Ramblings

November 2014 – Pastor Al Richardson

Quietly Leading

Everyone in town knows that I am a football fanatic. Sometimes to a fault. My own children often think I am crazy when it comes to football. I count it a privilege to watch our kids play football and yell on the sidelines. Yet this past year I have noticed some leadership qualities rise to the surface in one of our young people on the football field.

Sam Peterson started this season quarterbacking the gold team at the annual blue and gold football scrimmage for the Hawks. I thought he looked good. Game 1 rolled around and Sam had a limited roll. Game two came upon us and he didn’t play at all. Game 3 against Beresford Sam did not start but he came in the game and lead the team on a 55 yard scoring drive. Granted he made some mistakes but what caused the cream of leadership to rise to the top is he overcame those mistakes. As the year continued Sam’s growth progressed in a way that he was more then a play caller in the huddle. When someone else made a mistake Sam was one of the first players to approach the player with an encouraging high five or helmet smack. I am sure he told each player we will get them next time. I know Sam well enough that he didn’t cuss them out or belittle them either. He simply encouraged each one in a shuttle way.

Fast forward to the playoffs against Sioux Valley. Canton is leading 6 to 0 when the first quarter takes a turn south. Sam threw a pick, The Cosacks take the lead 7 to 6. At the end of the first quarter Sam needed to make some adjustments. He did and well he went on to lead the team to victory. Good leaders never let a difficult situation dictate the outcome. Good leaders focus and push through despite difficult experiences.

After the playoff game Sam and I visited. We talked about the first quarter and the interception. Sam replied to me, “I didn’t see the safety.” He didn’t say that because he felt sorry for himself and he didn’t hang his head. He said it like a leader that is and has been forged through a battle. Excellent leaders never hang their head or feel sorry for themselves. They get down to business when it is time to.

Thanks Sam for an excellent season long lesson in leadership!

Pastor Al

 

A word from Pastor Al Richardson

July 1, 2014

More often than not my mouth gets me into trouble.  This is usually how it happens. I see some sort of decision that isn’t fair, I get mad (cause I think the culprit knows better), I speak up and I make myself look like an idiot.

Many years ago I was told by a professor of mine it is better to look like an idiot then to not speak up and look like you agree.  Most people in America do not like confrontation.  Many believe if someone’s behavior doesn’t bother me personally then it is not my problem.  Ezekiel 34 addresses an issue in Israel in which the leaders were running causing problems for others.  God wants leaders to speak up and care when others are mistreated or when others cheat.

Blessings,

Pastor Al

 

Life Misunderstood

June 1,2014

Life has a very disturbing way of causing us to relive past events over and over again.  This can both be positive and negative.  Today I stopped in the local grocery store and heard several positive comments about a wedding I had just performed.  Moments later I remembered a task I had completely failed to do.  Life seems to remind us of our shortcomings as well as our greatness.

The Bible is pretty clear about who we are to God.  We have been redeemed, bought with His blood for good and great works.  We are a light to the world, a beacon of hope.

Many years ago I watched a pianist at a talent show struggle through a song.  He would begin the song beautifully and get to a certain point in the song then suddenly fumble on the keys.  He made that mistake over and over again, so much that it was painful to hear.  Often in life we go back to the same mistake over and over again, often misunderstanding life so badly that our mistakes define us.

Perhaps it is best put by saying: let not our past determine the direction of our life but allow our lives to be steered by the Grace of God.

Blessings,

Pastor Al

 

Fishing and Finding

April 1, 2014

This time of year I always have an itch that cannot be scratched. Every spring while living in Michigan I would take off and fly fish for rainbow or brown trout. Here in South Dakota that is not so easy. The nearest trout stream is 5 hours away.

One late spring evening I was fishing a favorite go to spot on the Muskegon River near Newaygo, MI. This particular hole ( a deep run in the river) was my favorite because it had a large rock protruding out of the center of the river which was a fine spot to stand on and cast to the feeding trout either bank. The far side of the bank was protected by a massive embankment making the trout even more difficult to reach. This particular day was even more special because I decided to tackle this portion of the river with a very light weight tackle setup.

This decision made my fishing challenging because I was forced to use a lighter leader material that might break on any big (15″ or bigger ) fish. The rod I was using would not allow for me to horse the fish in either. I was going to have to play every fish with my reel, line and backing.

It was a warm day and as I wet my line I thought about what fly I wanted to use. As I peered into my fly box any orange bodied bug caught my eye. I tied it on without any hesitation. Queen of the Waters was its name. It is supposed to mimic some insects tumbling on the bottom. The recipe called for red thread, orange chenille,for the body, wood duck flank fibers for the tail and ginger hackle spayed over the body. Sounds buggy!

As I positioned myself on the rock I began my back cast. I placed my fly at the top of the run and let it drift down through the hole. Nothing. Dang. I tried it again and again. Each time nothing ate it. At this point a fisher person has a choice. Change the fly or force feed some dumb trout that fly! I am a force feeder by nature.

With a little bit of anger and some spite I stepped off the rock and flipped that fly in the middle of the hole again. This time I took a few steps before I recast. This allowed the fly to sink a little more. Like some sort of magic trick my line twitched and I set the hook ever so gently. My line went tight and I could feel the weight of a heavy trout on the line. His gills pumped quickly and my heart raced after him. We fought for what seemed like a day. He took line and I cupped my reel in my hands hoping to slow him down.

Eventually I landed him and laid him on the bank. God touched that fish for the red, silver and blue rainbow colors were heavenly. I measured him at 17 inches. For a few moments I examined him and he took his education from me like a great fishy philosopher. In a moment I could feel my back hurting from the fight and the sweat running down my forehead. I quickly put the fish back and then whipped my sweat from my brow with my right hand.

The next day I awoke to a surprise. The fish had the last laugh. When I laid that fish on the bank I laid him in some Poison Ivy. My entire right side of my face, including my eye, was covered in Poison Ivy. I had found what I was looking for but not without consequences. This consequence was so worth it for me.

More often then not we find and get what we want but sometimes the consequences might not be worth it. People during the days of Noah were getting what they wanted in having fulfillment of their evil desires yet the consequences well, were less then ideal.

Make good decisions. Seek what is right. Weigh the consequences then choose.

Pastor Al

 

Cold Weather Tricks

January 1, 2014

Our current frigid weather reminds me of one particular winter during my childhood when school was called off for several days.  In my families boredom we tricked my sister into sticking her tongue to the metal hand rail outside the courthouse building. The moment she did it my brother and I took off running.  I remember looking back over my shoulder to see my sister in her snow pants, coat, hat and gloves stuck to that steel hand rail by her tongue.  It was a horrible trick.  Eventually we had mercy on my sister.   My brother poured warm water over her tongue to minimize the damage.

She did lose a little skin.  She now is a believer about cold weather and steel poles.

There are some tricks that we don’t believe but are true.  First, we think we can have one life at Church and yet another elsewhere.  We forget that our faith is intended to go with us everywhere.  Second, we trick ourselves into thinking that if no one is looking it  is fine to do. This is an old trick that gets us all into a jam.

God sees and watches all things.

Finally, we can get very closed minded. Sometimes we want to only take care of our own and neglect our call to be accountable for and to others.  This is an important branch of the Church we often neglect.

As the weather plays tricks on us this winter lets be mindful of the tricks we play against God and each other.

Pastor Al

 

Hope

December 1, 2013

Christmas is a much anticipated time of the year.  From the day after Thanksgiving till the day before Christmas we will be in the rush of celebrating everything Christmas.

Yet Christmas is the time of the year that the church rekindles its rich understanding of God’s goodness.  Deep within every Christian is rumbling of goodness or hope.  There is this expectation that all will be made glad soon.

J.R.R. Tolkien begins his Series “The Lord of the Rings” by stating there is a rumbling deep in middle earth that life needs to be set in order.  Hope, especially at Christmas, sees that there is a rumbling of goodness moving about the subsurface of the world for our own growth.

The Old Testament offers up substantial insight that out of a broken-fallen tree a new shoot will arise.  This is God’s Christmas promise that even though someone might be cut down there always is a root brewing beneath the soil charging up for new life.

Blessings,

Al

Fall Features

November 7, 2013

Not too long ago my family and I took a short drive through the local state park.  The trees were bursting with golds and crisp yellows.  The colors and the chill in the air gave a testimony that fall had arrived.  The changing of the summer guard to fall also means Thanksgiving.

There are a couple of things that are hallmarks of American Thanksgiving.  First, like the Pilgrims, complete trust that God will pull us through our struggles.  The Pilgrims fought against disease, starvation and hostile take overs.  But they overcame them all by

Complete trust in God.

Another hallmark is they prepared for Thanksgiving over a period of time.  At the end of their harvest they brought all the Lord’s bounty and

Celebrated as a family.  Thanksgiving must be about the family.

We have a rich heritage in America of God and Family.  Lets continue to build upon this tradition.

Blessings,

Al

Seeing Beyond the Grave

October 6, 2013

Channel surfing is a lost art.  It takes skill and attention to know what is happening on over 900 channels!  One late evening while channel surfing I came across one of those ghost hunter shows.  This show involved 4 men chasing a ghost through a house in an attempt to catch it and free the house of its haunted status.  They ended up catching the ghost in some box and blowing it up.  Obviously this was just an excuse to blow up a box, but it does foster dialogue about our connection to those who go before us.

I do not believe in ghosts or hauntings over unresolved conflicts.  I do find the Bible to be clear that evil or demons can posses’ people to inflict them into poor behavior.  We also know that there are many demons from the biblical account of Jesus casting out Legion into pigs.

So what of this death and haunting thing?  Well let’s remember a few clues from the Bible.  First, we are connected to each other and intended to stay that way forever.  God intended us to live together forever.  Death means separation.  This is painful.  We live a lifetime with a person and in a very short time we have to say goodbye.  Always having memories to stimulate our thoughts about loved ones gone.  Our mind can play tricks on us with memories.

One trick is that of smell.  Put me in a room full of leather baseball gloves and I will think my grandpa is right there playing catch with me.  Our memories are stimulated by smell, touch and sight.  It doesn’t take much and we can have an experience where imagination quickly becomes experience.  This can be negative or positive.

A second clue we have from the Bible is the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus. God refused to send Lazarus back to warn the rich man’s family because other people alive were already warning the family.  Those souls that are in Hell stay and those in Heaven stay as well.

A final clue is that God is never above sending an angel to get our attention.  Mary experienced this and so did Jacob.  I do believe that we often misinterpret visitors as ghosts when they truly are angels.

Blessings,
Al

 

Firsts

September 1, 2013 ~ Pastor Al Richardson

In my house we have all out wars on which son gets to go first.  At shower time one son will yell in his sleep, “I’m first!”  When the evening meal rolls around no one can stand being last to get served.   They run to be first in my truck, and back again to get inside.   Trying to be first has its drawbacks.

Several times while trying to be first they have forgotten an important item behind.   First to the truck sometimes leaves his lunch on the table.  First in the shower means others might forget and run the hot water out.

Jesus emphasizes it is important to Him that we are not always first or number one.  He envisions a group of people that make it a priority to serve others.  We are called not to, be first but rather to others ahead of us.

Blessings,

Al

Ramblings……..
July 7, 2013 ~ Pastor Al Richardson

Soon and very soon we will be halfway through the baseball season.  This summer I have watched a ton of baseball. Some pro games and some little league. No matter the level I always see a play or two that I think my kids need to make.  For example I watched a little league game in which a 10 year old was throwing curve balls in a league where only fastballs were allowed.

My observation of this illegal pitch instantly caused me to have two thoughts.  Should I say something or should I allow my kids to throw that pitch? I showed several kids how to throw a mean breaking ball.

I wanted to cheat.  I began to think and even covet this.  It dawned on me how often we do this.  We look at how good someone else’s life is going compared to ours and we want that.  It is hard to recognize that personal integrity may have been thrown away for that person to get there.

It takes more discipline to preserve our integrity then it does to stay on the wide path.

Blessings,

Pastor Al

 

 

Rain, Rain,,, Rain,,,,,
June 9, 2013 ~ Pastor Al Richardson

I know that I am speaking for most of us when I write this next line – I prayed for rain, but not for it to come into my basement. Do we really understand what we are asking for? As I reflect on this question I am always drawn back to the story of Joseph in Genesis 50.

I am sure that Joseph prayed and God answered him. I am sure when he received what he asked for others became very upset (see the moments when his brothers beat him). I am also sure that there were some side effects to following God. Even though we, like Joseph pray for God to intervene we must be prepared that God might give us way more than we are ready to accept.

We must also prepare our hearts and our minds that God might take us for a short detour through some rough country in order to get us to our answer. I agree that God gives good gifts! Yet there are moments when He gives a gift that causes an awkward moment for us.

 Happy awkward bailing!

Pastor Al

 

 

Passover
March 26, 2013 ~ Pastor Al Richardson
Every year we celebrate Maundy Thursday with communion.  The last few years we have begun to connect our communion feast to the Passover Seder.  I encourage you to have your own Passover Seder at home this year.  Here are the crucial elements of a Jewish Seder.
1 lamb roast with bone.
3 Matzo or flat no yeast bread.
4 glasses of wine or grape juice.
Charoseth (apples, nuts and raisins or wine ground to a paste).
Cup of salt water.
A bitter herb (horseradish ).
Parsley.
Egg.The lamb is used to remind us of the lamb slain to mark the doors so that God would pass over that house.  The matzo reminds us of how we did not have time to let the bread rise before we fled from slavery in Egypt.  The bitter herb reminds us of the bitterness of our sin.  The Charoseth helps us recall the hard labor we had in building Egypt.  Oh how salty are our tears we shed in hard times.  This is the cup of salt water.  The parsley and the egg remind us of the well of new life spring brings.  The four glasses of wine remind us of the four times God saved the Jews in the Exodus stories.I bet you can draw very good connections to the person and work of Jesus from the Passover feast!Blessings,
Pastor Al
Winning
March 12, 2013 ~ Pastor Al Richardson

No matter how old or young we are we all like to win.  Playing cards or sports their has to be a loser.  Life has its own idea about winning and losing.  We all have stories where people have lost something or another.  This is part of life.  Everyone has to deal with losing.  Some seem to win more then others.  Others are in a constant state of losing.Each one of us handles losing very differently.  Some may hide.  Yet others may become depressed.  A few will buzz right through it like nothing happened.  No matter our response we all have been called to lose.Jesus said, “whoever loses his life will find it.”  All those who have given something to help those who have lost have a special place in God’s heart.  Those who give up so that others can have a little more really understand what it means to lose.What might you need to lose today?
Blessings,
Pastor Al
A Hard Lesson
February 20, 2013 ~ Pastor Al Richardson
In my house we are entering into the tale end of the wrestling season.  All year long the boys and I have been going downstairs to the basement to do a little wrestling on the mat.  Because we do this I usually stay away from wrestling the boys in public.Last week Sunday Zach kept bugging me at a tournament to wrestle him.  The last time he asked the mats were all clear so I agreed.  We began to wrestle and I shot a single leg.  Zach did what he was taught and he crossed faced very hard.  This is where a wrestler runs their hand and arm across the face of a wrestler in order to turn their head to the outside.  Zach did it so hard that he cut my right eye.  The cross face didn’t work because I had my head in the right position.  I  began bleeding and a nice blood filled scratch formed across my face.In life we can do all the right things.  We can go to church, read our bibles, and pray everyday.  Yet there always will be those moments where we catch a scratch or two even when we do it right.  I am thankful for those moments because it reminds me that I am alive.  It reminds me that I am vulnerable and fragile.  Even better it draws me back to the permanency of my relationship with Jesus Christ.Blessings,
Al
Knowing vs Emotions
February 6, 2013 ~ Pastor Al Richardson
Most of us will admit that we have struggled with how we feel about God.  Maybe we feel that we have done something that causes God to change how much He loves us.  Personally I do not think God ever changes the way he feels about us.A couple of things come to mind when I begin to feel that God’s love for me is changing.  First, my emotions always play tricks on me.  My feelings easily influence my thoughts.  For example when I am at home and I FEEL cold my thoughts are going to be consumed with correcting those feelings.  I may check to see if a window is open.  I might get a blanket.  I may go to the basement to see if the furnace is working.  Feelings influence our thoughts in such a way that we might act on them.Second certain chemicals are released when I feel a certain way.  Feelings of euphoria come about when chemicals are released from the brain.  The birth of a baby releases chemicals that produce feelings of joy and happiness.  A joyous event brings about happy feelings.  Negative news also releases certain chemicals that can make us feel upset, blue or down.Finally our feelings are generally based on performance.  If I do or feel I have done something well then my emotions run high.  If I have failed I might not feel as good about myself.  Our emotions come into play again based on how our parents have conditioned us to see ourselves.We can be so clouded by how we feel.  But we need to re-condition ourselves to know that despite our feelings God loves us deeply.  He has created us and takes great joy in us.  He sees us as wonderful.  We must know this as our emotions play games with us.
Blessings,
Pastor Al
The young and the restless.  
I Corinthians 12
January 26, 2013 ~Pastor Al Richardson
I want to steer this article away from generalities and toward specifics.  I am going to touch upon worship.  Get this into our minds first.  There were issues in the Corinthian church of folks down playing each other’s gifts.  Paul does not want us to devalue anyone.
Let me open up a quick disclaimer about the rest of today’s message. If you are new here or visiting I want you to know that BRC is not perfect.  Just like any other church we have issues.  What do you expect?, put 200 sinful people together and well you got problems.  We are going to struggle.
Even though we may struggle Paul in this passage demands that we respect each other.  There are all kinds of gifts that people bring here and never should my personal preferences dictate what we can make together here on Sundays.  Neither should yours.  Paul commands that we appreciate each other for the rich diversity we bring to the table.
The young and the restless need to understand one thing about each other.  A gift is a gift of equal value no matter how young or old it may be.  A gift is a gift of equal value no matter how loud or soft it can be played.  Using your gift with everything you got coupled with the presence of the Holy Spirit is the definition of worship.  If we are all there then the value is in the our enrichment of our souls.
Happy Sharing,
Pastor Al
Interference.
John 2:1-11
January 16, 2013 ~ Pastor Al Richardson
Mary’s family must have been good friends with the wedding party because they are asked to help with the service.  By default Jesus is recruited to help out as well.  It is common practice.  The host is responsible for getting enough food and drink.  The friends have to serve it.
Mary finds out they are totally out of wine.  Now I do not know much about partying but I do know if you run out of alcohol people are going to look for the door in about 20 minutes.
If Mary knew the host was out of good and bad wine that means people had asked for more but there was none left.  She has all the wine servants right there with her.  They probably just told her and her oldest son Jesus walks by.  She does what every mother does with the oldest child.  Looks for their help.  Her interference is not to get a miracle out of her son but to have him help problem solve.  Her interference comes about because she should be talking with the host about this not Jesus.
I think she thought Jesus would go get some wine.  I am guessing that Mary is a normal mother here and really isn’t thinking about a miracle.   Do you when you are serving a meal?  I read two very different approaches to Mary’s interference, the first was one that simply stated Mary had pondered up a lot about Jesus and waiting for a miracle was one of them.  This is why she went to him.  The other thinks much simpler about Mary.  She just wanted His help with the situation.
Yet I think the way Jesus answers is insightful.  At the time of this wedding Jesus is a young man.  Maybe late twenties early thirties.  Jesus calls her woman, out of respect for her and to let her know something about Himself.  The word here is a respectful use of woman but also is used in separation.  Meaning that Jesus realizes that Mary needs to let go of this whole Messiah show up deal.  She is not the one to exercise the authority as to when Jesus can use His power or not.  It must have been hard for her to let go of that.  Just as hard as other parents to let go of their own children.
No matter where you fall on this passage it leaves us all with some things to think about.  Are we asking for God’s help when we really have the means to take care of the situation?  If we expect a miracle, and God answers our prayers but it gets pretty messy are we willing to pick up the pieces?  After all this miracle which Mary requested made a pretty big mess for her family.
Let me illustrate this a little further for us.  The man born blind from birth.  He begged for his lunch.  Along came Jesus to heal him for the glory of God and now He has to work for a living.  He has to pay legitimate taxes too.
 The Red Sea left a lot of Egyptian families in a mess when their men were washed over.  When God defies laws it can get messy even sickening.
I don’t think miracles were ever intended to be clean.  Maybe a miracle has happened but you are too afraid to own up to it for fear of picking up the pieces.  Hmmm?
Blessings,
Pastor Al
Detroit Defuse-or:
December 21, 2012 ~ Pastor Al Richardson
Merry Christmas to all of you and a Happy New Year!  Before 2012 is up I have one more article of fun for us.I have not been completely honest with you about my job experiences.  In between calls from churches I served a six month term on the City of Detroit’s bomb squad.  My job was to detect and defuse bombs that were placed in the greater Detroit area.  Many of you may ask why I have not spoken about this before?!  I was never allowed to talk about it due to legal reasons.  There is one experience that sticks out in my mind that I think it is necessary to share with you.  My code name for jobs was “The Detroit Defuse-or”.  I was called out on a bomb placed in an abandoned warehouse near Comerica Park.  When I arrived on the scene the warehouse was surrounded by the police and the media.  The DPD knew the bomb was there because we had received a call from the notorious bomb dropping twins Minnie and Paulie from Minnesota.My first priority was to see what kind of bomb those lame Twins had left.  I first attempted our robot but failed because some of the ceiling had collapsed making the terrain too difficult for our tank treaded robot.  I thought about sending in our drone but knew that the pigeon population in these abandoned warehouses was too high which would cause air traffic to be extremely heavy.So I turned my Detroit Tigers hat around backwards and entered the building.  Upon entering the building I discovered that there were boobie traps everywhere.  Once I discovered the bomb in the old locker room I began to study its components.  The bomb was quite crude, as all of the twins bombs have been.  They had used a kitchen timer as the mechanism for keeping time.  It looked like they had used some old gun powder taken from fireworks as the explosive.  The gun powder was packed very tightly which was enough to fill a 5 gallon bucket. For an igniter they simply had a match that would be rubbed across a piece of sandpaper when the timer finished.So how did I defuse the bomb?   I simply spit on the match when it was struck.  It was risky but I pulled it off.  Shortly after this warehouse saving day I was fired for not following protocol on a bomb situation.Although this is an imaginative story it isn’t even close to being true, in case you are still not catching the Minnie and Paulie reference.  But it is true about the gift of Christmas.  God’s son came to defuse our own ticking time bomb.  He came to defuse the very hot situation between God and us.  Our relationship is no longer explosive but loving.  No longer volatile but caring.  Christ came to defuse our situation.  He eased the explosiveness of sin in our lives.Amen Christmas is everywhere sin is defused!Blessings,
Pastor Al
Law
December 14, 2012 ~ Pastor Al Richardson
The law has been given to keep us from really messing things up.  It is there to show us the error of our ways.  By keeping it a person is supposed to find life.  The Christ child was born into this system just like you and I sit under it.Don’t you just love being a parent.  Half the time we are pulling our hair out trying to keep up the pace with our kids stuff – that we miss opportunities to really grow ourselves.  Like last week one of our members gave me some frosted sugar cookies and my boys saw them in my office before I even finished my sermon on Sunday.  Both of them asked me if they could have a cookie.  I told them go for it.  But I didn’t say polish off the bag.  My emphasis was on a cookie not the crumbs.  Someone even licked the smeared frosting off the bag.  I guess the temptation around the boundaries was too much.Paul mentions this in Romans.  He says that it is not the law that causes us to sin when it says do not do this or that.  It is sin within us seizing the opportunity to drive us toward that sin.So what happens in Christmas is we are saved from sin and ourselves.  Growing up when school or life did not go my way I used to think that people were against me.  I think we all do that at times.  Yet I was taught a valuable lesson by a little league coach.  Generally our greatest gifts can be used as our worst enemy.  He knew that about me because I was very quiet growing up.  Every once in awhile I would have a really great game and my mouth would run and I would say things about other players that were not good at all.  They would get mad at me.  When they would retaliate I would feel like everyone was against me.  He told me one day, “Al you are your own worst enemy.  Let your performance speak for you.”God came to this earth to save us from sin and ourselves.  Luke 2:11 says that today in the city of David a Savior has been born”.  Jesus was born to save us from sin and from ourselves, so that our best and rotten performances don’t have to speak for our salvation.Blessings,
Pastor Al
Season
Ecclesiastes  3:1
November 30, 2012 ~ Pastor Al RichardsonEvery Christmas we mark the season of the birth of Jesus.  I chose this passage because of how creative the Hebrew language is when it is selective over its semantics.
Like season and time in the same sentence.  There are about four word choices here.  Time is different then season of course.  The word chosen for time is zeman.  Which is a word used to describe the end date of a loan.  But the word for season in the above passage is et.  And it has three confusing choices of meaning:  1.  Regular events in time: rainy season, planting and harvesting or other re-accruing events.  2.  Events that occur once- birth and death- Alignment of some stars.  3. Fixed times -an hour, 3:30pm.So in the context of Christmas we celebrate this event that occurred one time. The stars were positioned perfectly and yet the birth of Jesus is fixed in time and space as the only mark on our time continuum that God came down to earth, quantum leaping into our form.Here’s what I want you to remember.   God manipulated time, space, human biology, governments, stars and power to get the baby Jesus here.  If anything we should be in awe of God today.  This we should celebrate.The birth of Jesus is an unreacurring event that sticks in time forever.  It is by no accident that all things pointed to the birth of Jesus.  It was the season for it.  I hope that we will take the time to wrap our minds around how much God did for us in Christmas.Blessings,
Pastor Al
Harvest
November 20, 2012 ~Pastor Al Richardson

Maybe this article is a little too late for real impact on us, but I’ll give it a shot anyway.  In Galatians 5:22-23 Paul addresses the fruit of the Spirit.  The Greek word for fruit is Karpos.  It simply means the fruit or the grain produced from a crop.  It also in certain contexts can be taken to mean a yield.  Now this is interesting when we dialogue about the fruit of the Spirit.  So the Spirit sows in us the passion and conviction to change an aspect about ourselves.  There is often time between the planting and the harvest.

The time between the growth and the harvest is critical.  Those are the moments when we need to allow for the Spirit to foster the right atmosphere for our fruit to grow.  Then comes the moment when the situation is right for us and others involved.  The Spirit comes to us to harvest that fruit into the life of another or even in the life of the church.

Over the next few days I want us to name certain situations that come up where the Spirit is trying to harvest His fruit for the life of another.  I want us to be people who witness the power of the Spirit as we discipline ourselves to be good soil for the harvest of the Spirit in the life of the church.

Blessings,
Pastor Al

Doubt
October 31, 2012 ~ Pastor Al Richardson
The other day I was watching a college football game during which I noticed something very strange.  Every time the offense came out on the field the long snapper and punter for that team began warming up on the sidelines.  What a confidence builder for that offense!  How mentally draining to see those two warming up.  I know they need to do that but not on first down.
There are moments in life when we get a good head of steam going and then life throws a big old bender right in our way which causes us to stumble, fall and doubt.  When life does this I think it is important for us to remember a few things:  be optimistic, be faithful to our call and be ready.
Being optimistic means that we always expect the unexpected.  We recognize and know that sin is working in our bodies and mind.  It is tricking us to forget that God is all powerful.  Optimistic Christians always seek, look for and find where God is breaking into their circumstances.  They block out negativity.
Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers.  More then a bad day!  Yet he continues to work hard, remembers God’s promises and looks for God to work in his life.  Sure his life went from bad to worse but he continued to look for God’s path through the valley of destruction.  Like Joseph we make a choice about how we see our life- is it in the crapper or on the upside?
In the midst of dire circumstances will we be faithful to our call?  We are called as Christians to give witness.  In every and all circumstances, good health, bad health, pain and loss- we must check our witness meter.
While in chains John gave a testimony about who Jesus was and would be to all creation.  This is recorded in the Book of Revelation.  If John can move himself not to be self absorbed in the midst of horrible struggles then I think we must as well.  Above all we must consider the ministry that arises out of our difficulties.
If we continue to be so self absorbed focusing on the negative then we will surely miss the moments of grace planted before us by God.  When we are ready for God to break in then we will not miss the moment when He joins us in our long term battles.
Blessings,
Pastor Al 

Not Ready
October 18, 2012 ~Pastor Al Richardson

The other day I was playing with a few young boys after a church event.  We started play fighting.  It was fun at first but then I was distracted one of the boys caught me with his shoulder when I wasn’t ready.  I will admit for a moment it took my breath away.

There are moments when the “real stuff” of life hits so hard that it takes our breath away.  How do we ready ourselves for the sudden loss of a loved one?  How do we prepare ourselves for relationships lost?  We can’t.

Yet Paul calls all of us to “press on” in order to receive the prize.  Ready or not God needs people to push through the difficult times.  One of the greatest gifts God gave us is the tenacity of the human spirit.  When all else fails we rally to our cause and do unbelievable stuff.  This has been our battle cry.

As a Christian man it is my sincere desire to press on in the midst of rotten tragedy.  I hope that whatever you face does not become an excuse but rather an opportunity to press on.

Blessings,
Al

 

Sickness
September 25, 2012 ~Pastor Al Richardson

As I sit at home with a sick child, I cannot help but draw a parallel between how I am handling this and how we handle spiritual sickness.  I have isolated the sore throat, stuffy headed, cougher to the other room.  From a very long distance, the hallway, I will check on how he is doing.  Twice I have ventured into the room to bring him a Sprite and OJ mix.  I have given him some cold pills as well but this is the extent of my help.  Every time he coughed I washed my hands so I will not catch this cold.

Perhaps we might treat someone who is going through spiritual sickness like this.  We will isolate them in such a way that contact with us might lead to our becoming contaminated with that issue.  Is dealing with sin so foreign to us that we think it is a disease rather then written into everyone’s life (everyone sins).

We may throw a struggling person a word of encouragement like cold medicine it is long distance therapy.  We might even wash our hands of the issues and let people fall without anyone to help them up.

Yet I am reminded of how Paul calls us to suffer and rejoice with one another even if we might have to see the dirt people struggle with.  I think the church would fulfill  its goal if it was willing to not condone sin but be present in a sinners life.
Blessings,
Al


Sidelines
September 11, 2012 ~ Pastor Al Richardson

Now that I am beginning the home stretch of my 40th year here on this earth I am realizing that it is far better for me to spend less time on the sidelines then being active in life.

God did not call any of us to sit on the sidelines of life cheering.  He called us to be very active in developing the Kingdom of God here on earth.  If you find yourself feeling a little apathetic (uninvolved, not caring) then I would challenge you to put life into perspective in the following ways.

Continue to be active in doing good in the community.  Even though life may be a drag get out there and do some good for others.  Don’t shy away from serving others.  Be active in making this a better world for others.

Think of certain situations that do not go your way and try to implement the Fruits of the Spirit into that situation.  Many times I have found that exercising patience in situations of impossibility actually worked that conflict out without drama.  I have found that being faithful to a person is far more censoring then creating a scene.  Sometimes it is better to be still and know who God is then to prove that we are only followers of Christ on Sundays.

When it comes to being active in God’s cause our struggle is never against our neighbor but rather it is against ourselves ( and the tempter).  We get unmotivated because we are not in it for the right reasons.  God’s cause can never be about our agenda.  Keep in mind what God might have in store may be very different then what we want.

Blessing,
Pastor Al

 

 First Days of School
September 1, 2012 ~ Pastor Al Richardson

So how do we accept our failures and turn them into hope for the future. I bet this personal story can help. In third grade I was in all kinds of trouble. I was in fist fights. I disrespected the teachers. I was disruptive in class. I spent more time in the principal’s office then I did in the classroom. I missed more recesses then were legally allowed. One morning after I punched a kid several times in the face Mr. Scwartz called me into his office. He wrote my violation of the rules on a note card and then asked me to face the wall behind me. He placed my hands on the chair rail around his room. He took out his paddle from the metal filing cabinet.  The paddle was his fraternity stick. He pledged a theta kappa. Mr. Schwartz stood behind me and to my left. Three times that paddle hit my rear and each time it stung.

I wish that I could say that paddling made a difference in my life.  I still misbehaved.  I still fought and I still did not do my homework.  It wasn’t until I had to repeat the fourth grade that I understood the point.  My parents and Mr. Schwartz cared so much about me that they took the time to discipline me and to teach me to discipline myself.

“God disciplines those He loves.”. Hebrews 12:6- God’s paternal care is often trying but His patient love is always enduring.

Blessings,
Al

 

 Caring For All Things
July, 2012 ~Pastor Al Richardson

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

That is the first line of the hymn “all things bright and beautiful”.  It’s words remind us that God deeply cares for all of creations creatures.  Often during this time of year I get caught up in the changes of the seasons.  School is starting, football is on and the nights are beginning to bring cooler air in.

God commands us in Genesis to be faithful stewards of His creation(Genesis 1:26-28).  So we as a church are called and commanded to care for all of creation around us, as God loves and cares for us.  I don’t think creation was given to us to serve our purpose and then to be discarded.

There are signs in the Midwest that are beginning to help us understand our role in serving creation.  “Farmers: the real conservationists.  Farmers have produced more food on less land.”.   With the new genetically enhanced yield crops we have become better aligned with what God calls us to do.  This is a positive.

One cool fall day my wife left me home with our two boys while she did some shopping.  After she left the driveway one of the boys looked out the window and saw a baby squirrel laying on the concrete.  At first we thought it was dead but it opened its eyes and tried to move.  We determined it had a nasty fall from the tree above the driveway.  I put on some gloves and picked up the little guy and put him in a box with some water.  He curled up in the corner and slept for half the day.  I came out to check on him and he was up and moving around.  I later took him out and placed him in the tree.  He scurried off.

Caring for creation can be as simple as nursing an animal back to health or investing in a wildlife foundation.  Whatever it may be it is our call and God’s command to us.

Blessings,
Al

 

 
Pressing On in Difficult Times
June 7, 2012 ~ Pastor Al Richardson

A few weeks ago I watched the movie “The Grey”.  The movie is based on a short story written about oil workers stranded in the frozen Alaskan tundra.  They are pursued by a pack of seemingly super powered wolves.  The leader of the group is employed as a hunter by the oil company.  His job is to keep the workers safe by shooting and killing any wild animals that present a threat to a worker.
At a pivotal point in the movie the main character introduces the poem, “Into the Fray.”
Once more into the fray.
Into the last good fight I’ll ever know.
Live and die on this day.
Live and die on this day.

The cleft note on the poem is that we all have to enter into a battle against the thing that we fear the most.  It will be an overpowering fight that may take a lifetime.  Life or death does not matter while we fight- we just have to fight.
Throughout life God calls and wants us to fight and struggle against sin, death and decay.  The fight is also in the essence of our Reformed tradition.  We are empowered to struggle against all that destroys the way life has been intended to be lived.
I think that most of us, when severely overwhelmed, wonder about what good our fighting is doing.  In that moment it is important that we move once more into those sins that scare us.  Not re-committing them but gird up our strength and enter into the last good fight against what it brings to this world.  Fight like we have never fought before.  Struggle like there is no end.  And stand between life and decay without any regard for the personal outcome.

Happy Fighting!
Pastor Al

 

 

Setting the pace.
May 23, 2012 ~ Pastor Al Richardson

       I appreciate learning new things especially when someone else teaches it to me.  Lately a few of you have been challenging me to be sure that the church is fully represented in not only the ministry to the community but a ministry to it’s own.
Not too long ago I wrote an article that encouraged us to make the church become both outreach and discipleship.  This article continues with that thought process as to what those ministries should look like.
First we must be excellent in discipling our people.  We need to take serious the moments when we open the Bible.  From Pre-school to adults we need to make sure that we are actively involved in the following events:
1.  Sunday School.
2.  Small Groups.
3.  Family Night.
4.  Sunday Worship.
5.  Youth Ministries.
6.  Prayer.
During these ministries we must strive to make them meaningful, connecting and full of purpose.  In each of these groups we must focus on the teachings that will best preserve our Christian heritage and moral development.  Keeping each other accountable will help us become stronger and deeply committed Christians.  These five areas need to be cut from the greatest qualities that we have and desire in our people.  No matter what area of discipleship I think they need to focus on these 5 pillars:  scripture only, grace alone, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit and God the Father.
Of equal importance we need to be actively speaking and sharing the message of hope with those outside our four walls.   I think this is one of the most excellent aspects Bethany has.  It has always been a church that is outreach equipped.    I have observed us being intentional about this in many ways.  Yet if we can reach out to a person and get them into our church but we cannot teach them the necessary truths to build them up in the church then we have failed.
Keep doing what you are doing by reaching out.  You know how to do that, but focus more energy on the areas of discipleship, growth and renewal in those that we already have in our church.

Blessings,
Pastor Al

 

 

Helping not to hurt.
May 10, 2012 ~ Pastor Al Richardson
Over the past few years I have often wondered about the effect our charities might have on people.  I wonder if our generous natures might be hurting those who we are trying to help.
I think it is a good thing that we are willing to help others out of tough situations and that we have the resources to do that.  Yet there are times when we help too much and people might become dependent upon that assistance.
Isaiah writes that it is important for each house to take care of their own, to work their own land, to build their own home and to feed their family.  At times this is not an easy task.  There are moments in all of our lives where people have helped us out and without that help we might not have made it.
When helping keep in mind some of the following:  Am I enabling this person or helping them be responsible?  What are the consequences if I do not help?  Is there anyway this person can work off what I give them?  Have they used local agencies and now have run out of resources?  Are there any other issues in their life that have lead them to this point?  Do I expect to be repaid?
Remember that not everyone understands money in the same way.  Some people are owned by their money while others own it.  No matter what we do we cannot avoid someone that might work the system.
It is my hope that whatever we do to help we will feel confident that it is allowing those we help to begin on the road to dignity and hope for the future.

Blessings,
Pastor Al

 

 

 

Are you serious?
April 5, 2012 ~ Pastor Al Richardson

I do not know what it is- maybe the spring itch or something like that!  Whatever it is brings out the best and the worst in all of us.  Being an outsider I made a list of the best and worst I have observed.
Best                                                          Worst
We rally when there is a need.            If we don’t like it we complain.
We are warm people.                          Our history is self-defeating.
We don’t give up when it is difficult.    We fight when life gets hard.
We are generous people.                    We demonize too much.
We invoke the Holy Spirit.                   We quench Him with negativity.
We are forgiving.                                 We hold grudges.
We bear sweet fruit.                            We have grown bitterness.
We can be passionately spiritual.       We have spiritual disfunction.
We work together.                               We work against each other.
We worship well.                                 When we feel like it.

All of these are choices.  We make a choice to complain.  We make a choice to worship with everything we have.  We choose to be warm.  We choose to demonize a program and we choose to hold grudges.  Here are a few scripture passages that will help us come to a richer understanding of what is required of us.
Philippians 2:14- Do everything without complaining or arguing.
Luke 10:27-  He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Galatians 5:22- But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.  Against such things there is no law.
Philippians 4:8-Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.

We as a congregation must, above anything else, seek to bring out the best in each other and ourselves!  Make that choice today.

Blessings,
Al

 

 
Serving When It Is Difficult: Spirituality

I have many theories in life that I try to put into practice in order to see if they are true.  I will never have to wash my car as long as there is rain in the forecast.  Fat-free chocolate skim milk only has 20 more calories and goes down much easier then white skim milk.  I can hear my mom saying “No way!”.  Steamed vegetables just taste better and have more color then plain old microwaved ones.  Perhaps these are more superstitions then theories?
I do have one that is factual that I think will help all of us understand the ups and downs of church.
Organizations including churches go through periods of structural fluctuations.  Like the tide of an ocean moves in and out many structures have years of thriving times and years of difficulty.  Struggles occur in organizations when people no longer feel valued, communication breaks down and individuals no longer take “ownership” in their part of the structure.
In light of the church spiritual decline takes place when we neglect our own spiritual process.  As a structure the church will stumble into spiritual depression if we neglect the role of service to each other.  It is far more important to serve one another through difficult and depressing times then only during high times.
Another factor for structural fluctuations is that in any organization passion comes and goes.  Programs suffer when we just do them for any number of reasons.  Programs thrive when we participate in them to connect with people and to introduce them to the living God.
I have often put this into perspective by asking myself three simple questions:  What is my purpose in doing this task?  Is there a personal connection in what I am doing?  In anyway am I serving myself?  If I am just going through the motions on this ministry then I have missed the purpose.  If I do not love the people in the program, leading the program and serving in the program then I have missed it as well.  My passion will dissipate over time.  I am not in the church because it serves me.  I am in the church to connect, love and serve others, even when the structure of the church might not be what I want.
If I try to meet my own needs at church every moment I am here I will become a bottomless pit that consumes everyone around me.  We were never called to consume but always called to produce.
Passionate spirituality does not come from some magic program or super structure.  It comes from every individual pursuing God with everything they have-  a decision we all have to make on a daily basis.
Blessings,
Pastor Al

 

 

 

What matters most.
March 6, 2012 ~ Pastor Al Richardson

Today in the mail I received an invitation from the state of South Dakota to renew my driver’s license.  I didn’t read it I just realized that I am 5 years older then I was when I graduated from seminary.  After that I sat at my desk and I took inventory.  Here is what I came up with:
Am I developing a solid relationship with my family?  Am I taking the time to build them up for the Lord?  Have I spent good quality time investing in my marriage?  Am I praying for my wife?  Have I pursued other aspects of life so that she is neglected?  Am I making sure that my kids know God deeply?  Am I making sure they know God’s word?
Sometimes I kick myself into just survival mode.  Get through this activity, supper, church and the bills but forgetting that there are much more important moments to be intentional about.
What will I do about it?
First of all I am going to spend ten minutes a day in God’s word and then I am going to share an insight with my family.  Next I am going to make sure that we read God’s word together everyday.  In my ten minutes with God I am going to pray for my family.
Everyday I am going to set aside 15 minutes for my wife.  During that 15 minutes I am going to neglect everything else and focus on her.  I am going to make sure that I spend good time with my kids as well.  I will make the long journey up the stairs at bedtime and pray with them.
Why will I do this?  Because I hope someday when they need a father’s help they will freely come to me because they know I will have some sort of wisdom I have developed through spending time with God and them.
Blessings,
Al

 

 

Moving on, up and out.
February 23, 2012 ~ Pastor Al Richardson

Part of the development of a strong church is the success of small groups.  A small group can help develop the church’s people through three specific ways: Prayer, Bible Study and Encouragement.
Prayer for and with each other is an important way that we can engage in each other’s lives.  A group that prays together becomes bound together.  Prayer becomes the backbone and calls upon God to engage in the life of each group member.  Pastoral care takes place when people pray for each other.  When we reveal our biggest concerns to each other we become advocates for each other.
Study of the Bible is equally important because it develops our understanding of God and His interaction with this world.  It also allows us to teach and learn from one another.  Together we learn to find our voice as individuals and to share our perspective in a safe environment.
The last factor of a small group is that we encourage one another.  Most often when we struggle we lack a network to encourage us.  But the small group can be the network that offers love and support during difficult times.  It can confirm a call to ministry.  It can encourage a family to step out in faith.
Soon you can join a small group.
Blessings

 

Purpose
February 9, 2012 ~ Pastor Al

How beautiful life can be when we have meaning or purpose to live it by.  I think we get side tracked as disciples when we disconnect from what God has designed for us.  The overarching story of the Bible offers us specific details to our purpose.

First, we find in Genesis 1 that all creation was made for God’s glory or to worship Him.  So our primary focus in all aspects of life is to worship God.  This means that getting groceries to watching a football game is worshiping God.  It is very easy to separate what we do on Sunday as worship from what we do on a daily basis.  Yet God sees no disconnect here.  All of creation from the beginning was designed to worship him.

It is important on a daily basis to re-focus our lives in such a way that God becomes the center of our daily life.  It can be through scripture meditation, prayer or even listening to a God directed song.  Whatever helps us find our center it is important that we do it on a daily basis and maintain it throughout the day.

Second, we learn from the life of Abraham that we were called to be a blessing.   This means is that God has given us much in order that we can turn around and give it to another.  Some of us have been blessed with giving, yet others have been blessed with encouragement and still others have been blessed with patience.  Whatever it may be we must strive to us that as a blessing to others.

Finally, the New Testament is very clear that we are to make every effort to present the message of hope to all people.  Jesus has called us to follow him and his big thing was to speak, love and call those who are seeking him.  That is our call as well.

Blessings on your purpose

 

 

My Fears Relieved
January 11, 2012 ~ Pastor Al

As I write this article the snow is falling and the wind is blowing.  It appears that after a mild January winter is here.  Winter is a very cold time of the year in this part of the country.  Our first winter in South Dakota made me want to return back to Michigan right away.  As the weather changes to the cold I think it is important for us to keep in mind our call to be warm people of grace.

I am pleased that this church is known for its warmth, kindness and loving style.  That is important for the success of God’s Kingdom.  Yet there are moments when we are together that we need to remind ourselves to strive to be warm, kind and loving to each other.

I have always been fond of Paul’s many writings that deal with the body of Christ.  I like the way in which he addresses the church to “suffer and rejoice” with each person as needed.  One way in which this congregation does suffers and rejoice with people is through the ministry of presence.

I attended a funeral visitation the other day and what did I find.  Several of our members present there embracing and caring for those who had lost a loved one.  I implore you to continue to make great strives in becoming a warm, kind and loving church.
Thanks and Blessings.

 

 

The Night Before Christmas
December 20, 2011 ~ Pastor Al

‘Twas the night before Christmas
When all through the church
People were gathering,
To listen and search.

Your suits were all pressed and hung
In the closet with care
Mine was tossed in the dryer
Fifteen minutes before I arrived there.

The children were nestled
All Snug in your arm
Soon to be lulled asleep
By my preaching charm.

And mama in her kerchief
And I in my cap,
Oh preaching tomorrow
I ain’t going to get a nap.

When out on the lawn
There arose such a clatter
You’ll jump in your chair
I just yelled, “You gotta prepare!”

Away to the window
Your eyes will fly
Awe too bad they are frosty
That committee is sly.

The moon on the breast
Of the new fallen snow,
Surprise no offering
Tonight we make no request

When, what to my wondering eyes,
Should appear,
Keep count,
There are 582 rocks up here.

With a little old church
So classic and good to remember
We knew in a moment
We would be in here by December.

More rapid then eagles
Our workers they came
We hustled and worked
And built it to glory God’s name.

Now Paul, Now Dustin
Now Troy, Now Pastor did some fixin.
On what?  On what?
He talked football and linebackers blitzen.

From the top of the stage
To the top of this wall
It brings out the true meaning
Of what is dear to us all.

As dry leaves before
The wild hurricane fly,
Before we leave,
We will celebrate this baby Jesus guy.

From rooftop to rooftop
His story will go
With each passing year
This church will grow.

And then in a twinkling
Each life will be new
By the grace and love
He has given each one of you.

As I drew in my head
A gathering round
We will light candles
And sing “silent night” for grace does abound.

We dressed in our best
From our head to our feet
And tarnished no more
Because of sin’s defeat.

A bundle of joy
She put in this old tree
So Wiseman of three
Could come and see.

Our eyes how they twinkle
Our dimples how merry
You will get presents galore.
I’ll get razors to deal with my hairy.

His droll little mouth
Was drawn up like a bow
And the sleepy drool on his chin
Told me let the sermon begin.

Something smells ripe
It might be me
I am nervous
Over all this Christmas Eve hype.

Soon I will speak
The sermon will start
With laughter and looks
Confirming I am a geek.

We lit two trees
Put out some garland
So you can say to your kids,
“Please sit still darlin’.”

A wink of my eye
And a twist of my head
Lets me know
End soon or you all will sigh.

We sing many songs
“Away in a manger” is one
“Joy to the world” another
Remembering what tis right and none of the wrongs.

And laying his finger
Aside of his nose
And giving a nod
Up from his chair he arose

He sprang to his feet
To his team he gave a smile
Because all year long
They went the extra mile

But I heard him exclaim
As we stood in his sight
“Merry Christmas to all
And to all a good night.”

 

 

The Grinch Insight
December 14, 2011 ~ Pastor Al

One of the holiday fun times my family and I look forward to is ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas event.  It starts on December 1 and runs all the way till Christmas.  Daily ABC Family shows a Christmas show oriented for the family viewers.  One of my favorite shows that is run during the 25 Days of Christmas is How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss.  That poor old Grinch is all alone and all the Whos down in Whoville just don’t understand him.  He lives way above them on the top of a mountain.  But every year they get ready for Christmas and the watchful eye of the Grinch stares at their excessive preparation.  In one particular scene the Grinch uses the garbage system to travel from Whoville back to Mt Crumpet.   The Whos in Whoville dump all their trash into a tube which runs underground all the way to the mountain the Grinch resides on.  If you remember the drive through banks that have those air systems set up to carry your tube incased checks over to the window then you know what Dr. Seuss used for motivation for his “Dumpty to Crumpty” system .

Yet the Grinch says in one confrontation with the Whos this, “You want to know where all your Christmas gifts go?  To me.  When your toys and ties go bad you dump them and I get them.”  Well Mr. Grinch you have a point.  All that we can get and give for gifts at Christmas will not last.  In fact most or even all of them will end up in the garbage or as another man’s treasure.

Jesus once told his followers to “store up treasures in heaven, where moth and rust cannot destroy.”

Hey, I love getting gifts and giving them as well, but the greatest gift that we can give is the hope found in Jesus Christ.  As we prepare our hearts and minds for the coming Christ child and as the distractions of the season pull for our attention, remember that no amount of earthly treasures can ever fill the God sized void in our hearts.

 

Advent 2011
November 23, 2011 ~ Pastor Al

This Sunday November 27 marks the first Sunday in Advent.  Advent is the season in which we celebrate the coming of the Christ child.  The first week we will celebrate and light the candle of Hope.  It is a wonderful gift to have God send His Son to us.  The world waited in hope for all that this Christ child would accomplish.  Most years I get asked what do I want for Christmas.  Perhaps we all get asked that.  But I really like it when someone asks me what do you hope to get for Christmas.  I believe it captures the meaning of Advent more.  Hope- looking for that which is not already there.

The second week of advent ushers in the peace that the Christ child offers to us.  I used the word offers intentionally because I believe we need to choose to rest in the peace that Christ offers.  Without a shadow of a doubt Christ makes peace between us and God.  But as far as being satisfied with all that- it is a decision.  Ask yourself today:  Have I chosen to be ok with the peace that Christ offers?

Joy marks the third week of advent.  We will light the pink candle this year for joy.  Joy signifies the celebration that God has fulfilled His promises to us in the Christ child.  I remember opening presents as a child at my grandparent’s house on Christmas eve.  I am most fond of the memories of opening the box of goodies my grandma gave each of us kids.  I was excited, my face gleamed and I knew all things would be right.  That is true joy- true celebration.  As you open those presents and sprinkle a little joy in the life of your family be reminded of how all creation celebrated at the unfolding of Jesus Christ’s birth.

Advent would not be complete without love.  The fourth candle is lit in memory of the love God shared with us in the birth of Jesus Christ.  I am always amazed at how much God loves us.  He loves us enough to give up His thrown come down here and rescue us from sin.  Celebrate that Love this Christmas.

On Christmas Eve we light the Christ candle.  What hope, what peace, what joy and what love He brings to our hearts.  We celebrate that Christ has finally come to us.  He is everything we expected and much more.

Blessings to you and your family this Advent Season.

 

 

WE ARE…….
November 10, 2011 ~ Pastor Al

Most of you will have absolutely no clue as to what those words mean.  Those two little words are the beginning of a crowd lead cheer for Penn State University.  Unfortunately that cheer which often represented strength to State College, Pa. is overshadowed by pain and heartache.  We all know of the alleged acts committed on children by a former coach and the fallout from those acts have brought the head of Penn State football Joe Paterno to his demise.  Perhaps JoePa could have done more to protect first the children and thus himself.

First, we have to know that all institutions of education must be a safe place for youth.  A safe environment is created because the adults within that place make it safe.  Children are vulnerable and it is the call for every adult to allow for them to know that their protection is our top priority.  Second, there are some in the professional world that must report any suspected inappropriate actions with children.  Clergy are included in this mandatory reporting law.  But I would say that all adults need to be aware and take special care to make sure that our children are kept safe.  In the early Hebrew community the elders met at the gates of the city to settle any disputes and hand out consequences.  The elders were there to protect the community including children.  My heart breaks when we do not take the interest and protection of our kids seriously.  There are some instances that children have been silenced and that is when adults need to be their voice.  If we as adults do not speak up then who will?  Third, in all instances of abuse it is everyone’s priority to see it through to the proper authorities.  Shaking off responsibility is not acceptable.  My advice is if you suspect abuse go see a professional counselor immediately and that professional will help you report the incident.

No child deserves to go through life wondering and struggling with the issues surrounding abuse.  It is hard enough for them to internally correct the wrongs and they should not have to wonder about justice.  It is the call and priority of every adult to assure a child that justice will prevail.


Refuge
October 28, 2011 ~ Pastor Al
Recently I was scoping out a place to hunt that had more pheasants in it then I was able to find in my current hot spot.  When I asked the owner he responded, “Well, I dunno, don’t you think we should give them a little  haven to rest in?”  You can imagine what my response would be due to my avid hunting desires.  Yet there is a strange familiarity for us in
the church with what he is communicating.

One of the greatest gifts about being human is that we can create an atmosphere of safety for all.  The church is just a building without the people yet the we create and execute the atmosphere of the building.  No matter  who walks through that door BRC needs to be a safe haven for its long time members and for those new to us.

Often we do a great job at creating safe places for new people but neglect safety between long time members.  I cannot emphasize enough the importance that we do not begin to harm each other.  This means that in a safe haven there is no room for harsh words or unintentional backstabbing.  We cannot become a community that attempts to help by gossip.  We cannot place our focus on guilt and shame when someone doesn’t fall in line.  No matter where a person lands here at BRC that landing zone should be safe and secure.

 

 

Gathering and Growing.
October 5, 2011 ~ Pastor Al

Today is one of the best days I have had in a long time.  Even though I might not feel the best- I know the best.  For the past 5 years we at BRC have been dialoging about the best way to gather and grow.  I see these two words as the most important for our church to continue to be a viable force in this community.

First, but not necessarily the most important, we must continue to gather in new or disconnected people.  This is the biblical mandate for the church.  “Go into all the nations and make disciples…….”  It is that simple.  In order for us to better understand who we are we constantly need new people to come in and ask us what we believe.  New folks allow for us to actually speak what is very important to us.  This means that we might sometimes have folks who need extra special care in daily life.  I like to think of gathering as more of a reaching back to our own past.  All of us at some moment in our life have been in need of extra special care and the church should have been the organization to give it.  Over time those who have been gathered in will learn to give extra special care to others.  This is what we mean when we speak about growing.

All of us who have been gathered in need to understand that we are called to grow.  This is part of our mandate as well, the “make disciples” part.  It is equally important for us to grow every person in our congregation in their journey with Christ.  That is why it is so crucial for us to participate in Sunday School, Family Night, Proclamation of the Word and Leadership Development.  Remember as well that no one has fully arrived to completion yet!  Even as your pastor I continue to grow on a daily basis, accept new challenges to my faith and even fail in some leadership roles.  All of us need to be willing to grow to this point.  It is crucial that each new in-gathered person must see even the polished of saint growing in their faith.

Happy Gathering and growing!

 

 

Moving On
September 21, 2011 ~ Pastor Al

Most of us are pretty excited about moving into the new worship center.  It is invigorating to have something so new be a part of our rich tradition here at BRC.  The new building is warm, friendly and inviting just like the people that inhabit it.

Yet I think it is important that we not just consider this a physical move but also a spiritual one.  Whatever past hurts we have experienced we can leave them behind when we open those doors to enter into the new building.  I have read a few books over past few years about church growth and I am learning that the highest key to healthy church growth is having people who can move on after differences.  So, as you begin to realize the excitement of our new building please consider the following thoughts.

Far too often a new building becomes the dividing point between people.  One person has very different ideas about what should happen in a building while yet another has additional thoughts.  Part of moving on should be that the new worship center unifies us rather than divides us.  The fastest way for this worship center to fall apart is that we all have a sense of entitlement about what happens here or doesn’t.  One of the choicest morsels about worship is that we can set aside all differences and practice reconciliation together.  Whatever differences we may have it is important as we move in to move on.

Change of facility often means that other changes will happen NATURALY.  Most of the changes that have been made to the worship place will create natural changes such as sound, visual and comfort.  These are all part of the process that leads to “out with the old and in with the new”.  So as our facility changes, and those are for the good, it is important for us to not move on from being a church that creates, sustains and manages strong friendships.  Just because we are moving in doesn’t means we need to move on from being a warm, friendly and comforting congregation.  The facility may change but the vision stays the same.

 

 

Mistakes
August 11, 2011 ~ Pastor Al

Most people will admit that they make a mistake every once in awhile.  But still it never is easy to say, “I messed this up.”.
As I am writing this article my family and myself are visiting Chicago’s Shed Aquarium.  When my wife first suggested it I replied, “That will cost an arm and a leg!”.  When we arrived and went to pay it only cost us $28 bucks!  It wasn’t easy to admit I was wrong.
I am learning that being wrong is ok and that making mistakes is a part of the learning process.  Everyone has to go through it!
But the real truth comes out when we know that someone made a mistake.  Am I the type of person that holds a mistake over someone’s head?  Or am I a person that sees someone’s mistakes as an opportunity for that person to reach their full potential?
In this case my wife let me reach my full potential by giving my kids this educational experience at Shed Aquarium!
Blessings,
Pastor Al

Great Expectations

July 28, 2011~ Pastor Al

It happens every July.  Right near the end of the month.  I begin getting pumped up for college football season.  I can feel it all the way down to my toes!  I keep telling myself, “This will be the year that Michigan pulls out of their slump!”  Just wait-they will dominate their opponents once again.  The last few years it has been mid-season disappointment for me.

I bet right now many of us have great expectations for our new building.  We probably have thoughts about how comfortable it will be to sit in an air conditioned sanctuary.  Perhaps we are excited about the sloped floor seating which will allow for everyone to see no matter where they sit.  I bet we all have an array of thoughts about what our new building means to us.

With all the changes going on here we must keep our perspective.  A new building does not change the call on our lives.  Bethany church has always been a place where people can make friends while on their spiritual journey.  The warmth and love for people that is evident in this church should not and must not change with the building.  We will be the same caring place that we were 50 years ago when we first started on this corner.

Yes, we want to continue to grow.  But a building can never replace a community.  Within these four new walls we must continue to strive to be a place that all people are cherished and welcomed at our table-whether it is new or old!  Please join me over the next however many years to continue to be a viable growing community of believers.

Blessings,

Pastor Al

 

Appearances

July 13, 2011 – Pastor Al

Recently I attended a meeting with several pastors in a nearby large city.  I was not familiar with the city, so I had a difficult time finding the meeting location.  The place we were meeting at was a ministry center that served folks with difficult socio-economic needs.  This particular day I had chosen to wear a little extra facial hair, an un-tucked polo shirt and a pair of khaki shorts with a 6 inch rip in one pocket.  I was looking a little rough that day to say the least.  After a few turns around the block I finally located the place we were to meet.  Parking was in the rear so I had to walk around the building to reach the front door. When I approached the building a man in blue jeans and a yellow shirt met me at the door.  He said, “Come on in!”  I entered with a smile.  I was then greeted by another man who held the second door open.  As we stood in the hallway the man in the yellow shirt asked me, “How can I help you?  We are not open till 9 am.”  I stood there for a brief moment and then it dawned on me that my appearance was not very pastoral.  I looked down at the sticky note I had in my hand with the address on it and briefly blushed.

The seconds after the “we are not open till 9am” comment must have felt like an eternity  to the man in the yellow shirt.  After it dawned on me that he was waiting for my answer I said, “I am here for the pastor’s meeting.”  Needless to say we both were blushing at that point.  An honest mistake, I hope!  As the yellow shirt man escorted me to the meeting it dawned on me that God was speaking to me through this experience.

God testified to Samuel in the Bible that “we are not to look at the outward appearances of anyone, but look first to the condition of a person’s heart.”  I think this is important enough for all of us to make sure that we wear it on our sleeves as we do business in a community we are hoping to reach.

Just for fun- you should have seen the look on the pastor’s faces when I walked into the meeting-only one recognized me- the other’s thought I was a wandering soul in need of help!

Blessings,

Al