Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A date which shall live in infamy. A Pearl Harbor Remembrance

The 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor is an opportunity to honor the sacrifice and dedication of our "Greatest Generation" both civilian and military, the endured incredible sacrifices on December 7, 1941, the "date which will live in infamy." It would thrust America into World War II, changing Hawaii and America forever and continues to define their place in the world. The events of that date triggered our resolve as a nation, our can-do attitude and resourcefulness and an unmatched commitment to the defense of freedom.

At 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time, a Japanese dive bomber bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appears out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of 360 Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious assault. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States irrevocably into World War II.
With diplomatic negotiations with Japan breaking down, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his advisers knew that an imminent Japanese attack was probable, but nothing had been done to increase security at the important naval base at Pearl Harbor. It was Sunday morning, and many military personnel had been given passes to attend religious services off base. At 7:02 a.m., two radar operators spotted large groups of aircraft in flight toward the island from the north, but, with a flight of B-17s expected from the United States at the time, they were told to sound no alarm. Thus, the Japanese air assault came as a devastating surprise to the naval base.
Much of the Pacific fleet was rendered useless: Five of eight battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships were sunk or severely damaged, and more than 200 aircraft were destroyed. A total of 2,400 Americans were killed and 1,200 were wounded, many while valiantly attempting to repulse the attack. Japan’s losses were some 30 planes, five midget submarines, and fewer than 100 men. Fortunately for the United States, all three Pacific fleet carriers were out at sea on training maneuvers. These giant aircraft carriers would have their revenge against Japan six months later at the Battle of Midway, reversing the tide against the previously invincible Japanese navy in a spectacular victory.
The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress and declared, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941–a date which will live in infamy–the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” After a brief and forceful speech, he asked Congress to approve a resolution recognizing the state of war between the United States and Japan. The Senate voted for war against Japan by 82 to 0, and the House of Representatives approved the resolution by a vote of 388 to 1. The sole dissenter was Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana, a devout pacifist who had also cast a dissenting vote against the U.S. entrance into World War I. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war against the United States, and the U.S. government responded in kind.
The American contribution to the successful Allied war effort spanned four long years and cost more than 400,000 American lives.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Why keep praying when there is no answer?

“Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers”(Ephesians 6:18b NLT, second edition).

Why should you be persistent in your prayers, even when you don’t get an answer?

 There are four reasons.

Persistent prayer focuses your attention.

When you pray a prayer request over and over, it’s not to remind God. He doesn’t need to be reminded! It’s to remind yourself who the source of your answer and all your needs is. If every prayer you ever prayed were instantly answered, two things would be true. First, prayer would become a weapon of destruction in your life. And, you’d never think about God, because he would become a vending machine. If every time you prayed you instantly got results, all you’d think about is the blessing. God wants you to think about the Blesser.

Persistent prayer clarifies your request.

A delayed answer gives you time to clarify exactly what you want and to refine your prayers. When you pray persistently to your heavenly Father and you say something over and over again, it separates deep longings from mere whims. It says, “God, I really care about this.”
It’s not that God doesn’t want to answer your prayers. He does. It’s just that he wants you to be certain that that’s what you really want.

Persistent prayer tests your faith.

James 1:3-4 says, “When your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (NLT, second edition). The only way you can grow to spiritual maturity is to have your faith tested. One of the ways God’s going to test your faith is by delaying some answers to your prayers.

Persistent prayer prepares your heart for the answer.

When you make a request of God, God almost always wants to answer in a bigger and better way than you’ve prayed. Sometimes God denies your prayer requests because you’re thinking and asking too small. He wants to give you something bigger and better. But first, he has to prepare you for it. So God uses delays in answering prayer to help you grow, to help you get ready, to help prepare you for a bigger and better answer.

Remember, “God can do much, much more than anything we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20b NCV).

Monday, December 5, 2016

Christmas is coming - put a little JOY in your life.

I came across a collection of letters that children wrote to Santa Claus. 

Some of them were pretty good. 

One said, "Dear Santa, you did not bring me anything good last year. You did not bring me anything good the year before that. This is your last chance. Signed, Alfred." 

My favorite went like this: "Dear Santa, there are three little boys who live at our house. There is Jeffrey; he is 2. There is David; he is 4. And there is Norman; he is 7. Jeffrey is good some of the time. David is good some of the time. But Norman is good all of the time. I am Norman."

If you could use one word to describe Christmas, what word would it be?

 Some folks would use words like headache, busyness, expensive, or even bothersome. 

To many people Christmas is just another day, only a little more expensive and a lot more trouble. I have heard even Christians use these words to describe the day we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. How sad that an event that brought so much joy in Heaven should bring so little joy here on earth.

I would like to suggest to you as we begin this beautiful season of the year that this Christmas season can be a time of joy, no matter how broke you are or how busy you are. Joy is like love- it is not merely an emotion, but a decision, and I believe you can be as joyful as you want to be.

Joy… it comes naturally when hopes are fulfilled.

The wise men, who had seen the star and set out to find the reason for            it – the Christ child baby – had fulfilled their purpose and had reason to rejoice.  Their long journey ended in great joy.

But what about when it doesn’t? What about when hopes don’t seem to be fulfilled, and journeys don’t seem to end happily? After all, some Christmas seasons are just much harder than others.  Finances are tight, loved                 ones are sick or grieved, and joy is harder to be found.

Yet in the wise men’s situation, the secret to finding joy seemed to be in the science of the star. You see, the star was still there, even when they couldn’t see it.

So the wise men had to keep looking, keep anticipating that what started   them on their journey would enable them to complete their journey.                    They had to keep actively seeking the star, allowing joy to be the final result.
Whatever might seem to loom in front of you this Christmas, know there is still joy ahead to be found.  
Keep seeking it.  

And when you find it, celebrate… in an exceedingly great way!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Today's message at Gastonia First Wesleyan Church

This morning at First Wesleyan Church I shared a message that     I struggled with all week.  I had a message prepared but felt checked by the Lord that it was not right for this coming Sunday. 
With that - I worked each day this past week to perfect the message God was writing in my heart.  I searched and made several drafts until I felt a peace about the message to bring. 

Now, the message has been presented and I pray God used these words to speak to a person whose heart was growing cold and now feels a warmth of the Holy Spirit to have a Christmas season beyond what they thought was possible.

Here is my closing Illustration:

  A 10-year-old boy decided to study judo despite the fact that he had lost his left arm in a devastating car accident.

The boy began lessons with an old Japanese judo master. The boy was doing well, so he couldn’t understand why, after three months of training the master had taught him only one move. “Sensei,” (Teacher in Japanese) the boy finally said, “Shouldn’t I be learning more moves?” “This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you’ll ever need to know,” the sensei replied.
Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy kept training. Several months later, the sensei took the boy to his first tournament. Surprising himself, the boy easily won his first two matches. The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy deftly used his one move to win the match. Still amazed by his success, the boy was now in the finals.
This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced. For a while, the boy appeared to be overmatched. Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time-out. He was about to stop the match when the sensei intervened.
“No,” the sensei insisted, “Let him continue.” Soon after the match resumed, his opponent made a critical mistake: he dropped his guard. Instantly, the boy used his move to pin him. The boy had won the match and the tournament.
He was the champion. On the way home, the boy and sensei reviewed every move in each and every match. Then the boy summoned the courage to ask what was really on his mind.
“Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move?”
“You won for two reasons,” the sensei answered. “First, you’ve almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in all of judo. And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left arm.”
The boy’s biggest weakness had become his biggest strength.
That is what Jesus can do for you – when you surrender your heart for God to hold close – and sacrifice your wants to give God glory!  Oh my friend, don’t miss the promise “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow.”  Let God give you a new heart this Christmas. Let it SNOW with God’s forgiveness and transformational work in your life today! 

Feeling a little depressed this Christmas Season?  Here is a bonus for the this blog post added this evening after seeing this on Facebook - I just could not help but post this!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Preparing for Worship at Gastonia First Wesleyan Church for Dec. 4 2016 - the 2nd Sunday of Advent

Tomorrow we gather for worship at 11:00am at Gastonia First Wesleyan Church!  We gather to celebrate the greatest gift ever given.  The gift of salvation offered by God through the sacrifice of His Son - our Saviour - Christ the Lord! Tomorrow we do not gather to sing about God - we gather to worship Him in Spirit and Truth. We plan to sing directly to our great God and offer a sacrifice or praise to Him!  

We begin with a warm welcome and greeting through a video.

Then we light the candles on the Advent wreath:

Here are the songs we have selected to sing tomorrow.  We make our plans - but God has the last word....

Followed by announcements and the time to bring our offerings to the Lord. The Choir will bring a song from the upcoming Cantata.  Then we continue in our singing to the Lord:

Here is the short bumper clip I created using Windows Media Player. 

The sermon tomorrow is entitled:   Pt. 2   I'm Freezing.  

The Christmas season is meant to be a time for celebration, but research shows that the month of December is the most stressful month of the year as holiday schedules, purchasing gifts, financial pressures and emotion strains of family and the past;                 the need to balance these pressures before the end of the year are the causes of stress. 

 My concern is that your heart may become cold during this time when joy should abound.

What happens when the pressures of life develop a cold heart?

Jesus Himself said that, “the love of most will grow cold…”                                                                                                                   Matthew 24:12b 

Friday, December 2, 2016

What if I Don’t Want to Sing?

What if I Don’t Want to Sing?

“Let’s not wait for our hearts to burn before we open our mouths.”

At our church, everyone shows up ready to sing with full hearts each Sunday morning. Nobody arrives after a tense car ride to church, or a difficult morning with children, or a late night of studying, or a long week of work. Everyone is well-rested and eager to make melody to God.

Except, not really.

Each Sunday, a good portion of our churches gather for worship with genuine anticipation for singing, praying and hearing the word. But not everyone. Life is too real, and the ancient fall of Genesis 3 is still too valid, to think nobody walks into church with scars, shame or even cold apathy.

But let’s be honest. Even the most stably enthusiastic in our gatherings have had Sundays when we wished our hearts burned more brightly. We experience an inner struggle in these moments. On the one hand, we know that we should sing because we’re at church. On the other, it’s good to be authentic and real, so it feels like a lie to sing when we don’t feel like it. Is it better to be honest and silent than an audible hypocrite?

Of course, we don’t want to portray something false about ourselves. Nevertheless, we have at least two good reasons for us to open our mouths and lift our voices even when we don’t feel like it.

You Have the Voice Your Neighbor Needs

People in every congregation have no voice at times. They’re not singing, but not because they don’t want to. They’re weak and worn, and in that hour they can hardly speak, much less sing. Maybe it’s a young woman who can’t sing  “It Is Well” because that Sunday marks one year since her mother’s death, or a young couple who can’t sing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” a few days after another miscarriage.

In God’s infinite love, he has not left these people alone. Instead, he has ordained for corporate worship to work not only vertically, but horizontally. In that moment, when the broken believer struggles to address God, we remember that God has told us to address one another with our songs (Ephesians 5:19).

When we don’t feel like singing, we have an opportunity to consider the interests of others and count them more significant than our own (Philippians 2:3–4). We have the privilege, in a way, to open our mouths for the mute (Proverbs 31:8). You may not want to sing, but the person next to you, in front of you, or behind you may need you to sing. The sight and sound of your singing may impress on them the truths of the gospel, or spur them to believe, with the psalmist, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you” (Psalm 63:3).

The sight and sound of God’s people singing is a powerful, stirring exhortation for struggling hearts to believe the truths they hear sung around them. The next Sunday you’re inclined to keep quiet, remember your neighbors and sing their song.

Singing Bends Our Souls to God

Another reason to sing when we don’t feel like it is this: Singing can be the best way to start feeling like it.

It is impossible for us to desire the right things all the time. Our wills and affections often lag behind our knowledge. I know I should exercise more, but the desire is sometimes absent. I know I should pray more, but my heart is often cold. Does that mean that when I do exercise or pray after some self-convincing, I’m not really exercising or praying? Of course not. It’s better to desire everything we ought, but we need not wait to feel rightly before we act rightly.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis articulates this with typical poignancy in regard to loving our neighbor when the desire isn’t there:

Though natural likings should normally be encouraged, it would be quite wrong to think that the way to become charitable is to sit trying to manufacture affectionate feelings…. The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets: When you are behaving as if you loved someone you will presently come to love him.

So it is with our singing. Let’s not wait for our hearts to burn before we open our mouths. Opening our mouths can be an important part of kindling the fire.
This isn’t an up-by-the-bootstraps approach to corporate worship. Lifting your voice, when you’d rather not, can be an act of faith, believing that God’s word is true: “It is good to sing praises to our God” (Psalm 147:1). 

You may need to pray, “O Lord, open my lips” (Psalm 51:15), but before long, don’t be surprised to find your heart beginning to refill with thanks and praise.

Perhaps it will be this weekend. Another Sunday is coming when you will feel a cool disinterest toward the singing of the saints. When that happens, remember God’s promises, remember your neighbor and remember what a privilege it is, and what a catalyst it can be, to sing to the one who has saved us.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

5 Dangers of the Church Cartel - The Pastor never saw it coming.....

The pastor did not see it coming.
Sure, there were some hints and signs, but nothing to prepare him for the meeting on Saturday with the personnel committee.

He was told he needed to resign. There was no explanation given. He had only been given positive reviews to this point. Some of the people on the personnel committee had been his supporters and friends.
He was shocked.
The pastor was leading change in the church. The church was growing and vibrant. But a couple of weak staff members didn’t like the direction and expected accountability. They teamed with the known church bully and went before the personnel committee. They presented their perspectives.
The pastor never was asked his perspective. He could have fought the weak personnel committee and likely won. But he didn’t want to tear apart a church he loved.
He resigned.
For the sake of the church he loved, he resigned.
He was yet another victim of the church cartel.
A church cartel is an alliance of bullies, bully-followers, carnal Christians, and even non-Christians in the church. Its ultimate goal is to get its way. It feeds off of selfish power.
We don’t like to talk about church cartels. After all, it’s not the Christian thing to do. But they exist in too many churches. And if they are not exposed, they will continue to wreak havoc.
Here are five of the very dangerous realities of the church cartel:
1.   When a cartel is allowed power, the church is already unhealthy. 

    The cartel is, by its definition, self-centered and power-driven. A church is already very sick if members remain silent and do not confront this evil directly.

2.   A church cartel leaves carnages of wounded and dying people. 

     If you have any doubts about this danger, please see my post on “Autopsy of a Deceased Pastor.” See the comments. See the pain and questions and defeat the cartel leaves behind.

3.   Church cartels drive away healthy leaders. 

     Some of these leaders are driven away by the cartel. Others leave on their own accord because they want to be in a joyous and healthy church. Their departure exacerbates the problems in these churches.

4.   Church cartels cause church leaders to work from a posture of fear.

    Instead of moving forward in faith, church leaders often spend more time worrying about how their decisions will impact the cartel. These leaders know the cartel will come after them if they go contrary to the carnal group’s wishes.

5.   We are told in Scripture to manifest the fruit of the Spirit; the church cartel causes the church to do just the opposite. 

     Galatians 5:22-23 is clear about the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. Church cartels bring hate, discord, anxiety, impatience, evil, fear, brutality, and chaos.
Churches that have cartels usually know they are present. They know who the bully is. They know who the bully followers are. They see them. They hear them. And they often fear them.

Courageous leaders must confront and stop church cartels. If no one is willing, the church is already on a path toward decline and death.
Source:  Thom Rainer