‘Tis the Season

While in Tennessee last Friday evening I received a text message from Tracy Formea telling me that Mary wasn’t lit up in the Christmas display, and it looked like Joseph was a single father! A quick text to Mark remedied the situation, but Tina did respond that a lamb had to be temporarily sacrificed in order for Mary to be seen.

If you didn’t make it to the Light Up the Park display last weekend, be sure to include it in your Christmas plans. Several churches in Chatham have joined together to provide a beautiful nativity located just outside the entrance of the park, and this year we added a shepherd, two lambs, and a donkey. The lights will be on from 6-9 on Fridays and Saturdays until Christmas. Don’t miss it.

And, since I’m thinking about Christmas, it’s time to start thinking about what you might do for our Christmas Eve service. The candlelight communion service is of course the bedrock of our traditional celebration, but we need individuals, ensembles, and children’s choirs to help fill the auditorium with Christmas music. If are willing to bring a musical gift to the babe in the manger, please let me know as soon as possible so a full program can be planned.

Since Christmas is quickly followed by a new year, it’s time to once again affirm the leadership and financial plans for our congregation. With that in mind, I’m pleased to announce that the current elders have all agreed to continue serving in 2018, and they will be re-introducing themselves for the sake of newer members this Sunday morning. The financial projection and proposed distribution for missions for the new year will also be presented. Everyone will then be given the opportunity to affirm the elders and the projection on December 17th.

One final note is that the Christmas mailbox is now open for the exchange of Christmas greetings. Feel free to put cards in the alphabetical slots, and be sure to check the box for card to you.

Tis the season. And I love it.

God Bless, Rick

Blessings from Bible Study

One of the greatest blessings of group Bible study is gaining insight from one another. And I was surely blessed last Wednesday.

We were studying in the 14th chapter of Romans, which begins: “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.” At first the general feeling was that Paul was talking about someone who is new to Christianity, and whose faith is therefore immature. One who perhaps might not understand there is no longer a need to observe some of the restrictions found in the Old Testament.

Eventually we broadened it a bit, and focused on the fact it had to do with opinions, and that perhaps the point had less to do with the immaturity of one’s faith, and more on the matter of personal convictions. Those convictions might come from a lack of understanding of what the Bible has to say, or they may simply come from a feeling that something might not be pleasing to God. Either way we are to accept the brother or sister without passing judgement on their opinion, or looking on them with contempt for refusing to eat something or observing a day differently than we do. And vice versa. Bottom line is that we’re not to sit in judgment over how someone chooses to honor the Lord.

That seemed to answer most of the questions that arose from the first 12 verses, but I still had a question about verses 7-9. Sure, it is true that if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord, but why did Paul insert that in the midst of a passage about accepting a brother whose opinions differ from our own? I had tentatively decided that perhaps he was simply indicating that these weren’t matters of life and death, and we shouldn’t make such a big deal about them. But before I could share my thoughts, Rich asked Caroline to share something she had gone through with a friend.

Caroline proceeded to tell about the death of good friend who refused blood transfusions because of her Jehovah’s Witness beliefs. Caroline had done her best to convince her friend that a transfusion was not a violation of God’s will, but she couldn’t change her mind, and she died.

Wow! Now I understood that Paul may very well have been saying that even if someone held to an opinion that led to his or her death, if it was done to honor the Lord, it’s not our place to stand in judgement of their conviction.

If that’s the case, it should be obvious that differing opinions on eating, drinking, and the way we might choose to celebrate a day should never divide us.

God Bless, Rick

Beautiful Churches?

You never know where it’s going to lead, especially when exploring the internet.

I was recently looking through articles in USA Today, and a picture of a beautiful church caught my attention. I clicked on the article, “Great Protestant Churches Around the World”, and enjoyed looking at 44 pictures of beautiful churches. Then I noted that several of them were located in the Netherlands. In fact, when I went back to see how many, I discovered that seven of the great Protestant churches were in the Netherlands.

Since my daughter-in-law’s mom is Dutch, I hate to admit that I had to double check to make sure that the Netherlands was the same place as Holland. Then my curiosity led me to explore the current status of Protestant churches in the Netherlands. I almost wish I hadn’t.

The Protestant Church in the Netherlands, the largest Protestant body there, was founded in 2004 when three Protestant denominations merged. Nearly 12% of the population, or over 2 million people, claim membership in the church. Of those members, however, 42% consider themselves to be non-theists, meaning they don’t believe in God, and one in six of the clergymen are either agnostic or atheist.

Then things got even more interesting. I discovered that while 17% of the population do claim to be theistic, 25% are atheists, 31% are agnostic, and 27% are ietsists. Obviously, I had to hit the link to “ietsism.”

Ietsism is Dutch for “somethingism.” It’s the belief that “there must be something undefined beyond the material and that which can be known or be proven.” They have not found any of the “pre-packaged” gods offered by traditional religions to be satisfactory. The term was coined in 1997, and is now more widely used in Europe than the “spiritual but not religious” that is used here.

As I pondered this, I couldn’t help but think of Paul in the midst of the idols of Athens. I could almost hear him standing in a great Protestant church, declaring, “What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.”

Sadly, what secularization has done to the great churches of Europe, it’s doing to many of the historically great churches here as well. May we have the courage to be a Paul in the midst of unbelief.

God Bless, Rick

Mastering Sin

Why did he do it? That seems to be the question that’s asked when someone does something “out of character” or even horrific.

What led a man to kill 58 people in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history? According to an article in this morning’s paper, investigators are working around the clock, looking for clues that would point to his motive. Authorities have resorted to putting up billboards seeking tips, and now scientists are preparing to do a microscopic study of his brain. Experts admit if disease or abnormalities are found, it would be false science to conclude they caused or even contributed to the massacre, but still they want to have an extensive look.

Looking for physical, or even psychological reasons behind sinful acts can, however, easily degenerate into excuse making, and open the door for the justification of sin. Our attempts to find reasons for sinful activity may have advanced technologically, but they actually began in the garden, and after the first act of violence in human history.

When confronted with their sin, Eve pointed to the snake, and Adam pointed both to his wife and to God Himself. Neither wanted to take personal responsibility for their sin. And when Cain killed Abel because he was angry that God had accepted his brother’s offering but not his, he refused to heed God’s instruction on how to deal with his emotions. God told him that if he would do what was right his depression would be lifted, and he would find acceptance with God. He also warned him that sin was crouching at his door, and told him that he had to master it.

Years ago, while in training to be a biblical counselor, I was warned about allowing psychological problems to be put into a medical model. That if we start looking for medical reasons for aberrant behavior we not only excuse it, we actually make the person the victim of something that is beyond their control, something they’re not responsible for, something that requires a professional to fix.

That’s not to deny that there can be contributing factors behind our behavior, and that understanding them may help us get a handle on our problems. But the bottom line is that God expects us to master sin, and He has given us the resources to do so.

God Bless, Rick