Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Summertime observations...

Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of summer even though around here, school isn’t out yet for a couple of weeks. Summer is one of my family’s favorite seasons as the days are longer, vacation is on the horizon, the kids are out of school, trips to the beach, possibly the mountains, the amusement park, or maybe just a run over to “Brooms Blooms” for ice cream or finding a local swimming hole make summertime a lot of fun. Much needed “R&R” for a family vacation is awaited with much anticipation or a long weekend and a chance to get away are always such a blessing. Jesus set an example for us and He withdrew from the rigors of ministry to rest and recharge with his disciples so if the Son of God needed this, we do as well.  One of the observations I’ve made that happens in church life is there is an easy tendency to take a break from church and the things of the Lord during the summer. Most churches see a decline in attendance and offerings during the summer as people travel. Offerings tend to suffer as people either forget their tithe & offering or they choose to spend that money on their leisure (of course I’m sure no one at Calvary would do that)!

I wonder what would happen if God decided one day He was going on vacation for two weeks “because He needed a break” so He cancelled all prayer requests, worship activities and He decided to withhold the usual blessings He provides because He needed “a little extra cash” for His vacation? Of course that is preposterous because one of God’s primary attributes is that He is always faithful, He does not grow tired or weary, He does not sleep or slumber. If God were to take a vacation for just one day, let alone two weeks, the end result would be disastrous.

My point is that while families and individuals who make up the church are able to take a vacation, pursue leisure and enjoy a little R&R, the church does not go on vacation and continues with ministry and the expenses that go with that. Human nature is such that it is easy to forget that the church opens her doors week in and week out and all through June, July and August. As we are coming off Memorial Day weekend, let me encourage you to be faithful to support your church. My desire for you is to enjoy your summer and your vacation; that you’ll be able to rest, recharge, renew and come back refreshed. When you’re away, don’t take a break from the Lord, draw closer to Him; find a place to go to worship and honor the Lord on the Lord’s Day if at all possible. When you’re in town, be faithful in your attendance and stay caught up on your tithes and offerings. Our offerings have started to decline a bit for several weeks and I realize we’re still gripped by tough economic times, but God is always faithful to provide when we honor Him with our tithes and offerings.

We’re about to finish our study through the Book of Ezekiel on Sunday mornings very soon. The summer message series I have planned at this point will be more topical in nature as the Lord is leading me to preach and teach on the doctrine of God. We’ll be looking at the aspects of His character so we have an accurate picture of God through what He’s revealed to us from the Scriptures and not what we imagine Him to be. If we’re not careful, we tend to get a one or two dimensional view of God and He is so much more than that! I know it will be a wonderful time as we journey through this doctrine together on Sundays and I trust you’ll have a deeper understanding of our Great God on the other side of our journey. After Labor Day, I believe the Lord would have me preach through the book of Revelation to help us understand world events going on around us. My desire is to help us with the big picture of the book of Revelation and I will conclude that by Christmas. I truly believe the Lord’s return is soon even though some so-called “preachers” have recently and very wrongly predicted when this will take place; the fact is, Jesus is coming back and we need to be about His business until He comes.

In light of Memorial Day, I would be remiss if I did not say how thankful I am for all of those who have given their lives for the cause of our freedoms. The blood of patriots and heroes has been shed so we can enjoy the freedoms we have in America, one of the most important is to worship God as we see fit. To the families of those who’ve paid the ultimate price, we are thankful for you and our prayers are with you and your families. On Sunday July 3rd we’ll honor our military and veterans with an incredible musical tribute from our choir and musicians.  I’m reminded we have an obligation to teach the next generations of the costs and sacrifices necessary to continue to secure our freedoms in this nation that was founded on Biblical truth and principle as “One nation under God.” We should never assume our children understand what this means. The story is told of boy staring at a plaque in the lobby of the church one day. He asked his mom what the plaque meant and she responded that it was in honor of the men and women who had died in the service. His surprised response: “Did they die in the 8:30 or the 11:00 o’clock service?” Let’s ensure we teach them that freedom is never free and comes from sacrifice; but let’s be faithful also to teach them where true freedom comes from, the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for us. Our love and devotion to Jesus should be demonstrated to our children all the time, even in summertime. Praying you enjoy your summer, from my little corner of the world to yours…

Ralph Green
Senior Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church
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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The one meal a week plan...

Early in our marriage, I used to frustrate Cheryl when she would ask me if I was hungry. I would invariably say “I don’t know, what time is it?” I seemed to have this thought in my head that if it was around 9, noon or 5 I’d be hungry. If it wasn’t in those time slots, I wasn’t hungry. Her response was always along the lines of this had nothing to do with time, you’re either hungry or not. I had what a scientist named Pavlov called a conditioned reflex – I’d conditioned myself to be hungry at those times of the day. Not much has changed after nearly 26 years of marriage as I’m still hungry at those times! Now suppose that Cheryl told me she was putting me on diet to help me lose some weight (please, no comments) but the diet she had in mind was one big meal on Sunday at noon. I could eat all I wanted at noon on Sunday but that would have to last me the rest of the week. No snacks, no junk food, nothing till the following Sunday. Everyone knows that would be a preposterous plan that is doomed to failure. I couldn’t possibly keep that up because my body needs physical food in moderation on a regular basis.

I’m amazed at how many Christians think that such a plan works spiritually so they are on the “one meal a week plan”. In other words they come to worship on Sunday mornings and gorge themselves on the spiritual food, offered in corporate worship. The really faithful ones show up on Sunday week in and week out, they probably snack throughout the week by reading a devotional, they might even get a sandwich by reading their Bibles, or the really zealous might get a microwaved left-over meal by listening to some preaching on CD or a podcast. (I won’t even talk about those really hearty souls who are on the once or twice a month Sunday meal plan…)

As the under-shepherd here at Calvary I take very seriously my responsibility before the Lord to feed God’s people a hot fresh meal from the Word of God when we gather for corporate worship. Here at Calvary, that is twice on Sunday mornings and in mid-week worship on Wednesday evenings. I know that 30-40 minutes of preaching on Sunday morning is not enough to “make disciples.” About 22 months ago, our church family voted to rearrange our church schedule to remove all the committee meetings happing during the week nights in the evenings and move them to a different Sunday night of the month. At that time, we had a Sunday evening worship service with no activities for children and we had AWANA ministry on Wednesday nights with nothing for adults not involved in AWANA. We moved our Sunday night worship to Wednesday because we had child care and activities in place. We said when we adopted this schedule change we’d give it 18-24 months to evaluate it. We’re in the time line of needing to evaluate this. Part of the plan with our schedule change has worked well freeing up weeknights for families without committee meetings. But quite honestly, I’m in a quandary because our Wednesday worship attendance started out around 40 and I had hoped that this would grow and flourish. That has not happened as we’re down to just a faithful few who make Wednesday worship a priority. We tried offering a fellowship meal before church to help families with dinner needs but that didn’t seem to help people come and participate in worship.  We’ve been consistently doing well with our AWANA involvement which is good;  but I wonder why we don’t have people eager to participate in Wednesday worship? I realize our worship time slot is a huge challenge because we start at 6:15 and go to 7:10 which makes it hard for commuters coming from work and to help families with school aged children we need to conclude everything by 8:15.

I bring this all up because corporate worship is critical for our spiritual well being. Mid-week worship is designed to encourage, strengthen, edify and build up the body of Christ in the midst of your personal daily Bible Study you should be doing. I know it’s hard to get to worship by 6:15, but I suspect that it boils down to a simple matter of priorities as people tend to do what they want to do and they afford what they want to afford. I’m as wiped out as the next person by Wednesday, but I prioritize to be in my place with the table set and ready to serve you. I know you think “well you have to be there, you’re the pastor!” Long before I became a pastor, Wednesday worship has been a priority for me and my family and with 5 kids, we had to work at getting there. Satan doesn’t want us worshipping God on Sunday, but Wednesdays too? He’ll make sure you don’t feel like going on Wednesday or something will come up. Worship whether on Sunday or Wednesday is not about what is convenient for me or based on how I feel. When the people of God gather to meet the Lord and engage Him in worship, God begins to do amazing things in our personal lives and our corporate church life. Quite frankly, I’m not willing to just roll over and play dead and give in to the evil one’s idea that it’s hopeless trying to have Wednesday worship. I’ll be talking to our leadership team about options because I know the time slot is hard, but will you evaluate your commitment to Wednesday worship? If you are hindered by God from being able to attend, that’s one thing, but if there are some changes that could take place, I encourage you to prioritize accordingly. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for unchurched people to see Calvary gathered mid-week in corporate worship and God would use our commitment to be salt in light in such a way it would make people hungry to know God? For nurses, doctors, emergency service workers who can’t gather on Sunday, how will they have a chance to come if we just quit offering an alternative worship service opportunity?

I’m not trying to goad or berate anyone with a big guilt trip. I’m genuinely wrestling with how to maintain midweek corporate worship opportunities in the middle of a culture that is maxed out in their schedules and lives. Will you pray with me on this? Let’s ask God for wisdom and a solution in our effort to make disciples and edify the body of Christ. I never have to be asked to feed my body through the week and I know the one meal a week plan won’t work. Oh that I would hunger and thirst for spiritual food as I do for physical food. Trying to encourage your spiritual appetite, from my little corner of the world to yours…

Ralph Green

Senior Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

National Day of Prayer...

In 1787 prayer helped determine the future of our country in a significant way. The Constitutional Convention was on the verge of total failure over the issue of whether small states should have the same representation as large states. In this hopeless situation, 81-year-old Benjamin Franklin offered a suggestion. He was convinced Scripture is right when it states, they "labor in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1), so he said:
“Gentlemen, I have lived a long time and am convinced that God governs in the affairs of men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? I move that prayer imploring the assistance of Heaven be held every morning before we proceed to business.”
The motion carried. From then on prayer was offered each morning. The change after prayer was introduced was so dramatic that in a short while a compromise was reached which is still in effect today.
On this the National Day of Prayer, let us obey they exhortation of Psalm 105:1-5
1 "Oh, agive thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples! 2 Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; talk of all His wondrous works! 3 Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord! 4 Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face evermore! 5 Remember His marvelous works which He has done, His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth,"
Praying for our nation today, from my little corner of the world to yours...

Pastor Ralph Green
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