My Little Mystery

Flag

I love a good mystery…especially a historical mystery. I have one and I have spent the past two days searching for answers. The mystery concerns the flag you see in the photo above. On the surface it looks like an ordinary photo of a Confederate flag. I was born and raised in the South (mostly North Carolina) so they are relatively common to me. I have literally seen them my entire life. So…why is this one such a mystery? Well…it is flying just behind the post office in Granville Summit, Pennsylvania.

I began asking folks around here about it immediately after I noticed it. No one was able to give me any information about it other than the rumor that some Confederate prisoners may have died near here. Died…here? You don’t say. My initial search revealed that there was a P.O.W. camp up in Elmira, NY towards the end of the Civil War. Elmira is only about thirty miles north of here so that really piqued my curiosity. Elmira is also the site of Woodlawn National Cemetery. The remains of many Confederate soldiers (who died in the camp) are buried there. Also…there is a monument to the victims of the Shohola train wreck which happened in 1864. That is all well and good but Granville is nowhere near Shohola.

However…there is a story about ANOTHER train wreck which supposedly happened near Cowley station on a section of railroad track that no longer exists. There are no official records of the incident and the only written record of it is a notation of a map of Granville in 1896. In this story several cars derailed in the middle of the night and some Confederate soldiers died. They were then buried in an unmarked grave and soon forgotten by all but the locals who lived near the site. The flag now flies in memory of those who died that night.

It has been suggested that some of the locals in Granville are borrowing details from the documented crash in Shohola and changing the location. Others say that they are simply confused. Then…there is the possibility that there really was a second crash that history has forgotten. The old Cowley station still stands…in fact…it’s there on High Bridge Road…within walking distance of the flag. I managed to find one article in a local paper that mentions the story and claims that it was the inspiration for a local quilt maker. And that…is all I can find.

Like I said…a real, honest-to-goodness mystery. I am not done digging around but I assume that I won’t turn up anything new. There are a few locals who know about the story and there is someone who maintains the flag…but my sources are limited. If I happen to turn up anything…I’ll come back and do a follow up…but until then…enjoy the mystery.

Granville Summit

Cowley Station

How Long Should I Preach?

I subscribe to Thom Rainer’s blog and try to read it faithfully. He consistently provides information and insights that I think help me to be a better minister. HERE is today’s post. In it he asks the question, how long should a sermon be? He then gives the three typical responses:

1. Shorter (20-30 minutes) 41%
2. Longer (35-55 minutes) 37%
3. No Set Length (let the Holy Spirit dictate) 9%

He also points out that 13% of those who responded were all over the chart. Some said as little as 9 minutes and some said as many as 75 minutes. He ends the post by asking what his readers think. Well…here is my opinion.

I fall somewhere between #1 and #3. I typically try to keep my sermons under 30 minutes because I truly believe you start to lose people after that. Unless you are extremely dynamic and entertaining…it is difficult to hold a crowd’s attention for long. Given today’s fast paced, sound bite culture…it is even more difficult to grab everyone. We live in a Twitter society where people are used to summing things up in less than 140 characters.

Even though I do try to keep my sermons short and sweet…I do try to allow room for the Holy Spirit to move me or even change the direction if He sees fit. I rarely preach from a manuscript and I try to keep my outlines as flexible as possible. It is organized enough for me to follow a concise flow of thought…but it doesn’t limit me to just the words on the page. I have preached as long as 45 minutes and it totally surprised me when I listened to the audio and realized it.

I’m with Thom here…there really is no set time limit. I do think a preacher needs to understand his congregation and know what works in his personal situation. I also think a preacher should be aware enough to know when to cut it off.

All For Love

Every now and then I will rediscover a song that I had forgotten about. This usually happens when I buy an album based upon one or two popular tracks and don’t really listen to the rest. I am currently listening to Hillsong United’s 2005 album Look To You. I bought it (downloaded it off iTunes actually) back when Salvation Is Here and What The World Will Never Take were getting significant exposure. The truth is that I had heard both of those songs through my friends in The Swift first. Hillsong United’s album was probably two (maybe three) years old by the time I got around to purchasing it. I was living in Mississippi at the time and I was curious to hear what the original versions sounded like. I had this album in my regular rotation for a couple of months and then I forgot about.

This morning I pulled it up because I wanted to hear Salvation Is Here. When All For Love played I just stopped and listened. I really didn’t remember the song but the lyrics really spoke to me. It finished playing and I immediately played it again. I now have the following lyrics etched into my brain:

All for love the Father gave
For only love could make a way
All for love the heavens cried
For love was crucified

Oh how many times have I broken Your heart
But still You forgive
If only I ask
And how many times have You heard me pray
Draw near to me

2004 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

This needs to be my prayer on a daily basis. I need to remember what Jesus went through so that I can be forgiven. How many times have I slipped and stumbled back to Him…unworthy…to have Him wrap His arms around me? Too many to even count. Thank You Jesus…for loving me when I didn’t deserve it.

Keith Green: Rushing Wind

Keith Green

Today marks the 32nd anniversary of the airplane crash that killed Keith Green and eleven others (including two of his children). Green was a musician and speaker who wrote or co-wrote (with his wife Melody) several popular Christians songs. He was a very charismatic performer who often generated controversy within the Christian music industry with his straight-forward lyrical approach. Taking a cue from the Old Testament prophets, he pulled no punches and openly called out inconsistencies that he observed in the Church. I don’t want to address those things with this post though. I have been blessed over the years through his music and today I just wanted to take a moment to mention the one song that continually speaks to (and convicts) me to this day.

Rushing wind blow through this temple,
Blowing out the dust within,
Come and breathe you breath upon me,
I’ve been born again.

Holy spirit, I surrender, take me where you want to go,
Plant me by your living water,
Plant me deep so I can grow.

Jesus, you’re the one, who sets my spirit free,
Use me lord, glorify, your holy name through me.
Separate me from this world lord.
Sanctify my life for you.
Daily change me to your image,
Help me bear good fruit.
Every day you’re drawing closer.

Trials come to test my faith.
But when all is said and done lord,
You know, it was worth the wait.
Jesus, you’re the one, who set my spirit free,
Use me lord, glorify, your holy name through me.

Rushing wind blow through this temple,
Blowing out the dust within,
Come and breathe you breath upon me,
For I’ve been born again.

Songwriters: Green, Keith Gordon / Green, Melody
Rushing Wind lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

Lord…I pray that You convict me of my sin and that You break my heart for what breaks Yours.

You Never Let Go

16 At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

2 Timothy 4:16-18 (ESV)

As Paul was nearing the end of his life he wrote this letter to encourage and instruct Timothy. Paul was in prison in Rome and these words were most likely some of the last that he wrote while here on earth. In the verses preceding these he mentions several individuals who had abandoned him. He also include one who directly opposed him and “did him great harm.” In spite of the abandonment and betrayal by those people…Paul remained faithful and focused on the task he had been assigned…to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I (and perhaps you) have been in situations where I felt as if I had been betrayed and abandoned. I have sat across the table from people who pointed the finger and made accusations. I felt the crushing weight of the blame that others had put upon me…whether justified or not. I have felt alone and lost in this world…believing that I had been lied to and sold out. Sometimes those feelings were legitimate and sometimes they weren’t…but they were real. They hurt.

It was in those times that I had no one else to lean on but God. It wasn’t always easy and it wasn’t always pretty…but it always worked. Even when those I trusted and respected seemed to turn on me…God was faithful and sustained me. To paraphrase King David’s wonderful Psalm 23…even when I was trudging through the deepest, darkest valley of death and despair…He was with me. He never let me go. One of my favorite modern worship songs is by Matt Redman. One lyrics goes:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
Your perfect love is casting out fear
And even when I’m caught in the middle of the storms of this life
I won’t turn back
I know You are near

And I will fear no evil
For my God is with me
And if my God is with me
Whom then shall I fear?
Whom then shall I fear?

I take great comfort in knowing that my Lord and my God will never leave me…no matter what I go through here on this earth. People will let you down. The church will let you down. Even those who are closest to you will eventually let you down. We all have those moments where we look around and feel as if we are all alone…abandoned and forsaken. God makes it perfectly clear…He will never let go.

Amen

No Greater Love

Chinese Doctors

The picture above was taken as several Chinese doctors and hospital staff bowed “in honor” of eleven year old Liang Yaoyi. Liang had just passed away from a brain tumor. Shortly before he died he told his mother that he wanted to donate his organs so that others might live. The medical staff wanted to pay their respects and give honor to Liang’s selfless last wish. The story can he found HERE. HERE it is on another site.

We have been studying 1 John during our mid-week Bible study and this story makes me think of the following passage:

16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

1 John 3:16-18 (ESV)

I realize this young man was dying from cancer but I still believe that he demonstrated the kind of sacrificial love that God wants us to have for one another. Although he was facing his final days, his body succumbing to a terrible illness, he thought of others. The article says that he probably learned about organ donation at school. It also says that both his liver and kidneys were able to be used in order to save the life of someone else.

John, in his Gospel, also wrote the following:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:13 (ESV)

How can we lay down our lives for others? The comment was made in Bible study that it is probably easier to die for someone than it is to live for him. Jesus has called us to love others in the same manner that He loves us. What does that mean for you?

Liang

****UPDATE****

I want to share THIS story as well because it happened in the town where my home church is.

Seven year old Kamari Jones was shot this past Wednesday night and was removed from life support yesterday evening. His mother cited her Christian faith as the reason she donated her son’s organs to those who might die without them. The article says:

“I felt like the Lord blessed me with him and he called him back home — the Lord has his spirit,” Carter said as her eyes filled with tears. “While his body is still here he can be a help and a blessing to somebody else. That is a blessing to bless somebody else.”

Once again…I am reminded that we are all called to love others as Christ has loved us.

Kamari

Precious In The Lord

Precious In The Lord

I saw this on Facebook this morning and had to laugh. While it is humorous…I think it speaks truth about the human condition. God loves us very much. He loved us so much that He took on flesh and blood and came down here to mingle with us. He knows how dirty and broken we are. In fact…He knew it before He ever appeared in the person of Jesus. He loved us and came down here IN SPITE of it.

I wish that we suddenly became perfect and quit doing stupid things when we become Christians…but the truth is…we don’t. We are called to live holy lives and to live by the Spirit…but…we still do some pretty dumb things from time to time. I take great consolation in the fact that God still lives me in spite of that. He loved me when I was completely unlovable.

Romans 5:6-11 (ESV) says:

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

We are precious in His sight. The Sunday School song goes:

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world

What a wonderful thing. We are all His children. He loves us regardless of who we are, where we come from, or what we have done. He died for us. I am drawn to another passage that talks about how precious we are.

Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his saints.

Psalm 116:15 (ESV)

God looks forward to the day when we will finally join Him. That is what He died for. How precious we must be in order for Him to go to such great lengths to make us His own.

Amen

In The Shadow Of The Steeple

The Steeple

The steeple on our building is currently being renovated. It is the original steeple and has been in place since it was erected sometime in the late 1870s. That is over a 130 years. As I watched the guys working on it I couldn’t help but think of all the things that have taken place in the shadow of that steeple. The American Civil War had just ended when the current building (and steeple) were erected. They have seen both World Wars. They have seen the invention of automobiles and airplanes. They have seen space flight. Think of all the history that has taken place.

But even more than that…think of all the really important things that have taken place. How many weddings or funerals have been held there? How many revivals or Vacation Bible Schools have taken place there? How many dinners on the grounds? How many worship services? How many sermons? How many baptisms? How much kingdom work has taken place in the shadow of that steeple?

I can only imagine…but God knows. I consider myself fortunate to serve with a congregation with such a rich history. I can only hope and pray that those of us here now (and in the future) will serve as faithfully as those who came before us.

Old Essays From Bible College: Part Three

This is the last one…unless I come across more on my external hard drive. Most of my college school work was on my old laptop. It is dead. Oh well.

Philosophy versus Christianity

In Colossians 2:8 Paul tells his readers to make sure “that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world.” Some may see this as an indictment against the study of anything not totally related to Scripture. It has even been suggested that the study of anything intellectual or nontheological could be pointless or even dangerous. While this is not always the case, the pursuit of some philosophies could prove to be detrimental and a waste of time to the Christian. There are three ways that philosophy can be dangerous to the believer. It can deny the gospel, it can distort the gospel, or it can take the place of the gospel. Christians must be aware of these methods and be on guard against them.

Some philosophies come right out and deny the Bible and its teaching on Jesus Christ. Many of them are held by people who claim to be educated and above myths and fairy tales. To these people, the Bible is nothing more than a collection of stories and a belief that they actually happened is an indication of low intelligence. Many young believers have their faith shipwrecked while receiving a secular education. They are taught by their professors that the Bible is an unreliable book and no one should seriously consider it to be the truth. Philosophy and science are used to convince them that there is no place for the Bible.

Other philosophies are born out of religious beliefs yet still manage to stray from the truth recorded in Scripture. Often times these pseudo-Christian religions blend Biblical teachings with philosophical ideas found in other religious traditions. The result is a mixture of Christian imagery woven with pagan beliefs. Paul was facing such a problem when he wrote to the church in Colossae. These beliefs almost always attack either the deity or the humanity of Jesus Christ. They present a gospel of Jesus Christ but it is not the gospel found in the Bible. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christian Scientists all espouse philosophies that appear to be Christian on the surface but are nothing more than pagan religions dressed up in Christian terms. Many unsuspecting seekers have been fooled by these empty and deceitful philosophies and are left worshipping gods that will only lead them to hell. Christians must expose the lies of those who would twist and distort the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Some philosophies are Christian in nature and are not inherently wrong. However, some people let the pursuit of these things consume their lives. Many people devote much time and energy to the study of theological ideas and philosophies. It is good for a believer to know and understand what he believes and why he believes it, but often times the study of those beliefs takes the focus off of Jesus Christ. People get engrossed in the study of eschatology or soteriology and forget that they are supposed to be reaching the lost with the message of Christ. Their philosophies are Biblically sound but they are given too much importance. The pursuit of correct theology becomes the driving force, instead of reaching the lost and serving others. Good philosophy becomes an idol and replaces the God which it was supposed to help explain.

Believers must be vigilant when it comes to the gospel. There are those in the world who would rather toss it aside than give it a second thought. Others are willing to take bits and pieces of it and concoct new beliefs that tickle the ears of those who hear them. Some even begin with a proper pursuit of Biblical truth and let it take over their lives. They do not deny or distort the gospel of Christ but they place Biblical knowledge on a pedestal above it. There is no room in the church for any of these people. Christians are to place Christ above all. They must realize that all things were created by Him and reconciled to God the Father through Him. Anything else is unacceptable.

Old Essays From Bible College: Part Two

Here is one I wrote for a youth ministry class I was taking.

Family Ministry

In his book Family Friendly, Steve Thomas makes the observation that raising a family has never been easy. He suggests that every generation has faced difficulties in that area but the world in which we currently live is showing hostility towards the family that has never been seen before. He sums it up nicely when he says that “families are in trouble” (Thomas 17). Because of this, there are some who believe that the concept of family ministry is faulty or outdated but I believe it still serves a purpose in the church of today.

Pamela J. Erwin agrees with Thomas in his assertion that the family is in trouble. She goes one step further and proposes that the family needs the church. The deterioration of the traditional family has created a sense of hopelessness and frustration that leaves many families feeling alone. People are looking “for closeness; for relational warmth and intimacy; and for love, fellowship, and meaning” (Erwin 12-13). I agree with her when she suggests that the church can meet those needs. In order for the church to successfully minister to youth I believe that we must look at the family and carefully consider ways to involve it. There are many valid reasons why the family should be a part of the church’s youth ministry program but I want to focus on a couple of them.

The family existed long before the church. In Genesis we learn that God told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…. (Gen. 1:28). This is the command that created the very first family. Before there were kings, judges, or prophets, there were patriarchs. God chose to lead and teach through fathers. Noah and Abraham are famous examples of God providing revelation and blessing through the working of the family. The church was still thousands of years away yet God was working among His people through the family. I don’t believe that it’s a coincidence that God calls Himself our Father. The relationship between parent and child is predated only by the relationship between husband and wife. I agree with Jim Burns when he says, “students may think you’re nice and feel safe talking to you, [but] parents are the primary influencers in students’ lives” (Fields 105).

We must recognize, however, that society and culture have changed greatly since the Bible was written. The Bible consistently shows the importance of the family. The relationship between Christ and the church is described as that of a husband and wife (Eph. 5:22-32). We also find that the Bible stresses the importance of parental involvement in the upbringing of children (Eph. 6:1-4). The world, however, presents a very different picture of the family. Divorce, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, and the loss of traditional parental roles have all contributed to the weakening of the family. Dysfunctional families reproduce and create a cycle that is seemingly unbreakable. In his book Family Ministry, Charles M. Sell makes the following statement; “Unless something is done for them, the many problems they have today will be repeated in the families of tomorrow” (Sell 46). To many, the survival of the traditional family seems hopeless.

That brings me to the second reason I believe family ministry is so important. The church and its ministries provide a sense of community that many in today’s world are longing for. Families spend less and less time together and that causes them to slowly drift away from one another. To some, church is the only time that they are all together in one place for any length of time and they often find themselves being separated and isolated from one another there as well. While I believe that there is nothing wrong with having separate activities for adults and youth, I do feel that we often take this to extremes and, in many cases, create two totally different churches meeting under the same roof.

In a 2000 article for Youthworker Chap Clark writes; “Certainly there are differences between the way those younger than 30 think, behave, and process than those over 50 do” (Clark). We often feed those differences instead of finding common ground. The church itself is a family and we often bring our dysfunctions into it. In many cases the living, growing family described in Acts 2 is slowly being transformed into a bunch of segregated ministries that function separately from one another. Mom and Dad have their church in the big room, the teens have their church in a slightly smaller room, and the children have their church in various classrooms scattered throughout the building. These different churches often have their own music, their own language, and their own agenda. I believe that can be a sign of an unhealthy family.

If we are going to maintain a healthy church family we have got to figure out how to minister to each of the different groups within the family without creating unnecessary divisions. Steve Thomas suggests that we need to develop a strategy that will look at the needs of the different families within the church and meet them all. He says that we must teach “them how to express an authentic family resemblance to our Father” (Thomas 57). I firmly believe that parents must be involved if we are ever going to achieve this. Successful youth ministry depends upon it.

In a 2002 article, Jim Burns describes six ways that we can strengthen our ministry to families. He says that we need to: change the mindset, help families succeed, inform parents, assist parents, involve parents, and lastly, encourage parents (Burns). I want to briefly address three of these ideas and explain why I believe they are essential to the development of a healthy family ministry within the church.

Burns says that we’ve got to change the mindset. I’ve already addressed the fact that families played a much larger role in the spiritual upbringing of a child during Biblical times. Many parents today don’t consider it their responsibility to be youth ministers to their children. They take their children to church and place them in the care of someone paid to teach and train them. Burns suggests that the church is partly to blame because it willingly let parents place the spiritual well-being of their children into its hands. He also observes that parents aren’t “clamoring to take back this responsibility” (Burns). We’ve got to remind parents that we are there to assist them, not the other way around. Parents are the ones commanded to “train up a child in the way he should go…” (Proverbs 22:6). It is our responsibility as the church to equip and encourage them as they do so.

Assisting parents is the second thing I believe is an essential responsibility of family ministry. I believe the first, and best, way we can assist parents is through prayer. Doug Fields says that we should continually ask parents how we can pray for them (Fields 105). We often feel as if we have to create programs and host events in order to reach out to families. Fields suggests that we should sometimes lighten up on the programs and focus more on relationships. Families often have frantic schedules and our good-intentioned programs create one more thing for them to stress out over. Fields says that emphasizing healthy family relationships is much more important than giving them things to do. He also reminds us that we should keep the family in consideration when we do plan events. We often forget the time and money required to send kids off on the awesome programs we dream up. We need to remember that everything we plan will affect each and every family that participates. We don’t need to make the ministry a burden to them (Fields 108).

The final thing I want to address is the actual involvement of parents in the youth ministry program. It’s true that not all parents are going to want to work with the youth group. It’s also true that not every parent is going to be able or gifted to work with them. But we need to make sure that we include those who are. Many of the kids in our youth groups are not going to want their parents heavily involved. There are ways that parents can be involved without becoming a part of the actual youth group. Burns mentions the following ways parents can be indirectly involved: “prayer team, advisory council, retreat chaperoning, driving, food preparation, discipleship, fund raising, and hospitality just to name a few” (Burns).

I realize that there are many other issues that affect family ministry within the church. I also acknowledge that there are differing opinions as to how involved parents should be in organized youth ministry. I believe Pamela Erwin sums it up correctly when she says; “Family ministry is not something that can be photocopied from one church to another. It’s more organic than that; it’s a way of thinking. A theological conviction, and a philosophy. It’s not simply a program to be modeled” (Erwin 11). We have to approach each individual congregation and family differently. What works in Elizabeth City, NC will probably not work in Los Angeles, CA. We have to remember that the church is here to serve and support the family, not the other way around.

Works Cited

Bomar, Chuck. “Missing Both Ends: Adolescence Changes Youth Ministry.” Web page.
10 Oct. 2005. http://www.youthspecialties.com/arti…evelopment.php

Burns, Jim. “What is Family-Based Youth Ministry?” Web page.
10 Nov. 2005. http://www.youthspecialties.com/arti…evelopment.php

Clark, Chap. “Youth Ministry in an Age of Delayed Adulthood.” Web page.
4 Nov. 2005. http://www.youthspecialties.com/arti…evelopment.php

Erwin, Pamela J. The Family Powered Church. Loveland, CO: Group, 2000.

Fields, Doug. Your First Two Years In Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.

Sell, Charles M. Family Ministry: Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995

Thomas, Steve. Your Church Can Be…Family Friendly. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.