Monday, January 31, 2011

Slogging Along


This week was marked by slow progress on the weight loss front. This was disappointing, but probably to be expected


Measurements


Jennifer and I did our measurments for the first time in three weeks. I was ok with the progress, but confused about the areas where I seemed to regress.


I lost two inches in the last two weeks in both my belly/waist and in my chest. I lost an inch in my biceps (might have to return tickets to the gun show). I gained over an inch in my thieghs though, and am wondering what that was about.


We will discover as the weeks progress what all this means.


Weight


This week I only lost 4 pounds. This is understandable for a number of reasons. First, I did not get in to work out. Also, although I managed my portions well, my schedule and circumstances forced me to eat less healthily.


Total


33 pounds lost since 1/5.

Sunday, January 30, 2011



As we start this sermon, we are going to practice a little Hebrew. Are you ready? I want to hear you say this word, “chesed”. Ok say it: (chesed) Make sure you put the ch sound at the beginning of it. Good, now clap whenever it is used. Does anyone know what this word means?

Shorthand, it means love in Hebrew. But this word, chesed, this word for love in Hebrew has deep shades of meaning. And most of them relate to a loyalty to covenant.
Today we can use the word love in all sorts of ways:
• I love my wife
• I love my car
• I love peanut butter chocolate cheesecake
• I love this weather
• I love the color yellow
• I love the Broncos (that is the only time you will hear me saying those words)
• I love to go to Waterworld
• I love my favorite coffee cup
• I love the smell of fresh baked pizza
• I love God

Our nation is a nation that has been blessed with more material resources than any nation on earth. We have indoor plumbing, nearly every adult has a car, and we throw away more food than many nations consume.

Yet we are a nation that is starved for the experience of love. And we chase after all sorts of false gods that offer all kinds of false loves. That is how we can use the same word to describe our affection for the color yellow and the worship of our Lord.

We as a culture often believe love and sex are synonomous. We spend millions of dollars on cheesy romance novels. We spend even more on porn. People fall in and out of love more often than they change clothes it seems. We are confused about what love really is often times.

Possibly what we are most confused about love is in the belief that love is a feeling. That feeling we call love is not really love, it is hormones and chemical imbalances. Love, as the Bible describes it, is an action. Love as the Bible describes it, is based on a choice, not a feeling. And true love is not best described by that sense of euphoria we feel. Love is best described by God. God describes his love most clearly in Scripture.

So this year as we approach Valentines, we are going to take a look at some of the many things that the Bible has to say about love, about marriage, and about sex. So often we get things wrong in this regard.

In the coming weeks we will talk about the gifts of singleness and marriage, and how they each are callings to truly love others in a Biblical way. We will talk about how love is defined in I Corinthians 13. We will look at how temptation to disobey the boundaries of sexual love that God has given us lead to all sorts of problems. And, we will discuss some principles the Bible gives us about how to love one another in the bond of marriage.

Anyway…back to this word “chesed”. It is the most prominent Hebrew word for love in the Old Testament. And, as I said, this word for love relates to the concepts of covenant and loyalty. The idea is that we love God best by keeping covenant with him, and we live best when we are faithful first to God and then to each other. Faithfulness in covenants with God and each other is what defines love, according to the meaning of the word, “chesed”.



COVENANT


The book of Ruth, with almost universal agreement among scholars, is about a series of events that encourage us to live lovingly, hesed kind of love, that kind of love that is kind, faithful, steady, and honest.

It is most of all about God’s faithfulness. But, it is also about how by living the way God wants us to we are blessed. Because the best kind of relationships are the kind of relationships that have steadfast love for God and one another as part of them.

Interestingly, though, we are not left with a comfort or assurance in the goodness, the lovingkindness, and the faithfulness of God as we begin this story. No, the first thing that we learn is that Naomi has had her husband die. Then she has had her sons die. And there are three survivors. One named Orpah. One named Ruth. And then Naomi. Three widows. No visible means of support.

Naomi and her husband had been immigrants to Moab from Israel. She decides she is going to trek back to her people. She encourages her daughters-in-law to do the same. Orpah does as Naomi instructs her. She heads back to family after a tearful departure.

The Bible says that Ruth did the opposite. Ruth clung to Naomi the Scriptures said. Naomi told her she needed to come back to her people. Ruth would not go. She said the words that are often said at marriages to communicate the faithfulness, the chesed, of committed love. Ruth said:

“ Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
17 Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The LORD do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.”

Naomi and Ruth head back to Israel, and then to Bethlehem within the nation of Israel. People greet Naomi. She says, “Call me Mara, for I am bitter. The Lord has dealt harshly with me.” She said “the Lord has dealt harshly with me”. This detail of Naomi’s experience is included so that we will ask the question of whether this is Naomi’s perception or is this truly what God is doing. Is God full of lovingkindness? Is God a God of steadfast love? Naomi has her doubts, as might you if you lost your husband, and then all your children in close succession.

Chapter 1 ends by telling us that they have arrived at the beginning of the barley harvest. This is good because it is a time of plenty for the people of Bethlehem. But neither Naomi or Ruth had planted anything.

Thankfully, there was this provision in the law of God. This provision allowed for the widows, and the poor to follow along with the harvesters and to glean the scraps that the harvesters drop or miss.

Ruth goes to glean, and by God’s grace she is gleaning on the land that is owned by Boaz. Boaz is a relative of Naomi. He comes out from town to see his workers. He blesses them in the name of the Lord. He notices Ruth. It turns out, his foreman have noticed her as well. She has not been taking breaks. She has been working hard. And she is outworking all of the other gleaners. It is her only source of income.

Boaz introduces himself to Ruth. He tells her to stay with his crew. He convinces her it is safer than being a strange woman going from field to field. She thanked him for his lovingkindness, or chesed, toward her. He invited her to eat with him and his paid staff. She ate till she had her fill, and kept some for Naomi as well.

When Boaz talks to Ruth he also tells her that the word is out about her. He knows that she has come as a immigrant worker. And that she has come to take care of Naomi. He tells her that God is faithful, and that he will take her under his wing. God will show Ruth his chesed for her chesed to Naomi

Boaz continues to show chesed, or faithful love, to Ruth. He orders his men to let grain drop for Ruth, so that she will have over and above what she usually has. He makes sure she has enough to eat and enough to drink. He has been looking out for her.

Naomi is excited. She tells Ruth that Boaz is a good man, a close relative, and thus a resource for help for them. She encourages Ruth to continue to glean in Boaz’s field.

It gets to a point when the winnowing is nearly complete, and the harvesting process is nearly done. This is good for the people, the end to a time of hard work. This is a time for action of Ruth and Naomi. After this party, the time to see Boaz every day will be lost, and the hope of their connection with him with be done as well.

Boaz obviously has a soft place in his heart for young Ruth. It is time that Ruth and Naomi make their advance. It is their last opportunity before winter approaches.

You see, Boaz was in the position of being a close relative, which means he also had the opportunity to be a kinsman-redeemer. A kinsman redeemer, through a process of Levirate marriage and family property rights laid out in the law given to Moses, had the opportunity to both claim the inheritance of Naomi’s family and take Ruth as his wife.

So, Naomi sets up Ruth to go to the harvest party. She covers herself for most of the party. But, as Naomi instructed, she keeps a close eye on Boaz.

This is a party, and it appears that the women are not near the men at the party. The barbeque comes out, as does the cooler. People eat. They drink. And Boaz drank enough of the harvest wine that his heart was made cheerful (Boaz was a good man, not a perfect one), and he felt sleepy, and he found a place to lie down a take a little nap.

Per Naomi’s instructions when he fell asleep with that smile on his face and started snoring, she snuggled herself up next to him. She uncovered his feet or his legs the Scripture says. Basically, she uncovered him on the lower half of his body, and then placed herself cuddling in his lap. I imagine some breeze blew along at some point. In any case, something startled him, and awoke, and groped around. While trying to figure out where he was and what was going on he looked down and there was this woman lying in his lap.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I am Ruth,” she said. I am your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing for you are a close relative.”

Now this is not the best pick up line I have ever heard. Can you imagine? “Hey baby, this is Ruth. We met at a family reunion, and I thought, that is just the man I want, and what better place to find a man than at the family reunion.”

Ruth was instructed by Naomi to say nothing. But Ruth is startled into saying something. She says that she wants Boaz to put his “wing over her”. Putting a wing over someone is something someone does when one person decides to take care of another in Hebrew idiom. It is something that God does for us when he is faithful to us, he takes us under his wing of protection.

Putting a wing over someone was also an allusion to a husband taking a woman as his wife. In a marriage ceremony there would be a big party, and then at some point the husband would come and take his cloak, or his wing, and set it over his wife, like a teenage girl taking her boyfriend’s letter jacket when I was in high school, and they would go to their home and become husband and wife.

Here they were. This well respected, handsome, wealthy middle aged bachelor. This young attractive widow dressed beautifully. In a compromising position. What would Boaz do? He could have had his way with Ruth right there. She was that needy. She was that vulnerable.

Boaz chooses live in love. In the lovingkindness of integrity and covenant. Of obeying God’s word. And he tells Ruth they will wait. And he will go to the gates, where business is done, and he will negotiate for the right to marry Ruth, because there is a relative that is a closer relative to Naomi and Ruth than he that could lay claim to Ruth and Naomi and their small parcel of land.

So Boaz goes to the city gates. He says there is this land that he wants but the other man has first rights to it. The man says he wants the land. Oh no!

But then he says that the land comes with two widows that the man will be obligated to support if he takes it. The man wants no part of the women. He basically says, “I want nothing to do with the women. Too much headache for me. If you want the land, it is yours!”

That day, because of how the law works, Ruth became his wife by right. And the men patted his back and blessed him. Ruth and Boaz had a child, and Naomi was the nanny for the little guy. His name was Obed. The women of the city said that God had been faithful, or shown his hesed, to Naomi, by giving her a daughter in law that was better than seven sons, and a grandson in her old age. They said that God had given that baby to Naomi out of his faithful lovingkindness, his hesed.

And that little baby, born of a immigrant worker and a middle aged farming leader, was born to faithful, loving parents. Obed, that little baby, as it turned out was the grandfather of David. In Bethlehem. He brought hope to a peasant widow, a bitter woman without hope, and a lonely bachelor waiting for God’s woman to come to him in God’s time. God was loving because he was faithful to his promises. God is good.

Out of the union of the faithful Ruth and the loving Boaz came a king named King David. Best King Israel ever had. And out of this amazing story of hope came the line of the King of Kings, Jesus Christ, who came to show God’s love and faithfulness to a world who also often believes hope is lost. That like Naomi is bitter and feels abandoned.

Even now, God is reaching out in his loving kindness, or his hesed to the world. He is reaching out through the Word of Jesus. He is reaching out through his Holy Spirit working through frail and feeble vessels like you and I. As we are faithful to live holy lives in commitment to God, as we are faithful to live loving lives with grace and integrity with one another, as we are faithful to share about the faithful love of God, with others, we are able to bring the love of God to the world. A world that is hungry for the kind of love that last that more for a night or a season. A world that is hungry for the kind of love that doesn’t run when it gets difficult. A world that is hungry for the love that we can only find with God and those who are faithful to loving as he has loved. Amen.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Week 3: Back in the Saddle Again



This week I approached my weigh in with a little less confidence than last week. After gaining a pound I was beginning to wonder if this Weight Watchers thing was going to work. Yet, for the most part, I was faithful to both our family plan and our weight watchers plan.

I walked in to the hospital to weigh. When I stepped on the scale I thought I was doing something wrong. I weighed myself over and over again. But the scale did not vary. Lost 11 pounds from last monday to this monday.

I made a couple of adjustments in my behavior this week that might have been related. First, I made sure I used my medication on a regular basis. Also, I made sure not to drink my pop for the week within 24 hours of weigh in.

I want to do better with exercise, and work out more often. I suppose with all of the work and child care issues I am juggling that will just take time.

P.S. Free book for whoever tells me what the picture up on top is about

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Week 2 Curse



I have went through two weeks of weigh ins in working through our weight watchers journey.

I was stoked after my first weigh in.I had not weighed since October, which i used as my baseline. Since I ate nothing but unhealthy food the two and a half weeks before the diet I thought I might even gain weight. I was wrong. I was down 19 pounds.

This last week was a bit more discouraging. Went to weigh in hoping that my momentum would continue. I gained one pound. Both weeks I stuck to the diet. There were a few differences. I had a soda on Sunday last week. I had soda the week before, but on Saturday instead. But would that account for weight gain when I have been staying within my budget of food points? I don't know.

What I do know is that when I work hard to manage my diet and exercise more, and then I gain weight, then I feel discouraged. But, I have committed to this process with Weight Watchers for three months. We will see how next week goes.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sermon for 1.16--A little rough in the manuscript this week



Acts 10

This morning I am going to do something that I do not usually do. I am going to preach on a passage I have preached on here before. It was when I started here at Fowler First Baptist. But, being as we are coming to Acts 10, and I think the lessons that we can learn from this passage are as important now as they were then, I have chosen to preach on Acts 10. Rest assured, even though much of the outline is the same, the sermon was put together again this week.

But before we dig into the Scripture I want to tell you a story. A true story that happened to an American Baptist pastor several years ago. A story of something amazing that happened in a quite ordinary place.

Tony Campolo tells a story of being at a speaking engagement in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was an east coast guy, trained from an early age to rise early in the morning. And when he got to Hawaii, his internal clock was all messed up. So he ended up in a Diner between one or two in the morning looking for something to eat. An old, run down, gritty diner.




The cook and the wait staff were as gritty and tough as the atmosphere. Then about 3 in the morning these gals walked in. It did not take long to notice that these young ladies were prostitutes. The people in the diner talked with the table, and with one another.

It came up that one of the women had a birthday the next day. She shared that she had never had a birthday party. She had been abused by her parents, run through foster care homes and children’s homes until she ran away and made her way to the streets.

The girls left after their meal to get back to work.

Dr. Campolo came up with an idea. He gave the cook some money. He said, “I want you to make a cake. A big one. And I want you to get ice cream with all the toppings. I will go get the rest of the stuff. We are going to have a birthday party tomorrow. I will get the candles and the party hats and a gift. Can you just have the cake and ice cream ready?”

Are you sure?

Positive?

Sure I can have that ready.

And the next night the whole diner was set up for a birthday party. And that streetwalker walked in. And there were kazoos and streamers and candles and singing.

And there was laughter. And small presents. And tears. Lots of tears.

As the women went back to work, the man who ran the diner asked Campolo, “What do you do anyway?”

“I am a preacher,” he said

“What kind of church do you go to” he asked

“The kind of church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3am,” Campolo responded




“No you aren’t. The Man said. Because I would go to a church like that!”

Now maybe you aren’t called to sit at a truck stop in Pueblo at 3am and looking for drug addicts and prostitutes to throw birthday parties. But unless we are willing to open our hearts to people, unless we are willing to make changes in what we do and how we do things, unless we are willing to break away from our pet traditions and our normal routines, unless we are willing to be led by the Spirit to grow and change we will miss the hope that God has set before us.

The Scripture tells us about what happened when the church first started out on the move to reach the world. And this true story happened 2000 years ago in Israel. And involved several people, but most noticeably the apostle Peter and a centurion, which is something like a general, called Cornelius



Peter has been busy in his visits to the churches of Israel. He is being hosted by Simon the tanner in Joppa. Joppa is a seaside community north of modern day Tel-Aviv. He went up to the rooftop terrace to pray. Eventually he got hungry. A meal was being prepared for him. Peter looked out at the Medditeranean sea, took in a nice ocean breeze, and his eyes started to get heavy. Soon he was taking a nap during his prayer time, and God spoke to him then through a vision.

The dream went something like this. There was this giant sheet that seemed to come down from heaven. It went as far as he could see in the sky. As the sheet got down to where he could look over it, he saw the sheet filled with all sorts of animals. Many of which were considered unclean by a kosher Jew. God tells Peter, “Rise, kill, and eat”. Peter says he cannot, that he has never eaten food that was not kosher. The voice said, “What God has called clean, you must not call common, or unclean”. Then the sheet went up. This vision happened three times.




A day earlier there was another man who was given a vision by God. He was a Roman soldier. His name was Cornelius. Cornelius was a devout man. He gave to those in need. He prayed constantly. The Bible says he feared God. This is another way of saying he was a “God-fearer”. “God-fearers” were people who practiced faith in the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, but had not become Jewish and been circumcised.

In that vision Cornelius was visited by an angel. The angel told him that his prayers had been heard and his giving had been noticed by God. And then the angel told Cornelius to send some of his people to Joppa, to the home of Simon the Tanner, and to ask for Peter.

Now after Peter had seen his vision about not calling what God has called clean unclean for the third time, the servants of Cornelius came to the gate of Simon the Tanner’s house. They were asking about Peter.

Peter could hear the commotion from the rooftop. As he was beginning to check things out, the Spirit said to him that these men were sent by God, and he should not be afraid of them and afraid to go with them. This was helpful because they were Roman soldiers, and going with them to who knows where might be a little scary.

So, Peter went with the men. And they went from where Peter was staying in Joppa a little further up the road in Caesarea where Cornelius the Centurion was stationed. He brought a few of the church leaders from Joppa with him.

Peter heard that Cornelius had a wonderful reputation among Jews and Gentiles alike. He was devout. He was prayerful. He was generous with those in need.

Peter soon arrived where Cornelius was staying. Cornelius had gathered friends and peers for Peter’s arrival. When Peter walked into the house they treated him like a rock star. In fact, they got so excited that they began to worship him.

Peter stopped this fuss over him immediately. He said that Jews don’t usually go into homes of the Gentiles, because Gentiles are considered unclean and unholy. But, God told him he should not judge Cornelius as unclean through a dream, so he was there to do what God said. So then, Peter asked, “What did you bring me here for?”

Cornelius told Peter about his regular prayer time. And how during his prayer time he was told to seek out Peter. He told Peter how God led him directly to the house that Peter was staying at. And he told Peter that God would bring Peter with the message that he would need to hear that would be the answer to his prayers.

Peter’s eyes lit up. He now had even more confirmation that God was bringing him to this house of Cornelius to tell Cornelius and his men about Jesus.

So Peter told everyone there about how Jesus was the Messiah that was promised in Scripture. Peter told them about how Jesus had died and rose again. Peter told them how Jesus had the power to forgive sins and give them new life.

Even as he was speaking, people started to believe. And as they started to believe, they began to speak in tongues. And they began praising and worshipping God. All the Jewish believers were astonished! The Holy Spirit was coming upon Gentiles, Romans no less, just like the Holy Spirit had come upon them. It was becoming obvious that the gospel was for these Gentiles as well as the Jewish believers in Jesus.

Peter asked the people with him, “Can we come up with any reason not to baptize them?” I imagine there was probably joyous laughter at that moment. And the people who came to faith were baptized. And Peter stayed at the house of the Centurion for a few days. Then he headed back to Joppa, and eventually to Jerusalem.

I love this story! I love all the things that it can teach us.

I love this passage because it tells us that God is always working beyond what we expect. He is always doing more that we have ever imagined or hoped for. Just when we think we have God understood to where what he is doing is completely predictable and we can have every little situation under control, he puts us in a situation where nothing is under our control. But everything is under his control. And he blesses us. And he blesses others through us.

I love this passage because it shows us that nobody is outside of the love of God and his grace. Jesus did not just die for people who were raised in the church. And thank God! Because if the gospel was only for those who were raised in religious and morally upright families I certainly would have been left out! But Jesus came for everyone! Nobody is outside his grace and forgiveness.

But if you had to ask me what the most important insight for me with this passage was, I would have to tell you it is a lesson that the people of God always have to learn and relearn. It is the lesson Israel was taught when God told them “If my people who are called by my name will pray and humble themselves and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways I will hear their prayers and I will heal their land”.

To me the most important message here is that in order for Cornelius to be reached, for he and his friends to accept Christ, it was Peter that needed to do most of the changing, not Cornelius. And when Peter and his friends had their hearts changed, then they were able to bring change into the world around them and reach it for Christ.

God always works to change the world from the inside out. From inside a believers heart out into the world. From a revival in a church and change in their hearts, to then being able to have effectiveness in reaching their community.

So, Let us look at our little outline in our bulletin here. And I can illustrate my point.

When one thinks of a Roman soldier in the ancient world, one generally thinks of a greedy, immoral persecutor. A man who has blood on his hands. A bully to the Jewish people.

Cornelius, however, was nothing like this.

Again if you look at your outline you will see that

He was seeking GOD and seeking TRUTH. He even knew God well enough that when he saw the angel he said, “What is it Lord?” He knew the Lord’s voice! The Lord was working in him and speaking to him even before he accepted Christ.
He was moral. He had a reputation for giving to the needy. He was an enemy occupier, but all the Jews held him in high regard as a good person.
He was hard working. He had to be. Climbing to rank he had was no easy task
He was a leader. Did you notice how his people were loyal to him? How so many were gathered for Peter’s arrival?
He was inviting people on a spiritual journey. He was an evangelist before he even knew Jesus. He was inviting people to hear about and follow God even before he had heard the knew Jesus.

The picture here of Cornelius is not of a man who needs to make drastic change. He just needs someone to help him understand more of who God is and what God is doing in his life. He needs someone to come and help him find what he is missing and does not understand. Cornelius does not need to get off the path he is on, he just needs someone to point him in the right direction to the next, very important step. He needs someone to tell him about Jesus, and help him bring everything he has known and heard about God together.

The picture of Peter is quite different. Peter is an apostle. Peter is the leader of the early church. But in order to reach Cornelius, God really needs to work on Peter’s heart. Peter needs to grow and change, or he will fail in the mission God has given him and the church.

Look at our outline. What was Peter like?

The apostle Peter was prejudiced. That is why God had to send him the vision with all of those unclean animals to eat. He had prejudices against people who were not Jewish, and had no intention of reaching out to them.

Peter was spending time with people that were just like him. Which means primarily Christian believers of Hebrew decent.

Peter felt apprehensive and afraid. He kept arguing with God about the animals not being able to be eaten because they were unclean. God had to tell him to go with the men who came to get him and tell him not to be afraid. God generally tells people not to be afraid when they are in fact, afraid. He reinforced when he arrived that he was only at the centurion’s house because a dream had told him to come.

In addition to these challenges Peter had some good qualities. Qualities that allowed him to reach Cornelius and his friends. Those qualities were:

Peter was obedient to what God commanded

Peter was open to growing and changing when prompted by God to do so.

This much is true. Both Peter and Cornelius needed to change. But if you really looked at who had to change the most in order for Cornelius to be reached, well it was Peter that needed to change.

So what does that mean for us, here at First Baptist Church of Fowler?

Well it means a few things. If you will look at your outline you will see:

If we are going to reach our neighbors, then we are going to need to be the ones that grow and change.

Friends, I hate to say it, but if you are waiting for the world to walk through the doors of the church and decide to join our little congregation and be just like us you will die waiting. IT WILL NOT EVER HAPPEN.

If you are waiting for the world around us to all the sudden become more eager to understand Christianity and receptive to Biblical values, and run to your front door or through the doors of our sanctuary in droves to understand what Jesus is about, you will be waiting a long time. The world is the world.

No, when the world changes it changes because Christians are willing to grow and change, and then take that change into the world as humble ambassadors of Jesus. The world changes because we change. The world changes because believers are not happy with the way we are. We are not content to coast along in the backwash of half-hearted Christianity. Our community changes because we as Christians and as a church are willing to respond to the convicting, prompting words of the Holy Spirit

Revival, one missionary that I worked with told me a while ago, is like a fire. You don’t start a fire by taking a blowtorch to a big log in your fire place. You start a fire by putting out a little fire starter, some tinder, and some kindling. Then as the fire grows you add the big heavy pieces of wood.



Passionate Christians are the tinder and kindling that starts the fire of revival. Then as the revival grows like a fire, it begins to have an effect on half-hearted Christians, and then the world seeking to know Christ. But a spiritual movement that has an impact on our world begins with you and me.

It is like the quote you see for point #2

The Bible says if MY people who are called by MY name will HUMBLE themselves AND pray AND seek my face AND turn from their wicked ways …. (2 Chron. 7:14)

If you want this community to be more full of Jesus, we need to allow this church and our hearts to be consumed with a passion for serving Christ and reaching others for Christ. And if that pushes us beyond our traditions or the way we grew up or what our preferences are, then so be it.We, as the Scripture says…need to humble ourselves and allow God to do a work in our heart.

If our church gets stronger, it will be because WE CHANGED.

It will not be because everyone else has mysteriously been convinced by God to join our ministry. It will be because we allowed God to let us see others differently, to love others more freely, to share the gospel with greater effectiveness and humility.

This is because churches and communities, and people for that matter, change from the inside out.

You allow God to change your heart. Then God starts to move in our church. Then things start happening in our community and world. But if you are not willing to learn, grow, change, be challenged, and be pushed to act differently and see things differently, then don’t expect anything to change around you.

Unless we are willing to humble ourselves, and be willing to make following Jesus our passion instead of just our hobby, we will continue to struggle in our spiritual lives, in our relationships, in our congregation, and in our witness. Unless we are willing to let God challenge us and grow us beyond our narrow perspective, we will not grow. Unless we are willing to make those uncomfortable steps to begin to hope and dream of new ways to reach and disciple our children, our friends, our neighbors, and our community, we will miss the opportunities for vital ministry that is ahead of us.

I hope we won’t let this moment called today, pass you by. God has got great things in store just down the road.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Book Review of the Healthy Pastor


THE HEALTHY PASTOR: EASING THE PRESSURES OF MINISTRY
By Dennis Bickers
ISBN 978-0-8341-2553-7
Beacon Hill Press
Reviewer Clint Walker

I first became familiar with Dennis Bickers when he came out to Colorado to lead a pastor’s workshop for our regional collection of American Baptist Pastors. Rev. Bickers put together a workshop around the topic of The Healthy Small Church, which is also the title of one of the books he has written. I was transitioning from an associate/support staff in congregations of 150-225 to a solo pastorate of about 30 souls. Soon after I became familiar with Bickers his book on being a missional church in a not so mega church setting was released, which was also a helpful guide for me in beginning my journey as a small church pastor. Recently Bickers has released The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry .

As one may be able to deduce from the title, the latest book transitions from addressing the state of the church to helping pastors and families understand peculiar role of a pastor. Like his previous books, it focuses much of its attention to issues related to being a leader of a small-membership congregation. The Healthy Pastor is a helpful primer for understanding the challenges of being a pastor in a small church, and a helpful guide for a pastor and a congregation in helping to address those concerns.

Bickers’ books are a lot like Bickers himself. They are direct, forthright, straightforward, and easy to understand. The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry attempts to address specific areas of concern and stress for the pastoral leader. Each chapter begins by describing the problem that a pastor faces as the pastor ministers, and then moves toward sharing some ways of coping or addressing that concern.

The book has three strengths. First, it is an excellent guide for folks beginning in being a solo pastor in any congregation, and especially a small congregation. It clearly summarizes many of the potential pitfalls and roadblocks that pastors will face, and gives some guidance in how to bypass or overcome those bumps in the road. This will be helpful for a minister and the minister’s family to understand instead of jumping into pastoral leadership with blinders on. Also, the book is an encouragement for pastors who are a little further down the road in ministry. Small church pastors often feel isolated and alone. The Healthy Pastor gently encourages a pastor that they are not alone in the pressures that they face. Finally, this book would be helpful for a group of people, such as a Pastoral Search Committee or a Pastoral Relations Committee, who are seeking to support a pastor in his ministerial journey, and empathize with the difficulty of the pastoral calling.

This is an excellent book. If I was a judicatory minister, I would offer it to all of the new pastors that came into my care.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Sermon for 1.9--From the series on the book of Acts

Acts 9:32-42 (New King James Version)





32 Now it came to pass, as Peter went through all parts of the country, that he also came down to the saints who dwelt in Lydda. 33 There he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years and was paralyzed. 34 And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Arise and make your bed.” Then he arose immediately. 35 So all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
36 At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. 37 But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. 39 Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord.



I have lived most of my life in small towns. The town I went to high school in had no stop lights, although the population of the town was a little closer to Rocky Ford than to Fowler. I went to college in the big city for a year, but after a year I had enough of it. I moved to a college of 500 in Kansas in a town of 2000 people. I attended an American Baptist Church of about 30 to 40, and felt right at home.

div>

There are a lot of things that love about small towns. I love that you can walk into the grocery store downtown and people know who you are, and sometimes they know exactly why you are there without saying anything. I love that you can see a car driving through town and know exactly who is in the car when the car is two or three blocks away. I like that one of the clerks at the city hall when I pay my water bill is the daughter of the guy who has been working on the church furnace and the furnace at the parsonage the last couple of days. When I lived in Kansas in college, I came back a couple years later for a visit and to attend a wedding. I went to Shirers restaurant just north of town in Lyons, KS. It was a restaurant I went to with the church people on a weekly basis. I always drink a lot of water with my meal. When I walked into the restaurant the same waitress was working that often worked while I dined there. And she served me the way that she remembered from being there. Which meant that the waitress remembered to put a pitcher of water at our table near me, because otherwise she would have to run back and forth to refill my cup every minute or two. I loved that. And I like that when my wife worked in La Junta and lost her phone that someone was able to track her down at the Arkansas Valley Community Center and was honest enough to give it back. There is a lot to love about a small town.




One of my wise friends, now passed away, was a human resources manager. He was also my landlord for a while. One night while sitting out late in the hot tub visiting with him, he was telling me about his approach to interviewing people. He said, “I always just ask people their strengths. Because, if I ask them their strengths, I can easily figure out what their weaknesses are.”

“How’s that?,” I asked.

Vic said, “A persons greatest weakness, or even an organization’s greatest weakness, is always a result of their greatest strength. If a person is a type A go-getter, don’t expect them to be meek and sensitive. If a person is really strong is supporting and caring for each individual person, don’t expect them to be a numbers driven, hard-driving type. You can always tell a person’s weakness simply by discovering their strengths.”
A small town’s greatest strength can also be its greatest weakness. Sometimes, during the first year of being here, when friends from out of town would ask me about how things were going I would say something like this, “Well the nice thing about being in Fowler is that it is a slower pace of life, things move more slowly, and everybody knows what is going on with everybody else. The challenging thing about moving to Fowler is that things it is a slower pace of life, things move more slowly, everybody knows more about you than you know about them.



A small town’s stability, consistency, and sameness year after year is its greatest strength. At times it can be its greatest weakness as well. Once people make a judgment about you, that judgment is pretty much set for decades if not for life. At times it can be comforting to head into the store or restaurant for coffee and see the same people in the same chairs week after week and year after year. But there are some times for many of us when going to the same places at the same times day after day and week after week can begin to feel like we are stuck in a rut that we will never get out of. Like we are living in some small town version of the movie Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray is forced to live the same day over and over again.

The attitude about things never being able to change can seep into our own view of ourselves and our situation. We can feel like we are stuck in our personal lives. Maybe we are stuck in a grudge that we hardly even understand why we continue any more, like Jack Lemmon and Walter Matheau in the movie Grumpy Old Men. Or maybe we never see how our financial situation could improve. Perhaps we wonder if we will ever find a way to get healthy again. Or we just want to stop having the same argument with our spouse over and over again, or having to listen to the same complaint.

I cannot tell you how many times when I have heard one person complain about another person, and then say, with their hands thrown up in the air, “But they ain’t never gonna change”.




Both of the people that we find in Scripture this morning are in the middle of situations that most doubt are really going to change. They and the people around them are in differing stages of grief and loss. Each of them is a part of a church which is kind of an upstart church. They are not in significant cities, although Joppa is closer to that than Lydda.



The apostle Peter, as a leader of the young church of Jesus Christ that is just being born, is going from congregation to congregation to help them get headed in the right direction, and get square about good doctrine, and to offer these very new congregations support from their mother church.

While on his listening tour, he performs one miracle in each city that makes a big difference. Each miracle is performed for one specific person. Each miracle requires Peter to come to them, instead of them seeking out Peter for help. Of course, it would be hard for the dead person to go anywhere as Tabitha was…but still..Peter comes to these people in need. But Peter comes to these people, in their homes, in their rooms, to perform the miracles.

Each miracle intervenes in what is assumed to be a hopeless situation. Aeneas was completely bedbound for 8 years the Scripture says. In other words, people had given up hope of him getting better. Tabitha or Dorcas, both names mean “Gazelle”, was dead.

Each miracle is not simply to benefit the person receiving the healing. Each miracle builds up the community and church as a whole. A bunch of people came to believe because Aeneias was healed.

With Tabitha, there is more detail. You see, Tabitha lived her life as a blessing to others. She took care of widows, who were the poorest of the poor in the ancient world. She made and gave them clothes to wear. She was, as a matter of fact, the leader of the church of the outreach to those in need. She was known for being charitable to numbers of people.

Peter was called to her. The women were all grieving at her house. It was a mad house. All of these poor women were carrying tunics and dresses and all sorts of clothes that Tabitha made for them.

We don’t realize what a big deal this is today. We can run to a second hand store or Family Dollar or Walmart and buy clothes fairly inexpensively. Not so in the days of Tabitha. Most people had one garment to wear. Maybe two. Yet, Tabitha was making these women who did not have anything clothes. And beautiful clothes at that. Clothes that they could be proud of.




The house is a madhouse. Peter asks everyone to leave to room. He tells Tabitha to wake up. She opens her eyes. She sees Peter sitting there. She quickly sits up. There is more work God has for her to do after all!

Her life is extended. The widows and destitute receive their leader and caretaker back from the dead. The churches compassionate ministry goes on. The church’s reputation grew. Many people came to the Lord.

What you need to learn from Peter’s ministry with the church in Joppa and Lydda through miracles is this: YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN. YOU HAVE HOPE. GOD IS LOOKING TO, IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, INTERVENE IN YOUR SITUATION. IN YOUR LIFE.

So often it is easy to believe that we are just stuck. Our health declines, and we forget that as long as we have breathe, and as long as we have life, God has a purpose for us. WE ARE NEVER GOD FORSAKEN. WE ALWAYS MATTER TO GOD.

So often we feel trapped. We believe that our choices or circumstances have led us to an undesirable and inescapable future. You don’t have to feel that way. God wants to strengthen you. God wants to heal you. God offers you new life. God offers you new hope. God offers you a new heart. WILL YOU TRUST HIM?

We can also see that God had a plan for each of the churches that Peter visited. They would never be the same. Nor should they ever be.

Sometimes, when we live in a place where there is a slower pace of life, where things don’t change very fast, it can be hard to see and understand how the Holy Spirit works within people, how God is growing us as individuals, and how God is working in our congregation. We wonder what God is doing. But if you pay attention you can see God’s hand at work all around you. In the slow but steady change of a person’s heart. Through the growing joy in an otherwise dour acquaintance. Through a new visitor attending on Sunday morning. Through a significant conversation with someone that you never really expected. Be assured that he is at work. Like God’s healing power in this story, God is coming toward us, offering us new hope and the opportunity for new growth and new life. He is not leaving us to our own devices. God is coming into our lives, our churches, our homes, our rooms with his gift of healing and hope. We just need to open our eyes to see it. Amen.

Lessons Learned--First Week

I have been doing this weight watchers thing with Jennifer for 5 days now. Here are my initial observations:

About the method
I really enjoy the method of weight watchers online. I am able to manage it much the same as I might manage my budget. I have so many points that I am given for the day, and I am asked to keep my "spending" within that a certain limit. I am also given extra points for a given week, which function as a small "cheat" to the diet as you go along.

For me, it is really helpful to view what I eat or don't eat in terms of "cost". I want a candy bar, but I have to ask myself, "How many points will that cost? Is it worth it?" I think it is helpful to view things this way. Because in some very real ways what we eat or do not eat does cost us. Thus, the system works to train you in eating the right things, and not just the right amount of things.

One of the most surprising things to me is how much of a role fiber plays in how much points something has. If something has a lot of fiber, then you should eat a lot of it, because its points will be minimized.

The diet trains you to eat the "right" things. Most fruits and veggies have zero points, and thus cost nothing against your diet.

Each diet is individualized based upon gender and weight, which I also think is interesting. I weigh more than my wife, so I am allowed more points. As I lose weight, my points are reduced. Weight watchers is shrinking my stomach and my appetite based on where I am at, and gradually helping me lose weight without starving me. I like that. I think it is better at producing life change.

On My Thinking

I am not sure my thinking is changing as much as I might have hoped. I thinking that say, in a year or so, when I am done with my WW journey, that I will be able to have a montser cheeseburger with fries. Or go to a pizza buffet. Or have a chicken bacon ranch sub sandwich. It is probably better to put these things behind me, but I have yet to do so.

On the other hand, I think a dietary change like this is something I could work with long term. I am not starving. I get the munchies, but I have not been hungry.

For once tomorrow I am eager to go to the scale and see if I have had any results. We will see how that goes...

Thursday, January 06, 2011

From the Dailys: From Verse and Voice by Soujourners

"Because we cannot see Christ we cannot express our love to him; but our neighbors we can always see, and we can do for them what, if we saw him, we would like to do for Christ."
- Mother Teresa

From the Dailys: Quote from Common Prayer


Prayer from the end of my devotional Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.


May the peace of the Lord go with you, wherever he may send you

may he guide you through the wilderness: protect you in the storm

may he bring you home rejoicing: at the wonders he has shown you

may he bring you home rejoicing: once again into our doors


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

From the Dailys: Quote from St. Francis


I also admonish and exhort those who preache to use well-chosen and chaste words that are practical and edifying. And let them point out what is evil and what is virtuous, what merits punishment and what leads to eternal glory. And let your discourse be brief, because the Lord's words were few when he was on earth.

St. Francis, Rule of 1223, Chapter iX

(From through the year with St. Francis, p. 25)

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

New Steps in the New Year

Generally, I have tried to avoid placing personal goals and aspirations on this blog. The thought process behind this decision being that although I would welcome some accountability through this blog, I generally do not like self-appointed accountability partners. And there is always that one person who decides to bring up my goals and be my self appointed mentor. Or there is that one person completely invested in my success when I set goals that then gets depressed when I do not accomplish all that I hope to.

Right now, I have decided that these reasons are not good enough reasons not to share some of my goals. Even if by sharing them I am exposed as a failure and a loser in the next few months, I think I am going to use this blog as a place to talk about some of my goals and aspirations for 2011 and beyond.

Tonight I am finishing off some soda and pizza, and that is because Jennifer and I are beginning a 3 month trial membership to weight watchers, and I need my last fix before I have to get on the wagon. My goal is to drop 8 lbs a month until I meet my long term goals. I have never done weight watchers. While Jennifer is going to meetings, I am doing my stuff online at home. We will see how it works. We have also set up our 15 commandments of our diet that we are planning on sticking to.

Tomorrow: some learning and study goals