Stiff Necked People

Below is my article for the Buffalo Center Tribune. This article is based on our daily Bible reading in a Bible reading Facebook Group that I lead. We have so far read through the Gospel of Mark and Hebrews. Currently we are working through Acts. So I present this to the glory of God.

At the writing of this article, the Facebook Bible reading group that I lead is reflecting on Acts chapter seven. It is the account of Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. He has been serving the people and performing great signs and wonders. Opponents eventually rise up to confront Stephen and debate him, “but they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” (Acts 6:10). They then concoct some trumped up charges and the religious leaders seize him and bring Stephen before the council. Finally, in Acts 7:1, the high priest questions Stephen, “Are these things so?” Stephen then launches into sermon through what we call the Old Testament. Starting with Abraham and going through Solomon, Stephen recounts God’s work among his people. I read through Stephen’s sermon, and it took me about seven minutes to complete it. For seven minutes or so, the council listened without objection. They had no problem with what he was saying. There was no heresy, nothing offensive, and definitely nothing divisive. It wasn’t until verse fifty-one that Stephen got into trouble when he said, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you…” When Stephen applied the text and spoke the truth to them; the truth that they are sinners, the council became enraged.

And whether you like it or not, what Stephen said to that council that day also applies to you: You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. Please do not stone me like what they did to Stephen. Hopefully you can handle the truth. And besides, it is not me declaring this truth but rather God. But even so, many resist proclaiming this truth out of fear of being stoned by others. But as I like to say, you cannot truly hear the Good News of Easter until you have gone through Good Friday.

And so, I invite you to embrace this Lenten season. Reflect on your sinfulness and confess your sins. Remember that from dust you came and to dust you shall return. Remember that without God, death will embrace you forever. Remember and acknowledge your stiff-neckness (yes, I know that is not a word). Remember all of this but also know that there is a Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the Good News. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus is the Resurrection, the Good Shepherd, the Bread of Life and the Light of the world. Jesus is the only Gate to God’s pastures, the Narrow Way.

And so, You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, do not resist the Holy Spirit. Embrace this Good News and praise Him, always and forever, Amen.

Engaging God’s Word ~ A Prayer

This following is a prayer I wrote for engaging God’s Word. Reading scripture should never be something we approach carelessly. It should never be something we do as a matter of crossing off a to-do list item. Reading God’s Word is listening to the voice of God and therefore approach your Bible reading as a matter of life and death. Read with joyful expectation that the Creator of all is waiting to speak to you. Let us pray…

Holy God, as I read Your Word, may I not seek my own understanding but may I listen to You. May I not seek to fit my meaning into Your Word, but may I seek to hear what You are saying. And, with words that I think I know well, may I not take them for granted but rather read them with new eyes and an open heart. O God, teach me Your Word, in Jesus name I pray, Amen.

Summer Top Ten List

Yesterday (May 7) was the last day of confirmation for the school year; and what a great year it has been.

The following is a top ten list of things I gave my students, at the end of class, to do over the summer. Not requirements but things to think about as they continue their faith journey; a journey that never ends.  And as I read through this I thought I would share this with you.  They are things that apply to all of us and ones that I will be posting in my office as a constant reminder for me.

So here you go (in no particular order)…
(10) Worship (God the Father, almighty, Creator of heaven and earth)
~ Worship is not a requirement but something that flows out of your faith. We don’t worship because we have to but because we get to.

(9) Read your Bible
~ Bible reading should also be a joy.
~ If you want help staying on course find a partner to read with and hold each other accountable. Talk about about what you read and explore together.

(8) Pray
~ You can’t have a vibrant, healthy relationship with someone if you don’t spend time together.
~ Know that I will continue to be praying for each of you by name.

(7) Make the most of opportunities to share your faith
~ I dare you to ask God to give you an opportunity to share your faith with someone. I have found that God is more than happy to give you opportunities. What you do with them is your choice, but remember, it could be a matter of life or death for that person.

(6) Memorize scripture
~ And not just your “required” memory work. I challenge you to memorize Bible verses as a way of life. You just might be surprised by how God will use those verses in your life to bring Him glory.

(5) Do random acts of kindness
~ Mess with people’s heads (in a good way) by showing the love of Christ.

(4) Deflect praise
~ When someone praises you for something, remember who gave you the ability to do the thing you are being praised for.  Instead of saying “thank you” say, “praise be to God”. I am willing to bet that you will catch their attention; and what a way to share your faith.

(3) Quiet time
~ Take time out of your busy schedule to just think about God, talk and listen to Him, journal and enjoy God’s company.
~ When you are day dreaming about God you are never wasting time ~ but be careful about this if you are supposed to be working 🙂

(2) Be brave
~ When your faith is challenged, stand strong. You have the God of all creation by your side. Even if everyone around you is against you and says your wrong; be brave. God is not wrong.

(1) Remember
~ Remember that God loves you beyond anything you can possibly comprehend.

Blessed be the journey 🙂

The pastor -|—

Destruction and rewards

I came across this verse in my morning Bible reading today and it caught my attention:

Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded.
(Proverbs 13:13, ESV)

One can never go wrong by maintaining a discipline of daily Bible reading and prayer.  I have been thoroughly blessed by God through reading God’s Word each and every day.  But don’t get me wrong:
–It doesn’t keep me from pain and suffering.
–It hasn’t shown me the secret location of a pot of gold.
–It hasn’t increased my territory.
–It doesn’t give me special protection.
–It hasn’t straightened out my checkbook.
–It hasn’t done the things that the world wants to happen.

But rather…what does God’s Word do (at least for me):
–Gives me a peace like the world can not give.
–Reminds me of what God continues to do for me.
–Show me stories of God’s amazing faithfulness despite our sin.
–I feel a joy that goes beyond happiness.
–I have felt more bold in my witness.
–I have hope within this messed up world.
–It gives me guidance in my roles as pastor, husband, friend, leader, etc.

I have indeed felt rewarded…not because of MY effort in maintaining this discipline but because GOD is faithful.  This is God’s doing, not mine.  I don’t celebrate my effort.

The temptation is to think that if you are more faithful in your spiritual disciplines that God will bless you because you’re being more faithful, but it just doesn’t work that way.  We are “rewarded” because it is the nature of God’s Word.  You aren’t rewarded because of YOUR strict discipline of eating fruits and vegetables but because that is just what they do…it’s their nature to be good for you despite the kind of person you are.

The “reward” of God’s Word is there, you just need to open your eyes to what God has done FOR YOU through Jesus Christ.

The “destruction” that comes into play when we stray from God’s Word is:
–Focus on our strength ~ which is never strong enough.
–Looking to the world for happiness ~ which is always fleeting.
–Our outlook on life extends only as far as THIS life will bring you ~ death.
–Hopelessness when times get tough.

So go to God’s Word for GOD is faithful!  Seek God and He WILL be found.  Dwell in God’s presence for that is pure joy.

Hallelujah and Amen!

edh -|—

Reading through the Bible

A couple months ago I started a reading program that will take me through the Bible in a year.  I have started programs like this before but have always gotten behind…and eventually stopped because I got so far behind.  But so far I am still going strong.  I begin each morning by reading my “assigned” texts on my Droidx smartphone and then I post a verse or two to Facebook; verse(s) that have caught my attention.  But when I have done that I usually don’t make any comments about those verse(s); no explanation of why they caught my attention.  My plan here is to offer a few words on this blog of why those texts hit me on a particular day.  I might not post something everyday but I do plan to use this as a spiritual discipline in helping me engage scripture more deeply.

But before I begin this particular spiritual discipline I want to say a couple words about the spiritual discipline of scripture reading.  I know there are many of you out there that read scripture daily (or often).  But I also know there are many out there that don’t.  Allow me to encourage you today to either continue or to begin.

Each day when I read my 4 to 5 chapters I always (and I mean always) encounter something meaningful.  God uses those morning moments to speak to me.  Each morning a particular verse grabs my heart and it becomes clear that I need to share it.  This morning it was Proverbs 25:21-22 which reads as follows:

“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”

Even though there is a “burning coals” aspect of this text in relation to my “enemies” I still find this text challenging.  It is usually easier to turn away from your enemies and ignore their plight.  It is tempting to think that helping one’s enemies is a sign of weakness.  But in the eyes of God it is not weakness but rather strength and a sign of the love of God in your life.  It puts God in control.  How your enemies react to your kindness is not your problem.  This text challenges me, not just today, but everyday.  But even so I am glad God hit me with this today.  And I hope God strengthens me to show this kind of awesome love to all.

So…you don’t read scripture?  Get to it.  God is waiting to share some incredible truths with you as well.

Praise be to God!