Wrapping Your Arms

Apr 10th 2009

Patrick Morley tells the story of three men and a boy who were going fishing in Alaska.  They were flying into a section of wilderness that could only be reached by a sea plane.  But when they landed something went wrong with one of the floats.  Before long, the plane was sinking and all four of them had to jump from the plane into the sea.  Two men, a father and his son, began to swim for shore.  The water was so cold, but even worse was the powerful rip-tide pulling everything out to sea.   The three men were strong enuf to swim against the tide, but before long they realized the boy couldn’t make it.   The father of course swam back to help his son.  He thought he could pull him along and make it to shore.  But it soon became obvious to the father that nothing he could do was going to save his son.  His son was going to die.  The other 2 men watched in wonder as the father turned to them and waved them into shore, and then turned back around and wrapped his arms around his son as the rip-tide carried them both out to sea.

When I read this story, three thoughts come to mind, a statement and two questions.  First the statement:  I am fairly certain that I would do the same.  It isn’t so much because I know how courageous I am, as it is that I know how much I love my children.  I could not let one of them die alone.  Which leads me to the first question: How much does God love us, if He was willing to let his son die alone?  Or a similar question from the other side:  How much does Jesus love us, if he was willing to wrap his arms around us and not let go, even though it led him to death?

Which leads to my final question — an Easter question of sorts: What do we have our arms wrapped around?  To what or whom are we giving our lives?  Some of us have wrapped our arms around stuff that isn’t leading us to life.  What are your arms wrapped around?

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Apr 09th 2009

Al Lingren, tells about taking his 13-year-old son fishing a few years ago. It was one of those days when the fish wouldn’t bite and they had a lot of time to talk. Out of the clear blue his son asked, “Dad, what’s the toughest thing God ever tried to do?”

The question caught Lingren, a pastor, off guard. He didn’t know what to say, so like a good teacher, he answered a question with a question, “What do you think it was?” The boy first smiled and said, “Even tho you’re a pastor, you don’t know much about God, do you Dad?”

Then the boy gave his answer. “Since taking science in school, I thought the creation of the world might be the hardest thing God ever tried to do. Then in Sunday School we got to talking about the miracles, like Jesus’ resurrection, and I thought that might be the toughest thing God ever did. Then after thinking some more and talking to others, I decided that no one knows God really well.  So now I think that the toughest thing God ever tried to do is to get us to understand who God is and that God loves us.”

This is our business.  We are in the business of helping the world understand who God is and how much He loves them.  We are in the business of becoming so like Jesus that when we get around people, they can’t help but bump into Jesus.  We are not in the church growth business.  We are not in the lift up Calvary business.  We are in the “serve others” business.  We are in the lift up Jesus business.

That’s why we are doing CityServe.  We simply want to take a weekend, to go out and do everything we possibly can to show people that Jesus loves them.  We are doing CityServe because we want Jesus to come into our city and we don’t want pple to miss him this time.

We are doing CityServe because Jesus loves our city, and compassion without service means little to those we say we love.  In Luke 19:28-34, there is this somewhat unique, almost strange detail included about Palm Sunday.  Jesus needed a donkey to ride into town.

So he sent his disciples to some unnamed man’s house, to get a donkey.  If the man asked them why they were taking his donkey, they were to simply respond, Because the Lord needs it.  The question I’ll leave you with is simply this… What does the Lord need from you to make it possible for him to
come into our communities?

If all he needed was a weekend, would you give it?  What if good deeds done with the heart of Jesus are the donkey that Jesus would ride into town.  CityServe is five Congregations giving a thousand people to work on 122 projects over two days.  That’s what CityServe is all about.

Don’t miss it!  Currently we have about 200 people signed up — need about 800 more!  Go to CityServe for more information and to sign up.

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Why I Believe in Jesus’ Resurrection

Apr 08th 2009

How can I know that Jesus was really raised from the dead by the power of God?  Why do I believe?
I could talk to you about the historical arguments for the resurrection.

– The fact that it is testified to by five independent sources, Matthew, Mark Luke John and Paul.
– The fact that the location of Jesus tomb was well known.  Both skeptical disciples and antagonistic  opponents checked the tomb and all agree, it was empty.
– The transformation of Jesus followers from a grief stricken, fearful, discouraged group to the bold, joyful force which initiated the explosive growth of a new movement which became known as the church.
– The fact that during Paul’s lifetime there were hundreds of eye-witnesses still living, anyone of whom could’ve been contacted for corroperating accounts.
– The conversion of Paul, a man deadset against Christianity until he met the resurrected Christ.
– The English journalist Frank Morison who dealt with most of the objections in the classic Who Moved the Stone? Although Morison had set out to discount the Resurrection as a myth, the evidence convinced him otherwise.

We could talk about all the evidence and yet I know that in every case except that of John, even the disciples did not believe until they saw.  Though I believe the evidence invites belief, it does not compel belief.  So why do I believe?  Like Philip Yancey, one reason is because in the deep cores of my heart I want the Easter story to be true.  Something within me cries out against the meaninglessness of a life which simply ends without purpose.  As Yancey says, “I suppose you could say I want to believe in fairy
tales.”  But as C.S. Lewis relates, perhaps it is the very presence of the hunger for something more which indicates that something more exists.

Why do I believe?  Perhaps more than any other reason for myself personally.  I believe, because like Mary & Mary, there have been too many times when I have trudged dutifully through the darkness, thinking God was gone, only to come once again, upon the empty tomb, the risen Christ, and the presence of God.  Like Peter there have been too many times when I have been given a second chance at life.

Why do you believe?

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700 Grocery Bags

Apr 03rd 2009

Last weekend at Calvary we gave away around 700 grocery bags.  Cool right?  Why, right?  We were talking about the only one of Jesus’ miracles to be included in all four gospels — the feeding of the crowd through Jesus and a young boy’s sack lunch.  Jesus has this incredible gift of multiplication — from 3 barley loaves and 2 bite size fish to 12 baskets of left-overs and a stuff crowd.

So we gave away 700 grocery bags.  I asked everyone to fill the bag and take it to someone in the community who is in need and then pray that Jesus would multiply a can of soup into an opportunity for someone to meet Jesus.

If you got a grocery bag, pray, shop and give.  If you are uncomfortable with the “give” part.  Pray, shop and bring the bag to church this weekend or Easter weekend.  We’ll use the groceries to bless our Angel Food families and the local food shelf.  Buy canned goods, and other food that have a long shelf-life and bring your bag to the kitchen at 1250 University Drive or the lobby at Midtown.  700 bags of groceries, that could make a difference in someone’s life.  Who knows what God might do!

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Who Has Your Ear?

Apr 01st 2009

Ran into a pretty good thought from blogger Seth Godin.  Made me stop and ask myself, “Who has my  ear?” Often times it is our critics who get our ears right?  If I preach a sermon and 20 people tell me how much God used that message in their life — but 2 people tell me that it was a mediocre sermon — who gets my ear.  Now granted if one of those two critics is my wife — who happens to be my greatest encourager — I better listen.  But the point is we tend to focus on the critics.  Doesn’t it seem like it takes about 10 encouraging comments to balance out 1 negative comment?

Here is where Seth Godin’s insight comes in.  Don’t listen to your critics, he writes, but pay the same level of attention to your fans.  Don’t listen to your fans anymore than you listen to your critics. Critics will never be happy, but fans won’t motivate you to grow.

So who should have our ears?  Godin tells us to listen to the sneezers.  To be honest, I’m not sure why he picked that name…but the sneezers are the people who will tell others about you — he’s coming from a marketing perspective.  Listen to the sneezers.  Make the sneezers happy and your business will grow.

Here is how I would apply it to the church.  Listen to the people who are a part of the team.  Listen to the people who own the vision.  Don’t listen to the customers.  Don’t listen to the critics.  Don’t listen to the fans.  Listen to your teammates.  Give your ear to the “whenever, whatever” people — the “whenever you need me and whatever it takes” people.  One of the reason I love being a part of the Calvary team is because there are so many “whenever, whatever” people.

Thank you, you have my ear.

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Harvest Fields Prayer

Mar 19th 2009

for us, I would be grateful.  You probably know that for about four years we have been trying to develop a plan for some new facilities on this property we call Harvest Fields.  It is a beautiful piece of God’s creation just outside Boalsburg on the way to Harrisburg on 322.  120 acres with about 7 ponds and acres of forest.  I’m sitting in my office up the hill overlooking the valley — an amazing panorama.

Well this month we have overcome a significant wall impeding our progress — access.  The highway occupancy permit that we have long desired is finally in hand, well almost, but it’s okay, any day now it will be in hand.  We have been assured.

For four years, people have prayed and planned and designed, but before we take the next step forward, we (calvary leadership) have been feeling that we need to get away and pray.  Seek God.  Listen to Him and each other and ask Him to show us what our next step is.  So starting Friday at 4pm and ending around 4pm on Saturday, about 30 of Calvary’s leaders will get together to pray and listen and ponder and discuss and hopefully discover God’s next step for us.

So if you are one of the 5 or 6 people who read this blog… :) and you happen to read it before Saturday at 4pm.  Take a moment or two and pray for us.

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Life Without Walls

Mar 18th 2009

Looks can be deceiving.  My grandfather John Nold got polio when he was young.  It left him crippled. Every memory I have of Big Grandpa — yep that’s right, my dad’s folks were Big Grandma and Big Grandpa and my mom’s folks were Little Grandma and Little Grandpa — every memory of Big Grandpa included a cane and a shoe with a leg brace.  He didn’t get around too fast or too well, but he could use that cane with deadly force!  I felt it around my leg, arm and even neck on more than one occasion!

But one thing he did even better than catch runaway grandkids with a cane, he caught my imagination with his stories.  I remember going out to his trailer before school.  I would sit with him and watch for the bus — I was about six or seven — and he would tell me stories.  Stories about the road, following the harvest, riding the rails, and campfire meals with hobos.  As a young boy there was not much better than Grandpa’s stories.

Through those stories my Grandpa left me a love for the journey and a passion for adventure.  I dreamed for hours about Huck Fin and his river raft.  My favorite show was and still is Star Trek and “it’s on going mission.” This wanderlust has not always confined itself to the safer roads of my imagination.  While in college, I hitchhiked home once.  I spent most of the time in a light rain on the back of a Harley Davidson with a biker who stopped about every 10 miles for a beer…now that was a trip…it increased my prayer life exponentially.

As I grew older and a little more perceptive, I came to realize my grandpa’s life was not quite so glamorous as my childhood imagination painted it. Life on the road was really the journey of an alcoholic abandoning his family, leaving home for long periods of time — a combination of running from, and in some ways desperately seeking home.  Gilbert Bilzekian writes, “The silent churning at the core of our being is the tormenting need to know and be known, to understand and be understood,…to belong unconditionally and forever without the fear of loss, betrayal or rejection.

What we are seeking is love unbounded.  Love without limits.  We want to know that we are not outside the boundaries of somebodies heart.  Can someone out there love me without limits?  But in fact, it’s even more than that.  It’s good to know that I can be real with you and not face rejection.  But it’s not enough, I want to be loved in a way that changes me.  Aren’t we all seeking a love that makes us whole?

Near the end of his life, my grandpa found that love.  He opened up his arms to Jesus.  His marriage was restored and his story was redeemed.  He found the home that he was seeking.  How about you?  Where are you questing for life?  Where is your home?  That place where you are loved without limits?  This week we are starting a new teaching series at Calvary…  LIfe Without Walls. Hope you join us online or in person.  There is a life that God designed for us that is an overflowing kind of life…it’s a life without walls.

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My Last Sermon

Mar 09th 2009

I came home yesterday to find a CNN twitter update waiting for me. Fred Winters had been killed.  I didn’t know Fred Winters, but there were enough similarities between the two of us that it made me stop for a moment to ponder life.  Fred Winters was…

  • – in his forties
  • – married with children
  • – the lead pastor at a baptist church of about 1500 people
  • – at the church for over 15 years.
  • – preaching at the church’s 8:00am Traditional Worship Gathering.

The main difference is that last week, Fred Winters worked on the last sermon he will ever give.  It was on a favorite topic of his, the joy of giving.  Last Sunday, while he was preaching during the first service at First Baptist Church of Maryville, IL, a man walked up the center aisle and shot him.  The first bullet hit his Bible, there would be three more shots, one of them straight to the heart.  The congregation was caught off guard, in fact many people thought that this was just part of a sermon illustration (Pastor Winters would often use unusual illustrations and dramas during worship).  It was all over in seconds. Pastor Winters was pronounced dead at the local hospital minutes later.

Most of the news briefs I saw on tv yesterday focused on “church security,” but the reality is that none of us are secure from death.  I think what hit me most is simply, the last sermon part.  If last weekend would’ve been my last sermon.  It would’ve been preached to possibly the smallest audience I’ve preached to in a number of years — my first spring break weekend to preach in a long time!  It would’ve included a children’s sermon — for maybe the first time in 15 years?  It would’ve been on Psalm 34 with a focus on the goodness of God.  Not a bad way to go out, but I’m not sure if it’s what I would’ve chosen if I knew it was my last sermon.

It’s good — sometimes — to ask ourselves “last” questions.  Like if this was my last day to live, how would I invest my time?  Or if this was my last year with my kids at home, what would I focus on?   If I had one last conversation with a person what would we talk about?

Paul challenges us in the book of Ephesians to redeem the time, to make the most of every opportunity.  Fred Winters is a reminder of that challenge.  Pray for his wife and his two daughters.  Pray for his church.  Hard stuff, but God can redeem hard stuff.

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True Confessions

Mar 04th 2009

Nope.  I’m not confessing.  Well okay I’ll confess.  I didn’t do my LifeJournal today, true confession.  I ate one of Lynn’s rice krispee bars, even though I’m trying to eat healthy and I annoyed my daughter, true confession.  I’m way behind on responding to my e-mail, not sure if that’s a sin, but it is a true confession.  True confession, I have too many credit cards, Dave Ramsey would call that a sin wouldn’t he? I know, you are pondering the amazing emotional courage and the raw authenticity that comes through in such true confessions. No, probably not.

I was talking to someone today about the dynamics of confession and repentance.  (Confession is simply agreeing with God’s assessment of my actions.  Repentance is changing my path back to a God-ward direction.)  We were talking about the power of public confession and our general reluctance to do so… Decades ago, one of my heroes of the faith, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a small book called Life Together. It was a guide to authentic community for an underground seminary during the Nazi regime.  The last chapter is called, Confession and Communion.

In it he asks the question, “Why is it so easy to confess sin to our most Holy God, and yet we cannot confess to a fellow sinner?”  Bonhoeffer suggests the possibility that often our confessions reach no higher than ourselves and we in turn absolve and forgive ourselves.  In confession to a fellow Christian we break out of the circle of self-deception, for we know that we have come face to face with Christ existing as community.  Bonhoeffer is not suggesting that we go to a priest for confession and absolution of our sins.  He makes it clear that we do indeed have direct access to God through Jesus Christ, who in turn forgives us.  Yet he is stressing that in God’s plan for the “body”, community is for confession, and confession leads to community.

So back to true confessions?  Do you have someone — or a group of someone’s, like a LifeGroup — with whom you can come clean.  And I’m not talking about, rice-krispee bar confessions.  I’m talking about the kind of stuff that has a dangerous hold on our lives.  The kind of stuff that James was probably talking about when he said, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for each other, so that you can be healed.”

Don’t worry.  I’m not working up to one of those ministry-breaking-see-all-pastors-are-slimy confessions, but I do sin.  And True Confession — true confession is not easy…but then again good things rarely are.

I ran across this blog post tonight.  Thought provoking… take a moment and read “Confessing Safe Sins.”

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What Gets You Down?

Jan 16th 2009

I’ve been thinking about this since our trip to Myanmar; what gets us down.  While we were in Myanmar we met Mary.   Mary is the main mom at Agape Orphanage.  In fact she started Agape Orphanage with her husband.  Not long after they started the orphanage — about 10 years ago — he died from malaria.  He got sick on Sunday, was in the hospital by Monday night and Tuesday morning he died.  That was in June.  In July her 11 month old son got pneumonia and within a month he had died.  I’m not saying she didn’t struggle or that she doesn’t grieve.  In fact even today when she talks about it there are tears.  But she didn’t quit following God’s call to serve kids.  In fact, in many ways she is the heart and soul of Agape Orphanage.

Then today somebody sent me a youtube link with a message from a man name Nick.  He has no…  well I’ll let him tell you his story.  Just watch the video below…

So what gets you down?  This isn’t one of those just-look-around-you-because-someone-is-worse-off-than-you kind of challenges.  I’m not a big believer in alleviating my pain by finding someone in worse pain.   What I am is a big believer in the virtue of perseverance.  What I am is a big believer in the freedom we have to choose our attitudes. What I am — above all — is a big believer in God’s ability to work in and through our circumstances to bring about gold in our lives.  See I think that one marker of the current and future capacity of our hearts is how much it takes to get us to quit.

So what gets you down?

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