Fearing God

Why is it so quiet? consciousness nags as I emerge from the fog of sleep.  In the still dead of night I can usually hear the kids breathing in the next room.  My feet search for the floor as the first rush of cool air hits and I escape from the warmth of our blankets.  I’ll just go check on them.  A quick glance at the clock reveals it’s 10 till morning anyway.  I head out in the direction of the door through blackness as thick as tar, the curse of night-blindness.  In the seconds between standing and reachng the saving nightlight of the hallway I wrestle unseen demons.  Am I going to step on anything that was carelessly left in my path?  Is there anyone else here?  Why can’t I see the hall light yet?

As I pass through the door, cold blue nightlight penetrates the lost dark place in my mind.  Ah,  better.  I enter Jared’s room and sit on the low sided bed.  I run my hand up and bring it down until it brushes the top of his head lightly.  There he is, my hand gently passes over his face.  The mixture of his soft breathing and warm skin let me know everything’s ok.  Thank you God for keeping him safe.  Every day of my children’s life is a gift from You.

But do I mean it or is it just perfunctory? If I dont thank God for my children will He take them away?  He who is all mighty, who has the power to give and take all at will?  How do I know if I please him, or if I will incur his wrath?  Is His justice greater than His love?  What is an appropriate fear of the all powerful but loving God?

 Do you ever wonder?  Lots of people do. We’re going to talk about fearing God this weekend.

Join us: http://www.gracefellowship.com/graceonline.html, Sunday at 9 and 11AM.

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Post Christmas Blues

The week after Christmas was one of my favorite until a friend of mine ruined it for me!(just kidding, read his post here: The Week After Christmas Sucks).

I do like this week, there is something about the letdown after Christmas and the doldrums of the last week of the year mixed with the anticipation of the new year and the coming of new things that brings me to a reflective place. A place where I remember the goodness of God in the past year and begin to look forward to the challenges of the new year. For me, the weeks following Christmas resets and prepares m

One way to prevent the post Christmas blues is to plan for the holidays in stride. Many people add a ton of stress to their lives preparing for Christmas, what if we just didn’t do this? Instead, maybe we should actually slow down for advent and reflect on the incredible importance of this time in history and in our lives. Does giving have to mean primarily shopping? What if we practiced living what we know is a right life for advent? This might be the best present we can give to our loved ones.

Advent is meant to be a joyful time of year, but very often it is the most stressful time of year for too many people. Mabey post Christmas blues are a sign that something’s wrong?

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I’ll be home for Christmas

Christmas is our holiday that we enjoy together as a family at home. This year we got up around 8AM and had breakfast together, spent some time talking about the meaning of Christmas and opened presents together. We don’t do a lot of presents; a couple stocking stuffers and a couple presents. We spent the rest of the morning together enjoying the blessing of family.
In the afternoon, I headed over to Grace to be a part of the phone prayer team for our Christmas broadcast and Christa took Jaz and Jared to see Mim. Jaz played her viola for the nursing home, which they loved.
We had about 100 (roughly) calls from the Grace Christmas broadcast. I believe the calls were a blessing not only for those who called in, but also for the prayer team.
We spent the evening with Bryan and Jamie, our extended family 🙂 and headed out for Buffalo on Monday morning to spend some time with Christa’s family. Family is my favorite gift.

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The cross thats not on our wall

Have you ever wondered why, unlike some churches, Grace doesn’t prominently display a cross on the sanctuary?  In the lobby? On the outside of the building?  After all, the cross is the symbol of our religion, right?

I recently intercepted a great response that pastor Rex sent to someone who was asking a similar question:

I was tempted to thank you for your kind words, and just send a quick note saying “No. We’re definitely not ashamed of the cross. But thanks for asking.” But I thought it might be better to give a more extended response to offer, what I hope will be, some helpful input on the subject of the cross. You did indicate you would like to hear from me on this most important matter.

I like the three or four messages I’ve heard from Mr. Yousef. But if it is true that Michael Yousef and others are making statements about churches setting aside the cross because they do not want to offend anyone, those statements sound a bit naïve to me, and overly simplistic. At the very least, they do not resonate with my experience.

The churches I would be more concerned about are those that keep crosses prominently displayed but no longer believe in the efficacy or power of what Jesus accomplished at the cross. They are perpetuating a symbol but no longer believe in the substance behind the symbol. That sort of duplicity is what I feel we should warn people about. Those are the churches that are trying not to offend anyone. They are hypocritical because they still display the symbol but no longer believe in what the symbol is supposed to represent.

I’ve preached and taught in hundreds (no exaggeration, literally hundreds) of evangelical churches over the past 37 years (especially during my college, Seminary, and the Billy Graham years), and I’ve not seen any evangelical church without a cross that is ashamed of what happened at the cross. Usually, if the symbol of a cross is not prominently displayed in the church facility, it is because the leaders are concerned about people being in love with the symbol of the cross but not in love with the Savior who died on a cross. So, the leaders courageously challenge tradition. They challenge the fact that many people see the cross as a magic talisman or a lucky rabbit’s foot that will make life go better and ward off evil. That is mostly what I’m concerned about. I’ve discovered that the more enamored people are with the symbol, generally speaking, the less they have a profound understanding of the substance behind the symbol. They get so upset when a symbol is removed because a symbol is all they have. They have little or no substance. So, if in challenging a shallow understanding of the cross and encouraging people to think more deeply, I end up offending some people, so be it. I think Jesus wants people to understand what He accomplished at the cross, not just see the cross as a comforting symbol.

I realize that most of us grew up, whether Protestant or Catholic, with crucifixes and/or crosses in our church facilities. As with most traditions, we never stopped to ask, “Where did this practice start?” and “Is this a ‘biblical thing’ or a ‘tradition thing’”? In other words, are we commanded in the Bible to do this or, is this simply something we started doing in Church history but we really have no biblical reason for it?

I’m suggesting that whether a local church chooses to put a cross on top of their building or in their building or all over their building is not an inherently good or bad decision. I applaud those churches that display crosses and do their best to teach people the true meaning of the cross. I have no issue with that. Nor do I have an issue with churches who choose to de-emphasize the symbol a bit, yet still aggressively and boldly teach the meaning and message behind the cross.

If you are familiar with my “three circles” talk, whether one hangs a cross or not would be in the third circle called “preferences”. Those are issues where, not only do we not have a command in Scripture to do it, Scripture does not say anything about hanging crosses up in our church buildings. For that matter, Scripture doesn’t say anything about church buildings. ? Temples and synagogues … yes … but not Christian Church buildings.

Let me quickly add that what Jesus accomplished at the cross and empty tomb is of supreme importance. Obviously without His atoning death and blood sacrifice on the cross, we have no way to be forgiven of our sins. His once-for-all sacrifice of His own life at the cross outside of Jerusalem is definitely an essential (first circle) issue and without it one no longer has historical, biblical Christianity.  If any person claiming to be a Christ-follower or any local church claiming to be orthodox is ashamed of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross, by definition, it would be difficult to call that person a Christian or that church a Christian church. Grace Fellowship is not ashamed of what Jesus did for us at the cross, and that is why I proclaim it boldly on a regular basis. If people are offended by that, again, so be it. We will never be ashamed of the message of the cross.

So, if hanging crosses in our church facilities or from our necks is not a right or wrong issue, then why not do it? My guess is that in the various Grace Fellowship Campuses some will have crosses prominently displayed and some may not. But hopefully we will always remember that putting up crosses is simply a tradition from church history, not a biblical command.

In short, I want people to ask questions like you have asked, so that wholesome and healthy dialogue follows. I want real Christ-followers, like you, to think through just about everything they are doing and ask “why”? “Is this biblical or is this tradition?” This does not mean that we can’t do things in the twenty-first century unless they were practiced by the first century church, or unless they are commanded in Scripture (that would be very limiting indeed). But I do believe we ought to learn how to discern what is important, what is really important, and what is not so important.

So, let me quickly wrap up. The cross, as a symbol, doesn’t save anybody. Our faith in what Jesus accomplished on the cross (and the empty tomb, etc.) is what God honors to save us. The finished work of Christ is the basis of our salvation. We are not ashamed of that and never will be. You can count on that.

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Noise

Billy Graham said it best: “A generation ago, the question was ‘what is truth?’ Today, the question is ‘what’s the point?’” People are busy, skeptical, bombarded, and life is hard. They’re looking for answers that make a real difference in their lives. The value we provide grows in direct proportion to how easily people can find and say yes to their next step.

-Kem Meyers

http://kemmeyer.com/2011/11/why-less-clutter-less-noise-makes-sense-in-my-mind/

The enemy of clarity is noise – noise is anything that distracts from clarity.  Noise prevents us from seeing (visual noise) or hearing the primary message.  At Grace the primary message is the big idea, that topic we want to focus on each week.  The big idea defines the rythm of our church life, it is where we are going together, it allows to stay in step with one another.  This is why we are diligent in lining up our promotions with the big idea each week.  If we are going to promote something, we want to know it is going to be heard and add to the big idea (so the big idea is not lost in the noise of promotions).

We want grace to be a place that adds value to people’s lives; the last thing we want to do is bombard people with ever more information that they arent ready to or dont have a means to process today.  We aren’t doing it perfectly yet, but we will continue to improve.  Thanx Jeff (Grace’s Communications Director) for constantly challenging us to evaluate if we are doing this well!

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Boycott what?

A post on the Occupy Black Friday website claims the campaign is not an attempt to punish “small businesses or hardworking people.”

“We must make a distinction between the businesses that are in the pockets of Wall Street and the businesses that serve our local communities,” the site said.

According to the folks at Occupy Black Friday, these offenders include Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Burlington Coat Factory and GameStop.

The group is urging people to take their pick — either “occupy” the stores, or boycott them.

“Any holiday shopping we do this day will be at independent shops to support local economies and the 99% as a whole!” the group’s Facebook page says.

Read more: http://nation.foxnews.com/black-friday/2011/11/25/occupiers-target-black-friday#ixzz1ejAQreiS

I have been loosely following and reading about the occupy movement for a while now.  As many people know, i am a propenent of peaceful antagonism as means of change.  That said, i have been growing more critical of the occupy movement.

The basic premise of the occupy movement started out something like “we dont want large companies having more influence in politics than the average person”.  Which, though fundamentally flawed in its understanding of influence, is not a bad cause.  The problem is that the cause has not been well established and is nearly lost to the rally cry of “big business is unfair, they should be sharing their wealth with all of us”, which is fundamentaly flawed in every aspect of democracy – which is the original stated goal of the movement.

The above post from Fox news points out what is wrong with the movement.  The businesses that are “in the pocket of wall street” are all those businesses that are publicly owned.  If they are publicly owned, that means that many of us have stock in these companies and benefit from their profit.  Additionally, these publicly owned corporations employ millions of people – many of them our friends and family members.  Finally, the top 1% of the wealthy (which is the target for the occupy movement) employ or do business with the other 99% of the population.  What exactly is the movement calling for?  Higher taxes on the wealthiest – to make it fair for those who dont have as much money.

Let’s think about this; we want to take money from producers and give it to the government.  This is flawed in so many ways it hurts my head to think about it.

  • We want to take money from the entities that have been phenominal at creating wealth?  What do we think these companies do with that wealth?  Do we think its in a billion mason jars in their back yards??  They employ people and buy products!  That makes the rest of us money, either via our salaries or by profit on the products and services we produce and sell.  Taking money away from the wealthy will negativley impact the middle class, as there will be less money to be spent on the products and services we create and less jobs.
  • Democracy is rooted in free market.  Why do we think there is incredible wealth in our country??  It’s not because the government generates it, it’s because everyone of us has the chance to do what the public companies are doing!  Everyone of us has the  opportunity to start our own company and build it into a mega corporation.  Everyone of us has the opportunity to buy and sell with whomever we wish.  What if we stop spending all our energy camping out on public property, looking for public hand outs and start a few more businesses?  Oh, by the way, we can also purchase products from the smaller more expensive companies if we wish – why dont we?  First, because that actually impacts us – we dont want to spend more, we just want more.  Second because many small companies are not innovative enough to compete. Instead of finding ways to provide better service than the mega corporations they just get beat up because they cant compete on price.  When they are innovative, they generally grow into large companies – which is the target of the occupy movement.
  • We want to give money to the governement?  Really?? The same body that cant balance a budget and has racked up over a trillion dollars in debt??  News flash friends:  if the government gets more money from the rich, we (the “non-wealthy”) will still pay the same amount in taxes.  There is no benefit to the general middle class family for higher taxes on the wealthiest.  The lost revenue of the wealthy companies that goes to taxes will also impact you.  It will cause the larger companies to raise prices (by the way, if you didnt realize it, almost all wholesalers are larger companies).  This means you will pay more regardless of where you shop, because small businesses will also pay more to produce their product and services.  This is called inflation.  And where did the extra money go?  We gave it to the government.  So, now we are paying more, have higher inflation, have lower incentive to take the huge risks that create wealth and have a fatter government with even more power to raise debt and waste the wealth we all worked hard to create.

How is that progress?

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Craziness

Wow, the last months been a whirlwind!
Christa has started teaching again full time, Jaz and Jared are both in their school play. Jaz is in chamber choir. And we’ve been trying to have the house cleaned / repaired after a furnace malfunction that left black, oily soot everywhere.
Add to that some significant changes at Grace: we hired a pastor of discipleship, a new director of children’s ministry ( which I have been filling in the interim), did a reorganization of existing team leads, produced a Christmas broadcast for network television and launched a campaign to expand into 2 more sites in the next 2 years.
Craziness! 🙂 But I am feeling pretty good about where we are now, ready to move forward and most of this years big changes in motion.
Tim Owens joined our staff team in September as the Pastor of Spiritual Development. In this role, Tim will lead group life, bible classes, One-on-one and any other “Christian community” initiatives we undertake.
Will Barbarczy has joined our team to take on KC. Will will lead all children and family initiatives at Grace, starting November 14.
I am really looking forward to working with our new team of leaders and the things we will accomplish this year!

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Who has gone before us?

A couple weeks ago i was at a dinner party with my wife.  There i met a gentlemen in his mid 80’s.  I spent the better part of the evening listening to and talking with him.  I was enthralled.  I left our conversation distressed, as it was a truly enjoyable conversation, much more so than i could have ever imagined yet it left me sad.  It took me till today to figure out what was bothering me.

As I stood at my dad’s grave this afternoon i was once again overwhelmed with the reality that he is gone.  I used to love listening to my dad’s stories, sometimes they had lessons, sometimes they were just fun. What ever the story, it left me with a sense of peace and security that all was well.  I dont think i realized how much i’ve missed that until the dinner party a couple weeks ago.  I am somehow held spellbound by someone who has gone before me, has lived to tell about it and is wiling to share their story.  Not just any story, but their story.  The story of their life, their journey, the good and the tough times. To know they have triumphed and emerged on the other side to be able to share the story gives me hope and peace.  It is the subtle lesson that life’s gonna be ok, no matter how tumultuous today seems.  

I believe as we lead we need someone who has gone before us.  God has challenged leaders to make decisions and though we can and should get wise counsel, the weight of the decision is sitll the leaders to bear.  You can’t delegate the responsibility for consequences by asking  “what choice should i make” and then blaming the outcome on the person who gave you the advice.  We can listen to the wisdom of others who have had to make decisions and see the outcomes of those decisions though.  I learned this from my dad.  I would never listen when he told me what to do, but he would have my undivided attention when he told me what he did and what the outcomes was.  In this way i learned to take responsiblilty for my actions.

My dad has been gone for years now and my life has changed.  i want to ask him about raising my kids, about my relationship with my wife and about having people rely on my decisions and the impact of a bad decision on others.  I have never had another mentor like my dad and i suppose it’s unrealistic to think i ever will, yet i have  a new hope in the ability to learn from those who have gone before me and will definately go out of my way to listen to the stories of those who are farther down the road.

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Its been a while

Hi Dad,
Here i am, at your feet again. I need your wisdom. I need you to sit and talk like we used to. I am confused and strugling. You are the only mentor i’ve ever had that really knew me. That could see through the smile and the calm. That could see the fighting on the inside and i didnt mind because i knew you understood. Who do i turn to now? Who could ever know me like that again? Yes, there is God, but even when i couldnt feel his hand yours would be on my shoulder and it was ok. For a man who spoke so little, you taught me so much.
So here i am at your feet again. I have decisions to make and people relying on me. I wish i could hear your voice now. I miss you so much.

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Who’s your daddy?

If someone asked your kids about you what would they say?  Do they know what you do? What impression do you leave on them?

A brutal statistic suggests that fathers have less than 5 minutes of meaningful conversation with their kids each day.  This is sad.  We as fathers are responsible for our children growing up healthy in mind and spirit as well as body, this can not be done if they don’t know who we are and what we stand for.

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