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God Is Blessing Your New Year

God pours out His blessings all the time.  Some blessings, like the sun, the rain and the air we breathe, He pours out on all people.  Other blessings are reserved for those who love the Lord and recognize they are called according to His purposes in this life.

Dozens of verses from the Bible speak of His blessings.  I chose an even dozen below to help you start your new year in confidence that God is on your side. 
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Jeremiah 29:11
The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing.  He refreshes my soul.  He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake.  Psalm 23:1, 3
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and donor; no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.  Psalm 84:11
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him.  Matthew 7:11
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:19
Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.  Luke 1:45
His favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.  Psalm 30:5
The One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them.  1 John 5:18
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  2 Corinthians 9:8
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.  Psalm 23:6
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.  Ephesians 1:3
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28
So resolve this year to not be anxious about anything.  Instead, in every situation make your requests known to God through prayer and petitions offered with a thankful heart.  Then you can be sure that the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 
God bless your new year, day by day by day!



The Battle Over Jesus’ Birth

I loved the way our family celebrated Christmas when I grew up.  It was a family spectacle with a wonderful tree glistening with silver tinsel and lots of lights, including magical ones filled with water that bubbled in bright colors all day long.  Friends and neighbors dropped off cookies, candy and gifts.  Carols were sung by strolling carolers.  Four Sundays of Advent prepared our hearts to hear the story of Jesus’ birth presented on Christmas eve with candle light, beautiful music and a crèche depicting baby Jesus in a manger surrounded by animals, shepherds and wise men. 

What a magical time for us children, retelling again and again how Jesus came as God’s unique gift to humanity on a starry night when angels sang to fearful shepherds tending their flocks near Bethlehem.

Then, much later, we discovered the pagan origins of Christmas and how many of our Christmas customs had origins in a Roman holiday dedicated to their god of agriculture.  The Romans ate and drank a lot, and lit candles to fend off the darkest days of the year. They could only hope the sun would return once again.  In the 4th century the church fathers finally redeemed those misdirected customs by associating the season with the birth of Jesus. 

In early America Puritans banned Christmas celebrations as pagan, and Congress actually began its first session in 1789 on Christmas day, an ordinary business day.  Christmas was widely seen in the Colonies as an English thing fit mostly to be ignored.  Not until after the Civil War in 1879 did Congress proclaim it to be a national holiday.  Charles Dickens’ famous story, “A Christmas Carol“, published in 1843, is credited with re-framing the holiday as a family-centered event, popularizing it in the public’s mind.

The last 50 years, Christmas controversy has continued. We’ve seen atheists oppose Christmas displays in the public square, merchants turn Christmas into the biggest selling season of the year, and the words “Merry Christmas” widely displaced by “Happy Holidays” out of political correctness.  Today, Christmas is viewed by the secular world as a season of heightened depression and increased suicide (fact check: suicide rates are actually highest in spring).  Psychologists say Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) peaks this time of year when unrealistic expectations and excessive self-reflection increase, perhaps due to winter weather and diminished daylight.

Who’d have thought this wonderful holiday dedicated to celebrating the birth of a perfectly innocent baby could be so controversial or, so…well, SAD?!

We shouldn’t be surprised. Jesus Himself said: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  When He said this He was teaching His apostles about the need to go and tell people that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.  He foresaw the opposition that would come to their message.

At Christmas time Baby Jesus looks so sweet and innocent lying in the manger.  Beautiful baby Jesus destined to save the world from itself.  Isaiah called Him: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

This particular Christmas let us remember once again “unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.”  This is the reason for the season.  It’s a beautiful thing, indeed.

May you have a hope-filled, Spirit-filled Merry Christmas, indeed! 


Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel

We are in the midst of the church season called “Advent”, which means “coming” and refers to the first coming of Jesus in Bethlehem and also his promised Second Coming to reign on earth as King.  Liturgical churches such as Lutherans, and Episcopalians celebrate Advent for four Sundays before Christmas, typically reading scriptures out loud together related to Jesus’ coming. 

In the 4th and 5th centuries, Advent became a 40-day period of fasting in preparation for baptism on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th.  That date comes twelve days after Christmas, as proclaimed in the popular Christmas song, The Twelve Days of Christmas.  The word Epiphany means “to reveal” and so Advent became associated with a series of four major revelations about Jesus, including:

  • The visit of the Magi, or “Wise Men” to Bethlehem, which revealed Christ’s Kingly nature;
  • Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan River when God declared in a voice heard by all that Jesus was God’s beloved Son;
  • The miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, which revealed Jesus’ supernatural powers and released great faith in His followers;
  • The future Second Coming of Christ that will usher in His rule over the whole world for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-6). When Jesus was taken up to heaven,  the angels declared (Acts 1:11): “Men of Galilee…why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” 

This Christmas we too focus intentionally on the Coming of Christ.  The unerring Word of God tells the story of His supernatural birth as a human being, His many miracles, His finished work on the Cross, and His dispensation of the Holy Spirit that enables us to experience God directly for ourselves.  Through the power of the Spirit we can hear God’s voice, walk in the gifts of the Spirit and perform miracles just as Jesus did.  As we grow in Christ, we are transformed by His Spirit from glory to glory into greater and greater likeness of Him.  The ultimate glory is this: Christ coming to life within each of us, our one true hope of lasting glory.

The prophet Isaiah foresaw this (7:14): “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Emmanuel”, which means “God with us.”  This is my favorite name for Jesus.  The Bible promises He will never leave us nor forsake us.  Jesus, Himself,said “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Think on these things this time of year when you hear the great Christmas hymn again:Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel. The last verse goes:

O come, O King of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind.
Bid all our sad divisions cease and be yourself our King of Peace.

What a wonderful expectation to contemplate this Advent season.


Equipped on the Inside

We shared last Sunday about how Reach Out is set up to restore individuals and families to bring the love and reality of Christ into our homes, communities and beyond.  This coming Sunday we’ll continue our series on church vision by talking about how we equip people “on the inside.” By this we’re referring to the transformation ministries available at Reach Out, including worship, personal prayer, pastoral counseling, Sozo, deliverance and Biblical life coaching.  Representatives from each of these ministries will share a little about what these ministries have to offer.

How many know that Jesus accepts us just as we are when we first encounter Him but He loves us too much to leave us that way.  Before we can influence others for Jesus, we ourselves have to allow Him to change us.  Indeed, He invites us to be born again—made entirely new—through the power of His sacrifice on the Cross.  Remember, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead now lives in all those who follow Him as Lord and Savior.

Romans 12:2 says we are transformed by the renewing of our minds so we are no longer enslaved to conform to the ordinary ways of the world.  Rather, Jesus sends His Spirit to enable us to discern and live from the inside out God’s perfect will for our lives. 

The goal of our inner equipping ministries is to help each person regardless of age or background find and rely on their own connection with God through Christ Jesus.  We believe each person is fundamentally capable of experiencing God for themselves because God made us all in His image and likeness.  The Word of God is our instruction manual and we rely on the Spirit of God to connect you with what God wants you to know, change and become.  We can  help you recognize and perceive God directly for yourself, as He is the only One who really knows what’s best for you at any moment in time.

Worship is the foundation of inner equipping at Reach Out because through worship we regularly encounter and learn to directly experience God’s presence.  Often God speaks through His Spirit during worship and so we also learn to recognize His living voice.  When we hear, taste and see that God is good during times of worship, we learn to hear, taste and recognize God’s presence at other times in our lives, and so we become equipped more and more to be led by His Spirit.

In this way we discover the Kingdom of God within us, and we know for certain we are children of the Living God who empowers us to live and move and have our being in Him.  Acts 17:28   We look forward to seeing you this Sunday.


Vision – Seeing What We Are Becoming

We are engaged in a four-Sunday series laying out both the vision of what Reach Out is becoming and the leadership structure being put in place here to help us become what God is calling us to be.  We are called to be a hothouse where the Kingdom of God can grow year round.  Just as greenhouses sprout flowers out of season, even in the dead of winter, so God has positioned our church to nurture new life from the seed of His Word and living water of His Spirit—even in the midst of the world’s darkness today.  

Scripture says we labor in vain unless God builds our house.  Since our church was formed 25 years ago, God has been speaking through visitors and our own leaders about what He is building at Reach Out.  Through Elizabeth Austin and Scott Ross, He declared Ezekiel 34:15-16.  We are to be a place where God, Himself, “will search for the lost and bring back the strays…bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.”  Doug Stanton, Steve Smith and others saw and released rivers of living waters flowing from heaven, bringing imperishable seeds of God’s Word to life, person by person, children included!

Reach Out Logo

Our prayer warriors have received multiple visions of an enormous Tree of Life growing in our midst.  It has deep and broad roots and an enormous crown of leaves bearing fruit in season and out of season.  This is who we are and also who we are becoming, precept upon precept, soul after soul.  It is a vision of abundant life made possible only by Jesus.

This past summer, Ryan Bastress spoke to the heart of our vision.  He said: “God’s vision in life is always relational. ”  We are to be a relational church.   “Take initiative to build connection,” said Ryan. “It doesn’t run on good intentions.  It begins 1 on 1—and not just the pastor doing it!”
To build relationships the way God desires we need to enter more deeply into relationship with Him.  This happens by coming to Him humbly again and again.  Loving  our neighbor hangs first on experiencing the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Beyond that, Ryan exhorted us to “be available, be intentional, take initiative, and learn how to communicate.”  This process begins in earnest when we realize we aren’t as good at communicating as we might imagine.  It takes effort and there are communications skills to learn.  We have tools to teach this through pastoral counseling, Sozo, and life coaching ministries.
Now I urge you to fall in love with the vision we are sharing here at Reach Out.  God is establishing places like ours all over the planet with deep and wide roots, to bring forth His Way of Life in the midst of the craziness that plagues humanity in this hour.  We needn’t be shaken to our core by the madness of the world.  To the contrary, God is strengthening us to thrive as a place of healing, restoring and equipping. Fall in love with your assignment and become a harvester for the Lord. 
Take the next step and God is sure to give us increase!


God’s Ancient Treasure: The Crown of Family!

The Bible tells us God invented “family.”   Moreover, He made it in His own image.  Here are the verses:

Then God said, “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number.  Genesis 1:27-28
Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.  Genesis 2:23-24
About that “rib” thing, the word “rib” in Hebrew means “side” and signifies there are two sides to the one Man called Adam (i.e. “humanity”), which Genesis 1:27 says God made as both male and female.  (*See footnote.)  Men and women were designed to be different and to be united as husband and wife to become one flesh for the purpose of multiplying the generations on earth.  Family was part of God’s original design, a valuable treasure in His ancient treasure chest laid up for our inheritance as children of God.

Not one of us is born without the union of male and female components no matter what someone’s “gender identity” may be their mind. (*See footnote.) Given the brokenness of modern families, it’s not surprising that a lot of modern research has been devoted to trying to prove or disprove whether raising kids in intact families with fathers and mothers is actually superior to raising them as single parents.  The overall conclusion is children of intact families are generally more likely to succeed than other children but there’s a lot of variance in the data and certainly there are children of single parents who do well.  Factors such as family background, education, moral behavior, finances, etc. all can affect the success profile of a single parent child.

This means that “Family” can neither be taken for granted nor idolized.  Still, according to the Bible, it’s God’s original design and much evidence underscores that nurturing, protection and affirmation of identity work best when there are both a father and mother present living in the Biblical covenant relationship of marriage.  Even so we understand that God is a father to the fatherless, a restorer and nurturer to the unloved, and affirms all who come to Him crying “Abba Father.”  His love is boundless and Christ’s blood covers every fault and shortcoming.

What I believe is that the crucial element that makes family the true crown of creation and a most valuable item in God’s ancient treasure chest (apart from the Living Word of God, itself) is when families learn to keep Jesus at the center of their life.  Saying prayers together, reading Bible stories out loud, talking about God and faith, modeling love, honor and forgiveness as Jesus taught us—these are the real keys to raising children successfully.  Where God’s love is combined with wisdom and put into action, children will not depart from it.  Proverbs 22:6
Keeping Jesus at the center of family life brings the promise of God’s abundance and blessing in a way no other upbringing provides. 
* For an interesting article by an MIT professor on the extent of the differences between the genders, click here.


Finger Lakes Ignite: Run with the Living Word This Fall

Enrollment is still open for Finger Lakes Ignite’s new quarter: Live the Word Out Loud: Walking Daily in Seven Great Promises of Jesus.  I hope you’ll pray about joining us.  First class is this Sunday, November 5, and enrollment is open thru the second class on Nov. 12th.  You can see the Course Outline and Schedule by clicking here.
Why take a class like this in addition to going to church or doing your own Bible study?  The answer is simple: to connect with other hungry believers, dive even deeper into the Word and let the Word dive deeper in you.  There’s never been a more important time to step up our faith walk.  The world is shaking and hungry for real hope.  It’s time to light your lamp even brighter and take it out from under a bushel to shed the light of Christ throughout the Finger Lakes and beyond!

Here are the seven promises of Jesus we’ll be ingraining into our daily lives this Fall:

  1. Love and intimacy: “Now remain in My love.”  John 15:9
  2. Inner freedom: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!”  John 8:36
  3. Abundant life: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  John 10:10
  4. Supernatural power: “Remain…until you have been clothed with power.  Luke 24:49
  5. Bearing fruit: “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”  John 15:5
  6. To do anything in His name: “You may ask Me for anything in My Name, and I will do it.” John 14:14
  7. Eternal life: “Whoever lives by believing in Me will never die.”  John 11:26
Each week we’ll read additional scriptures related to each promise and discuss them in Ignite Small Groups.  Creative activations and weekly journaling will help us make each promise more real until they become a part of our everyday lives.  How is that possible?  Come, taste and see!

This is a portentous time to dig deeper in the Word of God.  October 31st marks the 500th anniversary of the day Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of a church in Wittenburg, Germany, calling for reform and a turning back to the Bible from the priestly domination of the Roman Catholic church.  The Protestant Reformation Luther ignited brought to the fore a truth long hidden in plain sight in scripture that every person is saved directly by the grace of God, not a hierarchy of priests who required payment of “indulgences”–specified amounts of money–for the forgiveness of sins!  See Ephesians 2:8.

Now a growing number of observers say a “New Reformation” is underway in the Body of Christ keyed to the realization not only that we as individuals are saved by grace, but that each one of us is directly empowered by Holy Spirit to impact the world around us supernaturally, just like Jesus!  I.e., it’s not up to a select few individuals to walk in daily faith like Jesus.  It’s what God intended for every Believer from the beginning when He made us in His image!
Become more of the change you want to see in the world by joining us in Finger Lakes Ignite this fall to ignite the Living Word of God deep in your heart and soul!  Classes are two hours a week, reading and journaling takes about another hour of your time.  Like many other Ignite students have found in the past, you’ll soon discover it’s the highlight of your week!


Changing Seasons in the Spirit

A heavy frost descended this week, signaling that autumn is finally here in full, bringing fresh apple cider, pumpkins and wood fires in the hearth.  No one has to tell us to put on warm clothes and fleece lined jackets.  It’s obvious from the change of weather!

A change of spiritual seasons is also happening around the world right now.  Jesus said “You know how to interpret the weather signs of the earth and sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret the present time?” Luke 12:56  He was talking about the changes that were coming to the world after He revealed the power of God’s Kingdom operating on earth.  So how are we, as followers of Christ, to interpret the times in which we now live?

The truth is we can’t begin to understand what’s going on in this new spiritual season without changing our personal belief systems!  If we rely on our usual ways of thinking, we are bound to miss what God is doing and succumb to fear, anxiety, frustration and anger like so much of the world.  (Just look at the news headlines!)  What God is doing is calling us to deepen our understanding of His Word and who He made us to be so that we can believe like Jesus—not just in Him—and walk with confidence in the power of His love, truth, peace and victory over death. 
Surely the bedrock of our faith is that we obtain eternal life when we accept that Jesus died for our sins.  But the Lord calls us to something more than the promise of eternal life.  He calls us to walk in the same power that raised Jesus from the dead!  That’s where we are now.  That’s the spiritual season we are in now…to step in farther to trust that His promises are really for us today, and to step out farther to take risks for His Kingdom.  The world needs now more than ever to experience God directly and see the power of His goodness, love and mercy.  This happens when we ourselves draw closer to God in our prayer closets and take risks to share the Jesus in us with others.
Jesus said: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? … But seek his kingdom, and [everything you need] will be given to you as well.  Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom.” 

Luke 12: 25-26, 31-32 

Take it to heart when the Word of God tells you that you are a new creation, the old has passed away, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17.  Let go of your “old man” and use your imagination to practice being who God says you are.  Make a determined effort to challenge every thought or emotion you discover in yourself that robs you of the confidence, boldness, hope, courage and love God promises everyone who trusts Him as a child trusts a loving parent!   
Put on Christ as you would a warm jacket this Fall, and don’t go anywhere without Him.


Not Enough Time?

Many people I know feel very pressured for time.  I hear them say: “Where did all the time go?” Or “There’s just not enough time to get everything done!” They’re not just talking casually. It really seems like time is moving faster these days!  Scripture tells us to walk in wisdom and make the best use of our time because the days are evil (Colossians 4:5, Ephesians 5:15-17).  How, then, are we to deal with the pressure of time, especially when evil seems so prevalent and things seem to be accelerating?

For this we need to gain God’s perspective about time.  After Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden, God declared that Adam “must not be allowed to…take also from the Tree of Life and eat, and live forever.” Genesis 3:22.  In other words God intended us to have all the time in the world, but our forebears traded their birthright for a bite of fruit.  God’s perspective is that eternity with Him is worth far more than the price of a meal!
By His sacrifice and resurrection Jesus re-opened the door to eternal life to everyone who believes in Him.  Our born-again birthright is the capacity to view life clearly and count on God for provision every day as we pray for things to be done on earth as in heaven.  We need to hold onto this perspective to avoid succumbing to today’s growing time pressure.
The heart of Godly time management is not managing time but managing ourselves in relation to time, because we can’t really change the clock or calendar. Here are some important principles adapted from our friend, Jamie Dickson, that can help you put God’s eternal perspective about time to work in your own life:
  • Learn to prioritize what’s most important. If you start building a foundation with small stones—your lowest priorities—you’ll never find room for the big stones, i.e., your big priorities.  Big stones include allowing time for spouse and family, healthy exercise, connecting with God, etc.
  • Saying “no” does not have to mean achieving less.  In our family, we eventually gave up a second income in order to have more time to homeschool our daughter. For many years God kept us afloat financially without a second income while we traveled and took our daughter with us!
  • Time is something to be invested, not “managed.” Have you noticed that when you strive to fit everything you have to do into your calendar you often end working more, seeing your family less and not getting enough rest?  When you invest time in what’s important, you learn to let go of less important opportunities that take away from what you want and need the most.
  • Feeling overwhelmed is not inevitable. It comes from expectations you hold onto and choices you make.  Ask God for courage to negotiate expectations according to your boundaries and, if necessary, walk away from situations that really don’t work for you.
  • Make a list of your projects and tasks. This equips you to make better informed choices about how to invest your time.  Otherwise, everything becomes a blur, including your own priorities.
  • Time management is a means, not an end in itself. Staying flexible about time management helps you avoid stress.  e., don’t stress out about time management!  Just do it.
  • Keep the Sabbath. God commanded Adam and Eve to keep the Sabbath long before Moses made it a law.  This means keeping Sabbath is for everyone!  Honoring God with a consistent day of rest each week sets everything else in our lives in order, reduces stress, and increases joy and peace.  Try it!  Remember the Sabbath, and you’ll begin holding onto God’s eternal perspective of time much better!


Evil in the World – Betting Against the Odds in Las Vegas

The mass shooting in Las Vegas this past weekend is horrible beyond comprehension.  President Trump called it “pure evil.”  It was committed by an accountant with no past record of crime, who liked gambling and playing poker for $100 a hand.  His brother said the event came out of nowhere “like an asteroid.”  The only vague explanation for the shooter’s motives that surfaced in the press was that his father had been on the FBI’s Most Wanted List as a bank robber.  The report seemed to imply the impulse for destruction was lodged deep in the shooter’s DNA.  Well, the Bible certainly agrees evil is lodged deep in the DNA of humanity.

Evil, meaning inner rotteness or corruption, is first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 2:9, when God told Adam and Eve not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  We know they did.  Within ten generations, the evil that began when their first son Cain murdered his brother Abel multiplied until “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Genesis 6:5.  God had to flood the earth to cleanse the human race.  Even so, something corrupt in Noah’s family persisted so that evil continued to appear alongside good after the Flood, spreading throughout all human history until today.  
If I were a betting man, which I am not, I would not bet against the continued impact of evil on our beleaguered planet.  Jesus Himself depicted evil as growing alongside good in His famous parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13:24-30:
“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.”
Until then, Jesus told us to pray that God will deliver us from evil—all kinds of evil, whether natural disasters or inflicted by morally corrupt people like the shooter in Las Vegas.  God listens and responds.  Jesus also taught us to pray that it be done on earth as it is in heaven, where evil has no toehold.  A little reported miracle from hurricane Alice was the way in which the storm suddenly changed direction and skipped over heavily populated Miami to traverse the wild Everglades, then somehow avoided wreaking widespread destruction up the west coast of Florida.  At least the TV news in Tampa said it was like a “miracle out of the Moses movie!”

So for now, our job is to invite God to transform us until we become the change we want to see in the world. We may not be able to stop the growth of evil on the whole planet, which is Jesus’ job, but we can do our part to expand the growth of God’s goodness whenever and wherever we step out in faith to share the love of Jesus. All of Creation is waiting for the children of God to be revealed!