Today’s Chronological Bible reading includes this verse, Romans 2:24, from the New Living Translation:

No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you.”

There’s a problem among Christians, especially in North America, and that problem goes by a one-word name: hypocrisy. Echoing the words of Romans, it is no wonder that people outside Christianity have no room for God in their lives, especially when Christians are so adept at saying one thing but doing another. Continue reading

Today is my birthday. Today I turn 35 years old. And today I drove from my birthplace to my current home.

You see, my birthday, by virtue of falling near the end of November, is always somewhere around the Thanksgiving holiday. For the past few years, Tara and I have alternated which side of the family we visit at Thanksgiving time. This year, we drove down to West Virginia to see Tara’s family: for three days, twelve of us stayed in the home of Tara’s aunt and uncle who live in a very small coal-mining village south of Charleston.

Thirty-five years ago, my father was a pastor in a small town west of Charleston. Thirty-five years ago, he drove my mother to Charleston so I could enter the world in a hospital of good repute. And for thirty-five years, my life – like yours – has been wandering from place to place, from experience to experience, from decision to decision.

And today, on our trip home, I drove right past the hospital where I was born. Ten hours later, we arrived at our home.

The long road here took thirty-five years. The short road – although today it didn’t feel very short! – took just ten hours.

That got me thinking: on several occasions, I have heard Christians say that they wish God would put a huge billboard in the sky, drop a message from the heavens, or appear in the form of an angel and tell them what to do, what decision to make, which direction to move. We often speak platitudes to each other such as “God’s timing isn’t our timing,” “It will all make sense someday,” or “You just have to have faith.” But those aren’t always convincing in the moment. And they may just be platitudes: statements that have “been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful” (says Google).

At this point, I could write something like this: “My life, for all its ups and downs, has been marked by God’s blessings. And because of that, I wouldn’t take the short road over the long road for anything! I’m glad that it took this long to get here, because the journey has been worth every minute.” But that would be another platitude.

Take a few moments to read the first eleven verses of the Old Testament book Ecclesiastes. It helps to keep things in perspective on days like one’s birthday.

Here is what I will say about the long and short roads. Had I never traveled the long road, I would not have realized the significance of the short road. If I had not been born in Charleston, today’s drive would have been simply a long road trip.  The course of my life to this point made today’s drive more meaningful for me than it would be for anyone else.

We wait for God to show us the way to go, but in the meantime our experiences form us into who we are becoming. God uses them to form us after the image of Jesus Christ. The long road defines us.

And then we remember, from scripture, that “generations come and generations go.”

Happy birthday, everyone. I’m happy to be on this journey with you all.

‘Tis the season to be generous! Of course, as Christians and as Americans, we should always be generous.  For some reason, though, the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas (and the onset of cold weather) make us especially thankful for what we have – and concerned for those who are struggling.

In this month’s Reader’s Digest, I ran across an article that gives some great ideas about how and what to give this season.  The following twelve tips are summarized from this article, originally written by Deb Martinson on

1. Do not give anything you would not want to eat. Odds are that no one else wants to eat it, either.

2. Don’t give stupid things. Some food is just too horrible to wish on anyone else; throw it out instead.

3. Consider giving food that can be eaten without cooking. Even living indoors, people have a hard time cooking if their landlord won’t fix the broken stove or the power company just shut off the electricity again. Think granola bars, cheese and cracker packages, spam, tuna, peanut butter, dry milk — anything you’d take on a long hike.

4. Don’t give perishable items. Also, leave food in the original packaging. If it needs to be portioned out, volunteers at the food bank will take care of it.

5. Think about people with special dietary needs. Clear labeling will help food bank workers get the right food to the right clients.

6. Make it easy to get at. Aseptic packaging and pouches are better than pull-top cans are better than traditional cans. Avoid glass jars, as they may break during processing.

7. Choose things that don’t require elaborate preparation. A boxed cake that says “just add water” is much better than one that wants milk, eggs, vegetable oil, and whatever else it can think of.

8. Keep it simple. Exotic foods are likely to be tossed and they take up space that could go to things people will actually eat.

9. Ask what’s needed. The volunteers at the food bank know what’s on the shelves and how far it will go. Your local food bank probably needs things you’d never think to give them. Ask.

10. Check your grocery store. Many work with local food pantries to assemble bags of food you can buy and donate for 5 or 10 bucks. It’s a really easy way to give.

11. Be nice. Try to include at least one item you’d choose as a treat for your kids. Someone else’s kids will love you.

12. Consider donating cash. Large organizations can get way better deals on food than you can; with ten dollars, Feeding America can provide 90 meals to hungry people. You can give them money here.

Pastor’s Appreciation

texture by Patrick Hoesly
texture by Patrick Hoesly

This past month was “Pastor Appreciation Month,” and I have to admit: I feel very appreciated!  Thank you to all of you who sent cards, gave gifts, wrote notes, and participated in last Sunday’s potluck dinner after church.  None of those expressions of appreciation are required; they are all “bonus blessings” from my perspective.  I feel confident in speaking on behalf of Pastor Jerry when I say that we are both deeply grateful and appreciative of you, the good people of Mt. Haley Church of God.

As this month draws to a close, I think it is proper to turn things around.  Another way to read “Pastor Appreciation Month” is to ask the question, “For what is your pastor appreciative?”  So here is a short summary of a few reasons that I am grateful to be your pastor:

  • Your hard work and volunteer attitude.  Tara and I have frequently commented on how blessed we are to serve a church that serves!  Any time a need arises in our congregation or community, we can count on several people – depending on the required skill sets – showing up to lend a hand.  Packing groceries, hauling wood, raking leaves, cooking meals, providing transportation … you serve in wonderful ways.
  • Your willingness to learn about the Bible.  I am grateful that every single approach to teaching the Bible I have tried has worked – whether Sunday morning sermons, Sunday evening Bible studies, devotional booklets, or anything else!  I think back to the study on Revelation we finished about a year ago, and I see a congregation full of people who are really interested in tackling the hard stuff.  That’s an enormous help to your pastor!
  • Your gentleness and flexibility.  Do you realize that Tara and I have served here three years already?  And do you remember that this is the first and only church I have ever pastored?  I continue to be amazed at how smoothly you grafted me into the church family and how easy you have made it for me to work with you over the past few years.  You truly are a blessing to me!

Take a few minutes to read the first eleven verses of Philippians.  Those are the words Paul wrote to his beloved congregation in Philippi.  I think they speak very well of my appreciation for Mt. Haley Church of God, as well!

–Pastor David

Thank you!

This is, perhaps, a bit belated, but I want to express my heartfelt thanks to all of you in the congregation for your kind outpouring of gifts, cards, chocolates (especially those!), and warm wishes during the recent Christmas season.  It is an honor to serve as your pastor, and Tara and I appreciated reading each card, reflecting on each family, and giving thanks for such a group of people with whom we have the privilege of working.  So thank you, one and all, for your many thoughtful gifts in the past month or so.

photo by visualpanic
photo by visualpanic

The letter known as James, written so many years ago, communicates relevant truths about gift-giving that can be useful for all of us in such a time as this.  In the early verses of this short letter, the author encourages Christians to remain faithful to the Lord even in times of testing.  Of course, the earliest Christians – along with some Christians in certain parts of today’s world – faced much more serious persecutions and trials than we experience in contemporary Western culture.  Yet the first gift that James mentions as being worthy of requesting from God is the same gift for which King Solomon yearned in the Old Testament days:  the gift of wisdom.  (See James 1:5.)

Oh, that we might all be wise in our living!  I ask the Lord frequently for wisdom in my service as your pastor; I hope that you ask God for wisdom frequently in your daily vocations, as well.  As generously as Mt. Haley showered Tara and me with Christmas gifts and cards last month, so much more generously will our God shower wisdom on those who ask him for it sincerely and in faith.

For as James teaches us, “All generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or the slightest hint of change” (James 1:17 NET).  How comforting to know that God’s character never changes:  that he is always generous, giving, and forgiving; that he is steadfast, consistent, and just.  The new life he has planted in us through Jesus Christ (see James 1:18) is perhaps the greatest gift God has given us, although it requires (and inspires) us to strive toward holiness and righteousness on an everyday basis.

God’s gift of life-changing wisdom causes the faithful to desire to live differently in ways that please the Giver.  In the same way, those who receive gifts from fellow human beings strive to honor their relationships so that the gifts do not fall empty and become meaningless.  Have you ever received a gift from someone and then worked diligently to strengthen that relationship because of that gift?  So should it be with our relationship with the Lord, in response to his gift of wisdom.

And so it will be in my relationship with you as Pastor of Mt. Haley Church of God.  In the new year, I pledge to renew my efforts to lead this congregation in ways that please God, the giver of all good and perfect gifts.  To God be the glory in 2013!

–Pastor David


Shrinking Church

photo by vernhart

It’s the week of Thanksgiving, and many of us are turning our attention to family matters and turkey feasts.  Before the festivities begin, I’d like to share with you an article I found online recently.  You can read the full article here; its title is “How to Shrink Your Church,” and it was written by a pastor named Tim Suttle.  If you haven’t done so already, please read this brief article; it is well worth your time.

Christians seem always to be interested in growing:  we want pews to be filled, classes to be well-attended, programs to blossom.  I can’t lie – when I heard 150 strong voices fill our sanctuary with musical praise to God at our Community Thanksgiving Service the other day, I was thrilled and wondered what it would be like if we were to have that experience every Sunday.  We are constantly concerned with our future, with the next generation of believers, with the hope for things to turn around.

What does success look like in the eyes of God?  How do we know if we are doing the right things?  Even Jesus told the parable of the talents, in which the two servants who doubled their resources were praised while the one who buried his in the ground was condemned.  And with the bar set high (“go and make disciples of all nations,” Matthew 28:18-20), the ideal path of church success seems straightforward enough:  we are successful if we grow in size, influence, energy, and so forth.

To be fair, we should be concerned with introducing people to Jesus, the one who died to forgive our sins, who gives us new life, and who walks with us through every experience.  Adding people to the kingdom of God is always a priority.

Yet I believe Pastor Suttle’s core idea is also true, and I want to restate it in my own words here.  Growing churches are exciting places to be, but any church – growing or otherwise – can fall under the spell of two false teachings:  (1) “Feel good” Christianity, in which everything that happens makes us feel better about our lives as we have already chosen to live them, and (2) “Church growth” Christianity, in which we follow specific programs and procedures that are designed to grow the congregation, again to help us feel better about our situation.

In order to be effective and successful Christ-followers, we must remain absolutely faithful to the message of Jesus, the kingdom of God, and the scripture which points us to God.  Church growth is not about fancy programs and entertainment.  It is about calling ourselves and others into deep, intimate, life-changing relationship with Christ and into meaningful, sacrificial, humble service in our world.

We must pursue Christ unashamedly, which might not be too popular.  After all, Jesus himself said we’d have to eat his flesh and drink his blood, and that line cost him a lot of followers.  We must spend ourselves for the sake of the kingdom of God.  If we find ourselves completely spent, then we are in the right position:  God is the master of resurrection, and there can be no substitute for the new life he gives his people.

–Pastor David