November, 2019

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#ItBegins#EssentialTruth#Don’tMissIt!

Saturday, November 30th, 2019

And so it begins…

The race to Christmas. Much of the way we celebrate Christmas finds its roots in our younger years. We carry traditions with us. Some we ditch; some we keep observing.

Growing up nothing we ever put out except the lights. No tree. No gifts. No nothing. But when we woke up Christmas morning the whole house, especially the living room had been transformed. We don’t do that today. Our tree goes up Thanksgiving Day or the day after and stays until the day or two after Christmas.Gifts are placed under the tree as they are wrapped.

Growing up we were taught not to use our Christmas gifts (except for games) until after the real tree was taken down. We don’t that one either.

We NEVER opened a gift until Christmas morning. We don’t do that one either, however, I did get Jo’s family to compromise. One gift on Christmas Eve; the rest Christmas morning.

One fact is a constant though: the meaning of Christmas has never changed. The teaching of that meaning has never changed. The impact of that meaning has never changed either.

Just as there is a backstory to each of our histories of Christmas, there is a backstory to the story of Christmas as well. Christmas didn’t start at the manger; it started years before we can conceive. Before the OT.  This story was formed before recorded time and if we were somehow able to put it on the silver screen there would be no CGI or animation able to convey it.

I have given my series for this month the title of “Don’t Miss It!!” Each sermon (4) will be one aspect of Christmas which is so important we dare not miss it.  It would be a tragedy if we did. This Sunday my sermon will be taken from John 1:1-14 and my aim is to show the essential truth of Christmas.  A.W.Tozer once said:

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

When you think about Christmas what is the first thing that comes to your mind? My desire is to lay the groundwork for a meaningful Christmas by presenting the essential truth of Christmas. May you know that as well. I would appreciate your prayers.

#Atheism#Confrontation#BadRep

Sunday, November 24th, 2019

In one of my posts last week I reviewed two books dealing with abuse. You can read that here. Bookending those two books were two books of similar vein on a subject, but approaching it from different perspectives.  I had this first book and then read the two on abuse, but I needed to get away from that subject for a bit so I read the book which is my second review.  I’m now reading a totally different book because I like variety as well as needing a more biblical study.  So here are my reviews of the two books.

My first is Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin.

Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World's Largest Religion

Rebecca was not raised in “Christian” America, but in the UK. Her Christianity was not handed to her on a silver-plated American Christianity platter (my words not hers). But trust me when I say she is nobody’s lackey.  This woman is smart and knows her stuff. Her book is subtitled 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion and she delivers the goods. I wondered if I would be overwhelmed by the sheer “brain power” she brings to the table. I am happy to say Rebecca has done an excellent job of making it so that even we who are not deep thinkers can understand her writing. This book is so good I have given one copy to my small group leader, one to a searching college student, and have another copy for someone I love. Here are just a few of the questions she asks and answers (masterfully I believe) :

  • How Can You Say There’s Only One True Faith?
  • Doesn’t Religion Cause Violence?
  • How Can You Take the Bible Literally?
  • Hasn’t Science Disproved Christianity?
  • Isn’t Christianity Homophobic? {Note: Rebecca admits to her former struggle with SSA so she writes from an “insider’s” viewpoint.}
  • How Can a Loving God Allow So Much Suffering?

That’s just half the questions. This is one of my nominees for “Book of the Year” (as if I have any say).  I love Rebecca’s writing style and her attention to the answers. Never harsh but always engaging. I do believe you will benefit from this book.

I followed Rebecca’s book with another that intrigued me: Why I Still Believe by Mary Jo Sharp (MJ). 

Why I Still Believe: A Former Atheist’s Reckoning with the Bad Reputation Christians Give a Good God

Her book is subtitled “A Former Atheist’s reckoning with the bad reputation Christians give a good God.” The book is aptly titled. MJ came from a non-religious home and chose atheism, but eventually came to know Jesus as her Savior. (You can read the book’s introduction for her story).  How she stayed with Jesus and the church is a miracle in itself (in my book anyway). The day she came to church with her husband to declare her choice to follow Christ, the pastor’s wife did not welcome her or congratulate her but to tell her she needed to wear a different dress-one that showed less cleavage. She doesn’t say whether it did or not, but I would have probably turned around and walked out. Eventually, she and her husband found themselves involved in ministry full-time (he was a worship leader). Meanwhile, she is struggling with Christians who are giving God and the church a bad name. One heart-breaking example (and one which made my blood boil) came when she brought a friend who was an atheist-seeker to church and he was literally blown off and embarrassed by the self-righteous teacher and the pastor of the church (who publicly humiliated him) because he dared ask a question which challenged their way of thinking. From her own awkwardness of defending her belief in the resurrection with a co-worker (she is a music teacher in a public school); to learning about Islam (a great discussion and info on Islam is included) from her dear friend, the late Nabeel Qureshi; to her confidence in apologetics, she never loses sight of her purpose: how annoying and “turn-off-ish” many Christians can be. I’d have to say it is a good thing she had a pretty solid faith and a good husband who helped her stay grounded. 

MJ’s book was different from Rebecca’s in that it took on issues facing the church within, whereas Rebecca’s focused more on questions from without. MJ’s book read easily also. And she gave some great answers along the way in a very clear style.

I would highly recommend both of these books be part of your reading list. If you know of someone who is struggling with their faith or have questions about hypocrisy within the church, have them read these.

#SayingThanks#1/10#StigmaHealed

Friday, November 22nd, 2019

We are in the season known as Thanksgiving. I tell you that just in case you were born under a rock yesterday. 🙂 In many ways, Thanksgiving is the forgotten season. It is sandwiched between Halloween and Christmas, both seasons which play very well into our consumeristic society. Candy and gifts. What more could you ask for? The way Thanksgiving is overlooked it makes you wonder if we won’t see Uncle Sam in a sleigh pulled by 8 tiny rabbits.

My sermon this Sunday is taken from Luke 17:11-19. It is the story of the 10 lepers who asked for healing. Jesus sent them on their way and as they went they were healed. Only one took the time to come back and say thanks. Leprosy was an ugly disease and to be cured from it was monumental. It boggles the mind to think only one individual stopped and turned around to say thanks.

I guess I shouldn’t be so critical though. How many times have I been blessed or seen God move and forget to say thanks? My simple challenge this week will be to remind the folks to say thanks. Not to take God’s goodness for granted.  Your prayers for Sunday would be appreciated.

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I’d like to challenge you to do the same. With Thanksgiving next week, it is a time for reflection. Be sure to set aside some time to do so. Jo, Tami and I will be heading to Ohio early Monday morning to visit her sister and then stop off for a night in Columbus to our grandson and his parents. 🙂 Thursday noon the church is serving a meal for the community. I will approve your comments but will be missing most of the week. Thanks for reading.

#HardReads#Abuse#Essential#Review

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019

I haven’t been on here much lately. There are various reasons but they are legitimate. Least I think so. 🙂 First, there is that thing called “work.” You know…that thing that helps pay the bills; gets me up in the morning; has me traveling to multiple hospitals. You know…non-essential stuff.

Then (and this may not seem legitimate to you but is to me) I have been doing a copious amount of reading. Aside from my regular sermon prep time and my at-home Quiet Time, I have been a “reading fool” of late. I have started some books and laid them aside because another has taken precedence or is more relevant at the time.  This review is going to be of two of the three powerful and impactful books I have read recently. The reason is they are along the same subject line. Another review will follow on the third book, which is completely opposite of these two. I read it for that very reason.

My first review is on a book I simply had trouble putting down. It was one of those sad, “I hate to read this book” book, but it was also contemporary because of its recent news coverage and its topic.  What Is a Girl Worth? by Rachel Denhollander is a non-fiction account of her coming to grips with the United States Gymnastics Association (USGA) and her abuse at the hands of the gymnastics sports doctor, Larry Nasser.

What Is a Girl Worth?: My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics (Hardcover)

Rachel was working her hardest to become a world-class gymnast when physical issues led her to a sports doctor who was recommended by many others- Dr. Larry Nasser. The abuse began immediately but it took awhile for her to realize what was happening. Strange thing: her mother was in the room and Dr. Nasser did it in such a way to hide it from her so that she had no idea what was happening. Rachel was the first to speak up against Dr. Nasser’s abuse. Rachel became the trickle which became a waterfall which became a hurricane with gale force winds that eventually exposed Dr. Nassar and those complicit with him.

This was a hard book to read and I wept as I read some of it. Be prepared to be convicted; alerted; informed; and even a tad bit angry as you read her story. Stonewalling. Denial. Cover up. Finally justice for Rachel and countless other young girl gymnasts. Rachel is a Christ-follower and makes that known almost immediately. It even comes out in her presentation at Nasser’s trial. She also helps the reader understand why the “wheels of justice turn slowly.”

The other book was a bit different. More clinical and technical and far more biblical. Not that Rachel’s wasn’t but it wasn’t the same type of book. Not Forsaken by Jennifer Michelle Greenberg is her story of life after abuse.

Not Forsaken: A Story of Life After Abuse: How Faith Brought One Woman From Victim to Survivor

This abuse was (in many eyes) much more hideous. The abuser was her father, a man who studied and taught the Bible in church but was totally different at home. Her mother helped cover it up. Jennifer’s abuse was mental, physical, and at times sexual. This is her tale of coming to grips with it all. Her book is different from Rachel’s book in that Jennifer’s book analyzes and shows how the abuse from her father clouded everything-her relationships with men, especially her husband, and her relationship with God. Like I said, far more technical in that she spends a lot of time helping the reader understand her mental state and spiritual struggle as she came to grips with her father’s abuse.

I would highly recommend both books.  I still have one more book to read along the same lines called Becoming a Church that Cares Well for The Abused by Brad Hambrick (General Editor), which also includes material from Rachel. But after reading these two books I had to take a break. That is where my next review comes into play.  If you choose to read these two books, bring a Kleenex and check your anger at the door.

#NoFence#NoLimits

Friday, November 15th, 2019

I don’t think anyone would argue with this statement:

Being a servant often requires we step outside our box and do what doesn’t come naturally and or easily.

That is the basic premise of my sermon this Sunday. Being a servant often requires we become uncomfortable in our service. Sometimes it is disarming, in that we find ourselves in situations which try our patience; test our mettle; even call on us to make hard decisions.

Could there be any parable more in line with that thinking than the Good Samaritan? Talk about someone who went out of his way and out of his box! There was no love lost between the Jews and Samaritans so Jesus’ example really had to fry them. The fact He used two Jewish religious leaders as part of His story left little to the imagination. Amazingly, it was this man who wasn’t supposed to stop and help, did. It says he had compassion on him, bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them, put him on his own donkey and took him to an inn to recover. When he needed to leave he even left extra money for further care.  I think I am safe in saying this Samaritan went way beyond what was expected, and certainly stepped outside the box to care for him.

The story is found in Luke 10:25-37. You now know where we will be studying this Sunday. And as always, your prayers would be much appreciated.

#GuidedPrayerFocus#MuchNeeded

Tuesday, November 12th, 2019

Well, it is a long time coming but it is finally here. And no I am not talking about the frigid weather hitting our area. That started yesterday (Monday) and left us about 3 inches of snow last night. Temps today were 17 but they said it felt like 5. For November that is way too cold. But that’s the way it is. I was going to take a picture but it was too cold to go back outside after I has spent way too much time shoveling and spreading salt.

The long time coming is the Guided Prayer Focus report I promised. On Sunday afternoon, the 3rd,  the church I pastor had a Guided time of prayer.  Background: we have offered a Day of Service (DoS) to our community for the past 10 years or more. But as I studied for the letter to the church at Ephesus I felt God was “speaking” to me and saying, “Bill, I commend OVCF for your works, your hard work, but I want you to stop doing for me and just be with me. So instead of our DoS we had a guided prayer focus from 1-3:30 at the church building.  We had about 20-30 people participate on different levels. Some did the whole thing; some did part due to schedules or in the case of one family-a child. All said it was a good thing. The idea was mine but I cannot take credit for its “workings and implementation.” Two ladies had a vision for it so they met with Ryan and me. Ryan and Diana (church secretary) did the heavy lifting of gathering the information and printing things off. I am so grateful I work with people who will take the bull by the horns and make things happen.

Here is how the Guided Stations were broken down. We had different rooms for each station.

STATION #1– I met folks outside with an explanation of how it worked and their first stop was a personal time which we called Draw Near to the Lord. We suggested certain Scripture to use and then encouraged them to take an index card and write some praises on it and put it in a jug (supplied). They were also encouraged to write some besetting sins or anger or lack of forgiveness, etc on a card and then use the shredder we provided in the hallway.

STATION #2– Prayer for our community. We asked them to pray for our local government, Law Enforcement, School Admin, teachers, etc.  We also asked them to pray that people in our community would come to know Jesus as the Lord of Salvation. And we asked them to pray for OVCF’s influence in the community.

STATION #3– Pray for Missions and the Persecuted Church. We gave a list of the missions we support as a church and Ryan had some iPads cued up for people to learn more about the persecuted church.

STATION #4- Pray for Family and Society. We asked them to pray for the families of our community, especially those being torn apart by issues like Gender Identity/Sexual Orientation Confusion, Child Abuse and Neglect, Drug and Alcohol Abuse (Opioids are real bad here) and a stop to abortion.

STATION #5-Pray for our Nation. Federal. State. Local. National tensions of racial/ethnic/religious/extreme political tensions. We asked them to pray the Gospel would transform hate-filled hearts.

STATION #6– We offered to pray with anyone who would like us to. Several of the elders and their wives, and Ryan and I were here to pray with people if they so desired.

We closed with group prayer of anyone who wanted to join us. It was a very fulfilling and much-needed time. We had some who hoped we would do it again. Sorry I had such a long post but I didn’t want to divide it into several posts. I’d suggest it for your church community to give it a try some day.

#Intangible#Watching#Waiting#Working

Friday, November 8th, 2019

I had totally intended on giving you a report of our prayer time this past Sunday but life happened. Some good; some not so good. But I will do that at the beginning of next week. For now, I’d like to just give you a heads up about Sunday’s sermon.

Almost every decade some false prophet comes along who claims to have figured out precisely when the Lord will return. The JW cult was founded on that premise, and even though their leader was wrong multiple times, it still thrives. (GAG!) Back in 1988 a book became popular with the title 88 Reason Why Jesus Will Return in 1988. Methinks he may have been wrong.

I find it fascinating that not even Jesus knew when He would return. What He was concerned with was preparing His followers until He did return. My sermon this Sunday morning will be three parables Jesus told to do just that. Here are the three parables with my emphasis.

  1. Two Servants (Expectant Watching) Scripture is Matthew 24:45-51
  2. Ten Virgins (Patient Waiting) Scripture is Matthew 25:1-13
  3. Three Stewards (Diligent Working) Scripture is Matthew 25:14-30

Of course, as you probably know each of these will stand on their own so my thoughts will be capsulized. I’m focusing on this month’s theme: Servants. So each of the parables will look at what or how a servant is to be. There  is one word which makes its way through all three of these parables: faithfulness. All three exhort us to be ready.

I’m excited about continuing this series on Servants and using these three well-known parables. Your prayers would be greatly appreciated. It has been a long and tiring week of ministry. I always need God’s Spirit when I preach.  This Sunday is an extra dose. I know He is sufficient. Thanks.

#Servant#Don’tForget#3Essentials

Friday, November 1st, 2019

Ever since 2009 the church I pastor has had a Day of Service (DoS). It is a day where we serve the community.  Our first one was humble in its efforts but very successful. We changed oil and did some light mechanical work as well as help people who were unable to get things done to their houses (prepare for winter, clean up after the flood, and more). We missed a year or two as we found our footing at our newly purchased building but eventually we “got it going” again. Then we saw the need to do two a year. We invited another church to join us and then two others. They fizzled out before they started but the first invite (The Connection) formed a great working relationship with us. The Spring DoS was cleaning up after winter’s havoc, preparing flowerbeds, and general maintenance. The Fall DoS involved the mechanical work on vehicles, cleaning gutters, as well as getting ready for winter. This year (2019) we had one in the Spring but had some unfinished work so OVCF took it upon ourselves to finish the two jobs that needed done.  Our last 2-3 efforts also involved the Owen County Chamber of Commerce.

All things change. After the two very tedious jobs this year which required a lot of man hours, I started feeling unsettled about asking our people to go to the well one more time. Then I studied for the first letter in Revelation-the letter to the church at Ephesus- where Jesus commended them for their hard work and service, but had one thing against them: they had left their first love. So I started praying and meditating on that and realized those words were very relevant to us. So during that sermon I told them my thoughts and that I was calling off the DoS (It was considered “my baby” by the others) for the Fall. I “felt” God was saying, “Bill, you guys have been so busy doing for Me, it is time to just be with me.”  So this Sunday we are having an afternoon of a Guided Prayer Time through different “stations” in our building. From 1-3:30 this place will truly be a Holy Place. My next post will tell you more about it.

But I decided to carry on with my initial sermon for that Sunday and to develop a whole month of sermons. My theme is “Servants” and my Scripture this Sunday is from Micah 6:6-8.  The Scripture tells us three items every follower of Christ (a servant) needs to have:

  • Do justice
  • Love mercy
  • Walk humbly with God

I would appreciate your prayers for me this weekend. I would especially love it if you would pray for the church as we meet. Learning to be a servant who does those three acts is absolutely essential.

I will be closing the sermon with this song.  Hope you enjoy it.