Thursday, July 31, 2014

Prayer Requests for Peace in Gaza & the American Baptist Churches USA Position on Peace

Our denomination, American Baptist Churches USA, reports that Baptist Pastor Hanna Massad of Gaza is calling for prayers for peace from peoples around the world. This pastor states that the situation is worse now than at any time in the past. Many people in Gaza are running out of food and the pastor is trying to pull together relief efforts. Here are the prayer requests: 

1) Pray for the war to end! 
2) Pray for the family of Mrs Jalila Ayyad who has been killed. 
3) Pray for the family who have moved into my house in Gaza. 
4) Pray for the Churches who have opened their doors to Muslims in need of refuge. 
5) Pray for those who have been traumatized by the incessant bombing. 
6) Pray that Christians will be strong in faith and seen as beacons of hope and love. 
7) Pray for the organisation of the Food Relief Program with the Bible Society. 
8) Pray that, in the midst of war, the believers will know the peace that only Christ can bring.  

For the rest of Pastor Hanna Massad's message, please see:

To explore the American Baptist Churches USA denominational position on peace, I recommend this document "American Baptist Policy Statement on Peace," first written in 1985 and last revised in 2007. It may be read in its entirety at:  If your time is short, see pages 7 and 8 for a final summation. 

For more on American Baptist Churches USA, see the brief video in the following post:

Bible Verses to Live By

For Christians, the Bible is our foundation, the library of books through which God tells us of God's love for us. That love is best expressed through Jesus Christ. We learn about Jesus and what Jesus had to say about God, God's love for humanity, and God's plan for us all best through the books of the Bible. There are great truths to be found among the 66 books of both the Old and New Testament--for the careful reader. There are times in life when certain passages will speak to faithful readers as they never have before and will provide valuable guidance. 

Here are some verses you might find useful: 

Jesus tells us about those who are blessed by God's standards rather than our own: 

Matthew 5:1-12: When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Jesus also reminds us who we should love: 

Matthew 5:43-48: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Jesus states who we should forgive ... and why. Please note here that Jesus used humor to make points for his hearers ... something we worked hard to forget for hundreds of years and are now coming, fortunately, to rediscover and with hope lighten up a bit ourselves.: 

Matthew 7:1-5: Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye.
Jesus has some sage advice about great wealth: 

Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Jesus also has some very useful advice on worry ... which we all struggle to follow with varying degrees of success to be completely honest: 

Matthew 6:25-34: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."
“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today."
Here is a story of deep faith, in which a Centurion, a soldier of the occupying Roman army, meets Jesus and surprises him with his deep and abiding faith: 

Matthew 8:5-13: When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.
Jesus tells us our greatest of all the commandments are based on love ... and in the parable of the Good Samaritan we learn that our neighbor can be anyone, even an enemy:  
Matthew 22:34-40: When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
And finally, for now, from the beautiful language of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, we are called to work for justice, that we may be the restorers of the streets where we live: 

Isaiah 58:6-12: Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. 
All of these verses may be applied directly to life in the modern world. Working for justice, having strong faith, freedom from fear and judgment of others, freedom from greed, knowing who we should love, forgive, and accept forgiveness from, and knowing who is blessed by God's standards, all of these things are ours in these few verses. There is a lot more to be had in those 66 books of the Bible, a great deal of which will provide the reader with joy. 

God bless you as you adventure among the Scriptures.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Congregational BBQ, August 6

No, we are not roasting the congregation in any way, shape, or form on August 6! Instead, we are inviting the congregation of Lansdowne Baptist Church to a barbeque dinner at 6 PM on August 6 at the church. This will be quite an event, a real tasty time of fellowship, food, and fun for all. The church will provide the hamburgers and hot dogs ... and the congregation will provide the rest. Knowing how many wonderful cooks we have at LBC, this should be a truly delicious experience for all.

If you love to eat well, live in or near Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, and do not have a church home, you need to stop by and meet us! We make sure our congregants are well fed, physically and ... better yet ... spiritually! Come and see.

Ministers, Churches: Google Alerts Keep You In the Loop

If you are looking for a quick way to keep up on particular topics, or to see how (or if) your own church is being discussed out there in the wide world of electronic media, you can set up a Google Alert (or a series of Google Alerts) for yourself. All you need to do is go to: and fill in the appropriate subjects, or your church's name, city, and state, along with the email address where you want to see the alerts. 

Then you let the Google automated search engine handle the rest. You'll receive alerts on the topics you have asked for at intervals of your choosing. The default setting is to receive alerts on you topic once a day. You can set up a number of Google alerts to keep track of a variety of timely topics that may be of use to you and your church community. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bag Lunch Bible Studies: Wednesdays Noon to 1

If you are in the neighborhood and curious, you are invited to the Lansdowne Baptist Church "bag lunch Bible studies" on Wednesdays between noon and 1 PM, beginning on September 17, 2014. We will be looking at how we can apply the Bible to our lives, making those important connections between Scripture and daily living that add a richness to life.

Our first book to study will be Matthew, which is said to be full of daily life applications. This is a first time experiment for us and we'll be very interested in seeing how it starts and grows.

Bring your lunch with you and come ready to be engaged ... and spiritually fed. We look forward to seeing you there.

Again, classes begin Wednesday, September 17, 2014, at noon. We hope to see you there. You will be most welcome.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Assistance You Can Provide for Families in Need in Southwest Philadelphia Following Fire

The households displaced by the ravaging fire in Southwest Philadelphia that destroyed ten homes are in need of help. If you wish to assist, at this time, they have all the clothes needed. However, items needed include non-perishable foods, toiletries, and bedding. These may be sent to:

Christ International Baptist Church
2210 South 65th Street
Philadelphia, PA  19142

Monetary donations may be made to the:
Liberian Association of Pennsylvania
1155 South 54th Street
Philadelphia, PA  19143

or to the Red Cross
Shira Beckerman

or to the Saving Grace Orphanage
4918 Baltimore Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19143

Thanks to the Philadelphia Baptist Association for updating us on the needs of these struggling individuals and families.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Simple Signs for Churches

There are many challenges facing churches today. Communication is one of them. How do you make a quick, simple, cost effective sign you can change regularly? 

This question came up largely because we already have a sign on the property, right near the corner, that was in need of use. In the past, cloth signs were mounted to the board, but it had been a while. This real estate was just too valuable to let sit idle. 

So, I did some research. I tried several options ... all of which turned out to be either expensive or impossible. Then I thought of chalkboard paint ... but that would not work on an exterior sign. However, that was headed down the right path. I discovered that latex paint (preferably flat rather than glossy) would hold chalk and wipe clean with a damp paper towel. Perfect. 

Here was the first attempt, the test sign so to speak. Regular chalkboard chalk was used in this case. Soon, we'll get some colorful sidewalk chalk and see how that does. Both sides of the sign are painted and ... if this works ... both will soon sport messages that can be changed with ease and cost very little to create. 

From my research, I also learned a little trick I pass along to all you other pastors out there. Such signs should be no more than 10 words long for quick reading while driving or walking briskly by. 

It worked immediately. As I was putting the finishing touches on the sign, a woman stopped at the intersection near the sign called over to me. She asked, "Is that Philippians 4:4?" I acknowledged it was and she gave me a thumbs up. I take that as a good "sign" and a great start. 

Helping Those Who Grieve For Lost Loved Ones

Over the years, under a pen name, I have written a number of posts on faith issues, including how to help those who are suffering through grief. I will, from time to time, add a few of those posts, appropriately edited, to the Lansdowne Baptist Church blog site. Here are some suggestions on how to help those who grieve, both adults and children. 

First, on assisting adults: here are some things to know (care of the Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling) about grief and what you can do to help others.

We've all heard grief has stages. They are, in the modern understanding:

  • Numbness and denial: involved in the first five to seven days; 
  • Yearning intensely and painfully for the one (or ones) who has died, which includes preoccupation with that individual, searching, illusions of seeing that person, dreams, fantasies, hallucinations, self-reproach, identification with the behaviors, activities and illness of the dead, and suicidal feelings and thoughts. This lasts for weeks;
  • Disorganization and despair where other emotions dim, apathy and aimlessness set in, and an inability to see a positive future rises like a malign fog. This can last for over a year.
  • Reorganization is the final, sought for stage, in which the grieving person shifts their energies from the dead and begins to see a hopeful future without that person in it. After thirteen months most had not yet reached this stage. 
These are stages each grieving person must go through to heal and our job as friends and loved ones for the grieving is to understand and stand by that person. Assure the grieving that they are not losing their minds and that they will come through the process. It is natural. God intends for us to help those who grieve find their way through this natural process of grief using our love and understanding. 

Here are a few concrete steps you can take to assist the grieving: 
  1. Understand the process and make yourself familiar with the stages.
  2. Visit the grieving often as love is shown by your presence. 
  3. Help the grieving person to express himself or herself by asking about what has taken place and by responding with empathy (don't try to fix the situation, remember Job's friends who got it right by being their for 7 days, but then messed up by trying to fix Job's grief with their recommendations).
  4. Prior to funerals, a pastor will help families talk about the person lost, triggering their memories and allowing the minister to gain information about both the departed and the bereaved. You can help your grieving friends or loved ones by encouraging discussion and remembrance of their lost loved one. 
  5. What is extremely hard today is to allow a person sufficient time to grieve. 
  6. Each grieving family member needs to be helped with equal care and love. 
That's a start. This will help you not to feel helpless and to act as a guiding beacon for those who grieve. Do not worry about what you will say. In the midst of grief, the person in pain will not remember what you said, only that you were there and he/she will love you for it. Be present, be loving, offer a listening ear, offer hope that the person is sane and will in time come through this long, painful process, emphasizing that they will do so in their own time. 

Moving on to assisting younger people: children have heard a lot more about death than we'd like to think. Pictures and stories of death are found on television shows, radio programs, and in newspapers daily. We can be careful, but we can't entirely stop a child from overhearing at least some of these dire stories. Then a pet dies, or distant relation, or a political or religious leader ... and children hear about it some more. 

Returning to the Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling (pp. 475-476), there are three stages of understanding children have about death. In short: from 3 to 5 children are likely to deny death's permanence. They consider death like sleep and since they die and rise every night and morning, why shouldn't everybody else? From 5 to 9, children accept the concept someone has died but don't understand this is a universal event that everyone experiences personally eventually. Finally, at age 9 or 10, like Adam and Eve, children discover they too are mortal.

Here's what the DPCC recommends clergy do, and I recommend it for parents as well: 

1. Do not avoid the topic of personal death (denial never helps).
2. Do not discourage emotions of grief.
3. Do not tell a child a euphemism, half-truth, etc. Honesty, though painful, is best. 
4. Do share your religious convictions as to faith, God, immortality, prayer, and death. 
5. Surround the grieving with supportive people who will model God's love and presence for them.
6. Remember that the process of adjustment to the loss takes far longer than the funeral to occur. 
7. Be human: express your own emotions of grief. Don't be afraid to shed a tear when dealing with a child in pain. 

God bless you as you seek to help your suffering family, friends, or those you have just met.

For a related article on anxiety, see:

Pray For and Assist the Families Who Lost Loved Ones and Homes in Southwest Philadelphia

Last Saturday, forty-two individuals were displaced and four children died in a tragic fire in Southwest Philadelphia. We mourn the passing of those children and the immense suffering of their families and all of the residents who lost their homes. We stand with these suffering souls in this time of grief. We pray for you all. The church communities all over the greater Philadelphia area are rallying around these families daily, offering physical as well as spiritual relief.  

For all who wish to offer assistance, please see the Red Cross blog post, which includes organizations offering direct relief to these families:

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Lansdowne, Pennsylvania's, 4th of July Parade

During the march, many groups, many balloons

The DAR prepares in the background

On July 4th, Lansdowne throws a parade for everyone to enjoy. Those marching represent a wide variety of organizations in town, including churches, clubs, Veterans organizations, the DAR, political organizations, school bands, string bands, and more. I caught up with my friend Nancy, the pastor of the Presbyterian church, whose members are involved every year. The were passing out leaflets about the church and Nancy told me they have someone new come to the church every year based on their efforts. I could tell turning out and participating in the parade was important as I moved along the parade route and heard people commenting on Nancy's nice church as they participated.
March prep on the side streets

I was representing Lansdowne Baptist in an informal way this year, walking along the parade route, meeting wonderful people involved in the parade and watching, handing out all the flyers I had about our church, which people readily accepted, and receiving multiple flags from a young member of the boy's swim team, which was handing out American flags to everyone who they could reach in the crowd. I gave each of mine to some person who had been missed, knowing my new friend would soon give me another.

Friends and Presbyterians both represented
It was a wonderful parade, a very civic-minded project, and one for which tropical storm Andrew behaved itself, holding off on rain until the parade was over. Next year, I hope and intend for LBC to formally participate in the parade. We shall see. This is one of those moments when God is calling us all out to be part of the larger community. Right now in the United States, only 51% of churches do that. I'm hoping this friendly turnout and wonderful parade will encourage us to do more ... and to have a positive impact on our community when we do.
Being Philadelphia, we had string bands!

Parading in style!
String band in Hawaiian shirts!
Our 4th of July flyer about LBC
Come join our family. ALL are welcome here!

For a meditation on our freedom from the apostle Paul, see:

Thursday, July 3, 2014

God Transforms Us in Surprising Ways

We come to our relationship with God, the Creator, Redeemer, and Spirit, with certain expectations. Often, God sees things differently. If we are willing to believe that God knows what is best for us and promises to remain with us and work for what is best in our lives always, and we go where God leads, amazing changes can happen in our lives. We may discover we become people quite different from what we expected when we started journeying with God. The famous twentieth century author C.S. Lewis put it well in his powerful book Mere Christianity when he wrote:
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.
Will you follow where God would lead you today? Will you place your faith in the one who loves you best and wants to transform you in ways you never expected? I hope you will. I invite you to give it a try. A lot of time, effort, sacrifice, and pain will come ... but, oh, the places you'll go, the things you'll do, and the joy you'll experience ... if you place your faith in God. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Paul Reminds Us of Our Freedom ... Always

With the July 4th celebration of the independence of the United States, I was reminded of Paul's message to the Romans (chapter 6, verses 1-11) ... and to us all. Paul tells of what we have been freed from and what we are freed for by Jesus Christ.

Paul told the Romans that when they chose to follow Jesus, they received freedom from sin and freedom for a life in God through Jesus Christ. Freedom from sin meant freedom from sin’s penalty, sin’s power, and sin’s practice as a way of life. This was the newness of life Paul’s readers were to accept and live out. Paul asked his readers, “How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” Why would they want to, is the subtext. Here we have to step back from the modern concept of freedom a bit.Today we see total freedom as the ability to do whatever we want, whenever we choose. Not so with Paul back in the day. Freedom from sin was freedom for obedience to God. In Paul’s world, you were always going to be bound to one force or another. The choice was whether you would be bound to, “enslaved by” to use Paul’s language, sin and death, or to God in Christ Jesus and life eternal. There was no third way. “By no means!” That's what Paul would say. 

Living in freedom from sin and freedom for God’s true life and service for others seems like an awful lot of work, especially when we are tired and worn from all our other obligations. Like the first century followers of Paul, we too are tempted to ask “can we just keep to our old sinful ways and let God’s grace abound and handle it?” Paul responds to us just as he did to his original readers and hearers. “By no means!” He reminds us of our baptisms. In doing so, Paul reminds us of who we really are—even when we are frazzled—of what we have chosen, and what we have been freed from.

He is like that loving parent who gets his child’s attention when that little one is being naughty by saying, “That isn’t like you. You’re a better person than this.” We are called to walk in the new life ourselves and to believe that others can do so as well. This is important. We are not to be like that pigeon-holing boss who assigned everyone a specific label early on and never saw them any differently. We are to believe in the grace of God through Jesus Christ for ourselves and for others as we strive to live righteous lives, lives in which we are aligned with God and to service for others. We are to believe, like Paul, that we cannot occupy two spaces at once. We cannot live in the arena of sin and the arena of God. We must strive to convince ourselves that we no longer live in that old arena. We are free from sin and free for full life walking with God and helping others to do the same. We have to tell ourselves that the life of sin is the life dehumanized in which people are victims who suffer and die. In doing so, over time, the life in God’s arena becomes force of habit.

This will always be a challenge. There will be mistakes along the way. God forgives us when we ask for that forgiveness and are determined to try again. However, once the habit is set in place, we discover that in time, we do not wish to walk in the old sinful ways (sin being seen as actively working against the will of God for your life and walking away from God and God's ways) but choose instead the freedom to walk with God and to love our neighbors as God wishes us to do ... our neighbors being everyone. 

Enjoy your freedoms this 4th of July and always.