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Mixed drinks and floating the river

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Well, here we go again, serving up a few mixed drinks while hoping the kick from the mixture will win over the American public.

It’s the same old kool aid that’s been served to “we the people” over the past four years.

First you blend together a cup of religious rhetoric, mixed with two cups of political jargon and throw in a few ounces of selective social sentences and there you have it – the same old “nothing.”

But we’re supposed to drink it like a glass of warm milk before bedtime and rest easy because the government is in control and we’re all better off for it.

The only proper snack to serve up with such a mixed drink is two slices of stale bread and a bunch of bologna.

It doesn’t sound right when it comes out of their mouths and, like the fast food sandwich I recently consumed for a late-day lunch, it’s even worse once it lies in your stomach for a little while.

The recent bombings that killed one of our distinguished diplomats and a couple of other Americans brought out the comments from both sides and quite frankly, both sides should have done a little better job at checking the ingredients rather than just slinging something together and serving it up.

President Obama says that, as Americans, we respect all religions.

Sounds good, but it would have sounded a lot better had there been a hint of truth to his statement.

We are to respect the Muslim faith while at the same time Christianity has become the brunt of jokes, the criticism of many of our government officials, and, because Christians have certain beliefs, have become tagged as hate-mongers, bigots and fanatics.

Besides, since when do we owe our respect to those who use their religion to incite violence like what happened on Sept. 11, 2001 and now again on Sept. 11, 2012?

I haven’t seen the alleged video that has been talked about, which reportedly runs down the Muslim god and I have no intentions of searching the Internet to find it.

I think it should  be condemned, based on the reported content of the video.

But if we’re going to condemn that video, and so we should, then let’s start pulling half the shows off of prime time television that make fun of God and Christianity.

Last Tuesday night’s pilot of a new show didn’t make it five minutes into the program before one guy made fun of another because of the way he was dressed.

According to the scoffer, it would be fine if you were taking your date to a Christian rock concert, but not if you were going out on a real date.

And where were the officials when The Last Temptation of Christ was not only published over the Internet, but played openly in theatres and video? Talk about disrespect to one’s religious beliefs.

And let’s hush the comedians, such as Kathy Giffin and others who make their living publicly bashing God and Christians.   

And on this whole ordeal, presidential candidate Mitt Romney could have, and should have, waited a few minutes before releasing a statement on the issue.

Why not let politics rest for a day while we mourn the deaths of our fellow Americans who were slain in the attack? And why not do what we did before when we gathered our political troops on the steps of our nation’s Capital and prayed for God’s wisdom and intervention?

I’m concerned that the upcoming election will not be based on what’s best for the economy, or how we can get our nation out of debt.

I’m concerned about the fact that it’s not going to be about how we get back to graduating students from our schools who have actually learned something and who are ready to face the world where jobs should be available.

Instead, I’m concerned that the results will be decided by whether or not women are given the right to government-funded abortions at will and whether or not homosexuality will be required to be accepted by all, even if one’s religious faith takes a stand against it.

Yes, I’m concerned that it will be required to be taught in our school systems, as is already being done in many of our school systems across our country, as an accepted alternative lifestyle.

One would already be hard-pressed to find a television show where homosexuality isn’t already portrayed as the new normal.

And I’m concerned that, even in our churches, the kool-aid is becoming a drink of choice.

One thing is for certain – it’s much easier to kick back and relax, sip on a cold glass of kool-aid and float with the tide than it is to paddle against it. The problem is, you’ll simply end up wherever it takes you.  

God is in the eye of the beholder!

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I really do enjoy photography. Not because I’m so good at it as much as the opportunities that photography present to an individual.

Photography is non-biased and is no respecter of persons. Anyone with a camera and a willingness to slow down and notice details can be a photographer, particularly with today’s technology.

Oh I know, most professional photographers will argue the point, and shoot down the idea of just anyone being good at taking a picture.

But the great thing about it is that in an instant, a camera can stop motion in progress, it can capture the smile of an innocent child or allow one to count the wrinkles in an elderly person’s face, knowing that with every wrinkle there is a story to be told.

With a simple point and shoot camera, one can see God in a landscape, or encapsulate His artistry on a beautiful fall morning.

Photography can lift a person’s spirit and grant opportunity for a different perspective on one’s day, or even one’s life.

For with the click of a switch, a challenging, frustrating drive on a wintry day can suddenly be turned into a beautiful scene that exudes earth’s purity even in times when it seems the world we live in has lost all innocence.

How amazing is it to realize that history is captured and documented with the snap of a button? How wonderful to know that a person can be immortalized with a simple photograph.

That’s one of the great realities of photography, to know that one doesn’t have to be a professional in order to enjoy it.

A child with a camera can develop a love for something that could possibly one day lead to an exciting career.

As a pastor who enjoys photography, I can find ways to see God in my everyday course of life.

I can find Him in His very own creation, whether it be a newborn calf when it stands for the first time or a rainbow that sweeps across an afternoon sky.

I become aware of Him when I shoot a picture of a beautiful horse galloping across a field full of greenery.

I can almost hear His heartbeat when I take a photo of a newborn baby and realize that even though death is happening constantly around us, it is from Him that new life springs forth.

And as I see Him in all that is around me, I find that I cannot deny His existence nor can I doubt His power.

Through the eye of a camera, the God of heaven becomes the God of my heart, for not only is He as close as a whisper, but He is a near as the click of a lens.

Suddenly He steps from the pages of His Holy Word and is displayed, surrounded by a frame on the wall of my office or the living room of our home.

I see photography as just one of God’s simple little gifts He gives us, along with an invitation which says, “Come and see me, for on those days when I seem far away, I’m as close as an open heart, and an open lens.


The Right Influence!

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If it seems I am being a proud father, so be it, I guess I am. My daughter Jillian has recently taken a new job and although her new job will take her just a little further from home, still it’s not too far that we can’t go visit pretty much anytime we decide to. But her new job is a better paying job for her, as well as a job that warrants her numerous new and exciting opportunities.

I wrote her a text one day recently telling her how proud I am of her and how her skills, her personality, her ability to conduct herself well during an interview and all the other numerous things that has helped get her to where she has gotten to, including her faithfulness to God. Her response to me was simple and, as far as I was concerned, over the top. She sent back a text that simply said, “Well, you raised me.”

I was suddenly confronted with just how much influence we parents have on our children. I wondered how it would have felt to have heard those words had she not turned out so well. I know that some children who are raised properly still go bad, but for the most part, our parental influences do have a lot to do with our children’s outlook on life, on others, on God and so on.

I couldn’t help but wonder if my “spiritual children” so-to-speak, will one day be able to say the same. As a pastor, will my influence on the flock God has given me be enough that they will be able to say, “Pastor, you raised me (spiritually, of course). Will I have taught them the greatness of God? Will I have taught them the importance of God’s house, His word, prayer, being an example and so on?

The older I get, the more I realize the seriousness of being in ministry. That my influence can lead folks astray if I teach them wrongly, just as it can lead them down the right path if I teach them right. My constant prayer is: “Jesus, let them see Christ in me, for I am as fallible as the next person. That even tho’ I may try, I still have shortcomings, so may I point them to Christ, rather than make it be about me.”

I pray that I might be an example of a Christ-like spirit. The Apostle Paul said we are an “Epistle, read of men daily.”

If I someday get the privilege of standing one day before God and seeing my parishioners stand before Him as well, and if I can hear Him say to them, “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” that they might be able to say, “Pastor, you raised me.”

It’s really not that I want the credit for doing it right, I just really don’t ever want to have to face the reality that maybe I did it wrong, and pointed someone away from Christ instead of to Him.

The Nail and the Tree

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We have a tree in our yard in which some years ago, someone pounded a nail. I’m not sure why the nail was pounded into the tree, possibly for the purpose of hanging something, but for whatever reason, it’s still there all these years later. How do I know it was done years ago? Well, the best evidence is that over the years the tree trunk has grown around the nail so much that it is as if the nail has literally become a part of the tree. I’m not so sure one could just take a hammer out and remove the nail because it has become so much a part of the tree. It is as if the nail has been infused right into the trunk of the tree. Maybe a better word is that it has been “engrafted” into the tree.

Whenever I look at that tree and see that nail, I’m reminded of the scripture tells us of how we have been engrafted into the kingdom of God, or into the body of Christ. Of how the Bible tells us that He (Christ) is the vine and we are the branches. And I think of how that is exactly how I want to be – so engrafted into Christ that I am deemed to be a literal part of Him. It’s interesting that, when I first noticed that nail which had been placed into that tree, for some time, it stood out so blatant to me that it was difficult to see the tree for the nail. But over time, I have found that I have to begin looking to for the nail because all that I see is the tree and not the nail. That, I think, is the way it should be. First people begin to notice me in Christ. And before long, they begin to see Christ in me to the point that they no longer see me, but they see Jesus instead.  In compared to that nail, which I might say is a rather large nail, the tree is still so much larger than the nail.  That nail in the tree, over time has become the tree with the nail in it.

My prayer is just that. That over time, as I have grown “in” Christ, that others would see Christ and not me. For it is “Christ in me, the Hope of Glory.” I think it could be quite appropoe to say as well, for it is ME IN CHRIST, AND THEREFORE I HAVE THAT GLORIOUS HOPE.

I want to be the branch that abides in the vine, the branch that is so engrafted in that it gets its life from the vine for in truth, without Him, I am nothing. Without Him, I am simply a man of faults and failures which others could lay at my charge. I would be a man who stood guilty of every sin I’ve ever committed, noted only for my mistakes and my shortcomings.

But, thanks be to God that I have been engrafted into the vine so that I am no longer visible, but rather Christ is visible instead for I have become such a part of Him, and He has become such a part of me.

I am no longer a man guilty before God, for now, when God looks at me, He sees His Son instead. He sees a man covered by the shed blood of Christ the Redeemer, a man once condemned but now forgiven. A man once guilty, who now stands innocent before God because of the price paid on Calvary by Jesus.

My prayer is that, as I abide in Christ, that I will be so consumed by His presence, and so filled with His Spirit, that others will see Jesus rather than to see me.

New bloggers on the block

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I’m beginning to get a little intimidated by these new bloggers on our church Web site. After all, for years I was the only blogger on the block and now, suddenly we have new bloggers showing up. Bloggers like Linda Staub, former long-term educator for the Hampshire County school system. For years Linda has taught students all about English and drama, as well as journalism. And all of the sudden, that’s supposed to give her the qualifications to write a blog on the Christ Community Church Web site. Okay, so she’s written for over 30 years, and so she was writing before anyone even knew what a “blog” was. And okay, so she has great insights into the area of “Common Sense Christianity” just what makes her so special? Okay, I guess it could be that she and her husband Greg have spent years in ministry, have worked in evangelism all up and down the east coast, midwest and even into Canada. Okay, so what if she has seen about everything that can be seen in Christianity, from the genuine that would move one’s heart toward God to the ridiculously foolish things that can be done by the ridiculously foolish who wouldn’t know God if He showed up and tapped them on the shoulder.

And so what if Linda has spent years (okay, decades) sorting out the scriptural from the nonscriptural and the sacrificial from the selfish? Truthfully, all those years have given Linda the insights into what it takes to live a Common Sense Christianity, walking in the Spirit, living by the truth of God’s Word and cutting through all of the ridiculous and dramatic behaviors that some so-called Christians know to be the “real deal.” Colossians tells us to Beware, lest any man destroy you    through ridiculous philosophies and vain deceits.”

Actually, Linda get down to the Nonsensical, Common Sense Christianity in her blog that helps us to make sense out of the truth of God’s Word. Okay, so I’m intimidated by her writing skills and her insights, so instead of feeling intimidated by her, I’ll just pat my self on the back and call myself a colleague of this great blogger Linda Staub. Yeah, see, there’s always a way of turning it back around to make it all about me – (Although, I’m not sure such a tactic falls under the category of Common Sense Christianity.)

And by the way, Linda Staub isn’t the only blogger I now have to contend with – I also have to deal with her husband Greg, who happens to also be one of the pastors on our pastoral team as well as our Minister of Music. Part of me wants to think it’s a conspiracy, that Linda and Greg are teaming up to make me feel intimidated. I mean, here all of the sudden we have two great bloggers. Along with Linda’s new blog, we have Greg demonstrating his writing skills, writing about praise and worship and other insights about God, church and Christianity. Greg’s style, along with Linda’s is both insightful and with a sense of humor that makes you read til the end because once you start, you can’t lay it down until you’re done.

Okay, so Greg is a licensed minister on our Pastoral Staff at CCC and so he’s probably one of the most amazing musicians around, what’s all that got to do with anything, except bless CCC with the wonderful praise and worship services where God’s people are edified and God is glorified. And so what if his writing skills and his ability to express himself in words makes him a hit on our church Web site as one of our bloggers? Since he is, after all, a fellow pastor with whom we share the platform every Sunday, and one whom I call on for insights and advice from time to time, I guess I’ll look at the situation as a team who works greatly together, sharing God’s vision for our church and working together to win souls to Christ and to encourage Christians to consistently grow stronger in the faith, therefore, I’ll do my best not to feel intimidated but instead, to feel extremely blessed to have his as a brother in Christ, a colleague in the faith and a team member in our church – oh yes, and a fellow blogger whose writing skills I admire as much as I admire Linda’s.

But then there’s Tom and Julie Linger. Skilled, insightful,  a team within their own right, but now part of our team at CCC. Another blog you won’t want to miss. I’ve read their writings. Actually I’ve read all the writings of our new bloggers and can tell you, it would be so easy to be intimidated by their writings. But I know for a fact that not one blogger is working to outdo or outshine any of the others. We’re all just one big team, working to build CCC and God’s kingdom. As the senior pastor of CCC, I am blessed to have great people working with me. From my leadership board, which consists of Jason Ginevan, Kevin Evans, Marvin Bendy, Chad Hott and David Paugh, to every person in our church.

I thank God that there is a group of people at CCC whom God has put in place and to God all glory is given. We’re not in competition with each other, but we are there to be the Aaron’s and the Hurs who are there to lift one another up. We are blessed with to have the ministry of Michael Cheshire and his wife Drema and of course I couldn’t do what I have to do without my wife Myra being right there beside me all the way.

From every teacher to every greeter, from those who work behind the scene to those who work in front, from the ushers to those who clean up every Sunday morning after refreshments are served, I am not actually intimidated by any of them and likewise, I’m not there to intimidate any of them. Because we are a team. The Bible calls us a building, fitly joined together. If you are looking for a place to serve where teamwork is wonderful, where God’s Word is preached, His Spirit is felt and He leads us on a daily basis, NOT JUST SUNDAY MORNINGS, we’d love to have you join us at CCC and meet some of these folks. The folks at CCC are the greatest you’ll ever meet, and I believe that wholeheartedly. Thanks bloggers, for serving God with me as we labor together.

His grace is sufficient

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The Bible tells us t “Boast not of tomorrow, for you don’t know what a day may bring forth.”  How true that is.

I was in prayer meeting at our church Thursday night (7/7/12) when we  heard the fire trucks go by. As usual, we’ll throw in a couple of extra prayers for “those who may be involved in the accident, or fire, or whatever it is that the rescue workers are going to.” Little did I know that the “victim” in this car crash was my sister and it was already too late to pray. The impact with the tractor and trailer she hit reportedly took her life immediately – no second chances.

By the time I was notified, prayer meeting was over and I had a number of people in the sanctuary for a wedding rehersal. Just after praying for God to bless the rehersal, my wife entered the back door of the church and said she needed to see me for a moment. Needless to say, the news was not expected.  We have a brother in the nursing home who has dealt with terminal cancer for some time now. Latest word, he most likely won’t make it thru the weekend. So we expected a possible funeral this week for my brother,  but we sure didn’t expect to be having one for my sister.

How do we get through it? “His Grace Is Sufficient.” You get up in the morning and you put one foot in front of the other and trust that God has turned the sand into a rock for us to stand on. We grab hold of his hand, we feel his tug and we allow ourselves to be lifted out of the pit that life seemingly tried to swallow us up in.

We look for positive things to focus on. We try not to dwell on the details of what happened” and try to focus on the things that will no longer have to happen because she is now home with Jesus. She’ll not have to get up in the middle of the night with the pain she has dealt with for so long. She will not have to worry about another electric bill or wonder where the next meal is coming from.

She’ll no longer cry over worrying about her children or have to miss church  because her body just wouldn’t let her get up and go most times. Sometimes, you may have to look to see God’s grace, but I assure you it’s there. As I said to my wife, “God sure is merciful.”   Heaven is much sweeter than what she had here. For some reason, my sister never had a whole lot in this life – some she brought on herself by bad decisions, some brought on by others and still some, just like in this case, that she never asked for and didn’t deserve.

But we know our sister and believe wholeheartedly that even with all the mistakes and problems she lived through, she talked to God often. As I have heard her say before, “I couldn’t do what I have to do without Him.:”  Apparently her worn-out body took quite a beating from the wreck. (That’s a bad part of this). But, according to sources, she died on impact so she didn’t suffer. In a split second, her appointment with death was decided and carried out. God didn’t ask any of us if it would be ok, He just knew it was her time. She walked out the door to run to Food Lion to get bread for supper, not thinking for one minute that she wouldn’t be returning home. After all, what’s going to happen between Heidi Cooper Road and the grocery store? But her number came up, God called her name and she answered.

In order to step from this life into eternity, the Bible says this mortal body must put on immortality, and this corrupt body must put on incorruption.  Said! Done! Finished! And we, as a family say thanks be to Jesus for his unending grace that is always sufficient.

An early thank you so much to all who have called, send their condolences and such. You are the Aarons and the Hurs who help to hold our hands up that we might win the battle. Your kindness, prayers and concerns are not taken for granted and they do not go unnoticed.

As for my brother, when his number is called, we’ll do this again. For right now, we will focus on saying farewell to our sister and simply say, “We’ll see you soon, Sis.” 

Even in the storm …

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I’m sitting here looking out the window at the storms that are currently hitting our area. Some are getting pretty close as I keep my fingers crossed and pray that they are kind to us this time around. Recent storms that came through just over a week ago hit us pretty hard. My wife and I, along with a couple of friends had been out to eat on the night of the severe storms. On the way back from Cumberland, Md. we approached the Fort Ashby and was surprised at just how quick the storm came up. 

We were approaching the bridge on the north side of the town just in time to watch a large tree come down in front of us, one large limb striking the windshield of a vehicle in front of us. Knowing that setting on the bridge while the weather man was warning of a tornado in the Fort Ashby area, wasn’t a good idea. We were told to get out of our vehicle and get indoors to a safe place.

So just where does one go when you are stuck on a highway in the middle of a reported tornado? It just so happened that I had friends just about three houses away. We hadn’t seen each other in a number of years but I decided it was likely time to find out if they even remembered me. We quickly drove to their home, the friend with us quickly running up, knocking at the door and mentioning something about a tornado and having Pastor Don in the car..The rest is pretty much history.

The quickly invited us in and we spent the next hour or so waiting for the storms to pass. We had prayer before leaving their home and thanking God for putting friends close by just when we needed them the most, and for their hospitality.

Even in the midst of a storm and potential tornado, God came through just as he always does, I still don’t like storms a whole lot but I do enjoy a good rain, some thunder and lightning, I’m just not the greatest fan of tornados. However, I found in the storms, or in the sunshine, God is always faithful. He really is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. 

I can’t help but look at storms without seeing God in the midst of the storm. Because every time I’ve needed him, He has been there. God is faithful. and I have no doubt that he always will be. There is a sense of security in knowing that, and that his promises are forever and ever…Amen.