in the seat”. What was worse that some refused to take a parachute at all. They said, “I’ve heard this a million times and nothing bad ever happens”. The truth is, the plane will crash and only those who had already strapped the parachute on had time to jump to safety.

While we agree with the point that all those who resist or reject faith in Jesus will die an eternal death separated from God, I hope we can do more than just think about Jesus being a parachute as we enter this New Year. We want to know “the rest of the story”. We want to know what Jesus has to offer:

  • the grieving family members of dead sinners.
  • the depressed stewardess who has to go back to work and be treated like a prostitute every day.
  • the angry mechanics who have to listen to their boss blame them for a plane crash again.

We know Jesus is a parachute but we want to know what he has to offer when we need a fire extinguisher, a pillow or a really big aspirin.

Today we are beginning a new series of messages called, “The Christian Journey” and I hope to answer those kinds of questions. If I could write a book by that title I would add a colon and a subheading, “From Parachute to Pair-a-shoes”. Let’s start the Christian Journey by listening God’s word through Peter.

Remembering Simon Peter

Remember our spiritual brother and apostle called, “Simon Peter”? He was a simple man. If Peter lived in our generation I think he would have been very much like a good ole boy from Potter County. He did not live in Jerusalem, or any large city, but in a small town near the Sea of Galilee. He probably would have had some of the same negative feelings that we have about overcrowded, busy and noisy urban places. Peter was not highly educated, so he probably would have graduated from High School but not gone on to college. It’s not that he we dumb but he didn’t want to sit in a chair reading books all day. Peter was a worker. He worked with his brother and father in a family business that met their needs. He did not make a lot of money but he liked working with his family and was free to take the day off when he wanted to. That was important because Peter was also an impulsive young man.

  • When Jesus called him he left his work immediately.
  • When he saw Jesus on the water he asked to walk there too.
  • When he saw Jesus on the beach he dove in and ran to him.
  • When the temple guards arrested Jesus he attacked one of their servants with a knife.

Simon was a simple man but he was also the one Jesus named, “Peter”, the rock, and promised to build his church on his testimony.

Peter’s Testimony

After about 30 years of leadership experience Peter wrote a letter to many of the Christians who were living far outside of Israel. He said, “13Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy (1 Peter 1:13-16).”F1 There are two of Peter’s words which I would like to draw your attention today.

Holiness

The first one is “holy (v.16)” and I think it is a hard word to understand.

  • My first thought when I hear the word is “holy cow”. Maybe some of us said it last week when we opened a Christmas present we were happy to see. “Holy Cow!” Maybe some of us said it silently in our minds when we opened a Christmas present were not happy to see. “Holy Cow!” Obviously, that is not what Peter meant when he said the word “holy”.
  • Peter was actually quoting an Old Testament Bible verse. It was from the book that Moses wrote for the family of Jacob’s son, Levi, who were in charge of working in tabernacle. They were in charge of teaching the people about God when they came to the church to worship. One (c) of the things God wanted them to do was, “2 “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy. 3 ” ‘Each of you must respect his mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God. 4 ” ‘Do not turn to idols or make gods of cast metal for yourselves. I am the LORD your God (Leviticus 19:1-4).” When Peter told the Christians to “be holy” he was telling them to be like God.
  • Honestly speaking, most of us probably think it is impossible to be like God. But it is not impossible! For example, God said, “3 ” ‘Each of you must respect his mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths (Leviticus 19:3). God says clearly that in order for us to be “holy” we must respect our mother and father. We can do that! Children (a) can be “holy” by cleaning up their bedroom when they are told to. Teens (b) can be “holy” by doing their homework when they are told to. Adults (c) can be “holy” by taking care of their parents in their old age. We can be holy!

Peter said, “15But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).” We can do that!

Obedient Children

There is another word I want to draw your attention to today. That word is, “children”. Peter said, “14As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance (1 Peter 1:14)”.

  • Let’s think about a human father. Peter grew up as a child with a human father who loved him. He taught young  Simon how to read and write and probably disciplined him a lot when he was impulsive, got into fights and broke things. He taught his adult child to work as a team member on the family fishing boat. He also taught Simon to obey his Heavenly Father by following Jesus out of a heart of love.
  • Now let’s think about our Heavenly Father. God is holy but he is also a loving father. Just as human fathers want their children to learn how to read their ABC’s so also God wants his children need to learn how to read His word. Older children of God need to learn how to read and obey even tough books of Scripture- like Leviticus- and grow more holy. God wants us to obey, but, to obey as a loving Father who is giving good advice to His children.

Jesus offers us much more than just a parachute. He offers us adoption papers to become children in the family of God.

We are indeed on an airplane that is destined to crash and burn but there is a surprise ending. When we put the parachute on, jump out of the Hell-bound plane and pull the rip cord, the chute opens with bright colors which say, “Child of God”. We land safely on the ground and follow Jesus back into the world to help the survivors through funerals, work stress, relationship problems and real fire damage in the community. From parachute to pair of shoes, that’s The Christian Journey. That’s holiness.

Have you accepted God’s offer to be your parachute and save you from eternal Hell yet?

Have you accepted God’s offer to be your Heavenly Father and help people out of their living hell?

Let’s pause and pray about God’s call to be holy children in this New Year.

January 4, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Communion With Jesus

“Communion with Jesus”, that is, communication and community with God through His only Son, will grow as we understand how He feels about lost “sheep”. Backing up a bit, to the time before God became the man, Jesus, we need to understand that “other sheep” were in a tough spot. God expected His people, Israel, to live under the Laws of Moses. Under that law they were only allowed to marry Jews, only Jews could own land, and only Jews could lead worship in the Temple. God really did give special treatment to the Jews and any non-Jew who wanted to find out about God had to go to Israel and live as a 2nd class citizen. However, God said that such laws were only temporary!

God said through Jesus, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd (John 10:16)”. It has NEVER been God’s plan to exclude anyone from His family IF only they would “listen” and “follow”.

 

Let’s consider how that is true in our lives and church. We belong to a denomination whose leaders believe that most of the churches in northern PA are failing to “bring in” the “other sheep” that Jesus is calling. For example, last May in Pleasantville our Bishop, David Roller, preached from the book of Acts. He compared the life of the early church to the life of the Free Methodist Church. He saw an early explosion of faith in Jesus and many new believers getting baptized and brought into membership. Then he saw a calming comfort settle in as the church got older and started to fight with each other about things that are not important. He believes we are still stuck there and need to change.

Remember, how similar that sounds to the way the Jewish church responded to Jesus. 19At these words the Jews were again divided. 20Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him (John 10:19-20)?” On the other hand, remember how those outside of Jerusalem responded to Jesus. 40Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here he stayed. 41and many people came to him. They said, “Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true.” 42And in that place many believed in Jesus (John 10:40-42). I think our Bishop is right- we need to stop arguing over debatable things and get better at bringing in “other sheep”.

Many of you know that I was elected to serve on the Keystone Conference Board of Administration in May too. They have had 2 special meetings this year to work on this problem and I attended the 2nd one last Monday in State College. While I was in State College I got to personally tour their “new” church and talk with Dave Michael. Their church has gone through some hard times and just relaunched this year. The Conference worked with him on some changes that upset a lot of his members and I wanted to know how he felt about it now that more time has passed. Dave said that, sadly, his former members have not returned but many visitors have come and more people are getting saved now. He believes they are being spiritually successful.

Remember, again, how church responded to Jesus. 19At these words the Jews were again divided (John 10:19).” Remember also how those outside the church responded to Jesus. 42And in that place many believed in Jesus (John 10:42). I think our leaders have some good advice. We need to let them help us get better at bringing in “other sheep”.

“Communion with Jesus” today means knowing how much he loves “other sheep” and loving them too.

  • Have you believed in Jesus yet? “Listen to his voice” and “follow” him today.
  • Are you willing “follow the voice of Jesus” even as he leads us out to find “other sheep”?

Jesus said, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd (John 10:16)”.

November 30, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

National Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

When in England, at a fairly large conference, Colin Powell was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury if our plans for Iraq were just an example of empire building by George Bush.

He answered by saying, ‘Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders.  The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return.’

You could have heard a pin drop!

www.snopes.com

True(!):

SECRETARY POWELL: The United States believes strongly in what you call soft power, the value of democracy, the value of the free economic system, the value of making sure that each citizen is free and free to pursue their own God-given ambitions and to use the talents that they were given by God. And that is what we say to the rest of the world. That is why we participated in establishing a community of democracy within the Western Hemisphere. It’s why we participate in all of these great international organizations.

There is nothing in American experience or in American political life or in our culture that suggests we want to use hard power. But what we have found over the decades is that unless you do have hard power — and here I think you’re referring to military power — then sometimes you are faced with situations that you can’t deal with.

I mean, it was not soft power that freed Europe. It was hard power. And what followed immediately after hard power? Did the United States ask for dominion over a single nation in Europe? No. Soft power came in the Marshall Plan. Soft power came with American GIs who put their weapons down once the war was over and helped all those nations rebuild. We did the same thing in Japan.

So our record of living our values and letting our values be an inspiration to others I think is clear. And I don’t think I have anything to be ashamed of or apologize for with respect to what America has done for the world

It may come as a surprise to some, but, I see some similarities between God’s work in Iraq today and God’s work in Israel in previously.

10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected (a) your covenant, broken (b) down your altars, and put (c) your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now (d) they are trying to kill me too (1Ki.19:10).”

The timing of this conversation with God is right after Elijah’s famous competition with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (8:40). Elijah had great victory over them and then Queen Jezebel issued a death threat which scared him enough to run down to Judah (9:3). Elijah walked into the desert and prayed to die (v.4). However, an angel strengthened Elijah and he walked 40 days to a cave on “Horeb, the mountain of God (v.8)”. There the Lord spoke to Elijah.

Elijah had enjoyed a brief victory but later he saw how little it accomplished in the hearts of his neighbors. They (a) stopped honoring the Sabbath day, (b) tore out the Temple furnishings and (c) killed faithful men who boldly called Israel to return to God. Elijah was depressed about the reality that there were very few God-fearing and godly people in his country.

I imagine that Christians ministering in Iraq feel like that some times. One of our pastors wrote on September 11, 2009 (!): “I first visited Iraq the summer of 2003. At that time, only 5 evangelical churches (none Free Methodist) existed in the whole country of more than 25 million people.”

Like Elijah, America achieved a brief victory in Iraq by removing an evil King and opening the door for freedom of religion. Later on, however, he saw how much more work there was to do in the hearts of the people. In Iraq there were very few people who know (a) Jesus, have (b) churches to worship in or can find a safe (c) place to learn about God. Pastor Blake must sometimes get discouraged too.

What does God do when we are discouraged?

11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper (1Ki.9).

Bible teachers disagree on what God was trying to communicate to Elijah by doing this. Today I think it would be good to remember how God often prefers to display his power in the weak things of earth.

God encourages us by saying, “when you are weak, I am strong.” For example, Paul said this when he ministered to the church in Corinth.

4My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power (1Cor.2:4).

When he was discouraged by being abused in Corinth, God encouraged Paul by appearing to him in a dream and “whispering”,

9One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God (Acts 18:9-11).

God has been encouraging the persecuted church in Iraq too. Our pastor’s letter continues,

“Today Iraq has nearly 25 such churches, and the FMC is ministering in 7 areas. The brothers and sisters in these ministries face persecution on a regular basis. Yet they have chosen to stand firm and serve the Lord. I am committed to serve them as they serve on the front lines…I will  be in Iraq when you read this letter, and I will be assuring our church there that thousands of their FM brothers and sisters in the US will be standing with them in a special way on November 8th. Will you be a part of this new “army”- an army of prayer, love and service to our Iraqi brothers and sisters?

We thank God for the Veterans who fought victories to protect religious freedom in America and Iraq but we also know that there is a lot of work yet to be done in the hearts of the people. Only the Holy Spirit of Jesus can transform our nations for peace.

Therefore, we pray in weakness, on this National Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, for the power of God to raise up a faithful remnant in Israel, Iraq and America by the whisper of His word. Specifically, we pray for:

    1. Protection for FM pastors/leaders
    2. Courage for FM believers to boldly share the gospel
    3. Deeper spiritual maturity for many young believers
    4. Wise government committed to peace and human rights

I might add, pray for the Spirit of Jesus to be welcome and effective in our own hearts. Let’s pray.

November 9, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Great Expectation (1): Stewardship

We’re starting a new sermon series today. It’s called, “Great Expectations” and its about “stewardship”. Larry Burkett says, “a steward is a manager of God’s property”. On a human level I feel like it means, “giving away everything I like because God says so.” Stewardship does not come naturally. That’s why I want to begin our study in the Beginning. Genesis helps us to understand the way God intended the world to be, what went wrong and what we can do about it today.

15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” 18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him (Genesis 2:15-18).”

  • Adam was to “take care of Eden (v.15)” but it did not belong to him.

“The first step towards financial freedom is to ask for the Lord’s help to do what He wants done. Then, in prayer, we transfer ownership of each and every possession to God. That means money, job, time, material possessions, family, education, and earning potential for the future. This is a mandatory first step. God will not force His will on anyone; therefore, they must willingly surrender their will and possessions to God (Crown Financial Ministries 2003).”

The reality is that we are all temporary tenants on earth with a month-to-month lease. None of what we have belongs to us. Therefore we need to ask God’s permission for everything we do with everything we have.

Adam was to “take care of Eden (v.15)” but it was not good for him to do it “alone (v.18)”.

We often use this message in relation to marriage but it does not have to stop there. In a general sense, God says here, that as people “work” and “take care of” their possessions it is not good for them to do it “alone”. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. God knows what damage that kind of wealth and power can do to any man.

  • That’s also what Jesus tried to teach his disciples under the New Covenant.

Jesus said every Christian must, “deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Mk.8:34)”. We “deny” ourselves, then, by killing our attitude that says, “mine, mine, mine”. We refuse to follow “the American dream” or to “keep up with the Jones’”, by hoarding more and more cars and computers and bigger and bigger houses and garages. When I read about Jesus and his 12 disciples I think of our small group ministries and what I hope they become some day. By denying ourselves and following Jesus we can be free from the power of greed and sin.

That’s what “Great Expectations” are all about. We can be free from the power of greed and sin to follow Jesus. Those who lose their life for Him find true life.

Are you ready to stop saying everything is, “mine”, and start saying everything belongs to, “Jesus”?

September 9, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Summer Stress

This morning I looked at my calendar for June and my heart jumped. I don’t mean the good jump of excitement we feel when we are looking forward to a happy event. I mean the bad jump of anxiety we feel when we look forward and wonder, “How am I going to do all of that?” I got butterflies in my stomach. How does your belly feel?

 God wants us to live in joy and peace no matter if our schedules are full or empty. So I and asked the Lord to help me. He reminded me of Creation. Before God even created the sun he established days and nights. Day is for working and night is for resting. Amen! God established a day of rest on every 7th day. Six days are for working and one day is for resting. Ah.

 Some of God’s lesson to me was just to be thankful for the rest times He has built into each day and week. I forgot how often God gives me a full night of sleep and 3 meals with my family and couch time with my wife after the sun goes down. I am very blessed. Some of God’s lesson, however, is also to trust Him when He wants me to live outside my plans. There are times when God wants us to work after the sun goes down and help others when we feel too weak to keep going. I can trust God more.

 I’m still not sure how June is going to work out but I know July will come and God will again remind me to be thankful and trusting. Let’s do it together.

May 27, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 7 Comments