a blog from our pastors and staff
Welcome to my Advent Blog! This is the 3rd of 13 blogs, and I encourage you to read them in order. We are exploring ways to rediscover the child-like faith we once had.
The baby Jesus was given gifts at his birth. Jesus was himself the great gift from God to his prized creation, us. Children love getting gifts. While adults like getting them too, it gets more complicated to receive as adults. We have a hard time receiving if we are not also giving something in return, kids don’t have that problem. Adults have a hard time not earning our gifts, kids don’t have that problem. The gospel is about getting something we don’t have to earn. And while God hopes that we will give back after receiving, it is not the reason He gives the gift. God gives because that is who He is.
Children will take any gift you have from them, at any moment, for any reason. Jesus came to give the gift of peace, love and hope that is only found through Him. Isn’t it time to take the gift and enjoy it? To enjoy something, you have to use it and to use it, we must spend time with it.
Too many people don’t enjoy the biggest Christmas given to them. In fact, Christmas is about the gift of Christ that we don’t earn or deserve. The great thing about getting Jesus for Christmas is that it never stops or fails to teach us something new about peace, love and hope. There are always new ways to explore and learn about the gift.
We need to stop seeing God as a tyrant making us feel guilty about our lack of faith. We need to start seeing God as one who gives the ultimate gift and can’t wait to see us unwrap and enjoy the gift of Jesus.
Be looing for the next blog post Friday, Dec 6. Please feel free to comment below.
Welcome to my Advent Blog!
This is the 2nd of 13 blog posts, and I encourage you to read them in order.
Christmas vector created by macrovector - www.freepik.com
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.
-- Matthew 11:25
Yesterday, I asked why God sent Jesus in the form of a child if his ministry came thirty years later. Clearly, Jesus came as example and even in his young life he showed us the importance of being a child of God. This blog is primarily about how we need to find the child-like faith that we once had. Jesus was able to retain his inner child, but as most of us got older we have lost the child in us.
One thing many adults lose as they get older is the ability to play. I am not talking about playing computer games or even playing tag (although that could be good for us). I am talking more about having a playful spirit. When people play there is a trust element happening, everything is under control. God has got you and you have time to have fun. As Christians, we have a serious mission given to us but that does not mean there isn’t a time to play. A playful attitude in life often shows an absence of worry and despair. There can even be a peace that comes from a good day of play.
If we are God’s children, we come to Him as children and we can even come to Him to play. This might seem contrary to what many of us think the Church and our faith is about. Do our services, classes, and programs allow for an element of holy play? I am not talking about replacing Sunday worship with a good game of hide-n-seek, even if for a Sunday or two it might be just the thing to help us find our inner child. We need to trust God enough to relax and see God in the fun of life.
Christmas season is not a time to play for most of adults, even though most kids still think it is. We are too busy prepping for a moment that lasts a day or so. There is season for everything under heaven. Do you prioritize play? Is it in the rotation of activities? Again, it isn’t so much about what you do, it is about the spirit in which you do it. God is in control. Look up to heaven and ask God if He knows a good joke. Lots of us will be hustling and bustling over the next couple weeks, but if you are not careful you might fail to see God’s answer to that joke.
The next blog will be posted Thursday, Dec 5th. Please feel free to comment below.
Jesus’ birth is more than getting people excited about Easter, as great as that is. If we go back to verse one of Isaiah 9, it states, “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.” I do understand that these verses have a context in which they were said but it’s also clear that Isaiah was foretelling of Christ’s birth. Christ would come but 2000 years later and we still see plenty of gloom and distress around us. Why is that so? One major reason is that Christ coming to earth is a two-fold prophecy; the birth of Jesus that happened over 2000 years ago and the return of Christ in the clouds that has yet to happen. We are in the time in history called the “already and not yet.”
While our world still has plenty of gloom and distress, Jesus offers a way to overcome the world. Not that we can avoid trouble or hardship but that there is now a path and person to help us find peace even in our worst pain.
One way Jesus tells us to find that peace is to be like a child. “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:2-4).
While these verses help us to understand something of what a child-like faith is. There is still lots of room for discussion. After all, every quality of a child is not something to be sought after. “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (I Cor. 13:11).
I find it interesting that as Jesus grew and matured, he was able to retain his child- like faith while putting away childish qualities. Jesus came to be our example as well as our Savior. But while Jesus retained his child-like faith, most of us are hoping to rekindle something we lost a long time ago. This almost-daily Christmas blog is about possible ways to find the inner child in us.
I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below. The next blog will be posted Wednesday, Dec 4th.
By Andrew Fidurko, Assistant Pastor - Hillside Wesleyan Church - Olean, NY
I believe we are all on a spiritual journey. As Christians this is the call we have on our lives: we need to be able to reflect on the things of Christ and how he is using us, molding us, and changing us.
"That, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth."
2 Corinthians 5:17
"Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come."
Today I want to talk about the basics of the Christian life. Day to Day Christianity can have the fullness that we desire. This happens when we start to point our hearts towards the things that give God joy and the things that break God’s heart. The Christian life is two-fold. First, there is time of solitude (not isolation, but solitude) where it is just myself with God Almighty. And secondly, the Christian life is done in community with others with like-mindedness about Christian beliefs. We need to strike the balance of both for God to continue His good work inside of us.
Let’s talk a bit about solitude. Now, I am not saying that you have to become a monk to have solitude, but in monasteries throughout the centuries, the practice of solitude has led to a practice of the presence of God. God is ever present in your life. Picture Him there next to you right now. God loves you and is with you now, just like He was with you in the last struggle. His angels are there to help fulfill His mission, and you can help to be His hands and feet, and eyes and ears of this world.
Solitude is a state of mind and heart, rather than a physical place. Jesus chose this during His mission. In Matthew 4-11, He spent forty days and forty nights in the desert. In Luke 6:12, He spent the entire night alone in the desert hills before choosing His disciples, and Matthew 14:13, after the death of John the baptist, He withdrew on a boat to a solitary place.
Where are the quiet and solitary places in your life? Is it in a park or at your desk? In the car on the way to work or during your morning cup of coffee? We need to take advantage of these little times of solitude throughout our day. Maybe time it on our watch or phone, 5 minutes of just quiet and still. Listening to God. Of course, you will have to have a question on your heart, but do not just keep filling your mind with questions, prayers, and petitions. Instead, just be in the presence of God and allow yourself to let go of that moment.
Now, let’s talk about Community. I believe that we are called to be the body of Christ for a reason. I believe God created us to be able to help each other. If Jack can paint a house in 10 hours, and Jill can paint a house in 10 hours, how long would it take them to paint a house together? A lot less time! A lot less effort on both parts, and the fulfillment will be there as well as the connection that builds between them. Not only in service, but with other gifts it is important to be able to share the struggles of our hearts. Not only with God, but with other Christians. “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” --Matthew 18:20
Accountability is a built-in benefit of community. As we draw closer to each other, we start naturally seeing the standard in which we are living out our faith with God. This is not anything to shy away from. Any strong Christian will tell you it was a process for them in growth to get where they are. We live in such a shame based culture, that when we feel we do not measure up, we stop. But that prevents the growth that we actually seek. In community with others, we can actually share testimony and growth stories to help us understand that there is really no condemnation in Christ. There is love and grace.
I encourage you to have an accountability partner or mentor that would be able to help you through these lessons and struggles. The lies of the devil are hidden in secret, but it is only in the light (bringing them out in community, even with just one person) that will help this.
Again, I recommend writing or typing things out for our remembrance so that we can have these reminders throughout the day of our daily life or over all goals. Meditate on these, and let God help show you the next step of your answer to these prayers. Holiness is a high standard in our society today. Growth is the goal.
Lord God, help us to understand the love and grace that You give us as children of God. God, also help us to step up in our devotion to You. Help us to step up with our time with You. Help our lives have an abundance of prayer, and help us to rely on You with all that we can do. Grow us deeply Lord.
In Jesus name, Amen.
Hello all [from Pastor Andrew],
I am not sure how many people are reading these blogs, but it does help me to organize my thoughts and I hope that they are making an impact on your life.
The next several blogs I want to write as a series. I will spread them out month to month. They can stand alone as a good word and message, but also will relate to each other. They are going to be about specific habits or disciplines that a Christian may undertake in their spiritual walk with God. They will be on simple concepts, like prayer helps and my thoughts on worship, or more in depth, such as fasting, keeping your Sabbath holy, and so on. All of them are difficult to maintain and put into practice. I think that is why they call it discipline.
In my 'Doctrine of Holiness' class they state that the more modern term, rather than discipline, is: becoming more like Christ. So that will be the title of the series: How to become more like Christ.
I believe we are all on a spiritual journey and as Christian’s this is the call we have on our lives. We need to be able to reflect on the things of Christ and how he is using us, molding us, and changing us.
"That, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
Pastor Nila shared a handout on the Holy Club of Oxford during our last prayer retreat and I have continued to review it since that time. It is a good exercise in order to challenge ourselves in growth with Christ to reflect on these questions.
In my reflection I have made it a point to not get stuck in condemning myself for ways that I do not measure up, but rather, with joy, give these areas of growth to God in prayer.
Take an hour and do them all. Take 10 minutes and just reflect, journal, and read the Bible thinking of one question. I recommend writing or typing them out. Holiness is a high standard in our society today. Growth is the goal.
1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
3. Do I confidentially pass on to others what has been said to me in confidence?
4. Can I be trusted?
5. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?
6. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
7. Did the Bible live in me today?
8. Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?
9. Am I enjoying prayer?
10. When did I last speak to someone else of my faith?
11. Do I pray about the money I spend?
12. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
13. Do I disobey God in anything?
14. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
15. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
16. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
17. How do I spend my spare time?
18. Am I proud?
19. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican?
20. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
21. Do I grumble or complain constantly?
22. Is Christ real to me?
Lord God, help us to understand the love and grace that you give us as children of God. God also help us to step up in our devotion to you. Help us to step up with our time with you. Help our lives have an abundance of prayer and help us to rely on you with all that we can do.
In Jesus name, Amen.
Human beings exist in time. We believe that God does not. Humans often live like we have plenty of time on earth. God knows that many of us do not.
On Feb. 3rd I preached on time (Hunger Games, Part 3; you can listen to the podcast). We exist in time and the clock is always ticking away. If you are like me, time is often the enemy. I rush to get things done before time evaporates. My stress is often an indication of my lack of control over time.
I was reading in Genesis for my devotions the other day and I was reading about how God had asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on the altar. Abraham was faithful in his obedience. But God did not make him follow through on his offering.
I am glad that God has not asked me to sacrifice my child. But He has asked me to
give up control of my time. People say we live in the age where time is our most
precious commodity. We each want to be careful with where our time goes. I believe
God wants me (and maybe you) to put my time on the altar. He is asking me to give
time to Him before I give it away to other things.
The good news is that God honors the time you give Him. The rest of the list of things you need to do and the list of things you want to do seem to come together when you give God time first. Don’t believe me? Try it for a couple weeks and see what happens.
They say a Christian never really loves Jesus until they learn to “waste” time with Him. It is the thing that most feeds our soul. Isn’t it ironic that our fear of time running out has us rushing from place to place? The answer doesn’t lie in the fast pace of life but comes to us when we carve out space with Him.
by Asst. Pastor Andrew Fidurko
As I sit here, snowed in on a frigid January day, my mind starts to drift about how I spend life. Today it will be easy. I will be able to create my own pace for the day, nothing too stressful, and be able to get sooo much accomplished. I will be able to spend time with my family, have time to read, and things will work out well.
Pace of the day is what I am thinking about most in that paragraph. Do I really control the pace of my day? If I were to take another average day of my month, so many pressures from family, work, school, maybe even hanging out with a few friends, and then the things I actually want to do seem to all collide in a cascade of stress. Where does it end? In the book, Soul Keeping by John Ortburg, he has many conversations with his mentor Dallas Willard about such things. Willard says in one section, “You must arrange your days so that you are experiencing deep contentment, joy, and confidence in your everyday life with God.” It's just
that easy, huh? “You are responsible for the condition of your soul.”
Do I control my own pace in life? Do the simple things create this contentment, joy, and confidence? Is my relationship with God set to the standard that was laid out in this one simple sentence? I believe that the statement by Willard is true. We need to be able to use the power and control we have over the ordering of our day and life, or else life just happens to us and life starts to pass us by. A snow day is an easy day for us to be able to see this and use that control. Other days there may be so many factors that we are unable to control, but that is okay. I do not think the purpose of the statement is about controlling everything. It is about controlling yourself in the times that you can. And most importantly controlling the time and
methods that we connect to the One that has all the power and control - God.
In Matthew chapter 16, Jesus is talking to the disciples about the coming sacrifice that He was going to have to make in order to save the world. In the middle of this He says, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” Jesus not only understands His purpose and next steps for the greater good, but poses the question to us about the value our of own being. The answer, of course, is there is no profit for a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul, and that our souls have value beyond measure. The disciples, mirroring our personal view point and the world’s personal viewpoint, want Jesus to keep going on and on with them. It is a good life, saving and healing people. They could have so much power and get ahead in this world, if they just had more time, or more resources and money, or if they just had a better understanding of the things to come they could… sound familiar? Jesus wants us to take a step back and understand what the value of a soul is truly worth. That we are given 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, and 365 days in a year for a reason. Value your time and use it for the things that matter. This is enough time to find joy, deep contentment and confidence. It is enough time to plug into the power that passes all understanding and allow Him to help you with your life wherever it is at. Get out of the “survival mode” of going from one thing to another and so on, decide to cut things out that do not matter to your soul, and plug into the things that do matter. New Years and the start of a fresh year of 2019 is a great time to do this.
It is also a great time to rededicate yourself to Christ or meet Him as your personal Savior for the first time. Say this prayer to yourself as you are reading with me, “Lord, I know I need you. You have sacrificed for me in more ways than I know. I ask You to forgive me for the sin that I have brought before You. I also ask You to help me see good paths and to discern the future You have for me. I believe in faith and receive Your renewal and Spirit today. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
If you have more questions about beginning a life with Christ, or need resources, talk to me or another of the pastors at Hillside Wesleyan Church, or reach out to websites like this.
I recently started reading the book Soul Keeping by John Ortberg. In this book he sites many references to himself and wisdom over the years that he has gleaned from Dallas Willard. In the most recent chapter Dallas talks about the Soul.
The Soul is a funny thing. You are unable to see it on an x-ray and a child cannot point to it if you ask, “point to your soul”. The majority of people on this earth believe they have one, but I do not believe that people know how to tend their soul or how to keep it in check.
Dallas Willard’s illustration is that inside us, at our core, is our will: our basic ability to say yes or no to the choices around us. It helps to set us apart from a rock. And this “free will” concept helps to set us aside from the animals that run just based on instinct. Just outside the will, in order of what is our core, is the mind. The mind contains our thoughts and emotions. We have streams of emotions and thoughts all day long, except for today when I am in a food coma from Thanksgiving. But the mind is a very powerful and important force in our being. Lastly is the body. Functions of the body and our physical presence in the world is important when considering how we are formed in who we are. Our body has basic biological functions and through our mind and body we create habits, both good and bad, that we attempt to control with our will. Dallas Willard proposes that the soul is the connecting force that integrates these parts of our being. That the soul is fragile and precious. We need to be able to keep our soul well.
In the book, they go on to state that many people do not keep their soul well. In fact, sin is a destructive force ruining the unity and connection between these important parts of us: our will, mind, and body. A well soul is able to have the freedom that comes through the connection of God to alleviate this sin from the picture, again creating the integration between these features. In fact, they state that lost souls are a result of this non-connection with God and that there are a lot of lost souls on this planet.
I believe part of what they are saying is that we not only need a relationship with God, but in order to have a healthy soul we need to be able to have our will, mind, and body to be cared for as well. They make a distinction to psychology in this section noting that the psychological means currently focus a lot on the “self” and no necessarily the “soul.” The keeping of self and building up of one’s self is the recognition of your worth, strengths, and accomplishments. To the soul, who you are is not built in these things. According to Dallas Willard, the health of the soul is reached in the unity between these three elements AND in community with God’s will for our lives. God’s love and acceptance of His will through our choice helps to eliminate the sin that clogs up these integration points in how to experience ourselves.
The reason I am writing on it, is that it is a concept I had not considered before and I wanted to give it additional thought as a theory of how we need to not only be in tune with God, but in tune with our inner soul.
A song like It is Well with my Soul has new meaning with these thoughts in mind. Of course things can be well with my soul because I am okay with me. Despite my environment, means, and things around me not being what I want. Despite things like my best friend dying, things can be well with my soul, because I have not lost myself and I have not lost God.
A wandering and weary soul finds no rest. A soul at peace with itself is what God wants for us.
Pastor Andrew Fidurko
a blog post by Pastor Becky Todd
Years back, we had a daily calendar which featured quotes from Secrets of the Vine by Bruce Wilkinson.
This is the season where we celebrate the abundance God has given us. We turn our hearts toward thoughts of gratitude and acknowledge the plenty God has given on our behalf. Though mostly our thoughts turn to cornucopias full of earthly goodness and provision, God has given far more. Let's think about the Kingdom of God. Where are you and I invited to personally grow and receive? God gives a personal invitation for us to experience the spiritual bounty of His presence in our lives. He has also given to each one certain spiritual gifts. These gifts are not so much the treasure, as the Giver! Suzanne Eller writes in The Spirit-Led Heart that we discover what Paul is saying in I Corinthians, "these spiritual gifts are valuable because of who gives them."
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord... Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
--I Corinthians 12:4-7
She goes on to say that these gifts have impact beyond ourselves. The gifts given don't make us special; they have value because God, the Giver, gave them so we could help one another. Spiritual fruit grows in our lives as we remain in relationship with God through the Holy Spirit, and the gift serves it's "distinct purpose" to bear the fruit (Galatians 5:22-23). And, that is what God treasures!
Back to that little calendar that used to sit on our old antique desk, Bruce offers these words:
"Identify the top three to five things (outside of your family commitments) you do that have the most impact for God's Kingdom. Ask yourself how you could rearrange your life to give more time to the top two than the bottom three."
These next few weeks and months will be full of activity. Choose prayerfully to honor your gifting. In turn you are seeking The Giver and will, no doubt, bear fruit that lasts.
Let's get back to using our spiritual gifts that God designed just for us. Let's hone our focus for Greater Kingdom impact!
Some resources you might like to further explore:
Secrets of the Vine by Bruce Wilkinson and The Spirit-Led Heart by Suzanne Eller
a blog post from Pastor Dan
Even though I am pastor, I don’t wake up every morning with a smile on my face and
say, “Good morning Lord.” In fact, many days I am closer to saying the opposite. Monday was one of those days, the day started crazy and I was forced to make a choice between letting the crazy drive me or to remain cool.
I had just dropped off my kids at the middle school and started my day at the office when I started getting texts and calls that the middle school would be closed today because the heat was not working (I guess churches are not the only ones who have this problem). I was texted that my 5th grader would be in the high school auditorium so I went to there to get him. Upon arrival, some of the staff was very helpful and nicely redirected me back to the middle school because there was a change in plan. However, other staff were frustrated and overwhelmed with it all. The situation was even crazier when I got to the middle school. The process was not a well-oiled machine, but the staff was trying hard to make the process work. Many parents were pretty frustrated and I could have easily gotten worked up too. Patience is not my strongest virtue. But by then, I had decided that I was either going to be one of the complainers or I would keep myself cool. Once I got my kids, we decided to stop off at Tim Hortons for a donut. The workers there could easily be separated into the cool and the complainers, too.
I want to admit that I can easily fall into complainer mode. My only hope is that Jesus will help me rise above my natural tendencies and keep me cool under pressure. The world is full of complainers. Everywhere I looked today I saw them. Thanksgiving is coming soon. We will all stop and try hard to be thankful for a day or two. Then we can go right back to complaining. I have not perfected the art of choosing cool-mode over complaint-mode, but here is a tool that has helped me.
Every day take a few minutes to say a pray something like this:
Lord, I have two ways I can live today. I can try and take total control and work hard to make everything go my way. I will also complain and fight against everything that works against what I want from this day. Or I can choose to give up control. I can see this day as an opportunity to show love to others who need it. I can remain cool because you are in control. You lead Lord, I will follow.