Monday, November 25, 2013

Great is Thy Faithfulness

I love Thanksgiving!  From my earliest memories of my childhood and now that I’m a grandpa with adult children and nearly adult children the Thanksgiving holiday has always been a special time in the Green household. My parents always made Thanksgiving so special whether they hosted it at our home or we traveled to one of my many aunts’ and uncles’ homes. Cheryl and I have continued that tradition with our kids and I trust they will always guard Thanksgiving for their families as well. I use the term guard purposely because if we allowed it to happen, the retailers and advertisers would just trample over Thanksgiving to get to “Black Friday” and steamroll us flat to a very materialized and hollow Christmas devoid of meaning and significance.
I was taught that Thanksgiving is a specific time to reflect on and thank the Lord for His tremendous blessings. The greatest of which of course is the Lord Jesus Christ who came specifically to die for our sins so we could be forgiven and have a home in Heaven when we die. The older I get, the more Thanksgiving means to me because the Lord has been so faithful through the many twists, turns, drama, trauma, joy, blessings, prosperity and drought life has laid in front of me. Last Sunday while visiting a church in Texas with my family there, we sang one of my favorite hymns written by a guy named Thomas Obediah Chisholm. Some might instantly recognize his name, my guess however is most do not at first glance. You may not know his name, but I’ll bet you know his hymn – “Great is Thy Faithfulness”
Thomas Chisholm was born in a crude log cabin in Franklin Kentucky in 1866. Just before his death in 1960 at the ripe old age of 94, he wrote: “My income has never been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now. But I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care which have filled me with astonishing gratefulness.”  Mr. Chisholm’s experience of God’s great faithfulness was an each and every day kind of experience. That is why the chorus of this great hymn says: “Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided – Great is Thy faithfulness Lord unto me.” Mr. Chisholm was ordained a Methodist minister and over the course of his life wrote more than 1200 sacred poems, many of which have become prominent hymn texts. (“Amazing Grace 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions – Kenneth Osbeck)
As I stood in worship last Sunday and I heard the familiar notes begin to play and I reflected on the Lord’s faithfulness to a preacher named Ralph Green, my eyes started leaking profusely…okay, I’m not ashamed of it, I was crying! Tears just flowed and there was nothing I could do about it. A flood of gratitude welled up in my heart and overflowed down my checks and I stood there and worshipped the Lord with a full heart of gratitude and Thanksgiving.
Oh dear Christian friend, I hope that you will keep a tender and thankful heart to our Lord Jesus Christ particularly at Thanksgiving and guard this sacred holiday feast in your home with your family. Pass on that tradition to generation after generation. I’d also challenge you like Mr. Chisholm found and many believers like him have discovered that God’s faithfulness occurs “morning by morning new mercies I see”…if we take time to look for them! Will you reflect on “the pardon for sin and a peace that endureth?” Reflect on God’s “own dear presence to cheer and to guide.” Be thankful for His provision of “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” and the “blessings all mine with ten thousand beside.”  When we reflect on that, how can we not belt out great is thy faithfulness? I have seen it many times in church through the years where people barely sing or mumble the words to that song which is profoundly sad to me but I can’t do anything about that. What I can do however is worship the Lord with a thankful heart not just at Thanksgiving, but every day I have breath.

Dear friends, God is ever faithful. His faithfulness knows no limits or boundaries. There is nothing going on in your life, in your church, your nation or the world in general where God’s great faithfulness is not found. Truly Thomas Chisholm hit the bulls-eye when out of him flowed “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Wishing you and your family a tremendous time of Thanksgiving, joy and blessing; but most importantly worship of an ever faithful God, from my little corner of the world to yours…

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Better than life...

This past Monday, I had a great time with the Lord in my personal quiet time. I was reading Psalm 61:1-3 and the Lord showed me 3 lessons in that little text that were of great encouragement to me and I pray they will be for you as well. The context of Ps.63 is given in the title of the Psalm: “A Psalm of David when he was in the wilderness of Judah”. One needs to look to 1st Samuel 22 to learn that David was the number one guy on King Saul’s wanted terrorist list. Of course David was not a terrorist but insecure Saul knew David had been anointed King of Israel and was determined to kill him. The Bible tells us Saul was infuriated that the priests in a village out in the wilderness had helped David so Saul sent troops to that village and murdered those priests! So David is hiding in the wilderness in fear of his life and writes the words to this marvelous Psalm.
In verse one David affirms his love, devotion and thirst for God in the wilderness he found himself in. The first lesson from this is that David was occupied with God, not his circumstances. I know many of you are in hard circumstances, maybe because of health, maybe because you’ve been furloughed from the government shutdown. Maybe you’re in a wilderness time of depression or emotional distress. Maybe some important relationships in your life are a wilderness that is a “dry and thirsty land where there is no water (Ps.63:1).” Whatever your wilderness, we can see from David’s example from being hunted down like a dog by the most powerful man on earth at that moment; that we need to occupy ourselves like David did with God and not our circumstances.

Lesson 2 comes from verse. 2: “So I have looked for you in the sanctuary, to see your power and glory.” David was nowhere near the sanctuary/tabernacle in the capital where Saul ruled. He couldn’t go there because he’d be killed immediately and we’ve already been told David is in the desert. The lesson we learn is that just like David, in the midst of a wilderness of whatever size, shape or proportion we find ourselves in, we can find sanctuary with Almighty God and we can choose to look for God’s power and glory on display. When our back is to the wall like David’s was and everything has spiraled out of control and there is nothing we can do, that is prime time God time! That old Christian saying God doesn’t give us more than we can handle is false! God constantly gives us more than we can handle so we must depend on Him and Him alone and not on our resources or ingenuity. In your wilderness, find sanctuary in your Heavenly Father’s arms (Ps.91:1-2), and then watch for God’s power and glory to be displayed.

Lesson 3 comes of course from verse 3: “Because your loving-kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise you.” Really David? God’s loving-kindness is better to you than your very life that King Saul is bent on snuffing out like a cheap candle? I keyed in on that word “loving-kindness” and began to study it. It is the Hebrew word “Chesed” and it is translated in various English words including “steadfast love”, “faithfulness”, “favor”, “loyalty”, “mercy”, “kindness and even “merciful kindness.” In the Old Testament, that word shows up in these forms some 245 times!

For example, this was the terminology the Lord used in giving Moses the 10 Commandments in Ex. 20:4-6 explaining why we cannot worship idols as He is a jealous God “but showing mercy (chesed) to thousands, to those who love Me and keep my commandments.”

It was the preferred term used to describe God’s “steadfast love” or covenant love for Israel as in Jeremiah 31:3 where God said He loved them “with an everlasting love and with loving-kindness (chesed) He drew them out”. It was on the basis of God’s loving-kindness, the Prophets appealed to God’s people to repent as in Joel 2:13 “So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness (chesed); and He relents from doing harm.”

Finally, I found it was this word David used to close Psalm 23:6 “Surely goodness and mercy (chesed) shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

By the time I finished my quiet time, there were tears streaming down my cheeks as sat in my living room in the wee hours Monday morning in the warm glow of my Heavenly Father’s “chesed” – His steadfast love or loving-kindness for an old sinner named Ralph Green. The lesson is simple – God’s loving-kindness, His chesed is in fact better than life so like David in vs. 3 “my lips shall praise you.”

When we try to fill in the blank where the word “life” is there in verse three with anything other than God and His loving kindness, it does not work. “Your loving-kindness is better than ___ – my wife, my kids, my job, my resources, my toys, my passions and pleasures – none of those things we tend to build our lives upon work and provide for us what God does with His presence and essence of character. When we find ourselves in the wilderness, let us remember and be encouraged like David; “Your loving-kindness is better than life!”  Three lessons of encouragement, from my little corner of the wilderness to yours…   

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Bigger Battle…

Today as I write this, our country will mark with somber reflection, the 12th anniversary of the tragic and cowardly 9-11 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington DC, and Shanksville PA. If you are like most people, you remember in vivid detail where you were when you heard or saw the terrible news that a multiple planes had hit the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in DC. You remember those 44 brave passengers on United Airlines flight 93 who overpowered the hijackers and crashed that plane into a field rather than whatever target the terrorists had in mind. Literally there are thousands of stories to be told and reflected upon from the events of that awful day where life in America and how we travel by air changed forever. Those stories must be remembered and retold lest we ever forget the cost of freedom, liberty and security for the nation we love called the United States of America.

On days like today, it is appropriate to move a little slower, take time to reflect, mourn the loss of life and say a prayer for the families of those victims, for ourselves, our families and for our nation as a whole and to thank God for our first responders and military personnel. We are battle weary and worn from 12 years of fighting wars and battles on multiple fronts against terrorists. With all the stress that 9-11 has added to our lives and the financial impact on our economy where we’re scratching out a living, everything costs way too much, and there is great concern on all fronts as to what the future holds; it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger battle we’re engaged in as Christians.

The “Bigger Battle” I’m referring to is for the souls of men, women, boys and girls. Certainly, we are citizens of the greatest country in the world with a duty to our country, but we as Christians need to be reminded we’re passing through this life on the road to eternity and our primary citizenship is in Heaven. We need to be reminded that the Lord Jesus Christ is still the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and that in spite of 9-11, God has not moved off His throne. We need to be reminded that the Gospel still has the power to transform lives and is the power of God to salvation. Satan would have us to believe there is a gag order upon us and we can’t speak about Jesus. Satan is a liar who doesn’t want us to be about our Heavenly Father’s business, living like Jesus who came to “seek and to save that which was lost.”

Dear Christian brothers and sisters, today on 9-11, be encouraged that the Bigger Battle has already been won and Jesus Christ has declared victory over Satan and the forces of Hell. We were horrified 12 years ago and still are at the evil and wickedness the human race is capable of carrying out on their fellow man. Yet I want to encourage you as a Christian soldier, you are God’s agent of blessing to the people around you in your circle of influence. Every day, you have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people you come into contact with because you have living within you God’s Holy Spirit. As you go about your daily routine, the power of God pulses within you with all the resources of Heaven available to you as you walk in the Spirit and seek to honor the Lord. If you make yourself available to the Lord each day, the Holy Spirit will give you many opportunities to shine brightly for Jesus. As you let your light shine, people will be drawn to ask questions about the hope and joy you have. The Apostle Peter encourages us of how to prepare for those natural questions: “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;” (1st Pet.3:15).

Tragic things happen in people’s lives every day and yet God has placed believers here on earth as His carriers of hope and blessing. When someone you know in your circle of influence is having a bad day or tragedy strikes them, remember God has you connected to that person “for such a time as this.” You are equipped with the power of Almighty God to simply introduce them to your Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. In the aftermath of 9-11, I know in my life and I’m certain in other believers, I think we were more sensitive to minister to people around us who were hurting and in despair because of the national tragedy. Today 12 years later there are still lots of people out there that are hurting and in despair and are looking for hope.

 At Ground Zero in New York, two massive blue beacons illuminate the night sky as a vivid reminder of 9-11. Oh dear Christian friends, you are great beacons of light for the Lord Jesus Christ in a dark world. Let us continue to let our lights shine boldly for Jesus so the world will be pointed to Him in the same way those beams in New York point to the God of Heaven who is bigger than the evil of 9-11. Something to reflect on and find encouragement in, from my little corner of the world to yours…

Sunday, September 1, 2013

VIP Status

It’s annoying isn’t it? Driving into a jammed parking lot at the store and there out of the corner of your eye you see an empty parking spot and it’s near the door! So you are beating a path there hoping nobody steals it and just as you are about to turn into it; there’s a sign that says: “Reserved for Employee of the Month” or something similar. You may have had occasion to go to an upscale restaurant or hotel where there are parking signs saying “VIP Parking Only.” Do you ever wonder who those VIP people are? I mean I’ve never had anyone introduce themselves to me and tell me they are a VIP. By the way, VIP is an acronym for “Very Important Person.” Just who are these VIP’s? Obviously the President of the United States is a VIP.

As a youngster growing up during what was called the “Cold War” between the United States and Soviet Russia, there was talk all the time about the “Hotline” between the Oval Office and the Kremlin. It was a dedicated phone line directly between the two leaders of world’s super powers. Maybe from TV & movies, we assume this phone is a red phone sitting on the President’s desk.  If you have access to that line, it most certainly makes you a VIP. What if you had a red phone mounted on the wall of your home that was a dedicated line directly to that red phone on the President’s desk? How empowered would you be to know that you could call the President directly and he would answer that phone anytime you picked it up? No operator, no one screening your call, one ring and the President is on the line to answer your request. I’m pretty sure we’d be taking advantage of that kind of VIP status.

I ask again, just who are these VIP’s? I’m here to tell you that if you are a COG, you are a VIP! What’s a COG? Great question my friends. If you are a believer, a disciple of Jesus Christ, a Christian, you are a COG – a Child of God and that makes you a Very Important Person! You have something better than a red phone mounted on the wall of your home; you have a direct line to the throne room of Almighty God through prayer. When you pick up that dedicated line to God in prayer, you don’t have to go through an operator, a secretary or a recorded message to press 1 or any other key; you have the ear of God Himself.

The Apostle Paul encouraged us in Eph.2:18 saying “For through Him (Jesus) we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” Down in Eph.3:12, Paul continued: “in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.” The Apostle John, one of the Lord Jesus’ closest friends here on earth – called “the disciple Jesus loved” said in 1st John 5:14-15 “Now this is the confidence we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”  How is that for encouragement? We know that He hears and that we have the petitions we asked of Him when we pray according to the will of God.

So why don’t we take advantage of our VIP status? Maybe Satan has convinced us that God is too busy to respond to our requests or that God doesn’t want to be bothered. There’s a Greek word for that: hooey - Hooey! (I’m kidding about the Greek word!) But our wonderful Heavenly Father, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ and the blessed Holy Spirit all want us to take advantage of our VIP status and come to God in prayer. The Apostle Peter affirmed this truth in 1st Peter 5:7 “Casting all our care upon Him, for He cares for you.”

More than any other time, people are stressed out beyond belief. The statistics about stress and the impact of heavy stress on our health is mind boggling. I believe Christian people are stressed out in part because we’re not taking advantage of VIP status by carrying our concerns to the Lord in prayer. When we depend on ourselves and not on the Lord, we get overwhelmed in a hurry and then we’re stressed out because we’re not depending on Jesus.

Will you join me in taking advantage of our shared VIP status and pray? Some of you could join our prayer ministry “Sweet hour of Prayer” on Thursday mornings at 0930 in the sanctuary.  Most of you cannot do that but you can pray where ever you are and any time you would like. Pray for yourself, pray for your family, your friends, and your church family and church leadership. Pray for lost friends to be saved. Satan wants to destroy families and the family of God. If he can keep us from praying and distracted by busyness of life, disconnected from our life line, he can keep us from accomplishing anything of significance for the Kingdom of God. You are a VIP and you have direct access to the throne of God! Let us humbly be VIP’s today and every day by taking hold of the throne of grace in prayer, from my little prayer corner of the world to yours…

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Glimpses of Glory...

On February 7th 2006, I was privileged to be present at the Pastor’s Conference at First Baptist Jacksonville Florida to hear Dr. Jerry Vines’ final sermon called “Glimpses of Glory.” Dr. Vines is one of my heroes and I have to say his sermon from Exodus 33:17-23 has to be one of the greatest messages I've ever heard. In that text, Moses asked God if he could see His glory. God said Moses would not see God’s face, but He would hide Moses in the cleft of the rock while God’s glory passed by. It wasn't a full view of glory, just a glimpse of the back of God’s glorious countenance. There were about 12,000 people who heard this wonderful preacher extol the glories of God and we were moved to tears contemplating the glory of God.

In my quiet time readings, I've been tracing the theme of God’s glory and in 2nd Chronicles 7:1-3, we see one of these glimpses of glory. The occasion was Solomon’s dedication of the completed temple and when Solomon finished praying, fire came down from Heaven and consumed the burnt offerings and sacrifices and the glory of God filled the temple to the extent the priests couldn't even enter the temple. The people were prostrate on the ground and worshiped and praised God saying over and over: “For He is good, for His mercy endures forever.”

In the early hours of the morning the other day with coffee in hand, as I read of this glimpse of God’s glory, I was trying to wrap my mind what it would be like for God’s glory to fill our worship center some glorious Lord’s Day in such a way it forced us out into the parking lot and we fell on our faces in worship as a thick cloud of smoke and fire enveloped us as it happened to the children of Israel. How incredible would that be? How scary would that be? How awesome would that be? Obviously the context and the occasion helps us understand why God’s glory would appear in that fashion at that time. But I think there are some other things that allowed the Children of Israel to see a glimpse of God’s glory that incredible day.

First, they recognized this house belonged to God and they gave it back to Him freely. Sure they had given sacrificially of their gold and silver, their labors, skill and craftsmanship to make the temple a reality. But there was no doubt it belonged to God and the emphasis was not on this beautiful building, the emphasis was on the God who would meet them there in worship. It was by the grace of God and His power and might that delivered them out of bondage and established them as a nation in the first place, so they understood clearly it was God’s house.

Secondly, I believe it was their posture before a holy God. The people and the priests had followed God’s instructions explicitly in humble obedience, they sanctified themselves to be holy and set apart, they confessed their sin and came together as one (2nd Chron.5:11-14); King Solomon’s humble prayer of dedication of what this house of God was for and what He asked God to do there prepared them to see a glimpse of God’s glory.

Finally and most importantly, it was simply God’s gracious favor, His goodness and mercy that endures forever as the people expressed repeatedly; that allowed them to see a glimpse of His glory. If God doesn’t lower Himself to us, we’ll never get a glimpse of His glory.
So what? Obviously here on earth we may not see such a dramatic display of the glory of God on a Lord’s Day like the Children of Israel experienced that day but that doesn't mean you and I can’t have a glimpse of His glory every day if we look for it. As I've meditated on the glory of God, I can tell you I've seen glimpses of glory this week.

I saw a glimpse of God’s glory radiating in the eyes of our students and chaperons who served at M-Fuge in Philly as they led worship and shared what God did in them and through them last Sunday. I saw a glimpse of God’s glory in the love our students and chaperons have for one another.

I saw a glimpse of God’s glory in the faces of two believers coming up out of the baptismal waters as I declared over them “We are buried in the likeness of His death, we’re raised to walk in the newness of life!” Oh the joy to see the glory of God in two new disciples of Jesus Christ!

I saw a glimpse of the glory of God at the bedside of one our faithful men who most likely is in his last days on earth. To see this faithful saint speaking of the Lord’s faithfulness to him and the hopes and dreams he has for his future, however brief it may be, gives me a glimpse into the glory of God.

I saw a glimpse of the glory of God reading through a number of sermons shared with me by a faithful saint whose father ministered for the Lord Jesus as a pastor for 60 years. Having the life’s work of a faithful preacher of God’s Word at my fingertips; hearing the voice of God speaking through the pen of a man of God who obviously “rightly divided the word of truth” shows me glimpses of glory!

I see glimpses of glory in faithful saints who continue to serve and praise God even when they are struggling with their health and the myriad problems and difficulties of life. Serving their Lord Jesus with joy and gladness shows me glimpses of God’s glory.

I see the glory of God in my own life with peace that passes all understanding in the midst of difficulty.  As I write this, one of my daughters is in the hospital having seizures with no apparent explanation to this point. The calm assurance that God is in control shows me glimpses of glory that I can’t express with words.

Glimpses of glory are all around us when we walk by faith and not by sight and we choose to look for the glory of God as it passes by. The old hymn says “Oh that will be, glory for me, glory for me! When by His grace I shall look on His face, that will be glory, be glory for me!”  Let me encourage you to look for glimpses of glory, from my little corner of the world to yours…

Monday, June 3, 2013

That they may be one...

In John 17 we have an extensive prayer that Jesus prayed shortly before His betrayal, arrest and crucifixion. Some have called this the true “Lord’s Prayer” because we see Jesus clearly in His role as High Priest interceding for His disciples. In vs.1-5, Jesus began by praying for Himself that He would bring glory to His Father and that through His work, the world would know the Father. Then in vs. 6-19, Jesus prayed for the unity of His disciples as they were to take the Word of God into the world, telling people about Jesus. Jesus said in vs. 11 “…keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.” Jesus concluded His prayer in vs. 20-26 praying for every disciple, “those who will believe in Me…”, “that they all may be one.” (vs. 20-21).  Twice in His prayer, Jesus used the unity of the Father and Son as an example of what that unity should look like.

Why would Jesus pray for unity among His disciples? He answers the question for us in vs.21-23 saying “that the world may believe” and “that the world may know you sent me.” In Jesus' mind, a key factor as to whether His disciples would fulfill their mission of introducing the world to God through faith in Jesus Christ was completely dependent on the unity of those disciples as they went about that work. Jesus had seen His disciples arguing about greatness previously so He saw fit to pray for the unity of all His disciples. The New Testament clearly teaches that Jesus is continuing to pray for His disciples and I am certain He continues to pray for unity among His children so we can fulfill our mission. Satan knows unity among believers is dangerous for his evil cause and he will use any and all means to try and bring disunity among the disciples of Jesus Christ. He works hard at promoting strife, division and dissension among the people of God to keep them from doing the work of God effectively.

How do we maintain unity in the family of God? I think there are a number of key factors that will guard unity in the body. First of all it is imperative we simply stay connected to Jesus and His mission for us. In John 15, Jesus used an illustration of a vine and branches. He is the vine and His disciples are the branches. He said if we abide in Him we will bear fruit, but if we don’t abide in Him, we can do nothing and we certainly won’t bear fruit. Jesus also said pruning is sometimes necessary among believers in order for fruit to be produced. Clearly Jesus desires for His children to produce fruit. When Christians are connected to Jesus, abiding in Him in prayer, personal Bible Study, personal & corporate worship and service, they will be fruitful and unity is present because believers stay connected to Jesus and His mission for us.

Secondly, unity in the body occurs when we have a loving & humble attitude focused on others. The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2 what this kind of humble attitude looks like in the body of Christ. He said “fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but for the interests of others.” Paul then used Jesus as an example through His humble submission to God the Father by going to the cross.  We can preserve unity among the body by assuming the posture of a bond-servant and ministering to the needs of those around us in the family of God as well as the world around us. Paul’s analogy of the function of a human body in 1st Cor. 12:12-31 is very helpful as to how we are to function together as one even though there are many parts to the body as there are many members of the church who have different, but complimentary roles. He goes right into a discussion about love from 1st Cor.13 because sacrificial, Agape love is the glue that holds it all together – Jesus’ love for us, our love for Jesus and our love for one another as the body of Christ.

There is a sure unity killer among the body of Christ we must be aware of; plain old gossip. I believe gossip is the most effective tool Satan uses to bring about disunity, cause confusion and hurt people in the body of Christ. The Scriptures warn repeatedly against gossip in its various forms. Proverbs 16:20 tells us: “A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends.” Proverbs 26:20 “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.” Christians can and should squelch gossip in any and all forms by not lending an ear to it and by refusing to participate in the rumor mill. We can squelch gossip by encouraging people to go directly to someone “they have an issue with” and offer to go with them to resolve the issues according to Matt. 18 and Matt. 5:23-24. By doing so, Satan will not be allowed to gain a foothold among us as he fights against the work God has called us to do as a church body.

I am thankful for the “Tri-unity” of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Their unified and amazing plan to redeem sinners like me only became reality because they worked together in their complimentary roles as God. Jesus’ prayer for unity was echoed through a little chorus often sung in church in years past – “Make us one Lord, make us one! Holy Spirit, make us one! Let your love flow, so the world will know, we are one in you.” That is my prayer, from my little corner of the world to yours…

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Failure to Communicate...

I love sports, especially team sports and I had the privilege of playing sports throughout my school experience. This spring, both of my sons have been playing different sports on lacrosse and rugby teams. One didn’t get much game time play but I am so proud of him for giving 150% in every practice to help his team succeed and make it to the playoffs. The team’s success is his success. Rugby is new to us this year and to see a mob of people pushing a ball toward a common goal is fascinating to watch. I’m proud of that team effort as well and my son’s contribution to that.

At our last CIC, the question was raised why we’re calling our committees “teams” and the church voted to remove the team terminology. I realized I have failed to communicate that we’re trying to work within our committee structure to foster and encourage a team mindset. Your ministerial staff is trying to work within our established structure to expand the impact and effectiveness of each committee. Let me be clear, I am not trying to do away with our committee structure. I take full responsibility for failing to communicate effectively that we’re trying to foster a team mindset within our committee structure.  

Most recently, our missions committee worked hard to have our mission fair that was by all accounts, a tremendous success! It was a great example of teamwork and I am so proud of them! This committee fully embraced the vision of engaging as many people as possible to see missions as who we are and not something we do – in other words living each day with an “I’m a missionary mindset.” “Be Missions” was the theme and literally happens in all of the opportunities we saw that day. There was an electric excitement on campus that reminded us all we’re about kingdom business at Calvary. We as Southern Baptists cooperate together to expand God’s Kingdom believing we can accomplish more together as a team of churches than as individual churches.  I have a simple vision from the Lord for Calvary, to “make it hard to go to Hell from Harford County” and I still believe the local church and its members are God’s means to win people to Christ and make disciples of them. My personal ministry philosophy is based on Eph. 4:12. I express it this way: “Teach my people very well so they will love me very much and serve me very effectively.” That is making disciples and that job is so big it requires a large team of believers to accomplish.

I recognize the value of organization and structure. However, if the structure hinders the ministry of Kingdom work, then it is time to reexamine and work within our established ground rules to bring about change; not just for the sake of change, but for the work of the Kingdom.  I don’t know about you but if I’m being recruited to join a committee or a “board”, there is hesitation and resistance in my spirit because I don’t need another meeting to fit into an already busy calendar. However, when I’m encouraged to volunteer for a team guided by a clear purpose and to pursue clear goals; then I can get excited because that tells me this is going to be action oriented, not meeting oriented even though I know invariably there will be meetings. The disciple making vision as members of Calvary should be to involve as many people as possible who attend Calvary but aren’t plugged in and connected to Calvary.

I found a 10 year old article by Harold Resnick [i] that helps me clarify the difference and encourage team principles. I’d like to share excerpts from this article and draw out some principles we can apply to our church life.

Teams and Committees Defined
For our purposes at Calvary, over the last year working with our Church Council, we’ve been defining team as “a group of people who are united around a common purpose, who work together to achieve common short, medium and long term goals and then develop plans to achieve those goals.”

Resnick’s article defines a committee as a group of people who come together to reach a common goal, but each committee member’s role is so represent a particular area or group of people in his or her circle of influence.  In a team, everyone is focused on the common goal. In a committee, everyone tends to focus on what the goal means to their group. In a team, everyone is authorized and empowered to make decisions. In a committee, everyone needs to “check back” before they are able to commit. In a team, decisions are made by consensus, based on the best solution. In a committee, decisions are made through compromise, and usually require a vote.

Teams and Committees At Work
Let's take a look at a few examples and the difference in results.
You are developing your budget. A team begins with an understanding of the budget requirement. Then the team analyzes the strategic initiatives and collectively decides how to allocate resources to support them. The remainder of the budget is allocated to individual requirements. Everyone understands that the goal is reached when the budget is established within limits, all major initiatives are supported, and all team members have the resources they need to fulfill their individual responsibilities.
Let's look at this same process by committee. The overall budget is announced. Everyone works individually to prepare his own component and submits it to the leader. The total, of course, far exceeds the limit. Everyone then proceeds into negotiations, until a final allocation is made that meets the overall target. In this process, the overall purposes (in our case church ministry) can be ignored.  It can foster an environment where the only interest is the piece of the budget pie that is allocated and not for the overall purpose of church ministry.
Resnick shares another example. He says: “For many years I served on the "Product Release Team" for a high tech company. Our goal was to ensure all products were ready and released to the market by an established schedule. But we were always about nine months late... for a simple reason. Each of us had strict orders from our bosses not to approve a release until we were absolutely sure that our area was fully prepared to support the release. As a good committee representative, my goal was first to make sure that our group was prepared, and second to release the product on time. If the product was late, so be it. The problem was resolved in a single conversation. The president came to all of us one day and said: "Let's be clear about your goal. If this product is not released on time, none of you will be working here the next day." That certainly changed our focus. The common goal was now clearly more important than our individual goals, and products - magically - began to be released on time.
We have a God-given and mandated purpose as a church from the Great Commission: “As you are going make disciples.” Over the last year, we’ve been teaching at Church Council and have asked each committee to do three things:
1. Develop a clear purpose statement to help them focus clearly why they exist.
2. Establish short, medium and long term goals that help the church as a whole achieve the overall purpose of making disciples.
3. Develop plans to achieve those goals.

We’re trying to simplify the decision making process so our committees are authorized and empowered to make decisions without having to check back in to their respective groups or have the ministerial staff micro-manage every decision. We believe we can cast the vision and provide some guidelines but your ministers do not believe we have to make all the decisions needed. This is precisely why the mission fair was such a wonderful success. The committee embraced the vision the ministers cast, developed a clearly defined purpose, set the goals, made plans and then enlisted assistance from across the whole church family! Kudos to the missions committee for working as a team – it was not only great teamwork, it was great committee work!

Will you prayerfully consider our church structure; and will you work with your ministry staff to figure out how we can work as a team within our committee structure to expand God’s Kingdom?  Common purpose, common goals and plans, empowering you as individuals, collective work and shared accountability to our God given mission are the ingredients for a remarkable church team, or committee as the case may be. Hopefully this more clearly communicates these concepts to you, from my little corner of the world to yours…

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Call to Pray...

As I write this, today is officially the National Day of Prayer. This morning I was privileged to lead a devotional prayer time with a group of teachers and staff at a local elementary school around the flag pole. We sang “America the Beautiful”, “What a friend we have in Jesus” and “Amazing Grace” together with the aid of another pastor friend who is more musically inclined than I with a guitar. There was no discussion of denominational preferences of those gathered. It was simply a time for us to pray to Almighty God for our nation, our state, our community and ourselves and to give thanks to God for His blessings upon our nation. Our nation has a long history of setting aside a national day of prayer. Consider these facts:
·        1775 – The first Continental Congress called for a National Day of Prayer
·        1863 – Abraham Lincoln called for such a day.
·        1952 – Congress established NDP as an annual event by a joint resolution, signed into law by President Truman
·        1988 – The law was amended and signed by President Reagan, designating the NDP as the first Thursday in May.
One of the Architects of the Constitution of the United States and later President Thomas Jefferson said in 1808: Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the time for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and right can never be safer than in their hands, where the Constitution has deposited it.”

I read to the group the encouragement of the Apostle Paul from 1st Tim. 2:1-4 “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.  For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

We have a God-given mandate to pray for our national, state and local leaders and that is what we did today. We prayed for wisdom for them as they lead us and as Paul petitioned that “we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. We prayed that they would be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. In spite of the challenges, problems and evils that plague our nation, God has given us the ability to speak directly to Him about these needs and we need to be reminded the solutions to our national problems are not political, but spiritual and the Good News of Jesus Christ is the message to be proclaimed. God has promised when His people will humble themselves in prayer and repent He’ll hear from Heaven and heal their land. (2nd Chron. 7:14).

I also want to remind our church family of the need to pray for our church. I asked the church to fast and pray back in August and we’ve reiterated that request along the way most recently on Sunday night April 14th after our CIC with a call to fast and pray for the church weekly. We need to pray for unity, we need to pray for faithfulness to our mission of making disciples and glorifying our Lord Jesus Christ. I don’t mind telling you and I’m certain Pastors Ken & Mike would agree we covet and desperately need your prayers for us as we serve and minister here.
We can thank the Lord for the marvelous mission fair and for all the hard work of our mission committee and volunteers who made it not just a reality; but a tremendously exciting and encouraging day of worship. We can pray that God will use the excitement generated by that wonderful event to encourage us to “Be Missions” every day and to follow through with our commitment to be involved in missions this year personally.

We need to pray for faithfulness in the area of our tithes and offerings so we can fully fund the work of God’s Kingdom. We are greatly concerned at how our giving is down dramatically and we know this is in part due to the condition of our economy. God has promised that His financial program for funding the work of the ministry through the local church always works regardless of the economic conditions (Malachi 3:8-12). You do not need to pray about your tithe (10%) as God has already claimed the tithe belongs to Him. Every faithful tithing Christian knows the reality you cannot out give God.

I would also ask you to pray intently for your personnel committee who has begun the process of searching out the man God will call to be our minister of students. The personnel committee will be bringing updates monthly to the church as to our progress and you’ll be hearing us call you to come and pray for this man and his family and that God will make His will known to us. My prayer is God will guide us to this person sooner rather than later. We need to pray for ourselves in this process also because trust has been so horribly violated; there will be a tendency for us to be fearful and not embrace, support, encourage and follow the leadership of the man God will call to serve in ministry to our students and college and career. When God makes His will known to us and calls this person through much prayer; we’ll have the confidence we need and the joy of knowing that God has brought us His man to serve and labor in this field of service with us.

Today, I’m fasting and praying for our nation, our state, our local leaders, but primarily for this body of believers called Calvary Baptist Church. Please join me in prayer, from my little corner of the world to yours…

Monday, April 22, 2013

Oh Lord Heal Me...

We humans are pretty incredible creatures. We are the only part of God's creation that is made in the image of God. That means we have God's imprint upon us and that God has hard-wired us to seek relationships, primarily a relationship with Him. Many people think the first crisis in the Bible came when sin entered the world in Genesis 3 but that idea is not correct. Now before you call your spouse to say the preacher is a heretic, let me explain. You see even before the fall of man when sin entered the world, there was a major crisis. A problem so great God declared it was not good! I am not saying that God's creation was flawed. God's declaration was not because there was a flaw in His perfect world that He made by speaking it into existence. God did not forget a detail that led to this declaration of something not being good. It was part of God's design and this declaration was for our benefit. In Genesis 2:18, God's declaration went like this: “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a helper comparable to him.” The crisis was man's aloneness. You see God made us in His image and God is a relational being and so are we. God never intended for man (or woman) to go through life alone.

When sin entered the world, a myriad of problems entered the world including fractured relationships and people end up going through life all alone. It can be that they are married, but emotionally, they are going through life alone. It could be they are members of a church and they go to worship, but emotionally, they are going through life alone. They have children, grandchildren, but somehow there is a disconnection and a part of us where we feel like we're all alone. Often we'll have many acquaintance “friends” but no one we're really connected to and we feel we're all alone. Satan actually likes this condition in man and does all he can to make sure we're isolated so he fights to destroy our relationships with others and ultimately keep us from having a relationship with God. God declared this condition to be “not good.” Of course we know God the Father sent His Son Jesus Christ to make provision for us to have a relationship with Him through faith. But why do we feel so alone?

The sad part is we know something is broken within us, but we don't what it is. We can be devoted followers of Jesus Christ but we ache with aloneness because no one knows how we feel and it’s hard to be vulnerable and share how we really feel. It's about like how you sense something in your body isn't quite right and you know you are starting to get sick, but you don't know exactly what it is. I believe we never stop to consider it's our aloneness that is causing this condition and why we're broken emotionally - and I think it's safe to say we would agree with God that “it is not good”! Because we don't what to do about this problem, we go “looking for love in all the wrong places.” We try to get satisfaction in all kinds of superficial relationships, fantasies, pursuits, pleasures, activity, technology, accumulating stuff and there is still this major problem of aloneness. We thought our spouse, our kids, our boyfriend or girlfriend or our buddies, would meet this need but they say or do things that bring us heartache and Satan has a field day driving us away from one another. So we recoil into the private world of aloneness and we wonder if anyone cares.

I think this how David felt when he wrote Psalm 6:2 “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled.” David felt aloneness to the extent that his ache was so deep his bones were troubled by it. But David recognized the only person who had the resources to meet his needs so he asked the Lord to heal him. He even said in vs. 4 of that same chapter “return Oh Lord.” David felt alone.

The other day, I was wiped out. Mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, I was just beat and I collapsed into bed and passed out quickly from fatigue.  I woke up around 0230 tossing and turning with much on my heart and mind. I was feeling really alone even though my precious wife was sound asleep in bed next to me. I felt and thought to myself: “Man something is really broken within me.” Since I couldn't sleep, I went and sat on the couch, got out my Bible and just randomly picked out a Psalm to read and ended up in Ps. 6. When I read verse 2, I cried. I thought that's me Lord. That's my prayer to you this morning, “Oh Lord heal me.” I spent the next hour just asking God to fix and heal whatever was broken in me. I asked the Lord who is the Great Physician to diagnose and fix my problem. What a blessing to know we’re not alone! The Lord Jesus wants to rescue you from aloneness and He wants to be your source of healing, no matter who or what has hurt or is hurting you.

Are you hurting today? Are you feeling like you are alone and wondering if anyone cares? I am here to tell you Jesus cares. We all know the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). I think sometimes we simply look at that as a historical fact of Jesus’ response at the tomb of His friend Lazarus. We don’t think of Jesus as weeping over our hurts today. Maybe something happened to you a long, long time ago that you’ve buried but that ache is deep and you are hurting. As you read this, I want you to picture your Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; with His nail scarred hands open to you, tears streaming down His face on your behalf over your hurt. Will you cry out to Jesus like David: “Oh Lord heal me!” Jesus weeps for your hurts, and He weeps you don’t come to Him to ask for healing. What is keeping you from asking Jesus’ to heal you? You’ll be amazed at what Jesus will do if you ask Him to come along side you and minister to those hurts; but you still have to ask.

Ralph Green

Senior Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church 

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Healing in His wings...

On January 13, 2013, I shared with the church my annual “State of the Church” message and in that message I used Malachi 4:2 for the vision I believe God has for Calvary in 2013. Through the last Old Testament prophet Malachi, God had a word of encouragement for His people: “The Son of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings.” I believe with all my heart this message of encouragement is important for our church family to embrace and apply to our lives. Since August, we have been through a grueling and tragic chapter in our church life. The emotional toll and trauma on so many lives is really incalculable and only God can accurately quantify the far reaching impact of the sinful choices of one man.

On March 20th 2013, he had his day in open court and he finally plead guilty to the charges against him. The plea bargain agreement is a matter of public record with final sentencing to be May 30th of this year. He will spend time in the State Department of Corrections, followed by probation and a lifetime of restrictions and prohibitions. Quite frankly, while observing the proceedings, I did not get the sense of genuine remorse or sorrow from him. Actually I saw or heard nothing from him that would indicate he has repented for the wake of disaster he has left not only on his own family, his victims and our church family as a whole. I do not claim to have a window to his soul nor do I sit in judgment of his demeanor as only the Lord is accurately able to assess whether he has repented. I can only base my observations of him compared to the myriad of other cases I heard where several people took ownership of what they had done and apologized to the judge and those they hurt for their crimes. In those cases too, only the Lord can tell if they meant what they said.
In any case, I am choosing to forgive him as I have done many times when anger wells up in my soul since this first began; regardless of whether he seeks it or not. I must forgive not only because Jesus commanded it as I’ve been forgiven of so much; but also because it is the only way my soul can be healed from the cancer of bitterness that will take over if I don’t forgive. As the criminal aspect of this tragedy for all practical purposes is now over; I believe the Lord is extending to us the same invitation He has held out since his Holy feet walked the dusty roads and paths of Palestine on His way to the cross to pay for all sin. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28–30 “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  
For every saint of God who cares deeply for the family of God at Calvary, this has been a heavy burden we’ve all been trying to bear. Yet the Lord invites us to “cast all our cares upon Him because He cares for you” (1st Peter 5:7). I know I’ve not always done a good job of casting this care upon Jesus through this and the reality is I’m probably not alone. Scripture is clear that biting comments and unloving attitudes will never lead to healing. Once again, I want to encourage our church family to heal together and your ministry staff is ready to aid in that healing with pastoral care. If you see your brothers and sisters having a hard time, remember the Romans 12:15 principle: “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” Take time to care for them and as we do life together, “the Son of Righteousness will arise with healing in his wings” as we lean on the faithful arms of our Savior and depend on His grace, mercy and comfort as He is the God of comfort (2nd Cor. 2:3). However, sometimes in our sadness and sorrow in the face of crises, we struggle to express the emotions and feelings we have verbally in a way that honors the Lord. I’m reminded of Paul’s encouragement to the Ephesian believers: Let no unwholesome (corrupt) word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”  (Eph. 4:29). The next verse makes it clear unwholesome words grieve the Holy Spirit of God and so we must be cautious in how we express our pain.
Recently in my morning time with the Lord in prayer and studying my Bible; as part of my additional devotional reading, I’ve been reading some of the great hymns of the faith and on the morning of the trial, I read the words to “Higher Ground” which encouraged me & I hope you also:
“I’m pressing on the upward way, new heights I’m gaining every day
still praying as I’m onward bound, ‘Lord plant my feet on higher ground.”
“My heart has no desire to stay where doubts arise and fears dismay;
though some may dwell where these abound, my prayer, my aim is higher ground.”
“I want to live above the world, tho Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
for faith has caught the joyful sound, the song of saints on higher ground.”
“I want to scale the utmost height & catch a gleam of glory bright;
but still I’ll pray till heav’n I’ve found, ‘Lord, lead me on to higher ground.”
“Lord lift me up and let me stand by faith on heaven’s table-land;
A higher plane than I have found – Lord plant my feet on higher ground.”

As we approach Resurrection Sunday, be encouraged my precious church family the Son of Righteousness has in fact risen! He has great plans in store for Calvary and wants to bring healing, unity, purpose and direction for us if we’ll seek His face. Let us begin a new chapter and move on to higher ground together; encouraging and exhorting one another toward holy and righteous living and to make an impact for His Kingdom. I am thankful God’s mercies are new every morning and His faithfulness is so great it knows no limits. I love you and thank God for you, from my little corner of the world to yours…
Ralph Green
Senior Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church 
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Thursday, February 21, 2013

The desires of your heart.

As a youngster growing up in a Pastor’s home and being in church all my life, I’ve heard people talk about what they call “their life verse.” What they mean is they have claimed a particularly meaningful verse that expresses how they want to live their life. I’m not sure when I exactly adopted my life verse but it has been encouraging me for at least 35 years. Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” What a blessing to see the truth of that verse bear fruit in my life. Putting God first and loving Him with everything I have and the desires He has implanted in me, from a career in law enforcement, to a career in business and now the passionate desire to serve Him as a pastor of a local church. Desire is a synonym for passion, a craving, an appetite, what you love to do. There is great joy in doing what you were created by God to do.

A few weeks ago in a message I preached called “A Pastor’s Prayer” from 2nd Thessalonians 3:5, I asked the audience gathered to close their eyes for a minute and I said: “Imagine quickly, if time and money was not an object, out of your pure love for God, if you could do anything for God’s Kingdom, what would it be?” Maybe you had a little glimmer of that vision, desire, or passion in answer to that question but in the hustle and bustle of life after church from that day you’ve not thought much about it further. So let me ask you to prayerfully revisit the answer to that question for your life. I also said that day I wanted you to be free to pursue your passion and that one thing you’d love to do even if at the moment you find yourself serving in a way that is not exactly your passion. The reality is as long as you are serving in a place you aren’t passionate about; someone else isn’t pursuing their passion because you have that spot.

Obviously, there needs to be an orderly transition for you especially if you’re in a leadership role but let us know you’re not passionate about that ministry so we can let people know of the opportunity. Last week at our monthly Church Council meeting, we discussed this very concept asking the question “What is My Passion?” We identified 5 Biblical Functions of the Church as being:

1.     Outreach (Evangelism)

2.     Discipleship (Edification)

3.     Service/Ministry (Equipping)

4.     Fellowship (Encouragement)

5.     Worship (Exaltation)

Each of these 5 functions can be used to advance our church’s purposes. So the question then is “Where do I fit in”? To help you determine the answer for how God has wired you to serve Him out of your love relationship together; ask yourself these kinds of questions: 1) Which area of church life am I most passionate about? 2) How am I currently pursuing those passions? 3) If I could serve one way at Calvary that I knew would not fail, what it be?

I want to encourage you to think, meditate and pray on these areas of function for the church and ask the Holy Spirit to show you where your passions lie. In many cases the Lord has already equipped and gifted you in a way that you are already passionate about; but that’s not always the case or you may not know He’s gifted you that way. When you sense you’ve identified your passion, let me, Pastor Mike or Pastor Ken know about that so we can help you get connected to serving in an ministry area you are passionate about. Then what I’d say to you is what Paul wrote to the Colossian believers in 3:23 “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men,”

Can you imagine what would take place if every believer connected to Calvary Baptist Church was able to pursue their God-given passions to further God’s Kingdom? Picture the tremendous impact on a church, a community, a state, a nation and a world when God’s people pursued the desires of their heart out of their love for Christ! One word: AWESOME!

Okay, at this point you might be waiting for me to give you list of possible passions in church – but I’m not going to! Why? Because I’m not the Holy Spirit and I don’t know what the Holy Spirit is prompting you to pursue out of your passion for Jesus. What I do know is that it will be exactly what this body of believers needs and we’re going to love the result. I also want you to be able to “think outside the box” on this so this doesn’t have to be some pursuit you currently see or have seen in church life. However, I will tell you that our Church Council and staff are working on a document that will list the many ways currently available for you to serve in and through Calvary.  Obviously for us to help you pursue your passion as a church, it needs to align with one of those Biblical functions for the church listed above but that is the only limit. If you’re not sure how your passion fits, that is where Pastor Mike, Pastor Ken or I can help guide you; so talk to us about “the desires of your heart.”

Looking forward to seeing the “desires of your heart” in action, from my little corner of the world to yours…

Posted via email from Pastor Ralph

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Back to basics...

Over the last couple of weeks on Sunday mornings, I have been sharing what has been identified by David Ferguson as 10 Vital Relationship Needs. These needs are clearly identified in Scripture and the wonderful thing is that God has provided the body of Christ to be vessels that can uniquely minister to these vital needs every human has. However, before we can effectively minister to and meet these needs in other people’s lives; we must allow our Heavenly Father to meet these needs in our own lives. Our vertical relationship with God is of prime importance as Jesus said the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Jesus went on to say that the 2nd greatest commandment is akin to the first; “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). This speaks to the horizontal relationships all around us. Jesus said “There is no greater commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31). It’s interesting Jesus didn’t say “commandments” plural, He said “commandment” meaning in His mind, these commandments go hand in hand and are really one. Loving God with everything means you’ll love your neighbor as yourself. These two simple concepts, loving God with everything you have and loving others as you love yourself is what I mean by “back to basics.”

Just to quickly recap those 10 vital relationship needs and so you'll have them in print for reference; here they are with the appropriate Scripture references:

  1. Comfort - 2nd Cor. 1:3-4 - Giving strength & hope, easing grief or pain through empathy.
  2. Attention (Care) - 1st Cor.12:25 - Taking thought of another and conveying appropriate interest & concern; entering into another's world.
  3. Acceptance - Romans 15:7 - Receiving someone as they are, meeting them at the point of their need regardless of appearance & including them.
  4. Appreciation - 1st Cor. 11:2 - Recognizing with gratitude, communicating personal gratefulness for another person.
  5. Support - Galatians 6:2 - Coming alongside and helping to carry a problem or struggle.
  6. Encouragement - 1st Thess.5:11 - Urging forward and positively persuading toward a goal, inspiring with courage, spirit or hope.
  7. Affection - 1st Thess. 2:8 - Communicating care and closeness through appropriate physical touch or affirming words.
  8. Respect - 1 Peter 2:17 - Valuing & regarding highly; conveying great worth, esteeming or honoring another.
  9. Security - 1st John 4:18 - Freedom from harm, danger and fear, promoting confidence within relationships.
  10. Approval - Romans 14:18 - Affirming as satisfactory; expressing a favorable opinion of another.

I believe part of what God wants to do here at Calvary is use our church family to minister to these critical needs that everyone has, whether they are church members or someone we encounter in our daily lives, in our families, workplaces, classrooms, or among our friends. Really all it takes to meet these needs in another's life is to just care; care enough to stop, listen intently to the person, notice their body language or facial expressions and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit's prompting to engage this person. The problem is that sometimes we're just overloaded with our own issues so it’s hard to focus intently on others. After the first week I shared the first five of these needs, a member told me “Pastor this is really good and important stuff we need to hear, I think the problem is people really just don't care anymore!” This gentleman was not being unkind, he was just stating out loud a silent reality from his perspective. I know that many people do care and they demonstrate that love of God and love of others each day. Everyone of us can make a huge difference in somebody's life if we would pay attention to the people around us we encounter every day.

Even in such a mundane task as going to the grocery store, you could pray “Lord, somebody important to You will touch my life today. Who will be that person? Please don't let me fail to be in touch with You and allow Your love to be released through me.” If you have the courage to pray that simple prayer, you'll be astounded at the simple opportunities God gives you to be a conduit of His love to a hurting person. I know it's scary. After all, getting involved in somebody's life can be a bit messy...okay, it can be a lot messy! But even the most sincere “I'm so sad you're having a bad day” or similar statement to someone may help them to know the Father's love. You can try this out in a restaurant with your waitress for serving you, or tell the bus-boy cleaning tables on your way by him how much you appreciate him serving you by doing his job! I promise you you'll make that persons day! I can almost guarantee you'll be the only person who'll do that for them.

It doesn't seem that hard does it? A simple expression of thanks to a waitress or bus-boy meets a vital need they have of appreciation or encouragement. I've told the ticket taker at the movie theater “thanks for working today so I can enjoy a night out with my family.” Instantly a smile breaks across that person's face because some old guy with gray hair showed them personal appreciation! Be inventive and creative as to how you could minister the love of God to people outside & inside the church.

If you're willing to do this to perfect strangers, how much more should we be doing this in our families? “Honey, that meal you made tonight was delicious.” “Sweetie, thanks for doing the laundry so when I opened my closet this morning, I had my choice of clothes to wear.” Watch what happens as your family expresses love and appreciation for each other. “Son, thanks for taking out the trash without me having to ask you.” Tell your kids you are proud of them often and watch what happens - even more so when you get specific and you are proud of little things they do & even more just for who they are: “Did you know you bring me and your mom such incredible joy and we thank God you're our child.”

Getting back to the basics, loving God and loving others will absolutely transform your walk with Christ. Let me encourage you to look at these needs and simply ask the Lord to meet these needs in your own life. You'll find that if you ask Him to meet this need for you, He'll be faithful to do so and that in turn will help you be sensitive to this need in someone else's life. Love God first with all you have and allow Him to meet these vital needs in your own life, then out of the over flowing love received from Jesus Himself, you'll be able to pour into the lives of others. Let me encourage you to try it this week and take note of what God does in your life and in the lives of others around you.

I'm getting back to the basics, from my little corner of the world to yours...

Ralph Green

Senior Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church 

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

An interesting place...

Several years ago, Cheryl and I had the opportunity to travel out west together for a training class I was attending. We structured our time to be able to sight see after my training and we made a trip to the Hoover Dam which is a quite impressive structure. We saw the inner workings of the hydroelectric plant and I’ll not forget walking along the bottom of the dam and looking up at that wall of concrete holding back the waters of the Colorado River that has produced Lake Mead. In the middle of that dam, there is a fat white line painted on the concrete. That white line marks the border of Arizona and Nevada and I like most tourists who travel to that spot, had to get a picture of myself straddling that line allowing me to stand in two states at one time.

In a similar way at the beginning of 2013, I believe we find ourselves in an interesting place in that we straddle two years at once. It is the unique time of year when can reflect on what transpired in 2012 and also look forward to what is coming 2013. Last year we had some wonderful opportunities for ministry and labor for the Kingdom of God. Our church family was faithful in their tithes and offerings and even in a horrible economy you proved that God’s financial program for funding His Kingdom business cannot be improved upon and is recession proof. We engaged in several mission trips out of country and also here in the United States. Seeing first hand God’s work and being a part of that work last year through the eyes of those mission trip participants as you shared with us what the Lord did in and through you causes us to rejoice. We all as a church participated in those trips through prayer and through financial support as members of this church body. We engaged in what we called our “Super Summer of Service” where we took ministry beyond the walls with various servant evangelism projects that included feeding parking meters downtown or giving out water and ice cream in Shamrock park.

We saw a number of decisions for Christ and public declarations of those decisions in believer’s baptism, as well as many new additions to our church family and each week a number of new guests coming to Calvary. Invariably when meeting guests, I learn that they have a relationship with one of you and you invited them to come. We also experienced much pain together for a variety of reasons with many of you loosing loved ones in death, illness or tragedy. Just yesterday I was signing letters being mailed to folks who are going to mark the 1st anniversary of a loved one’s passing and I marveled reading those letters a year has passed since your loved one has passed. I mourn with you in the reality that year has already passed since your loss.  I mourn with you who’ve lost loved ones very recently and the void and sorrow you are experiencing.

We concluded 2012 with a wonderful celebration of Advent and I don’t know about you but I thoroughly enjoyed how we rekindled the season of Advent with a special focus each week. The music of the season warmed my soul in worship and I was blessed beyond measure with our music ministry’s Christmas presentation. Our Christmas Eve service was wonderfully special and dreams of a white Christmas became reality as the snow fell during our services! With a marvelous crescendo of joy, I got the 2nd best Christmas present I’ve ever been given as a pastor, our Lottie Moon Christmas offering for international missions was nearly $46,000.00, almost $16,000.00 over our goal! The gift of sharing God’s love on the mission field through this offering to support our IMB personnel is 2nd because Jesus is the greatest gift I’ve received. I have spent much time rejoicing at this wonderful offering total because I know the impact this makes for God’s Kingdom! I am so proud of you as you continue to demonstrate your heart for the world.

2013 is on us and we’re off to a tremendous start kicking off our Wednesday Small Groups, Choir and Awana ministry in full swing once again. Our building was teaming with people this past Wednesday night! It thrills my soul to see God’s church gathering together and deepening their relationships with Christ and one another. By the time you read this issue of the Way, I’ll have shared my “State of the Church” message celebrating last year’s ministries but casting a vision for what God wants to do in 2013.  I see great opportunities that abound as our ministry teams have been laying a foundation of clarifying their purposes, goals and the plans to achieve those goals and maximize our impact for the glory of God. There are numerous opportunities to make a difference for the Kingdom and invest to in people’s lives. We’ll go on mission at home and abroad, across the state or right in our own neighborhoods.

Through prayer and the Holy Spirit’s guidance, I know that while we will continue to serve and minister, we must take time and be intentional to care for our own souls. I believe 2013 is to be a year of healing for our church family as we have lost much and experienced much pain and sorrow personally in our families and corporately as a church. That healing process has begun through the study I’m facilitating on emotional fitness. Malachi 4:2 promises: “But to you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings and you shall go out like stall-fed calves.” We know this prophecy is talking about the Lord Jesus and it is interesting to me the prophet said Jesus is the “Sun of Righteousness”, not the “Son of Righteous”. Jesus would proclaim He is the Light of the World and that those who follow Him shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life (John 8:12).  Jesus is shining brightly on Calvary Baptist Church. He has risen with healing in His wings and He beckons us to follow Him on a grand adventure with Him this year. Through our “followship” of Him and fellowship with Him and each other, He will expand His Kingdom and bring glory to Himself. He will also do an amazing work in each of our lives and in the life of our church family. The slate is blank, the adventure awaits, we’re in an interesting place as the Sun of Righteousness is saying “Follow Me.” He is inviting us to “press on” with Him because He knows the plans He has for us and the healing He has in store for us as we do life together. He stands at the gate of 2013 and asks “do you want to be made well (John 5:6)?” How will you respond to your Savior’s call this year?

On the 1st Sunday of January, I happily began my 5th year serving as your senior Pastor. As your under-shepherd, my prayer is at the conclusion of 2013, we’ll be rejoicing together of the healing we’ve received from our Savior Jesus Christ and we’ll be singing “To God be the glory great things He has done.” I’m looking forward to our adventure together, from my little corner of the world to yours…

Ralph Green

Senior Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church 

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