Wednesday, December 30, 2015

New Year’s Resolutions

How will you begin this new year? How does 2016 need to be different from last year? What is on your list of new year’s resolutions? If you reflect your countrymen, your resolutions might be one of these. Lose weight, get organized, spend less and save more, enjoy life to the fullest, stay fit and healthy, learn something exciting, quit smoking, help others with their dreams, fall in love, or spend more time with family.

All noble and attainable goals. Each focuses on an important area of our lives. With these areas in balance and on the right track, the rest of the world can be handled. According to statistics seventh-five percent of people maintain their resolutions through the first week. That number drops to sixty-four percent when you get past a month. And only forty-six percent of new year’s resolutions are still intact and on target after six months.

I start this new year with the words of Proverbs 3 on my heart. It is my new year’s resolution. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” As you write and follow your new years resolutions, keep these words on your heart. Put God first, trust Him, and He will guide your paths.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

To Be Blessed

Surrounded by Christmas carols and songs of the new born king, my mind turns to Mary’s song. You can find it in Luke chapter 1, starting in verse 46. “And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.”

Out of Mary’s mouth pours praises and thanks to God. She says, “All generations will call me blessed.” We do call her blessed! We think of the joy of a newborn baby. We think of a young boy sitting at her knee and learning scripture. We think of Mary tucking in Jesus and kissing his forehead good night. And we label her blessed.

Take another look. Pause for a moment and see the predicament that surround Mary when she utters these words. She is unmarried. A baby on the way. She knows this is a special baby, but her community did hear the angel’s voice. Blessed? Is she blessed?

Society doesn’t put much value on a young woman in her situation. God does! She is blessed! D.L. Bock describes it this way, “Mary understands the difference and recognizes the honor given her to have God actively involved in her life. The sense of privilege, lacking any hint of merit, spills over into a waterfall of praise and gratitude—praise that is refreshing for its passion and sense of wonder.”

The blessing is God’s presence. Her song betrays her knowledge of the scriptures as illusions flood her speech. References to Psalm 103, repeating the words of another mother and her prayed for child in 1Samuel and Genesis 30. She knows God’s presence. Mary spent time with God through Bible study, and it shows in her words and her character. Yes, she is blessed by God’s presence.

At this Christmas season we remember the good, the right, the beautiful. Still sometimes there is the messy, the stressful, and the disappointment. But we can sing Mary’s song with her. We know who God is, and it is His presence that blesses us.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Christmas Wonder

Sparkling and twinkling lights. Bright princesses and tall giraffes next to tunnels of rainbow lights. The exclamations of joys and wonders slipped from my daughter’s lips, and my son’s eyes were bright with wonder. Where I saw the frame that held them up, all my children could see was the lights. Lights making elegant swans, birthday cakes and even waddling penguins. Reliving the adventure of holiday lights through their eyes made me appreciate the experience in a new way.

Right now we are in the middle of the Christmas season. We tell the same stories, sing the same songs, and remember the same savior. And yet it can all be new again. It can be new again when we see it through children’s eyes.

Read again the story of a Savior come to earth as a baby. Run with the shepherds to the manger to see a child who is Christ the Lord. Wander the desert, following the star. Kneel with these kings and present your gifts to the God that became man.

Let it be new again. Use a child’s eyes and see again the miracle that is God with us. The miracle of love that motivated Him to step from his throne to be incarnated as a humble baby. Think again what it means for a Savior to live in order to die. As you marvel and your eyes sparkle, recommit your life to the king who is the babe in the manger.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Pray Your Heart

Do you ever approach prayer with so many whirling thoughts you don’t know where to begin praying? Romans 8 invites us to pray even in those moments, knowing that the Holy Spirit himself will interceded, will lift our prayers to God even when we merely pray with our joy, or sorrow, or hope. In those moments God will come near and meet us where we are.

There is a spiritual practice where you begin your prayer time by praying your emotions. There doesn’t need to be clear thought, only the clear intention to meet God. It begins with a jumble, and ends with clarity. Being in God’s presence, lifting up the cares of the day, the stresses and necessities of life. It is choosing to unravel the tangled threads of your life in God’s presence and allowing His light to bring clarity.

In this exercise remind yourself of God’s promise to come near. This knowledge is the foundation for communication with God. A promise that will help you remember is Jeremiah 29:12 and 13, “Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” Repeat the promise, then lay before your God the deepest desires of your heart. Present to Him the worries that seem to plague you, the plans you have for the future… Whatever is in your heart put it before God so His presence is a part of your desires, your worries and your plans.

Through lifting your emotions to God you may be moved to draw, to paint, to write in a prayer journal. All of these are ways of lifting your heart to God. You may want to create an expression of your emotions during your time with God. In this time the dialogue in your head, and planning, turns to prayers as you communicate with God what you are feeling. Here you can express anything and know that God is listening.

End with a move to hope. It is time to repeat a promise text. Perhaps you have a Bible promise book that you can open, or you might want to google scriptures of hope. You might even turn to that much underlined scripture in the Bible that always brings you comfort. Begin to read the words of comfort God placed in His Bible. These texts will remind you of the hope and the future God desires for all His children. That God wants you to be whole, and well, and strong. And that until you get to that place, He will never leave you or forsake you.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Christian’s Song

One observer said, “Christianity is a singing faith.” Do you agree? Are there times that your heart seems to sing for joy at God’s goodness? Are there times when your heart is so broken all that comes out are plaintive notes to God?

In our Bible is a collection of songs to God, we know them as the Psalms. Some are joyful and ecstatic, repeating the blessings of God. Others are heart rending and painful to read because of the raw emotion and disappointment. These are a reminder that no matter our feelings, it is appropriate to share them with God.

Is life going well? Are there more blessings in your life than you can even begin to count? Then praise the God who authored those blessings. Is life difficult? Are there more sorrows in your life than you can even begin to bear? Then cry to God who can carry you through.
God will be there to hear. He issues this invitation in Isaiah 1:18, "Come now, let us reason together." This invitation is an assurance that God wants to hear your song, whatever its theme.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Word of Thanksgiving

Sailing from Plymouth, England on September 16 the 90-foot Mayflower contained 102 passengers plus crew. Enduring the 66-day voyage huddled in the tween deck on top of their luggage, they dreamed of freedom. 

The majority of these passengers left England to escape the religious mandates of the Church of England. The hope that carried them through their arduous and difficult journey across the ocean was to worship God as their conscience dictated.

Today that freedom is precious, and often assumed. Each weekend we drive to the church of our choice. We open the Bible for study and discovery at the will of the Holy Spirit. No one breaks through our doors and carries us off to pay for our sins of wrongful worship.

As you celebrate Thanksgiving with your friends and family, put near the top of your list this privilege to worship freely. Then take a moment to reflect, remember and be thankful for this freedom.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Aching for Our World

Wander into the world of social media and you will find it colored with grief. We are reeling and pained by the actions of terror in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad. To try to fathom the loss of one life, and then to multiply that in order to understand the loss of hundreds is staggering. And so we post a new profile picture, filtered through our grief. We do this seeking to connect with the world and find hope. In a world getting-smaller-every-day we desire to share our pain. Then in that connection to find a spark of hope or a breath of peace for the day ahead.

Hearing of lives shattered and torn, ended and maimed can cause memories to rise up. These experiences can take us back to when this evil rose its head closer to home. Suddenly finding ourselves reliving and crying and hurting. Remembering brings us to a painful place of mourning. In the mourning the question comes, where is God? And the answer comes, “In that place.” “In this place.”

Jesus never shirked to walk into darkness. His hands reached out and touched the broken places, the shattered hearts, those suffering loss of hope. As the news reports pour in, and as the search for answers and those to blame continues, pause and remember Christ is here. 

While wandering through social media look and be the words of hope. Open your eyes and see words of hope start to turn up, statements of belief in God in spite of tragedy and questions.

The global community can support and encourage. A friend can raise our eye line from the pain around to the Savior who is present in the midst. And we can gather and worship this Savior in hope and find His comfort. Words like this prayer from Celeste Ryan: “Oh God, this morning in the wake of tragedies around the world, we come with heavy hearts, unanswered questions and in need of a word from you. As we worship you today, God, draw near to us, bind us together, bring us words of life, and grant us peace. In the name of Jesus who came to love and bring life, not hatred and death. Amen.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Memorize the Scripture

Do the words of Sabbath school memory verses still echo around your head? Do their echoes seem to come at just the right time? Words like: “For God so loved the world that He gave…” Words like, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive…” Or “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…” 

When the Word of God becomes a part of you stressful situations will often trigger a memory, a God-given memory of one of His promises. Those precious words will bring comfort and hope in difficult times.

The challenge this week so to store more of those passages away in your heart. A few you may want to choose between are: Philippians 4:6, John 3:16, Galatians 2:20, or Romans 6:23. Write your chosen verse out on a 3x5 card, or set as a daily reminder in your phone. Carry these words with you so you can easily read over it several times a day. And as you memorize you let the scriptures become a part of your life and hope.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Beauty in Service

With a face covered in scars from a childhood accident, she often felt out of place or watched. She limited that time she must move about in common society, choosing to move quickly and quietly before retreating. Yet she found a place that made the thoughts of her scars sink deep into the back of her mind: when she served. 

The civil war raged, and those with nursing skills were in high demand. And so she went, first hesitantly, and then confidently. Moving among the wounded soldiers she found her place. Here her face wasn’t the first thing people noticed. It was her hands and compassion and caring that were noted. 

When asked why she volunteered to work among so much death and carnage, she replied, “The wounded soldiers don’t notice my scars as much as the others. To them, I’m beautiful.”

In service our scars fade into the background and what is seen is Christ’s character of compassion. Matthew 9 describes Jesus walking through the crowds, and at sight of the sick His heart moved with compassion. Our choice to serve is motivated by our love for Christ and how He sees them. Our hearts move with compassion, and so we serve.

My challenge to you this week is to find a place to serve. And in that place of service, let others know it is Christ living in you that motivates your service.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Conversations with God: Prayer

Experience prayer this week. Pray on another’s behalf. Choose someone in your life who will be your prayer focus. This type of prayer is also known as intercessory prayer, interceding with God on their behalf.

Do you now the person’s needs? Is there a health concern, or a challenge at work that needs to be presented to the Lord? If so, pray specifically that God carry and encourage. Or perhaps it is a time of joy to celebrate a life event or milestone. In this case, praise God and recognize God’s work and concern. 

You may even desire to learn your prayer person’s favorite scripture text. Knowing a person’s favorite text is a special way to pray. As an example, if the favorite text is Romans 8:28, a promise that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purposes you can be specific in your prayers. You might choose to repeat the scripture text in your prayers, you could choose to pray for God to lead and bring things to a positive resolution.

As you pray, recognize the great value God places on the person you are praying for. If you are brave, you may even choose to pray for one who wronged you and needs your forgiveness.

At the end of the week evaluate your experience with a few questions: How did it go? Did you feel God’s presence during the exercise? Would you repeat the exercise? What would you differently?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Conversations with God: Bible Study

Experience Bible study this week. Choose a ten verse passage in the Bible to focus on for the rest of the week. Perhaps a piece from the Bible reading calendar! Your translation of the Bible can help you with this, because it is divided into paragraphs and sections.

The next step after choosing your passage is to choose two more translations to compare the passage in. This means you will be reading the same verse in three different Bibles in order to understand it better. If your Bible translation shelf is a little lean, perhaps a tool like can help.

As you read notice the slight variations that bring out different textures and details, but always carry the same key meaning. Ask yourself the most important question we ask a text, “What does this passage tell me about God?” Then spend some time talking to God about what you learned through the exercise.

At the end of the week evaluate your experience with a few questions: How did it go? Did you feel God’s presence during the exercise? Would you repeat the exercise? What would you differently?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Tell Your Story

There’s a phrase in the book of Acts that I love, “It became known, and many believed on the Lord.” You see it after the early Christian church deals with a challenge and finds a resolution that is fitting to God’s work. You see it after Dorcas is raised to life as an answer to prayer. This phrase shows the power of testimony. It is the power of a story that can compel people to believe on the Lord. 

The first situation was a crisis over caring equally for the widows of the community. A problem with the ability to divide and bring out the worst in people. But through prayer a solution came, and many believed on the Lord. The second situation was the loss of a dearly loved and gifted lady. Even as the church in Joppa mourned, they turned to prayer and as a result God raised her to life. The result is described with the same phrase, many believed on the Lord. Stories are needed! Your story is needed that many may believe on the Lord.

Will you risk to tell your story? Will you be the testimony that is needed for a friend to see the value of God in their lives? Will you be the voice that causes many to believe on the Lord?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Your Devotional Life

Connection, refreshing and joy are the goals of a devotional time. Connection with the one living God, a refreshing of your relationship with Him, and joy in following His will. In a relentless world that demands everything, it is the moments of peace that renew. It is the feeling of being wrapped inside a text so fully that you can hear the word of God anew. In those moments the rush of the world stills and all that matters is the heartbeat of God.

Each day demands so much, and so we rise to the occasion. We manage the tasks required for work, we accomplish the necessities for the family, and even find time to volunteer at church. And in the whirlwind of doing, the quiet of being is eclipsed. The focus of a devotional life is creating space to just be with God. The spiritual practices are opportunities to be with the living God. From seeing a spiritual practice in the life of an Adventist pioneer to experiencing it in your life, your devotional life invites you to let the flurry of the world wait, for just a bit, while you relish the presence of God. How will you relish the presence of God today?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Who is Missing?

In Hebrews 10 the encouragement comes to gather together for worship and study. It says, “forsake not the assembling of ourselves together.” It goes on to tell us we need one another for encouragement as we look forward to Christ’s second coming! It is a privilege to worship together each Sabbath morning as a church family, to be surrounded by others who expectantly wait for Christ’s return.

There are members of our church family who don’t currently attend. These missing members are needed. I invite you to make our missing members a focus of your prayer time. Our desire is for each member of our church family is to be with us and share their experience with God so we may all be encouraged. It takes us together as a church family to accomplish the mission God has given to us. 

And as you make this a matter of prayer, is there something tangible you can do? Do you know someone who used to attend our church, but who hasn’t walked through the doors for a while? Pray over this, and when a name comes to mind start thing of how you can give a personal invitation for them to return. How about a phone call to let them know about outdoor church this Sabbath at Chickahominy State Park? Or could you send a card of invitation? Perhaps you could deliver a special baked treat to them with a simple word letting them know they are missed.

We are healthiest as a church family when all of our members are a part of actively connecting. We need one another for encouragement, for shared testimonies and reminds of God’s goodness in the past. And we need one another to pray when times are hard.

It was God’s wisdom that issued this invitation in Hebrews 10 to remember to gather together, we need one another! What can you do this week to invite our missing members to take the first step toward being actively involved attending members?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Counting Blessings

These words issue a challenge: “O that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” These words from Psalm 107 invite us to give God thanks for His many blessings to us. Will you accept this challenge and spend today looking for ways to praise God? Will you open your eyes to see God's blessings?

Go through today counting your blessings. Dare to make a list to remind you. Perhaps a note on your cell phone, or a small notebook. But record the reasons you can give thanks to the Lord.

Will you join us in praising the Lord, will you praise the Lord today for his sustaining presence in your life?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Four Stories in Harmony

Ever noticed that there are four versions of how Jesus healed the leper? Or that the triumphal entry shows up in more than one gospel? You may think of other stories that are told by various authors. Try it for yourself, use the feeding of the five thousand as an example. You will need Matthew 14:5-21, Luke 6:35-44, Mark 9:12-17, and John 6:3-14. You can either open four Bibles or print out a sheet with each of these scriptures on it. (The easiest way to accomplish this is to copy and paste in your favorite version from to a word processor.)

Now lay these stories out side by side and you will start to notice differences, slight variances in the telling of the story. You aren’t the first to notice this or start asking questions.

Let me introduce you to a tool that can support your study of the Word and bring a deeper relationship with the Savior described. It is called a Harmony of the Gospels. These books align the gospel accounts chronologically to make the comparison of accounts easier for you as a Bible student. So instead of going through the process of opening four different Bibles side by side, or flipping back and forth between book marks, you are able to open to one page. The creator of the Harmony of the Gospels did the work for you.

This tool will help you to see the variances. To notice that in the feeding of the five thousand they may agree on the number of people fed, but only John mentions the little boy who provided the lunch.

As one author describes this chorus, “The harmony of the Gospels is the agreement of the four biblical Gospels. The four New Testament Gospels are like the singers in a four-part choir. They each have their distinct parts to sing, yet the parts combine to make a beautiful composition. Each of the four Gospels gives testimony of Jesus from a slightly different perspective, but they all tell the same story.”

Rather than undermining our belief in the Bible and its authority, these variances should encourage us in its authenticity. Each story is told by a different person, and they bring their personality to the telling. This effect is the same as if you and your best friend sat down to relate to me how the Christmas program rehearsal went on Sunday. While different details appear in the gospel accounts, the main point is shared across the gospels. They all agree on the major details and point towards Jesus as Savior and Son of God. They are a beautiful testimony of God’s revelation to man and invitation to a personal relationship with Him.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

To Be Content

“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13

The power for contentment doesn’t come from others or even from things; it comes from Christ who empowers us. The apostle Paul describes his ability to be content, and it came from his dependence on God’s grace. So in times of need or in times of plenty he depended on God. As a result he could be content in either way, and everywhere in between.

This ability came from his committed life. It is the same for us, a committed life to Christ: it is that simple. And at the same time, it is that complicated.

All that needs to be done is accomplished by Christ-given strength. The Lord is responsible for the success of the Christian. In Christ there is strength to fulfill duty, power to resist temptation, vigor to endure affliction, patience to suffer without complaint. In Him there is grace for daily growth, courage for multiplied battles, energy for devoted service and the power to be content.

All of this comes from contentment and trusting God’s grace. This is what it is to be content: True contentment comes from living life understanding that everything pales in comparison to knowing Christ.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Why can't I be content?

Contentment is illusive. Especially difficult, is finding contentment in a society that thrives on our discontent. Amid the challenge of living in this ultra modern world… How are we to be content?

Harvard Medical School psychologist Steven Burglas wrote a book called, The Success Syndrome. He found individuals, who in his word, "suffer" from success.

Citing the case of a stock manager convicted of stealing the funds entrusted to him. Asked by his wife why he needed the money he took, no answer came. The only explanation he offered was discontent. When he reached an income of $100,000, he hungered for $200,000, and when he made $1 million, he hungered for $3 million.

Asked to prescribe a cure for the success syndrome, Burglas said, "What's missing in these people is a deep commitment or religious activity that goes far beyond just writing a check to a charity."

This echo’s Christ’s prescription. What is missing is a sense of contentment that comes from a life committed to Jesus Christ. With a life committed to Christ we can find an abundant life, no matter what surrounds us. This is Jesus’ desire for us.

He says, in John 10:10 "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Love One Another

Reading recently in a Christian magazine I found a story about a dining experience. A man and his wife shared a meal at a local diner. As they ate, the conversation at the neighboring table reached their ears. It was apparent their discussion topic was Christianity. One mocked Christianity, in particular the resurrection of Christ. He continued about how ludicrous he felt the teaching was. The eavesdropper wondered how he could let this kind of conversation go unchallenged. You see, he was a Christian and felt he needed to stand up for his faith. But the four guys at the corner table were all bigger than he, their strong cowboy boots even looked meaner than he felt. He finally became so agitated and frightened about doing nothing, he asked his wife to pray while he walked over to the table. With a squeak in his voice he began, “I’ve been listening to you, and you don’t know what you’re talking about.” He proceeding to give a flying rundown of proofs for the resurrection, grabbed his wife’s hand and ran from the diner.

Now admiration for the man’s courage is in order. To stand up for one’s faith requires a level of commitment and guts we often fail to exhibit. And I realize I am sitting in a position of hindsight and it’s 20/20 vision. But I wonder about other possible approaches that might serve to be more positive and perhaps leave a longer lasting positive impact than rattling off his list of proofs on God’s existence. It seems he missed the most important and impressive proof of the resurrection- his own life as a Christian.

What if he walked over to the men at the table and say something like this: “You know, I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation, and found it very interesting. If you don’t mind, I would like to pay for all of your breakfasts. The reason I want to do this is that, because of the resurrection, Jesus Christ has changed my life and lives in me, and wants to communicate his tremendous love for you.”

What yields the greatest change in people is changed lives, relationships that express Christ’s love to them in a tangible way.

This is the one thing that Jesus wanted His church to be known for: Love. Have you ever wondered what characteristic people assign to your church? We want that quality, that trademark of our Christianity to be love. What better thing to be known for? It is following through on the words of John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Sing Your Own Song

Psalm 40 is a song of remembrance and praise. The remembering time is of difficult situations, helpless situations that God rescued the psalmist from. The result is a new song. Psalm 40:3, “He has put a new song in my mouth, praise to our God! Many will see it and fear him, and will trust in the Lord.” These songs are for a purpose, the purpose is to invite others into a relationship with God.

What song can you sing? What is your testimony? Are you prepared to share it? It is your genuine words that are needed.

If this is a new idea for you, here is a simple formula to help you pray through composing your testimony.

Step one, think about your past. Summarize in two sentences what used to be important to you. What basic need did you attempt to fulfill with these important things? What did your life revolve around?

Step two, remember how you found Jesus. When did you first hear the message of Jesus? What was your reaction? If it was negative, define when you first felt positively toward the message. Now put these ruminations into two sentences.

Step three, dwell on what life is like now. How did Christ meet the needs you felt before? What changes occurred in your life as a result of Jesus coming into your life? Elaborate a whole paragraph on the results and joys of living as a Christian.

Now your testimony is thought through and articulated. And now join me in praying for opportunities to share these words with someone searching for hope.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Ask for Help

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God.” 2 Timothy 1:8
This is our charge and our opportunity, to be ambassadors for Christ. We are to be joyful and confident in our identity as Christians. Your testimony is not something to be ashamed of, but grateful to a God who intervened and saved you.

When we think of witnessing it is usually a thought of giving precious information to another. And rightly so, a relationship with Christ is a most precious piece of information. But how about the witness of accepting help? What about asking your neighbor for a recommendation on a new dry cleaner? What about asking a friend to help you learn a hobby you know they are proficient at? Or be willing to ask for advice on a home repair from your neighbor who is a gifted handyman. 

Each of these opportunities builds a relationship, that can lead to spiritual conversations, that can lead to sharing about your best friend Jesus, and just maybe their commitment to Him as well.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Be an Ambassador

“Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:20-21

We are charged with a high responsibility, to serve as ambassadors for Christ. As ambassadors we are to use every opportunity to plead with others to be reconciled to God. That simply means, share with others your own love for God.

This week find a way to take seriously your role as an ambassador. Be prayerfully creative about opportunities that are available to you. Maybe these ideas will spark your consecrated creativity: Share a meaningful verse with someone else. Write a note of encouragement. Tip generously. Choose to let that errant car merge gracefully. Offer to pray with a co-worker. Repeat a story of God’s goodness.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Carry Me

"The Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place." Deut 1:31
The mental picture that springs immediately to mind is of a strong father, with arms wrapped around a worn out child. The strength of the father makes the child appear small and protected. This is a safe place. This is where the child wants to be.

And what is surprising about this text is what surrounds this scripture in Deuteronomy is a huge failing on the part of the Israelites. So close to their goal, and yet another setback as they rebel. And yet, this beautiful description of how the Lord will carried them, just as a man carries his son.

Where are you today? Are you in the middle of a challenging situation? Are you feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders? Wondering where the next infusion of strength will come from to make it the next part of your journey? Read the words of Deuteronomy 1:31 again and remember the Lord will carry you

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Comfort One Another

I remember sitting in the pew besides my family feeling very small compared to the looming casket that dominated the front of the church. My strong father cried at his mother’s funeral that day. Another day years later with a similar setting, and yet I had the same feelings. That day I had to stand up and give the life sketch that could barely capture the story-book worthy life of my uncle Gary Ripley.

Pictures flash through my mind of other memorial services I have attended for others I have loved, pictures in my mind of other services for people who have touched my life. Each picture brings with it tears. No doubt your mind dredges up similar events, memories and feelings. Each time I flip through this picture album in my mind there is an aching sadness inside me. I mourn the places these very precious people where in my life, the roles they played in my life. The pain is there because they are no longer a part of my life. I have to remind myself that in the midst of the ache there is an echo. '

The echo says, "Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. Therefore encourage each other with these words." 1Thessalonians 4.

While I mourn the loss of each of these people, and I recount to myself, and to those who also knew them, how incredible they were, there is hope that there will be a time that I will once again see their faces. There is a time of reunion coming. The separation is acutely felt. Their presence, no longer here with me, is real. But in the midst of the tears is the promise that there will be a time to gather together again and embrace those we miss.

It is never, ever easy to lose someone. Although there are piles of greeting cards out there that try to capture in words a brief moment of comfort, they never discount the pain. The text quoted above doesn’t dismiss the pain, or say it doesn’t exist, it just reaches out and offers hope. In the middle of the pain, there is a glimmer of hope and that is what we need to hold on to. There is hope that because of Christ’s sacrifice there is the hope that once again we will hold our loved one’s in our arms. There will be a reunion and a happily ever after on the other side of the pain.

Talk with God about the places in your life that you need His comfort and presence.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Travel Report

I have missed you all! Between camp meeting, ministerial convention and general conference I managed to be away long enough to wish I was home. And while my heart is glad to be back with my church family and in my home state, the travel was well worth it. My first stop was ministerial convention in Austin, Texas. For the very first time in history, all fulltime pastors in the North American Division gathered. This was the Called Pastoral Family Convention, and my family was privileged to attend. The goal was to gather to be inspired, valued, connected and equipped for greater faithful service in ministry. My call to ministry was reaffirmed as I brushed up on my core competencies of character, leadership, scholarship, evangelism, worship, people skills and management. Eric took advantage of the opportunity to connect with other pastoral husbands through meetings, shared adventures and a new t-shirt.

After a couple days of vacation we made it to General Conference in San Antonio, Texas. Where the tourism industry estimated 65,000 Adventists to spend 42 million dollars over the eleven days of the convention. Restaurants even brushed up on their vegetarian menu options and offered pre-paid meal tickets to be used during the Sabbath hours. We as Seventh-day Adventist took over both the Alamodome and the Gonzalez Convention Center across the highway. I managed to walk 4-6 miles a day going between meetings, exhibit halls and meals.

Surrounded by the crowds, seeing their country’s clothes, the different customs and languages, I was reminded that we are a world church. That this message is being preached to every language, tongue and people. And a characteristic that marked this gathering was prayer. There were groups of people gather in prayer around tables, a couple people in the middle of the exhibits laying hands on one another in prayer, and even on the walkways people pausing to pray for one another. This living organism that is the Seventh-day Adventist church breathes through prayer.

Coming home to my piece of this worldwide movement I am glad to know that there are others around the world sharing the same God, preaching the same message, moved by the same Holy Spirit. All in an effort that the good news may travel to every corner of the globe!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Note on Women's Ordination

As your pastor I am addressing the General Conference’s discussion and vote on women’s ordination.

On Wednesday, July 8, the general conference session voted on a motion that pertains to the credentialing of women in ministry in the Seventh-day Adventist church. The motion, “After your prayerful study on ordination from the Bible, the writings of Ellen G. White, and the reports of the study commissions, and; after your careful consideration of what is best for the church and the fulfillment of its mission, is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry? Yes or No.”

The conclusion came in at 1,381 no votes; 977, yes votes; 5 abstained.

This is not the conclusion I prayed and hoped for.

What this means is we continue as we are. Men and women will continue to be ordained as elders, ordained as deacons and deaconesses too. The current world church policy also provides room for men and women as pastors to lead out in baby dedications, celebrate baptisms, encourage at funerals, officiate communion, and perform marriages. “This vote does not determine whether or not women can serve as ministers.” I am still your pastor. Women around the North American division and world will continue in their pastoral roles. They will continue to preach, to pray, to baptize and to minister just as God called them to do.

For a more detailed description of the day’s events:

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Unknown God - Acts 17:23

“People see God every day, they just don’t recognize Him.” I wish I could take credit for that profound statement, but I can’t, I shamelessly borrowed it from Pearl Bailey. How many things could you put on your list if I asked you the question, “Where have you seen God today?” Twenty? Ten? Maybe only two? I kept this quote on my bedside table where I could see it each day. It is there to remind me to keep my eyes open to where God is moving in my life. It also reminds me of my job as a Christian is to let others know where the good things in their lives are coming from – God.

Such also was the goal of a preacher. In a land far, far away there was a he took a stroll. As he went along he found altars set up to various gods. Until He came to one inscribed to the Unknown God. Immediately Paul began to preach, and you can find his sermon in Acts 17 beginning in verse 23. He challenged the people to meet the God who blessed them, the God they knew was there but didn’t have a name for yet. May you each day be the challenge to those around you to see God’s hand in their lives.

Conversation starter with God: Talk with Him about where you need your eyes opened to God’s hand moving in your life. Talk with God about how He can use you today to help someone else know that God is the source
​of the good things in their life.

In the Middle of the Mess

This is a counting exercise so think back to The Count from Sesame Street and count how many sermons you have heard from the book of Judges. Do you have enough fingers for that? Now, how many devotional talks from the same book? What, you still have a few fingers and toes left over? When I was growing up this book was rarely high-lighted in the Sabbath School quarterly, but it was strongly featured for charades in the Ripley household. Guests were usually stumped by a vigorous showing of the story of Eglon. It was a lot of fun as a kid to act out as you were stabbed in the stomach, falling dramatically to the floor as you went through violent death rattles and then passed out. And yes, all of this came directly from the Bible. Now, does that convince you to read the Bible or censor your child's reading?

That was the beginning of my fascination with the book of Judges. Can you believe the first Robin Hood is found I the pages of the Bible? Featured prominently is Jephthah and his merry band of adventurers. The more I studied the book of Judges, the more questions I asked. Why would God include such horrible stories?

Case in point: A man was called to lead a band of men into battle. Feeling a bit hesitant to head into such a dangerous situation, he had a conversation with God. In this prudent conversation, he poured out his anxiety and decided to set a bargain before God. His bargain was that if God would give him victory in the battle, he would sacrifice as a burnt offering whatever came out to greet him when he returned from his victory. Feeling much better after this exchange, Jephthah got up from his knees, put on his polished and repaired armor, and headed off to do battle.

He fought gallantly and returned victorious, bursting with pride and good will. That is until he saw who was coming down the driveway to his house; the first thing to greet him was his one and only child—his daughter. Jephthah fell from dizzying heights of joy at his hard-won glory to the depths of despair at the thought of his child as a burnt offering. What is a man to do when he has made a deal with God? Does he renegotiate or does he follow through? And what lesson does a present-day reader take from this story? Are we to make deals like this when we find ourselves in a tough situation, or are we seeking to manipulate God when we make that kind of deal? Answer those questions for yourself and then, if you wonder what happens next in this story you’ll find it in the middle of the book of Judges, chapter 11:30-40.

The book of Judges is full of stories like this, and worse. There are stories of humans in terrible states, and messes of their own making, and yet God is there in the midst of it. He wants to connect with us. That is why I am so drawn to this book. God is always there. It doesn't matter how bad the mess is, God wades right into the middle of it and says, "I am God. I am here with you." That is a God who is worthy of my complete respect and worship.

Conversation starter with God: Talk with God about the places in your life that are less than ideal— where you think God might be less than inclined to be—then imagine Him in the middle of that very place.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Camp Meeting Report

Being new in the Potomac Conference I’m learning many new things. Recently on the table is camp meeting. This involved me making the trek from my home base to New Market and the campus of Shenandoah Adventist Academy. All the pastors of the conference made the same trek, and on Monday morning we gathered to get assignments to prepare the grounds for camp meeting gatherings.

My assignment to crew number two landed me the job of painting the door steps of all the hotel units, and also the opportunity to become better acquainted with my fellow pastors. During the course of introductions I proudly listed Williamsburg as my church.

This statement brought smiles and nods and agreement that this is a special church. It also invited story telling. And more than one pastor told me stories of their experience with our church. Stories of warm hugs, of friendly and joyful people that made them feel welcome. Stories of youth who are empowered to use their gifts, and led by committed mentors. Stories told with joy of God’s leading in our past.

These words are recorded in Matthew 28 verses 19 and 20. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

As I listened to these stories I realized how the shape of the gospel preaching by the Williamsburg Seventh-day Adventist Church changed over the years, but the message remains the same. And where are we today in our preaching the gospel? How can we do it more effectively, more energetically, to His name’s glory? I invite you to a conversation with God, asking Him to show you how you can personally be involved in the evangelistic work of our church. To ask God to open your eyes to evangelistic methods you can personally invest your time and energy in.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Encouragement to the Fearful

Most accounts of Jonah focus on Jonah’s later evangelistic efforts but not his first. Usually we retell the story of Jonah preaching bravely to the people of Nineveh, or the story of being in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights. But there is special encouragement to the fearful in his first testimony.

You remember the story: God called Jonah to take a message of correction and repentance to a fierce people. And Jonah’s prompt response was to board a vessel heading in the opposite direction. When a fierce storm arose and the sailors feared for their lives, they cast lots to see who was responsible. When the lot fell to Jonah he confessed.

His confession, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” When the sailors followed Jonah’s instructions the raging sea became calm. The men greatly feared the Lord.
How often does fear keep you at home when you want to step out and tell what God has done for you? How often have you put off repeating the story of how Jesus became your best friend because the fear of using the wrong words? Remember the story of Jonah, God was able to use Jonah’s trip in the wrong direction to reach an entire ship. What do you think He can do when you dedicate your humble efforts to the Lord and see what will happen.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

"Is anything too hard for the Lord?" Genesis 18:14

These words are found in the heart of a most strange story. Abraham is sitting under the terebinth trees of Mamre, when three strangers walks by. Compelling the men to accept his hospitality turns into a conversation with the Lord himself. In the conversation is reassurance and a promise from the Him that the holes of pain will be filled with laughter. 

These are the words we need today when holes appear in our hearts as we face life’s challenges. When a loved one passes, when a job is lost, or a relationship is broken we turn to the Lord with our pain. It is at those moments that this story becomes real, that this question meets our needs. Just as He asked Sarah and Abraham all those years ago, He asks again “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” And when our hearts well up with the resounding answer, “No! Nothing is too hard for the Lord!” It is that declaration that reminds us to walk one step at a time with a Lord who hears our pain and promises one day to fill our hearts with laughter for nothing is too hard for the Lord.