Monday, June 27, 2011
I recently met Chaplain Ed Smith of Victim Relief. He told me this is a group that ministers to victims of crime. The police departments that they work with offer their services and people can decide if they want to talk to a chaplain who has been trained to help in these difficult situations. This is a wonderful mission and I hope that you take a look at their website and see what they are doing.
Find Out More…
Friday, June 24, 2011
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Once upon a time, we had a crustacean named Crusty. He came home from school one day and never returned. At the time I felt he should have been served up in a crawfish pie with a generous helping of Louisiana hot sauce. But my wife and children liked him and strangely enough, my cats liked him too. The cats of course would have liked him as part of a meal, but since we all liked crusty in different ways he ended up staying for a while. Crusty became part of the family, and family members are not served up in a stew.
Crusty made a lot of noise, that silly ol’ craw daddy. He rearranged the rocks in his small rectangular crustacean condominium. He flipped over the half yogurt container we put in there to give him something to hide in. He made burrows in the rocks then just as quickly covered them up. He was always very busy for a misplaced appetizer. And he seemed to be as happy as a craw fish can get. While he was on this earth, he lived a safe but limited life.
I used to have a safe but limited life. I had a job at a bank that was not a pressure cooker nor did it pay well. I was reliable but not a stand out. I received promotions but I was not headed to the top of the ladder. I put in a good day’s work and then I went home. I was safe and I was happy. But I wasn’t challenged.
Isn’t it funny how often people speak well of being challenged? So often people say to me that the best time in their life was when they had to overcome difficult circumstances. Many folks have said that they grew mentally, personally, and spiritually during a difficult period in their lives. In fact, many friends have said that they wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the challenges they had faced. Isn’t that funny? One would think all of us would want a safe and happy life – no challenges – thank you very much. And yet, many of us, myself included, feel that being challenged is a very important part of our emotional and spiritual development.
I used to have a life with few challenges – but then I was called into the ministry. And what a wild ride it has been. I have been challenged from the start. Challenged in areas of leadership, education, marketing, music and oh yeah, spirituality. I have been overwhelmed by the feeling that everything is squarely on my shoulders. How can the church grow? How can we do more in the mission field? How can we get more people involved? How can pay our bills? Even when someone else is responsible it all comes back to me. I love my life as a Pastor, but sometimes I long for the days when I was a crustacean in a cubicle – safe, happy and unchallenged.
The problem with those good old days was the lack of personal satisfaction. God challenged me to be more and to do more. So I went to Seminary. I juggled a full time job, the birth of two children and ministry on the weekends. I studied at dawn and wrote papers at night. Saturday mornings was study time. I crammed classes into a very tight schedule. I made time for school, work and most importantly, family. But all that was easy compared to what I face now. Surviving school came down to doing what I was told. It was hard work and time consuming but I gave the teachers what they wanted and they gave me a passing grade and that was that. I often relive good memories from those days, a time when I really proved I could accomplish a great deal. Now I face challenges that are so much more difficult.
There are no more teachers to tell me what to do. There is no manager standing over me patting me on the back. There is no yogurt container for me to hind under. There is just God helping me with the challenges that I face. And so often the answer from God is; you will have to work this out for yourself. It is equally empowering and frustrating. There are times when I praise God for the trust He has given me and times when I just want to hide in a cubicle and punch out at five. What a mess. They told me in Seminary it would be hard. I listened but I didn’t fully understand difficult it would be until I lived it.
See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. (Isa 48:10 NIV)
The people of Isaiah’s time were tested by God in order for them to turn their faces towards God rather than away. They were punished like children so that they would grow up. They were challenged, just like me, to become the people God called them to be. God challenges all of us to be more than we are. God challenges us to be godly – even to be perfect as our father in heaven is perfect. A tall order, some would even say impossible. And yet, is there any challenge that is not attainable when we have God on our side?
I accept the challenge. I embrace it. But sometimes, when life gets real tough, I just wish I could hide somewhere and rearrange rocks.
God bless you,
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Monday, June 20, 2011
For Christians, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is among the toughest mission fields in the world.
More than 95 percent of the 184 million souls who live in Pakistan claim Islam as their faith. The country has anti-conversion laws for Muslims and has served as the base of operations for extremists. The Taliban formed in Pakistan among a group of refugees from neighboring Afghanistan. In May, the Pakistani city of Abbottabad was revealed as the hiding place of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
But the Gospel has taken root in Pakistan, says Hadayat Din, a native of Sialkot, in Pakistan’s northeastern Punjab province.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Friday, June 17, 2011
The sad news was finally revealed on May 31, 1997, by San Francisco Chronicle’s religion writer, Dan Lattin:
"Incapacitated by a series of strokes, Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross sits in a cluttered corner of her home in the desert, smoking Dunhill cigarettes, watching TV and waiting to die…Kuebler-Ross revolutionized the way Americans look at death and dying, but decades of work with the terminally ill has done little to ease her own transition into the great beyond…Her mood is feisty, but her German-accented voice is faint and tinged with bitterness. `For 15 hours a day, I sit in this same chair, totally dependent on someone else coming in here to make me a cup of tea,' she says. `It's neither living nor dying. It's stuck in the middle. My only regret is that for 40 years I spoke of a good God who helps people, who knows what you need and how all you have to do is ask for it. Well, that's baloney. I want to tell the world that it's a bunch of bull. Don't believe a word of it…I can’t wait to die.'"
(1 Kings 19:1-5) Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, "May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them." Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.
What these two people have in common is crushing disappointment. Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross told people that God would take care of them no matter what. Then she found herself crippled and totally dependent upon others. Elijah won a great victory against the prophets of Baal. Immediately he was threatened with execution. Both of these people must have had high expectations which ended up unrealized. Instead of the restoration of true worship – flight into the desert. Instead of victory in Jesus – slow death in a chair. I have experienced disappointment like this. I have been under that broom tree demanding an explanation from God for the disaster that occurred. Have you been there too? If you haven’t there is a good chance that someday you will. When the unthinkable happens – what do we do?
(Ruth 1:16-18) But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
This is one of the great stories of faith from the Hebrew Bible. Faith is the willingness to plunge into the unknown with only the conviction that everything is going to be ok. When things don’t work out, faith is what keeps us from giving up. Ruth and Naomi starve for a while before Boaz rescues them. What if they hadn’t met Boaz? From the above statement, I doubt Ruth would have given up.
(John 6:26-27) Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
After the miracle of the loaves and fish, Jesus goes off by himself. Some of the witnesses of the miracle follow him and ask him for another sign - another wonder. Jesus tells them; forget about it. He offers them faith instead. Faith in God will survive long after all of the earthly signs and wonders have been forgotten.
Too often we demand results from our efforts. Too often we demand miracles / prosperity / success from God. The mega-churches of today are full of people who go for the show. Miracles are performed right before our eyes, prosperity is promised, success in every undertaking is assured. If you have faith, God will give you what you ask for! Just the message we all want to hear. This is why the mega-churches are mega-full. Unfortunately, faith has nothing to do with any of this.
True faith in God is when we are under that Broom tree feeling sorry for ourselves, and we hear that quiet voice inside of us telling us to get up and get going. True faith is when we are laying in a bed dependent upon caretakers waiting for the end, but still praising God for the gift of life. That is the great blessing of faith – to be hopeful and thankful even when disaster strikes. I have known many people who have had that kind of faith. They have strengthened me far more than any claims of success or miracles.
God Bless You,
Pastor Bill Whitehead
Thursday, June 16, 2011
When I was in college I met the biggest celebrity I could imagine. Maynard Ferguson. That’s right, The Maynard Ferguson. What’s the matter? You never heard of him? That’s ok, he was a jazz musician, and I was a big fan. I used to attend his concerts whenever I could. I saw him one day in the lobby of my alma mater and I walked up to him, introduced myself and shook his hand. That’s right, my hand touched his and I walked away floating on the air. Until I realized that my hand stank of cologne. In fact, he reeked of this foul smelling stuff, as if he had dumped a whole gallon of it over his head. I had to wash my hands five times to get rid of the stench. So much for the excitement of meeting a celebrity. Now if I see someone famous, I keep my hands to myself.
Our celebrity culture is way out of control. Photographers follow them. Employees snitch
on them. Every detail of their lives are recorded. Their every action waited upon in breathless anticipation. But all we have to do is watch a couple of the biographies on E! and we can see that these people are really quite normal. In fact many of them because of poor decisions are not even worthy of our respect let alone admiration (any Democratic congressmen come to mind?). Strange isn’t it? We would be thrilled to meet a really famous person - but this person might be doing things that would deeply shame us. Many years after I met Maynard Ferguson I found out he was a serious cocaine addict. Apparently cologne wasn’t the only thing he was overindulging.
Jesus treated everyone he met with love and respect. Celebrity status didn’t faze him at all. In Luke 14:1-24 there is a story about Jesus in the home of a prominent Pharisee. The guests take some time to decide which one of them would sit at the table in the places of honor (an important custom that is still practiced in the Middle East). Jesus follows this task by talking to them about the importance of humility in the Kingdom of Heaven. I see his words as an obvious attack on the importance of maintaining the social hierarchy. I think that the guests at that table saw it that way as well. Jesus obviously wasn’t impressed with the status of the people around him.
Today Jesus would say a real celebrity is a person who does God’s will. After all he said; “you are the salt of the earth.” I’ve taken this to mean that our actions should be just as important to a person as salt is for the body. And if we become salt to another doesn’t this make us the true celebrity? Our actions here and now for the Kingdom will be remembered long after John Wayne’s films have turned to dust. And Jesus said; “you are the light of the world.” Doesn’t this mean that our daily decisions can light a path through the darkness for some lost soul? And isn’t that more important and more lasting than the most beautiful of starlets? We who seek to do God’s will are the true celebrities. Long after the age of glamour and glitz is gone our struggles to inaugurate the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth shall live on.
So I don’t pay any attention to the big names anymore. I look for celebrities living around me. I get thrilled when I meet a person who displays care and concern for me. I am excited to meet a person who lives a life of love for others. These are the true celebrities. And you can and should be one of them!
Just remember to go light on the aftershave.
God Bless You,
Pastor Bill Whitehead
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Keep Praying for Eric to Walk Again!
Paralyzed Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand tweeted that he is feeling twitches throughout his body, a sign LeGrand feels shows he is making progress.
Late Monday, LeGrand tweeted: "Twitches going throughout the body, coming back."
Since being paralyzed from the neck down in a game against Army on Oct. 16, LeGrand has been taken off a ventilator, starting eating solid food and moved to his aunt's house in Jackson, where he has continued rehabilitation. LeGrand said he has been able to move his arm to the side.
Despite his injury, LeGrand, 20, has continued taking classes at Rutgers as he works towards his degree.
Read More about Eric LeGrand…
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Nobody knows when the NFL season will start, but that isn't stopping Tim Tebow from building his brand during the lockout. The Denver Broncos' second-year quarterback recently released his memoir, Through My Eyes (HarperCollins), which replays the stories behind his mother's difficult pregnancy with him, the Heisman trophy win, and the first-round NFL selection. During his college football years, Tebow became noticed among Christians for more than his athletic ability after he put Bible verses on his eye black. CT recently spoke with Tebow about why he remains vocal about his faith, fallen Christian athletes, and the absence of his biblical eye black.
Monday, June 13, 2011
Friday, June 10, 2011
Thursday, June 9, 2011
If you want to read something that will turn your stomach, take a look at this article in Forbes Magazine. It’s about the five richest Mega-Church ministers in Nigeria. These guys are financially raping their poor parishioners and flying around the world in private jets. It is absolutely disgraceful. These words that Jesus said two thousand years ago are just as applicable today; “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” (Matt 23:25-26).
Rich Nigerian ministers are not the only ones who are greedy and self-indulgent. Many Mega-Church pastors in the USA are living lavish lifestyles on the backs of their parishioners and ignoring basic codes of conduct and ethics. The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) is an accreditation group that sets standards for responsible nonprofit organization stewardship; board governance, financial transparency, integrity in fundraising, and proper use of charity resources. Thank the Lord many large churches belong to this organization and follow its mandates. However, you might or might not be surprised to find out who isn’t.
Transparent finances are a must for any non-profit organization. At the bare minimum, all of the church’s financial records should be available to the membership. Apparently not for the following fabulously successful missions (link); Creflo Dollar Ministries; New Birth Missionary Baptist Church (Eddie Long), Kenneth Copeland Ministries, Without Walls International Church (Randy and Paula White). Not only can’t a parishioner and/or contributor get financial records from these organizations but the Senate Finance Committee was blown off as well. They’re not the only ones of course, they are just the most noticeable. As their ministers fly around the world in private jets, drive amazing cars and live in fabulous mansions, is it any surprise that they don’t want their people to know their compensation packages?
Ministers should not ask for donations to pay their salaries, and sell books to their contributors at the same time. This is in the covenant of standards that I signed when I because a minister. It is not ethical to make money off of the people who pay my salary. Take a look at Creflo Dollar’s bookstore website. While selling lot’s of books, there is also a request for donations. Now if either the book sales or the donations are going to a specific cause, then that is not an ethical violation. However, since the website doesn’t say where the money is going, and we don’t know the finances of this ministry, it is possible that a lot of the money is going into the man’s pockets. Big church or little, if a pastor is selling something to his/her parishioners and pocketing the money, then he/she is a total sleaze.
Many of these ministries do not release the names of the governing boards. Many of them have their employee’s sign confidentiality agreements. The Senate Finance Committee found instances of fear and intimidation when requesting information from the ministries. All of these issues raise a red flag for these churches. But the law gives non-profits a great amount of latitude. None of these ministries have broken the law, unless congress changes it.
However, you can do something about it. You can demand fiscal and ethical accountability at your church. You can demand transparency of spending and decision making. You can demand that your church acts within the guidelines of the ECFA. And if the leadership tells you to get lost, you should leave and go to a church that is run by basic ethical standards. Don’t get ripped off by wealthy ‘teachers of the law’ who are just a bunch of hypocrites.
Pastor Bill Whitehead
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
(From The New York Times)
Even as an evacuation order prompted thousands of people to begin flowing out of this eastern Arizona town on Tuesday afternoon, a hardy few were hunkering down as the Wallow Fire — now, at nearly 311,000 acres, the second-largest in Arizona’s history — surged toward them.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Pastor George Saieg won a court case that allows him and his supporters to hand out Christian tracts at an Arab American Festival in Dearborn, Michigan. I like this story because our church has been handing out Bibles at festivals in Rahway for eight years. We have been allowed to do this, but we have not always been treated well. People look upon us with great suspicion. I get the feeling they think we’re cultists. So I can relate to Pastor Saieg and the bad feelings he is up against when he tries to reach out to Muslims.
Below is a excerpt from an article on the subject, as well as a link to Pastor Saieg’s website. Peace my friends.
(Press & Guide Newspapers)
Dearborn’s restrictions on leafleting at the Arab International Festival are unconstitutional and the city could have to pay damages for it, a group of federal judges ruled Thursday.
In a split decision, a three-judge panel from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the city infringed on Christian Pastor George Saieg’s free-speech rights by instituting in 2009 a policy prohibiting pamphleteering during the three-day June street festival.
Ministry to Muslims Network
Monday, June 6, 2011
(from Christianity Today)
A major spike in the harassment and arrest of Iranian Christians in recent months is revealing just how nervous the Islamic republic is about the prodigious success of house churches, say Iranian Christian leaders.
The government is concerned, observers say, because more and more Iranian Muslims are converting to Christianity. The house church movement is booming, with converts estimated in the hundreds of thousands. Evangelists are distributing large numbers of New Testaments, and satellite television continually beams Christian programs into the country.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
The Crystal Cathedral in California, the first so-called Mega-Church, is in bankruptcy court. Too much mega-debt and not enough mega-giving. As they haggle with their creditors, Sarah Palin is traveling the northeast visiting sites associated with the founding of our country. She was at the Liberty Bell the other day, an object that is a total fraud, but makes for a nice photo-op. I’m going to use these two examples as a way to contrast what many of us think ministry is, with what ministry actually is.
The Crystal Cathedral offers so much more than our little First Baptist does. They have programs and services for everyone. They take polls and surveys and find out the needs of their constituents and address those needs with the best that money can buy. If they find out a large number of their people want special worship services for their pet Chihuahua’s, then by golly on Tuesday evenings, there will be a special worship service focused on cute little short haired dogs. However, if the people in the pews need personal ministry, that is more difficult. The professional staff is few in number, and the membership is large. The ministers can only provide personal ministry to a small percentage of the church. Volunteer ministers are called upon to reach out to the rest of the folk through small group missions. The system does work, but a lot of people just show up on Sunday and sit in the pews, and a chance to minister and be ministered to passes them by.
Famous people, like Sarah Palin, are even more distant. At the very least, a person who makes an effort can speak personally with the Senior Pastor, or one of the staff. The closest any of us can get to someone famous is a handshake on a receiving line, or ‘personal’ messages on Twitter. The cult of celebrity is creating the illusion of personal contact, without all of the messy bother of actual personal contact. Without saying whether I like her or not, I can say that she is great at establishing a bond with people without meeting them. This is not ministry, of course. But for many, like those who follow the infamous Harold Camping, the illusion of personal ministry is powerful.
But mega-celebrity is just a mega-sham. Ministry is personal. In the story of the Woman with Uncontrollable Bleeding (Luke 8:40-56), Jesus stopped his mission of mercy to a sick girl and asked the famous question – who touched me? A woman, who was healed by just touching his cloak, was sinking back into the crowd without further contact with him. Jesus insisted on speaking with her. He wanted to look her in the eye and minister to her personally. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus’ ministry is personal. He makes lots of speeches, but his most powerful ministry is doing good as he passed by.
Jesus’ handling of crowds is a different matter. The story of the miracle of the loaves and fish in the sixth chapter of John has Jesus walking away from a crowd of 5,000. He retreats to the other side of the lake for some quiet time. Some of the crowd follows him and what does he do? He scolds them by saying they are motivated by the desire for more food! Can you imagine a celebrity like Sarah Palin scolding her audience? It won’t happen, because today, numbers are everything. To Jesus, individuals mattered, numbers didn’t.
I was friends with a man for a brief time who was a big fan of a radio preacher. He thought the world of this man on the airwaves, even though he only met him once. He didn’t think so highly of me or my church family, and said so on numerous occasions. I tried my best to minister to him, but he cursed me out and disappeared. I hope he finds what he is looking for, but he was looking in the wrong place. He was looking for personal ministry, without the bother of getting along with people. Celebrities and Mega-Churches offer a lot. But ministry will always be one on one.
God bless you,
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Pray for our Kids for Christ program this Saturday. It is a friendly and fun competition encouraging our children to memorize Bible verses, sing, dance and praise the Lord. We have over 100 children signed up and traveling from all over to this event. Pray for their safety and pray for a blessed event.