Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Amazing Models for the Local Church

We have all been placed where we are, and also exactly when each one of us is going to be living right here. These divinely sovereign decisions are for many purposes that go beyond our full comprehension, but ultimately they are for God’s supreme purpose of bringing as many of His eternal children to Himself:  
ACTS 17:26 And He made from one [common origin, one source, one blood] all nations of men to settle on the face of the earth, having definitely determined [their] allotted periods of time and the fixed boundaries of their habitation (their settlements, lands, and abodes), 27 So that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after Him and find Him, although He is not far from each one of us.
God loves all those that are His followers in any given region, as the New Testament letters to believers in Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, and other places clearly show us. We are also called to spiritually recognize and relate to our true brothers and sisters, who all live around us right in our area. This love and concern for them is regardless of our affiliations, or our differing minor doctrines which should not affect our mutual living relationship with our heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit Who indwells all true believers:
“In the essential, necessary things of our common faith, UNITY; in the non-essential, doubtful things, LIBERTY; and in ALL things, CHARITY!”
 - Rupertus Meldenius  
Jesus showed His disciples how to live in His divine love and truth, during His three years of ministry on this earth. These men and women continued to learn how to live and give to one another, as the Holy Spirit used them to found that first living community of God’s Kingdom in Jerusalem. All of this literally began within ten days after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension back into heaven, as our heavenly Father and He empowered and emboldened them, to proclaim the Gospel good news through their words and by their actions:
ACTS 2:42 They steadfastly persevered, devoting themselves constantly to the instruction and fellowship of the apostles, to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper] and prayers.43 And a sense of awe (reverential fear) came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were performed through the apostles (the special messengers).44 And all who believed (who adhered to and trusted in and relied on Jesus Christ) were united and [together] they had everything in common;45 And they sold their possessions (both their landed property and their movable goods) and distributed the price among all, according as any had need.46 And day after day they regularly assembled in the temple with united purpose, and in their homes they broke bread [including the Lord’s Supper]. They partook of their food with gladness and simplicity and generous hearts,        47 Constantly praising God and being in favor and goodwill with all the people; and the Lord kept adding [to their number] daily those who were being saved [from spiritual death].
This first Church at Jerusalem was learning to live together in the fullness of God’s love, to become a model for all followers of Jesus for all time. The Church at Antioch continued to live out this model of love, and became the spiritual home of Jewish and Gentile believers, living in the love of Jesus together for the first time:
ACTS 11: 19 Meanwhile those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose in connection with Stephen had traveled as far away as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, without delivering the message [concerning the attainment through Christ of salvation in the kingdom of God] to anyone except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on returning to Antioch spoke to the Greeks also, proclaiming [to them] the good news (the Gospel) about the Lord Jesus. 21 And the presence of the Lord was with them with power, so that a great number [learned] to believe (to adhere to and trust in and rely on the Lord) and turned and surrendered themselves to Him. 22 The rumors of this came to the ears of the church (assembly) in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw what grace (favor) God was bestowing upon them, he was full of joy; and he continuously exhorted (warned, urged, and encouraged) them all to cleave unto and remain faithful to and devoted to the Lord with [resolute and steady] purpose of heart.  24 For he was a good man [good in himself and also at once for the good and the advantage of other people], full of and controlled by the Holy Spirit and full of faith (of his belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through Whom we obtain eternal salvation). And a large company was added to the Lord. 25 [Barnabas] went on to Tarsus to hunt for Saul. 26 And when he had found him, he brought him back to Antioch. For a whole year they assembled together with and were guests of the church and instructed a large number of people; and in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. 27 And during these days prophets (inspired teachers and interpreters of the divine will and purpose) came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and prophesied through the [Holy] Spirit that a great and severe famine would come upon the whole world. And this did occur during the reign of Claudius. 29 So the disciples resolved to send relief, each according to his individual ability [in proportion as he had prospered], to the brethren who lived in Judea. 30 And so they did, sending [their contributions] to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
The followers of Jesus in Antioch came from many differing backgrounds, and yet were molded together by God to become a home base for development of powerful, diverse, gifted leadership, and for outreach to all peoples across the whole earth:
ACTS 12: 25 And Barnabas and Saul came back from Jerusalem when they had completed their mission, bringing with them John whose surname was Mark.                                                            ACTS 13:1 NOW IN the church (assembly) at Antioch there were prophets (inspired interpreters of the will and purposes of God) and teachers: Barnabas, Symeon who was called Niger [Black], Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Separate now for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. 3 Then after fasting and praying, they put their hands on them and sent them away. 4 So then, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from [that port] they sailed away to Cyprus.
Every area has the potential to learn how to live the holy way that Jesus has called us to. Each of us has this same call in this generation. We must never be content with how things have been, or as they are now. Instead, we must surrender ourselves in our weakness or in our perceived strengths, to be led further and deeper by the Holy Spirit, both in giving ourselves to love each other, and in obeying God’s greater call on our lives. Jesus is walking today among the lampstands of areas and regions, as He does in every generation, past, present, and until He comes again, calling His people to rise up beyond our own limitations, to become His servant leaders reaching out to our communities, and to go wherever He leads us:
PHILIPPIANS 3:12 Not that I have now attained [this ideal], or have already been made perfect, but I press on to lay hold of (grasp) and make my own, that for which Christ Jesus (the Messiah) has laid hold of me and made me His own.13 I do not consider, brethren, that I have captured and made it my own [yet]; but one thing I do [it is my one aspiration]: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward.
EPHESIANS 3:17 May Christ through your faith [actually] dwell (settle down, abide, make His permanent home) in your hearts! May you be rooted deep in love and founded securely on love,18 That you may have the power and be strong to apprehend and grasp with all the saints [God’s devoted people, the experience of that love] what is the breadth and length and height and depth [of it];19 [That you may really come] to know [practically, through experience for yourselves] the love of Christ, which far surpasses mere knowledge [without experience]; that you may be filled [through all your being] unto all the fullness of God [may have the richest measure of the divine Presence, and become a body wholly filled and flooded with God Himself]!20 Now to Him Who, by (in consequence of) the [action of His] power that is at work within us, is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]21 To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen (so be it).
~Neil Uniacke, Executive Director

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Power of God to Deliver and the Power of a Thankful Heart to Remember

I'm thinking about Thanksgiving today; this Thursday we'll be celebrating all the goodness of God in the past year, and not only in the past year, but in all of our lives. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Psalm 103, where the psalmist David writes (sings out): "Praise the Lord, oh my soul and all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, oh my soul, and forget not all his benefits." Then David enumerates the many benefits the Lord showers upon him. There are times when I am down, discouraged, anxious perhaps, and then I think of this psalm, and I begin to thank God for all his goodness and benefits to me, and my heart begins to fill with joy and praise, and my spirit is lifted to a higher place.
I came across a story many years ago, which illustrates the redeeming power of God in a time when all seemed lost. This story tells the power of God to deliver and the power of a thankful heart to remember God's goodness. This story is taken from Captain Eddie Rickenbacker's biography: 
It is gratitude that prompted an old man to visit an old broken pier on the eastern seacoast of Florida. Every Friday night, until his death in 1973, he would return, walking slowly and slightly stooped with a large bucket of shrimp. The sea gulls would flock to this old man, and he would feed them from his bucket. Many years before, in October, 1942, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was on a mission in a B-17 to deliver an important message to General Douglas MacArthur in New Guinea. But there was an unexpected detour which would hurl Captain Eddie into the most harrowing adventure of his life.

Somewhere over the South Pacific the Flying Fortress became lost beyond the reach of radio. Fuel ran dangerously low, so the men ditched their plane in the ocean...For nearly a month Captain Eddie and his companions would fight the water, and the weather, and the scorching sun. They spent many sleepless nights recoiling as giant sharks rammed their rafts. The largest raft was nine by five. The biggest shark...ten feet long.

But of all their enemies at sea, one proved most formidable: starvation. Eight days out, their rations were long gone or destroyed by the salt water. It would take a miracle to sustain them. And a miracle occurred. In Captain Eddie's own words, "Cherry," that was the B- 17 pilot, Captain William Cherry, "read the service that afternoon, and we finished with a prayer for deliverance and a hymn of praise. There was some talk, but it tapered off in the oppressive heat. With my hat pulled down over my eyes to keep out some of the glare, I dozed off."

Now this is still Captain Rickenbacker talking..."Something landed on my head. I knew that it was a sea gull. I don't know how I knew, I just knew. Everyone else knew too. No one said a word, but peering out from under my hat brim without moving my head, I could see the expression on their faces. They were staring at that gull. The gull meant food...if I could catch it."

And the rest, as they say, is history. Captain Eddie caught the gull. Its flesh was eaten. Its intestines were used for bait to catch fish. The survivors were sustained and their hopes renewed because a lone sea gull, uncharacteristically hundreds of miles from land, offered itself as a sacrifice. You know that Captain Eddie made it.

And now you also know...that he never forgot. Because every Friday evening, about sunset...on a lonely stretch along the eastern Florida seacoast...you could see an old man walking...white-haired, bushy-eyebrowed, slightly bent. His bucket filled with shrimp was to feed the gulls...to remember that one which, on a day long past, gave itself without a struggle...like manna in the wilderness.

Praise the Lord, oh my soul, and all that is within me, praise his holy name! A thankful heart is a powerful antidote to discouragement, worry, fear, and anxiety. Let God live in your thankful heart this season.

Submitted by Tom Horst, MA, Marriage and Family Therapist

Monday, November 12, 2012

Truth That Transcends Our Feelings

     Recently, I was listening to a message in which the minister stated "feelings are real, but not truth".  That really struck me as I work with clients and their feelings on a daily basis (not to mention my own feelings as well). The minister went on to say that "[God's] truth transcends feelings."

     This is not to say that we should ignore our feelings. They do serve a purpose. Feelings help us to be aware of what's going on inside of us. Acknowledging them and being honest about them are important steps toward healing. But, we don't have to stop there. Feelings are not the end all, be all.

     Healing continues and manifests as we replace our negative feelings with the truth of God's Word. All of His rich promises are more powerful than even the strongest feeling that we may be experiencing.

     In closing, mediate on and remember what He says in 2 Corinthians 1:20 (New International Version):

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God.

Ann L. Gantt, Ph.D., LCSW
New Hope Counselor

Monday, November 5, 2012

Bruised Fruit

A few years ago a group of salesmen went to a regional sales convention in Chicago. They had assured their wives that they would be home in plenty of time for Friday night's dinner. In their rush, with tickets and briefcases, one of these salesmen inadvertently kicked over a table which held a display of apples.  Apples flew everywhere. Without stopping or looking back, they all managed to reach the plane in time for their nearly-missed boarding.

ALL BUT ONE!!! He paused, took a deep breath, got in touch with his feelings, and experienced a twinge of compassion for the girl whose apple stand had been overturned.

He told his buddies to go on without him, waved good-bye, told one of them to call his wife when they arrived at their home destination and explain his taking a later flight. Then he returned to the terminal where the apples were all over the terminal floor.

He was glad he did. The 16-year-old girl was totally blind! She was softly crying, tears running down her cheeks in frustration, and at the same time helplessly groping for her spilled produce as the crowd swirled about her; no one stopping and no one to care for her plight.

The salesman knelt on the floor with her, gathered up the apples, put them back on the table and helped organize her display. As he did this, he noticed that many of them had become battered and bruised; these he set aside in another basket.

When he had finished, he pulled out his wallet and said to the girl, 'Here, please take this $40 for the damage we did. Are you okay?' She nodded through her tears, He continued on with, 'I hope we didn't spoil your day too badly.'

As the salesman started to walk away, the bewildered blind girl called out to him, 'Mister, ' He paused and turned to look back into those blind eyes. She continued, 'Are you Jesus?'

He stopped in mid-stride, and he wondered. Then slowly he made his way to catch the later flight with that question burning and bouncing about in his soul: 'Are you Jesus?' Do people mistake you for Jesus? That's our destiny, is it not? To be so much like Jesus that people cannot tell the difference as we live and interact with a world that is blind to His love, life and grace.

If we claim to know Him, we should live, walk and act as He would. Knowing Him is more than simply quoting Scripture and going to church.  It's actually living the Word as life unfolds day to day.

You are the apple of His eye even though we, too, have been bruised by a fall. He stopped what He was doing and picked you and me up on a hill called Calvary and paid in full for our damaged fruit.

~Anonymous inspirational story