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Desperate for God

Posted by on 13 Jun 2008 | Tagged as: Bruce's Blogs

A thought came to me this morning while I was at the rec center: “I NEED AIR!” I have been walking laps at the rec center in an effort to develop a more healthy lifestyle. In the last few weeks, however, I’ve hit a plateau; I can ?t walk any faster (without turning into one of those speed walkers, and that just wouldn’t be pretty), and I can ?t take any more time to walk. Granted, three miles a day, five days a week, is an amazing change in my sedentary lifestyle. But it isn’t enough.

I realized that the only way I am going to increase the effectiveness of my “workout” is to start jogging. (It was a sad and scary realization all at once.) So a few weeks ago I started running an occasional lap (which in the rec center is 1/11 of a mile). In the first week, I was able to jog three, non-consecutive laps. Eventually I was able to get up to six laps (more than half a mile, woohoo!).

This morning, June 13, I ran two consecutive laps. In all honesty it didn’t hurt any more than running a single lap, but I had to stop because I was gasping for breath. Immediately I thought of Psalm 42:1, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” And the song “Breathe” suddenly made a lot of sense to me: “This is the air I breathe, this is the air I breathe: your holy presence, living in me.”

I’m not saying that I have it down cold, but I think I finally get it. I sort of touched on the idea in the sermon on June 8 that we need to be desperate for God’s holiness and presence in our lives the way we are desperate for air. If we don’t breathe, we die. In the same way, if we don’t have God in our lives, we will die.

The thing is, I don’t know that I am at that point in my relationship with God. While I recognize that God has brought me to this point in my life, in my ministry, in my relationship with him, I’m not so sure that I have the same sense of desperation for God ?s presence that he seems to have for me. It ?s easy to identify God ?s ?obsession ? with people; all you have to do is look throughout the Bible and you can see that God is ready, willing, and able to do whatever it takes to restore his relationship with people. He is so desperate to get us back that he sent Jesus to die for us. Enough said, am I right?

So what ?s the evidence of my desperation for God? Why don ?t I feel like I ?m gasping for breath spiritually? I ?m pretty sure that when I check the fruit in my life (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control), it ?s not a matter of me being spiritually fit.

It ?s probably because I ?m not exerting myself. I ?ve gotten comfortable with the pace I am walking with God. But we all know that life isn ?t a ?stroll in the park ?; it ?s the ?rat race. ? How do we get to the point where we ?re so desperate for God ?s presence and holiness in our lives that we are gasping for him, as if we are out of breath? Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:24: ?Run in such a way as to get the prize. ? We need to pick up the pace and run.

And eventually, I pray, the training will lead to a stronger, faster pace that God will sustain.

Aloha!

Posted by on 02 Jun 2008 | Tagged as: Bruce's Blogs

The luau on Sunday, June 1, was simply amazing! I was thrilled to see the church family having fun together with each other and with all the people I don’t think I have ever seen before. I know that there were many who brought friends, neighbors, and family to fellowship with us, and I know that we definitely showed our community how much we love each other.

I pray that we keep the “aloha spirit” alive among us. I took a few minutes to look up exactly what aloha means, and it seems that the idea of “hello” and “goodbye” are recent understandings of the word. Prior to the 19th century, the primary meaning of aloha was “affection, love, peace, compassion, and mercy.” As we continue to grow in our love for God and each other and in our compassion for the world, we need to continue with the “aloha spirit” that we find in 1 Peter 5:14: “Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.”

Family fun at Luau 2008 Splashin' an elder!

Ready for a luau! Terry's Volcano!

Luau sweeties! Luau pros!

Luau Buddies! Mahalo, Mark!

Everybody loves a luau limbo!

Thank you, Dr. Bungu!

Posted by on 11 Apr 2008 | Tagged as: Bruce's Blogs

This past Sunday, April 6, Dr. Zindoga Bungu brought us the morning’s message. Dr. Bungu is the head of Moshoko Christian Hospital, which we support through As He Is USA.

Dr. Bungu began at Ephesians 5:15, 16: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Citing examples of the political unrest of his country, Zimbabwe, and the many physical ailments of the people who are treated at the hospital and the many spiritual obstacles the people whom he ministers to have to face, Dr. Bungu compared our lives today to what the prophet Daniel faced. Encouraging us from Daniel chapter 6, where Daniel faces a den of lions rather than praying to the king of Babylon, Dr. Bungu challenged us to dare to live with character, to dare to stand alone, to dare to live with a firm purpose, and to dare to make that purpose known.

The Wednesday night Bible study I call “Sunday Footnotes” discusses the previous Sunday’s message, and we talked about Dr. Bungu’s sermon. And from our discussion, I came away with a thought that isn’t really new as much as it is something we all probably don’t think about as much as we should. We often look at the account of Daniel in the lions’ den as an example of living with character, having a firm purpose, and making that purpose known, even if it means standing alone—but most often for our own sake.

When we stand firm for God’s truth, even in the face of persecution that could result in our own death, we most often think of that in the context of safeguarding our own relationship with God and ensuring our own spiritual safety. While that is the most obvious result of “daring to be like Daniel,” I realized in our Wednesday night study that it’s also a matter of concern for other people’s spiritual health and restoration.

If we choose to “dare to be like Daniel,” as Dr. Bungu challenged us, then not only do we live up to the life of holiness to which God has called us, but we also give others something to hold onto. That is, when we stand firm on God’s truth, we can become a point to which someone else can tether themselves to God’s holiness, but if we choose to go along with the crowd, then we take away what could be someone else’s link to God’s truth and holiness.

Did Daniel convert the Babylonians by standing firm? No. But they did get to see God’s truth and faithfulness and power in action, and the king reacted to it. For some people, that’s enough to get started on the path to seeking God with a growing passion. The potential for drawing other people closer to God should add to our resolve to “dare to be like Daniel.”

The Slidell Effect

Posted by on 25 Feb 2008 | Tagged as: Bruce's Blogs

We’re back from Slidell, Louisiana. We spent the week (February 17-22) working with IDES (International Disaster Emergency Services) building houses to help folks who lost everything to hurricane Katrina. You can see photos of some of our people working at DART (Disaster Assistance Response Team) director Joe Luttrell’s blog (http://www.xanga.com/idesdart).

IDES has been working in Slidell since the hurricane in 2005. If you add up all the homes they have worked to restore, rebuild, and build new, at least 140 families and individuals have benefitted directly from their work and the work of hundreds of volunteers over the past two and a half years.

But the “Slidell Effect” goes beyond mere building efforts. As I think about my own experience this past week, I know that the work in the Gulf coast region has an on-going effect on people’s lives around the country.

Just to get my wife Sandi and I to Louisiana required that two of my sisters and my sister-in-law take more than a week of vacation to leave Pennsylvania and stay with our three kids in Livonia. It also allowed my brother to take a week off and go with us to work on the houses, and his knowledge of construction was indispensible. So the “Slidell Effect” has reached my own family in a deep way.

With more than 40 people from the church down in Louisiana, the “Slidell Effect” has impacted the whole church body. Many people who could not go with us were able to support the team financially as well as spiritually, with many pledging prayer support throughout the week. Many others supported the work in Louisiana by making sure that the ministry programs and Sunday services in Livonia were planned, staffed, and implemented with no gaps. [THANKS TO EVERYONE!!]

Our team was able to go to lunch with our house’s homeowner one day, and several of us were approached and thanked by local residents. One night we watched a video featuring several people who had homes built by IDES. In it, one woman made a statement about the Christian church of Slidell, who hosts the teams who come each week; she wanted to get to know “the church that helps people.” The “Slidell Effect” has rippled throughout that community.

After that video, the group split into our house teams, as we did every night, and we discussed how we didn’t want the “Slidell Effect” to end. We talked about how, like every Christian conference, convention, and retreat, this trip to Louisiana had created a “mountaintop” experience, but we didn’t want it to end a week or two after we returned home. We talked about ways that we could make the “Slidell Effect” transform our church in Livonia so that people would recognize us as “the church that helps people.”

Our prayer wasn’t that we would simply become a benevolent organization, although our benevolence efforts certainly enhanced the “Slidell Effect.” We prayed that our work in Livonia would increase, that we would be able to let the “Slidell Effect” grow in all of our ministry efforts. We prayed not so that more people would simply be fed or housed physically but that our message of God’s love and forgiveness would be lived out in real, tangible expressions of that love.

Let us know how the “Slidell Effect” has changed your life and ministry.

We Have to Talk

Posted by on 18 Apr 2007 | Tagged as: Bruce's Blogs

The Problem

Imagine getting into a taxi and just sitting there in silence. Do you think you will get to where you’re hoping to go? Not likely. Imagine walking into an office building or a factory and just sitting at a desk or standing next to the time clock in silence. Do you think you’ll get the job done? Not likely.

And yet we sit in silence in the same small group, the same worship gathering, or the same Bible class with another Christian against whom we are nursing a grudge, an issue, a complaint. We don’t say anything, but we’re expecting resolution, expecting change, expecting an apology ?and it never happens. And we’re surprised. Then we get mad because the church should be different.

The Solution

Agreed. Church should be different. A healthy church is built upon healthy relationships, and healthy relationships are built upon communication. The only way the church is going to be different is if the body is healthy. But if the different parts of the body aren’t connecting, then the body cannot be healthy.

If you want the church to be different, we have to communicate with each other. The church in Thessalonica was a body of new believers who were experiencing persecution and who needed encouragement to stick together. Paul wrote this note to them in 1 Thessalonians 5:13-18: “Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

We can’t expect a difference in the church if we aren’t going to do anything different within the church. The world is full of deception and self-centeredness. The world is also willing to give up on other people if they have even the slightest negative experience. That shouldn’t be the life of the church. That isn’t the body that Jesus died to save.

The Challenge

While you might be “content” to keep quiet about the situation, you can’t be a healthy part of the body, and you run the risk of making the rest of the body unhealthy. Jesus said in Matthew 5:23, 24: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” You can’t come to church with a grudge against your brother or sister in Christ and expect to be right with God.

Break the cycle. Bridge the gap. Talk it out.

Church Is For Relationships

Posted by on 04 Apr 2007 | Tagged as: Bruce's Blogs

We Were Created For Relationships

From the beginning, the original model of relationships has been God, “me,” and “others.” There ?s a relationship with God that each one of has as individuals, but in that relationship, there ?s a necessity of relationship with others. Jesus himself sums this up in boiling down all of “the Law and the Prophets” into two greatest commandments: the primary being “Love God,” and the secondary being, “Love Others.” God has created us with a primary purpose of loving him, and in doing so, we are also required to love others.

Although our relationship with God is on an individual level, it does rely heavily on our relationship with others. God views each of us as individuals, in regard to our relationship with him. That ?s why we cannot count on our parents ? relationships with God to cover ours. However, parents are clearly responsible for their children ?s upbringing, and children are clearly responsible for obedience to their parents. It ?s clear that our relationships with others are important to God ?s view of our individual relationships with him.

“Church” Is Built on Relationships

Relationship with God and others is why the church is so important in helping each of us grow closer to God and others. In the typical church body, the driving force usually comes from the large-group gathering, the Sunday morning worship service. This service produces the energy, excitement, vision, motivation, and resources to propel the body forward in fulfilling our individual purpose (love God and others) and the church ?s mission (bring others together to love God and others).

Smaller groups within the church body, whether classes, home Bible study groups, support and recovery groups, affinity groups, or service groups, are often scaled down models of the whole church. Each area of ministry does its part to help individuals and groups grow toward maturity and unity in the whole body. These smaller group settings are vital to the growth and maturity of the body. They facilitate learning, relationships, and mutual burden carrying.

No Choice but to Live in Relationships

My own personal faith hasn’t been characterized by being good at relationships, and as some could tell, I still have my problems with it. However, many more can tell you that I am far more relational now than I was three, five, ten years ago (pity my friends and coworkers). While my faith was largely based upon what I knew about the Bible, the more I studied it and tried to apply it to my life, the more I realized that I really had no choice but to learn how to have relationships and to live within those relationships. There are times when we all might consider that church would be a whole lot easier if it were not for all the people. The fact of the matter is that the church isn’t the church that God intended if we cannot live in relationship with each other.

Uncircling the Wagons

Posted by on 22 Mar 2007 | Tagged as: Bruce's Blogs

There’s a part of me that likes to think of the story of the church like a good western. I have this notion that the early church was like a group of pioneers who heard about a fantastic new land to the west that was theirs for the taking if they could just get there and work it.

I see Pentecost being the big day when townsfolk gather together to hear the exciting news about the new land. It sounds too good to be true, but there are a few guys who seem to know what’s going on and who are excited enough to leave everything behind to go and stake their own claim.

The best part is that it’s free!

So with excitement, and maybe a little fear, a wagon train forms, and the townsfolk become pioneers. They head west with big dreams. They anticipate some troubles along the way, but they prepare for them. They leave behind homes, farms, jobs, maybe even loved ones, but they just know they’re heading for something better. Some in the group never thought about leaving what they know behind them. Some have loved ones who have gone on before them and who have sent word that they, too, should come.

It’s a long journey, and they need to stop to rest and eat. Along the way they face some troubles. They face bad weather. They even face attacks. And when trouble comes, they circle the wagons. They band together for safety and support. When the troubles pass, they get back in line and keep moving. They would never consider stopping, circling the wagons, and taking up permanent residence along the way.

That isn’t the point of the journey. That isn’t the goal.

But that’s where the movie ends for some….

Why does the church seem to find itself stopped along the way, circling the wagons, defending itself from enemies real and imagined? Why does it seem to be content to rest in one location, beyond the ability of its resources and people to regain its motion? Why does it often seem trapped by its environment, its surrounding culture? Why does it drag along the unnecessary relics of its past life, despite their weight and lack of purpose? Why does it often cling to the failures of the past and forget the excitement and hope of its future?

We’re not there yet! Let’s throw off the useless baggage. Let’s gather our resources together. Let’s repair the broken wheels. Let’s encourage each other to press on.

Let us uncircle the wagons and get back on the trail.

Resolutions

Posted by on 08 Jan 2007 | Tagged as: Bruce's Blogs

As I mentioned in the sermon on December 31, we have adopted a few “resolutions” as our mission for this body of believers. We are resolved to love God, to love others, and to make disciples. These resolutions are nothing new to the church; they have been the church ?s top priority since Jesus commissioned the first disciples. But the church has not always done a good job historically in those areas.

We know that we need to love God and others and to make disciples, but when we don ?t do it well, we tend to focus more on being remorseful rather than fixing it. While that ?s probably a healthy beginning, it doesn ?t get the job done. And so, let me offer a few suggestions about how we can refocus our lives in such a way that we can meet our resolutions.

First, we need to remember that the resolutions were made by one body, the church. We need to do our part as individuals, but the responsibility rests on the whole body.

Second, we need to create an environment, an atmosphere that screams “community!” or “family!” We need to focus on our resolutions as a body with many members doing their part in the greater task. We ?ve been doing better building community within smaller groups, but we ?re still struggling with a church-wide sense of community.

Third, we need to identify and build upon our strengths. With such a large community of diverse people, both within and outside the church, it ?s easy to adopt a scattered approach to ministry and community life. Unfortunately, that approach gets ineffective very quickly, and when you draw in a lot of people with something you can ?t maintain, the ministry fails.

In 2007 watch for opportunities to grow as a community. We will be launching a new approach to ministry through teams. We will be building up our smaller groups. We will be increasing our opportunities to fellowship and grow closer together. Let us continue to grow together as a body, as it says in Hebrews, encouraging one another and spurring one another toward love and good deeds.

Big Church, Little Church

Posted by on 13 Nov 2006 | Tagged as: Bruce's Blogs

We are a big church. Maybe we ?re not a mega-church, but since the average church in America has 89 active members, we are certainly a big church.

Being a big church, we have a lot of benefits. We have more resources to work with and more opportunities to use those resources. We also face a few disadvantages. Perhaps the biggest disadvantage is running the risk of losing the familiarity and family feel of a smaller church. For example, the church growth experts claim that most folks can ?t remember more than 60-70 names.

With that in mind, how do we balance the benefits of being a big church without losing the sense of family and community of a little church? And how do we continue to grow? The answer is found in our Adult Bible Fellowship groups.

Adult Bible Fellowship groups, which meet at 9:30 and 10:45, are the key to continued growth, both numerically and spiritually. While they are the place where we place the most emphasis on Bible study, they are also the place where we can place the most emphasis on fellowship.

The Crossroads group, which meets at 10:45 in room 103, is one of the best examples of a “little church,” where they spend most of their meeting time in solid Bible study. Not only do they dig deep into the Bible, but they also spend a lot of time in fellowship outside of Sunday morning, having game nights and other get-togethers nearly every month. These are people who are growing closer to God through the Word and closer to each other in fellowship ?and they know how to have a good time, too!

If you ?re enjoying the benefits of being part of a big church ?but not feeling the family atmosphere of a little church ?check out our Adult Bible Fellowships. They ?re waiting for you!