By: Holly Pentz, New Covenant Assembly of God, 1270 Pinchtown Rd, Montgomery, PA 17752
Well, as much as I have fought it, I have had to admit summer is officially over. It is not that I don’t like fall. In fact, I enjoy decking my house with shades of orange and brewing pumpkin spice! I like hoodies and hayrides and hot dogs over a firepit.
And not only will He get you through, He can even help you to thrive within those seasons. Acts 14:17b says, “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”
This year, as the leaves change from green to orange, I think I will try to lean into a new season, instead of digging in my heels until the leaves fall down around me. I want to be like the tree mentioned in Psalm 1:3, which is planted by streams of water “which yields its fruit in season [ANY SEASON!] and whose leaf does not wither,” because the Scripture promises that “whatever they do prospers.” When my season gets scarey, I will remember His Word says in verse 6, “the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,” and I will continue to stand.
And the verse before, Psalm 1:2, tells me how both you and I can do that: “Delight…in the law of the Lord, and meditate on it day and night.” Might I add both summer and fall?
By: Nancy Baumgartner, White Pine Church-Cogan House Township
As the school year begins, the specter of tests looms large for many students. However, tests are not confined to the halls of education. I don’t know about others, but my natural reaction to being tested is, “no thanks, not today, too busy, not prepared. Catch me later.” Given the choice, none of us would opt to undergo testing. But life seldom gives us a choice. Tests come whether we are ready or not and, often, at the worst possible time. It may be as complex as having to undergo a variety of procedures to determine what is ailing us or as simple as putting on a joyful attitude when a relative drops in with no warning, a full suitcase, and plans to “spend a few days with you.”
Trying to pretend that being tested will somehow pass us by, or wait for an opportune time to come our way, is not only faulty thinking but sets us up for failure. Accepting that tests are part of life can be the first step toward passing them with victory and grace.
But, how to prepare is the question. James 1:2-4 is a good place to start. James is direct and specific in advising us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (NKJV). Ah, patience! That elusive ability which often takes a lifetime to perfect. But then Paul comes along and assures us in Philippians 4:13 that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And Paul knew a thing or two about being tested.
These two scriptures give us tools to begin preparing for life’s testing: acceptance and assurance. James and Paul were able to give such advice because they knew the testing Jesus endured on his mission to do his heavenly Father’s bidding.
In Matthew 4, Jesus is being led by the Holy Spirit into the desert, there to wrestle with the most diabolical of all testers, the Devil. For forty days, the son of God fought to pass his test.
From this example, we can learn that determination to hold firm to what we were created to be and to accomplish God’s plans for us is crucial. Taking the easy path may be just sin wrapped up as a win.
Jesus’ life was full of tests, all of a difficulty none of us will see or would be able to endure. His strength to pass his tests was anchored in his knowledge that his Father in Heaven would not leave him.
So, in our own lives perhaps the first thing to do when testing comes our way is to check our anchor. Is it secured to the blessed assurance God gives us in Isaiah 41:10? “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Jesus knew he would be provided all he needed for the job. We can know that as well.
When testing comes, and it surely will, remember the last lines of this beautiful hymn written by Rev. William Clark Martin (1864-1914) titled, “My Anchor Holds.” “Tempters seek to lure astray; Storms obscure the light of day; But in Christ I can be bold, I’ve an anchor that shall hold.”
By: Rev. Larry L. Leland, Jr., Faith United Methodist Church, 700 Fairview Drive, Montoursville, PA 17754
If you were like my family, you spent at least part of last weekend celebrating Labor Day with a picnic with friends. Labor Day has in its origin story a celebration of the labor movement in the United States and the contributions of both laborers and labor/union movements to the economic strength of the country. For many, though, it has become the unofficial end of summer, a three-day weekend, and little else.
The truth is, I pastor a congregation that includes teachers, homemakers, law enforcement personnel, students, business owners, and medical professionals. It also includes retired folks, those whose disabilities make it difficult to find or maintain employment, people who struggle to make ends meet while working two or more jobs, and those who find themselves underemployed and unemployed. The truth is, also, that our people will spend a great deal more time working at workplaces and in the home, or attending school, than worshiping at church. Because of that, I am thinking about Labor Day a bit differently this year. Don’t get me wrong; I am looking forward to a picnic. But I am also reflecting on three truths about the intersection of work and faith.
1. We are created to work. Our work gives us the opportunity to reflect the nature of God, whose image we bear, because God worked and still works. God created and is still creating. Rest is a part of who God is, but so is meaningful work. So it should be for us. In our own origin story, found in Genesis, God places humanity in the garden of Eden and tasks them with naming animals and the overall stewardship of creation.
2. Throughout history, people of faith have often been on the frontlines of seeking justice for workers. We are not perfect, to be sure. And people of faith with sincere commitment to the common good can come to different conclusions about what economic justice looks like. Members of my own faith tradition, though, have historically been active in everything from ending child labor practices to providing living wages to setting the 40-hour work week. As Christians, our desire to see God’s “kingdom come and will be done” extends to caring for all those who labor and those who can’t.
3. God has a purpose for our work. For too long, there has been, even in the Church, a separation between what is seen as sacred work and what is secular. Sacred work has been thought to be confined to religious professionals or missionaries. However, all work can be holy because all Christians are sent into the world to be “salt and light.” It is important to remember that we follow a carpenter who called fishermen and tax collectors to be his first followers. Sometimes, God’s call invites us to leave our nets behind. Other times, our calling invites us to take our faith into homes, schools, businesses, conference rooms, hospital rooms, and restaurants. And the work is holy because God is part of it.
As we leave Labor Day in the rearview mirror for this year, let us look forward to the work that follows. And remember to, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (Colossians 3:23 NLT).
By: Apostle Dawn Gueary of LiteShine Intl. Ministries, Williamsport, Pa
What does it mean to be encapsulated by the King?
According to the Oxford dictionary, to be encapsulated means to “express the essential features of something.” Some synonyms relative to the word “encapsulate” would be to “box, cover, enclose, envelop, sheath and wrap.”
He has “boxed” Us in by drawing us to Himself by wrapping us in His Love.
Psalm 91:4 says, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart” (NIV).
The ministry of the Holy Spirit is a partnering; it is a yielding to a personal relationship with our Father and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is a threefold cord.
He has given us the Ministry of Reconciliation according to 2 Corinthians 5:18-19. That means we are benefactors of a covenant relationship that first started with a love relationship that was signed, sealed, and delivered by the Blood of Jesus.
We can receive all benefits of the Blood by faith, for faith is how we enter the New Covenant with God. Just as Abraham entered a covenant with God by faith, so we also enter the New Covenant with God by faith.
With His Blood, Jesus purchased our authority and deliverance. The Blood breaks addictions, breaks spiritual bondages, and subdues the work of the enemy. When we testify of the Word and of the Blood, we exercise, by faith, our authority over and deliverance from demonic influence. Everything the enemy does is reversed by the Blood of Jesus.
Psalm 40:3 in the New Living Translation says: “He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed.”
He has given me a new song to sing. I can rest in knowing that no matter what I may face, that I have the Victory because of Him. This gives us the continual grace to forgive those who have not only wronged us, but also wronged our loved ones.
We not only get the benefit of being called a son, a daughter, but we also get to be called His “laid down lover.”
This reminds me of the lyrics of a beautiful song written by Jonathan Ogden, which is titled “Laid Down Lover.”
Some of the lyrics read like this: “Beautiful Savior/You’re my soul’s delight./You are the bridegroom./And we are the bride.” Ogden’s song goes on to state, “You desire my affection./It all belongs to You.” The song affirms that “When I see Your beauty/I’m changed forever Lord.” The song then states the effect: “You have loved me through/My sin and my returning./Now it’s my joy to worship You.”
True Ministry is not a job; it is a calling, a drawing. It is a wooing for each of us to come away with Him. Everything we endeavor to do will come from a place of the overflow of Love. How will you answer The Call?
After Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples embarked on a fishing evening. So the disciples headed out to the Sea of Galilee, but they caught absolutely nothing. The disciples struggled all night to catch some fish. It wasn’t that the disciples did not have the right equipment. Without the presence of fish, the disciples were simply “wetting their lines,” as I call it.
I believe there are two kinds of fishermen. Some fishermen are not satisfied unless the ice chest is full of fish at the end of the day. Anything less is almost considered a failure.
Then there are the fishermen who just fish for pleasure. They are more interested in relaxation than they are catching fish. They are satisfied with just getting out for the day and “wetting their lines.”
If they catch a few fish, that’s fine, but if they don’t, they have still enjoyed the day God created. What may be enjoyable as a pastime is deadly from a spiritual perspective. The church (followers of Jesus) is called to be “fishers of men,” yet often we may just be “wetting our lines.”
Could it be that some folks do not notice the need for new people to come into their church? Caught fish can be messy, and you have to clean them. It does take some effort to fish like you want to fill your ice chest, your church. The question for us is what kind of “fishers of men” are we?
According to a 2021 Gallup poll, statistically fewer than half of USA adults attend a house of religion regularly. This begs the question, “Are we truly fishing for men, or just wetting our lines?” Why are the nets coming up empty?
Do the members of your church need to get out of their boat, that has been stuck on a spiritual sandbar for too long, in order to wade out into the waters where the fish are schooling? Then you will cast your nets and bring in a great catch that will be nothing short of miraculous!
In John 21:5 we read that Jesus called out to the disciples and asked, “have you caught any fish?” The disciples’ response was honest: NO! Is that your answer also? This is the measure of the faithfulness of your church. It is not your inspiring buildings or impressive budgets or your impassioned boastings, but your fishing!
How many souls have you caught? How many disciples of Christ are you making? And your church must be painfully honest about the success or failure of your catching.
I have three grandchildren who are dedicated and passionate fishermen. It is hard to be a successful fisherman when your boat serves more time as a leaf catcher and your fishing for men is only one or two times a year.
Just imagine the possibilities of what God could do for your church if you throw out your nets and you faithfully and prayerfully follow Him!
Are you ready to do some fishing? Set some priority time aside. Get passionate about “fishing for men.” Follow Jesus to the river bank and expect a great catch! “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19 NKJV).
In order for our special dessert or favorite dish to reach perfection, we must stick to the recipe that was handed down to us. Perhaps it is a family recipe, so the ingredients are a well-kept family secret. The first time you prepare the dish, you examine the recipe like a map to a hidden treasure, precisely measuring the amounts of each ingredient. You know the combination of the ingredients will result in something scrumptiously delicious.
Our lives can be compared to a recipe. The only difference is that there are no secret ingredients. It begins with faith in Jesus Christ. The book of 2 Peter, focusing on chapter one and verses five through eleven, gives us some ingredients for a better, more fulfilling life in Christ. If you follow this recipe, you will surely obtain an effective and productive life. The ingredients in this recipe lead to the fullness of life by having faith in a loving God. The beauty of it all teaches us how to live a productive Christian life where there are no secrets.
Instead of secret ingredients, the Bible offers us the steps to follow for a full life with God, according with the book of 2 Peter 1:5-11 that lays it all out for us; like a recipe with different ingredients that, when put together, turns into a vibrant, strong, beautiful, productive life by faith:
God does not expect us to become instantly perfect in the qualities indicated above, but he tells us that we can “possess these qualities in increasing measure” (NIV). Growing in these areas because of our relationship with Jesus is the best recipe for a productive life.
Therefore, keep adding and building on these ingredients because they will keep us from being ineffective and unproductive in our relationship with God. This is the life God wants for us, which is found through His word. God desires and wants each of us to have true faith, so that we can live a full, productive life with Him.
In a recent article by Dr. Tim Keller called “Lemonade On The Porch: The Gospel In A Post-Christendom Society,” the author noted that years ago the streets of Philadelphia were protected by a “front porch endeavor.” Neighbors would sit on their porches and greet passersby. Children could not get into too much mischief because many eyes were watching them. They also had a sense of security because the porch watchers paid close attention to all activity and offered protection against harm. Dr. Keller sees the porch sitting as a form of hospitality and a bridge between the street and the home. It was also evidence of a caring faith community.
As we have moved into the post-Christian era, the porch presence has gradually disappeared. People are more isolated and less protected. In the past, even in neighborhoods impacted by crime, there were havens on the streets where porch sitting abounded. That layer of protection has dissipated.
There are many in our day who find it difficult to enter the door of a church. Some are antagonistic or skeptical; others lack interest. We lack a modern bridge from the street to the church. Dr. Keller suggests the return of the front porch. This could mean a literal front porch where neighbors can sit and visit and gently share faith. Or it can involve other community outreaches that express faith and community in enriching, life-giving ways. (My faith tradition, the United Methodists, have a similar concept called Fresh Expressions).
Last week I experienced a variation of this loving, neighborly, and family hospitality. My granddaughter was diagnosed with leukemia in June. Her birthday was last Monday, but because of immunity concerns, she is not allowed around large groups of people. My daughter’s sisters-in-law came up with a solution: a drive-by birthday party! A post on Facebook led to media recognition. For twenty minutes last Sunday afternoon, a parade of well-wishers brought cards, gifts, and surprises by the house and waved their greetings. The group included firefighters, motorcyclists, neighbors, family, friends, and kind strangers (including two mermaids and a princess)!
As I consider Dr. Keller’s words, I can think of a variety of ways we can offer 21st century “porches.” I direct a “Grandparent And Me Camp” each summer to offer an intergenerational faith and family experience in a natural environment. A church in a local community distributed popsicles each week during the summer to community residents. Local restaurants offer space for individuals to come and dine and discuss relevant topics related to faith. There are many others.
Dr. Keller noted that often the faith community exhibits one of three responses: 1. isolation, separating oneself or one’s group from an increasingly secularized society, 2. confrontation, berating those who disagree or belligerently trying to impose one’s viewpoint on others or 3. assimilation, compromising views and values to fit in with the culture. I think the most helpful and edifying approach is winsome hospitality. See you on the front porch!
This past year, while visiting at Encompass Health as Chaplain, I met a person who told me they did not believe the Bible was an accurate account of God’s work. They saw it as a book of fairy tales. When I asked them if there was something that came to mind, they mentioned the feeding of the multitude.
There are several accounts of Jesus feeding a multitude of people. While they stated they did not believe it, I told the person I did, and I continue to believe that today. I have no issues with believing that a God who creates the universe in a matter of seconds can manage to feed 5,000 men, not counting women and children, as recorded in Matthew 14:13-21.
Some pastors and scholars have a little different take on the scripture than I have. I became aware of some of the interpretations when I went to seminary to complete a Doctor of Ministry degree. The professor’s explanation given at that time took away the miracle and gave a different view of the story.
Their version went something like this: people in Jesus’ day knew there would be no fast food restaurants, convenience stores, or other places to purchase food. Therefore, many carried a bag with food in it. Many carried fish, bread, and other items to sustain them. Despite this, the disciples asked Jesus to send the crowds away to purchase food from the villages. Jesus instead told his disciples to feed them.
Their response would be much the way ours would be: “Say what?”. The disciples were as shocked as we would be. I mean, I have served meals in churches over the years. We find two fish and five loaves of bread do not go very far, even with the smaller crowds we have had, let alone 5,000 plus people. The professor’s response was that, when the people sat in groups and saw the food was blessed, they shared the meal. Many reached into their bags, moved out of generosity, and shared their own food with the others, which also is the reason that there was food left over.
It is a theory which tries to explain that we need to share what we have with others. This theory tends to leave God out of the picture, other than the blessing of the food. While I believe that God works through people to do ministry, I also believe there are still miracles which go beyond our ability as humankind. Gideon had to scale down his army before he attacked the Midianites, so the battle would not be credited to the army, but to God. Samuel attacked the Philistines after telling the people what they needed to do.
The Philistines did not rule again until after his death because God intervened. We are told that, when the Philistines were attacking, thunder confused them, and then the people of Israel routed them. God also fed millions in the wilderness with manna and gave them water to drink in the desert.
God works through people. People brought bread and fish. But don’t underestimate what God is able to do in any situation. Instead of challenging everything, just be amazed at the wonder of it all.
As I write this article, we as a nation recently observed Memorial Day and are now in the midst of celebrating the birth of our country. These are two important dates in the life of our nation, a nation I love. This country has afforded me tremendous opportunities and the freedoms to enjoy life: freedom of worship, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, just to name a few. Most importantly, I believe in the idea “that all men are created equal [and] that they are endowed by their Creator with certain…Rights” which are “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I remember our country’s 200th birthday celebration in 1976. It seemed at the time that our entire country was united, and we were all proud to be Americans. Today, however, I fear we as a people are facing an identity crisis.
We have become a nation with two histories, two identities. One has a deep spiritual heritage with God at the center . It is a nation that recognized that our country was founded on Biblical Truths. The second identity has people seeking to depart from that Biblical heritage, pretending it does not exist or never existed. They rewrite history.
Recently, my wife and I made a trip on Route 414 from Cedar Run to Route 6. It was a beautiful drive, but what struck me was all the small country churches along the way. Every hamlet, town, and village had at least one church. It reminded me of words written by Alexis De Tocqueville. In 1831, the French statesman and historian spent eight months touring America.
In his two-volume Democracy In America, he would write that he could sense the religious aspect of the country. He wrote, “There is no country in the whole world in which the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America.” Words attributed to De Tocqueville also express the idea that America is a great country because America is good, but if America ceases to be good, it will cease to be great.
So my question for us is the same as Elijah’s: how long will we waver between two identities? Will it be one where God is in control and is the heart of our nation, or one void of God? This choice will determine what our nation will look like in the future. This choice will determine if we even have an America in the future. Let us all pray we make the right choice. Let us together claim the promises of 2 Chronicles 7:14 which are “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Have you seen the movie called “Sound Of Freedom”? By the time this is published, show times for our local AMC Theatre will no longer be available. But, if you have the opportunity, I strongly encourage you to see this movie.
I procrastinated about writing this article as no topic was settling well. I even thought I was scheduled to publish a “Footsteps” editorial last month, and then my writing could have been complete! Nope, I was at a loss last month as well. I thought my procrastination odd as I normally don’t like to wait until the very last minute. Hmmm, what is a good topic for the end of July? Weddings and anniversaries are plentiful, but no. No ideas popping up there. Saint Ann is the patron of the church where I attend and am on staff, but I already wrote about her. Saint Mary Magdaline is a good subject too. But no, that topic didn’t spark anything either.
Then, tonight (the evening prior to article submission) at 6:15 pm, I saw the movie “Sound Of Freedom.” It stars Jim Chaviezel and Mira Sorvino. The movie tells the real-life story of Tim and Katherine Ballard’s mission. They chose to save children from human sex trafficking in Columbia (and also Haiti) even though it was dangerous and called for great sacrifice in their lives.
Words can not adequately describe the horror of what this movie brings to light. You hear what people are saying and read the reviews, but there is something to be said for seeing the movie yourself. I asked my kids if they wanted to go as I preferred to have company and knew it was about a tough, but important topic. This was an important subject not only for myself, but for them as well. When we were leaving the theatre, we were quiet. What do you say about such atrocities? We needed time to process what we had seen.
“Sound Of Freedom” exquisitely illustrates the dark world of human trafficking. It showcases multiple heroes including Tim Ballard, the main character. Tim is a man with the heart of a loving, protective father and the training and experience of years working as a Special Agent for the Department of Homeland Security. He takes on a mission to save children.
Tim’s wife, Katherine also had a big part to play. He called her from Columbia in a cowardly moment, hoping she would say it would be easier and safer to abandon the mission and just come home. He was hoping she would put their six children and his career ahead of the mission. Instead she said, “I will not let you jeopardize my salvation by not doing this.” In the film, the audience sees Katherine say to Tim on the phone, “You quit your job and rescue those kids.” In actuality, Tim replied that “it breaks my heart because not only is she losing our income, but she possibly, there’s a very good chance, maybe 50-50, she’s gonna lose me.” Their faith strengthened them to continue with their important mission.
Faith does matter. It mattered to Tim and Katherine, their six children (now nine children, including two children rescued from traffickers), and 120 children rescued on the island operation portrayed in “Sound Of Freedom.” Faith matters to those of us who support the movie and this cause. Faith, when acted upon in hope and charity, matters in big and small ways every single day. God’s children are the heroes of this story too. God’s children are not for sale.