Lord, Have Mercy!

“Lord, have mercy!”

Many of us have been praying that simple prayer the last few days for the folks in Orlando, Florida. We pray it because we truly believe that the best source of comfort can only come
from the Lord, Jesus Christ.

We pray it because it reminds us that the very nature and character of Christ is one of mercy. We pray as an appeal to the only one capable of softening the crippling effects of darkness and wickedness.

The Lord, Jesus Christ, lived a life that was a constant display of caring and concern for others. He showed mercy to the downtrodden, the disenfranchised, the despised, and the disillusioned. He went out of his way to help folks that were disconnected to become reconnected by being a conduit of God’s mercy, grace and love.

We pray today and will continue to pray tomorrow, ‘Lord, have mercy” because we know little else can be prayed in times like this. Mercy is what we are claiming and clinging to.

Where do you turn when you don’t know where to turn?

One of the places that I go to for comfort in times like this is the 23rd Psalm. I am reminded in these beautiful poetic words that I have a Shepherd watching over me. I have the precious promise that through the darkest of days and the bleakest of nights I am safe in his presence.

I am praying that the Lord will reveal his presence to all who hurt, all that are filled with anger, outrage, and are seeking to make sense out of the senseless. My prayer for us all is “Lord, have mercy!”

As I pray that simple prayer I am reminded of Psalm 23:6 that says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

God Bless

Pastor Frank

Irritating or inspirational?

Irritating or inspirational?

Over the course of thirty-four years of pastoral ministry I have preached on nearly every conceivable subject. To my knowledge I have not ducked or dodged any sacred or non-sacred cows. It has been amazing that the one subject that generates the most discussion and passion is when I preach about prayer.

Jesus said that the church, his house, should be called a “house of prayer.” I have noticed that nearly everything in most of our churches is highly organized except when it comes to prayer. Prayer is often times more accidental than it is intentional. In most churches we pastors “hope” people are praying and we “hope” they know what they are doing. Yet, when asked why they are not praying more, most laity said that it is because they have never been taught how to pray.

There are as many types of prayer as there are people praying and in the church there is no such thing as one size fits all. Prayer is hard work but it is well worth the effort, time, energy and even the occasional misunderstanding of well-intentioned members who scoff at prayer practices they do not understand or personally agree with.

Our city is hemorrhaging with increasing violence, apathy, pain and feelings of hopelessness. If there was ever a time when we needed to distill hope and infuse life, it’s now! A few folks, with the blessing and leadership of their pastors, invited folks driving past the church to stop / “drive-in” for a quick prayer. Sixteen cars responded and shared their requests for prayer. I believe God will honor and bless those folks, not with a magical answer to their needs, but with the calm assurance and reminder that help and hope still resides in a God that cares about our personal pain and broken-ness as well as the needs of our darkened world.

I am convinced that prayer can mobilize a church, bless a community, and change our world. Is it any wonder that with that type of potential life giving power that it would come with some resistance and misunderstanding? Remember, victory begins with the name of Jesus on our lips but is not consummated until the nature of Jesus is in our hearts. We pray not to bend God to our will but that we might be transformed and changed as we pray, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

I do believe that God has called Castleton United Methodist Church to become a prayer saturated church. I do believe that we are on this strategic corner for the express purpose of shining the light of Christ to a community and city in need. I appreciate and applaud the efforts of those that continue to find creative ways to impact our church and community with prayer. Together we will continually strive to become the “house of prayer” that Jesus prayed we would become.

God Bless

Pastor Frank

When God Says “GO!”

I’ve never heard the Lord speak in a big booming voice. I have received countless gentle “nudges’ or “promptings” from the Holy Spirit. There have been times when God has caused a “holy restlessness” or the Lord has placed an uncomfortable spiritual “grain of sand” that has agitated my spirit. Other times God has opened doors and through the encouragement of family and friends I have prayerfully taken a “step of faith” and discovered that Christ was leading me to enter through the doorway.

For all of us, but especially to those of us called to full-time ministry, listening to the Lord is not always easy or comfortable. It is especially hard when we grow accustomed to a particular ministry setting. What do you do when the Lord says its time to change?

The answer sounds easy but I assure you it is not an easy process. You pray, pray some more, seek wise counsel, consider the blessings and the challenges, pray some more and then you simply reaffirm your pledge to go wherever you sense the Lord’s leading. The decision is finally offered up as an act of faithful surrender to the Lord as you move forward trusting that the Lord will be with you and with those you love and serve.

As we are reading through the New Testament I have been reminded of the many times that God pushed the church into new uncharted ministry waters. The only thing that never changed was the Lord’s promise; “I am with you always!”

One of the signs of a mature church is its ability and willingness to bless and send folks forward in ministry. It is hard to turn folks loose because we become familiar and attached. But when God says, “go” we must somehow take the focus away from what we may be losing in order to focus on the new ways that God may be seeking to bless others and us.

The church is never called to deny or hide the fact that we grow attached to our leaders. But we are called to always hold them with fingers that are willing to be open and yielding to the spirit of Christ. Our hands then become instruments of blessings and affirmations as we release these servant leaders into ministry.

Please join me in praying for Castleton United Methodist Church that we might be continue to be open to the Lord’s leading.

God Bless

Pastor Frank

“You are so ashy!”

“You are so ashy!”

For an African American to be called “ashy” is not a complement. Depending on the context in which you use it, it could be grounds for starting a fight. The term is often used in reference to African Americans or those with dark complexions. It simply means that you have dry skin. Ashy skin happens when there is a lack of moisture in the skin. The skin usually will turn whitish or grayish in color. It gives the skin a dull, chalky or flaky appearance. The closest things I can link to it, appearance wise, are the remains in a fireplace or an old stove.

As a young boy one of my chores was to clean out the old pot-bellied stove. If the wind was blowing, and a few times when I was simply careless, I found myself covered in ashes. You can imagine the ribbing I received from my brothers and sisters. To be called “ashy” was never a good thing but to actually be “ashy” was even worst.

Anyone can have ashy skin it just isn’t as noticeable on lighter skin. The solution is painless and simple. Exfoliate the skin through a gentle cleansing, then apply an external moisturizer or lotion, and to help keep the skin hydrated drink lots of water.

Spiritually speaking, all of us experience times of spiritual dryness. The season of Lent is designed as a period of self-examination. It is when we look for the “ashy” areas in our lives. Sometimes we become dry, rough, calloused, and are in need of God’s soothing, revitalizing, presence. Not only are we looking for places of dryness in ourselves but also we invite the searchlight held by God’s Holy Spirit to expose areas that we may not see.

King David cried these words, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139: 23-24.

The Holy Spirit knows how to peel back the dry skin and how to provide both inner and outer anointing with God’s soothing, healing ointment. My prayers are that the Lenten season will become for all of us a time to shed our ashy-ness.

God Bless

Pastor Frank

2016 A Year of Shaking and Transition

I was on my knees when the first shot was fired. It did not take long for the others to join in. There were sounds of gunshots, fireworks, car horns, bottle rockets, banging pans, and of course lots of screaming. Folks were welcoming in the New Year!

I welcomed 2016 the same as I have done the last twenty-two plus New Years. Those closing minutes of the previous year and the beginnings moments of the new one have all been closed and greeted on my knees in prayer. I have continued a custom handed down by my mother of observing a “watch night” tradition.

Her tradition was to be in worship at a church. Those days are mostly gone, as very few churches, including the ones I have served, make no effort to support or encourage a “watch night” observance. I’m sure I could find a few faithful to join me but it’s been easier just to quietly slip away from the family festivities into an isolated place and spend the time talking with the Lord.

My custom has been modified and personalized to fit me but the same intention is present. My intent is to close the year in thanksgiving to God and to start the New Year offering myself in total surrender.

Sometimes I’ve received a “word from the Lord” but most times I’ve heard nothing. It has just been a time to reflect, offer thanks, and humbly offer myself for another year.

This year is already different. I did not hear anything but I do sense in my spirit that this year is going to be special. Not just special to me but in the body of Christ. I believe that this is going to be a year of shaking and transition that will result in folks, including me, growing closer to Jesus Christ. There are a lot of folks at a spiritual crossroads and this is going to be a year for many to choose to go deeper and to become more intimate with Jesus. Again, nothing I heard just a feeling in my spirit.

The time to get off of the fence is now. The time to fully embrace the Savior and to walk closer with Jesus is now. The time to lift Jesus up as the only real hope for genuine change in our community and in our world is now.

2016 is going to be a terrific year filled with opportunities for spiritual growth. The gunshots and other celebratory acts that greeted this New Year will pale in comparison to the parties that will take place in the heavenly realm, as new disciples are made and as people grow closer to Jesus.

My prayer is still the same: “Lord, send the wind of your Spirit and blow gently across the embers of my heart and fan me into flames for Jesus.”

God Bless

Pastor Frank

Now What!

Tragic news is all around us. For many it is not only knocking on the door but tragedy has kicked the door off of the hinges. WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE?

Most of us are tempted to ask. “Why me?” or “Why my family?” After all, we rationalize, “I / they do not deserve this!” The “why” question does not go away and as a pastor or Christian it is never easy to address. I am quick to tell folks that if they encounter anyone that claims to have the answer to the “why” question to immediately put their hands over their purses and wallets.

I do not know why bad things happen to good people but I do know these three things with certainty:
1. God is always good. The bible reminds us that in God there is no darkness. Therefore, the painful stuff of life is not punishments from God for our shortcomings or transgressions.

2. God is not orchestrating evil for some “divine purpose.” God is loving, merciful, and just in ALL God does.

3. God is able to redeem any situation. Nothing is ever lost to the God of restoration. In fact, the Apostle Paul reminds us that God works for good in everything (Romans 8:28).

Over the years I have become painfully aware that being a Christian, a pastor, or a faithful servant of Jesus Christ does not exempt anyone from suffering. Grief, loss, pain, suffering and death are a part of our human experience. None of us good or bad deserves these things they are all a part of living in a broken and sin-filled world; a world in need of restoration.

We may never understand “why” bad things happen but we have the precious promise that one-day these things will pass away. Until then all of us are challenged to offer help, hope, healing, and as much sympathetic understanding as we can to those in the midst of or recovering from life’s tragedies. Our strength will come from the Lord!

As hard as it might be, the challenge for Christians is to focus forward. This is not easy and it does not happen overnight but we can overcome any situation by changing the question of “why” to the question of “what?” “Lord, what are you going to do now? How will you turn this mess into something good?”

I do believe that God will do what the Bible says. One day God will wipe away every tear. One day God will renew our strength and bring total restoration. One-day pain, suffering and death will come to an end. Until then, keep praying for a faith that will sustain us as we endure life’s unfair challenges while remembering that God is always good even when things are bad.

God Bless
Pastor Frank

Thanksgiving is a time for food, family, focusing on others, football, and faith

Thanksgiving is a time for food, family, focusing on others, football, and faith.

I’ve not done the research but would venture to say that Thanksgiving Day, while not an official religious holiday, is the time when more families pray together than at any other time of the year.

Thanksgiving is a time to acknowledge just how blessed we are as individuals and as families. Thanksgiving is the time we make a concerted effort to reconnect and to share our love with one another.

Thanksgiving is not just about family. It is also a time to serve others in our community and to give tangible gifts that help to alleviate their pain and suffering. I believe that there are enough resources that no one need ever go hungry in this country. Thanksgiving is the one-day that resources are gladly shared and there is enough food to go around.

I like the fact that our president and his family always take Thanksgiving eve to engage in some sort of community service project that focuses on helping others. Many families do this without the limelight or the fanfare simply because they have been blessed and want to be a blessing to others.

Thanksgiving is a time when, at least in my small corner, all seems right with the world. Yes, I know that for far too many in our world it is just another day. Wars and rumors of war, acts of terrorism and selfishness, hatred, greed, and the vile ugliness of humanity do not take the day off. I am not that naïve! But I do have faith that the spirit most of us display on Thanksgiving Day, with a bit more intentionality, can become infectious and can spread in a path that is bigger and more influential than we currently think.

As you pause around your table to offer “thanksgiving” please take a moment to pray for our nation and for our world. Pray for the peace of all who live in turmoil and are plagued by any form of injustice. Pray for those who have been victimized by violence and senseless bloodshed. Pray for those that are fighting cancer or other life robbing diseases. Pray for those that suffer with loneliness and depression because of the loss of a loved one. Pray for those incarcerated and behind prison bars. Pray for those dealing with separation and divorce. Pray for the people you associate with and for their needs.

As you pray, remember the words of the Apostle Paul, “in everything give thanks;for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I Thessalonians 5:18

Have a great Thanksgiving Day!

God Bless

Pastor Frank

Hitting The Wall

No matter how you describe it, unless you are the batter in baseball, “hitting the wall” is usually not a good thing!

Most folks associate hitting the wall with marathon running. Now those of you who know me have heard me say, “If you see me running call animal control or the Police!”

Nancy Averett, posted an article in Runner’s World, describing her feelings of hitting the wall. “You’re in the middle of a run when things start to fall apart. Your legs feel like concrete, your breathing grows labored; your strides turn into a shuffle, negative thoughts flood your mind, and the urge to quit becomes overwhelming.”

Have you ever hit the wall? Have you ever reached a point of total exhaustion or fatigue and simply wanted to quit? Hitting the wall is not just something that happens to marathon runners or elite athletes. Common everyday folks like you and me can be faced with hitting the wall

The Bible often describes the Christian life as a race. Sometimes as Christians, we are running the race of life when suddenly we hit the wall, spiritually. The road to recovery is not always easy. Sometimes we require assistance.

Even Jesus came to a place in his life and ministry where he hit the wall. He reached the wall while in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knelt down and he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus was exhausted, weary, and in anguish; he wanted to quit. Jesus hit the wall! The Bible says that an Angel came and strengthened him.

Wow! Did you get that? Jesus hit the wall just before the finish line. Most runners hit the wall near the end of the race. In everyday life, hitting the wall can happen at any point along the journey. Jesus wanted to quit but he kept moving forward. I love the picture of him on his knees at Gethsemane. He was still moving forward even if it was only a crawl!

God always provides the help and the strength that we need. The Bible says that we will reap in due season if we do not faint. Don’t give up because you have hit the wall or because the wall has hit you! Take a moment, stop and pray, then allow God to provide you with the help you need to get back in the race. Remember a great cloud of witnesses surrounds us and they are cheering us on to victory.

God Bless
Pastor Frank

Love IS Stronger Than Hate!

Don King, the guy with the electric Afro, is famous for saying, “Only in America!”

We have been so blessed to live in this great land of opportunity. To be sure, it is a land filled with its share of challenges and problems. There are, however, few places most of us would rather live.

The recent events in South Carolina and other places, while meant to foster division and hatred, are having an opposite effect. We are learning that love and forgiveness really are stronger and more penetrating than hate. Most of us watched with tear soaked eyes as members of our sister AME congregation, Emanuel, offered forgiveness and extended the love of Christ to Dylann Roof. It is sad that it sometimes takes tragic events for us to see the church at its best.

Hatred is still alive and well across our great Nation. The racially motivated church fires in Florida, Tennessee, and the Carolinas shows us that there is still much work to be done. The ongoing tragic and senseless attacks against law enforcement Officers are proof that there is much work to be done in the area of reconciliation and bridge building. Hatred, and violence, of any kind, is never the solution.

I grew up in the last days of the segregated south. I spent my early school years in an all black school. The experience of “separate but equal” was a joke. There simply was no equal! It is amazing how much has changed and how much has still remained the same. Young black lives are still being sacrificed on the altar of racial hatred and prejudice. Systematic racism and its fallout continue to keep both blacks and whites from moving forward with the progress that we should. Peace and harmony seen to be a long way from reality.

Within the last three weeks I’ve witnessed scenes of hope at the church I serve. It was great seeing over thirty African-American students playing and enjoying themselves at Castleton Church. The church was serving as a sanctuary of safety. I am so proud of the hospitality shown by our church. I also witnessed the most diverse VBS we have ever had. To see kids of all ages and racial-ethnic diversity playing together and learning what it means to follow Jesus was a foretaste of glory divine. Thanks to the leaders of these vital ministries!

Our Nation can change. Our Nation will change. But it will not change at a rapid pace as long as Christians are content to keep silent, separate and segregated. The church must stand up and lead the way out of this present darkness. My prayer is that God will continue to bless America and that we will learn to live together in love, with appreciation for our varied ethnic diversities, and with a commitment to treating each other as brothers and sisters.

God Bless
Pastor Frank

God is in the vineyard toting a chain-saw!

Everyone gets cut. That hardly seems fair but God, according to the words of Jesus in John chapter fifteen, takes away the non-productive branches and prunes the ones that are bearing fruit. God is all about obedience and productivity. Healthy vineyards yield fruit. Now, that’s a lesson for the whole Church. When God lifts up the leaves is there fruit? It is sad to say but far too often there is lots of activity but little to no genuine spiritual fruit in most churches.

God requires that branches that are in their fruit-bearing years be pruned and that branches that are no longer productive be cut off and tossed into the recycle pile. Lest you get confused, let me say very clearly, this passage is not against aging or growing old. As long as the branches are dependent upon Christ for their life-giving nutrients, no matter the age, successful fruit bearing will happen.

I’ve noticed a tendency in most churches for older individuals to scale back their activities and become self-absorbed sponges, soaking in God’s nutrients for personal pleasure instead of remaining dedicated branches that simply serve as conduits to fruitfulness. This unfortunate change often times lead to a “me first” mentality in the church. The branches quit seeking nutrients for spiritual production and require a constant flow to be used solely on self-maintenance. Jesus was quick to say that such branches would be cut-off.

Recently I was reminded of a powerful Greek word picture. The word is “huperetes.” W.E. Vine defines “huperetes” as “an under rower” (“hupo”, under, “eretes”, a rower). It helps if you picture a modern day sculling team or an ancient Viking Ship. The “under rower” has the responsibility of helping to propel the boat through the water by attending to the oars. The rower does not set the course but is a helper. The rower must yield to the authority of the Coxswain. The literal meaning of the word, “coxswain” is “boat servant.”

The Coxswain sits in either the bow or the stern of the boat and directs the boat. In the church, the branches don’t control the production of the fruit. Branches are conduits and vessels used to produce fruit for the owner of the vineyard. Neither rowers nor branches dictate direction or growth; both are called to ministries of service and both are under the authority of the Chief-Servant, Jesus. As long as we are committed to receiving our nutrients and directions from Jesus, we will be fruitful and productive.

There is much talk about the demise of the Church in America. I am convinced that the Church will be okay. After all, it belongs to Christ and he has said, “I will build my church and even the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” I’m not worried about the church surviving but I am concerned that God is in the vineyard and God has a chainsaw!
The key to spiritual productivity is to make sure that we are attached to Christ, our vine. As long as we trust, obey, listen and follow Jesus, we will produce the type of spiritual fruit that God requires.

God Bless
Pastor Frank