God Shows Mercy


Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost | August 20, 2017

Romans 11:1-2 | New Living Translation (NLT)

I ask, then, has God rejected his own people, the nation of Israel? Of course not! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham and a member of the tribe of Benjamin.

No, God has not rejected his own people, whom he chose from the very beginning.

Romans 11:29-32 | New Living Translation (NLT)

For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn. Once, you Gentiles were rebels against God, but when the people of Israel rebelled against him, God was merciful to you instead. Now they are the rebels, and God’s mercy has come to you so that they, too, will share in God’s mercy. For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone.

Again this week we have a very short passage from the book of Romans.  Paul is setting up the next part of his letter – these two short passages talk about God’s mercy on Israel.  Israel was part of God’s plan. The nation of Israel were God’s chosen people.  There may have been some making the argument that God has rejected Israel.  But then why did God choose Paul?  Paul was, by his own words, a Hebrew of Hebrews.  If God had rejected Israel, then why did He choose Paul to take the Gospel to the known world (at the time?) Perhaps because Paul was a Roman citizen and also a Jew meant that he could have a larger audience.  So many times, we think people are beyond God’s salvation…I even thing that sometimes we think God has rejected certain people.

Paul is emphatic – God has not rejected his people. At times we all feel a little like Elijah. His story is recounted in the next couple of verses. Elijah prays to God, “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”

God replies to Elijah, “No, I have 7,000 others (faithful others) who have never bowed down to Baal.”

There are times that it feels like the faithful followers of Jesus are few and far between…it may seem that God is distant and doesn’t even really care.  Elijah felt this way, even after his great win on Mt. Carmel.  God continues to call people to salvation.  God continues to call his chosen people – the Jews to salvation.  God continues to call the Gentiles toward salvation.  God continues to call all people to salvation.  We are reminded in scripture that God is not slow in his promise to return, as we think slowness means, but he is being patient – he is being forbearing.  In light of the week’s events, I think we could all learn much about forbearing one another.  But be cause of God’s great mercy, he doesn’t desire that one person on this earth should perish without a saving faith in Christ.  Does that mean that all will be saved?  No…but God is doing everything in his power to direct each person on the face of this planet toward Him.  What we do with that, is our decision – and it can be a decision with eternal consequences.

I love how this passage finishes up and it reminds us of God’s patience, forbearance, mercy and grace.

For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn. Once you Gentiles were rebels against God, but when the people of Israel rebelled against him, God was merciful to you instead. Now they are the rebels, and God’s mercy has come to you so that they too, will share in God’s mercy.  

We (every person on this planet) is a rebel – we are defiant – even in the midst of a merciful God.  Each one of us has sinned – each one of us has turned to our own way – and yet God in his wonderfully rich mercy, made a way for salvation.  God’s mercy makes away for all, if we only receive it.

The Dollar General Strategy

I can’t remember how much I’ve written about Eldred.  Our town of 800 is located just south of the border of Pennsylvania and New York.  We are about 15 miles from Olean, NY (pop. 13,000) – the biggest city anywhere near us and also 15 miles from Bradford, PA (pop. 8,000). In order to get to a city of any size, you go north to Buffalo or Rochester, or go west to Erie.  All of those cities are at least two hours away.

I’ve mentioned before that the Wesleyan Church vision statement goes like this:

Celebrating every time a disciple makes a disciple and a church multiplies itself until the Wesleyan Church has a transforming presence in every zip code. 

Again this post is prompted by a discussion that was on Facebook, but I didn’t want to write a novel there.  The cities of Bradford and Olean, each have a Walmart.  At 15 miles those are both relatively close for us.  When we lived in Fort Edward, our closest Walmart was at that distance.  Even in Martinsville, Walmart was around 10 miles from our house.  When we lived in Staunton, Walmart was only about 5 miles.

I know it may seem hard to believe, but there are many people (usually by choice) in our neck of the woods that live many more miles from Walmart.  If you head south, you won’t run into another Walmart until you get to St. Mary’s, which is well over an hour, clocking in at 57 miles from Eldred.  Granted we live in a different part of the world than many people do, but that is the point of this post.

I checked it out and within a 50 mile radius of Eldred, there are just 7 Walmart stores.  In that same 50 mile radius there are 47 Dollar General stores.  The closest three Dollar General stores reside in Portville, NY; Shinglehouse, PA and Eldred.  Our town is the smallest of the three at 800. Both Shinglehouse and Portville have over 1,000 residents.

I give you all the information first so that now we can turn to how that applies to the church.  We often think for a church to be effective that it has to be big. I would agree that a church needs a certain critical mass in order to be the church.  However, it’s not as big as we would think.  Even as I think about McCrae Brook, we are getting to that critical mass point – we may even be there.  We do have some challenges when it comes to an aging structure with our buildings, but we can still reach the surrounding area of Eldred.

Look at this mission statement:

In Dollar General, you’ll find a company that embraces substance and simplicity. Our mission is Serving Others. For more than 75 years, we have served communities with convenient-sized stores to deliver everyday low prices on products that our customers use every day. We deliver a smarter, easier shopping solution accessible to more consumers

Several key words – the first is that their mission is serving others. Shouldn’t that be the mission of the church?  I like how they say they have served communities with convenient-sized stores.  So many times with think bigger is better.  In addition to the Dollar Generals we also have several small footprint grocery stores.  They are great because you can get in and out fast and because they are local, the people get to know you.  I want to pull one more quote, they promise a “smarter, easier shopping solution accessible to more consumers.”

The church should be a place that serves others.  First let me say that I have the utmost respect for large churches.  The Wesleyan Church has many great “mega-churches.” Our largest is found in Lawrenceville, GA.  12Stone is pastored by Kevin Meyers. Several years ago we had an opportunity to visit.  We have also visited Heritage Church in the Quad Cities.  In addition to that we were part of both College Wesleyan and Lakeview Wesleyan while living in Marion, IN.  Both of those churches ran over 500 worshipers while we were there.  This post realizes that we need churches of all sizes.  We need our large churches.  They are ministering to much larger communities.  12stone operates just outside Atlanta, GA.  We have several larger churches in our district that serve the greater Buffalo area.

However, there are places, for the purpose of this article, I’ll call them the Dollar General churches.  I think McCrae Brook is one of them.  We can reach the people in the smaller places – and there are many of them.  There are around 50 zip codes in McKean and Potter Counties (which reside within the Western New York District.) And we have just two churches (both in McKean County.)  I realize that the Wesleyan Church isn’t the only game in town.  But I also note that in many of the communities that have a Dollar General, there is also other retail establishments.  Yes, there are churches in McKean and Potter Counties that are not Wesleyan and that’s ok – we work together for the cause of the Gospel – but why not have a Wesleyan, transforming presence in every community where there is a Dollar General?  I know my Wesleyan Canadian friends have taken the mission statement and changed it to a transforming presence every where there is a Tim Horton’s and if you been to Canada, you know there is a Tim Horton’s on every corner.

What does it mean to go to every zip code in the USA?  How does that look here in the Twin Tiers?  God has continued to challenge me to push the boundaries of McCrae Brook.  I believe that God is calling us to plant a congregation in Shinglehouse.  This would be a start into Potter County.

Several of my pastor friends have posted links to articles about bi-vocational ministry.  One of the things that we are going to need to reach every zip code is bi-vocational pastors, who are involved in their community and the church.  As I’ve mentioned before, God has granted us incredible favor in our community.  We love our neighbors here in Eldred.  I believe smaller churches are uniquely situated and qualified to plant churches in places like Eldred and many of the smaller communities in Western New York.

In our district, we only have 35 churches, but we have over 250 zip codes – as you can tell many of them are not reached by a transforming presence – at least yet.  There are many places in the surrounding area that people wouldn’t want to drive 20 minutes to church.  After all, they only drive 20 minutes or less to Dollar General.  Smaller churches are uniquely situated to reach communities that need a transforming presence.

I’d love to here your comments…either here or on Facebook.

Sunday Night Thoughts

Sunday Night Thoughts

So here we are on a Sunday night in mid-August – how did that happen?  Today has been a wonderful day of ministry.  It followed a wonderful two weeks of a working vacation.  First at Houghton College for Refresh and then this week with our daughter and her two darling little children.  Her husband Michael joined her on Monday and then on Wednesday, we went to Allentown to see my mom and dad.  On Thursday we went to one of our favorite amusement parks – Knoebels’s Grove in Elysburg, PA.  We had a great time taking Robert on the rides.  He thoroughly enjoyed it and was a great trooper.  Baby Anna did good…you can only imagine the over stimulation a 6th month old would get at a amusement park.  It was so good to be with family.  We have wanted to go to Knoebel’s for several years now and finally got the chance.  Hopefully it won’t be so long until we make a return trip.

Spending time with family and relaxing would sum up the last week.  It’s been two Fridays now since I have led worship at Emmaus Road, but am looking forward to this Friday leading worship again.  This week is a bit of a down week once more as we get ready for the fall season.  Our District Superintendent will be here this coming Sunday for his annual visit.  Pam preached today on the subject of faithfulness.  So I get one more week of not preaching…we will finish up with the Fruit of the Spirit, looking at Gentleness and Self-control and then on September 10th we have National Back-to-Church Sunday. Yes, we will be a week early, but there are other things in the works for the next week.

We had a good service this morning.  Pam did a great job preaching despite her voice being a little scratchy.  Once again we had a good crowd in church.  We need to redo the video – thanks to me 😦  The highlight of the day was this evening as we invited some families over for S’mores.  I think this will be the start of a Sunday evening family activity once a month.  Really looking forward to that.

That’s about all I have. We appreciate your prayers.  Blessings…

Prayer for the Week


Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Running Update

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This was one of those kinds of mornings – you know the kind I’m talking about.  The kind where you can, but don’t want to get out of bed and exercise.  Fortunately for me, I didn’t have anything on my agenda.  I did finally find an excuse to go out and ran 6 miles.  It’s the second and only run of the week. Both were six-milers.  I did get a 3-1/2 mile walk with Pam on Monday, pulling Robert in the wagon.  \

Being that we had two weeks of vacation, I think I did well.  However, next week, I need to kick the mileage back up.  I have only 27 miles for the month of August and still have an outside chance of 1,000 miles for the year, which would be the first year in three that I have accumulated that much mileage.

Speaking of the above quote…I never seem to regret going out on a run, but I do regret not going out.  Pressing On!

Beautiful Feet

August 13, 2017 – Tenth Sunday After Pentecost

Romans 10:5-15 | New Living Translation (NLT)

For Moses writes that the law’s way of making a person right with God requires obedience to all of its commands. But faith’s way of getting right with God says, “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will go up to heaven?’ (to bring Christ down to earth). And don’t say, ‘Who will go down to the place of the dead?’ (to bring Christ back to life again).” In fact, it says,

“The message is very close at hand;
    it is on your lips and in your heart.”

And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”

“How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring the Good News!” This is how Paul finishes this passage that we are looking at this week.  Paul reminds us that the Good News is not complicated.  We (as humans) love to complicate the Good News.  We are told that “The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.”  

What is the message that we are looking at today?  Interestingly enough, I have quoted this over the last few weeks during our worship time.  Here is the message of faith:

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the death, you will be saved.

Why does it need to be anymore difficult than that. It seems that we like to make this life of faith or receiving Jesus more difficult than Paul made it.  What is true salvation?  We already have the answer. It’s in the quote that I have above…and how do we know?  Listen to what Paul writes:

For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

Paul is quoting from the prophet Joel.  Peter quotes from the same passage during his message at Pentecost.  Salvation is for everyone – not just the elect – but for everyone who believes and calls upon the name of the Lord.  If you’ve never done that, today could be your day.  That’s one message that we can get out of the text today.

However, let’s go back to the first thing I quoted from Paul.  “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”  Do you like to hear good news?  I know I do.  Don’t we often say, “I had to be the bearer of bad news?”  The Gospel is Good News and God has called us to take the Good News to people who haven’t heard it.

Paul asks the question, “How can they call on him to save them unless they believe in Him?” He goes on, “How can they believe in him if they have never heard about him?”  And just one more “How can they hear about him unless someone tells them?

One of my Wednesday posts coming up is called “The Burnt-Over District.” Believe it or not, there were those in the late 19th Century who believed there was no one left to save here in the Western New York region. Even if that was true, it isn’t true now, although I believe God is working in the Twin Tiers region. God is on the move.  We need to go and tell people about Jesus – how will they know otherwise.

In just a few weeks, McCrae Brook will be part of the National Back to Church Sunday.  We are doing it on September 10.  We are told that 80% of those who don’t go to church would go, simply if they were asked.  Think about that!  The chances of rejection are small especially if that person is your friend.  I want to encourage you.  We have been commanded to take the Good News everywhere – to everyone.

How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring the good news.