Thursday, December 31, 2009

40 day Discipleship Dare begins

I will be blogging almost everyday for the next 40 days as I go through the Discipleship Dare together with a group of bloggers. The book was written by Jess Bousa and is an outstanding way to start the year or just get yourself in gear with a stronger walk.
Here is post number one:
I was struck by Jess' statement concerning Jesus' choice of disciples: "He did not pick them because they were qualified. If they were qualified for the job, they would not have been working as ordinary fishermen. They would have already been following a teacher of the law (a rabbi)."
I think that their locale in remote Galilee probably limited their access to many rabbis. Jerusalem was crawling with rabbis, but Galilee was known for fishing and agriculture, not theology. It was a lesser place, far from the center of things. I can relate to this as I have always ministered in obscure places.
Today's devotion also speaks of physical training by Marines before they enter active service. There are certain standards of physical development that must be met. I was thinking that sometimes older marines can fall out of shape because they are not required to keep as fit as the younger Marines. Has this happened to me? After serving for 27 years and receiving some "promotions" have I fallen out of shape for the mission? Am I a chair warrior?
I recommit to staying in peak spiritual condition (maybe the physical part will follow), and to follow my Rabbi more closely.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hiding Messiah

When Jesus entered the world there was apparently a cat and mouse game going on between the friends of God who were waiting expectantly for Messiah to come, and the enemies of God who wanted to eliminate Him.

The magi were friends of God who were sincerely searching for Him and came to King Herod, hoping he could help them:

Matthew 2:1-3 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him." When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

Herod was an enemy of God and asked the magi to return when they found this King so he could go and worship him also. In reality, the murderous Herod would later send a death squad on a rampage in hopes of killing Messiah, who had already escaped to Egypt with His parents.

Jesus was incarnate in the uterus of Mary for nine months before He was born. It is wonderfully poignant that the Lord chose to hide Jesus from those who would do Him harm in the single most unlikely place on earth- the womb of a virgin!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

No straight lines

I searched one day but could not find any straight lines on earth. Among the animals, the trees, the flowers, the multitudes of fish, and birds, even people, I searched in vain for anything in nature that was purely aligned.
I found plenty of things that were pretty straight. Mighty redwoods, a bird's beak, mountain ridges, teeth, even flower stems and blades of grass. But none of them were completely straight in mathematical terms. None of them qualified in my eyes.
I wondered and then realized that this is as it should be. God alone is completely straight. His creation, especially considering the fall, is filled with anomalies and imperfections. We have knots in trees, bumpy noses, jagged seashores. Our ways are crooked, His way is straight. But there was more.
Sitting on the rocks of a jetty on my native Long Island’s south shore one day I discovered not one but two straight lines in the seascape before me. They remain the only two straight lines I have ever noticed in the natural realm, though neither is actually located on terra firma itself.
First, I saw that the place where the water meets the sky was perfectly straight. The horizon, the unreachable fabled place always in the distance, always just out of reach, was perfectly straight. I think God is there.
Then just a few moments later, as I was still taking in this truth of the horizon, I saw another straight line. In fact, I saw lots of them. Through the clouds dozens of sunbeams came cascading down from heaven in perfectly straight lines that were miles long. There was no effort, they were just there.
Our heavenly father remains the only source of straightness in a crooked world. The beams did not start at the earth’s crust and fly upward, but came downward to us from Him.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Kingdom synergy- boundless

This is a follow up post about the need for a church plant in the Lower Anthracite Coal Region between Hazleton and Shamokin:

I was on my way to Bethlehem today and met Todd Dewire for breakfast. He pastors the Foursquare church in Frackville. There is a young man in Teen Challenge right now who I met this weekend and he is from Todd's church.
Todd is a former missionary to Honduras, 50 years old. He has an older Pentecostal church of about 30 faithful saints, and is looking to open a church plant in the Frackville Mall. Sounds like a stretch, but his heart is right. He just needs resources.
Is this an answer to our prayers concerning the tremendous need for healthy churches in the small coal towns of this region? Is this an opportunity for selfless kingdom synergy?
I invited him to our Catalyst group since we had been on a prayer journey through that area. He will share his heart with our guys and we will pray for kingdom growth there.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The hard and the soft

A common question I get during the summer season when I stop at my favorite ice cream places and ask for a chocolate cone is "Hard or soft?" I always opt for the soft and add colored sprinkles. It's been that way for almost 50 years.

My dear wife Faith, of nearly 28 years now, and I have a running dialog (sometimes soft and sometimes hard) about the nature of God and the best approach to winning people to Jesus. I have always opted for the soft, while she leans to the hard approach.

While the discussion has gotten heated at times, we have learned to appreciate our differences and recognize God has used both approaches through the centuries to accomplish His goals and build His church. Her approach is from the prophetic motivation (black and white), while mine is more of a teaching and serving gift (grayscale).

Recently I posted an Alexander Maclaren quote as my Twitter update, “If you would win the world, melt it, do not hammer it.” Her response on Facebook was atypical "Jer. 4:3, "Break up your fallow ground, And do not sow among thorns" & verse 4 is even heavier. Sometimes a hammer is needed. I was hammered & I praise God 4 it or I would never have been saved......."

My retort was "I agree Babe, but it's the Lord's hammer, not mine. I welcome the Lord's hammer! His word is a hammer. I will extend my hand to the poor, and love my neighbor as myself, and like Jesus I come to serve and "go about doing good." All this while walking in the Spirit and loving God with all my heart. All in hopes that the Lord would use it to melt hard hearts. Romans 2:4 "Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?"

and so it goes...

I have seen God use my wife in some incredible ways to reach people that I never could with her strong words without compromise. At the same time, she sees the impact my teaching and serving heart have had in my efforts to exemplify the ways of my Lord.
Romans 12:6-8 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

How has God used you, which way do you lean hard or soft?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Road trip Prayer Journey

The Shamokin area Catalyst pastors took a prayer journey through the deepest part of the lower anthracite coal region in central Pennsylvania this week. They returned with a great sense of the need for some solid, healthy Bible believing churches in this area.
Travelling with Rich Earl and Rodney Murphy were Dale Hill, Scott Gray, Kerry Bingaman and Steve Wise.The group began by driving down Rte 61 through the small coal cities of Mt Carmel and then Centralia (the town that is burning underground) and onto Ashland, Girardville, Shenandoah, Mahanoy City, and Gilberton and ended in Frackville, where we ate and talked over the journey. Population in just these towns totals over 40,000, including the small patches of homes in between. Add in the surrounding communities and the population reaches 60,000 or more, with nary a growing church in sight.
In Shenandoah and Mahanoy City we went two by two prayer walking and asked the Lord to help us discern the needs of the cities, and to send a church planter to bring the Gospel.In one city of just 8,000 we saw 8 Roman Catholic churches, most of which have been closed. In another town we saw 12 churches of all denominations, 8 of which have been closed.
The high unemployment rates, brain drain, high dropout, teen pregnancy rates as well as child abuse rates do not make this region a hot spot to attract industry or even church planters. The culture here is unique, and requires extra grace. The question is "What does the Lord see?". We will continue to seek the Lord, asking Him to send a team to plant a church or two in this area. It will take extraordinary commitment and wisdom to do so effectively. The need is great and the Lord loves the people of the coal region. Would you pray with us?
Luke 10:2 Then He said to them, "The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Crosses Burned in Shamokin

The Coal Region has a rich history of hard work, sacrifice and perseverance. There is also a historic melding of many cultures. Immigrants from as many as 26 distinct people groups came together in the Anthracite region to work as hard as any people have ever worked to make a life for themselves, and they did it with a high degree of acceptance and cooperation against all odds.
That heritage is being threatened, if the most recent reports of cross burnings prove true. The recent influx of African-Americans and Latinos has caused anxiety, and some appear to be taking matters into their own hands. That has never worked too well here in America, as we continue to live down our history of lynchings, the KKK shenanigans, Jim Crow laws and more. We had a short spell of skinhead activity in our area in the late 90's that produced nothing good.
This should be a wakeup call especially for the church. It was crosses that they burned! That is an affront to God and to His church. We are in a battle for our community. If we fail to be salt and light then the darkness will prevail, whether it is coming from intruding gang members, or from an angry native populace. We must be vigilant in prayer as well as good works and vocal opposition to evil.
The church must break loose from the paralyzing delusion that nothing has changed. Many churches continue to function as they did 50 years ago without recognizing that the local culture has been in a death spiral. If we do not actively engage everyone who will listen with the life changing message of Jesus Christ then the church in this community will become more and more irrelevant with each passing year.
It is plain...
Matthew 5:13-16 (MSG)
"Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. "Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Road trip to a forgotten place

Having been in the Lower Anthracite Coal Region for 11 years, I have become aware of a spiritual vacuum in the area between Shamokin and Hazleton.This area is filled with many small coal villages that have been deteriorating for decades. Places like Ringtown, Sheppton, Ashland, Frackville, Shenandoah, Mahanoy City, Hometown and Gilberton. They constitute a forgotten region, but are still populated with tens of thousands of souls. My research indicates that the Pentecostal witness in these towns in almost non-existent, and the church as a whole there is desperately ineffective in presenting the Gospel. The darkness and misery are almost palpable. Our hearts should ache with missionary zeal for these folks.
I recently received a call from a Christian man in one of these towns (Macedonia?) on an unrelated matter. When he realized I was a Pentecostal pastor he began to share his frustration in being unable to find a healthy spirit-filled church anywhere near his home. I knew of some good churches, but they were at least a half hour away. He and his wife are disabled.
Our Catalyst group will be taking a road trip through this region in May. We'll be piling into our church van to chase a dream that God would send someone to break some new and difficult ground. The purpose of the trip is to birth vision and hear from God as we pray and take in the view. We will see abandoned coal structures, blighted cities, and we may even see a place that is literally burning underground (Centralia). We will engage the people and begin a conversation to get a sense of the cost involved to break the stronghold there. Darkness retreats when faced with the light.Resources, human and otherwise, are hard to come by in these parts. The brain drain that Pennsylvania has experienced for the past decade or two began here in the 1960's. The outlook is bleak and a church planter looking for obviously fertile ground will not find it here. Breaking through will involve toil, commitment, sacrifice and wisdom.
We tend to see white harvest fields where the population trends are moving up. I wonder is that what God sees? I am of the opinion that God delights to show Himself in such places. Where is the light more appreciated than in a desperately dark place.
I will update this blog when we return from the trip.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What will become of churches?

" the decline of religious adherence in the U.S. a sign of the death of evangelicalism? Or is it an opportunity for the gospel?"

A recent blog post on Out of Ur addresses the recent decline and coming collapse of Evangelicalism in America. The number of people claiming no religious affiliation has doubled since 1990.

The climate for evangelism has shifted dramatically since 1990. It has been a quantum leap and is accelerating. The need to plant churches in this new culture, and to reconfigure/revitalize existing churches is a herculean task.
Churches that stand still and fail to respond will appear more and more like relics unable to fulfill their missionary call. What is God asking us to do in this environment? Will America end up a hostile mission field like Europe?

What do you think?

"Whatever becomes of churches, the Church of Christ shall never have its strength so sapped by abuses that it must perish, or its lustre so dimmed that the Lord of the Temple must depart from His sanctuary." Alexander MacLaren

Monday, January 05, 2009

Bob Dylan on Israel

from "Infidels" 1983

Dylan wrote some pretty poignant lines about Israel's poor treatment on the world stage that ring true yet today.

Well, the neighborhood bully, he's just one man,His enemies say he's on their land.They got him outnumbered about a million to one,He got no place to escape to, no place to run.He's the neighborhood bully.

The neighborhood bully just lives to survive,He's criticized and condemned for being alive.He's not supposed to fight back, he's supposed to have thick skin,He's supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in.He's the neighborhood bully.

The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land,He's wandered the earth an exiled man.Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn,He's always on trial for just being born.He's the neighborhood bully.

Well, he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized,Old women condemned him, said he should apologize.Then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad.The bombs were meant for him.He was supposed to feel bad.He's the neighborhood bully.

Well, the chances are against it and the odds are slimThat he'll live by the rules that the world makes for him,'Cause there's a noose at his neck and a gun at his backAnd a license to kill him is given out to every maniac.He's the neighborhood bully.

He got no allies to really speak of.What he gets he must pay for, he don't get it out of love.He buys obsolete weapons and he won't be deniedBut no one sends flesh and blood to fight by his side.He's the neighborhood bully.

Well, he's surrounded by pacifists who all want peace,They pray for it nightly that the bloodshed must cease.Now, they wouldn't hurt a fly.To hurt one they would weep.They lay and they wait for this bully to fall asleep.He's the neighborhood bully.

Every empire that's enslaved him is gone,Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon.He's made a garden of paradise in the desert sand,In bed with nobody, under no one's command.He's the neighborhood bully.

Now his holiest books have been trampled upon,No contract he signed was worth what it was written on.He took the crumbs of the world and he turned it into wealth,Took sickness and disease and he turned it into health.He's the neighborhood bully.

What's anybody indebted to him for?Nothin', they say.He just likes to cause war.Pride and prejudice and superstition indeed,They wait for this bully like a dog waits to feed.He's the neighborhood bully.

What has he done to wear so many scars?Does he change the course of rivers?Does he pollute the moon and stars?Neighborhood bully, standing on the hill,Running out the clock, time standing still,Neighborhood bully.