Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Lost and found

This past weekend I attended my 40th year class reunion.   Many of those folks I had not seen in that entire time.   It was interesting. Some folks said, "Hey glad you could make it, we missed you at the 20th and the 30th reunion."  I then explained to them that even though I still live within a five mile radius of where I was born and raised they apparently could not find me.

I hate looking for things.  Lately, and I'm guessing it comes with the grey hair, it seems as though I spend more time looking for things that I want.  I realize that some of this is because I can at times, shall we say, be less than organized.  Actually, I can be good at organizing, but as I am also a flagrant multi-tasker, my personal organizing can seem a bit chaotic. And especially as I get older, I find myself wondering around looking for things.

One thing in my life that I did not have to search hard for was God. God's nature is that He wants us to find him. There is a passage in Genesis 3 where God is looking for Adam and Eve.  That little story often gets glossed over as the larger context is Adam and Eve being disobedient and paying the price for having sinned.

You see God already knew where Adam and Ever were.  He was God.  He knows everything. And the fact that Adam and Eve were hiding tells me that they knew that God might be by. That it was his custom to walk and fellowship with them. The story demonstrates God wanting to have a relationship with his  creation. We sometimes fail to realize that unlike the god that some other religions worship, the God of the Bible is not an angry God. He created mankind out of his love, he sent His Son Jesus Christ to earth to live like a man, be crucified, buried, and then raised from the dead to restore the relationship with the Father who created them.  We fail to recognize the absolute Holiness of God and so many want to stroll casually into His presence. The issue is that God's love is a genuine love, not infatuation, not a cheap love, but a love that defies human comprehension.  Only something as valuable as the One Son of God could adequately pay the price to restore the relationship that God intended.

The amazing thing about the relationship we can now have is that we can choose to love God.  Adam and Eve, up until the point they sinned knew nothing of choosing to love Him. As they had never experienced sin or evil, in their innocence God's love was all that they knew. After the fall, they, like us find ourselves given the opportunity to choose to love God. In fact 1 John 4:19 says that the only reason we can experience love or love others is because God first loved us.

So how do we find God? Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV) says "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." God wants us to find him. But this is not a casual or cheap relationship.  God wants us to search with our whole heart.  He wants us to be certain that this is what we truly desire.  You see only when we can choose to love, can we truly love.

Unlike that "thing" that I am looking for in my piles of clutter that cry out for either a waste bin or a professional organizer, God is there in plain site.  He only asks that we seek Him.  Some of you reading this may be seeking God, or at least you say you do.  People all of the time tell me about the personal spiritual journal they are on.  I try hard not to be critical or dismiss their efforts, but so often it is never really about them finding God as much as it is some sort of self medication as they attempt to make sense of their life.

Seek God.  Offer him your whole heart and you will find Him.

For more information on how you can find God and have a relationship with His Son Jesus Christ contact us: fpoffice@lifepointe.com.

Pastor Jeff

If you live in the Pittsburgh area please join us for worship Sunday at 11:00AM. For more information go to www.lifepointealliance.org.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Planting seeds

If you do not have a relationship with God's one and only Son, Jesus Christ you may not understand the nature of this blog today. That is not a knock on you as a reader or as a person it simply means that it may be difficult for you to understand how much some things mean to the person that has accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

This past Sunday, shortly after the service began, a man came in and sat down in the Pew behind me.  I always, as pastor, sit in the front pew and it is generally not common for a visitor to sit so close to the front.  Often they want to sit unnoticed in the back and it gives them the opportunity if need be to duck out early.  I turned around and smiled and instinctively put out my hand for a shake.  He shook my hand and said, "Hi Jeff."  Now its possible that he could have simply looked at my profile on the churches web page and was messing with me.  I thought also that because we are having my class reunion this next week that he was some long forgotten class mate.  As it turns out it was one of my good friends with whom I was stationed with in Texas when I was in the Airforce. We had  not spoken since 1982.  I was thrilled and blessed when he finally told me who he was. It is amazing how the years just melt away and you pick up right where you left off.

Over lunch we had conversations about others with whom we had served.  At one point he asked me if I remembered Sarah (not her real name). I did and he proceeded to tell me that she had passed away. I remarked something to the effect of that's a shame and we went on to other conversational topics.

I did however remember Sarah very well.  She was a spunky little blonde from California who weighed by my guess 85 pounds dripping wet.  We liked her, but did not like working with her.  Her diminutive size, as we soon found out, kept her from being able to do some of the heavy lifting required for the job. It wasn't her fault.  She had been caught up in the bureaucratic wave of government equality that says she can do the job despite her physical limitations. She did not ask, like any of us, to be in that particular career field, but had been assigned by whoever makes those decisions at some higher level within the military.

But what I remember most about her is a conversation we had on the flightline one afternoon pobably in 1981.  It was late March and was quite pleasant in Texas.  Myself and my good friend Randy (not the friend that came to church - this was a different person) and her were repairing and aircraft and as some of the tasks are tedious, but mindless it always left time for conversing.

She initiated the conversation by saying something like this, "Hey, you guys are church guys right? So, like what is the big deal about Easter?"

That was an interesting question to be sure and so one of us asked her what she knew about Easter.  Her response was about the Easter bunny and baskets and chocolate and jelly beans.  We then said something to the effect, "But don't you know about Jesus dying on the cross and resurrecting three days later? I mean you must of learned that in church."

Her response left me in awe and bewilderment. "I really don't know anything about Jesus or any of that stuff.  I've never actually been to a church. My parents were not religious and we never discussed it."

Wow, this was the first person I had ever met (I grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania) that had never ever been to church. I later, in my mind, would chalk this up to the liberal nature of the west coast and for years saw this as an anomaly as opposed to what is now a norm. And so we told her about Jesus. We told her how He came to earth as the perfect sacrifice to pay the price for our sin. How he willingly chose death on the cross, that he died was buried and rose again on the third day.

I would like to tell you that Sarah knelt over her tool box on her knees and right there made a commitment to Jesus.  I remember we invited her to church with us but she did not come.  Eventually the days and the months went by and the conversation was somewhat forgotten. I was discharged, moved back to Pennsylvania and except for me relating the story of the first person I met that knew nothing about Jesus she was pretty much forgotten.

The visit from my friend and curiosity got the best of me and when I got home, I did what we always do these days I googled her name followed the the word "obituary."  Immediately her name came up and there even was a picture of her so I absolutely knew it was her. I did not know what to expect but was absolutely amazed when the first line of her obituary printed in bold caps said, "SARAH WAS PASSIONATELY IN LOVE WITH JESUS CHRIST." It then proceeded to tell how she loved to work at her church and would be so missed by those she sang with in the choir.

I will admit that I never anticipated this. It truly brought tears of joy to my eyes. But I believe most of all it taught me an important lesson.  The lesson is that we are to plant seeds of the gospel wherever we go. Jesus gave his followers what is known as the Great Commission, which in my paraphrase simply says, "Wherever you go, make followers of Jesus" and let God worry about the results.  I cannot tell you that my conversation that day had any direct bearing on her becoming a Christ follower.  But I do recognize that the seeds of the good news of Jesus were planted. Paul would write in 1 Corinthians 3:6 (NIV) "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow."

Sometimes for those that follow Jesus Christ, sharing with others can be a lonely and discouraging place.  So often especially today there is animosity toward anything having to do with God or the Bible. But Jesus warned us of this "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first." (John 15:18).  Learning of Sarah's ultimate fate also taught me a lesson about never giving up and never being discouraged.  We simply need to do what God has called every follower of Jesus to do and that is to plant the seeds of the Good News, wherever that may be.

For more information on how to be a follower of Jesus go to www.lifepointealliance.org.

Pastor Jeff

If you live in the Pittsburgh area join us for worship at 11:00 AM Sunday Morning. LifePointe Alliance, 2298 Rochester Road, Pittsburgh PA 15237

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

When it rains

It is really hard to imagine just how difficult it must be for the folks in south east Texas.  At least for me, never having gone through any thing like the devastation they are experiencing, it is tough to find a reference point in which to relate. The pictures in the news have been heart breaking. People have had to stand by helplessly while everything they owned is destroyed.

Few of us if any are given the privilege of going through life without tragedy.  People lose jobs, friends and family die, people are victims of crime, natural disasters occur.  Mourning and death and loss become part of all our lives.

It is easy for me to sit here and offer unsolicited advice on how to cope with tragedy.  Words can often seem trite and incomplete. Platitudes heaped upon the grieving soul can sometimes be like pouring salt into a wound or using a band-aid for a severed limb. They bring little comfort. When we experience tragedy there are however, certain guiding principles in life that transcend even the depths of human calamity.

When all else fails I take a deep breath and look not to the myriad of unanswered questions, but to those things that I know are true. I like to take an inventory of what I know to be tried and tested and faithful.  Inevitably and regrettably often not quickly enough my mind turns to God, the one stable force in the universe.

God? You might say. Do you mean the God who could have stopped all of this and did not? Yes that's the God.  Obviously volumes have been written concerning God and his character and his nature. Here are some things that I fall back upon.

  • God will never leave us nor forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5
  • God is all love 1 John 4:8
  • God is just Isiah 61:8
  • We grow through trials James 1:3-4
  • God has a plan for our life Jeremiah 29:11

I could list more verses, but I am convinced that that understanding and relying on the character of God are one of the keys to dealing with tragedy.  It does not mean that there will be no pain, it does not mean that there will be no loss. Tragedies occur as Satan takes full of advantage of a world that when given a choice chose sin over God.  Satan seeks to destroy. Satan seeks in times of tragedy to convince us that God does not care or that God does not love us or that God has abandoned us. For those that have a relationship with  Jesus the Bible says Romans 8:35-39 (NIV) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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.

For more information on how to have a relationship with God's Son Jesus Christ contact us at www.lifepointealliance.org.

Pastor Jeff

If you live in the Pittsburgh area we invite you to worship with us at LifePointe Alliance Church, 2298 Rochester Road, Pittsburgh PA 15237. Worship begins at 11:00 AM, but join us early for a cup of coffee and some conversation.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Thank God for peanut butter

Tomorrow my wife and I will celebrate our 37th anniversary.  We began dating in 1976 and so as I tell people she has tolerated me for over 40 years.  Wow. When I think about 40 years and 4 kids and 4 grandkids, 3 addresses and all of the ups and downs throughout the years it almost seems surreal.
But the reality is that my wife and I are getting older and there is nothing we can do about it.

Now I know that that may sound a bit morbid or even rather melancholy, but if I am anything I am a pragmatist. There is a reality to life and we have to choose often between the glass being half empty and the glass being half full.

The great thing about having a personal relationship with Jesus is that our glass is not just half filled, but as the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 23:5  my cup "overflows."  It is easy to focus on the negative.  In a marriage it is easy to focus on the shortcoming of the other person (while ignoring your own). It is easy to reflect only on the low or the traumatic or the heartbreaking times.  And sometimes you just have to keep reminding yourself that your cup overflows.

A long time ago, I was part owner of a small construction company, and unlike the general contractors you see on HGTV we had to do a lot of the work ourselves.  It was a hot July day with almost no air and the humidity had to be near 90 percent.  That day we had scheduled ourselves to take a roller and smear tar on the foundation of the house that we were building.  Most of the foundation was well below grade (ground level) and so it involved a bucket of tar a roller and being in the  dug out space between the foundation and the ground.  It was hot, dirty and miserable.  The mosquitoes attacked at will.  To make matters worse my partner got hung up on another job and being in the days before cell phones were common, I had no Idea where he was.  I began to complain.  I complained about the heat. I complained about the bugs and the dirt and the old station wagon I was driving. I complained about the peanut butter and jelly that economic reasons forced me to bring in my lunch.  And then the song, "Butterfly Kisses" came on the radio. If you are not familiar with that song it came out in the late 1990s and it is about a father whose daughter is getting married that day ad he is recounting how wonderful it has been to have her as a daughter.  I still cry if I hear that song today.

Instantly I was convicted as I thought about my own daughter and my family and how blessed I was to have such great kids and a great wife. And you know that station wagon was old, but it ran like a top.  And you know peanut butter and jelly isn't all that bad. Suddenly the heat and the bugs and the humidity didn't seem quite as bad. You see my cup was running over but I had been too blinded by the immediacy of my circumstances to see it.

We need to be thankful for God's provision even in the difficult times.  Psalm 107:1 (NIV) "Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever." Don't forget how god has blessed you. He blesses because He loves us. He doesn't always bless us exactly the way we would like, but he knows our needs better than we do.  Stop focusing on the negative and consider the blessings. Thank God everyday for what he has provided.  Even the peanut butter.

For more information on how to have a relationship with God and His Son Jesus Christ contact us at www.lifepointealliance.org.

Pastor Jeff

If you live in the Pittsburgh Area join us for worship at 11:00 on Sunday mornings.  Also be sure to follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Pause the insanity

Insanity in the world isn't new.  There have always been despots and dictators and things that make no sense.  The world we live in today is no different. Charlottesville, North Korea, Venezuela, Ecuador, Syria are among the places where as we see the news it shouts insanity.

It is easy among all of this chaos to take the "Chicken Little" approach and believe "the sky is falling." That does not mean we should minimize or marginalize the events.  Many of the things we see around us are deadly serious. But there is a point where faith intersects with life. For those who have no faith in God, all of this must seem incredibly frightening.

Few of us if any have much control over any of these situations. Oh, some might say we can do our part. Maybe in some instances that is true, but if doing my part is holding a sign condemning the aggression of North Korea's mentally unstable dictator, I doubt it will have much affect. That is simply a reality.

The Bible tells us in Ephesians 6:12 (NIV) "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." To quote author Hal Lindsey, "Satan is alive and well on planet earth."

None of this should really surprise us. We can clearly see the scriptures being played out before our eyes. Paul wrote in Romans 1 about how a godless society would eventually evolve. It is a chapter well worth reading. Some would suggest that the description of mankind is indicative of a God who doesn't care or is incapable, but in reality it is simply a God who has simply lifted his hand and allowed man to have what he wants. His free will.

Some would say the situation is hopeless. The truth of the matter is that there is only one hope and that is in God's Son Jesus Christ. Only a relationship with Jesus can bring peace to the chaos. Will the world still be an insane place? Of course. But in our individual lives Jesus can bring peace to the most troubled of souls.  The apostle Paul would write advice to the church at Philippi. Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV) "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." 

The peace of God is the only sure thing in our life that can make a difference.  It is the only respite from the insanity.

Want to hit the "pause" button. Turn in over to God.

For more information on how you  can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ contact us at www.lifepointealliance.org.

Pastor Jeff

If you live in the Pittsburgh area, be sure to join us for Sunday Worship at 11:00 am.  Childcare is provided.  Also be sure to follow us on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

No time for God

I found it interesting that in preparation for last weeks sermon I found some interesting statistics on prayer. According to a 2016 survey posted in Christianity Today, the number one reason that people do not pray is that they do not have the time.  My natural inclination as a pastor is to say, "That is just crazy! How could people say such a thing?" I mean who wants to stand before God someday and explain that we put everything else in our life before Him? But, then I remember what our life was like when all four kids were home and in school.  I remember football practice and band practice and baseball practice and piano lessons and youth group. And our family schedule was subdued compared to other families.  I remember when I was bi-vocational and working 60 or 70 hours at my full time job and another 20 to 30 hours at the church. Time was a precious commodity and more than once did I crawl into bed at night, regretfully realizing that I had spent no real time communicating with God.  Oh sure, there was the quick, perfunctory prayer before meals and sometimes there was that "Lord, help, me prayer" throughout the day, but often there was not the deep, mystical, one-on-one time with God.

Prayer to so many becomes that last ditch, nothing else worked, I have no where else to go kind of thing.  When we are in trouble, when trials come our way, we reach out in prayer.  God becomes then our safety net. And in times of trouble we should absolutely be reaching out to prayer. But think about it his way. As parents our most precious memories of our kids are often those times of one on one. Not times of trouble, but happy times, relaxed times, times of closeness.  Think about how we would feel if our kids only came to us when they were in trouble or they had a need. Probably, as most parents do, we would do our best to meet that need and sometimes even bail them out of trouble.  That however is not upon what relationships are built.

The ancient Israelite King David wrote in Psalm 5:3 (NIV) These beautiful words, "In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation." David, knew how to get his day started right. How great would it be if we all followed that same pattern and got up a few minutes early and started our day with God. He would them become a focus of our day and not an afterthought.  It would give us a chance to lay at His feet our schedule for the coming hours and a chance to simply listen for his voice before our heads are jammed full of the noise of this world.

God wants to hear from us and he wants to speak to us.  Make time for God.

Pastor Jeff

If you would like to know more about a healthy relationship with God connect with us at www.lifepointealliance.org.

If you live in the Pittsburgh area, join us for worship Sundays at 11:00 am.  Be sure to follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

People are (not) cheap...

Several times a year for the past decade I travel to the Dominican Republic. If you are not familiar with the Dominican Republic it is a beautiful Caribbean Island nestled between Cuba and Puerto Rico about 750 miles south east of Florida.  Lots of folks when they think of the Dominican Republic think of of Punta Canta. I will mention I have been to the D.R. and they will proceed to tell me how great the margaritas were in their favorite Dominican resort.

While I am sure the margaritas are spectacular, I really don't spend much time in the resorts. Well actually I have never been to one.  Instead I head inland to the sugar cane villages.  The villages are in the middle of seemingly endless fields of sugar cane. We often travel through miles of sugar cane to minister to the people who live there. These villages are the homes primarily to Haitian immigrants who have come specifically to cut the sugar cane.  When you go to these places you generally see two things, lots of kids and lots of poverty.

The sugar cane workers have come to secure a better way of life for their families than they could have in Haiti. I've not been to Haiti, but if you looked at the conditions in the sugar cane villages you find it difficult to believe that this is a better way of life.  I have talked to plenty of the folks who have come from Haiti and it is a desperately poor and corrupt place. Most of the Haitians in Haiti live on less than 2 dollars a day and often the children are forced, by necessity,  to eat cookies make of dirt called Bon Bon Te, which roughly translates from Haitian Creole as "is very good". And so they come across the border to the Dominican Republic.

My understanding is that the average sugar cane worker is paid approximately $1.85 for cutting a metric ton of sugar (2200 lbs.) I am told that it is possible for the strongest, most able bodied men to cut 6 tons on the longest days of the summer.  But in reality that rarely happens and most are able to cut far less. It is back breaking work swinging a machete for hours on end in the stifling heat. Battling the bees and wasps that are attracted to the sweetness of the sugar cane.  They wear rubber boots that come mid thigh with no socks and their feet are blistered and gnarly.  They have to buy their own machetes which cost around $15.00.  Because they have no transportation they can not travel the miles of dirt roads to get to a grocery store or any kind of store. Besides many are there illegally and to leave the sugar cane fields means a risk of deportation. Their only choice then is to purchase needed supplies from the "company store". Most live in shacks far worse than the tool sheds we have in our backyards and sometimes and incredible amount of people will live in one tiny building. Generations now live in these "bateys" (a word for small village used only in the Dominican and Cuba).  Unlike the United States there is no law that stipulates being born in the country makes you a citizen and so even to second and third generations there is always the lingering specter of deportation.  They live and die in these villages without any real hope beyond a dream of a better life. It is truly modern day slavery in our hemisphere.  I once asked someone why so much of the work is not with automation (a John Deere CH570 for example) and he simply replied, "people are cheap".

Wow, people are cheap. That sentence is difficult for my brain to process. And yet the attitude is prevalent. Terrorists believe people are cheap.  The abortion industry believes people are cheap (even while they profit from it). Governments throughout the ages have considered people to be cheap. God however never considers people cheap.

The Bible tells us that as humans we were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). The Bible also tells us that God loved us enough, considered us valuable enough to send His Son to pay the price for our sin. John 3:16 says  "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life." If you try to really grasp the magnitude of the act it is beyond our scope of human understanding.

In the eyes of God people are not cheap. God wants to have a relationship with His creation.  And he thinks we are so valuable and that He desires the love bond to be so genuine that he gives us the ability to choose to love him or not.

I find people all the time who, because of poor choices, or life circumstances, consider themselves to have little or no value.  If you ever feel that way, remember how much God loves you and values you. Your value comes, not because society deems it, but because the God who created the universe and put the stars in the sky, whom the Bible says knows every hair on our head, created you, loves you and wants to have a relationship with you.

Maybe you are reading this and you having been searching for that relationship with God, but don't know where to begin. God makes it very simple:

  • Acknowledge that you are a sinner in need of a savior (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23)
  • Turn from your sin (1 John 1:9).
  • Tell God that you believe His Son Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart (not just your head) that God raised Jesus from the dead. (Romans 10:9).

The Bible says that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).

Life is not cheap. People are not cheap. You are not cheap.

If you would like more information on the Christian life and what it means to be a follower of Jesus contact us at www.lifepointealliance.org.

Pastor Jeff

If you live in the Pittsburgh PA area please join us for worship Sundays at 11:00 AM.  Also be sure to follow us on Facebook.

Lost and found

This past weekend I attended my 40th year class reunion.   Many of those folks I had not seen in that entire time.   It was interesting. Som...