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A Reflection On Isaiah 59
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
I prepared the following for evening prayer, but it snowed that night and I found it rather difficult to drive and having damaged two cars traveling to St. Georges in the snow in the past, I am loath to do it again. Fr. Marc filled in for me and did a wonderful job, so let me now offer my reflection that I would have shared then as a blog before Christmas. The readings are as follows if you would like to look at them ahead of time.
I want to offer a short overview of Isaiah and then focus on how powerful our God really is. Verses 1-8 cover the sins committed by the people that deprive them of God’s favor. In Chapter 58 the Israelites seem to be a Holy people. They fast and seek after God’s wisdom, but Isaiah calls them out saying that they are hypocrites. Now in Chapter 59, any one of these listed sins would be enough to separate them from God, but Isaiah points them all out, because you can’t just take care of one, because that still leaves the others. When we look to clean up our own lives, we probably have to tackle one problem at a time, but we need to deal with them all at some point. One bad habit often leads to another, so it may take awhile to undo all the damage we have done to ourselves.
Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
The Israelites had suffered at the hands of the Assyrians, but they could not blame God, saying that he was not powerful enough. The fault lay with the Israelites who failed to follow God’s laws.
Non-believers will say that God is not able to help his people, but Christians will recognize that God is able to do a great many things. While he no longer parts the Red Sea, it does not mean that he is out of the miracle business. God does hear and I believe that he hears our prayers.
And the Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord's hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.”
● God is just as able to help today as he was back then.
● God's power has not lessened in any way.
● His reach and where he can affect things has not lessened in any way.
● He can cause change anywhere on the planet or in the entire universe.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
His attitude on prayer has not changed. He is as ready to answer prayer now as he was then. God does not need a hearing aid. He hears us perfectly. If you think that he grows tired of hearing our prayers, consider this:
The Parable of the Persistent Widow
1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.
2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man.
3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’
If you know the story, you know this corrupt judge gave into the widows demands. So how much more will a God that loves us do for us. If our prayers are not answered, maybe it is because we gave up too soon on praying or that our ears are the ones that became heavy and aren't really listening. Maybe he is telling us no or not now in our prayers? We have to be sensitive to his voice.
I know that there were times in the past when I prayed for release from certain temptations and grew weary of praying. But then this verse resonates with me and encourages me to persevere.
2 Corinthians 12:9
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
If we throw in the towel, there is a way to separate ourselves from God and that is sin.
but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.
We can pray all that we want, but let us not pretend that we can hide anything from God. He knows what we will pray before we say it. He knows what we are thinking even if we do not say it. God save us from ourselves!
For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness.
We need to be 100% honest with God. We actually don’t have a choice in this matter. You may delude yourself into thinking that you can get something by God, but we can’t. He is more shrewd than the shrewdest lawyer and more insightful than the most insightful psychologist.
No one enters suit justly; no one goes to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity.
We know that many approach the law with their own motives. It is hard for a person, apart from God, to be selfless. By our nature we are selfish. We have to learn what it means to be civilized. But even being civilized does not mean that we are self-less. When a soldier, police-officer, or fire-fighter performs their duty for the greater good, they are being self-less.
When someone in the medical field works with the most contagious, like with COVID-19, that is being self-less. When a parent forgoes something essential, so their child can benefit, that is self-less. We have to approach God in the same way. There is no debating with God. He has a plan for each of us. We can either get on board or the train will just leave without us.
So what have you done this Advent season? Please continue to be in prayer. Like our psalm for today we can say that we love the Lord! Amen?
12 What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord,
14 I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.
Likewise, let us end looking once more at the end of the passage from Isaiah.
20 “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord.
Christmas is imminent. It may have already passed by the time you read this. We celebrate the coming of Jesus and his birth. But he has already been born, so in reality we look forward to his coming again. We need to be preparing ourselves for that day.
21 “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children's offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.”
Let us not thwart the Holy Spirit this Holy season. Remember Christmas is coming, but it is not a holiday, it is a Holy Day. Let his words never depart from our mouths. Amen?
Not A Peanuts Thanksgiving Special
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
This blog is about Thanksgiving, but it is not your typical Peanuts Thanksgiving Special kind of talk.
So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
Maybe you have heard the phrase Jehovah Jireh, which means “the Lord will provide.”
God will provide for us in many ways. He will provide for our country. He will provide for our health, especially in the midst of this pandemic and the rising number of cases. But it is not just the big things. God provides in the small things and we need to be aware of them, so that we give him the glory, but also so that we acknowledge that God is still at work in our lives. God did not just create the earth, set it in motion, and then left us to our own devices. He is with us every day.
So my father who is quite old has not retired and still runs his used bicycle business. He has been worried because he has delayed servicing his septic tank for too many years and now is worried because it is being used more.
I tried myself to find it, but gave up after realizing that what I thought was the tank was likely just my hitting large rocks.
My father worked with several companies to try and service it, but they all needed to actually find the tank. You see there is no accurate map of where it is. One company said they would come, but never did. Two actually came and tried to look for it, once used some sort of ground penetrating radar and the other just a metal rod to probe the ground. Finally, one of
those two came back and tried to dig for it by hand, but found nothing.
My father in all of this grew more anxious. On November 21st, Gideon and I went down to Keyport to visit my father. I expected that we would probably do some bike repair, since that is what we did the previous week. The contractors, who dug the hole, suggested that the tank may have disintegrated. I decided that Gideon and I could expand the hole, possibly digging it deeper and a little wider. Maybe we would get lucky and find the tank? All we knew was the area where the sewage line left the house. The area that the tank could be under was probably no more than 40 feet by 15 feet. But we did not know how deep underground the tank would be. If so, searching that entire area by digging to any particular depth could have taken days.
We probably had not been digging for more than 30 minutes when Gideon found something that appeared to be a significant amount of stone. It appeared to be flat, so in the hope that it was the wall, we dug along it to the left. It did appear to be a wall. As we dug to the right, we found a corner. We figured that this must be the wall. We both started digging on the same side of the hole and quickly we were able to expose the top corner of the tank. Dad, all excited, acted as the foreman, with Gideon and I as the laborers. Gideon marked out what we thought would be the shape of the tank and we dug a channel in the dirt towards the center on a diagonal, figuring that once we found the edge of the hatch (or whatever you call it) we would expand our digging and expose the hatch, so the pros could open and clean it out. It may have taken us an additional hour of digging, but we eventually found the hatch and cleared it off completely.
My father was ecstatic, to the point of getting choked up over it. I was amazed that we were able to do something that the professionals had not been able to, even though they were very close. When I think about it, I think God had his hand in the mix. You could be a doubter and say that the professionals didn’t want to find it. I am going to trust that they tried their best and missed finding the tank by inches. In the end, all that matters is that we found it.
Later, at dinner, I asked my father if he would like to give thanks over the meal and he started, but immediately got choked up again and could not. If that ever happens to you, don’t feel ashamed that you can’t pray. God knows your heart.
"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words."
I said a prayer for the meal (pizza and zeppoles). It was not Thanksgiving Day, but we were ever so thankful to God for finding that tank. This time of year you may have a hard time finding something to be thankful for. Or you may have a hard time putting it into words. Don’t think that you need to be eloquent. Never compare how you pray to the way someone else
prays. God wants to have a conversation with you. That is what prayer is. Do your part and thank him on Thanksgiving for something, even if it seems small. Are you still here and breathing, that is enough! But maybe there is something too emotional going on this year. This year of 2020. If so, the Holy Spirit will intercede for you. Maybe just a moment of silence? God knows your heart and hears your prayer. He knows what you need, even if you do not.
This hymn of praise might help inspire to think about things to be thankful for.
1 We plough the fields and scatter
the good seed on the land,
but it is fed and watered
by God's almighty hand;
he sends the snow in winter,
the warmth to swell the grain,
the breezes and the sunshine,
and soft refreshing rain.
All good gifts around us
are sent from heaven above;
then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
for all his love.
2 He only is the maker
of all things near and far;
he paints the wayside flower,
he lights the evening star.
The winds and waves obey him;
by him the birds are fed;
much more to us, his children,
he gives our daily bread. [Refrain]
3 We thank thee, then, O Father,
for all things bright and good,
the seed-time and the harvest,
our life, our health, our food.
Accept the gifts we offer
for all thy love imparts,
and, what thou most desirest,
our humble, thankful hearts. [Refrain]
Common Praise (1998) #258
Jehovah.Jireh. The Lord will provide. Amen. Amen!
Paralyzed or Comfortably Numb
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
Have you heard the song Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd? No, well let me tell you about it. It is from their album, The Wall.
The Wall is a concept album about Pink, an embittered and alienated rock star. In "Comfortably Numb", Pink is medicated by a doctor so he can perform for a show.
The song ends with the following:
“There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship, smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move but I can't hear what you're saying
When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown
The dream is gone
I have become comfortably numb”
© BMG Rights Management, Concord Music Publishing LLC
This song talks about becoming comfortably numb in order to get on with life. When Pink was young, he had a dream, but that is gone. Now he feels nothing. I think many people can relate to that. It is the loss of innocence. In some cases, that motivates a person to make a difference, but in other cases, the person might just throw in the towel. Life is not easy, why not medicate? That is a terrible road to go down. It can lead to alcoholism, drug abuse, and sex addiction. Still many go
down this road. It would seem that escapism started to become a way of life.
Do you know the song, Dear Younger Me by the Christian band Mercy Me?
Dear younger me
Where do I start
If I could tell you everything that I have learned so far
Then you could be
One step ahead
Of all the painful memories still running thru my head
I wonder how much different things would be
Dear younger me,
© Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Spirit Music Group, Essential Music Publishing
Some people would like to change the past, but cannot. But we cannot dwell on the past. We live in the present and hope for a wonderful future with our Lord and Savior Jesus. Those of use who know Jesus need to remember that there are plenty of other people who not and they are in their own way comfortably numb or maybe as the Christian rapper, NF, says, “Paralyzed.”
Where are my feelings?
I no longer feel things
I know I should
Where is the real me?
I'm lost and it kills me inside
© Nate Feuerstein / Tommee Profitt
I have shared these three songs to hopefully show that people can be going through a difficult time and you might not even know it. I think Comfortably Numb and Paralyzed share a lot in common. The world and life grinds people down when they have no hope. Those of us that know Jesus need to share with those who do not. There are people out there that are paralyzed, numb, they don’t care. We can see from the songs Comfortably Numb and Paralyzed that even though
thirty-six years separates these songs, the issues do not. Everyone is searching for something.
Often we look for advice or wisdom in the music we listen to. Those of us that know Jesus need to lift up those that need a hand. We can’t change the past, but we can work on the present. We can change our present and possibly others. At the very least we can be present for others.
Talk to them.
Listen to them.
Pray with them.
Love them like Jesus would.
Then maybe they will not be paralyzed or want to become comfortably numb.
Hobgoblin Nor Foul Fiend
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
Maybe you know the hymn, “He who would Valiant be”? I have gotten to know it and love it, because our Bishop Julian Dobbs loves it and uses it at almost any occasion that he can. What you may not know is that he uses the original version of the lyrics. You can find details about the hymn at the following link:
The table below contains the original version in the left column and the updated version in the right column. Read through both and you will find it interesting and then I will share why I love it so much.
Hopefully you have figured out by the title of this Blog that the third verse is my favorite.
Hobgoblin, nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit;
I am pretty sure that I have shared that I was a gamer in my youth. My friends and I would gather at one of various houses to play Dungeons and Dragons. We were always on some epic quest for fame and fortune and often we would have to fight a variety of monsters. If you have seen any of the Lord of the Rings movies, the movie has humans, elves, dwarves,
hobbits, ents, orcs, goblins, trolls, and various other kinds of monstrous creatures. The difference between goblins and hobgoblins is that goblins are more evil and hobgoblins are more mischievous.
What resonates with me is that evil or even mischief in this case can be real. It may not be tangible, but it exists. I have never seen a demon or devil, but I believe they exist. I don’t say this to scare you, but to point you in the right direction, because this world will certainly point you in the other direction.
If you look at the rest of the hymn, you will see that it is positive.
● Your spirit will not be daunted.
● You will inherit eternal life.
● The cares of this world and the opinions of others will not bother you.
● You will be secure in your faith and you will endeavor to continue on the path that God has chosen for you.
Read Hebrews 11:1-13 to get a sense of how many others in the past got through difficult times by faith. So can we. Some of our hymns are directly inspired from the Bible, like this one.
Let me start by saying that I have asked the Lord for many things, but the phrase, “One thing have I asked of the Lord” does appear in Psalm 27. David wrote this psalm and like many others psalms he wrote, it is an inspiration to us as well in times of trouble. David was in danger of being killed by one of his adversaries, but we are in the midst of a pandemic.
Psalm 27:1 (ESV)
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
For all of the death that is going on around us, we seem to be doing well in New Jersey. At least that continues to be my prayer. In the midst of this terrible virus, the Lord is our stronghold. Like the song says:
“You are my strong tower
A shelter over me
Beautiful and mighty
You are my strong tower
Fortress when I'm weak
Your name is true and holy
And your face is all I see”
(c) Kutless 2005
Psalm 27:2-3 (ESV)
2 When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. 3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.
While this virus is not like a person that will stumble and fall, it does encamp around us. We don’t know who might have it, but yet we should not live in fear, because not matter what happens, we can be confident that God is with us always as He has said:
Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the
I am sure that some of you miss not being able to worship at St. Georges. I know that I miss being there and seeing all of you. I look forward to the day when we can. If you feel the same way, that find comfort in knowing that King David felt the same way:
Psalm 27:4 (ESV)
One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.
I sincerely appreciate that we are able to continue to worship online via Zoom. However, being able to worship in a community is even better. There is beauty in being able to sing with the rest of you. So the one thing I ask the Lord is that we may get back to a regular form of worship that is safe for all of us as soon as possible. Feel free to read the rest of this wonderful psalm on your own, but let me jump ahead, because David will often sing about a difficult subject, but still end on a positive note. This psalm is like that as well.
Psalm 27:13-14 (ESV)
13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! 14 Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
I too believe that we “shall look upon the goodness of the Lord.” We are in a storm and we just need to ride it out, remembering that Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is in the boat with us. Let us continue to “wait for the Lord.” I love the use of repetition. It helps us to remember to “wait for the Lord.”
My prayer for you at this time is that you have courage to get through the difficult times we are in. We are here if you are in need of prayer. Please reach out to us.
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
One thing I have asked the Lord
People are still worried about COVID-19, people are unemployed, there are still food shortages, recent deaths have sparked protests that unfortunately some have used as an excuse to loot. We are in very difficult and unprecedented times. We have been through many of these things before, but never like this, all at once. At least it seems that way to me.
So where do we turn? We should be turning to God. Recently, George Floyd’s family held a memorial service for him in North Carolina. I saw that it was live on Youtube by numerous stations, so I decided to watch. It was wonderful, beautiful and spiritual. It was held in a Baptist church. They were praising God at the beginning of the service, including his family
members. Many people came to speak on George’s behalf. Even some of the non-clergy speakers still expressed more faith than I have heard many people speak at a funeral. I really appreciated how the Rev. Clinton Stackhouse said that while man might speak initially, God would have the final word and He did through Rev. Dr. Christopher Stackhouse (son of Clinton).
You can find the entire service online if you search for it. Rev. Stackhouse reminded us over and over again of personal things, to help people remember that was not just another statistic, but a man, a good man, a “gentle giant,” a “banana-and-mayonnaise sandwich” type of guy. He had the nickname "Perry Jr." We can’t forget George and we need to do something about the racial problems that plague us.
St. George’s sang this hymn, “Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,” a few weeks ago. I had preached that day as well and normally I look at the hymns for the day to see if they might help me to illuminate God’s Word. I did not feel that it would, but that day was also a NationalDay of Prayer. We are a praying church and we spent more time in prayer than we normally do.
This hymn was our recessional. As we processed out, it hit me how appropriate this hymn is for us at this time. We often just sing the hymn and enjoy it for the moment, but how often do you meditate on the words? Consider it sometime. It is a worthwhile exercise.
1 Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but you are mighty;
hold me with your powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
feed me now and evermore,
feed me now and evermore.
If you are a Christian, you have a dual citizenship.
Philippians 3:20 (ESV)
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
In addition to being an American, you are also a citizen of Heaven. Therefore, in God’s eyes, you are only a pilgrim in this land. We must seek his guidance on a regular basis. Some days will be better than others. Sometimes you will be weak, but it is good to remember that God will get you through the tough times. Paul had many tough times to deal with.
2 Corinthians 12:10 (ESV)
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul was strong, because God is strong. Likewise God through the Holy Spirit will help us in this pandemic. He will help the nation through this time of social strife. I am white and many of the people in St. Georges are white. We need to pray for the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to see what God would have us do at this time? We have raised money in the past for
good causes. Do you remember the black churches that were burned over 10 years ago? No, well here is the list.
Evil is present in this world and we need to pray against the forces of darkness that would divide us along racial, ethnic, or any other lines. Remember that the hymn says:
I am weak, but you are mighty;
hold me with your powerful hand.
We know that in the end, God wins. In the meantime, we need to persevere, we need to pray. For our elderly, we need to pray for protection. We seem to be past the worst of the pandemic, but with all of the protests, people are gathering in large numbers and we must pray that they stay safe. Hear me in this, our nation is founded on the right to assemble and protest, so I applaud them for doing so, because they are risking their health. But, I also hope that they are being careful. With the protests, we need to pray for real change. We need to pray that this time we get it right. Let’s turn back to the hymn:
2 Open now the crystal fountain,
where the healing waters flow.
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliverer, strong Deliverer,
ever be my strength and shield,
ever be my strength and shield.
We need healing, especially as a nation. Pray for guidance. Pray for healing. While we don’t have the pillar of fire and cloud, we do have the Holy Spirit who is with all of us, no matter where we are. He is a Strong Deliverer. This reminds me of:
Psalm 91:7 (ESV)
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
This is called the Soldier’s Psalm because of the language and while it might not have been written by David, he certainly chose to include it in his psalms. This can be our prayer at this time, especially at it seems that the number of cases might be going up in states other than our own. We can pray that we are spared this virus.
3 When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside.
Death of death, and hell's Destruction,
land me safe on Canaan's side.
Songs of praises, songs of praises
I will ever sing to you,
I will ever sing to you.
I am sure that many are praying that their “anxious fears subside.” What will tomorrow hold? I cannot guarantee that you will not get the virus or that there won’t be looting in New Jersey, although I think we are past the worst of it. I cannot guarantee that things won’t get worse economically.
What I can assure you of is that Jesus has destroyed death. He had paid the sin price that would have kept us out of heaven. Because of that we are citizens of heaven if you believe and confess like it says in Romans 10:9. Songs of praises should be our response. God has us. Stay the course. Keep the faith. Be a witness to your faith especially now.
Matthew 5:3-10 English Standard Version (ESV)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
Most people think of Memorial Day at the beginning of the summer. Beaches officially open up and people head there whether the weather is good or not. People have barbeques and you can often walk around your neighborhood smelling all kinds of good food cooking.
Those are all fun things to do, but how many will do anything to honor our veterans? Our town always had a parade, but how many towns will be doing that? I imagine not many in New Jersey, maybe in other states that have not been affected by the pandemic?
So let’s take this time to remember all those who have served and have fallen. I feel like we should also not forget those who are still with us. We still have several veterans amongst our members and at least one who fought in World War II.
In my youth, I loved to watch TV shows like Combat or Rat Patrol, which were both about WWII. Later when MASH came out, I watched it for years. I remember my father telling me that war was not all fun and games like MASH made it appear. This reminds me now of the following song:
Memorial Day Blog
Where to begin? Let's start with the end
This black and white photo don't capture the skin
From the flash of a gun to a soldier who's done
Trust me grandson
The war was in color
© 2006 Carbon Leaf
War is not fun. It is not funny. Those that live and died for our freedom may not even be buried where their family can visit.
We live in a wonderful country. We have a Bill of Rights, unlike any other nation. We have a Constitution that protects us from the abuses of power that many other forms of government have. We are a truly blessed nation. Men and women have died for those things. They have died young and old for our flag, for our nation, for our right to say the name of Jesus (Free Speech). They have died so that we can worship in our own way and not according to the government (Freedom to Gather). People of many different heritages have fought and died for our nation. Some of them did, even though they were not yet citizens. Imagine that for a moment. How many of us would die to protect our religious rights and our rights in general?
Even now men and women are in harm's way, so let’s take some time to pray through Psalm 91.
Please click here to read
Lord God Most High we thank you that you have been our refuge and fortress.
Thank you for all the men and women who paid the ultimate price to stand the watch for you.
Thank you that we as a nation do not live in fear of the evils we see elsewhere in the world.
We pray that as a nation we do not lose sight of the place you have put us in,
A bastion of freedom.
We thank you that even though there is pestilence in the land, you have not forsaken us.
We pray that you safeguard our troops.
Give them the courage to serve.
Give them the knowledge to do what is right.
Draw them closer to you.
Help us to remember their sacrifice.
They do not always get paid well and yet they have paid that ultimate price.
Their families have gone without fathers and mothers or sons and daughters.
Be with those who are reminded of a loved one that is no longer here.
We pray that those soldiers who have died and known you Jesus have a new duty in heaven.
We pray that like them, we who still are alive, soldier or civilian, will soldier on until our time comes.
In Jesus'name we pray. Amen!
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
James 4:13-17 (ESV) Boasting About Tomorrow
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then
vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
Boasting About Tomorrow in a Pandemic
If you asked anyone a year ago that we would currently be in a pandemic, they would likely have not taken you seriously. If we had really thought it would have gotten this bad, the past two administrations would have done more to stockpile the things we are short on now. We might also have not dismissed Doctors, Scientists, and at least one businessman who said we were not prepared for this pandemic. It is always easier to be a backseat driver. It is always easy to say what we should have done in hindsight.
We can take this passage of scripture above as advice. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I believe that almost everything we have done in New Jersey has been based on the best information available at the time. Whether we open the state up slowly or quickly, we don’t know for certain, how things will turn out. None of us can be certain about whether this virus or something else will be our ultimate demise.
Verse 14 says, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
Take any spray bottle or aerosol and spray what is inside. As it moves through the air it disperses and seems to disappear. You might see little droplets appear on a surface, but if the droplets are small enough, you won’t see anything.
More advice to follow is verse 15, “Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”” I am very thankful that I have not been sick during this pandemic. I am thankful that I still have a job. My sister, who lives in North Carolina, went through two 1-week furloughs before they finally fired her. I am sure that some of you may know someone who has been furloughed, fired, or has to work reduced hours. Let us keep them in prayer. If you have, try to share with those who do not. Let us also reach out to friends, families, and neighbors and help in whatever way we can. Even if it is just to call them.
Remember that no matter what happens, God is with you. It may seem like you are being tossed about in stormy sea, but Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is in the boat with you.
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
Guide Us, O Thou Great Jehovah Through This Time
The following are the opening lines from the song, “Right Here Right Now” by Jesus Jones (c) 1991
A woman on the radio talked about revolution
when it's already passed her by
Bob Dylan didn't have this to sing about
you know it feels good to be alive
I was alive and I waited, waited
I was alive and I waited for this
Right here, right now
there is no other place I want to be
Right here, right now
watching the world wake up from history
Where and When
I believe that no matter when you live there is always something terrible and yet also something amazing going on. This song was inspired by the late 80s, particularly Perestroika in the Soviet Union. I wonder if they knew when they were writing this song that the year it was released would also be the year that the Berlin Wall came down?
People sometimes wish they could have lived during simpler days. People often look back on the past with a certain nostalgia. I was born in 1961. Would I like to have been born twenty years earlier? I think not, because then I would have been a young adult during Vietnam and even if I did not go to war, I would have had to deal with the Bay of Pigs at least mentally.
Holocaust Remembrance Day just passed. What a tragedy that was, I am glad that I did not live then, although there was much to celebrate when World War II was finally over.
No matter where or no matter when you and I might live or have wanted to live, there is one constant and it is our one and only hope, Jesus.
John 1:1-5 (ESV)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
This tells us that God has always been there. Let me be clear, by God, I am referring to Jesus. Jesus was ALWAYS there. God’s plan in the beginning was for Jesus to die and save us. Jesus was not a Plan B.
God has always been on his throne. He currently still is in charge, even if things like the Corona virus come around. He will continue to be on the throne forever. God is eternal. “Right here, right now” this time is passing away. Today is merely a season in our life and spiritual journey. Some days it feels like we are in the fire. I think that time will often show us that maybe, just maybe, God was using the fire to forge us.
Maybe he is forging you into a hammer or some other kind of tool, in order to better serve him?
Maybe he is forging you into a sword or some other kind of weapon, in order to fight on the front lines of the spiritual warfare that takes place.
My prayer is, God help us this Lent, with all of the things going on in the world, our country, and our lives. Help us to not dwell on our circumstances, but to turn to you more wholly and more obediently. Help us to know what to do and what to say when we see someone who is not dealing well right now. Help us to me in the moment and to truly listen. Thank you Lord for the Lenten season. Help each of us to set aside the time we need to draw closer to you. Thank you Lord Jesus for all that you have done for us, especially as we draw closer and closer to Good Friday. Thank you Holy Spirit for being with us now to guide, comfort, and counsel. Thank you Father God that you are still on the throne. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
This is the final blog regarding the above mentioned book recommended at our last Synod, by our Canon Theologian Henry Jansma. Check out the previous blogs for my overview and reviews of Parts 1 to 3 of the book. This review is going to cover “Part 4,” titled “Special Rules for Young Men” and the Conclusion. Again, there will be a small selection of quotes from the book, but read the entire book on your own.
A small leak will sink a great ship, and a small spark will kindle a great fire, and a little allowed sin in like manner will ruin an immortal soul.
Thoughts for Young Men, Review #5
The classic lie that many people tell themselves is that this is just one little transgression. It will not damn their soul for eternity. This is just an indulgence and tomorrow they will go back to being good. The problem is that the small leak is often left unattended and eventually rust around the hole makes the hole bigger and leads to the ship sinking. Maybe it only starts with taking drugs once at a party, but if a month later you are addicted, you have a serious problem. They often call some less lethal drugs, “gateway drugs” because people tend to fall into them, abuse them, tire of them, and move on to something more dangerous. Sin works the same way. There are many people in prison who started off doing lesser crimes and worked their up to rape and murder.
There is nothing finer than the point of a needle, but when it has made a hole, it draws all the thread after it. Remember the apostle’s words, ‘A little leaven leaventh the whole lump’
(1 Cor 5:6). Page 56
Likewise the sin may affect more and more of your life. It may also spread to the rest of your family. Never doubt that your sin has an effect on the people around you. Even if you are really good at hiding it, there can be subtle changes in your behavior that you may not even be aware of it. It is not enough that we determine to commit no sin, we must carefully keep at a distance from all approaches to it.
There is a classic poem called “There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk” by Portia Nelson. It is worth reading. It shows how sin can become habitual. It is so easy to fall into bad habits even after you think you have repented of them. You need to be self-aware. You need to understand yourself and how vulnerable you are. If something causes you to sin, flee from it, like Joseph fled from Potiphar’s wife.
It is dangerous to play tricks with edged tools; it is far more dangerous to take liberties with your immortal soul.
Your willpower might be really good. Maybe you walk into enemy territory and not stumble. All things ARE possible with God, but why are you playing with fire?
Few indeed are to be found who pray; many who go down on their knees, and say a form perhaps, but few who pray; few who cry unto God, few who call upon the Lord, few who seek as if they wanted to find.
The blessing here is that today, even this very minute, you could pause and speak your heart to God. Let us renew our commitment to God right now and be more regular and honest in prayer with God. He wants to hear from us. He truly does.
The voice of conscience will become feebler and fainter every year you continue to resist it. The Athenians said to Paul, ‘We will hear thee again of this matter’, but they had heard him for the last time
You have heard it said to strike while the iron is hot. This means to do things while they matter and while you can have an effect. If you wait for the metal to cool too much, it will not be forged the way you want. Likewise, you have heard that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. The older we are, the more set in our ways we become. It doesn’t mean we cannot change, but I believe that we need to try harder. We may need to hit rock bottom. That is a really sad place to be. Rock bottom maybe accompanied by miserable circumstances like death, divorce, imprisonment, or public shame.
It may seem that I am painting a rather miserable picture here, but there is hope in all of this. Jesus has paid the price for our sins. We need to turn to him as our Lord and Savior. This book might help you see better some of the practical ways that young men and women can avoid some of the pitfalls in life. I remember as a young man, even a teenager, that I did not want to really listen to people older than me.
I wish I had spent more time talking honestly with either a pastor or even other Christian youth, maybe I would have avoided some of the holes that I found in my sidewalk. I hope and pray that you have benefited somehow from these reviews and I hope that you have been inspired to consider reading this book.
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
This is a continuation of my previous blogs regarding the above mentioned book recommended at our last Synod, by our Canon Theologian Henry Jansma. Check out the previous blogs for my overview and reviews of Parts 1 and 3 of the book. This review is going to cover “Part 2” titled “Special Dangers to Young Men.” Sorry that it is out of order. Again, I will be taking just a small selection of quotes from the book, but there is SO much more to read and as I have said before, the book is good for not just the young and not just men.
Thoughts for Young Men, Review #4
Another danger to young men is the fear of man's opinion.
Like dead fish, they go with the stream and tide; what others think right, they think right; and
what others call wrong, they call wrong too.
Let’s look at four Biblical examples of men that in fear of what other men thought made bad choices. Samuel told Saul that when they attacked the Amalekites that they were devote to destruction the people and their things. You might think this is harsh, but the thing to keep in mind is whether we think we know better than God. Saul thought that he was doing the right
thing, because they kept the best of what was captured and planned to sacrifice it to God. God did not ask them to sacrifice the best of the spoils. So now let's turn to what Saul says.
1 Samuel 15:24 (ESV)
Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. In Jeremiah, chapter 38, the prophet told King Zedekiah that he needed to surrender. If he did so, his life would be spared and the city would not be burned.
Jeremiah 38:19 (ESV)
King Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “I am afraid of the Judeans who have deserted to the Chaldeans, lest I be handed over to them and they deal cruelly with me.”
So Jeremiah tries to convince him to do otherwise. He describes what will happen to the wives and sons. The king then tells Jeremiah to tell no one of their conversations. He later tried to escape, but was caught and had his eyes put out. If only he had listened to Jeremiah.
In Matthew 14, it says that King Herod has John the Baptists in prison. At his birthday party, the daughter of Herodias, his niece danced at the party and SO pleased him that he offered her anything. She asked for John the Baptist to be executed. Herod did not want to do and yet felt that he could not go back on his word and so had John executed.
Matthew 14:9 (ESV)
And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given.
Finally we look at Pilate, Jesus is brought before him and Pilate finds nothing wrong with him. The people on the other hand seem to be on the verge of rioting. They keep calling for him to be crucified. Pilate's job as the Governor of Judea is to keep the peace. So he is feeling the pressure. His wife even tried to warn him.
Matthew 27:19 (ESV)
Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.”
Everyone of these examples are men in power. You would have thought that they strong characters in order to be made kings or governors, but they all failed in that regard. We likewise might make poor choices and need to remember that it is better what God thinks of us than what man thinks.
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
This is a continuation of my previous blogs regarding the above mentioned book recommended at our last Synod, by our Canon Theologian Henry Jansma. Check out the previous blogs for my overview and reviews of Parts 1 and 2 of the book. This review is going to cover “Part 3,” titled “General Counsels for Young Men.” Again, I will be taking just a small selection of quotes from the book, but there is SO much more to read. As I have said before, this book is good for anyone, not just the young and not just men.
Thoughts for Young Men, Review #3
The first quote is both a warning and good advice.
Will you play with poison?
Will you sport with hell?
Will you take fire into your hand?
We all see the wisdom in good advice. There is something to be said for using repetition. It reinforces the main idea. So look at this advice and decide whether you think it is worth following. Your parents have probably told you to not play with fire. Your parents hopefully also kept poisonous chemicals including things like bleach out of your reach and warned you against spilling them on yourself or drinking them. Do you think that you can beat the Devil at his own games? Don’t think that like the song, “Devil Went Down To Georgia,” that you are smarter than the Devil. Your only hope of beating the Devil is turning your life over to Jesus.
The second quote concerns whether you know Jesus intellectually or also in your innermost soul.
It is not the mere knowing Christ's name that I mean, it is the knowing his mercy, grace, and power, and knowing him not by the hearing of the ear, but by the experience of your hearts.
Head knowledge may only take you so far. At some point, you have to acknowledge that you are a sinner and deeply in need of a Savior. Odds are you have spent a great deal of time, trying to earn your way into Heaven. At your moment of revelation, you cannot help but feel moved that a person, you never met in real life, died over two thousand years ago to save you from Hell. You feel like you are no longer carrying around this heavy burden of guilt and shame.
Romans 8:31 English Standard Version (ESV)
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
The third quote reminds us of something that we take for granted and since we cannot actually see it, we probably tend to ignore.
Never forget that nothing is so important as your soul
Why would we neglect our soul? Science is probably not our friend in this. Since we cannot prove we have one, we have to take it on faith. If your faith is strong, then this might not be an issue for you. I hope and pray that is the case. Your soul is your connection with God, in the sense that it is an intangible part of you and will continue on after you are dead. Why would any sane person do anything to jeopardize where that soul ends up? If you believe in an afterlife and I assume that my audience here is mostly Christian, then you have to be thinking of what comes after death. Don’t waste the time you have left doing any damage to your soul.
The fourth quote asks us to make sure we know where our priorities need to be.
No! You were meant for something higher and better than this. You were placed here to train for eternity.
I think we all wonder at some point why we are here. In some cases, we think we are here to do some sort of job, but that is not the most important reason for our existence. It might be that you are doing a really important job. Where would we be without doctors? Still even a doctor’s job is not very important at all if they are not also seeking the Kingdom of Heaven.
The fifth and last quote points us back to the book that I hope you are reading every day.
But not newspapers, novels, and romances be read, while the prophets and apostles lie despised.
I have joked along with many other clergy that people need to dust off their bibles and actually read them. There is plenty to read and I am not suggesting that you don’t read any good novels. I love reading. I hope you do as well. However, we should not neglect reading the Bible. It is the most important book you will ever read. In addition, when you are done, you need to read it again and repeat that until the day you die. It is worth it, believe me!
That is all for this review. I hope you have gained some new insight into your faith from this and are encouraged to possibly read this book or even better to go read your Bible. Stay tuned in about a week for the next and final installment on this book.
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
This is a continuation of my previous blog regarding a book recommended at our last Synod, by our Canon Theologian Henry Jansma. If you want a general overview of the book, go back to the previous blog, which is titled Review #1. This review is going to cover Part 1 of the book. In this review I will be sharing four quotes from the book, in the hope that these gems will inspire you to find even greater treasures in the book.
Thoughts for Young Men, Review #2
Here is the first quote.
“Run no risk when your soul is at stake.” Page 7
How often do we risk sinning? It is just a little lie? You might think, How bad can it be? Well, it doesn’t take a big leak to completely destroy a dam. The water may start off as a small trickle, but erosion will break it down slowly over time. Likewise with sin, it does not take much sin to ruin your life. Sin left unchecked often leads to something even worse. Listen to what Paul says.
1 Corinthians 5:6 English Standard Version (ESV)
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
In Jewish life they would need to make unleavened bread for Passover. Any yeast would ruin the bread and it could not be used. Likewise, in community, we cannot tolerate even a little bit of sin or the rest of the community might think that openly sinning is allowed. In a similar fashion, we have to be careful with our own thought life, what we say, and what we do. A little sin, eventually becomes habitual and that certainly leads to spiritual death. Let’s move on to our next gemstone.
“Think not you can live with Esau and then die with Jacob.” Page 9
J.C. Ryle has a great way with words. This is one of those phrases to commit to memory. This essentially reinforces what I said about the previous quote. If you think that you can continue to sin and repent later, then you are deluding yourself. I remember hearing that in the ancient past, people would put off repenting because they did not want to mess up and sin
afterwards and so ruin their chance of getting in Heaven. They planned on repenting on their deathbed. Maybe you recall this story from the bible.
Luke 23:39-43 English Standard Version (ESV)
39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we
indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
That particular passage should give you hope that it is possible to repent at the last minute. However, that is still taking a HUGE risk. The longer you live in sin, as in living with Esau, the less likely you are to repent before it is too late. It is more likely that you will dive deeper and deeper into your favorite sin and possibly add new sins along the way. Let’s move
on to the third quote.
”Habits, like trees are strengthened by age. A boy may bend an oak, when it is a sapling, -a hundred men cannot root it up, when it is a full-grown tree. Page 11
Talk to anyone in recovery. Talk to the former alcoholic. Ask them if they could go back to when they first started down the road to sin, would they like the opportunity to talk some sense into themselves. Many that are in recovery know what it is like to deal with a bad habit. Take care of the habit while it is a sapling, because by the time it becomes an oak, you will need God’s help to break it. This leads into the fourth quote from Part 1.
“Go and ask believers now, and I think many a one will tell you much the same. "Oh that I could live my young days over again"; he will most probably say. "Oh that I had spent the beginning of my life in a better fashion! Oh that I had not laid the foundation of evil habits strongly in the springtime of my course!” Page 16
If you have not heard the song Dear Younger Me by MercyMe let me share one verse.
“Dear younger me
I cannot decide
Do I give some speech about how to get the most out of your life
Or do I go deep
And try to change
The choices that you'll make cuz they're choices that made me
Even though I love this crazy life
Sometimes I wish it was a smoother ride
Dear younger me, dear younger me
‘Dear Younger Me lyrics © Essential Music Publishing, Capitol Christian Music Group, Music Services, Inc
There have been times in my life that I wish I could have a do-over, I would like to go back and give myself some better advice. However, time travel is not an option that God gives us. Fortunately, he knew that we would be in this predicament and so sent his son Jesus to die for us and save us from the sin that would otherwise plague our lives.
I hope that this has encouraged you and if it has sparked your desire to read more of the book then that is even better.
Stay tuned for the next installation where I will cover Part 2 of the book.
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
Thoughts for Young Men, Review #1
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
At our last Synod, our Canon Theologian Henry Jansma recommended this book and so thinking of my son, I began to read the book. J.C. Ryle initially paints a dismal picture of the state of young men. This might make reading a little hard at first, but the reward in the end is worth it. I would encourage even older men, even women to read it, because it contains insights that I think might be new to you.
It is a short book, only 75 pages long and it follows a simple outline:
1. Reasons why young men need to be exhorted;
2. Dangers young men face;
3. Counsels (more general principles);
4. Special rules for young men.
The Forward has a more detailed outline (pages ix-x).
In Part 1, he asks, “Are you thinking you will have a convenient season to mind these by and by? So thought Felix and the Athenians to whom Paul preached; but it never came…” Let’s look at this particular passage that Ryle is referring to.
Acts 17:22-23 (ESV)
22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription:
‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
Paul is preaching to them and trying to tell them that though they have many gods, they also hold onto an insurance policy of this unknown god just in case they are not aware of him or her. Paul tries to explain that this unknown God is in fact, Jesus.
Acts 17:32-34 (ESV)
32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
Some people heard the Word and believed, but others did not. What would you do if you were in this boat? Maybe you will get a second chance? Maybe some other preacher who is really good will come along and convince you? Or maybe not.
Acts 18:1 (ESV)
18:1 After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.
So they had no second chance after that. If you have not heard Billy Graham speak, your only option now is to listen to a recording. Don’t wait, the Holy Spirit maybe tugging on your heart right now. Don’t resist or you may never get another chance.
Not only did Paul talk to regular people, but also to people in positions of power. It is sad really that it maybe harder for a more affluent person or someone in a position of power to come to a saving faith.
Acts 24:22 (ESV)
But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.”
Felix knew about Christianity, which at the time was called the Way, but he was not convinced.
Acts 24:22 (ESV)
24 After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” 26 At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him. 27 When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.
Not only was Felix not convinced, but he tried to extort money out of the Christians. Don’t wait till the last minute to come to saving faith. Now is the time, if you have read the bible and still have reservations, then this book will help you see your need of Jesus. Another option you also have is that every Sunday, EVERY Sunday, you can come to St. Georges to hear the Word of God preached.
That is all for now, but I will explore other parts of the book in my next blog.
One More Step
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
Each of us faces challenges in life. Sometimes these challenges seem insurmountable. We don’t know if or how we will get through them. Whether you are currently going through a challenge or have recently failed in a storm of life, I want to talk to you about going “One More” step. The challenge is to not quit, but to keep going. That can be easier said than done, but maybe this song will help.
There used to be a Christian alternative rock band called Superchic. Their song “One More”, talks about when we feel like we should give up, but need to struggle forward.
It feels like I have lost this fight
They think that I am staying down
But I'm not giving up tonight
Tonight the wall is coming down
I am stronger than my fears
This is the mountain that I climb
Got 100 steps to go
Tonight I'll make it 99
One more, go one more, yeah yeah
Don't stop now, go one more, yeah yeah
One more, go one more
Go one more, go one more, yeah yeah
One More lyrics © Matt Dally Music, Whizbang Artists Music, Onegirlmusic, DAVE
GHAZARIAN MUSIC, DJ SPACEMONKEY MUSIC, STARLIT P MUSIC, VMK
The wall is that mental\emotional\spiritual barrier that prevents you from staying in the fight. You may feel worn out, tired, depressed, angry, in pain. It is a fight. Don’t downplay the emotional and spiritual side of this. Don’t think that you just need to be tougher. Some people will say that you just need to have more will power. Those are the words of people who never try or never struggle. God has given us all the will power that we need. The problem is that the Devil tricks us into thinking that we are weak.
Ephesians 6:12 (ESV)
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Evil is real. The struggle is real, but you can go just “One More” step.
The Chain of Pain
Have you heard of the Chain of Pain? It is a term used by some to describe the battle that someone aspiring to earn a Black Belt must go through. It is a series of fights designed to test the person’s stamina and their will to fight. My friend, Bob, would bike between 50 and 100 miles on the weekend. You would think this guy would have the stamina to get his black belt?
He said he was exhausted by the end of it, but he stayed in the fight. His instructors did not make it easy on him, but they also did not discourage him. They would tell him to, ‘Stay in the fight,’ as they threw punches or kicks. God has not promised that we will have an easy life, but He has promised something eternal if we stick it out.
James 1:12 English Standard Version (ESV)
12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
Testing almost sounds easy in comparison to the Chain of Pain. Let me reiterate that what we may have to go through maybe a lot worse. And maybe there is nothing you can do but endure. Cancer treatments come to mind. Go just one more step. Don’t give up. Don’t quit.
The Final Hour
Hopefully you have heard Pastor Lafferty preaching, because he has mentioned more than once from personal experience that God answers prayers, but sometimes it is in the final nerve-wracking hour. Don’t despair in that moment. Wait! Hold on! Don’t turn back to what you have already repented of. It might feel like the moment will never end, but it will, just go “One More” step.
Psalm 23:4 (KJV)
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Whenever I quote this verse I use the KJV translation (instead of the ESV), because in my opinion the “valley of the shadow of death” sounds a lot more dangerous than the “darkest valley.”
God is with you in the moment, not physically, but the Holy Spirit IS there. You are not alone! Please remember that! The Holy Spirit will sustain you.
Lastly, let me add, if you have given up, you are not lost yet. There is always hope. If you have sinned, turn back to Jesus. Sometimes we wander off the straight and narrow path. Take “One More” step back onto the path. Go one more step towards Jesus today. Do the same tomorrow, and the day after that...
Does God Care, REALLY!?
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
Some people consider themselves Christian and yet they still worry if God really cares about them. The sad fact is that the teachers (myself included) don't always teach the good part of the Good News. We sometimes focus so much on the sin, that we forget to mention that Jesus died to set us free from that sin. God does indeed care. He cares so much that he sent his ONE and ONLY son, Jesus to die for us. Therefore, we are no longer separated by sin from our Father in Heaven. Let me use two illustrations, one song and one bible passage to illustrate this to you. I encourage every Christian who has this thought in their heart to read this thoroughly and even bookmark the bible passage for quick reference. Don’t doubt whether God really cares or not. He does. If he did not, he would not have told us so.
My first illustruction, comes from the Michael W. Smith song, “You Won’t Let Go.” The refrain for the song is fairly memorable and goes like so:
You are the anchor for my soul
You won't let go
You won't let go
No matter what may come I know
You won't let go
Michael uses the idea of how an anchor is used to hold a boat in place and keep it from drifting. Our soul is held in place by God himself. Comforting words. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in your life when you know that you are anchored. But let’s move on to a key verse in Mr. Smith’s song.
Neither life, neither death,
The highest high, the deepest depth
Nothing can separate
Neither tears, neither trials
Certain as the sun will rise
Nothing can separate
Again these words are even more comforting to us. No matter what our circumstances might be, God is there with us. No matter what you are going through, God is there. You could be suffering the worst kind of illness, disease, even cancer, and you can rest assured that God is with you. You might have just lost your job. God is still with you. A loved one might have just died. God IS with you! You might say what good is a song? How do I know if there is any truth in it? How do I
know that God is speaking through this music? Well that takes me to my second illustration. A somewhat longer than normal section of the Bible than I would normally share, even for a sermon. I want to include the entire section that is titled, “More Than Conquerors.”
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
There you have it. You can see that Michael W. Smith’s song was inspired by Romans. You can also see from Romans that God does care and that NOTHING can separate us from his love. You ARE NOT ALONE! GOD CARES FOR YOU! Remember that when you doubt. Share that with someone who is doubting.
One Generation Away
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
You may have heard we are one generation away from being a nation without Christianity. If that seems odd to you then let me explain. If day after day the bank of a levy is eroded, eventually the water starts to trickle down the side. At that point, water and erosion shows its true power. Little by little the erosion makes the opening larger and eventually washes away large sections of the levy which then causes flooding of the nearby area. Likewise if year after year fewer people go to church you will eventually have couples getting married who no longer attend church. We are currently well into that right now. I know plenty of people who were raised as Christians, but if they ever darken the doorstep of a church, I am not aware of it. It is sad, because many of them were raised in the church. Some of them used to go, but have fallen away. We need to do something about this problem. There are many things that can be done,but I think the most important thing we can do is pray.
It would be nice to see more people in church, but I want to be clear on something, I am not saying force your child to go to church or Christianity is doomed. Maybe you will recall the following:
Proverbs 22:6 English Standard Version (ESV)
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
I don’t think that this means that you force your child to go to church. It means train them. We have to somehow impart our Christian walk on them. I could get completely off-track and dive into something on parenting, but that would be counter-productive, plus there are many people with more wisdom in this manner than I. All I know is that I have too many friends who were forced to go and now no longer do.
There are things we can do to make the service more appealing to the younger generation. I am probably one of the few people my age who actually enjoy listening to hymns. Probably 99.9% of all children and a large percentage of adults below some ever increasing age do not like singing hymns. At some point, when we are ready, we will need to move back into more praise style music. Fr. Lafferty is working on that.
We need to provide events that are appealing to younger people. I think we have made great progress in this regard with the Kidztown focus on the Strawberry Festival. I hope that continues to be a good focus and helps us to grow in influence within our community. Still my purpose in this blog is to not lay out a plan for St. Georges, but to discuss this
problem of the church dwindling.
We are living at a time when people don’t know that the bible says. When I get into arguments over the morality and the culture of sin that exists in our country, people are no longer appalled by it because they don’t even think that it is sinful. If two people say its love, then who are they to disagree with them? It is sad, because truth for them is relative.
They say that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Let’s look at a bible passage that gives us a practical example of that.
2 Kings 22:8-13 (Hilkiah Finds the Book of the Law)
8 And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. 9 And Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the
king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the Lord.” 10 Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the
priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king. 11 When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. 12 And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asaiah the king's servant, saying, 13 “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”
Matthew Henry’s Commentary suggests that this “Book of the Law” was either the actual book written by Moses or an authentic copy. He also suggests that God must have been involved in this to safeguard this book. Evil people might not have wanted their deeds revealed, but their guilty conscience prevented them from destroying the book outright. Good people might have realized that the evil kings before might have sought to destroy it and thus tried to hide it hoping that someone good might find it in the future. But therein lies the problem, it could be a LONG long time before such a book is found. There are plenty of science fiction movies that have similar moments and not always for the better. You may recall in the movie, The Planet of the Apes. The main character George Taylor is an astronaut and he thinks he has crash landed on some planet, where apes rule and humans are slaves. He doesn’t realize that he is on Earth, just in the future. It is not until the end, when he escapes that he finds the buried Statue of Liberty that he realizes that he is on Earth and some terrible nuclear war must have taken place.
Those are just two examples of who things can go terribly wrong when information is lost. Let me close with prayer, because I believe that after everything else that we try to do, we need to pray.
I pray that my children do not walk away from their faith. I pray that if they do, that they return before long. Likewise, I pray for our whole church and the children in it. I pray for all of the children who are now adults and have turned from you God. I pray that you motivate them in only the way that will work for each of them to turn back to you. I pray that each of us will raise up our family, friends, and neighbors in prayer, that they may come to know the love that you have for each of us Lord Jesus. Thank you for hearing my prayer. In your name, Jesus, I pray. Amen.
The ACNA App
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
Normally I talk about subjects with an emphasis on the Bible and the Word of God. This time however, I want to talk about an app. I literally JUST found out about this app on Anglican Unscripted. ACNA stands for the Anglican Church in North America and our diocese has been apart of ACNA for awhile. So now they have an app that you can install on your phone or tablet.Please don’t be rolling your eyes. I bet one of you is rolling their eyes and just about to stop reading. This is helpful not just for you, but also for all of us. So bear with me, because this will be pretty quick.
You can download the app to your phone from Google Play or the Amazon Appstore. You might be thinking what is the benefit? What can this app do and why would I need it on my phone? Well it can help people find Anglican Churches. Why is that important you say? Churches are easy to find, right? I would disagree! Places of worship are easy to find, but are they all Christian? I would venture to say that many Christian churches are Christian only in name. It used to be VERY easy to find an Episcopal, especially in New Jersey, but since we left the Episcopal Church, finding Bible believing, non-revisionist, orthodox churches is a LOT harder.
There are two main reasons why being able to search for other like-minded churches is a good thing. First, when you are on vacation, visiting some place far from home, or maybe even a business trip, you can look to see if there is a local ACNA church. We did this once down in Virginia and ended up at an a wonderful spirit-filled, thriving, ACNA church. The Church Finder also has links to the church’s website, so you can see what the service times are.
Second, other people when they are visiting New Jersey can do likewise. Maybe they will come to visit St. Georges because of it? We are hearing from more and more people that are finding us on the Internet. See what a search on the app shows for a given zip code. Maybe you have friends or family that are moving to a new area. They might not know what church to go to, but you could suggest one for them or show them the app and let them decide. I know a person that plans to move to Virginia. It turns out there are several down there. While this person is not an Anglican, my prayer is that they find it similar to what they are used to.
In addition to finding a church, the app also gives you access to 1) event resources for all of the ACNA conferences, 2) Watch or listen to past conference keynotes and breakouts, 3) Check out an ever-growing list of podcasts, 4) Keep track of all denomination happenings with the calendar and news feed. With all of the goofy apps people put on their phones, here is one with truly eternal possibilities. Try it out and I hope you like it.
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
When you take a test and score 100% on the test that is good. REALLY good. Essentially you cannot do better than a perfect score, unless there is extra credit. In life, however, there is not always any extra credit.
What about the spiritual world? What about with regard to God? Are we scoring 100% with God? This is a really good question. What does the Bible say with regard to testing? Actually, it has a lot to say. Too much to discuss in depth, but you can always use a Concordance to see where the word, “test” appears in the Bible. Another method is to use an online tool like Biblegateway.com.
The Bible indicates that God would often put someone to the test. Job is a classic example of God allowing the Devil to test Job. But there are also plenty of times both Old and New Testament where the people put God to the test. Christians will relate to how the Pharisees and Sadducees would often ask Jesus some sort of trick question so they could discredit him and accuse him of breaking The Law. Lastly there are numerous places that are prayers or wisdom to help us get through a time of testing. That said, let us dive into the Bible, keeping in mind that God maybe using this very moment to get us to test ourselves in the light of God’s Word.
God Tests Us
Genesis 22:1 (ESV)
[ The Sacrifice of Isaac ] After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”
You probably recall the story, where Abraham is told to sacrifice his only son, Issac. You may recall that Abraham kept saying that God would provide. God took Abraham right to the edge. He almost killed his only son. Abraham had given himself 100% to God and consequently scored perfectly with God. I pray that none of us are ever in such circumstances, but it does not mean that we won’t face difficult choices. Will we do as well? I pray that we all do.
Exodus 16:4 (ESV)
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.
This is a rather simple test to see whether the people would follow God. God would feed the Israelites every day with enough food, but they were not supposed to be greedy. The test is not always a hard one like Abraham’s or Job. Likewise, our test may not be hard. How are we doing on the weekly Sunday attendance? Pretty simple for a test. All you have to do is show up. Let’s move on an look at some of the ways in the Bible and in real life, we put God to the test.
We Test God
Exodus 17:2 (ESV)
Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?”
The Israelites were going through a difficult time. They remember how life used to be easier when they were slaves. Does that sound ironic? They were no longer slaves, but they were complaining that God was not taking better care of them.
Deuteronomy 6:16 (ESV)
“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. The test in the wilderness is probably why this verse was later written.
Matthew 4:7 (ESV)
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
You may recall that Jesus had to remind the Israelites about it. However, there is ONE exception to this rule and that is the following:
Malachi 3:10 (ESV)
Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.
What is our score in this regard? How often do we trust God? If we do trust him, is it 100%. I must admit, that often I want to do the driving and control how things turn out. Fortunately, everyday is an opportunity to turn back to God and trust him more.
The Holy Spirit Gets Us To Test Ourselves
Finally, let’s look at some scripture that may help us during our times of testing.
Psalm 17:3 (ESV)
You have tried my heart, you have visited me by night, you have tested me, and you will find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.
Each of us needs to be purposeful in life, prayer, reading of scripture. If not then it is like going to an exam, without having studied at all.
Lamentations 3:40 (ESV)
Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!
The Holy Spirit, through the Psalmist, calls on each of us to look inward and examine our lives. Where are we with regard to God. We all want to get at least a passing grade when it comes to our faith. The problem with The Law is that if you don’t get a perfect score, 100%, then you fail. That is how a works-based theology goes. We think that we can earn our salvation when in fact we can’t. Fortunately, Jesus makes our salvation much easier. All we have to do is believe in Him and we are saved.
Luke 8:13 (ESV)
And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.
This comes from the parable of the seeds, where the seeds are sown in different places. The rocky place meant that when persecution comes along they fall away from the faith. This should be a challenge to us, because the country that our parents grew up in is very different today. It is a country much more hostile to Christians and much more likely to embrace almost any other kind of faith no matter how absurd.
Romans 12:2 (ESV)
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Many opponents of Christian faith will say that our faith is blind, but here we have our very own Bible encouraging us to test our faith, so that we better understand God. Reading God’s Word will transform us. Since none of us were around when Jesus preached, we have heard his words through other ministers and through the Bible. However, that means at some point in our lives, it all began to make sense. The Word sunk it and transformed us.
2 Corinthians 13:5 (ESV)
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
I used to think that I was a very inward looking person, but it took a few years with a psychologist and group-therapy to really help me to start to looking inward and testing myself. You don’t need to share your test results with me, but I am certain that it is not 100%. If it is, maybe you can start to give me lessons in how to walk on water? By now you might be getting weary of this Bible, but we are in the home stretch here.
1 Thessalonians 5:21 (ESV)
but test everything; hold fast what is good.
Like I said before, test your faith. Why do you believe what you believe? Check out the Bible, you can find your answers there.
James 1:12 (ESV)
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
This is my life verse. God help all of us to not cave in when we are in any trial, whether it is medical, financial, emotional, spiritual, or anything else.
1 John 4:1 (ESV)
[ Test the Spirits ] Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. Something else to keep in mind is that we might think that something is from God when in fact it is not. Test it against the Bible. If it contradicts the Bible, then it is not a good spirit.
Revelation 2:10 (ESV)
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Like I mentioned previously, there will be times of persecution. It can easily be your family. They might not like it that you love God or love Him more than they do. They might not like that you want to go to church EVERY Sunday, even though it IS the Lord’s Day. It is very easy to not earn 100% when it comes to your salvation. In the Old Testament days, the people would bring sacrifices all the time in order for the priest to make a sacrifice for their sins. The price had to be paid over and over, because it never satisfied it 100%.
Fortunately, all you need is faith. Faith that Jesus makes up for our inadequacies. Faith that Jesus stands before the Father and intercedes for us. Faith that He is our advocate when we are tested and judged before the throne of God. Jesus paid the price 100%, so there is nothing more that we can do or add to what he has done. All we can do is accept it and believe.
If you know me, you will know that I am not a sports fan. I like outdoor activities, including biking, hiking, canoeing, and rafting, but team sports were never really my thing. I played little league baseball for one season, soccer for two, and track for three. Sitting on the sidelines because you were not one of the more talented athletes, can be disheartening, but fortunately God looks at us differently.
Send Me In Coach
The following paragraph is a quote from Bishop Julian Dobb’s Pastoral address at the 2019 Synod. Our bishop used to play rugby and shared with us this aspect of game play called ‘injury time,’ to motivate us to get into the game.
“When a rugby game reaches the end of the allotted 80 minutes of game time, the referee, if he chooses to do so, may play extra time for injuries that have slowed down the game. In injury time, there is a window of opportunity to make a play and score points" (the outcome of many serious international rugby games has been changed during injury time).
In Luke chapter 9, time is essentially up, the disciples are calling for judgement on a Samaritan village which rejects the lordship of Jesus, but in chapter 10 Jesus says, there is a window of opportunity for the offer of salvation to the whole world. This is not yet the time for judgment.
We might say of May 17, 2019 that we live in injury time as far as the history of the world is concerned. There is a moment of opportunity. It is not yet time for the final whistle.
You can find his entire Pastoral Address in the link below.
So we live in ‘injury time.’ We have the opportunity to share the Gospel with someone even now. There is still time for you to speak to a friend about Jesus. If you are reading this and you do not believe in Jesus, there is still time. There is an opportunity to win the biggest game there is, bigger than the Super Bowl, the World Series, or the World Cup. Heaven is just a prayer away. Turn from your sin and believe that Jesus died and rose for your sins and you are on the path!
Romans 10:9 English Standard Version (ESV)
because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
We so often make it harder than it really it. It is not all that hard. In addition, we should not get wrapped up in what to say, because God will help with the words. But this requires action on our parts. A little bit later in Romans it says the following:
Romans 10:14-15 (ESV)
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
Don’t think that this means that only clergy are witness. We are all called as ministers for Christ. Finally let me just add that we need to be enthusiastic like a certain Old Testament prophet, Isaiah:
Isaiah 6:8 English Standard Version (ESV)
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
I pray that you talk to God and ask him to send you into the harvest. Send me in coach!
Matthew 9:37 English Standard Version (ESV)
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
"The Holocaust didn't happen but it should have". Those are the words on a sign carried by a masked protester in Arkansas recently. The Neo-nazis had shown up to protest a Holocaust Remembrance March. It is terrible that there is still so much hatred in the world. It is incredibly terrible that such hatred still exists in our own country and that it could happen as recently as this month.
The Truth Will Set You Free
It makes you think that these people must be brainwashed, but I believe that it is what happens when you hear a lie, but are repeatedly told it is the truth. Some Neo-nazis have been raised that way from their youth. Their parents sow this poison in them. Worst of all is how some of them can even think that they are Christian, but again, an evil person can twist the truth of the Bible. If I were to cherry-pick verses out of the Bible and misinterpret them, I could paint Jesus as having a grudge against the Jews. Jesus would never condone violence. In fact he commands a more peaceful approach.
Matthew 5:38-40 English Standard Version (ESV)
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
Now you could point of John 2:15 where Jesus drives the money changers out of the Temple, but there he uses righteous anger to correct an abuse of God’s Temple. In our politically correct world, his actions would be taken as nothing less than violence, but we have long departed where a little physical punishment was considered the standard way of changing
behavior. In any case, it does not indicate specifically that he actually hit any of them although at the very least he must have threatened to do so.
In any case, these people, whether they are Christian or not, are in desperate need of the Word of God. They are need of our prayer. We need to pray that God will bring them to their senses. Especially the ones that are Christian, because their faith is warped. They do not really understand the Bible and what Jesus came to do. A Christian cannot believe that genocide is acceptable in any way, shape, or form. If they would simply look at the evidence, it would be overwhelming. Sadly the number of people who lived then and saw the sights dwindle each year.
John 14:6 English Standard Version (ESV)
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
I think if they took that verse to heart, they might want to read a little more of the Bible and little less of whatever filth they are filling their minds with. The same is true for us as well. We need to fill our minds with good things and not the garbage that easily sells, has the highest ratings on TV, or is on the best-sellers list.
John 8:31-33 English Standard Version (ESV)
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been
enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
The Jews at the time thought Jesus meant free as in not a slave, but he was talking about spiritual freedom. When you are sinner and you KNOW you are, then you realize that you need something. Some people think it just the right information or if they do the right thing or say the right prayers or perform the right ritual, they will be saved. It is so much easier than that. “Abide in my word”: This means to read the Bible, but not just read it casually. It means to absorb it, digest it, dwell in it, saturate yourself in it. You don’t have to become a monk to do this. Just crack it open each day and you are on your way.
“Know the truth”: When you spend time in the Bible enough it will strengthen your faith. Things will start to make sense about your faith. Your confidence will not be shaken when someone questions you, because you will have read something about that recently.
“The truth will set you free”: When you are trying to earn your own salvation, you are like a hamster on a wheel. You are going around and around in circles, but you are going nowhere. We should always proclaim the truth, because there are forces, even entire nations like Iran that want to deny the Holocaust. But in the future it might not just be the Holocaust. It could be the Bible. It could be your right to speak out against ungodly practices.
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
Can You Count the Stars?
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
Awhile back, I needed to fill in for Pastor Lafferty and the Old Testament reading was the beginning of Genesis, chapter 15. While I commend the entire chapter to your reading, I want to pay particular attention to this verse.
Genesis 15:5 English Standard Version (ESV)
And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
That very day, when I got home, I started listening to some Christian music, which is not an uncommon thing for me. However, let me just take a moment to share a funny story about myself. I have a playlist on Youtube, actually I have several, one for popular Christian music covering everything from pop to rock, some country, and even a little gospel. Each list has over 100 songs, but the songs are always played in the same order. Youtube has a feature that lets you shuffle the list, but I find that it doesn’t shuffle properly after a certain number of songs, almost like it just can’t handle long lists. Due to that problem, my family is probably a little tired when I play it, because they often hear the beginning but not the end of the list. Just so you know, even I get tired of it, so I do rearrange the order of the list about once a month.
In any case, on my regular Christian Music list is a song currently near the top called Calculate and as I listened to it that Sunday, I saw the connection to the reading from Genesis. Now most of the song is just praise and thanksgiving to God for all that He has done, but the following part, I believe, was inspired by the verse in Genesis.
... Your love is like the stars, filling up the skies
It’s impossible to count all the lights
I could spend forever, but it’s not enough time
No it’s not enough time
No it’s not enough
I can’t calculate, calculate
All the ways that you love me, that you love me
I can’t calculate, calculate
All the ways that you love me, that you love me
Oho, oho, oho, oho, can’t calculate ...
Calculate by Everyday Sunday Songwriters: Kipp Williams / Chris Sernel / Glenn Walter Iii Pearson
John D Salbego Calculate lyrics © Artist 101 Publishing Group, Oh Hush Makes Me Blush
If you would like to watch their Official video, you can find the link below. It is very upbeat song that I would hope inspires you as much as it does me. Click Here to View Video
I have spent many nights looking up at the stars. The darker the place you are in, the more stars you will see. Still I would find it INCREDIBLY hard to count the stars. You know they don’t line up for you. If they were in a nice even grid pattern it would make counting much simpler. We can thank God that in his infinite wisdom, he gave us such variety in the night sky or we never would have all of the wonderful constellations. Plus, a grid would not look natural.
If I could make a little tick mark either visually or mentally next to the star, I would be to keep track of what I tried to count. I suppose I could take a picture and then I could use the tick-mark method. That option, however, was not available to Abraham. Using a high-quality photograph(s), the task of counting the stars is just laborious. Using just the naked eye, it goes to nigh impossible.
The number of stars are too many to “Calculate.” Likewise, God’s provision for us, IF we were to sit down and list all of our blessings, would be too numerous to count.
Give thanks today for the air that you breath. There are places on this Earth with worse pollution than New Jersey.
Give thanks to God for your health. There are plenty of people with worse health than most of us.
Give thanks to God for the food you eat. You may not get to go out to eat as often as you like, but you are not scrounging the garbage heaps fighting off dogs for something to eat.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 English Standard Version (ESV)
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
A Tree Falls in Helmetta
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
Pastor Lafferty in one of his Sunday sermons shared
the following story, which I am going to share along with
pictures, because his illustration worked so well. Pastor
Lafferty is a ham radio operator. In order to get on the air,
he strung a wire behind the Rectory between two trees as an
antenna. Recently there was a LOT of wind, but the wire was
strong and did not break the wire. But a tree branch fell
down and landed on the wire and the weight of the tree limb
was more that the wire could bear and down it came. Pastor
Lafferty noticed that this branch that came down had ivy
growing on it. In that moment he realized he had a sermon
So here we go! The picture above illustrates a tree like the one that Pastor Lafferty hooked his antenna to.The only difference being that the tree above has leaves.The ivy is on one side of the tree. The little green line running down the side of the tree is the ivy. Now imagine that the wind is blowing, but it is hitting the tree on the side opposite where the ivy clings to the tree. In this instance, the tree is protecting the ivy. This is much like the situation, whereGod is protecting us.
God protected the Israelites on a regular basis. You may recall how he brought plagues on the Egyptians to convince Pharaoh to let the Hebrews leave. Likewise, in the New Testament, Paul was whipped, stoned, bitten by a snake, almost drowned, and yet never killed until God wanted to bring him to Heaven.
Sometimes however, God is not protecting us. In this case, the wind blows right at us and the tree is NOT protecting us. You may ask, “What happens then?” The ivy, due to the wind pressure, is pushed into the tree. What this means for you and me, is that when difficulties arise, we too are pushed into God.
This means we are being nudged either forcefully or even strongly to get closer to God. We can do that by reading the Bible. We can do that praying or being prayed over. We can do that by staying in the community of other Christians. So that you know that the Bible is always an excellent place to find inspiration to lean further into God, here is a good verse.
Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Dust in the Wind
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
The band Kansas released their album, Point of Know Return in 1977. I was 16 at the time and I am pretty sure that I probably did not hear it till maybe a few years later. I was too busy listening to pop rock. It probably wasn’t until I got into college and started listening to a classic rock station that I probably ever heard this song. I know that by the mid-80’s my musical taste had increased dramatically, and I actually owned this album. Still even though I would sing along with the song, the words just rolled right off me. It wasn’t until my mid to late twenties that I started paying attention to the lyrics. Let me share some of them with you.
“I close my eyes, only for a moment, and the moment's gone
All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity
Dust in the wind
All they are is dust in the wind”
Songwriters: Kerry Livgren / Kerry A Livgren
Dust in the Wind lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
We all have dreams and by that, I mean desires. I am not talking about the dream you sometimes have that you are like Superman and can fly. What you’ve never had that kind of dream? I have, but I digress. Maybe you dream of retiring to Florida or sending your children to college? Those are good dreams, but the point of this song is that nothing is eternal or at least nothing on Earth is eternal.
“Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind”
Dust in the Wind lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
This song is so up-lifting! Aren’t you excited just listening to it? Face it, this song is dreary. In New Jersey, this time of year leading up to Ash Wednesday can be a bit lifeless. The weather is often cold. We have passed the highs of Christmas and New Year’s. The flowers are not yet in bloom. Your life may not be going well, your job may be stressful, your health may be deteriorating, or your spirituality may have ‘crumbled to the ground.’
“…Now, don't hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away
And all your money won't another minute buy
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind…”
Dust in the Wind lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Finally, we get some advice. The songwriter reminds us that our money will NOT buy us even a moment in time. You may be humming this song right now in your head. Given this cheery song that I have shared, what do we do with our lives and where do we turn for answers, especially since our money is useless? The answer is simple. We turn to God for what He has said, and we turn to the Bible as His gift to us so that the answers that were given back then, remind us of our salvation.
Genesis 3:19 (ESV)
"By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The words, “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” are often used at the
imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday. This reminds us of our sinful nature and that
sin leads to a physical and spiritual death, if we chose to live apart from Jesus.
Job 2:12 (ESV)
"And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven."
Dust or ash was often used as a sign of mourning. Job’s friends mourn for the situation that they find their friend in, because things are SO bad.
Ecclesiastes 1:13-15 English Standard Version (ESV)
"13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven.
It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 14 I have
seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
This passage was written by Solomon, who also was a song writer. You might wonder to what extent Kerry Livgren might have been influenced by this verse? Well Kerry did not come to faith till a few years later. Still he might have been exposed to this passage. There is a beauty in this verse. Solomon is the wisest man that has ever lived. According to the God’s statements about Solomon, no one since Solomon has ever been as wise as Solomon, so we should pay attention to what is being said here. The wisest of the wise says that all the pleasures that one can run after are NOTHING. Even chasing knowledge, making it into an idol is meaningless. The reason why is because we have a limited time here on Earth. But there is hope in being dust, as it says below.
1 Corinthians 15:48-49 (ESV)
As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
So, this Ash Wednesday, take some time and visit church and put on the symbol of our Lord in
ashes. Be reminded that you too will also one day return to the dust, but like Jesus you will also rise to
The Great Commission
A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)
19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Fatherand of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commandedyou. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [emphasis mine]
Jesus has given us the Great Commission to go out into the world and spread the good news. Each of us has a reason why we believe in Jesus. We all need to share those reasons with others. We cannot be like the ostrich and put our heads in the ground. We have to share the good news.
You may have found that sharing is not always easy. You may hope that your actions, lifestyle and what you stand for will be enough. The only problem with not using words is that there are plenty of atheists and other non-Christian believers who also do nice things. How will the average person tell the difference, if you don’t share why you believe?
I try to share wherever I can. I even share on Facebook. I have yet to be blocked for posting something, but I know that some of my friends do not agree with me. What amazes me is that they have not unfriended me. I give thanks to God that they have not, because it means I have time to try again. People may unfriend you or say that you are intolerant, just remember that Jesus told his disciples the following:
Matthew 10:14 English Standard Version (ESV)
“And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet
when you leave that house or town.”
My beliefs have had an effect on my friends and I am sorry that they feel that way, but I have to honor God first. I believe that I am being as pastoral as is humanly possible. I really strive to not get into arguments with people, but rather have good conversations. I try very hard to convince them without belittling them. I am not a debater. I was never on a debate team, but I have read the Bible and I have not shied away from discussions on it, because I want my faith to be stronger.
We could also just hunker down in our church and not try to venture out into the world and risk making anyone angry. This is a fortress mentality. That is not the Great Commission.
Notice what I emphasized in Matthew 28. God is going to be with us even to the bitter end of this age. That means that if we die before the age comes to an end, then God has been with us. If the end of the age comes soon, then again God has been with us. WE ARE NOT ALONE. When we left the Episcopal Church, we were the only CANA church in New Jersey. Now there are more. When CANA joined the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), we became part of what is perceived to be the new Orthodox Anglican Province in the United States. Look at the map below. It is a map of the ACNA churches in the Eastern and Central part of the country. I have even marked where St. Georges is. You cannot even see the borders of New Jersey there are so many churches in the Greater Tri-State Area. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. God is with you. God is with me. God is with us. God is doing something. It may have seemed like he was not doing anything before, but now he is.
In addition, we are no longer hampered by unorthodox beliefs that you have to dodge when people question you on what you believe. I am so glad to not have to make excuses for why I went to a conservative church in a denomination that was turning away from biblical orthodoxy. Do not be shackled any longer, go out into the world telling people why you believe in Jesus. Our Lord and Savior requires us to do so.
It's All About the Word
Reflecting on Psalm 139:13 - A blog by Deacon Greg Ventura
"For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb."
There are some topics, I will speak boldly on and others that I will speak more quietly on. This is the later. There has been much talk recently about a law passed in New York that affects abortion. This is a very heated topic. People on both sides are quite passionate. There is no value in getting angry with the opposition. There is nothing to be gained by being belligerent. This is not an issue that will go away with petitions.
This is only an issue that will go away when Christians get about the business of making disciples of all nations. I am not going to talk about the people who advocate one way or another on the issue. I want to talk about the people dealing with the issue. Those are the people making the decisions.
How are Christians helping these people?
The people in these circumstances go someplace for help and counseling, where might that be? I would imagine that many go to Planned Parenthood. How many come to church? I am sure that some do, but do many expect to be judged if they were to confess that they or someone they love is pregnant? There are local organizations that can help, but how well do you know them? There are alternatives in almost every county in New Jersey. Some of these are church-affiliated, like Catholic Charities, others like Life Choices Resource Center in Metuchen are Christian, but not by any particular church. These kinds of organizations need help. Parents need diapers, toys, baby food, and do I really need to spell it out for you? You know the drill. They need stuff. LOTS of stuff. Babies grow fast, so they need support for a while, when it comes to clothing. This is a wonderful opportunity for someone who might have a passion for this to do some volunteer work.
Do these people know that God formed them in their mother’s womb?
Maybe if this psalm resonated with more Christians, then maybe we could help other people to better understand it themselves? We are more casual about sex as a nation. Go out into your backyard and get some dirt, rocks, sticks, and vegetable matter. Go the drug store and get some medical supplies. Go to the hardware store and get some metal, wood, nuts, bolts, and piping. Now go home and try to build a human being. You can’t do it with all that stuff, but God gave us a gift of life. When a man and woman are intimate life can be created. It is so simple that we take it for granted, but life is miracle. Pregnancy is the miracle of life. Yes, it has been going on for quite a long time and maybe it has lost its luster. Maybe you need to spend a few minutes sitting with a couple that cannot get pregnant. I know of two couples that could not get pregnant the normal one. One went to many extremes and ending up adopting not one child, but three, those children are now all young adults. Another friend could not conceive and so tried various in vitro fertilization methods and they are finally pregnant. Spend some time with these people and you will hear about the frustration about trying to do it normally when you cannot. Maybe we all need to read a little more of the Bible and see what that says about this?
Did the writers of the Bible care about children?
People will say yes and no on this issue. In one respect, people needed to have lots of children, because the likelihood that they would reach adulthood was low. It was also important in the culture to have an heir. Still this verse from Psalms I believe is an indication that God cares about us at every moment of our life. There are those who will say that life does not really start until you are actually born. If that is the case, then why would we have this verse? Why are there so many stories about how difficult it was even back then to always get pregnant. People might have thought it must have been very easy, but then why are there so many bible stories about barren women? The stories that we have are just the famous ones that went to do great things, but we need to look on these stories to better understand what God thinks about life and how God care about us in our desire to have children.
Genesis 11:30 English Standard Version (ESV)
Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.
Remember the story of Abraham and Sarah and how they were barren and old? God promised that they would have many descendants and so they had Isaac.
Genesis 25:21 English Standard Version (ESV)
And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.
Isaac and Rebekah have two sons, Esau and Jacob.
Judges 13:3 English Standard Version (ESV)
And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son."
Judges tells the story of the birth of Samson.
Luke 1:7 English Standard Version (ESV)
But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
This Gospel chapter tells of the birth of John the Baptist. Numerous stories of couples who could not have children. Did their husbands dump their wives for someone more fertile? No. We have something to share. Jesus knows about suffering. He is ready to walk with people who are suffering. We need to be his arms and legs.
How do you feel about not being aborted?
It’s a fair question. If you are reading this, then you would not aborted. How do you feel about that. It makes me pause. What if circumstances in my life had been different. My parents suggested that my brother, Mark, three years younger than I, was not planned. They talked about aborting him, but thank God, they did not. What if life had just been a little harder on your parents? What if you were not planned? What if your parents had no church family that would support them? How DO you feel about not being aborted.
I am VERY thankful. I cannot imagine what my life would have been like without Mark. He is a blessing to me. Yes, there were times when he was a young goofy kid that he drove me crazy, but then he grew to be the coolest brother I could have. He’s an engineer. He builds cool stuff. He is a business man. I give thanks that my parents made the right decision. It may have been the most difficult decision they ever made.
Do YOU know that God formed YOU in YOUR mother’s womb?
How to Stop a Giant
On January 13th , Pastor Lafferty spoke to us about the giants in our lives. Your giant could be anything that prevents you from being the person who God wants you to be. This could be things like fear, depression, lust, pride, finances… Your giants will scream at you in order to intimidate you. The giant wants to make you fearful in order to shut you down! You may recall from the story of the David and Goliath, that Goliath did this very thing. He taunted the Israelites. 1 Samuel 17:8-9
He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” But we need to remember that our Lord will fight for us. We need to remember that God has helped us in the past, he will help us now and in the future. 1 Samuel 17:37
And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” David goes into battle with a sling and five smooth stones, likewise we will look on 5 things that will help us deal with our own giants.
1. Vision: Giants look larger than they are. We need to remember that God is bigger. This reminds of a VeggieTales song that goes like this: God is bigger than the boogie man. He's bigger than Godzilla, or the monsters on TV. Oh, God is bigger than the boogie man.
And He's watching out for you and me." You can find that on YouTube. It is really funny, but also VERY true.
2. Valor: We win by training. This mean partially we have the skill, but also that we have the confidence. The men were afraid, but David was not afraid.
3. Venture: We need to remind ourselves of the stories of the bears and lions that we have faced. We need to share those stories. We need to remind ourselves of the bear and lion, when we go up against the Goliath of cancer or unemployment, or whatever your giant might be.
4. Victory: Remember, that you and I do not fight in our own strength. The battle is the Lord’s!
5. Value: Keep a record of how God won the battle. It may help you in the future, but it will also
help your heart stay close to God and finally you may someday draw someone else closer to God
with your story.
Looking Back at 2018
Every year as the New Year approaches there is always a countdown. Probably the most common are radio stations doing the top hits.
See below the greatest hits of CANA East, the information comes from our Bishop, Julian Dobbs.
As a diocese - CANA East had a superb year!
almost 250 people gathered for our annual missions' conference and synod
new men have been ordained to holy order
a growing number of seminarians have committed to study.
new congregations like Christ Church, South Bend, Indiana have been planted.
lay leaders have been commissioned for ministry.
Bishop Seabury Church has a new building and was named as a pro-Cathedral.
almost 85 clergy and spouses gathered for the annual CANA East clergy and spouse retreat.
bible teaching, baptism and discipleship have been seen from Maine to Miami, FL and from Tulsa, OK to Long Island, NY
When CANA East was inaugurated in April 2013 there were 23 congregations. Today, we give thanks to God for the GROWTH of 38 congregations and 4 additional church plants. Give thanks to God for such blessings! Pray for how you can help the Lord in the harvest of 2019!
Teaches us forgiveness
Is where we find deeper meaning in our lives
Helps you heal
Connects us with God
Gives us a chance to reflect on gratitude
Gives a message that helps
Gives opportunity for fulfilling worship
Connects us socially
Helps us better connect with our spouse
Allows us to feel reverence
Provides plenty of opportunity to give back
Helps us “Find the Lesson” in our trials
Fills our hearts with song
What can Church do for you?
Praying for the Military
Here are insights provided by Army Chaplain and Scott Koeman on how to pray:
Pray that they would have the peace of Christ with them – especially if they travel outside of this Forward Operating Base
Pray that they will depend on the love of God to keep them from bitterness at others (who needlessly make life difficult on their subordinates especially when they aren’t the most competent leader).
Pray for their spiritual and emotional resiliency so that regardless of what they face, they will be able to be effective in their military role and responsibility.
Pray for protection. “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore”
Pray that they will be vigilant if they are called upon to fire upon the enemy. “praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle”
Pray that the enemy will be turned back. “May all who seek to take my life be put to shame and confusion: may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace”
Pray that they will be fulfilled in their job. Without purpose, time in the combat zone is extremely long and difficult.
Pray that they finds “good and solid” Christian brothers to have fellowship.
Pray that if they struggle or are discouraged, they will seek out their chaplain for wisdom and encouragement.
Pray for the leadership in Platoons, Companies, Battalions, Brigades … depending on what level the soldier works. Leadership can make or break a man.
Pray that they will resist lowering themselves to lower levels of conversations and instead seek to be an example of goodness and righteousness.