Monday, September 29, 2008
I was reading something interesting (to me!) the other day. A writer was pointing out that though charitable giving in the United States has steadily increased over the last 30 years, in the '80's religion received nearly 55% of all charitable gifts, but in the '90's it went down to 40%, and now is at 33%! This is interesting, in that though giving to those in need has actually grown, giving to the Lord has actually gone down. Americans, in general, give away 2% of their income yearly (far less than a tithe), yet less give to their churches today than ever before. While we Americans, as a people, are the most generous people on the planet, we no longer seem to trust the churches we attend, which obviously includes the church I pastor. What is interesting is that we believers apparently have forgotten (or perhaps never really believed) that eternity matters, and that our church fellowships that we attend are actually impacting the world, for eternity. Without the financial support of our members, our churches will simply cease performing the functions that have produced such blessings in so many lives. I never actually say this in church as I am aware most would misunderstand me, but I am concerned for the health of our fellowship. It has been said "Giving is the closest thing we have on a daily basis to getting a true pattern of a person's character", and I happen to agree with that statement. As I have said in the past, my wallet and my heart have an invisible string, tying them together. I have seen that, when times get financially tight, the first thing that people do is stop giving to the Lord. It is not that they stop giving (fast food restaurants still get plenty of business), but they do stop giving to Him. Interestingly, some say that they will return to their giving patterns once the financial crunch is over, and they borrow from the Lord. Still, in the Old Testament, if I decided to withhold my gifts to God for personal benefit, I would actually add 20% to what I held back when I next presented my gifts to the Lord (Lev 27:31). Can you imagine how much I would be obligated to the Lord were we still under the Law? I pray that we, the church, repent from our habit of robbing God and begin trusting Him to "supply all of our need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus". As a pastor, I actually am saddened as I see the church numerically growing, but now having to hold back on doing things that would benefit the kingdom of God and this church because people are withholding their gifts, or have simply never stepped out in faith to give to the Lord. If you are afraid financially, my encouragement to you is to evaluate your spending habits, eliminate non-essential spending, develop a budget that prioritizes your spiritual life, and be careful to eliminate credit card debt and unnecessary purchases. Learn to, as we used to say so long ago "put your money where your mouth is", in other words, learn to walk the walk as well as talking the talk. In doing so, God will reveal to you that He truly is the Jehovah Jireh, the God Who provides (Gen 22:14)!
Sunday, September 21, 2008
We had our night of prayer last Friday, and it was wonderful in every way. It was a blessing joining with so many churches for prayer, and I rejoiced seeing the body of Christ uniting for prayer. Golden Springs, Chino Hills, Upland, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, and many other fellowships were represented, and I was so moved by the excitement and anticipation I sensed in the sanctuary. We gathered to pray for our state and our nation, but especially for our marriages. Ultimately, society rises or falls on the foundation of its families, and with the radical re-defining of family, it is really the church's responsibility to stand up and re-emphasize just what a family is. God tells us that marriage is His idea, and in Malachi 2:11 He goes so far as to refer to marriage as the holy institution which He loves. Marriage is defined in scripture as the union of a man and a woman, creating a composite unity: the two becoming one. Because we believe in the traditional definition of marriage, we oppose changing it to accommodate willful sin and this is why we joined in prayer this last Friday. I would encourage you all to pray for our marriages, and to guard your own, as well as turning out to vote in November. We need to make our consciences known, and you can do it in many ways, including at the ballot box. Remember, all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.
Friday, September 19, 2008
We all have some dates etched into our minds, and they are like bench marks, or sign posts that remind us of what we have done, or where we have been. Birthdays, graduations, marriages, births, deaths, our moment of salvation all have months, days, and years attached to them, and every time we reach one of these dates, our memories can be drawn back to that day and the things that happened. Today, Sept 19, is such a day for me. On this date last year, Marie and I flew to Miami, Florida so I could teach at CC Kendall's Wednesday night service, and then teach four times at their yearly marriage couple's retreat. I was on "vacation" (I usually take working vacations) and thought it would be nice to combine ministry with fellowship, and because we wanted to spend time with Pedro, Kendall's pastor, we decided to go. We left early that morning, getting up around 4 a.m., and took an early flight to Florida. While en route, I distinctly remember that I was reading, and could not focus on the words on the page. I prayed, "O God, I know that I am losing my memory. Please do not let it happen while I am teaching". I didn't tell Marie what I was experiencing, as I did not want to alarm her, but I knew something was going to happen. After arriving in Miami, we went to our room, and I quickly got ready for the evening service, and within an hour or two after arrival was sitting in Pedro's office, waiting for the service to start. Marie brought me two Cuban coffee's (very strong espresso) and I went out to teach. At the end of the study my memory faded and was almost completely erased. I gave an invitation, prayed with people at the foot of the platform, and then told Marie that I did not know where I was. Paramedics were called, and my blood pressure was something like 200 over 100 and they said that I was in danger of having a stroke, so they put me in an ambulance and I was hospitalized for three days. Quite an experience, I must say. This turned my world upside down, as I began going to specialists to get tests to determine what was wrong, and much of my life was changed from that day on. The initial prognosis was early stages of Alzheimer's, and the neuropsychologist I went to said that I might live a normal life for the next 7 years. Stress was to be avoided, weight was to be lost, exercise was to begin, and my life pretty much changed. Added to this was a diagnosis of stage 2 diabetes, early stages of melanoma, and the early stages of cataracts. This all took place between Sept 19th and November. When November arrived, we had a trip scheduled to go to Hawaii, and I felt that I needed to get away, to try to regroup and to think of what all of this was going to do to my family, and my ministry. We have a fairly large church, and the needs represented by such a group are huge and continuous. When the neuropsychologist told me I needed to reduce stress, I told her that that would be difficult to do, because I am a pastor: stress is part of the package. I was feeling bad because I couldn't concentrate on all the daily concerns of the church, and felt like I was failing as a pastor, as I could not be there like I used to be. I was having difficulty remembering names of people I had known for over 20 years, and as I read and studied my bible, I had to re-read the passage, as I would pretty much forget what I had just read. I began relying on my notes more extensively, as I could not remember where I wanted to go, even after teaching the passage in first and second service. I didn't want to tell the church, as I did not want to cause them concern, not to mention that I knew that some would leave the church because they could not handle being taught by a pastor in poor health. People can be interesting when it comes to things like this. I remembered how many people left the church shortly after my father died, because my emotions would get the best of me as I taught, and I would begin to cry when I mentioned him. Some just cannot handle this kind of thing, and I am aware of it and for this reason, kept these things pretty much to myself and told only a handful of people about what was going on. All of this was pretty much a bummer, I can tell you, but there are benefits. My good friend Mike MacIntosh recently wrote me and he said that these kinds of events reveal two things: our own mortality, and our need for humility, as we are put in the position of trusting the Lord much more, with a sense that we are not going to pastor the church forever! He is so right, and my life has been changed by the events of Sept 19th. I should add, that after the diagnosis of dementia (early Alzheimer's) the neurologist told me that he misdiagnosed me, and gave me a clean bill of health. The skin specialist provided treatment, and the early melanoma was dealt with, and I have lost weight and hope to avoid insulin with the stage 2 diabetes. All in all, good has resulted. I pastor a wonderful group of people, and those who have been with me for years have remained compassionate, understanding, and supportive as my family and I have walked this valley. I still don't know exactly what caused my memory loss, and perhaps may never know, but that is something I can live with. With this in mind, I think of how Paul had a divine gift, what he referred to as his "thorn in the flesh", so today is my anniversary of my own "thorn". Through this, I have come to know in a deeper way that "when I am weak, then I am strong" because "God's strength is made perfect in weakness". To Him be the glory, great things He is doing, great things He has done! Even so, I will serve Him as faithfully as I can until I see His face and can tell Him how much I love Him.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
I have been gone for the last several days, on what is a working vacation kind of thing. We went to Mt. Hermon (near Santa Cruz) on Sunday Sept 7, and taught at a pastor's/leadership conference twice. On Wednesday, the 10th, we left Mt. Hermon and stayed in Carmel for a couple of days, and then drove on to Pismo Beach for two more days, getting home on Sunday, the 14th. From that point on, we have been at home and have been kind of relaxing and taking care of a few things. We are getting ready for our Friday night of prayer, and that is what is on my mind at the moment. This nation is in need of prayer, and it will be a blessing for us to get together with other church bodies to lift up our marriages and families. At the moment, I am not overly concerned about this nation, as I see it as becoming ready for a new move of the Spirit. As I read the Old Testament book of Judges, I see how there are actually cycles that the nation traveled through, from God's presence to God's judgment, and then back to God's presence and I see similarities in this nation. It is obvious that we have not yet been forsaken by God; the fact is, we are the most blessed nation on planet earth, but what we need to do is return to the God of our fathers, plain and simple. I think our marriages and families, as Christians, need to once again take the center place of our faith as the strength of the nation is built on the strength of its families. We need to honor our promises to God, and to our spouses once again, and we need to preserve our homes so that our children will learn how to live for Jesus, and become decent people and good citizens. I sure pray that this is what is emphasized when we get together, and I for one am ready to call our churches back to fellowship with God, and a walk that is worthy of the gospel of Jesus. If you are able to join us, please make every effort to do so. If you cannot, please take time on Friday to pray for a revival in this nation, and a renewed hunger for our marriages and families to be built up in Jesus. The time is short, and it is high time to awaken to the things of the Lord. May God hear our prayers for this beautiful country we have been so blessed to live in!
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Today I taught at the Calvary Chapel South Bay Men's Conference, and it was quite a blessing. Raul Ries was the first teacher, and his heartfelt cry to the men to yield to the Holy Spirit was timely, moving, and very important. The men responded with great emotion to the call, and I was blessed to see such a response, and to also feel a personal desire for more of the Lord in my life. The second speaker was a missionary to the Sudan. He came and spoke to us, and his message was very convicting and encouraging at the same time. He shared stories of the men he trains as chaplains, and how they have given up everything to follow the Lord. Some have been murdered, others have been tortured, and yet others have had their wives and children killed for the simple reason that they are Christians, living in a Muslim environment. It was sobering, and made me reconsider what I actually think are the "costs" of following Jesus. When I spoke, my message was simple: if I love Jesus, I will obey Him. I am greatly concerned that my love for Him actually grows daily, and that I avoid the trap of getting busy doing ministry and forgetting why I do what I do. As I write this, I am getting ready to travel to the Santa Cruz, Ca area to teach at a Calvary Chapel Pastor's/leaders conference. I pray that the message God has placed on my heart, as well as the hearts of the other teachers, is received and that we who lead churches will learn to walk in God's Spirit and to become people whose faith is real, and evident. God bless you all, and I pray the Lord continues working in all of our lives. Hope to see many of you in church service tomorrow, and may the Lord draw you closer to Himself!