A CHRISTMAS MEDITATION

As I see the Facebook and Twitter posts of friends with full and overflowing churches on this Christmas morning I realize that – at least in my corner of the world – the opposite is more often true: overflowing empty seats, lots of space for guests that were invited but likely won’t attend. And yet…

The lostness of our community is not surprising nor is it unusual. According to our International Mission Board there are still over 3,000 people groups who have never heard the gospel, the Christmas message. And yet…

The emptiness of our buildings is not a reflection on God’s absence, for as we gather for worship on this Christmas morning we acknowledge that indeed, Emmanuel, God-With-Us, has been born! With shepherds and with angels we rejoice, knowing that God is not distant and far-off but that “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, HCSB),.

May your Christmas worship and celebration be filled with the joy that only God provides through our relationship with Him as we come to know Jesus Christ!

Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.” (Luke 2:11, HCSB)

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This Christmas…

Maybe it’s just because I’ve spent more time than normal in the urgent care facility while my wife is being treated for pneumonia and the flu – all together! Maybe it’s because I am more acutely aware of aging and the challenges just since I turned 60 this year. Maybe it’s because more of the families I share life with as their pastor are sharing the painful side of their Christmas stories of step-children, step-parents, grandchildren, and the ways which family members have of hurting one another.

 

Whatever the reason, I have been more attuned to the painful side of Christmas. Mary and Joseph were simple, normal young adults living in Nazareth. And then…. Mary is pregnant – though she and Joseph are only betrothed and not yet married. A hastily arranged marriage because an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. A long trip to Bethlehem because some foreign ruler wanted to impose a new tax. A birth in an animal stall because the guest houses were filled with other travelers. Shepherds arriving to see the new born child because of some otherworldly angelic appearance.

 

A trip to Egypt to escape the wrath of a brutal and murderous tyrant. A return trip home to Nazareth with all the gossip and shame of Joseph and Mary’s predicament.

 

While we sing of joy the truth is Joseph and Mary may have not felt very ‘joyous’ very often. Probably they felt stress, anxiety, fear, and loneliness.

 

We gleefully and joyfully attend holiday parties, we exchange festively wrapped gifts, we ooh and aah over magnificent decorations. We eat special food associated with childhood memories and we diligently try to create lasting memories of a special holiday season – one that we can declare as the ‘Most Wonderful Time of the Year!’

 

Maybe it’s just the pastoral concerns – families enduring surgeries, families facing mental illnesses, families struggling with losses – but this season the ‘JOY’ we are told to experience is different. Instead of finding joy in the material and commercialized vision of Christmas – where true love is always realized, where the perfect gift is always under the tree, and where the challenges are resolved so that all live happily ever after – let us seek for joy in the promise of God’s presence, in His intervention in our lives through the year, and in the building blocks of hope: Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and return.

JOY TO THE WORLD! THE KING IS COME!

Merry Christmas!

Pastor Steve

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Random Thoughts For An Anniversary

This Saturday, Oct 1, 2o16, marks one year since Douglas County experienced a tragedy unlike any other in our history. A gunman entered a classroom at Umpqua Community College and opened fire killing nine people, injuring more than a dozen people, and changing the lives of thousands in a period of just a few minutes.

Several events are occurring this weekend. A group is sponsoring a 5k/9k walk/run fundraiser for scholarships at UCC. Sanctus Real will share a concert Saturday afternoon and at 7:30pm the Douglas County Evangelical Fellowship is hosting a candle light service at Stewart Park in Roseburg.

Several local pastors, a number of mental health professionals from across the region, and local mental health professionals will be staffing drop in centers throughout the weekend (I will be serving with this group all day Friday and most of Saturday).

Many where were more directly impacted by the events of 10/1/15 want to have nothing to do with the events of this weekend. And many need some sort of way to grieve and express their hurt together – thus the fundraiser, the concert, and the candlelight service.

Life has not stood still for any of us since last year. Family and friends have died, people have moved in and out of our lives, children and grandchildren have been born. But for a few moments this weekend many of us who live in Douglas County will remember the news flashes, the texts, the emails, the phone calls that marked that day. Many of us will remember the hurt and grief we experienced.

Yet life continues to go on. Later this day I will visit a dear saint who is taking her final breaths here on earth. I will finish preparing a message to share with my congregation on Sunday morning. I will cheer on the high school volleyball team.

But life will not be the same. Pray for those of us who are serving our community. Pray for those whose lives are still being impacted daily by those horrific moments (first responders, the families whose loved ones were killed, the individuals and families who were injured – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. There is much rebuilding to do, but with God’s help and in His strength we will discover resilience and the ability to restructure life.

Steve

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60, 40, 25, 30

This past month I celebrated my 60th birthday. My wife and I celebrated 40 years of marriage and Community Baptist Church and I acknowledged 25 years of service together. We also acknowledged 30 years of ministry in our community.

Pastoring a small church in a rural community makes me a little apprehensive about numbers. But these numbers represent my life. When I was in high school and college I dreamed about and planned for a completely different career. But God had plans – even from before I was born – that have shaped my life.

The number 60 still baffles me. When I was younger, say in my 30’s, 60 represented a kid of person I didn’t want to become: old, stodgy, stuck in old ways of doing ministry. Now that I am 60 I wonder what those younger pastors think when they see me? Do those words and phrases describe me? The number 60 also reminds me that I am in the 4th quarter of my life – with much less time ahead of me than behind me. The number 60 magnifies the intensity of my desire to mentor younger men and leave behind a powerful legacy of faithfulness.

The number 40 puts in perspective what people often say: I love you more today than yesterday. Cindy and I have developed a deeper love over the years. We have celebrated many wonderful events, grieved the loss of her dad, all of our grandparents, my brother, and countless church family.  But in the days that make up 40 years we have discovered God’s faithfulness, God’s mercy, and God’s grace in more profound ways.

25 years in one church, one ministry. All 25 of these years have been as ‘Senior Pastor’ – some years with associates, most without. But the role has changed. While people’s needs and basic makeup have not changed, our strategies of serving has changed. The culture has changed and the ways people live has changed. One observation I often share with my pastor-colleagues : Preaching is harder than ever. As a young pastor I though preparing messages would become easier over time. Boy, was I wrong! More time is invested in prayer and preparation than ever before. 25 years in the same community has given me open doors that I would never have discovered in just a few short years. The community where I live has changed radically in 25 years. God has given me opportunities not just to observe the changes, but to actually participate in the process.

Finally, as our church acknowledges 30 years of ministry I have to thank countless people who prayed, gave, sacrificed, worked, labored, and allowed God to use them in creating a ministry that lasts. Though we pray regularly for the Lord’s return, I am confident that what God has begun here as Community Baptist Church will thrive – not because I served 25 years, but because God’s purposes are being fulfilled and God’s work is not yet completed.

STEVE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Blurring the Lines

In the past few days two African-American men were shot to death by Police Officers who were white. Hillary Clinton, the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, while chided for being ‘careless’ was exonerated by the FBI and Justice Department for using a private email server and incorrectly handling sensitive information in her email accounts.

I don’t know enough of the details in the two officer involved shootings to make a judgment. I barely understand my own email account and its settings so pronouncing a verdict on Mrs. Clinton is beyond my scope of responsibility.

What I can observe is that the lines of justice seem to have been blurred in our culture. Behavior that would bring some sort of reprimand for others is called ‘careless’ and no consequences are forthcoming. Officer involved shootings have taken the lives of two men – sons, fathers, brothers, uncles – before their time. In times like these my only recourse is to cry out to God…where is justice? King David’s words, penned thousands of years ago are more relevant than ever:

But when I considered how to understand this, it was too great an effort for me and too painful Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood [for I considered] their end.” (Psalm 73:16–17, AMP).

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Celebrating Unimpressive Numbers

World Changers Wrap Up.

What a week. Only 6 projects and 8 teams, around 100 people per day engaged in serving the community. Those numbers aren’t impressive. I see more significant numbers every day on Twitter and Facebook.

However, what is impressive is the impact 100 people can make. The gospel was shared 40 times and 2 individuals opened their lives to the truth of God’s gift of Himself through Jesus Christ. Again, the numbers are not impressive. What is impressive is that those 40 who heard the gospel and those two who gave their lives to Christ will have an impact that we cannot measure – both here and now and for eternity.

A number of the students attending the project made fresh commitments to more closely follow Jesus. Who can measure the impact these students will have on their family, friends, and community?

We are easily impressed with numerical statistics. But never underestimate the power of one – one life transformed could be the key to opening an entire segment of the community, multiple generations of a family, and, yes, even an entire community.

We have had bigger projects in terms of volunteers serving. We have had more gospel presentations shared. We have seen more decisions reported.

I am celebrating every gospel presentation, every response – positive and negative and the undecideds – because as God’s Word is proclaimed, He is at work transforming individuals, families, communities and eventually His world!

 

 

 

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Contentment

Here are words worth pondering:

Contentment is the inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, freely submitting to and taking pleasure in God’s disposal in every condition: That is the description, and in it nine distinct things have been opened up which we summarize as follows: First, that contentment is a heart-work within the soul; Secondly, it is the quieting of the heart; Thirdly, it is the frame of the spirit; Fourthly, it is a gracious frame; Fifthly, it is the free working of this gracious frame; Sixthly, there is in it a submission to God, sending the soul under God; Seventhly, there is a taking pleasure in the hand of God; Eighthly, all is traced to God’s disposal; Ninthly, in every condition, however hard it be and however long it continue.

Burroughs, Jeremiah. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (p. 16). . Kindle Edition.

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