Season the Season
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Season the Season

Here we are friends, the season of Christmas. A season to remember, to give thanks, and give in kind. In this season, we are to season this season with the hope of the Messiah, sharing the love of God, the Joy of Salvation and the peace it provides.  Christmas reveals our hope and anticipation of Jesus. We want to celebrate and show our excitement for God’s defeat of sin and death! He has reversed our sins, meeting us with grace instead.

So, we drag out lights from the basement or attic to be strung up outside, thus bringing light to the darkness. Many of us will drag a prickly tree indoors so that it may be cloaked with ornaments in the center of our home all season long. This represents our prickly selves being covered by God’s grace, a covering afforded through great sacrifice. Our faith and God’s grace is so often invisible to others, so in this season we want everyone to see and find belief. That is the reason behind this most celebrated season!

God poured out into us a gift we could never repay, so with that same spirit we seek to give gifts that celebrate what God has done, is doing, and will do. In wanting to be like Jesus, we too will give of ourselves all we are able. Therefore, let us reclaim the reason for this season. Jesus gave it all in support of the mission of salvation, therefore we shall tithe toward the transformation of our community. Jesus, the king of peace, will come again, therefore we shall be patient and peaceful with one another. Let us do all we can to offer the same comfort and Joy that we have found in Christ Jesus our Lord!

May God’s light shine upon you this Christmas season!

Ross Judy
How to Testify
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One of the most common challenges in any communication is deciding where and how to start. For many of us, we have an idea of what we want to say, who we would like in our audience, and what we desire as a response. In short, we want to be comfortable, perfect and in control. This is what makes starting off so difficult.

For many of us, we make such a big deal about our firsts. Just think for a moment; in your opinion, how important are first impressions? What about first dates? Your first car? Your first child? A child’s first words? Your first memory? A first Christmas or birthday?

Pick a first and think about what made that event memorable. Was it as perfect as you had wanted? I’m sure that for most of us, these first experiences differed from our expectations.

Think about Genesis; what is perhaps most memorable in the creation story was not all the good things that God has made. Rather, most of us will immediately recall the mistakes and failures.

May I make a suggestion? I would like to claim that our desire for perfection is an over idealized and idolized view of ourselves.

Granted, there is nothing wrong with setting goals for our improvement. However, all too often we want to defend ourselves while pointing out the faults we perceive. Sometimes we excuse ourselves from God’s will, ironically, using our imperfections as the excuse. You may be living only a partial truth when expecting imperfections, mistakes or even consequences.

Imperfections are a human characteristic.

Forgiveness and growth are divine characteristics.

However, our major role as Christians is to keep love at the center of our living testimony. This means stepping out in faith, despite mistakes, living by and through grace! Persevere in love, live by grace, and glorify God by testifying to God’s transforming power of love in your life. This means that where you start can be inconsequential; Grace should transform our focus by looking forward to where you are going, and all the people you can invite. This is the power of testimony. Imagine where you would be without having received this; by withholding our testimony, who are we refusing and by what right do we have to refuse others?

Look at Romans 8:38-39 with me: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We cannot get in the way of the gospel. So rather than waiting on the perfect testimony, let us lean on faith and grace. Go with the flow of the Spirit knowing that Jesus Christ goes with you! Shalom friends.

Ross Judy
From Mission to Vision
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I have a small confession to make. My cell phone is a habitual daily carry item for me, and I feel lost without it. To be clear, I could do without Facebook, email, and most other applications. However, I’m heavily reliant upon GPS navigation. It’s more of a comfort than a need; I like seeing the road ahead and having exact directions. Lately I have felt too dependent on this thing which admittedly has let me down. On numerous occasions in rural Pennsylvania I have found that the best views and most novel locations seldom offer wireless coverage.

 Reconsider the things and habits that we have relied upon for comfort.

Reconsider the things and habits that we have relied upon for comfort.

I think this is a good thing. I think we should reconsider the things and habits that we have relied upon for comfort. We so often take things for granted, that they are going to be with us on this journey. Yet too often we refuse the journey because we think that the path before us is less traveled. We miss the point and opportunity. The path before us is a fine choice: that path is there precisely because it has already been explored, trod down, and laid out before us. Jesus Christ did this by his calling upon the disciples, teaching the disciples, laying down his life for all, and continuing to walk with us every day.

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today, yet again, our way will be followed before God’s.

All too often we come up excuses as to why today, yet again, our way will be followed before God’s. Then, all too often, we wonder where God is in this beautiful mess of ours after blazing our own trail and sidestepping God’s mission. For many of us, this comes out of us as a confession when we claim “I don’t know what God’s will is for my life!” Yet in actuality, we have too quickly forgotten how we have followed the patterns of this life and refused to renew our minds back toward God.

This renewal looks like a reaffirmation of faith in which we accept the mission, envision a way forward, and do what we are uniquely qualified to do. Doing what we are called to do means doing what you and you alone can do best. Doing anything else means first refusing to see how far you can go with your unique gifts, secondly it means denying others of a vital service which you are called to provide, and third it would mean that someone else must struggle to fill your shoes.

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You are being sent, to proclaim aloud, to believe boldly, to share your unique testimony.

When this occurs, which it all too often does, at best we end up with prayers of expectation that ask for a great deal from God with zero expectations for God’s people. At worst, we end up without prayer. For many, they do not cry out to God nor believe in God because they have not seen God’s people doing so. In short, when we refuse to step out daily in faith, then those days compound, weakening our once strong faith. While those who had underdeveloped faith have left the church in great numbers over the past few decades. We must move out from our comfortable mission plant and seek to see the name of Jesus proclaimed. You are being sent, to proclaim aloud, to believe boldly, to share your unique testimony. Here and now, let’s renew our minds. Let’s reset our vision upon God so that Christ may be here and everywhere adored.

Ross Judy
The Power of Words
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The Power of Words

How god's word is the cause,

and our word is to affect. 

In September, we will focus on the power and importance of words.

          Now, this won’t be a comparison of big words like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, versus small words like no. Rather, I’ve been reflecting upon the dynamic range, motivational ability, and the greater social impact of words.

This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
— Matthew 9:9-12, NIV

          For example, some words are spoken as a tradition. Think of the words we sing at a birthday party or before a baseball game. What about the words we expect to hear at a wedding? Most of us have decided that these words were so meaningful to so many that they are now a ubiquitous expectation.

           Of course, not all common words are so commonly meaningful. How many of us have ignored the option to read the ‘terms and conditions,’ junk email, or the instructions for assembling furniture? I cannot tell you how many times I have picked up a novel with every intention of finishing it, only to put it down midway and never return.

              Here is my point. We have all fallen into certain bad habits with words and we often bring those same bad habits with us when we read God’s word. For example, when was the last time we considered the wonderful words in scripture that surround the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew chapter 6? Or how many of us have skipped over the long genealogy of Jesus because that is just too many names in one list? Perhaps it's another bad habit that we are not even aware of committing. 

There are many different parts of speech used in scripture that frame and enrich scripture.

                I think we can all agree that we should bring greater care and attention to reading God’s word. After all, there are many different parts of speech used in scripture that frame and enrich scripture. So, it would be to our benefit to know these different kinds of speech and to practice recognizing them. Consider these for example:

·         speaking from different perspectives, (unique viewpoints)

·         making demands versus requests (tone and context)

·         teaching in private compared to public speech (the original intended audience)

·         speaking on behalf of someone else versus yourself (narration or self-representation)

·         Hyperbolic language and exaggeration (literal versus metaphors or parables)

·         Circumstances of the speaking event (around the dinner table or before an audience)

             So, in September we will practice looking through several chapters of the Gospel of Mark and considering which parts of speech are being used. After all, the right understanding of God’s word at the right time can make all the difference in our lives and the lives of others. After all, our hope and trust are rooted in God’s word! Let us look closer at God’s word this September! May God bless and keep you.  

Ross JudyComment
Characters with Character
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Characters with Character

Think for a moment about all the characters in your life; think about how you recognize them and tell them apart. Which traits stand out for you? All sorts of things make up a person’s character: their opinions, actions, physical features, what they say, where they work, and even who surrounds them. Over time, our character can transform and be influenced. We may not often consider these sources of influence; however, we will consider these sources in August with our next sermon series called “characters with character.”

Scripture has a lot to say about having a good character so as to influence others. Read Matthew 5 with me:

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
— Matthew 5:14-16, NIV

Who brought light to your path? I can recall the summer months from years ago; I would stop by grandma’s house about once every other week. She always had a list of chores for me and I was happy to spend time with her. I would mow the yard, clean window sills, move furniture up from the basement, help pull weeds and plant vegetables in the garden. At noon she would whip up a home cooked meal and offer stories from her week. From her, I would pick up the virtue of hard work and gratitude.

I would learn similar value principles from many more: from my other grandparents, I would learn the virtue of hospitality and respect. From several teachers: the value of honesty and integrity. From my golf coach: the value of persistence and humility. And from my parents, I learned, among others, the virtue of evaluating and correcting your own motivations.

Of course, this a small sample, and yes I too need reminders from time to time. However, if you too can reflect on the source of your virtues then you too may realize that learning morality is hardly a natural occurrence; I had to be nurtured into adopting these virtues.

This brings up an important point: character is cultivated, reinforced, and best adopted within transformative relationships. What I mean to say is that your character is largely self-determined; you choose who you want to be. However, that choice can be influenced, modeled, or even borrowed from others. Time after time we perceive a flaw or issue within ourselves after comparing ourselves to an outside standard.

So, if we know that we are going to mirror, mimic and borrow virtues from outside sources then we ought to be sure that we are picking from the best possible example. Romans 12:2-3 brings this point home:

“2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. 3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”
— Romans 12:2-3, NIV

After all, we too are characters of influence; what we say, do, and how we think will all have some impact on those around us. Therefore, be imitators of God, work with the best of motivations, consume wisdom as often as you are able, and commit to serving God; now and always. Amen.

Ross JudyComment
Doing God's Work

So here we are, a long-standing congregation with a new pastor. So, of course, we find ourselves with plenty of questions yet so few moments of interaction with the new guy. Ironically, this isn't exactly a new exercise. Look at Romans 15:7

 

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Doing God's Work

How the church discerns a vision and takes action

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
— Romans 15:7, NRSV

We see verses like this throughout the Bible. This is nothing new to us, but what is different is of far greater importance. In Paul's letter to Timothy he outlines the numerous expectations he has for him as he and his church grows together. Read this with me:

11 These are the things you must insist on and teach. 12 Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture,[e] to exhorting, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.[f] 15 Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.
— 1 Timothy 4:11-16, NRSV

So in the midst of welcoming a new Pastor, you are right to bring certain expectations. The Pastor's role, should he or she be effective, ought to result in the salvation of many. However, let's not forget the opposite: should we fail, then we fail far more than just those in our immediate surroundings.

In the great commission, we are told that all authority given by God is given with the expectation that we make disciples in all nations, pouring into them, explaining our reasons for following, that they may receive Christ and realize God's good direction, that they too would be transformed. Of course, this transformation is entirely for their benefit, freely given, so that they too may reason, reveal, and recognize God with us. 

This means that all people can be lifted up, shook to their core, and they are then compelled to re-draw their own conclusions about God. However, to be clear, people are not etch-a-sketches: before coming to accept the Christian faith, one must reconcile their past experiences with what is being presented. 

Think back to when you first accepted Jesus as your savior. Did you have questions? Concerns? Did it make sense right away? Are you still making sense of that experience? If so, you're not alone. That's the point: the church exists to make disciples of Jesus Christ by providing the space, programs, resources, and events that allow us to build upon our common foundation. 

So that is our focus for this month: how are our current ministries (or those we hope to start) helpful in making disciples who make disciples for the sake of recognizing and participating in God's transformative work of the world?