What’s On Your Resume?

“Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.” (2 Corinthians 11:23)

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It’s that time of year when I begin to get a lot of requests to be a reference for resumes.  Students ocmign home from college looking for summer jobs. Or High schoolers doing the same thing.  I’ve filled out several references for people as they’ve applied to get into some sort of higher education.  Or for those going on mission trips as they have background checks completed.

And I’m almost always happy to do so, as long as I know the person.  It’s nice to be able to share something positive about someone. It’s an honor  to be asked, when you consider all of the people they know. And it’s a good feeling, knowing that what you do may help set the course of someone’s future.

I don’t know that I’ve ever turned down anyone’s request. There are times when I suggest there might be some people who know them better, but if they insist I will always do something to the best of my knowledge and ability.  I always try to be honest and not pad their resume if at all possible.

Recently, I began thinking about our spiritual resume.  If someone asked you to prove your faith in Christ, what would you put down?  What proof do you have that Jesus has  made any difference in your life? Who would be on your reference form?

There are several things we could put down, I suppose. The day we accepted Christ at a youth camp, or in church.  We could point out the regular attendance we have in worship. The Bible studies, or Sunday School classes we attended.  We could point out the percentage of Christian music we listen to against the rest of our favorite music. We might point out the nice collection of devotionals we’ve acquired over the years.   The local and international mission trips. We might note the  lack of dust on our Bibles. The several clever Christian t shirts we have.  The daily meme we put  up on social media that have to do with faith and encouragement. We might even point out that magnetic fish we put on the back of the car, which has witnessed to thousands of  people one road ways. We could point out we’ve never failed to get our minister a nice gift during Clergy appreciation month (It’s October, by the way).

As far as our references go we could list our pastors, Our youth  minister, that dear Saint of a Sunday School teacher we had when we were in fifth grade.  I don’t know about you, but if my fifth grade Sunday School teacher wasn’t qualified for sainthood before, she certainly was by the time I got through her class.  The list goes on and on. What would your resume look like?

In 2 Corinthians, Paul begins to put together his spiritual resume. It seems some people have come to the church in Corinth and are offering a watered down version of the Gospel. Perhaps not even presenting the Gospel at all.  And to counteract this Paul shares his resume and why they should trust him.

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But he doesn’t list all of his accomplishments. He doesn’t mention the many churches he has planted. He doesn’t cite his intellect or his widely acknowledged leadership in the church.  Instead of drawing attention to what he has done, he focuses their attention on what he has experienced. Paul talks about the times he has suffered for the gospel. The times he has been in prison, the times he has been beaten, shipwrecked and bitten by snakes.

As far as his references, we see no mention of Peter, James or John. Instead Paul talks about his enemies, those who wished him harm, who did hurt him.  Paul talks about how he returned love and race to those who harmed him.

When asked to prove his path, Paul says, “You want to know if my faith is real, don’t look at what I’ve done, but look at how Christ has shined through  my life during times of adversity. If you want to know if my faith is real, don’t ask my friends. Ask my enemies if they saw Jesus in me.”

 

Our true witness to the reality of our faitImage result for living out one's faithh never comes out of our accomplishments. The witness to the truth of our faith comes out of our experiences and how we allow Christ to shine through us. Our references to the truth of our faith never come from our friends, but from those who oppose us.  What do they say about us?

Look, “doing” is great. Don’t stop all the things you do to grow in your faith. Just don’t forget that in the end, it’s the life you live that will speak volumes about your faith, but good and bad. Its the people who oppose you who may have the greatest word of truth about who you are when they see Christ in you.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

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Fed

“like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,” (1 Peter 2:2)

It was supposed to be an easy task. Pull up some old tile flooring in the church so we could install a new multi-use flooring. Not only would it make the room warmer and more inviting but opened it up to be sued in ways we had never dreamed of before. Best of all we had the funding.  It looked to be an easy project.

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Except, of course, when you are dealing with a church, there is never an easy project. There will always be something you hadn’t planned on, hadn’t thought of  that will occur.  It’s much like beginning a project in your home and then realizing there is underlying issues that will cost you both time and money to repair.

In this case someone discovered that the tiles we were pulling up were Asbestos tiles. And because they were made of asbestos, you had to be more careful with the dust that could rise up from pulling them loose. they had to take extra care in how the tiles were removed and did the best they could to contain any dust that might get in the air. And of course they made sure to wear masks the entire time.

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I understood the problem with dealing with asbestos. I’ve had several people in churches who, because of their work, experienced long term exposure to asbestos in the air. This long term exposure lead to some very significant health issues over time. It’s important to note that they didn’t get sick when they first breathed in the asbestos.  Maybe they didn’t even notice it at first. But slowly as they were exposed to it day by day, year after year they were  affected.

Asbestos isn’t the only hazardous material that does this. You may know of someone who was exposed to a hazardous material, a dangerous chemical at work or in their home. And while it didn’t affect them immediately, or at least they gave no signs it was affecting them it was working in them. Often with devestating, sometimes fatal results.

If we are exposed to something for a long time it will eventually affect who we are. Anyone who has been to a dermatologist to have a basal cell looked at due to too much sun over twenty years can attest to this. It’s almost impossible to be exposed to something and not be affected by it.  We should also assume just because we can see no signs at first that something isn’t happening within us.

 

I think in many ways this is also true with the Word of God.  I’ve heard before that the Bible might be the biggest bestseller that no one ever reads.  Now we have apps for our mobile devices that allow us to have a Bible, for free, in hundreds of translations, at our fingertips.  And yet how many of us ever allow ourselves to be exposed to the Scripture on a daily basis?

Yes, I know many of us read great Christian books. We read devotionals, or something by Max Lucado. We might even have a Christian podcast, or two we listen to.  ANd that’s great.  But it’s not really the same as sitting down with the actual Scriptures and allowing ourselves to be exposed to them.

Why is that important? Because long-term exposure changes  us. Teh Scripture at the top of the blog,along with many others tell us that the Word of God nourishes us, feeds our souls.  Yet many of us suffer from malnourishment because of a lack of exposure. The more we expose ourselves to God’s word, reading it daily, the more we will nourished. The more affected for the better we will be.

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Yes, I know the common excuse is we can’t understand the Bible. But it’s just that. An excuse. Ask yourself when was the last time you just read the Bible? Did you understand it? As I mentioned earlier, with so many translations available its easier today to have a readable version of the Bible than ever before.

And maybe we have the wrong focus.  Perhaps understanding the Bible isn’t th end game. What’s important is that you daily set time aside to be with God in His word. It’s the exposure to the presence of the Holy Spirit as we read that matters. When my children were young they don’t always get, or care about the “lesson” I was trying to teach them. They just wanted to spend time with me.  Don’t you think our heavenly father is the same?

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Remember, its about long term exposure.  Maybe you don’t “get anything out of it” the first time you read the Bible. Or the second, or the one hundredth. But over time an exposure to His word and the presence of the Holy Spirit will change us.

I want to encourage you to get in the habit of reading your Bible every day.  Get in the habit, and see what a long-term exposure to the truth and authority of the word of God can do to a person’s heart.

 

In Christ,
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

LOL

“Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

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“Knock, Knock”  I don’t really have a knock knock joke for you today.  I just wanted to set the stage for our blog today  I noticed that several of my clergy friends embraced the idea of celebrating Holy Humor Sunday.  Holy Humor Sunday, in case you haven’t heard, is a Sunday designed to have an entire service centered on the them of Humor. Funny stories and jokes are told by various people within the church.  Or a funny video might be shown, Or if the church has a clown ministry, that might be highlighted.  You get the idea, it’s about laughter.

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Thankfully the denomination hasn’t latched on to this.  If they do we’ll be given envelopes for that Special Sunday and be called to support the “Don Rickles Foundation for curmudgeonly clergy”  And nobody wants that.

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I know it sounds like some new age way to bring people in the church. But before we bemoan the loss of decorum and wanting to celebrate the Three Stooges more than the Trinity, we need to know Holy Humor Sunday isn’t new.  In fact the ancient church celebrated it as a regular part of their year.

Surprised? I know it might be difficult to think of St. Augustine telling the one about the two Pharisees that walked into the bar, but it’s true. Holy Humor Sunday traditionally takes place the Sunday after Easter.  Apparently the early church embraced the idea that the resurrection of Jesus was something to give us joy.  And it should bring a smile, even laughter to our lips. How can the Saints of God be sad, knowing Jesus rose from the dead?

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Before you ask, no, we didn’t do a Holy Humor Sunday this year. Mostly because I have the sense that being funny, really funny is hard.  And pulling it off in church is even more difficult. And so I’ve been hesitant to try something that could cause our worship to go down like a lead balloon.

But I do want to embrace the idea we’ve got something to smile and laugh about. Jesus is still alive. The tomb is still empty. The power of sin and death have been destroyed forever. The Holy Spirit dwells within us.  It just keeps getting better the more you think about it.

It’s not that we ignore the dark places in our lives. We know that while Jesus is redeeming the world, there is still a long way to go. But I hearken you back to our opening Scripture.  We aren’t gathering strength from our joy. Our joy can be fleeting.  No, Nehemiah says the joy of the Lord is our strength.

I think that’s why I love this verse so much, and wonder why we preach it so seldom.  Look how invitational it is. “Come on in, grab some dessert, get a snack and a drink. We’ve got something to celebrate.” It’s about living within the ongoing party of the Kingdom of God.

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So have your own Holy Humor day.  Tell a joke or two (Just remember it’s about Holy Humor). Laugh some. Allow yourself the space to enjoy the day God has given you. After all the tomb is still empty. And that’s enough to make any of us smile.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

Cheating Yourself?

“what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”  (1 John 1:3)

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I am admittedly a huge baseball fan. Beyond the end of winter and the warmer weather, I think I enjoy spring because it heralds in a new season of baseball.  And I follow my team, The Cincinnati Reds, pretty faithfully , even in bad times. They’ve been my team since I was a young boy.  I can remember many nights listening to the radio broadcast of a game being played on the west coast,long after I was supposed to be asleep.

And I can tell you that there is no place like Cincinnati  for Opening Day. It’s an unofficial holidays people take to the streets, go to the parade and make their way down to the stadium.  Local cover bands abound at every turn.  I’ve been to 24 Opening Days in a row. And I wouldn’t miss it.

The Reds lost their opening game. They didn’t look good. And I fear that the words reds and loss might be written together more than I’d like this year.  It rained hard for three innings.  There have been years that an Opening Day like that, flat play a loss and mediocre weather would probably have set the tone for my entire year of baseball watching.

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But when people asked me how was the game, my response was, great.  I had a great day. Over the years my perspective has changed about the importance of that day.  It’s not that my passion for the game has waned at all. It’s merely paled in comparison to the company I keep.

You see, this is the 24th year my son and I have been to that Opening Day game.  It’s our day. It’s amazing how he went in a blink of an eye from a toddler I had to carry up the steps and worry that he might fall to this handsome married man,  (much taller than I) in the blink of an eye.

Now that he is married, working and going to school, coupled with our move, we don’t see him as often as we would like. Life and schedules get in the way. But hat day, Opening day is our day.  We laugh, eat and talk about things that aren’t important and yet of great importance at the same time.  The day becomes great because we get to spend time together.  Do we enjoy it more when our team wins? Sure. But the joy comes from our fellowship.

It occurs to me that perhaps we all might benefit from having that perspective when it comes to church.  Often we come to church looking for the win? That life changing sermon, the special piece of music that blows us away.  And those things are good. But is that why Jesus calls us to be the church? To make sure somehow, our felt need of the day gets met?

No Jesus calls us to be the church and gather as the church because we need each other. It’s about gathering and simply enjoying the fellowship with God.  We need to that time to set aside to simply enjoy being with him.

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And we need the joy of being with one another.  We are called to be the church to enjoy being in the fellowship of the saints of God.  There is profound ministry that goes on when we come to church and someone smiles at us. Or calls us by name. There is ministry that goes on when a volunteer watched over an active little one so mom and dad can worship.  There is ministry when a child is allowed to speak or sing in church using their gifts, and even making  a few mistakes every now and then. That’s where they learn about grace.

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What if we looked forward to church simply for the fellowship? The fellowship with God and with the fellowship of others? It might change the way we evaluate church altogether. You’re going to have Sundays when the pastor isn’t at his or her best. The furnace doesn’t work, the liturgist reads too fast or mumbles. The children’s choir is distracted. But what if we could be at the place where all of that happens, and when someone asks us how was church, we would look back and remember the joy of being with the Lord and the fellowship with the broken, beautiful saints God surrounds us with and said, “You know, it was a great day?”

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

Trust Issues

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.”  (Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV)

If you listened closely, you may have heard to collective groans go across Central Ohio yesterday evening. One was from any University of Kentucky Fans watching the  end of the tournament game. The other was from those who were trying to watch the game only to have the last few seconds interuppted by a tornado warning as storms swept through the area.

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I’ll admit I was one of the complainers. Obviously we want people to be safe and a person’s life  always takes precedence over entertainment. However, the lack of a split screen, or actually anything on the screen, and the game being very close added to the frustration.

Judging by the reactions of many who commented on social media I wasn’t alone.  Honestly, as angry as I was, I came out on the rational end compared to some who decided to comment. Apparently we have a lot more UK fans in Central Ohio than I thought, or people just relay love the tournament.

And I have no doubt that’s true. March Madness is big business. Even people who don’t watch college basketball fill out their brackets and watch the games. But looking at the comments, I find myself wondering if there is something else going on here.  I wondered  if it was a love of basketball or the frustration that comes from having one’s  plans interuppted that caused all the angst.

None of us like having our plans interupptions. I know I don’t. But I believe most of us can deal with life’s interupptions when they make sense. It’s the time when life doesn’t make sense that causes our frustration to grow.  I wonder if there had been a split screen or at least a video feed of any kind of people would have been as upset? As it was it just didn’t make sense.

We seem to have a guiding prinicple here don’t we? We can deal with life when it makes sense. We have a much harder time dealing with it when it doesn’t.  When our lives are upset by interupptions that simply don’t make sense to us, it’s jarring. We get angry. But here also lies the problem. Life very seldom makes sense.

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I am bombarded constantly by situations in my life that don’t make sense. Loved ones make decisions that don’t make any sense and we have to sit helplessly on the sidelines as they struggle. Sometimes we are adversely affected by those nonsensical decisions. Our bosses make decisions that make no sense to us, or the corruption itself makes decisions that  we don’t understand. We see people being promoted for, as far as we can tell, no good reason while we languish in obscurity. In fact, there are times when God himself does things, or allows things to happen that simply don’t make sense to us.   How are we to survive with any sanity in a world that makes no sense and constantly frustrates us.

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First we survive by being honest. When we say life, maybe even God himself , doesn’t make any sense what we really mean is things aren’t working out the way I think they should.  It’s not that life doesn’t make sense. Its that things aren’t going according to our plan.  The sooner we can made it the issue is we aren’t getting what we want, the better off we will be.

Or second step is to admit we can be wrong. A jarring blow to our egos, I know.  But isn’t it possible that if life “made sense” meaning it went he way we wan tit to, that we could end up in a much worse spot? I often what things to go a certain way for me regardless of how others might be affected.  There are plenty of times I can look back over my life and say I’m glad life didn’t “make sense”.

This is what the Proverbs mean by not leaning on our own understanding. It’s not that we aren’t intelligent, thoughtful people. We are. It’s just that our understanding will always be incomplete. And often selfish. The Proverb suggests that if our understanding of how life should be is incomplete and often in error, than wouldn’t it be better to look somewhere else?

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If you want to survive a world that doesn’t make sense, the Scripture suggests we hold onto the one we can trust. Trust God with all your heart.  That’s a huge paradigm shift in how we deal with life. It means we come to God and shout, “Life doesn’t make sense!”. And his answer is “Does it have to?”  Would it make your life any easier if it did?  Can you trust me even when life doesn’t make sense?  Anyone can trust when they are getting their own way.  But am I the same God when life is interrupted and makes no sense?Thankfully, He is.

It’s not that we as Christians adopt a laissez-faire attitude. Or that we ignore those times of deep struggle and confusion actually the opposite. It’s Ok for us to have questions. It’s OK for us to question God, otherwise we have to do away with most of the Psalms. It’s that we know in the end the answer is not  about a solution, but a person. It’s about a relationship with a God whose love and understanding is far above our own. And if we choose to lean on something in life, it’s better to lean on Him.

 

In Christ,

 

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

 

 

 

Reality

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

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Well, we finally made it.  Today my calendar tells me what is an undisputed fact.  As I write this, it is the first day of Spring.  This is an undeniable fact.  My desk Calendar says so.  I looked it up on the internet.  Several friends have posted it on their social media pages.  And proof, of all proof, even the little animated Google logo tells us its the first day of spring.

There is only one little problem. It still feels and looks like Winter. The sky is overcast, I had to wear a coat to the office. If you look closely you can still see frost and maybe just the last stubborn remnants of last week’s snow under the bushes.  The trees are mostly still bare. Winter this year, at least in Ohio, decided to take the church snowbirds route.  It was nowhere to be seen November through February. But now it’s back.  You can say it’s Spring all you want.  But my eyes, thermostat and wind chill all tell me something very different. It’s still winter.

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(actual picture outside my window.  OK it’s not but it feels like this)

The facts and the reality don’t match.  The reality is, it’s Spring. But the facts, what I see around me don’t match up. So what am I to believe? Is it Spring or is it winter? Does the reality make any difference when the facts don’t line up?

I don’t know about you, but I feel the same way sometimes when I read my Bible. I read these wonderful things about how God can move mountains and changes people’s lives.  How he loves and gives his children good gifts.  And it is the most, moving, heart warming, life changing things one could ever read, or hope for.

But then I look at the facts around me.  And I see good, faithful Christians really struggling.  I see them in the midst of grief and pain. I see mountains not always moving.  I see people look at what life has handed them and wonder how any of this can be a good gift.  the facts around me don’t necessarily match up with the reality. So which are we to believe?

The author of Hebrews reminds us that this is where faith comes in. Faith is holding onto the reality, even when the facts don’t line up. It doesn’t mean that we are blindly ignoring the world around us. Far from it.  It simply means we understand that the facts can fool us. Things are not always what they seem. We are by no means the best judge of truth. If push comes to shove, faith says hold onto the reality every single time.

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In some ways it’s like this “spring day” we’re having right now. Yes the weather is less than optimal. But it is Spring.  And while we can’t see it yet, in small ways Spring is happening around us. Just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t here. No one panicked when they  got up this chilly morning (OK maybe a little. Spring will come, because we know it always has.  What we  have seen gives us hope when we can’t see it yet.

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I hold onto the reality that God will move the motions in our way because I’ve seen Him do it over and over. And I can point to plenty of times in my life when it seemed as if the mountain wasn’t going to move or it moved in an unexpected way. If God has done it in the past, there is no need to worry He will not continue to do so.  There have been many times when I have wondered why God allows His people to struggle in life. Yet I have never seen Him abandon them. In truth, those are some of the moments when they draw closer to Him.  And I have experienced many “gifts” in life that  I wouldn’t call good. Yet I’ve always seen God’s goodness somehow shine through.

So don’t worry. Spring is coming no matter what the wind says. And we can believe in God’s promises. That’s the reality. That’s the truth. That in the end, is faith.

 

In Christ,

 

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

 

Miss Me?

“O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 107 NRSV)

 

 

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I attended a conference recently that put me back in touch with friends I haven’t seen in some time.  We spent time catching up with one another and what what’s happening in our families. Then, as often happens, we began to talk about other people we knew but hadn’t seen in a while. I asked about a certain person, and my friend responded, “You know I see them from time to time, but I rarely get a chance to talk with them”  In other words they are present with someone without really being present with them. In the same room, but not connecting.

And that’s not to point fingers at anyone because I think we have all done this from time to time.  Whether it be a family reunion or a party its hard to get around to see everyone.  much less have a meaningful conversation with them.

I know I’ve experienced this more than once. It’s often at a family get together. Our family has gone over the years as most families do.  And while I see everyone who is in the room, I often don’t get a chance to talk really talk with everyone,  We both get engaged in conversation with to the people, we get busy.  There have been times when we go home and I’ll have to ask my wife how is so and so. I saw them across them room, but when they left it occurred to me that I hadn’t had a chance to talk with them even thought we had been in the same room for six or seven hours.

Without some real effort on our part, we may often be present with someone but not really be present. It doesn’t even have to be a big  event. It may be us and our immediate family or just our spouse. But because we allow worries or other thoughts preoccupy us, we may not say  two meaningful words to them all night.  How many partners are in the same room with the children but never really talk with them?  And we haven’t even touched on how technology has made us into a very insulated culture. We put on our ear buds, we plug in and tune out from the world.  Yes its every easy to be present and yet not truly present.  We can be with them, yet miss them altogether.

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Many Christians experience the same thing with God.  We come to church, we sing  the hymns or praise songs, we go through the liturgy and prayer. The truly holy of us might even pull up the scriptures on our phone. The really  pious who have a call to evangelism might even check in they are at church on their social media sites.  We can do all of that, yet still seem to miss God.

Like that evening with the family or the party, we come and acknowledge that God is there. Yet somehow we never seem to truly connect with Him. We get distracted.  We think about what might happen that day. The kid in front of us is about to have a meltdown, and so is her mom.  We get distracted by our problems and worries. We sing that last song, maybe grab a donut and leave. All the element are there but we missed God.  We are present, but not truly present with Him.

I have found that when I encounter spiritual dryness in my life it’s often because I am present without really being present. I did all the right things, but I missed God. Oh, I thought about him and praised Him. But I missed Him His presence in my life that out to be at the center of our worship experiences.

And that’s why Lent is such an important season for us in the church year.  Lent, by its nature is a slower paced season. Unlike Advent that hurdles along at breakneck speed toward the manger, Lent  calls us to slow down. It might even ask us to stop all together. Lent asks us to turn our hearts inward. It asks us to look upward toward God. It invites us to truly be present and not miss God.

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So how can Lent help us to be present and not miss God? One of the ways is to look at your life and give something up for Lent that is distracting you from God.  Giving up something in Lent isn’t about improving your body image.  It’s about letting go of    distractions that keep you from missing God.

 

Try not only giving uImage result for Missing Godp, but taking on something. Engage in a spiritual discipline. Read your Bible every day. Or set aside time every day to pray, but make it all praise time to God.  Or praying for other people. If your health allows it, fast. Ask yourself, what can I do to be more present with God.

Be in ministry. Ministry is actually a spiritual discipline, but for our sake today, I’m listing it separatley. Remember Jesus words to feed the hungry and take care of the needy? Matt 25 reminds us that serving others is serving Jesus. It makes us aware of His presence. One of the ways we can keep from missing God is to see Him in the eyes of someone else.

If you’ve felt like you’ve missed God lately, I want to encourage you to use this season to draw lose again. Become away of His presence and enjoy being with HIm. Please don’t miss Him this year.

 

In Christ,

 

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

The Imperfect Church

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

They’re out there you know.  Hiding in the shadows. Lurking just where we can’t see or acknowledge them.  No it’s not the new M. Night Shamalayan screenplay, although it would probably make a pretty good movie.

We are being invaded. Not by aliens, monsters or ghosts. No we are being invaded by secret worshipers.  It’s a strategy many denominations and even local churches are beginning to engage in. They are employing people to come, sneak in and report back what they experienced in worship that Sunday.

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It’s a great strategy really. Many businesses have used secret shoppers for years. A company hires someone to go to a store and shop.  They then report on their experience.  Where the people helpful? what seemed odd? Would you come back?  It’s a great way to have someone on the outside bring back some objective data.

The church is now beginning to use secret worshipers to do the same thing. Come to a church, worship and report on what they experienced. We all know what we think people experience. But to have someone on the outside come and share from their point of view what they experienced can be eye opening.

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Last week a friend told me their District was sending out secret worshipers to churches.  He asked “Does your district use secret worshipers?” I thought for a moment and said,”I have no idea.  I mean, if they are secret I’d have no idea they are there.  If we have them no one has told me about it.

That same week my wife showed me an article about a company that uses secret worshipers. They pay $45.00 a service, so if you worship three times on a Sunday you can pick up some good money all before noon. Apparently the business is doing well because they were recruiting more people to work for them.

But what struck me was the comment made by a secret worshiper.  He isn’t a believer. He’s been doing this job for several months now. And he commented I really haven’t seen anything or experienced anything that would make me want to join a  particular church.”

When I first read this my knee jerk reaction was the church isn’t doing it’s job. How could he worship that much and not want to be a Christian. He went to church sometimes more than once every Sunday. I have church members who don’t do that.  He must have not been to church that takes Jesus’ words at the top of this blog seriously. They must not have been lifting up Jesus.

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But the more I thought about it, the more unfair that seemed to me. I’m sure most of the churches he visited were full of good, Jesus loving Christians.  I hope he heard a Biblical sermon sharing the truth of Christ every single week, maybe more than once a Sunday.

The problem was not in the church’s witness as much as in the objective of the secret worshiper. In truth, he isn’t a worshiper. he didn’t come to lift up Jesus. He didn’t come to find answers for his life, to be made whole. he didn’t come knowing there was a need in his life only Christ could fill. No, he came to see how well he was welcomed. To see if he “liked” the music.  How good was the choir or the band? Did anyone shake his hand? Was he overwhelmed or underwhelmed with attention?  In short his day, was about him , not God.

Thankfully, I believe in Prevenient Grace. So I fully hope that while this man doesn’t plan on it, at some point Jesus is going to break into his life. And I don’t disparage what he does. he ask some important questions. We do need to make church a high quality, welcoming place.  But while they are important questions, I’m not sure they are the most relevant ones.

The more relevant question would be how can I lift up God and praise Him this morning? What does Jesus want to do in my life and am I willing to let Him do it? What does God have to say to me today? How can this body of Christ bring me closer to Jesus? How can  I bring them closer to Jesus?

As I said I don’t want to be too harsh with the secret worshiper. Mostly because I see too much of him in me when I worship somewhere.  What about you? When we come to church what is our goal? Do we let too long a line for coffee, or the fact somebody took the last maple bacon donut (You know who you are, and so does God…just saying) deter us from what worship should be? Do we complain because a baby was too loud, or we sang an unfamiliar song?  Do we leave disgruntled because the communion bread wasn’t to our liking?

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Truth be told the church and worship are never perfect. But that’s the beauty of  it. So many little things go awry, and yet, some how God still comes. His Holy Spirit still blesses.  In an imperfect moment a perfect savior shines.  I’m glad.  Because in my moment of imperfection, I need to know God still uses me.  He still has a place for me.

As we enter into the season of Lent, We come to a time of introspection and reflection. Perhaps this year we should take time to reflect and marvel at the imperfection of the church and how God still uses her, as well as marvel at how God uses an imperfect us.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Brian Jones <><

Worship or Experience?

“The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” (Isaiah 29:13 NIV)

 

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As I write this, Valentine’s Day is fast approaching.  Hopefully, for those of you who have a significant other, I hope that doesn’t come as too much of a surprise to you. But naturally, at this time of year our hearts do turn to thoughts of love. We take time to let those we love know how much we care for them and how precious they are to us. And hopefully begin to set a pattern for how we live outside of the Holiday.

And its a good and right thing we do.  It’s reflective of how God loves us. We often make God’s love a very sterile thing, when the Bible shows us it full of passion and intimacy. The passion and intimacy we show each other is a pale reflection of just how much God loves us.  After all, the church is called the Bride of Christ. The book of Revelation ends at the wedding banquet of the Groom (Christ) and the Bride (the church).

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I love that image of the church being the bride of Christ. Not only does it remind me how passionately  Jesus loves us, but it also serves as a reminder that we are to cherish the church and one another. I’ve made a concerted effort to be careful in how I speak of the church to make sure I am honoring the bride.

All of which is a long preamble to me saying I want to be careful how I walk through the rest of this blog. Please know I have no desire to cast any aspirations on nay other part of the bride of Christ.  And I, of all people,  don’t want to appear I am standing in judgment over any other church.

Ok, now that I’ve over explained and protected myself, the other day we received a flyer from a local church inviting us to worship.  The flyer had been sent out to, I imagine, most of the residents in our community.  And it was very well done. Obviously they aren’t trying to be the church for everyone and they are marketing to their niche.  I commend them on reaching out to the community.

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But what caught my eye is that the flyer noted they are changing their times for worship.  However worship was not the word they used. Rather, it noted, Our experience times have changed.  Not worship, but experience.

I’ve no  interest in wondering about their reasoning to use the word experience instead of worship, but it did get me to thinking. What are you looking for? When you come to church, or maybe in your own devotional times, are you looking for an experience or are you looking for worship.

It’s a more critical question than you may think. Experience is about us. It’s about what We feel, what we come away with.  When we come to church looking for an experience our litmus test becomes our won emotions and feelings. We find ourselves asking, “What did I get out of this? Did I like it? Did it touch me? And it’s not that those aren’t legitimate questions. But when they are the only questions we ask we can find ourselves slowly slipping into the center of things.  So in a very real way, it’s still worship. It’s just the worship of the self.

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Real worship clearly puts Jesus into the center of all things. It’s about adoring, thinking and centering ourselves upon Him.   The more we truly worship the less the “self” matters. And yet ironically, its when we worship and are allowed to let go of ourselves that we find our true self emerging. We were created not for the experience, but for worship.  Worship is freeing. Living by the experience and needing to be self satisfied is a terrible burden.

If I have to choose between worship and experience, i want to choose worship every time.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

 

Is It Impossible?

14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing,16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? (James 2:14-16 NLT)

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This is Sir. Nicholas Winton.  He was a successful stock broker and an excellent fencer in his day.  In fact, he at one time had hoped to represent Great Britain in the Olympics.  He was that good.

But if you’ve heard of him at all, and don’t be surprised if you haven’t, it’s not because of his success as a stock broker or his athletic prowess.  Nicholas Winton’s life took a dramatic turn in 1939, all because of one decision.  He was slated to go on a ski trip in Switzerland over a holiday, when he received an invitation to come to Czechoslovakia to help a friend who was working with Jewish refugees. Czechoslovakia was about to fall to Nazi Germany and many Jewish families were not only being displaced, but rounded up  and headed to camps. Soon they would realize they were headed for such camps as Auschwitz, never to be heard of again.

Winton was moved by what he saw and wanted to do all he could to help the Jewish people escape a horrible fate. But he knew that getting everyone out would be impossible. However Great Britain had instituted a policy that while the adults could not all come children would be received if they had the money to pay to register and if there were homes for them to go to.

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Winton stole some office paper from the British EMbassy, had Children’s Division printed on it and became an unofficial Official of the government. He printed papers for the children. He raised the money and he found families to care for them.  All on his own and all under the nose of both Nazi Germany and his own English government.

Before the country fell, Winton had rescued 667 Jewish children from a fate in the death camps. There would have been more, but one of the transport trains broke down and they couldn’t get to the children.

It’s a remarkable story. And for this reason, Winton has been called the British Oscar Schindler.  But what truly makes the story remarkable is that he never told anyone. Not even his wife. In 1988, as she was cleaning out an old trunk in the attic, she discovered the old records of the rescued children. Only then, when confronted, did Nicholas Winton tell the story.  “Why didn’t you tell anyone?”, his wife asked? “Well, I moved on to the next thing. I did that and then it was time when it was over to do something else.”

After the story got out Nicholas was reunited with the now middle-aged children he saved.  A little research revealed those 667 children now have over 5,000 chidlren and grandchildren. All who owe their very existence to Nicholas Winton.

Later he was interviewed and they asked him how he did it? His reply was simply this: “I’ve always operated  my life by this principle. If it’s not blatantly  impossible, it can be done.  And then I went and did it.”

If it’s not blatantly impossible, it can be done.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to read the words in James at the top of the post without hearing that phrase. This is James reminder that faith ought to change our actions. What we believe about Jesus ought to directly translate out into how we love and serve others. In fact James will go so far as to say the litmus test of the depth of our relationship with Jesus lies in our actions.

And while I think most of us are in agreement with James, how often do those words translate out in our lives?  How often is the simple admonition to do good met with the excuse “It’s impossible”?  I’d love to help with this ministry, but I simply don’t have the time.  I’d love to help them, but I’m just not gifted in that area.   Yes, I know that the need is great, but I really can’t spare any time or certainly not any  finances to help.  What good can one person do anyway?

Time after time we come up with a reason why it’s simply impossible to do good. Or we are swamped by the futility of it all when there is so much need.  Please understand, I fully agree that we are to be good stewards of our time and talents. None of us can do everything.  And there are times we must legitimately say no.   But those times are probably pretty infrequent. Often the reason we don’t do good is we simply see it as impossible.

Sir. Nick embodied what James is talking about.  Allowing  one’s faith to flow through their actions always asserting that it’s almost never impossible to do good.  Are there some things in your life God has brought before you and you automatically wrote them off? Would you consider going back to them , praying and asking,  “Is it blatantly impossible? If not, God how will you use me?”

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And when you get caught up in the futility of it all, remember  Nicholas Winton. One man reaching out to help just a few children, changes over 5,000 lives. What could God do with us when we see doing good is never impossible and always life changing?

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><