Both historical knowledge and spiritual experience are needed for faith

We need both personal spiritual experience and knowledge of the Bible

About a week ago I was very impressed by a quote that I found in my devotional book.   The focus for the week was on the supremacy of Christ and how we get to know him. In today’s world it is popular to emphasize the spiritual in an almost mystic sense. But it is much less popular to do the hard work of reading Scripture and studying it to learn more about the historical figure of Jesus who inspires our Christian faith.    The  quote points out that both the spiritual response often associated with prayer  and meditation and the historical underpinning from study are needed in order for us to truly know what Jesus is about and how  his Spirit lives in and through us.  I pass it on to you.

Historical Christianity is dry and formal when it lacks the immediate and inward response to our Great Companion; but our spirits are trained to know him, to appreciate him, by the mediation of historical revelation.  A person’s spiritual life is always dwarfed when cut apart from history. Mysticism is empty unless it is enriched by outward and historical revelation. The supreme education of the soul comes through an intimate acquaintance with Jesus Christ of history.    (The Double Search by Rufus M. Jones)

Scripture speaks of both essentials

I think both ends of this balance are easily seen in the words of Scripture as well.  The Apostle Paul spoke of the spiritual side of our relationship to God:   

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  Eph. 3:16-17  NIV 2011

David wrote eloquently of the need to keep in touch with God’s written record and allow it to form us. 

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.    Ps 119:105


How to react to a disturbing election

White House



In the wake of a disturbing election how do we cope?  Here are a few suggestions from a long-time pastor. 

Do not live in fear. 


One of the most prominent messages from God to his people in the Bible is simply yet powerfully this; “Do not be afraid!”  These exact words occur 74 times in the current NIV translation.  The words were spoken in times more uncertain than ours.  While this election has elicited fear on all sides for multiple reasons, it is the heritage of believers in all times to “trust and not be afraid” (Isa. 12:2).  As Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).  Our hope is always in God, not a person or a political process.  And when we feel threatened, we look to God for our hope and strength to overcome.


Do something fun 

Jesus himself recognized that we needed times to get away from the stress of thinking about things like elections (Mark 6:31).   Sabbath rests and time of exercise or recreation help us to keep our perspectives wholesome and they lift our emotions too.   Personally, I like to take a long walk in the nearby forest preserve. 


Stand firm in your own life for what is good. 


One of the most disturbing things to me about this election cycle has been that it has seemed to further legitimize the rude, the crude and the divisive in America.  Both parties set new lows in negative advertising.  So all of us face a challenge afterwards as to what our vison is for our country and what our behavior will be.  Will we be part of the decline or part of the recovery?   For Christians, our course is clear.  “Show proper respect to everyone” (1 Peter 2:17).  “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29).   This is a high calling that affects how we use language to emphasize a point or express anger, what movies we approve, what jokes we tell, how we speak about those with whom we disagree, who we choose as heroes and stars, and how we treat those different from us.   Let us be “eager to do what is good” (Tit. 2:14). 




A pastor friend of mine referred to this verse this morning in a post. “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Ps 127:1).  No matter who is in charge on this earth, peace and blessing are ultimately God’s gifts.  This November is also a good time to remember one of our basic prayer verses, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).   Pray especially for our president elect whether we like him or not.  If you like him, pray that God will use his strengths to benefit all.  If you don’t like him, pray that God will protect the country from his weaknesses.  (The same prayers could be prayed for every public servant.)  Pray for the government transition in the US as well.


There is a time for everything  

For younger voters especially, I would encourage a little of the perspective of Solomon.  “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9).  I recall a conversation eight years ago after Obama’s first victory.  It was a chat between a fervent Republican and a strong Democrat.  The Democrat said pointedly to the Republican, “Well, if we can survive eight years of George H. W. Bush, you can survive eight years of Obama.”  I thought of that comment again last night as one of the commentators mentioned that it is extremely rare in American history for a party to hold the presidency more than eight years running.  There seems to be a cycle that occurs regularly in our sturdy democracy.   The pendulum swings repeatedly.  I have seen enough elections now to have observed that swing multiple times and I agree.  This is why parties in America go back to work and start thinking about next time, like sports teams planning for the next season.    



All verses from Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2001 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Praying Deeply

Lady at prayer
Praying with our whole lives


A Devotional Challenge

This year I’ve been reading from one of my favorite devotional books, A Guide To Prayer For Ministers And Other Servants. Each week, there are some readings to prod one’s thinking. Today the readings were about prayer that goes so much deeper than words. In our troubled world today, we must learn again that our religious life cannot be separate from our daily actions if we expect society to change for the better. I was meditating on the following quotes.

“Love to pray. Feel often during the day the need for prayer, and take trouble to pray. Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of himself” (from A Gift for God by Mother Teresa).

Today we feel so inadequate to the task of changing our world. Yet it is through prayer that God enlarges our capacity and magnifies our spiritual strength so that we are able to do the good works that he has planned for us. Through prayer the “immeasurably more” of God works through us (Eph. 3:20).

Prayer at Work Everyday

“If when we plunge our hand into a bowl of water, or stir up the fire with the bellows or tabulate interminable columns of figures on our bookkeeping table, or, burned by the sun, we are plunged in the mud of the rice field, or standing by the smelter’s furnace, we do not fulfill the same religious life as if in prayer in a monastery, the world will never be saved” (quoted from Gandhi by Carlo Carretto in Letters From The Desert).

How can we save our nation from violence? It will only happen as the hearts of people are filled with nonviolence. Through prayer God changes our hearts. Continuing in prayer makes us uncomfortable with any hypocrisy that remains in our attitudes and actions because ultimately they hinder our prayers.

“[Jesus] lived his message before he spoke it. He preached it by his life before explaining it in words. This was Jesus’ method and we too easily forget it. In many cases catechesis is reduced to words rather than to ‘life,’ to discussions rather than to the pursuit of Christian living. And here, perhaps, is the reason for the poor results” (Carlo Carretto in Letters From The Desert).

Jesus admonished us that those who are wise would not only hear his words but put them into practice. In so doing, they would build a strong and durable foundation for their lives.

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” –Jesus  (Matthew 7:24).

A prayer for today

Oh Lord of life, teach me to pray deeply–with my everyday life, with my whole heart and also with my words of devotion.

We’re Praying for Another Divine Visitation

George Washington Praying at Valley Forge


Sometimes we are discouraged by the church’s decline

Sometimes we look around and are discouraged that the work of God seems to be in decline.   And it is not our imagination either.  One key indicator, though not the only one, is church attendance.  Stats show that the percentage of people attending church is down and that the regularity of attendance of those who attend is also down.   People in general feel that the church is losing its influence.  This is not the first time in US history this has happened.

But God has sent revival to the Granby area before

But the good news is that God has repeated visited our area and reversed the trend.   Here are three accounts of historical revivals in the Granby area that had marked positive effects upon the churches.   These are three actual accounts of Granby area revivals including quotes from eye-witnesses, accounts found in historical records.   I hope they will inspire us to believe that God is able to visit us again in the 2nd decade of the 21st century.

Jonathan Edwards 1741

Jonathan Edwards was one of America’s most accomplished intellectuals and theologians. Born in what is today South Windsor, CT, Edwards became a leader of New England’s first great awakening. His 1741 sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” first heard by throngs of believers in Enfield, CT is considered one of the most famous and influential ever delivered in the United States.  []

“We went over to Enfield where we met dear Mr. Edwards of Northampton who preached a most awakening sermon from these words, Deuteronomy 32:35, and before the sermon was done there was a great moaning and crying went out through ye whole House…. ‘What shall I do to be saved,’ ‘Oh, I am going to Hell,’ ‘Oh, what shall I do for Christ,’ and so forth. So yet ye minister was obliged to desist, ye shrieks and cry were piercing and amazing.” – Stephen Williams

In 1747, Jonathan Edwards joined the movement started in Scotland called the “concert in prayer,” and in the same year published An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth. []

 East Granby 1814-1815

The reorganization of the Turkey Hills ecclesiastical society coincided with the religious reawakening that swept through Connecticut in the wake of what historians refer to as the age of “free thinking and free drinking.” In a July 1815 article on recent religious revivals, the “Connecticut Evangelical Magazine and Religious Intelligencer” lists Turkey Hills as one of the societies that “had been favored with special showers of grace.”

In the autumn of 1814, Mr. Nettleton commenced his labors in East Granby. This was a waste place. The moral condition of the people was exceedingly deportable. But God saw fit to turn again the captivity of Zion. Under Mr. Nettleton’s preaching, there was a very interesting revival of religion.  -Rev. Bennett Tyler

The effect of that revival upon the church, and upon the community, was most happy and lasting. The schoolhouse and private rooms were filled with trembling worshipers. A solemnity and seriousness pervaded the community, which had not been experienced for years before. – Rev. Jonas B. Clark

33 people joined the Congregational church during the year of the revival.

[East Granby: the Evolution of a Connecticut Town by Mary Jane Springman and Betty Finnell Guinan  pp. 117]

Copper Hill Church 1871

In the ministry of Lemuel Richardson, in 1871 there was an extensive revival of religion, attended with remarkable manifestations. The writer, at a single evening meeting in the church, which lasted from 7 o’clock until midnight, witnessed as many as 15 persons who became apparently unconscious. Some were stretched upon the floor; others were lying or being supported upon the seats. This visitation of “the Spirit” was regarded as a great blessing, and it certainly did strengthen the church in numbers. – Charles Horace Clark


[Revival] gatherings often attracted so many people that they had to be held outdoors. When they lasted several days, the participants camped out nearby. Thus they became known as camp meetings. There were camp meetings at various locations near Copper Hill throughout the 19th century.

[East Granby: the Evolution of a Connecticut Town by Mary Jane Springman and Betty Finnell Guinan  pp. 127]

Praying for God’s Visitation Today

At Copper Hill Church we are praying and preparing for God to visit his people again.   As a part of this, this Sunday we will be participating in the second area united Grassroots prayer service.  This series of prayer services is a cooperative effort of our church, Life Church and West Granby United Methodist Church and the three pastors.   At 6 PM, March 6, we will be uniting in prayer at Life Church.  Each prayer service has a special emphasis.  The first one, held at Copper Hill, emphasized prayer for our country.   This coming service, hosted by Life Church, will emphasize prayer for our churches and for New England as a region.    A third one to be hosted by West Granby UMC is planned at a date to be announced.





God’s Mercy Transcending Evil in Charleston.

Men in a night time prayer circle in Charleston, SC.
God has been calling people to pray



Our hearts are broken by the horrific murderers at Emmanuel church in Charleston.  It is unfathomable that the horrid deed was done in prayer service by a man who sat in the service for an hour and enjoyed the hospitality of the group before turning on them.   The young man’s acts are certainly inexcusable, hate-filled and pure evil.

But my focus in this article is how I am seeing the grace of God released in others surrounding this tragedy.   To begin, consider the testimony of the woman who helped to catch the young man.  She could not have made it more clear in her interview that she considers the whole circumstances surrounding her noticing the car and helping the police locate him to be a direct answer to the prayers of people in Charleston.   She testified that God was using her to accomplish what needed to be done.

I notice also the Christ-like desire of victims’ families to forgive even through their tears.    Only those seeking to follow Jesus and drawing strength from his Spirit would even attempt this.    And, speaking as a pastor, I know they will need continuing help from God’s Spirit to keep that intent through the days to come as forgiveness is usually a journey rather than a one-time thing.

Next consider how this incident is calling people across our country to prayer.  Immediately in Charleston people were praying.  Now even in Washington people are praying.  Oh that we did not need tragedy to call us to prayer!   But thanks be to God that when there is tragedy we do turn to Him who can truly help us.   Our church joined in prayer for the situation in our morning service.   Perhaps God’s Spirit is using this tragedy to call us again as a nation back to God.

In addition, tonight (6/21/15) there is a great unity march in Charleston.  Jesus prayed that God’s people would be united (John 17:21).    At this time we are being drawn closer to one another by calamity.

Our United Methodist Church posted a thoughtful response remembering the name of the church.  The church at which the shooting occurred is called Emmanuel – which means, “God with us.”    I believe that God is definitely showing his presence if we will only look and respond!



Meditation on Prayers for Healing

 A thoughtful discussionprayerfor healing1

I have a good friend, Eva Boswell, with whom I have a running theological discussion about God’s will concerning healing. It is a good-natured discussion between friends and I think we both learn from each other’s perspectives. Both of us believe strongly that God does miraculously heal in answer to prayer and we both pray for ourselves, our families and others that God might bring physical healing as well as spiritual healing to them as needed and we both have received answers to such prayers.   I have learned to have a great deal more faith through Eva’s example and positive expectation. 

Eva’s perspective

Eva takes a very positive position regarding God’s will for healing.  In a recent Facebook post she begins with the following quote from Gloria Copeland, follows it with an example that she has discussed with me before and concludes with verses from my favorite Psalm.  I include her post in its entirety and then my own perspective. 

God is not schizophrenic. But the way some people talk about Him makes it sound like He is–especially when it comes to the area of divine healing.” Some people say things like, “God puts sickness on us to teach us something, a lesson. Then sometimes He heals us, if it’s His will. You just never know what He’s going to do.” Such statements, as well-intended as they might be, are wrong. God does not have a split personality or a divided will. He is not the source of disease AND its cure! He doesn’t will to make people sick one day….and then will to heal them the next. — Gloria Copeland


 If you, as a parent were to “give your child a sickness” just to teach them a lesson, or if you were to place their hand on the hot stove and burn them to teach them not to touch the stove, or if you were to break their leg to teach them how dangerous a situation could be, you would be called a child abuser and your child would be taken from you. God is not a child abuser. — Eva Boswell

 Psalm 103:1-2 Bless the LORD oh my soul and forget not all His benefits. He forgives ALL my sins and He heals ALL my diseases. AMEN

My meditations on God’s desire for our wholeness

I suggest that the healing theology of Mrs. Copeland and Mrs. Boswell needs a tweak to account for some of the data of Scripture and experience.  Here is the kind of summary I would make.

God wills our wholeness always.   However, God’s definition of wholeness is usually bigger than ours; it includes spiritual wholeness, emotional wholeness, mental wholeness, moral wholeness and physical wholeness.   Not only does it include these different facets, but it includes appropriate maturity levels as well.    His idea of wholeness also has eternity in view and because of that, He prioritizes spiritual wholeness which prepares us most for eternity.   On the other hand, our idea of wholeness is centered mostly on our physical bodies now. This is partly because our physical bodies affect so much about our mental, emotional and spiritual lives, and partly because we just simply crave comfort.   Paul compared the relative value of the two spheres in his writing to Timothy.  “Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Ti 4:8 NIV).

There are repeated examples in Scripture of times when God allowed, at least, physical illness/infirmity to persist as a means of testing or discipline, each time for a higher spiritual purpose.   One example is Job.   While God was not the immediate author of his suffering, it is clear in the theology of the book that God allowed the suffering to happen. But it is equally clear that a key result of that suffering was the purifying of Job’s attitude, from arrogant self-righteousness to humble dependence on God.  One of the key points of the book and the reason Job’s three comforters were rebuked is the idea that righteous people do suffer.    A second example is in 1 Corinthians 11:30–32.   The text clearly says that some in the church had become ill as a direct result and as a “judgment” from God because they had misused the Lord’s Table.   The purpose was that they would “not be condemned with the world.”     A third example is what Paul refers to as his “thorn in the flesh.”   Most commentators believe it was some physical affliction, though we do not know exactly what it was.  Paul believed it was allowed by God for the spiritual purpose of keeping him from becoming conceited because of the great revelations that had been given to him (v. 7).   In each of these three cases, God, in allowing physical illness/infirmity to persist, had in mind the purpose of greater wholeness.

All this does not mean that we should hold back from praying for release from physical illness.  We should pray as both Job and Paul did in the circumstances cited.  

Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven (Jas 5:14-15 NIV). 

We should pray both that we might be healed and that we might be taught any lessons that God wishes us to learn as long as the physical infirmity persists.  It is instructive that the promise given us with this exhortation to pray has both a physical and a spiritual result.   God’s desire is that wholeness return quickly.  It is also important to understand that the great majority of physical illnesses and infirmities are not for the purpose of discipline, but rather simply results of the fall, of the groaning of creation as Paul teaches (Romans 8:19-24).  Thank God the creation is being liberated from this bondage to decay through Jesus Christ.  That glorious fact also encourages us to pray with faith for healing. 

But creation will not be completely liberated until Jesus makes all things new.    Only then will the curse of death cease.   Until then some disease/infirmities will happen as a part of aging and leading up to death. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Co 15:26 NIV).   It’s important to think also that God’s plan is that any illness of ours be temporary in some sense.  If it is not temporary from the perspective of this life, then He will heal it when we meet Jesus and so it will still be temporary.  Praise be to God for the great healing of the resurrection.  When we pray for healing of an illness, we are praying that God’s ultimate purpose for complete healing be made real—break into our lives— now as a present witness to the eternal purpose of God to renew his creation in wholeness.

A Plan for Quiet Times Alone with God in the New Year


A time to read the Bible and pray
A time to read the Bible and pray

“When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Mt 6:6 NIV).

“The first thing the Lord teaches his disciples is that they must have a secret place for prayer; every one must have a solitary spot where he can be alone with his God.  Every teacher must have a schoolroom.”   [Andrew Murray, With Christ is the School of Prayer p. 23]

Make plans now to refresh your quiet time

One of the first planning tasks of the New Year for me is to plan what I will do during my devotional times each day.  I find that if one always does the same things, then quiet time gets boring and fails to inspire as it should.   If time alone with God is to be fresh and renewing, then I need to renew the plan that I use at least every year.   Most of us think about starting things in the New Year, and most devotional books begin in January, so January is usually a good time for starting a new devotional plan. 

Quiet time basics

There are several related basic considerations.  How much time am I able to spend?  What will my Bible reading plan be?  What enhancements will help me at this time?   If I am planning a more ambitious reading program like reading the Bible through in one year, I may chose a devotional guide such as Your Daily Walk from Walk Through the Bible Ministries.  It is designed to encourage and assist in just such a plan.   Or perhaps I want to coordinate my readings with a devotional book I am using.  One of the best of this type for a longer devotional time that I have used is A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants by Upper Room.   Another great plan that works for shorter time frames is to find a devotional book by a classic author that you enjoy.  I have greatly profited from more than one devotional by E. Stanley Jones (no relation), the most recent being 365 Days with E. Stanley Jones, Mary Ruth Howes, editor.  You can also use a short booklet such as “Daily Bread” or “The Upper Room.”   If I have a Bible reading plan that is not related to a devotional, I might not use a dated devotional book but instead read a chapter from an inspirational book, either classic or contemporary.   Three contemporary ones I highly recommend are Secrets of the Vine by Bruce Wilkinson, Fresh Faith by Jim Cymbala and Listening for God by Marilyn Hontz.  This coming year I will be continuing my repeated reading of the Psalms and then moving to the NT, followed by starting again in the OT.   For my extra reading I have chosen a book called Rooted in Faith, Meditations from the Reformers, Compiled and edited by Bernard Bangley.

Setting is important

Another important matter is the setting Continue reading “A Plan for Quiet Times Alone with God in the New Year”

State of the Church address

At the semi-annual church conference, I changed the format of my usual report and instead presented a “State of the Church” address.   It was meant to summarize the achievements of my pastorate and describe the position of our church today as I view it.   I am attaching it in pdf format.

The State of the Church

Having reflected on it now for a couple weeks since I wrote it, there is one section that I should have added to the innovations section.  But we take it so much for granted today and know that there is no going back so I did not think of it.   The item I should have noted concerns all the technological advances we have made in using the computer since I have been pastor.   I arrived at the end of the typewriter era in Kirkville.  During my tenure, all record-keeping has been computerized; we used the computer to keep records and generate mailing lists.  Our current database expert volunteer is Josh Basile.  Of course, all correspondence and bulletin preparation has been computerized.  Currently we are using Word and Publisher 2010 to accomplish our work.   After Mahlon Moon’s thoughtful memorial gift of the the projector and screen in memory of Tillie, we entered the era of projected song words, PowerPoint slides when needed, mission slide shows without carousel trays, downloaded video clips, movies on the big screen, and most recently now, joining in a national simulcast.   All this has required consistent upgrading through the years as technology advanced and equipment wore out.  Finally, with a great deal of help from Steven Sgroi, we have become a church with a viable web presence.   We now have our own domain name  –, on which we maintain our church website, publish three or four blogs and  have the capability for a sermon database in printed or video form.  In addition, again with Steven’s help, we are now on Facebook.   Our web presence is of increasing importance today as people check out churches online before visiting and expect some technical savvy when they arrive too. Ben Mackey oversees the team that makes possible our projection and sound ministry on Sundays.   Also, thanks to Ed Maum, we enjoy an in-house network.   Thank you to all the other volunteers too who make all this happen.

Finally, I would recommend an important parallel anecdotal account of the current state of our church.  If you read my wife’s book, God With Us; Fifty True Stories of God’s Faithfulness, you will see that it reflects who we are as a congregation very well.  So many of the stories describe the ministries of our church co-incidentally as she relays the first person testimonies.   Overall, a very powerful picture of our community of faith emerges.


Guiding congregational prayer

Over the last several weeks, there has been more than one occasion for our church to join in united prayer as a congregation in various different ways.   Some of them have been ways that we do not see very often.  I thought it might be helpful for me to address in a blog article some of the practices that were in evidence as we prayed together.

Praying for Eric and Magda

This last Sunday, we had the privilege of praying for Eric and Magda and family as we commissioned them for short-term mission service in Romania.   As pastor, I asked for many to gather around them in front at the altar rail as we laid hands on them and prayed for them.   One might ask, “Why do we lay hands on them?”   The short answer is simply that it was done that way in the book of Acts.  For example, when Barnabas and Saul went on their first missions trip the Bible says that the church at Antioch laid hands on them.   “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Ac 13:2-3 NIV).   IN the NT, the laying on of hands is also done in conjunction with prayers for receiving the Holy Spirit and prayers for healing.    Since a successful missions trip can only happen as the Holy Spirit empowers, it was natural also to lay hands on them as we prayed for the coming missions trip. 

As we prayed for Erica and Magda I suggested that we all pray out loud at the same time.  Continue reading “Guiding congregational prayer”