Monday, March 30, 2009

"Here come Peter Cottontail..."

He has arrived at Target, Walmart, and Longs Drug Store here in Amador County with a bounce of color and candy. Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies and designer baskets are everywhere you look and somewhere--lurking in the shadows--Peter Cottontail, Inc. is smiling!

So how do we get that whole thing tangled up with the Easter season we are preparing to celebrate? It seems like such a disjointed stretch from decorated "Easter eggs" and new spring dresses to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet, that is why we come to this time of year with such anticipation and hope.

If this season is just about baby bunnies in a basket and eggs hidden in the high grass (not too carefully lest they be missed), then why is it that more people go to church on Easter Sunday than any other day of the year? And why is it that the cross and empty tomb are visual reminders of what lies beneath the superficial trappings of the season?

At Grace Fellowship we are endeavoring to put the season in proper focus with this four part series of messages (available at

Sunday, March 29
"The Life of Christ: Where Love and Truth Intersect"

Sunday, April 5
"The Cross: Where Life and Death Collide"

Friday, April 10
"The Last Supper" Where the New Supercedes the Old"

Sunday, April 12
"The Empty Tomb: Where Death is Swallowed up in Victory"

It is possible--in fact, highly probable--that there will be lots of new dresses and even some Easter candy at Grace Fellowship, but what we really will be focused on is presenting the truth about Christ's death and resurrection...which is why, I believe (with a hopeful heart), most people come to church this time of the year.

Peter Cottontail may have arrived in your house or at your favorite shopping center. But the best is yet to come!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Jonah's dilemma

Jonah's dilemma was not being swallowed by a "great fish", although that was traumatic enough. His real problem is revealed in the "forgotten" chapter of Jonah's story, chapter 4. Here Jonah, having delivered the message to Nineveh that they were going to be destroyed, and then, seeing God postpone judgment because of their repentant hearts. faces a crisis. It is such a catastrophe for him that he says, "I would rather die than live..."

What brought Jonah to such a state? Rescued from a fish's belly, utlimately obedient to a task that resulted in the salvation of a "great city" (even though they were Israel's enemies), Jonah now sulked, and literally, despaired--at which point God asked--not once, but twice, "What right do you have to be angry?" or, "What good reason do you have for your anger?"

Though Jonah ignored the question the first time, and moved outside the city to wait and see what God would do, God provided an object lesson via a vine that He grew grew and destroyed in front of Jonah's eyes. Jonah becomes angry...again...when the shade-providing vine was destroyed and he was subjected to a hot east wind that nearly caused him to have a sunstroke. When God asked a second time "Do you have a good reason for your anger?", Jonah answered, "yes".

What we discover here is that the God Jonah wanted to believe in--the God he acknowledged was merciful, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love--has had compassion on his mortal enemies, and has relented in the judgment He promised to Nineveh. Jonah confessed that this was the reason He did not want to go to Nineveh in the first place. When there is a gap between the God we want to to define, and the God that actually is, a crisis can emerge, and it did for Jonah. Jonah wanted God to exercise judgment on Nineveh--they surely deserved it--and when He acted in mercy instead, Jonah was irate. He would rather have died than live with a God like this.

God answered Jonah in the creation and destruction of the vine, acknowledging Jonah's concern for a vine he neither grew or tended, and then reminded him that He, as Creator, had 120,000 ignorant Ninevites who He cared for that He had chosen to spare. "Should I not have pity on Nineveh?", He asked.

What was God saying to Jonah? (1) I am sovereign. (2)I am righteous and just. (3) I am compassionate and forgiving. (4) I will give mercy to whom I choose to give mercy. (5)I have chosen to forgive Nineveh...just as I forgave you when you attempted to turn your back on me and flee to Tarshish.

It is interesting to me that Jonah was willing for God to disburse grace to him--but not to Nineveh--and when God acted in a way inconsistent with Jonah's expectation, all of a sudden his confidence in God was shattered.

God is bigger than the box we put Him in. God's ways are always consistent with His character. He sometimes move swiftly in the execution of judgment and other times, He waits patiently and lovingly, "not willing that any should perish." Can we accept God's mercy and and grace, and at the same time, remember He is a God who is holy and just. He alone has the divine prerogative to act as He does in addressing man's sin. Jonah's dilemma can be ours, and short-circuit our ability to trust God. Or, we can say, "I have no good reason to be angry with a God who is faithful to His character in all that He does". That is my choice today.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Is there help anywhere?

More layoffs in Amador County...Ace Hardware closed their store in Pine Grove this week, and adds to the burgeoning list of failed businesses and unemployed.

Where do we look for help? Banks are not making loans (unless you have perfect credit); houses, though available in large number, are not easily financed (unless you have perfect credit). And where do you look for work? Construction has ground to a halt and I heard recently that a local business had over 300 applications for an opening. Our growing number of homeless are living under the bridge because our options for low cost housing (now a five year waiting list?) are diminished and our Homeless Shelter is full.

Where do we look for help?

The Food Bank reports a record number of people soliciting assistance for food (more than they can adequately provide) and a local thrift store's business is thriving as a growing number of people look for discounted clothing and household articles.

Where do we look for help?

I believe the government is NOT the place to look. They are too busy anyway bailing out banks, automobile corporations and mortgage companies to have much less for the commom man---guys like you and me.

Ronald Reagan championed the cause of volunteerism and private contributions to legitimate need. George W. Bush talked about help for faith-based operations that would consider the plight of the poor. And apart from his verbalized commitment to government spending as the cure-all for social need, I have heard whispers of President Obama's call for individual involvement in and contribution to the plight of hurting Americans.

We have been asking the same question at the church I pastor; where do we look for help?

The easy answer is, "We look to God", and I would suggest there is an element of fundamental truth that is inescapable in the discovery of divine assistance. The Psalmist writes, "No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save...we wait in hope for the Lord", Psalm 33:16-20.

I am not an advocate of spiritual welfare. It is not a scriptural truth, either, that "God helps those who help themselves", because there are some who cannot help themselves, and at some point in life--some sooner than others--we all need help from others.

AT our church I have been challenging our people with the concept of "overflow ministry"--the idea that the difference between what we need and what we have is surplus, or, "overflow". I have challenged our church family top share with others out of their "overflow". Here are some things we are doing and preparing to do.

*Gift Card Sunday--before Christmas we collected over $1500 of gift cards from our people that are handed out as needs for groceries and gasoline arise

*Resource Handbook--we have developed a handbook that identifieds resources from within our church family that are available to people for free, or at a reduced cost

*"Body Life" board--a bulletin board where people can identify "Things I have", along with "Things I need", to pair resources with needs.

*"Victory" Garden--development of church property for raising of food for needy families (ground to be plowed)

*Perishable Pantry--a supplement to the provision of the Food Bank (which we support financially) for needy families in supplying milk, meat, etc. (in development)

*Grace Job Corps--a support group for those out of work needing encouragement, refinement of skills in writing resumes, brain-storming about work opportunities, etc. (still in process)

These are just a few ideas that we have implemented, or, are seeking to develop to answer the question, "Is there help anywhere?"

Just imagine what would happen if we all pondered the same question, and used our "overflow" in a creative way to meet the needs of hurting people?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

can you find rest in a trailer?


Bev and I spent six days hunkered down--mostly in the rain--in a little campground called Uvas Pines, nestled between Gilroy and Morgan Hill. The verdant green fueled by the recent rain, as well as the whispy white clouds parading across an occasional blue sky, provided a textured backdrop for a respite from work and responsibility.

What I noticed msot about a campground largely inhabited by long-term residents, was an almost eerie quiet. The birds chirping racously in the morning were not interrupted by the noise of traffic, people racing to work, or sirens glaring in the background. The monotonous silence was a welcome invitation to simply sit and reflect together upon God's goodness to us.

Our trailer is an inexpensive way of escaping the din and demand of life. It is a safe haven where we are able to connect with the one who "makes me to lie down in green pastures...leads besides quiet waters; He restores my soul", Psalm 23:2

You can find rest in a trailer...can't wait until we go again!