Sunday Bulletin Inserts
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My wife and I had wanted to make the trip to see our oldest son in Wisconsin for quite some time. We had lacked opportunity. We finally decided that any opportunity we would have would be of our own making so we made the opportunity and went this past weekend. We learned two very important things not to do in going to see our son, John.
The first is, don't go through Chicago on a Friday evening right after rush hour. Rush hour in Chicago is improper nomenclature. It is rush evening. It begins somewhere around 3:30 and continues until about 8:00. It consists of various "teasers" where you can absolutely fly with the flow of traffic followed by "let downs" as you suddenly must completely stop to keep from hitting the thousands of cars which are sitting still in front of you. "The Skyway" is a term meaning you will go no farther than the merging/exiting traffic in front of you will allow.
The other important thing we learned not to do is leave Central Kentucky and travel seven hours away when your youngest son and his wife are expecting twins within five weeks. Following church services in Wisconsin yesterday afternoon we received the news from our son, Sean, that his wife was in labor in Lexington. If you ever see the question, "What goes eighty miles an hour for six and a half hours on Halloween?", the answer is, "The Kelleys, returning from Wisconsin to see their first grandchildren."
I know, I was deliberately breaking the law, I was risking my life and that of my wife and oldest son. I know the spiritual ramifications of those choices as well as the physical ones. But when Joseph was told to leave Bethlehem for Egypt to save Jesus' life I doubt if he would have been worried about speed limits had he been driving a Ferrari rather than managing a donkey. We arrived at 10:00 just in time to see our daughter-in-law, Jennifer, after she had given birth to two four and a half pound babies.
Our first granchildren were born at 9:36 and 9:38. Grace Lynn came first followed very quickly by Sean Patrick. Grace and Patrick, as they will be known, will be in the hospital for approximately two weeks. We understand the great gift we have been given and give God the glory for it. "Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes arrogant. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, nor with things too profound for me. Surely, I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me."
This week I endured a blizzard!
I know many of you experienced the same raging weather that I did, but my blizzard was not just on the outside - I was smacked with an emotional blizzard as well. I had seen the forecast for the snow, which turned out to be reliable for a change, but the forecast for my emotional blizzard was murky at best.
What I found to be ironic, and awesome as well, was how God used my down time and days off work due to the snow blizzard to deal with and calm my emotional blizzard. For several days I had less stress than usual. I was able to sleep in - as in I didn't have to set an alarm clock for six days straight! I organized some small pockets of my home and spent more time than usual with my children.
Our God is so wonderful in the way he takes adversity and builds character or provides rest through it. As the winds raged outside, I felt warm and protected in more than just a physical sense. I felt God's arms around me, comforting, reassuring and urging me to trust Him and find peace in His Word.
I guess that would make it a raging wind - to match the raging emotions Job was riding out.
And Job did ride it out, both the physical storm which claimed his children and the emotional storm which came from the harsh words of his 'friends' and his internal struggle to keep his faith in the Lord. When the skies cleared, God blessed Job with even more, physically and spiritually, than he had before the onset of these storms.
My blizzards became a blessing as well. I had time to ponder and pray and my kids had a great time playing in the snow. And I believe that God will continue to build on the lessons I learn from this emotional storm and allow me to be an encouragement and a witness to others who have a gloomy forecast.
I'll be honest. I don't always want to take up my cross and follow Christ. Sure, in my heart I want to be who He wants me to be. In my head I know it's what I should do. But some mornings when I get out of bed it's all I can do to carry myself to the bathroom and face the day. Carrying crosses takes a lot out of a person.
Then I heard in a sermon last week that we should be helping others carry their burdens as well. Hmm . . .
We read in Matthew, Mark and Luke that we are to take up our cross and follow Christ. In others - friends and strangers, deserving and undeserving.
This week my goal is to look for those opportunities to bless others with the love of Christ.
Can I fix you a meal?
Can I taxi your kids somewhere?
Can I watch them for a few hours so you can go on a date with your spouse?
Can I pray with you?
Can I share a scripture and a word of encouragement?
Can I listen to you vent about a difficult day?
Can I take you to lunch?
Can I carry your cross today?
Mastering one's emotions rather than being controlled by them is by definition self-control. I have not always practiced self-control, in fact in the past I have either completely let my emotions control me or stuffed them and pretended they were not there until they blew up in my face. Neither of these actions were very effective or helpful. Recently, I have accepted and acknowledged my emotions: good and bad. I have been able to acknowledge what I feel but not give into it. I have been able to do this because of a deeper understanding of the 'why'.
, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance;
The reason I was able to add self-control to my knowledge is because I remembered to focus on the promises of God and that He has given me everything I need for life.
7 and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness love.
A person who exercises self-control will not easily give in to discouragement or temptation to quit - they will persevere. I have been tempted to give in to my emotions or stuff them again, but I was able to persevere and remember that God is with me. Heartache will come, it will even come back to haunt me some times, but that's ok. I can get through it. Godliness is the continual awareness of God's presence, knowing that my entire life is in His hands. God is love and we are to love because we are from God.
and does not see the eternal spiritual realities. In the past I have easily forgotten, but recently I remembered and refuse to forget or be blinded so easily again. I chose God's reality over my near sightedness.
Many of you may be caught up in the frenzy of the football season right now. I, though I have made the attempt, have not developed into a football fanatic. I have been caught up in some of the football dramas, however. I love the movie Remember the Titans, and the TV series Friday Night Lights caught my attention with a preview including the phrase 'Clear eyes, full hearts - can't lose!'
I'm no expert to judge whether this philosophy is true in football but I believe that it does apply to out lives as Christ followers. We find several instances in the bible where the blind were healed or given clear vision. In Saul's case (before he became known as Paul) he was blinded so that he could see clearly. A bit ironic, but it sure got his attention!
In yet we still must act on those principles by living with love for others and sharing, by example, our hope in the Lord. We know Christ has already won the victory and if we play on His team we 'can't lose'. Our job is to draft as many players onto the field as possible.
There is a soreness like a tooth which has rotted to the bone in my soul. I have felt this twice before. It is called Spiritual Warfare. If you have not experienced it then you are still too young in Christ for it, or perhaps things may not be completely aligned within God's will in your life. I don't want to sound harsh, but it is a bald fact. Satan wants to kill, steal and destroy all things godly. He is ever at work, and never tires.
Satan loves to wiggle into a church body to cause havoc and unrest. He plants cancerous cells within the church, and a healthy, praying church will slough off those cells. But, when a church has no knee imprints in the carpet… when a church doesn't bother with anything other than corporate prayer… when a church has prayer meeting and the only thing that goes on is Bible Study… when a church has a prayer list a mile long, but few praises… when a church has a history and reputation of ousting their pastors with little provocation… when a church has leadership that reigns instead of Jesus reigning, there is Trouble with a capital T in Church City.
Spiritual warfare holds many guises. Sometimes it appears as a tiny crack, sometimes it resembles the Christian Slicer/Dicer. Sometimes it is just Satan planting seeds of doubt, innuendo, half-truths, twisted facts, all delivered with a reasonable voice but absent the ring of truth and fairness.
Sin in churches can get a great foothold through leadership that believes itself above biblical instruction and above the church. What would be the motivation for this kind of sin? Pride. Prestige. A love of drama lends very well to this… desiring to be the center of attention… desiring to appear as the church's protector and savior. What does that sound like to you?
To me, it smacks of Satan. I have witnessed this and it is horrific and tragic. When men decide to "do God's will" but have no Biblical support, then Trouble with a capital T in Church City comes and stays awhile. What can possibly cut the cancer out? What can one person do?
Pray. That's a lot. But, first one must pray with the rightness of heart, a good attitude. Praying in anger never does anyone any good, albeit righteous anger. The problem with that is the brain is so focused on the wrong, that the real reason it all happened is foreshadowed.
Trusting that God is ever in control is the second thing. No one can do anything without Jesus is in it. One must consider that the cancer is deeper and covers more territory (much like an iceberg) than appears on the surface. You have one or two who stirs up the doubt and the self-righteous indignation, then one or two more take up the banner, then another one jumps in with supposed allegations or even suppositions about an event without all the facts. But, those are just the symptoms of cancer.
Where did it begin? Which heart were the seeds of discontent sown? Which mind watered those seeds and nurtured them until fully grown? We don't see into the hearts of men, but God does.
God has taken all of this into consideration long before America was even born, before Adam's first child squalled in his mommy's arms. And He prepared for it. He alone knows what must be done to cut the cancer out so the body of Christ can be fully functional. He may have plans to bring the body to its knees, or to remove the one or two cancerous organs so the body can once again be healthy.
Only God knows which scalpel to used, which catheter to use, which sponge and suction hose to use. Only He can direct the feet of those who bend to His will. The others whose necks are too stiff will wait in the wilderness and never cross over into Beulah Land. That was God's solution for the Israelites. He wrote letters to the Seven Churches and those letters are alive today. Which church is yours? It is one of them.
If while reading this, God has brought to mind some cancerous cells in your own church body. Pray. Pray as if your life depended upon it. Because, it does. There are churches who have lost their lives because they allowed cancer to grow and consume them. Their love grew cold. They turned from their first love. But there is hope, as long as there is breath there is hope.
The last several days in Central Kentucky have left a lasting impression on my car. Due to the amount of rain and snow that have fallen recently, along with the accompanying melting, my car now looks like a butterfly preparing to emerge from its cocoon. My dark red Stratus is now a kind of tannish white as it is covered with the spray from the dozens of autos that I have followed in the past week during my driving hundreds of miles between Minorsville (where the church and people are) and Richmond (where my wife and I currently reside).
I keep expecting to see the words "wash me" written in my car's "new finish" sometime soon. I know what you're thinking. Just take it through a car wash. Well, the only car washes that have been nearby in my travels have been those that do not operate well under twenty degrees. It has been cold recently. The last car wash I tried refused to operate for me. (that's the height of rudeness when machinery doesn't cooperate) It's frustrating when you're actually trying to keep your car clean but you can't.
Sure glad salvation doesn't operate like a car wash. If it did, a Christian could go for days before being cleansed of any new sins. That is why grace is such a precious thing for we who hold Christ as Savior and Lord. We don't have to wait until the weather is right, we don't have to go out of our way to find the car wash, we don't have to worry about punching the right numbers on a keypad and we don't have to worry about the machinery breaking down.
God wants us cleansed from our sins so He makes Jesus' blood available 24/7. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
I spend a lot of time on the road as a preacher. It takes time to make the distance between people's homes and the occasional hospital in which they might be receiving care. As such I am often on the local interstate highway, I-75. I-75 dissects the state in its run from Detroit to the Gulf Coast of Florida. Almost every day a traveler can see cars from Canada (usually Ontario) as well as Florida and many other states in between.
While traveling North on I-75 the other day I was approaching a vehicle that was stalled on the shoulder. It was parked fairly close to the right lane which, otherwise, was open. I checked my left side mirror to see if anyone was in the center lane. There was. But before I could put on my turn signal to move into the center lane, the driver had moved to the left lane to allow me room to move over. He had seen the same thing I had seen.
After moving into the center lane and passing the vehicle on the shoulder I eased back into the right lane and the other car moved back to the center lane to continue passing me. That was when I noticed the license plate. It was an Ohio plate with "Fayette" in the area at the bottom of the plate for the county. I nodded knowingly. I am from Fayette County, Ohio. Born and raised. Then I wondered if the driver of the car was anyone I might know personally.
It doesn't really matter. Someone from my home area was courteous on the highway. That gives me a good feeling. Even though I have no idea who the person was in the car, just knowing that he was from my home area and was courteous with me as a driver from the state he was passing through, I was happy.
There are those who are watching us. They are the ones who have invested their lives in our spiritual maturity and growth. They are watching us to make sure that we live lives that bring honor, not just to them, but, more importantly, to the Christ. Twice, the apostle John commended just such a thing. "I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in the truth, as we received commandment from the Father."
Lately I found myself casually dating. The difference between casually dating and a serious relationship, I think, boils down to a level of commitment. In my journey of coming to know and commit to God I went through a phase of casually dating Jesus; in the form of occasionally studying the bible, to committing to a more serious relationship; through deepening my personal walk with God as I was taught to understand what walking with him really meant as well as learned more about his love for me, to finally taking the plunge into marriage; represented by baptism. My motivation for increasing my level of commitment was my love for God through getting to know who Jesus was. The more I got to know Jesus as a tangible man the less I saw him as a vehicle to my happiness and contentment and the more I saw that He in fact was my happiness. When I made a commitment to experience Jesus our relationship was solid and even though it still required work, because of the motivation being love, it didn't really feel like work.
In marriage I learned to allow God's love to stabilize me. No matter what was happening around me. I believed with every fiber of my being, unquestionably that He would take care of 'it', no matter what 'it' was because Jesus took shape in my life every day. Through seeing Jesus' example I was able to experience God in my life and trust Him. That was then.
I've recently picked up a book called, Falling in Love With God Again. I picked this book up not because I have fallen out of love with God but because I felt like I reached a point in my walk with God where I was no longer excited about it. My relationship had become a religious routine. I stopped realizing new things about God and just kept mulling over old things. As a result when I began to go through yet another transition in my life I found myself 'casually' dating Jesus again. The relationship was so much work. My commitment had become more of an external one than an internal personal one. I was grasping for stability, which I desire so much at this point in my life, in all the wrong places.
I have felt exposed and shaky because I do not know what my future holds. I began to compare myself to others instead of enjoying and being grateful for opportunities uniquely afforded just to me. If I'm not realizing new things about God's character and heart I will stop feeling what would be natural to feel. The passion and love that is evident to all those who get to know Him.
So when I find myself at a crossroads in life, that place where some ridiculous number of roads intersect, only to find that it's been flooded beyond recognition, I'm stuck not knowing which way to go. I'm stuck for an unforeseeable time waiting on God to dry up the flood waters and make the way clear. Except that even when the road is de-flooded their will still be multiple paths to choose from. So as I've been inching ahead, through the waters up to my armpits, looking for stability and clarity I have had to stop looking in all the wrong places.
I have to continually remind myself that I'm not in this alone. I may not have 'stability' as I would like it to materialize in my life but I have a relationship with the creator of the Universe and I mean this in the most unreligious way possible. It is not a relationship of religious traditions and acts and it's not a repetition of what I know from the past. It is a real, tangible relationship with a man who is constantly revealing new parts of Himself to me.
My feelings only change when I realize something new. My commitment is restored along with my perspective of a deeper faith when I fight for that real committed relationship instead of just casually dating while holding out for something better to provide me with security. How ridiculous is that? Seriously? If God, the creator of this Universe can't satisfy me than absolutely nothing ever will. Not only that but with that attitude I will also most likely suck the life out of anything that He puts in my path for my happiness or simply miss it completely.
Yet, when He is my happiness and stability all else is just a little simpler to bear and I have a bit more patience while I wait for the road to dry up so I can choose which way to go, with Him by my side. He loves me sopping wet to arm pits and all.
Colossians 1:16 (Message) For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels--everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him.
It was one of those days right after a rain when the weatherman had said that the skies would be clear for several days. I washed my car. Actually got out the car wash formula, hose, wax and chamois. Spent some serious time working over my little gem to make her shine like the sun. I was proud of the way she looked and relaxed in my home that evening smug in the thought of a job well done. Then came the morning.
My wife left for work and I settled in with my computer to get some work done. About ten o'clock I decided to head to the local hospital and check on one of our church members who was there for heart problems. When I came out of the house and prepared to get into my car I was stunned. My car was a mess. It looked like every cat for four counties had walked through mud and then searched out my car to clambor over. My wash job was ruined.
I went on to the hospital to visit our church member. I was somewhat sullen until I considered who I was about to see. His plight was a whole lot worse than my cat tracks. When I arrived at his room he was in a very good mood. He had just found out that surgery was not going to be necessary. His problem was not that serious and could be handled through medication. So I shared with him my cat tracks story.
After we both had good laugh from it, he said, "You should have stayed up all night and kept the cats away." Suddenly it hit me. Life is kind of like that. We get ourselves washed thoroughly clean by the blood of Jesus and then we have to watch out for ourselves so that we don't get overcome by the devil again.
"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world."
the Second Week after Epiphany