Pastoral Resources

Sunday Bulletin Inserts

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Back a Real Champ

The lights went down. Spotlights began to circle the area. Music started to swell. Then the announcer came on the P. A. system and said, "Time now for your University of Kentucky WILDCATS!!!" Welcome to college basketball at its finest. Welcome to Rupp Arena, home of the University of Kentucky Wildcats. There are not too many places on earth that you can watch a basketball game in any better a setting or with any more enthusiastic fans. Rupp has been home to the Wildcats now for thirty years.

Opposing teams that come in to play UK have consistently remarked that playing in Rupp Arena is an experience like no other. You simply have to be there. There is something about being at a college basketball game or a college football game for that matter. It is an emotionally charged situation that raises the bar of expectations especially if the home team is one that is a national championship contender. Here in Central Kentucky, in the heart of the Bluegrass, we have national contenders.

This year I have gotten to attend a Georgetown College football game and a UK basketball game. Both teams are expected to be in the hunt for a national championship in their respective sport. In fact both have a history of national championships. The very fact that there is a Rupp Arena is testimony to one of those coaching legends whose sideline presence brought UK basketball its winning ways. Adolph Rupp brought UK its first championship. The current Coach, Orlando "Tubby" Smith, coached its most recent winner.

The tag of winner is what elevates a sports program to that stage where the arena or the stadium or the field becomes electrically charged at home events. There are a number of programs that have that feeling and some that would like that feeling back. Basketball games played at home at Duke University and the University of North Carolina have that extra edge due to the venue. So do football games played the University of Miami or the Ohio State University. Backing a winner with expectations of greatness makes being there like no other experience.

So how do you feel when you go to church? Before a basketball game you make sure you're dressed right to support the home team. You try to get there early so you don't miss any of the action. Are you that anxious and preparatory about a worship service? If only our spiritual lives were as fulfilling as our physical lives, right? I am so sorry for you if that is the way you feel. Church is not an event. It is a gathering of winners; an assembly of the redeemed of the Lord made so by the all time champion of love, Jesus. When it comes time for worship, we should be ready to say with King David, "I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go into the house of the Lord.' " Psalm 122:1

Back a Winner

Anna Kournikova. Remember her? She took the professional tennis world by storm as a young woman. She had it all was what we were told. Mostly what she had was enough game to play well and enough beauty to make a living with endorsements because she looked good in a commercial. Got a quick question for you. Name the tournaments that she won. Go ahead, I'll wait. And wait. And wait. That's enough waiting. Time's up. Could you name the tournaments that she won?

If you couldn't, don't feel bad. She never won any tournaments. For all the hype she never garnered one singles championship while basking in all the attention. I will give her this. At least she competed against her peers first and never tried to cross over to prove how good she was. Which she wasn't. Enter Michelle Wie and Danica Patrick. When the now sixteen year old Wie is in the field of a golf tournament she is the one you see in all the highlights. Amazingly, she is ranked in the top two or three in women's golf.

Danica Patrick races open wheel cars. She is a competitor in a sport that is dangerous and challenging. If you listen to the news from the sport you hear her name mentioned right there with all the greats as far as coverage is concerned. She's mentioned in the same breath as the top drivers in the sport. Recently, her name and image have been the banners of commercials for the sport. She is not in the top ten in points for the drivers competition, but she has finished fourth twice this year.

Here's the bottom line with these two women. They haven't won anything yet. Michelle Wie has finished second a few times on the LPGA Tour. As Alex Karras, the Hall of Fame former defensive tackle, once said of ties, "A tie is like kissing your sister." Evidently, second place is worse. So what must fourth place be? According to the evidence given by the media second is great and fourth is also really wonderful. At least for Wie and Patrick. That is why we hear all about them with an, "Oh, by the way, so-and-so won", tacked on. I do hope they don't become just another Anna Kournikova. I do hope someplace along the line they actually win something.

Wanna back a winner? There was this guy who fought the devil (yes, THAT devil) and won. He debated the religious leaders of His time and won. He even took on death and won. Every thing He set out to do He did and every battle He fought He won. His name is Jesus. Neat thing is, when you back this proven winner He backs you also. "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him." Romans 5:8,9 Cool, huh? You don't just back a winner, you become a winner, too.

Balloons

My son loves balloons. Every time we go through Wal-Mart or visit a carnival or or special event where balloons are sold, my son begs for one.

Why do kids love balloons? Is is because balloons are free-spirited and unpredictable? Because they are higher than we are (and kids always want to be up higher)? Perhaps it's their resilience. Balloons can be batted around and knocked down and still remain buoyant. I guess kids see balloons as good playmates because they share many of the same qualities.

As a child, one of my favorite movies was The Red Balloon. We used to watch it on movie day at school. It was released on video a few years ago and I bought it for my kids, but I don't think they see the same magic I did.

The movie is about a boy who is bullied by other kids at school. He makes "friends" with a red balloon and it seems to bring him a measure of joy and freedom. (There is really no dialog in the entire movie, which always made me use my imagination as to what was really happening.) The bullies eventually corner him and pop the balloon. Then something magical happens, other balloons come from every direction and he gathers them up and floats away. The balloon was his friend and comfort, and, eventually, his salvation.

I remember reading accounts from the 1980s of balloons being used to carry the gospel message across the iron curtain. Pages of the bible were tied to balloons and released. There were several testimonies from those who had found the pages and come to know the Lord. The balloons truly represented their salvation.

In The Wizard of Oz the hot air balloon was supposed to be Dorothy's ticket home, but instead, only the wizard floats away in it. I equate hot air balloons with relaxation and tranquility. I've never flown in one, but someday I hope to.

Balloons have a lot in common with the "good news": they bring joy, represent freedom, and they frame things in a different perspective (that of a child or that of a bird).

This summer, as my son begs for a balloon at every fair and festival, I will think of those representations and buy him one. Perhaps I'll even buy one for myself.

Batteries Not Included

The only thing my nine-year-old really wanted for Christmas was a remote control transforming (ugly) toy that can go through water and mud. The first words out of my mouth were "It's not coming back into my house after it goes mudding!"

Only one local store carried it and they only had two. The price was exorbitant for a toy, so I went back and put it on lay away. I knew nothing ever comes with batteries, so I purchased some of every size and shape for the myriad of toys we would be opening Christmas morning.

I vaguely remember reading something on the "super toy" package about needing six sub-C batteries. I had no idea what that meant, but hoped "C" batteries would cover it.

With Christmas on a Sunday, and several family celebrations to attend after church, we didn't get around to putting batteries in the toy until the next evening. Were we in for a shock!

Not only did the "C" batteries not fit, but the toy required a battery pack, made by the same company who made the toy. This information was revealed on page three of the instruction manual inside the box.

So I bought what I thought was the correct battery pack at the store where I purchased the toy (it seemed logical to me they would carry both) and could not tell without extracting it, by means of scissors and dynamite from its hermetically sealed, molded-plastic package, that it was the wrong one!

Hey, it was made by the same company and on a shelf near where the toy had been! I returned it and called the toll-free number for the toy company and spoke to a polite woman who really couldn't help me.

She informed me that the battery packs cost about $30 (on top of the unbelievable price of the toy) and could be found at several major retailers, just not in our town!

So began a nearly two-week search, involving several relatives, from St. Louis to Chicago and everywhere in between. No one had this item. Sure, I could have ordered it on-line and paid a shipping charge in addition to the $30 and the insane price of the toy!

I felt terrible. My son couldn't play with the only thing he really wanted for Christmas. I should have read the box more carefully. But let's be practical: Who can decipher all the technical drivel to get to "$30 battery pack sold separately and most likely in another store, if you can find it"?

Anyway to make a long story a tiny bit shorter, Granny finally found the battery pack. Then, would you believe the instructions for charging it (Yes, it had to be charged more than five hours before the first use.) were so vague that it took us fifteen minutes to get it plugged in and going.

When I took college English, we had to write instructions for how to assemble something. The instructions had to be clear enough to be read over the phone to a customer who had lost their copy. Apparently that's not a required course for anyone who actually has that job!

God's instructions are always clear. He spells them out for us in many ways through scripture. He leads us to more personal paths through prayer and meditation.

God's plan is a package deal. No "batteries not included" disclaimers or "sold separately" declarations. He gives grace and wants us in return. Clear and simple.

When the gift comes from God, we don't have to worry that anything will be excluded, incomprehensible or incompatible!

"He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" - Romans 8:32

Be Afraid Be Very Afraid

I have been facing some of my fears as they have been exhibiting themselves in different forms in my life this past week. One morning I woke up and just felt scared. I felt guilty and inadequate and wasn't sure if God could really use me. For some reason on this particular morning I woke up dwelling on some past lost battles which I felt I had lost. I don't know what exactly triggered it but I do know that the fear I felt was very real. God spoke to my heart through the following verses in 1Corinthians. I don't know why this week more so than any other my fears seamed so much more real and tangible but I do know that God continually revealed Himself in my moments of weakness. I truly believe that that there are two kinds of fears: healthy and unhealthy.

1 Corinthians 2:3-4: 3I was unsure of how to go about this, and felt totally inadequate--I was scared to death, if you want the truth of it--4and so nothing I said could have impressed you or anyone else. But the Message came through anyway. God's Spirit and God's power did it, 5which made it clear that your life of faith is a response to God's power, not to some fancy mental or emotional footwork by me or anyone else.

When Paul was telling the Corinthians about Jesus he was scared! He was afraid despite his otherwise strong personality and he saw that it wasn't him that people were drawn to. I think I miss that a lot of the time and want to credit my personality. There are moments where I can feel not good enough, not smart enough and simply afraid. When I feel this and still think that it's my personality that wins people to Christ I can take on the attitude of God when I blame myself for something that is out of my control. In reading these versus I saw some things I had not seen before. First, I saw that fear is normal and second, I saw how truly powerful God is in helping us overcome it. There is nothing in my character or personality that He can not work through or despite. It all came back to His Spirit. Verse 4 gave me such peace. I think sometimes I can be deceived into thinking that it really is something in me that impresses or draws others to me but in fact it's God's Spirit all along. He will use me despite my fear as long as I keep seeking to be used by Him and He will work in peoples lives despite me and all my shortcomings and irrational fears.

Another day, another moment- again griped by fear. This time the emotion manifested itself while I was actually trying to talk about it. I was sharing my fear with a friend and found myself feeling the very thing I was talking about. In this moment I realized that something didn't add up; If fear is a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger than why was I feeling it when no real danger existed? A lot of the time my unhealthy fears are brought on only by the danger I foresee not any actual danger. Fear of pain, not its actual presence, fear of being alone, not the actual state of being alone, fear of rejection in a moment of utter acceptance, fear of failure in an instance where I have no control or power to fail or succeed. We want to be loved, like Beyonce said, 'Flaws and All'. My unhealthy fears can prevent me from continuing to seek and see God. They can paralyze me and stunt my growth. If I give into them they can prevent me from sharing Gods word with others, from growing in my relationships, from taking steps of faith and from enjoying so many of His blessings. Being in touch with healthy fear can help me in moments of doubt.

7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,

As I read this proverb I could see – wisdom actually begins with fearing God! When I fear God in a healthy way His eyes become the only ones that really matter and He holds my gaze. Part of wisdom is learning what to fear. When I give into ungodly fears I can let them run my life and get stuck versus see the life I am meant to have. Letting go of my unhealthy fears this weak has allowed me to have the courage, through His Spirit, to be more vulnerable with others, to have more security in my career decisions, to let go of past mistakes and to be encouraged by present blessings. Only God can meet my deepest needs. He is the bread of life and the more time I spend with Him in His word the more courageous I become.

Ish 8:13-14(NIV) 13 The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, 14 and he will be a sanctuary;

Be Careful

It might not necessarily be fun, but it is always interesting to watch something happen that really need not happen, but it happens anyway. I got rear-ended yesterday. Truly. Hit from behind by another motor vehicle. This is the third time I have had this happen to me. All three have been easily seen as they were about to happen. I have watched all three in my rearview mirror. It is a hopeless feeling. You can see it coming and there is not a thing you can do to keep it from happening.

I had some business to take care of in Berea and decided to go a little early and take my dear wife to lunch. I had just pulled up at a traffic signal at an intersection on the northern loop of the bypass in Richmond, Kentucky. As I looked in my rearview mirror I could see the compact car coming at a rather high rate of speed for someone who was approaching and intersection with a red light and a car sitting in the same lane at that light. When I realized that there was no way the car was going to get stopped in time I slid my gear shift lever into the neutral position and took my foot off the break pedal.

Bam!!! It felt like he hit me doing about twenty miles an hour. It was quite a jolt. My car rolled forward as it was struck and I applied my breaks to keep it from going too far into the intersection. As I did a quick assessment of all my body parts and knew that they were all okay, it was time to see what damage was done to my rear bumper. The young man driving the car that hit me was out of his car now and we both looked in complete awe at our respective bumpers. Go figure. There was no damage.

After being assured that neither of us were injured I cajoled the young man about making sure that he kept his concentration where it needed to be; on the road in front of him. I warned him that someday his carelessness might cost someone their life. My last words as we parted company were, "Please, be careful." Um-hmm. Be careful. How many times I have heard those same words from my dad or mom, even my wife and kids. Odd thing is, I have even read them in the Bible.

"I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Ephesians 4:1-3 Paul is kind of saying, "Be careful how you live. Watch that your life does not collide with a brother or sister in Christ and cause damage to the bond of peace that is between you." Um-hmm. Be careful.

Be Careful to Remember

In . In a very simple and symbolic gesture, Samuel picked up a rock, set it at a particular geographic location, and named it 'Thus far God has helped us' as a remembrance of what God had done for Israel on that day. Hitherto the Lord had helped Israel, and it was imperative that Israel would remember God's help going forward. How easy it is for us to forget the goodness and provision of God and to even forget specific and highly memorable events in our lives when we are sure that God has worked on our behalf! The Ebenezer stone is an Old Testament example of a symbolic event that would help Israel call to mind the faithfulness and power of God. Perhaps someday a child would stumble upon that Ebenezer rock and wonder why it was there. The story could then be told of how God delivered Israel from the Philistines as a means to bolster the child's faith in God. Remembrance can and does spur increased faith and faithfulness.

One of Satan's schemes is to distract us and allow us to forget how God has been faithful to us in the past. Perhaps Satan will, with God's permission (, bring tragedy into our lives to trick us into forgetting the mercy of God as we become distracted by present difficulties. Or, perhaps, he will exploit the goodness of God manifested in our lives by distracting us from worshipping the true Source of the goodness. Whatever his methodology, his desired result is that we forget God and His faithfulness to us. God, on the other hand, wants us to remember (. Here is God's warning to Israel for when they would enter Canaan and finally experience the fruition of the promise of God to Abraham: 'When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery' (. The lesson here is that there is a direct correlation between the heart becoming proud and forgetting God which inevitably leads to a less than faithful lifestyle. When times are bad, we can get caught up in the overwhelming circumstances and emotions, dwelling on ourselves rather than God, which is a twisted form of pride. When times are good, the many things around us to enjoy can become our undoing if we forget our God Who is the best and most valuable resource that we have. Our enemy is shrewd, and we must remember that we are vulnerable in both good times and in bad. We are prone to forget the deliverance of God and how He has worked in our lives specifically in times past. This is why Samuel's example of setting up a rock and naming it 'Ebenezer' matters. Samuel made a point of it to remember and to help himself and the Israelites remember a specific instance of God's faithfulness. As they would go on with their lives, it would be valuable to call to remembrance this instance of God's faithfulness because it would remind them of the very nature of God, Who is faithful.

Now we don't necessarily need to go and find a rock or other object and name it. It is not the exact methodology that needs to be applied as much as the intentionality behind the methodology. In other words, it is not the physical memory tool that matters nearly as much as the exercise and effort to recall God's faithfulness on our behalf in the past. No matter what the events are around us or how we feel, we need to call to mind Scripture about God's love and faithfulness. And it is also helpful and edifying to remember when we were in confusing, difficult places before and how God caused all things to work for our good. We need to remember, for example, when we were pulled out of a pit of despair, had our eyes and hearts opened to the truth, saved from an addiction, delivered from temptation, spared a negative relationship, miraculously provided for, granted new strength, given what we prayed for, etc. We each have a story to tell of how God has worked in our lives, and we, of all people, need to recall those provisions and works of God in our lives. God is real, He is at work always around us and in us, and He cares. He cares that we would remember His goodness such that we would choose to believe and be faithful in the present.

We may not have named a stone 'Ebenezer' in honor of God's deliverance, but surely we have our own stories to call to mind of His faithfulness, provision, mercy, love, and power. When we feel like giving up or giving in or if we begin to feel nothing at all in regard to our Lord, let us be faithful to call to remembrance the faithfulness of our God. May God enable us to be intentional about remembering and to beware lest we forget.

Be Fruitful

My daughter, Kara, and her husband, Vince, love dogs. No, I mean it, they really love dogs. My son-in-law especially. He becomes attached to dogs so very easily. Let's face it. There's something special about dogs that cats don't have. Walk in the door of a home where a cat lives and you probably won't know it, unless there's that odor. But walk in the door of a home with a dog and you know it immediately. Dogs are the welcome wagon of pets. Their owners rarely open the front door to a guest but what their dog isn't right there with them either saying, 'Glad you're here,' or, 'You better be a good person or we'll have words.'

The thing about animals is that they can, and will, reproduce regularly. Give them half a chance and there will be more of them. Kara and Vince found that out the hard way when one of their original dog's litter of pups had her own. Suddenly they had more little guys to go with the five they already had. They have given those all away to good homes except for two. One of the two they had named Shrimp due to its small size. Shrimp was very weak at birth and, despite my daughter's efforts to help the little puppy, didn't make it. Snowball, on the other hand, did.

Now Kara and Vince are watching their dogs a little more closely and talking about taking steps to make sure that it doesn't happen again. They have all the dogs they want and don't want any more. With animals, reproduction is natural. They instinctively take to it without thoughts about how they're going to feed them or where they're all going to sleep. A single ant queen may produce more than a million offspring by the time she's done laying eggs. Yeah, I know. If you wanted National Geographic you'd have subscribed to it. But the point is this, reproduction is natural everywhere but the church.

I wonder if, when God said, 'Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it,' ( if he was necessarily just talking about human reproduction. Jesus warned that, 'Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away.' John 15:2 Have we grasped the gravity of our part in the kingdom of God and the plans He has for the world salvation? Had certain people not been in my home when I was just a young child I might not be a Christian now. The frightening truth is that the church is one generation away from extinction. Perhaps it is time we take God's first instruction to man to heart.

I know. How do I propose we do that? It should come naturally. Having children is a natural act of our relationships in the choice of a life partner. We love, we marry, and many of us have children. That's the sticking point. Do we, as Christians, truly love as God wants us to love? Does it grow out of our relationship with the Lord? God made us social beings for a reason. That reason is to be able to interact with others and share the love of God with them. The time has come that we must reproduce. The old adage of 'preach a sermon with your life' is a good one. May I simply add, don't forget the invitation. It is time to be fruitful.

be still
I get to the screaming point. I want to shout out the truth, but to no avail.
I work and work at trying to be what God wants me to be and I always fail.

Help me, Lord.
Carry me over the fjord.
The chasm is deep and
I weep.

Dry my tears.
Release me from my fears.
Carry the truth to those ears
that refuse to hear
the truth.

Put back that hair that I have pulled out.
Rub the steel bands that are supposed to be my shoulders
for I am done with things as they are, no longer look back and pout.
Whisper my name, cause me to be still.

Tomorrow I shall go forward,
leaving behind the crumbs and the rust
of broken things.
Tonight I shall snuggle under Your wings
for it is only You that I trust.

Be Still and Know He Is God

verse which speaks volumes to those of us who are prone to anxiety, worry, fear, and doubt. It says, 'Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.' The King James Version has the more often quoted phrase which reads, 'Be still, and know that I am God.' The Hebrew word from which we get the phrase 'be still,' raphah[1], could mean any of the following: to let drop, to forsake, to abandon, to relax, to let alone, and to be quiet. This quietness of soul was God's desire for His people as they recognized, perceived, confessed, and acknowledged that He indeed was God and in control of all things. Such is the implication of the Hebrew word yada[2], translated 'know.'

The context of this passage is important, for it speaks of the protection and care that God had for His people Israel. God's covenant to them was that Canaan would remain theirs and that blessing would be given to them if they would honor God and obey His commands, which they were doing at this time during David's kingship (Deuteronomy 12:10,. The nation had no need to fear despite the uproars and threats from other nations (46:6), for God was with them, giving them steady victory over enemy nations (46:7). When rumors of wars arose or there was a time to go into battle, God would crush the enemy before them, creating peace (c.f. . The temptation for them, however, was to shrink in fear and worry when the indications of trouble and strife began to brew. The culminating truth of this passage is that, despite external troubles, God's people are exhorted to rest in His very present help, refuge, and strength (46:1). Israel's hope was that God was with them, watching out for them, protecting them, and fighting for them. Thus, they could let their fears abate and relax in the presence and protection of God Almighty.

When difficulties come, which they will (, we are not to let trouble consume us or destroy our faith. God is with us even in the darkest of valleys (. When we find ourselves in a pit of our own making or because of the wrongs of others toward us, God is there, and He is fully able to lift us up out of the depths (. There is no place we can go and no trouble which can come upon us which will remove God's presence from us. He will never leave us or forsake us, period (. Even in our darkest hour or most difficult hour, God is there. Of course, if we have sinned, repentance is the first step in reaching out to God's hand for help. But even then, we are still in His hands (. He is our refuge and strength; therefore we need not fear ( or worry (.

Here is something to keep in mind as we seek God's rest. God had promised to give Israel external protection and blessing, but we are not Israel under King David. God does look out for us, but He also allows trials to come. Being fully aware of the weight of eternal glory (, what God is chiefly concerned about is the state of our hearts, where His present day kingdom exists (. It is these He will protect and defend, for He has promised that the powers of hell cannot prevail against the grasp of Christ on our souls and His presence in our hearts (. Thus, the application of , and if we give Him thanks. It is our choice to by faith exchange our anxiety for the peace that surpasses understanding.

Jesus spoke to the wind and waves and commanded them to 'Hush, be still' (. May He do the same in our hearts as we trust Him even amidst the winds and waves of life.

[1] Brown, Driver, Briggs and Gesenius. 'Hebrew Lexicon entry for Raphah'. 'The KJV Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon'. <http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Hebrew/heb.cgi?number=7503&version=kjv>.

[2] Brown, Driver, Briggs and Gesenius. 'Hebrew Lexicon entry for Yada`'. 'The KJV Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon'. <http://www.biblestudytools.net/Lexicons/Hebrew/heb.cgi?number=3045&version=kjv>.