Examine how you feel during each season in life

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This past Sunday Rich spoke on “transition” and as a Christian how do we deal with that? And also what are we feeling during those times?

Everyone will face some sort of transition in their life. Some are much larger in scope than others are. Some people will face transition more than others. And also sometimes you will have seasons of constant transition in your life and sometimes you will have none.  Having experienced many transitions and also some seasons where nothing changes I don’t think one is better than the other, it all depends on how you deal with it. Obviously, as Rich pointed out, some people (Christian or not) are unable to deal with a change in routine. It is disruptive and can leave you confused or feeling alone.

I have felt this before as I have constantly had seasons of transition in moving to different locations. With my dad being a pastor, we moved a lot. I was born in Ashland, Ohio and lived there from 1980-1984. Then my dad was called to his first pastorate at Gretna Brethren Church, so in 1984 we moved to Bellefontaine, Ohio. I was too young to remember this transition so it did not affect me all that much. We lived in Bellefontaine till 1991 and then my dad was called to pastor New Lebanon Brethren Church in New Lebanon, Ohio. I do remember this transition. It was tough having to leave some friends that I had made. But as Rich discussed, I learned to cope over time and make new friends.

Four years later we moved to Wabash, Indiana as my dad began a pastorate at College Corner Brethren Church in 1995.  This transition was much more difficult.  I was ready to transition into High School and I had to leave it all and go to a completely new school in a new state.  I remember not wanting to move but it was not my choice really.

I have since moved a few more times going back to Ashland, Ohio for college in 1999; back to Wabash for one year out of college, back to Ashland for seminary in 2005 and then here to Columbus, Ohio in 2008.  All those transitions were much easier and I had friends to help me cope along the way.

Trying new things can be hard for some.  Also, as previously stated, there is no quick fix for these transitions.  It takes time to find out who you are and who you want to be.  For me, the easiest way to deal with these was to make new friends.  I had to also find connections with people in situations where I felt comfortable, like going to sporting events, and make connections so I would not become completely isolated.

Just some random thoughts I have about all this:  Looking back on all these situations I feel that somehow I was fine with the transition of moving.  The biggest issue I have now is wondering if I am not in a “transition” am I ok with that?  Can I settle down.  Can I enjoy life sitting still or staying in one place? A question I have to ask myself is:  Am I not looking deeper into what God wants me to do here in Columbus because I am afraid that if I find that, I am once again going to be moving along somewhere else?

Maybe you are like me and have these thoughts of what to do with your life.  I think that those that are in some phase of transition and those that are not  can possibly be searching for the same things.  God, companionship, friendship, acceptance and self worth.  If so, questions that examine how we feel during these transitions or lack there of can be important ones to ask ourselves.

Care for the sick

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mattI am sure that I am not the only person who has heard the phrase:  “This happened to you because you did not have enough faith.”  In fact, I know I am not the only one if you read the prior blog posts by the father and son combo of Bob and Ben Trube.  So this week’s message was one that brought up some old wounds yet it was good to understand that I am not alone in how I feel toward sickness in this world.

The concept of sickness has always been a touchy subject for me.  So when Rich began preaching last Sunday on this topic the first thing that came to mind was my grandmother.  She had passed away quite a few years back now from cancer.  It was a sad time for my family and I and we all still miss her dearly.  She was a fantastic example of love and kindness and she always seemed to have a smile on her face even through the toughest battle of her life.

When she passed away the loss I felt was difficult enough but I will still never forget the day when I overheard someone telling my dad that my grandma had passed away because she did not have enough faith!  I was outraged.  I will never forget that moment.  I didn’t hear my dad’s reaction but I remember mine…it was one of anger and flowing tears.

As I have had time to reflect situation I realize that the person who said this was just wrong.  Sickness is in the world because of sin.  Plain and simple.  But it does not mean if someone gets sick that it is because they sinned.  I don’t think that we can do anything about it sometimes.  It is just a part of life.  We get sick.  We may die because of it.  But it does not mean if we do that God was punishing us or we did not have enough faith to live.

Sickness just happens.  We live in a fallen world.

My Grandma was one of the strongest examples of a Christian that I know.  Her care for those in her family, her love for children around the world on mission trips with my grandpa and her joy in worshiping God are things that still stand out to me and I would be honored to be seen on the same faith level as her.

So what can we do?  First, I think we must stop having this attitude that sickness is because we did something wrong or didn’t have enough faith.  Second, we must know that sometimes we just get sick.  Third we must care for the sick well.  We need to stop shaming the sick and viewing them as second class.  They are our equals because we are all human and created by God.  The ministry of presence may be the best thing we can do.  Sometimes there are no words to make things better.  Just be there with those who are sick and care for them and the family.  Lastly, share the good news.  That this life is not the end.  There is something more.  Something better.  A place where there is no sickness.  No pain.  No death.  That is something we all can rejoice in.

King and a Kingdom

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This last weekend I was blessed to be on a post-high retreat at Camp Bethany, our denominational districts’ church camp.  I went there numerous times as a kid, and once a year, I have had the privilege to go back for this weekend retreat.  That being said, I was not at Smoky Row to hear Rich preach on Sunday.  And it seems that the audio was not uploaded to the website either.  But the text was.  And from what I can gather–some of the same topic was discussed.  Idolatry.  I guess that is a God thing.

On the retreat we watched a video series based off the book, Gods at War:  Defeating the Idols that Battle for your Heart by Kyle Idleman.  It was a great study and I recommend it.  The main topic that was examined was what thing or things have become idols to you that you have put above God in your life?  Examples such as:  Money, power, approval of man, success in your career, sex, comfort, politics, control, ect…the list goes on.  Below is a link to the book and trailers for the video series.

http://http://www.christianbook.com/defeating-idols-that-battle-your-heart/kyle-idleman/9780310318842/pd/318842?dv=c&en=google-pla&event=PLASHOP&kw=christian-living-0-20&p=1167941&gclid=CIa7zv_E9L4CFcpcMgodUmMAeg

From reading the sermon text, one of the things that Rich discussed was the difference between patriotism and nationalism.  I have often thought about this.  He said that patriotism is an “appreciation for what is good about the place in which we live.”  Nationalism is saying the country that I live in is better than yours and all others as well.  That is a big difference.  He suggested that patriotism is fine, but nationalism is an idol.  I could not agree more.

I have been accused of being unpatriotic in my life.  Confession time:  I have not said the pledge of allegiance out loud in probably 15 years.  Why?  Because as singer and songwriter Derek Webb states in his song King and a Kingdom:  “My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country or a man.  My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood.  It’s to a King and a Kingdom.” (Mockingbird, 2005).

As Christians we live here on earth.  I live in America.  I love this place.  I would not choose to live anywhere else.  But as an American Christian, this world and the place I live in here in Columbus, Ohio is not my true home.  My home is not of this world.  Sometimes I don’t like the things that are done in this nation.  Does that make me unpatriotic?  According to some maybe.  Yet I don’t think so.

In Philippians, Paul states, “But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body (Philippians 3:20-21).

I am a citizen of heaven.  God and His Kingdom are to be first and that is where my home truly is to be.

Play as recreation: part 2

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Last week Rich talked about play as recreation in three parts.  I’d encourage you to read Ben’s post on Tuesday for an explanation of what this is.  Rich brought out play having three basic functions:  (1) play helping us grieve or work out our frustration, which Ben discussed at length in his post, (2) play allowing us to flex our strengths, and (3) play returning us to ourselves.  Since Ben discussed the first of these, I’ll take the last two.

The 2nd of these is that play allows us to flex our strengths.  Unless you have been blessed with having a job that allows you not only to pay your bills, but do something you love, this may look different.  I have a job that “just pays the bills.”  It is not what I went to school for.  I wanted to be a sports broadcaster, not a collection agent, which is vastly different.

I have learned however to take something I am good at and use it well.  Oddly enough, I am good at my job.  You may be thinking, well, you are not mean so how can you be good at collections?  Let me say, that is a stereotype that I have found is not true.  Most collection agents are not mean, money-grubbing, soulless jerks.  Most are good conversationalists that will try to help you pay your bills the best you can, in a timely manner.  It does however take some effort on your part too to be able to listen to the advice the agent gives and use it well.

This however is not play for me.  It is a job.  I don’t take my work home.  I can’t.  Or else I’d probably be angry and bitter.  I can say however that my strengths, skills and talents are being leveraged here.  I have been given the chance to use these well.  It also serves me well in the church I serve at.  I listen well.  I can give advice if asked.  I like to help others.  I care for others well being.  All of these skills and talents are seen in my job and my service at Smoky Row–just in different ways.

So what are your strengths, talents and gifts?  Are you leveraging those to the best of your ability? Are you doing what you love?

These questions then lead us to examine who we are.  Play as recreation should point to who we are.  If you don’t know who you are, Rich suggested, go play.  Find something you enjoy to do and do it.  Once you do, you will find out who you are and how you feel about yourself.

How is your soul?  How is your spirit?  Are you enjoying life?  If not, maybe you should play more often.  Just a thought.  Life should be enjoyable.  Play is a needed thing in life.  Otherwise, you’ll just get tired and miserable.  Play can not only help us identify our strengths it shows us the core of who we really are.  And that is a good thing.

So this weekend…go play.

Forgiveness, grace and garage doors

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This week Pastor Rudy Bocanegra spoke on the importance of family.  He used 1 John 3:11-24 and 1 Timothy 5:1-8 at his main passages.  I really enjoyed what he had to say.  I felt that he did a fantastic job of describing how the family unit looks very different today than what it may have looked like just a short 20-30 years ago.

There are a lot of factors that play into this.  The concept of the “blended” family, due to divorce, remarriage, adoption, sexual orientation, ect has become a cultural norm for today.  Some of these things are good and some are bad.  Yet whatever your family unit looks like; blended or not, it still hopefully has some principles that are solid rules for living.  I think that this is true even more so if we are Christian.

These are things that I have known and also am experiencing in new ways due to the new family unit I am now apart of.  I am now living with a friend, to save some money on rent and also help him with some of his own living expenses.   In some respects it could be like college all over again.  Yet what makes this situation even more interesting though is that he has an 8-year old daughter living with us a few days a week and alternating weekends.

As I was sitting and listening to Rudy’s sermon, and he was talking of what the Christian family looks like today in our homes, this picture of my “new” family unit kept coming to mind.  What does my life look like to this young girl who is beginning to form concepts and ideas of what a Christian looks like? Based on those adults she encounters on a daily basis, is she seeing what love, grace, kindness and forgiveness looks like?

So now, I suppose even more so, I have to watch how I live and act on an everyday basis because someone else is watching.   I need to also be prepared to give an answer to every question that may arise.  Hopefully, if I mess up, there is some grace and forgiveness there not only from her; but from my roommate as well.

For example, last night, I needed some forgiveness and grace shown.   I went outside to move my car from the street back into our driveway after a friend had left.  I went out with no shoes.  As I began moving my car into its spot, my foot slipped on the gas pedal and instead of slowing down, it sped up and hit the garage door.  I am fine. The car is fine other than a bit of paint and a small dent.  The garage door however…not so much.  It will need replaced.  It suffered the worst damage, along with my pride.  I needed forgiveness and grace and needed it now.  I felt stupid, yet my roommate was very cool about it.  Despite damaging an aspect of his house he showed tons of grace and forgiveness. I owned up to my mistake, told him I was sorry, and will pay for the damages.  He forgave me and showed tons of kindness and support.

My roomate is a Christian and so am I.  He was able to demonstrate without a second thought what a Christ would do.  Hopefully I did as well.  As Pastor Rudy stated in his sermon and my roommate demonstrated, we must act with love, kindness, grace, forgiveness and the like.  The world tells may tell us different.  Yet that is why the concept of a family that holds to Christian values is so needed today.  With that type of character displayed in the story I described, it is much easier to repair a garage door and even the brokenness of our world as well.

Being who we were created to be

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So this week Pastor Rich and Pastor Rudy co-preached a sermon for Easter Sunday as we had a bi-lingual service.  It was a great thing to experience and be a part of.  And although I really don’t understand a lick of Spanish, I am proud to be a part of a congregation that uses the gifts and talents of its people and is trying to reach out more than one people group.

In a way that is what the sermon was about too.  It was stated in the sermon that our lives are filled with meaning and what we do in this life is important to God.  I believe this to be 100% true.

mattGod has given us each talents, gifts, hobbies, things we enjoy and more…and he wants us to use all of that to the best of our ability.  We are created as unique individuals.  God wants us to enjoy this life and bless others while doing so.  Even the things that seem minor to us, sometimes God can use them when least expected.

I experienced that this week.  I was able to go to the Columbus Blue Jackets vs Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game yesterday.  As a CRAZY-WACKO SPORTS FANATIC it was awesome to say the least.  Sports is a hobby for me.  It is something I enjoy to the fullest.  Although I am not sure what role God played in making me like this, if any at all, I do believe that He can use it for His glory.

As we were driving to the arena one of the people in the car, all of whom knew I was a Christian, looked over at me and asked if I could pray for a family member of theirs.  I won’t mention the details due to the fact that it was asked to be kept private.  I was a bit shocked at first, then realized how cool of an opportunity that was.  I listened, I affirmed their thoughts, and I agreed to pray for them and the family.  The point being is that having the chance to bless someone else and glorify God in the process can come in the least likely of places and through the oddest of avenues.  My love of sports and being who God created me to be provided that opportunity to be used by God.

Are lives are filled with meaning and even the little things we do are important to God.  Enjoying our life now is a good thing.  God cares about it and so should we.  Because of the Resurrection we have a purpose.  Without it our lives as believers would be a meaningless existence.  Because Christ came back from the dead, we now have a reason to carry on.  That reason is to share the gospel.

We are to share that good news with everyone we know.  It may appear in small forms.  It may take time.  It may be just planting seeds.  But even a prayer for a family member of someone may brighten up their day and they may come to realize that their life has value too.  And maybe even if we enjoy the little things like our hobbies, it will allow the Holy Spirit to use us in ways we never thought possible.

When saying you love Jesus isn’t enough

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This week, one of our fellow bloggers, Bob Trube, spoke to our congregation this past Sunday on John 8:31-49.  He brought out a phrase that I have heard numerous times.  “I love Jesus, but it’s the church that I hate.”  Powerful words are they not?  Have you heard that before?  Maybe you have even stated it yourself a time or two.

mattI know it is a phrase that I have said more than once.  Sometimes our view of Jesus and the church can be so radically different.  Jesus is to be loving.  Some in the church can hate.  Jesus is to welcome all.  Sometimes the church denies people access into their “click” because they have different opinions, thoughts, political views or even look different.  Jesus is to be accepting of us just the way we are.  The church tells us we have to be like them or go to hell.

Here is the issue I have with what I have just stated, although some of these statements may be true, they are not true of every church.  I also think that although Jesus is loving, welcoming and accepting of us coming to Him just as we are, it does not mean He will not want us to change.

Mark 1:15 says,  “The time has come,” he said.  “The kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe the good news!”  (NIV).  These are the words of Jesus.  Notice that He says repent first.  Repent is to turn around.  To do a 180.  To change.  To be different than you once were…then believe.  We often flip these in their order.  When we do so we often never get to the repent part because we think that the belief is enough.  Yet Jesus calls those who believe in Him to a lifestyle change.

In today’s passage as Jesus confronts the believers that He is talking to, they are angry when he tells them that they are not acting upon what they know is right.  He tells them they are still slaves to their sin (v. 34-38).  He tells them that they need to change their ways.  This is the part of Christianity that EVERYONE has a problem with.  If we could all just live the exact same lifestyle as before we came to Christ, then all would be good right?  Yet, Jesus (and the church) demands more of us.  Saying you love Jesus is just one of the first steps in the process.

So are we changing?  Are we being transformed by Christ?  Are we as the church living to the example that Christ called us to?  We are all sinners in need of His grace.  We all need His forgiveness.  We are all no better than another.  Jesus does love us all, desires to welcome us all into His kingdom and is accepting of us just as we are when we come to Him.  I hope you will consider these things if you are a part of the church or not.  But make sure there is more to it.  Jesus does desire us to change and grow.  If we don’t then what is the point?

Do everything in love

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Verse 13 has been talked about a good bit this week.  Ben talked about being strong and trusting God.  Bob talked about standing firm in the faith and trusting God even when fear creeps in.  I’ll go into verse 14 today.  “Do everything in love.”

Everything?  Seems a bit much right?  Maybe it’s just me, but is that possible? Can everything we do be surrounded in love?

mattWe live in a world that teaches us to be skeptical of everyone’s motives.  Everyone is taught to look out for themselves and not care about others.  To me one of the ways that I see this daily is at work.  You see, I work in a collection agency.  The minute I make a call, I often have to battle with that skepticism of whomever else is on the line.  Immediately they are wondering who I am and why I am calling them.  But due to third party privacy law and some regulations we have within our company I can’t tell them why I am calling unless they verify who they are first.  All I can say is that I am calling for “insert name here” and it is about a personal business matter.  that person then needs to trust me that I am not trying to deceive them.

It gets more difficult after that too.  If they identify themselves and I disclose why I am calling, then comes the negotiation.  I have learned that love is the key here.  If I don’t show them love by caring about their situation, listening to them, showing compassion, ect…I will lose them.  They on the other hand seem to get to say whatever they want.  I have been cussed out, ridiculed, insulted, hated and hung up on.  This is on a daily basis.  It is not an easy job.  Honestly I would enjoy being able to say something rude back.  But I can’t nor should I as a believer in Christ.  I know better.  I have been taught and told that I need to do EVERYTHING in love.  Everything.

I don’t want to miss the stating the point though that there is such a thing as tough love.  We often hear this  described by parents about their children.  Well collections is the same way.  I have to negotiate.  I can’t just give in to the demands of what the people who owe the bill want.  Because lets face it…they don’t want to pay it.  That’s just fact.  I have to get them to understand that I am there to help them pay the bills they owe and that they are able to feel freedom when they are done.

Point being, I have to show love in collections.  I have to conduct myself as I believe that Christ would.  So what is your life like on a daily basis?  Is everything you do based in love?  Is this possible? What does this look like for you?

Be united

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This week’s passage, 1 Corinthians 16:1-12, seems to be a light one in substance.  Paul, the author of the Corinthian letter has been talking about some pretty heavy stuff over the course of his letter.  As he is coming to an end of his letter he has just a few more things to address.  But just because this stuff seems of less importance, or things we just gloss over, does not mean it has little value.

mattIn fact, we as believers need to make sure that we notice what is in God’s word.  It is there for a reason.

I would like to focus on verse 10:  “If Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am.”

The church at Corinth has been a divided group from the start.  Some follow Paul, others Apollos, some Cephas (or Peter) and others say they follow Christ (Chapter 1, verse 12).  How many times have we seen that human beings choose to support particular group or person and then say that they don’t like others just because they are different?  Paul makes the point that Timothy, his young apprentice, is working for Christ just as he is.

This was always an encouraging thought to me as a young believer.  My grandfather was a pastor for many years.   My father has been a pastor and in the ministry for a long time.  For a long while I thought I had to live up to the expectations that others had of me based off of who my grandfather and father were.  However, I came to a realization that I don’t have to live up to others expectations of me.  Just as Paul states about Timothy, they (Timothy and Paul) are all preaching the same message so it should be heard and respected.  The way it is taught or stated may be different, but the basics of “Christ crucified” are all that matters.  The only expectations that I need to worry about are those of God.  What does He expect of me?

I think that Paul wants to make sure that the church at Corinth does not discount what Timothy has to offer because he is too young or different than Paul.  Paul knows that Timothy has a lot to offer and is willing to lay everything down for the sake of the gospel.  To him that is all that matters.

Be united.  Love one another.  Be open to what others have to offer even if it may be new to you or different than what you are used to.

So my question to you is are you accepting of what others have to offer even though it may be different than what you are used to?  How can we open ourselves to new opinions, thoughts or ideas?

Death is not the end

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This past week I have been pondering extensively over the fact:  What if the resurrection isn’t true?  This weeks sermon passage was 1 Corinthians 15:12-34.  I have heard the sermons at church over the last couple weeks on the subject of the resurrection, had numerous conversations with friends on the subject and even pondered death itself.  One of my friends had to deal with the loss of her grandma this last week.  It was painful to see from afar.  She missed her grandma and wanted her back.

mattSo if this life is all there is and there is no “resurrection of the dead” as we have been pondering, than I have to say this life seems pretty disappointing.  Yes, I enjoy my life.  But if there is nothing at the end that I have to look forward to, than I feel like I have been sold a bill of goods that I would like a refund for.

My friends’ grandma was a believer in Christ and so is my friend.  My friend hopes to one day be able to see her grandma again in heaven.  But if there is no resurrection of the dead than there is no life after death.  Death is all there is.  Death has won.  Christ was not victorious over death and is not currently victorious over Satan in any battle.  If Christ never rose from the dead like He said he would can we really believe anything He ever said was true?

This is Paul’s point to those in Corinth.  “If there is no resurrection of the dead, than not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (v.13-14).  VERY BOLD WORDS PAUL.  Our preaching–everything we have taught or been taught is crap if there is no resurrection of the dead.  Our faith–everything we believe in and have based our life upon is worthless.

Paul goes further….”More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead” (v.15).  He basically calls us liars. He also says in verse 17 that if resurrection is not possible than we are still stuck in our sins.  No salvation.  No cure.  Depressing stuff.

So is there hope?  Yes.  In verses 20-28 Paul makes his case for hope.  He implores those in Corinth (and us) to see that the resurrection is true.  That there is reason for hope.  That our preaching and faith has value.  That Christ has defeated death.  That life is worth living now and it will get better.  Please read it for yourself.  I pray that those words come alive for you.

Ultimately my hope is that in this life we can know that death is not the end.