Friday, June 29, 2007

4th of July - A celebration of an experiment

About the time our original thirteen states adopted their new constitution in 1787, Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor at the University of Edinburgh, had this to say about the fall of the Athenian Republic some 2,000 years earlier:

“A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always vote for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, those nations always progressed through the following sequence:

1. from bondage to spiritual faith;
2. from spiritual faith to great courage;
3. from courage to liberty;
4. from liberty to abundance;
5. from abundance to complacency;
6. from complacency to apathy;
7. from apathy to dependence;
8. from dependence back into bondage”


The Greater the state,
the more wrong and cruel its patriotism,
and the greater is the sum upon which
its power is founded.

- Leo Tolstoy

Wow! Something to think about this 4th of July season. So many churches equate Christianity with Americanism. Perhaps our fellow Evangelicals and Fundamentalists would do well to remember that we are citizens of but one country: heaven. We are only 'passing through' America.

I am a citizen of American by geographic coincidence. I could have lived happily many other places.

I am a citizen of Heaven by the sovereign will and gracious work of the almighty God. I only find joy here, the other place (hell) only offers untold misery.

...guess which one I am truly proud of?

Prayer: Merciful Father, help me be a good earthy citizen in whatever country I may find myself in. Forgive us for the sin of worshipping Americanism. Make me, instead, worthy to be a citizen of your eternal country. Amen.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Adjusting to life...

Mike Sanders is a friend, fellow pastor, and author. I regularly receive his e-devotional writings, and thought his latest addition was particularly meaningful. It deals with the issue of change within the church--which is always resisted but many times essential for the local body. He uses the example of a poorly attended Sunday evening service (which isn't the case with our congregation at the moment), to highlight the need to make tough, even unpopular, decisions.
Please be sure to check out other writings from Mike Sanders at the website listed far below.

- Josh Gelatt

Letting It Die

“...everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” 2 Corinthians 5.17 NRSV

June 27, 2007

Long ago and far away I became pastor of a small, declining parish. Slowly, it began to come to life. Attendance Sunday morning grew. The youth group began to prosper. The choir expanded. But not the traditional Sunday night service. After great effort covering a year the average Sunday night attendance rose from five to six people.

It was time to let it die. The people resisted. They said they hated to see the doors closed and the lights out on Sunday night. But they didn’t come. So I finally put it to a vote one Sunday morning.

“All who want Sunday night services to continue and will support it by being in attendance, raise your hand.”

Three hands went up. So I canceled Sunday night amidst the groans and complaints.

Three months later on a Sunday night, we held a special praise service led by a musical family who were former members. It was very well attended. Over the following months I began to introduce different types of services on Sunday night.

Then I began a series of special studies and the attendance was always in the thirties or forties, far above what we had before. After six months our experiment of occasional special services was working well. But not the traditional one that we let die.

Sometimes things have to die to make room for something new and better to come. This is true in our churches, our careers and our personal lives. Painful, but true.

Prayer: Lord, it’s hard to let go of things, even when they no longer work. Open my heart to know when it is time to let go. And then guide me in the direction to receive your next gift.

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©Copyright 2007 R. Michael Sanders

Saturday, June 23, 2007


For the next two Sunday's I will be preaching on the "Art of Forgiveness". The following is one of the stories that "didn't make the cut" for the sermons--but I think is too powerful to be ignored. I hope it challenges you.

- Pastor Josh

The well-known psychiatrist, Karl Menninger begins one of his books telling about a stern-faced, plainly dressed man who stood in Chicago’s loop on a sunny day in September 1972. As pedestrians hurried by on their way to lunch or business, he would solemnly lift his right arm, and pointing to the person nearest him, intone loudly the single word, ‘GUILTY!’ Then without any change of expression, he would resume his stiff stance for a few moments, before repeating the gesture. Then, again, the inexorable raising of his arm, the pointing, and the solemn pronouncing of the one word, ‘GUILTY!’

The effect of this strange pantomime on the people passing by was extraordinary, almost eerie. They would stare at him, hesitate, look away, look at each other, and then at him again, then hurriedly continue on their way. Some mumbled about this “kook.” One man, turning to another—who told this story—exclaimed, ‘How did he know?’

Guilty of what? Over-parking? Lying? Arrogance? Hubris before God? Of “borrowing” from the company, that is, embezzling? Of cheating on my wife, my husband—or planning to with that one I linger with at the water fountain? Guilty of bigotry? Of that last remark I made to a fellow worker that put him in his place before I left work? Guilty of passing along choice gossip? Guilty of neglecting my family to get ahead at work?

There are many unsolved crimes, which means there are people who walk the streets who are guilty of murder, of theft, of sexual abuse of children—and every one of these carries inside the burden of what he has done.

“Guilty!” The man pointed his finger and said sternly, looking at this person, then at that person. The antidote to this vast fund of guilt that underlies our society is massive forgiveness, convincingly offered. But where is this to be found?

Forgiveness is found only in Jesus Christ. All of us stand guilty before God. We carry the burden of sin and failure. We have failed friends, spouses, families, God...and ourselves. Some of us put of walls and say silly things like "I don't feel guilty of anything". These people are in the most dangerous position because they are lying to themselves. Guilt can be temporarily bound but can never be permanently caged. It will unleash itself eventually.

Today, you stand before God guilty. Have you experienced the forgiveness that only Jesus offers?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

An inability to let go...

I have now been a solo pastor for over 9 months. It is amazing how full-time church ministry changes a person. My perspectives are different, my idealism a bit more grounded, my expectations more 'earthy', and my passion in constant need of renewal. The struggles--personal, relational, supernatural, spiritual--are endless. While I needed the grace of Jesus in all my previous occupations (secular or otherwise), there is no job that convinces a person of their utter helplessness and need of Christ's grace quite like the ministry.

Currently I am sitting in an office at Bair Lake Bible Camp, where I serve on the board and direct one of the weeks of Summer camp. The morning worship hour has just ended, and the camp staff are hurrying to get the grounds ready for the group of kids that will be arriving in a few hours. The last 24 hours have been intense, and the next 6 days will be even more so. I stole a few brief minutes to deal with a problem that has been gnawing at me last night, and evening more severely this morning.

The problem?'s my difficulty in letting go. My thoughts are back home with my church. At 9:00 AM I usually unlock the church doors. I then run off copies for the adult Sunday school class, or perhaps fold some bulletins. I then go to my office for an extended time of prayer over my congregants by name, and then pray over and through my sermon for the morning.

By 9:30 am people start showing up. Two families, in particular, are my 'early birds'--and I look forward to spending time talking with them.

9:35 am - most of the key leaders and Sunday school teachers have arrived. The place is bustling with everyone running last minutes errands or seeking me out for questions or clarifications.

9:45 am - The Sunday school opening starts...sometimes without me because I am talking or praying with a congregant about an issue or a need.

9:50 am - I rush to get into the SS opening to do the opening prayer and sing along with the children.

9:55 am - the Sword Drill begins, and Becky Fettig--an adult who has not lost her sword drill abilities--is always the first to stand up and read the verse.

10:00 am - the individual Sunday School classes begin, and I hand out the questions for my class of Senior saints. We have enjoyed going through the book of Genesis the last few months.

10:45 am - SS dismisses, and I mingle--or perhaps slip back to my office to pray one last time. People constantly come to me to have me make an announcement or mention some other detail.

11:00 - I go to the pulpit and officially begin the service. We worship, prayer, and learn from God's word.

12:05 - I try my hardest to get to newcomers before they leave. Usually I am not able to, as our regular attenders are in need of counsel or encouragement. Realizing the need to connect with visitors, I have asked my wife to sit in the back pew. She can engage them, and get contact information, before they slip out.

1:00 pm - Usually people have all left. Unless we are off to lunch with someone, I spend a moment alone in the pew - praising God for the day, and asking for his strength to make it through the evening.

And this morning, my mind is with my church. I can imagine what they are doing, who is sitting where, the smiles, the frowns, the tears, the laughter. I can sense who is going to get frustrated with who, who will probably eat lunch together, who will get up during the sermon to go the bathroom, who will fall asleep, and who will be actively listening.

Above all else, I wish to be there. It is strange. I was looking forward to being away for a Sunday. I wanted the break. But now that I am not there all I want is to be back. This week will bring enough of its own troubles, and a host of joys. I will minister to 120 teenagers, 40 adults, and even have 3 sessions of marital counseling. I will--in 4 days--have over 75 one-on-one counseling sessions, lead 10 devotions, oversee 10 worship services, and direct the day-to-day events. heart is with 90 people in Northern Michigan.

Prayer: Merciful Father, thank you for letting me realize I am not needed. Help me lead my people to a dependence upon only you. Thank you for giving me this ministry, this task, this humble service. My heart belongs to you, and you have put in it an endless love for my flock. You are the shepherd, and I only your errand boy. May I serve faithfully to your glory. Amen.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sex in the woods.....Jesus in the trees

A few days ago my wife and I traveled to the Southern portion of Michigan for a ministry engagement. I love the drive between Indian River and Grand Rapids because the scenery is so beautiful. Northern Michigan seems to be a venerable forest of trees--at least this is the way it can appear from I-75 and US-27.

However, as we were coming around a bend in the freeway a large billboard appeared. It was striking because from this angle the only thing visible was God's awesome creation and this man-made billboard. Yet, what was most striking was the advertisement--which was for an adult sex store. Two sensuous eyes glared at every traveler, like the harlot in Proverbs who entices young men down to their doom.

Almost immediately another thought came to me. The apostle Paul tells us the creation "groans" under the strain of sin. As unrighteous humans, we have corrupted this world with our lawlessness. In our arrogance and revolt against the living God, we have sought to fill nature with images of immorality. Even the forest cannot escape our sinful disfigurement. While environmentalist are concerned with physical pollution, it is spiritual pollution which is more problematic.

On the drive back North I noticed another sign. It was smaller, and significantly aged. It wasn't as fact someone painted it themselves. The wood looked worn and rotted, and I suspect it won't survive but another few years. It leaned severely to one side and seemed to rest--at least temporarily--against a large tree. On it were written these simple words (badly in need of repainting): Jesus is Lord.

Devil, keep your sex in the woods. I prefer my Jesus in the trees.

Prayer: Merciful Father, despite what my eyes see may I only have eyes for you. Amen.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

The "Abaka"

Here is an amazing story I recently came across. I hope is blesses you.


In 1935 there lived a school teacher in Rwanda, Central Africa. His name was Blasio Kigosi, and he was a believer in Jesus Christ. Deeply discouraged by the lack of spiritual life in his church--and in his own soul--he searched the scriptures. Desperate, he decided to follow the example of Christ and cloistered himself away in his small shanty for a week of prayer and fasting.

He emerged a changed man. He confessed his sins---any wrong he had committed. He asked for forgiveness from family, friends, and 'enemies'. He began proclaiming the wonderful message of the gospel to anyone who would listen. Soon, many of his students and fellow teachers were transformed by the power of God.

Within his workplace, church, and village people were being changed. Those that experienced this change were called a name by the locals: the abaka, meaning the "people on fire". Those that called them this name were not Christians. They didn't even realize that fire is a biblical metaphor for the Spirit of God. But this was the only way they could describe these people. The were consumed by their new relationship with God. And, as with fire, their inward fire spread from person to person.

Within a couple of weeks, leaders in an Anglican church in Uganda heard of the abaka. They invited Blasio to come to them and speak. He came--still a simple school teacher with no official position in the church--and told the leadership and membership that they needed to confess their sins. He then reminded them of the the mission of Jesus to transform lives and redeem a fallen world. Shortly after he spoke, this same fire erupted in Uganda too. They also became the abaka.

This fire was eventually to spread throughout Central and East Africa, and it continues to spread today. All in all, literally hundreds of thousands of lives have been transformed by this outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

But Blasio would never live to see it. Only a few days after speaking in that Uganda church, Blasio contracted a severe fever and died. His ministry only lasted a few short weeks--but the fire that God used him to spark continues to blaze!

It all began with a discouraged Christian who longed for something more. He longed to experience the fullness of the Spirit of God. He longed to be a useful servant.

Prayer: Merciful Father, set me ablaze. Create in me the heart of an abaka. I wish to be consumed by your presence and the desire to do your will. Set me on fire Lord, that I may spread this flame to all whom I touch. To you be the glory, both now and forever. Amen.