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Union Baptist Church is looking to hire Bookkeeper

Please contact Paulette L. Tillery, Church Administrator to receive copy of Job posting at churchadmin@ubccambridge.org

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Now Is the Time

Last night, millions of Americans tuned in to the final debate of the 2012 Presidential campaign scene. Now the election is upon us, and we as people of faith must seek God’s hand over this critical moment in our nation’s history. As Pastors, we are not in the business of telling people who to vote for, but we do have a responsibility to highlight the issues that will advance God’s Kingdom in the world. Scripture plots a clear path for our private lives, but also for our political world. Here are the most important points for Christians to consider as they head to the polls:

We must build a more just nation that can advocate for a more just world. The prophet Amos indicted the people of Israel: “For I know how many are your transgressions…you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate (Amos 5:12).” In all the discussions about job creation, food stamps, and regulatory reform, this must be the main question in our minds: are we treating each other right, are we promoting integrity, and are we taking care of those who need a hand caring for themselves? Jobs need to pay a living wage, leaders need to be committed to the people they serve, and we must protect the most vulnerable citizens among us, whether they be poor, infirm, disempowered, or disenfranchised.

The fate of healthcare reform in America. There is a powerful story in the Gospel of Mark about the woman with an issue of blood who had been suffering for twelve years. She had seen many doctors, and she had spent all that she had, but she was actually becoming more and more sick. In a desperate moment, she reached out and touched the cloak of Jesus, with the simple prayer that she might be made well. She was healed instantly (Mark 5:23-34).

Many in America have shared the desperation of this woman. While the healthcare reform act is only the tip of the iceberg, it is a huge step towards realizing the miracle of healing not just for one desperate woman in Mark, but for all people around this country. The pledges that some have made to gut this law and repeal it should be taken seriously and rejected.

Investing in the education of our people. Scripture teaches that we ought to love God not only with our heart and soul, but our mind as well. Jesus was able to teach the world so much not just because he was inspired by his Heavenly Father, but because he was a student of the Jewish tradition and the world in which he lived. Back in his day, scholars memorized scrolls; in the 21st century, it is science and technology, but also cultural fluency that will make the difference in whether or not we can fully step into the victorious life that God wants for all of us. One of the least discussed issues in this campaign has been the continuing progress towards real education reform. It takes an investment, a commitment, and a plan that puts everyone around the table.

There is much more to talk about when you consider the situation in our nation and world. But nothing that lasts is built overnight. This election will have a permanent impact on the direction of this country for many years to come. There are two weeks left and the race is very close. Pick a candidate, get involved, and be counted. And let us pray that God’s will is done.

Posted in Pastor's Blog.


Keepin’ It Real During Lent

Wednesday, February 22nd marks the beginning of Lent. The word “lent” comes from a longer word that means Spring. It lasts for forty days and forty nights (not including the weekend) and is meant to be a time when we prepare our hearts for the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the time when we focus on repenting for all of the ways in which we know we have not followed God’s will for our life, and it is a time when we decide to make a change so that we can walk closer to God in the year to come. If we take it seriously, it can be one of the most important times that we experience each and every year.

There are many different ways to draw closer in our walk with God. One way is to spend this time making sacrifices in our personal life because we remember that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us on the cross. We remember that he suffered, bled, and died for our sins, and so we can “suffer” a little bit by giving up something that we normally do. That sacrifice might mean that you “give something up” for Lent: your favorite food or treat; a certain favorite past time; you might choose to fast and pray during the daytime hours or just do a Daniel fast (no meat) around the clock. It’s all about creating the type of relationship where our will stays out of the way and God’s can take over. Jesus had that type of relationship with God and that’s what kept him focused throughout his ministry and all the way to the cross.

But “giving things up” is not the only way to draw closer to God. Sometimes you can draw closer to God by “doing more.” You might decide to increase your devotional life and start praying more often during Lent; you might start spending more time studying the Word of God; or maybe you might become involved in the ministry of your church.. You might even try to kill two birds with one stone and choose to give up a bad habit (that you know that you need to let go of) so that you can start a new habit that will help you grow in your relationship with God!

Each of us needs to look within ourselves and discern what makes the most sense for us as individuals. Each of us needs to make sure that we are “keeping it real” when it comes to our relationship with God and our spiritual walk. Lent is a perfect time to reflect on what’s holding you back from a richer and more abundant experience of God in your life.

As a minister and pastor, my only challenge is that we all commit to do something during this season that will move us in a new direction – towards God – or push us further along that path if we have already begun the journey. I ask all of us to start praying about that and to think about what commitment we can make. Like springtime on a farm, lent can be the season when we plant the seeds for the harvest that is to come. Let’s not miss this opportunity; God is waiting for us.

Posted in Pastor's Blog.


Five Tips for the Temple in 2012

“You surely know that your body is a temple where the Holy Spirit lives. The Spirit is in you and is a gift from God. You are no longer your own. God paid a great price for you.  So use your body to honor God.”

– 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (CEV)

Scripture teaches us to view our body as a “temple” where God dwells. The temple is the place where God is worshipped, where God’s word is taught, and where God’s work is done. That means that our bodies should have the same sense of purpose as we go about our daily living. Everything that we do should be with an eye towards worshipping God, teaching other people about God, and being a part of ministry that honors God.

With that in mind, here are Five Tips for the Temple in 2012:

Get adequate rest. At his lowest point, Elijah sought refuge with God at the Mountain of Horeb. Part of the refuge that he received was catching a couple of much needed naps under the broom tree. Studies continue to show that most of us don’t get enough sleep, and that our health, our happiness, and our peace of mind suffer because of it. These studies are just a secular means of teaching us a gospel truth: like Elijah, and like Jesus, we all need to get adequate rest if we are going to do all that God wants us to do.

Get regular exercise. Every church has to set aside money in the budget for “maintenance and repairs.” If we don’t pay attention to the condition of our temple, it will deteriorate (and future repairs will cost even more because we did not engage in preventative maintenance). Our bodies need the same maintenance if we want to be in shape to do God’s work on this earth. If you haven’t yet begun a regular exercise routine, make this year the year that you get started. Whether it is biking around the neighborhood, taking a trip to the gym, or jumping rope in your back yard, treat your temple right in 2012.

Eat healthy. Another part of Elijah’s refuge was the “cake baked on hot stones,” and the “jar of water” that God provided him. You’ll notice the text didn’t talk about rib tips, fried chicken, or Diet Pepsi. While God wants us to enjoy life and eat well, God also does not want us to idolize food and worship it more than we do Him. Make a resolution to eat healthy this year: drink lots of water, eat fruits and vegetables every day, and try to lay off that fried chicken and Diet Pepsi.

Quit any and all addictive substances that do damage to your body (drugs, smoking, excessive alcohol use, etc.). I should not have to say much about this one. Try dousing parts of the sanctuary in your church with gasoline and lighting a match – see how the inside of your temple looks afterward. In one way or another, abusing all of these substances have the effect of turning the inside of our bodies into a charred inferno. Make up your mind to quit THIS YEAR.

Pray on how you can use your body to give God greater glory. These other four tips may mean little to you because you already get adequate rest, go to the gym three times a week, shop exclusively at Whole Foods, and never drank or smoked a day in your life. If all of that is true, then you’re probably in pretty good shape already. But all of us are called to seek greater perfection in Jesus Christ. Be prayerful in 2012 about where your “room for improvement” might be in caring for your temple. God may show you something new along the way.

Posted in Pastor's Blog.


Healing Hope and the Holidays

The holiday season is upon us. As I drive around to take the kids to school, or go to work, I enjoy all of the Christmas wreaths, the multi-colored lights on the lawns, and the holiday melodies playing on the radio. We went out and purchased a “real” tree the other day; my greatest joy was watching my children decorate it. I’ve always been a sucker for Christmas, Santa Claus, and all of the goodies that come with “the most wonderful time of the year.” But as I have grown in my walk as a person of faith, I have come to reflect more and more on the true meaning of this time, the real reason for the season: Jesus.

Christmas is the moment when his followers are called to celebrate his birth – humble as it was – and the gift that it gave to the world. Jesus was born under suspicious circumstances (his mother was a virgin) and under less than ideal conditions (no room at the inn, so let’s try a manger with the animals!). He was born into a world not much unlike our own: a world where the 1% control most of the wealth and power, and the 99% struggle to overcome the obstacles of inequity; a world where a single empire (in their case the Romans, in our case America) laid claim to much of the civilized community while struggling to keep its own house in order; a world where people were dealing with grief, dealing with loss, trying to make it from day-to-day, and making their every best effort to build a decent life for their families.

Jesus was born into a world that needed healing. There were many walking wounded in first century Israel, and there are many walking wounded in twenty-first century America. Some were wounded in their bodies, and some were wounded in their hearts; some were struggling to walk physically, and others were striving to recover spiritually. What Jesus offered all of them – and what his birth offers all of us – is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole, a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul. What Jesus offers is the hope that everyone – even those of humble beginnings like his peasant wife – can be the bearers of good news, can be instruments of the Lord, and can be part of making a difference in this world.

There is healing and hope for the holidays because Jesus Christ is born. There is a reason to believe that your circumstances now don’t have to determine your outcome later; there is a reason to rejoice and give praise to God for the greatest gift of all. There is a reason for the season, and his name is Jesus!

Lord, inspire in us a spirit of gratitude and thanks as we move through this Christmas time. Inspire in us a spirit of hope and help us to receive the healing that comes with your son Jesus. Focus us in on what matters most, and be with us during this special time.

 

Prayer focus for the week: those who are hurting during the holidays.

Posted in Pastor's Blog.


Occupying the Mountaintop

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them…Matthew 5:1-2 (NIV)

I have told many that I am a political news junkie; whether it be radio, online or cable TV news, I am often running some broadcast in the background of whatever else I am doing. In addition to the scandal at Penn State, and the endless gaffes from one Republican presidential wannabe or the other, what has been occupying (pun intended) much of the news for nearly two months now is the Occupy Movement that began in New York City but that has now spread to over 1,000 sites in this country (as well as others abroad).

I have hesitated to comment on this movement, in part because I was waiting to see if it would fizzle and die, or if it would be brutally beaten back by law enforcement and municipal governments. While there have certainly been moments of brutality around the nation, this movement has done anything but fizzle out, and it only promises to grow stronger in the wake of Mayor-sponsored evictions in places like New York City and Oakland.

The church is often accused of sitting idly by while world change swirls around it. That was certainly the critique during the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, and many have begun drawing parallels between the sit-ins that later developed into a mass political movement then and these occupy actions in parks and city squares now. We’ll see if this turns into a mass political movement or not. But as people of faith, we cannot ignore what is going on.

The reason why we cannot ignore what is going on is that our entire faith is built around a man and his twelve disciples who started a movement by “occupying” space that was normally reserved for priests and scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees, with all of their self-righteous lecturing about Jewish law and temple cult practices. Jesus tried to show them a different way of reaching the people, one that promised to revolutionize their relationship with God and catapult them to the mountaintop.

These two verses are the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus teaches his disciples and the crowds about everything from living a blessed life to the importance of settling with your “adversary” before you get to court. He occupies the mountaintop to draft a blueprint for life and ministry that is favored by God. He occupies the attention of the people to show them a new way of living. He occupies our hearts with his words of encouragement and assurance. Jesus seeks to occupy our spirits with redemption and transcendent power. And if we listen in, we just might receive the keys to occupy eternity.

Oh God, turn my ear to hear your word, and my heart to be touched by your grace. Show me the path to occupy a greater territory where joy, hope, and abundant life prevail.

Prayer focus for the week: increasing the space where God can occupy our hearts and our communities with peace, equity, and blessedness.

Posted in Pastor's Blog.


Looking for Signs, Hearing from the Lord

One day Moses was tending the flock…He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai…There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up.  “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.” When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!” “Here I am!” Moses replied…Exodus 3:1-4 (NLT)

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice…1 Kings 19:11-12 (KJV)

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way…he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ 5He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…Acts 9:1-5 (NRSV)

 I continue this week with the subject of storms, and more specifically, how to move out of the storm. These three passages point to stormy and “post-stormy” periods in the lives of three biblical figures: Moses, Elisha, and Saul (who became known to most of us as Paul). In all three situations, these imperfect individuals were in the midst of some difficult periods in their life (or living in self-imposed exile because of a difficult period). In these times of their life, coming out of these storms meant looking for signs that these storms were over, and waiting to hear from the Lord that it was time to move on.

Moses had fled to the land of Midian after killing an Egyptian overseer in a fit of rage; he was living in self-imposed exile while he sorted out his identity crisis, having been raised as Egyptian royalty even though his bloodline was the same as the slaves that made his life of luxury possible. Elisha was under siege for doing God’s work, and his life was under threat as he desperately pleaded with the Lord for relief. Saul, meanwhile, was engage in intense persecution and violence, hunting down Christians – followers of the “Way” – like they were rats in the alley. Some of these storms were self-imposed; others were the by-product of faithfulness to God. Either way, they were in a storm, or struggling to live life in the midst of an unresolved storm; anybody who has ever been through a storm knows how badly you want that storm to end so that you can move on with your life.

For each of them, the resolution came because they saw a sign and heard from the Lord. For Moses, that sign came in the form of a bush that was burning but that would not be consumed. For Elisha, the sign came in a tremendous and awesome display of nature’s might; and for Saul, the sign came in being knocked off his donkey on the way to Damascus. But all three of them also heard from the Lord, whether in the form of a “still, small voice,” or the booming baritone that we can imagine as God spoke to Moses and Saul.

These biblical scenes teach us three important lessons about how God prepares us to move into the next stage of our lives:
1. No two situations are the same, and no two individuals are going to have the same experience of God;
2. The combo nature of the signs and the voice from the Lord together means that God will make it difficult for you to ignore the sign or write-off the voice.

3. When the sign comes and the voice follows, listen up! A great change may be about to take place in your life (Moses and Saul); and at the very least, God is going to encourage you for the work that you have left to do (Elisha).

Oh God, enable us to see your signs, and to hear your voice. Encourage us to carry on with the great tasks that you have for us, and to be ready for the work that lies ahead. We look to you to guide us after the storm and into the plans that you have for the living of these days.

Prayer focus for the week: paying greater attention to the signs and the voices in our midst.

Posted in Pastor's Blog.


Keeping Our Head Above Water

For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits. (Genesis 7:17-20 NIV)

My spirit has been led of late to the subject of storms – what they look like, the different types of storms that we encounter, and how we get through them. As God would have it, we have been examining the early chapters of Genesis during our current session of Bible Study, and there is no better example of a great storm than the flood that God brought over all the earth in chapters 6-8 of Genesis.

This particular flood came because God was upset with the amount of wickedness on the earth; this flood was tremendous in its physical proportions – as the excerpt above suggests – but the storm was really just a means of spiritually cleansing the earth and starting over. The storms that hit our lives will come for lots of different reasons. There are the “physical” storms – like Hurricane Irene that struck New England this summer, or the tsunamis that have ravaged Japan and parts of southeast Asia in recent years – but there are also emotional, spiritual, and psychological storms, as we all struggle through the grief of lost loved ones, the heartbreak of broken relationships, or the frustrations of unmet expectations in our life.

As we consider the subject of storms, this excerpt from Genesis 7 strikes me for two reasons: 1) the awesome sight that Noah must have witnessed; 2) the abundance of God’s love that preserved Noah and those on the ark in the midst of this awesome sight.

In terms of the awesome sight that Noah witnessed, keep in mind that we are talking about rain that came and did not stop for forty days! It rained quite heavily this past Friday night, which made for a wet commute to and from church, a wet walk in and out of places, and a more treacherous drive through the streets of Cambridge and Medford where I was preaching at revival. I imagined to myself: What if this rain kept going tomorrow, the next day, and for another thirty-seven days after that? Would the floods begin? How high would the water rise? At what point might I need to consider making my way to an ark?

Verse twenty of this passage suggests that the waters reached over twenty-five feet in the air (one “cubit” equals about twenty inches), and we know that for the waters to rise so high that they even covered over the tops of the mountains it was even more than that! This sight must have been awesome but also tremendously frightening to Noah and his family. Yet in the midst of that awesome wonder, we are also told that God provided for the ones that he had chosen: as the waters rose, so did the ark! If the waters were twenty-five feet in the air, then the ark must have been at least twenty-six feet!

This passage teaches us that in the midst of our storm, God will provide for us. Sometimes we just have to thank and praise God for keeping our head above water, for making sure that if our storm has pushed the waters high, that God keeps us just a little bit higher. We may be scared sometimes; we may get tired of swimming; we may wonder whether or not we are going to make it. But we must place our faith in God, who chooses us for great tasks just like He chose Noah to save a remnant of creation; and we must believe that if God has chosen us, then God will take care of us, even through the storm.

Oh God, help me to trust in you as I go through the storms of life. Even as the waters rise ever higher and higher, keep my head above water, and my mind and heart at peace.

Prayer focus for the week: increasing our spiritual stamina.

Posted in Pastor's Blog.


Holding to God’s Unchanging Hand

“Time is filled with swift transition. Naught of earth unmoved can stand. Build your hopes on things eternal. Hold to God’s unchanging hand.”

As I considered this week’s entry, my spirit was led to this old church song: “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand.” It’s one of the many songs that the young people tend to find “boring,” because it doesn’t have the beat of a Kirk Franklin song or the tempo of a piece by the likes of Israel and New Breed. It’s the type of song that most of the so-called “old folks” know, and so that tends to automatically put it in the category of “too traditional” as we do church in the twenty-first century.

But whether or not the beat of this song makes your feet start tapping or whether or not the tempo of this song inspires you to dance, the message of this song ought to encourage us all, young and old. While beats and tempos change from generation to generation, everybody experiences the “swift transition” that life brings. We transition from childhood to adulthood, from being dependent on parents to learning how to be dependent on ourselves, from living in one place to living in another. Change and transition is part of life, whether you were born eighty years ago, fifty years ago, or twenty years ago.

In every generation, there are those who accept this reality and those who resist it. There are those who embrace the transition that will come – whether we like it or not – and there are those who resist that transition, as if they will not be moved. I remember Dr. Andrew Young talking about the struggle that went on in his father’s church many years ago as they transitioned from using a fireplace to heat the church to using a gas furnace. Young people who grew up with gas and electric heaters probably cannot even imagine resisting such a thing; it’s simply what we are used to. But for those in the generation of Dr. Young’s father, some were very reluctant to transition away from chopping and collecting those logs of firewood to heat the church.

We live in an era when change happens more quickly than it probably ever has before. As we mourned the death of Steve Jobs last week, so much of the conversation centered on how important a role he had played in innovation and new technology like the smart-phone and the I Pad. President Obama reflected on the fact that so many of us first heard the news of his passing on the very device that he and his engineers at Apple had invented. We can try to resist change, but if we heed the words of this song, we know that “naught of earth unmoved can stand.”

As we walk down the road of life then, the key is that we keep the proper perspective on those things that will remain constant in the midst of constant change and transition. That is why the songwriter encourages us to “build [our] hopes on things eternal; hold to God’s unchanging hand.” Before there ever was a was, God was in the midst; and after forever is over, God will still be there. God is the One who lasts when all else fades away. If you’re like me, you no longer stack up quarterly booklets of Daily Bread, but instead, you receive your Upper Room devotional through your e-mail (which is synced with your smart-phone!) But the Word of God that these devotionals reflect on remains the same as it was when they were first written on scrolls over two thousand years ago.

We ought not be frazzled, frustrated, or discouraged by change. Instead, we ought to accept the swift transition that fills this life of ours, and trust God enough to build our hopes for this life on His firm foundation. Hold to his hand (hallelujah), God’s unchanging hand; Hold to his hand, God’s unchanging hand; build your hopes on things eternal…

Oh God, help us to hold to your hand; help us to be ready at all times for swift transition and constant change. Instill in us a deep trust in You, and a willingness to build our hopes on your eternal foundation.

Prayer focus for the week: increasing our sense of the eternal in our lives.

Posted in Pastor's Blog.


Remembering Where We Come From

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female…” – Genesis 1:26-27

I have been reminded in recent weeks of how important it is for us to remember where we come from. On September 11th, this nation commemorated ten years since the attacks of 9/11 that killed over 3,000 people in a moment that changed us for this generation, and perhaps for those to come. This landmark anniversary sparked a deeper reflection on the damage that was done, the lives that were changed forever, and how this event shook some people’s faith in God’s goodness and God’s love for us.

So many families were forced to confront the depths of evil that day, and to see what it can do to their lives. In response, many asked the age-old question, “Why, Lord, why?,”  as they try to figure out why a God who is good lets bad things happen all of the time, especially on such a massive scale. It is natural to wonder about God’s goodness in the world when we are faced with so much evil, but it is also important to remember the power and the responsibility that we have to respond to that evil and to change the world so that we don’t keep on making the same mistakes over and over again.

We come from a God who made us in God’s own image. And when we think of what the image of God looks like, we think of everything beautiful, everything marvelous, and everything that is good. That means that from the moment of creation, this beauty, and this marvelous-ness, and this goodness is in us, too. We know that there is sin. And we know that there is imperfection in our lives. But we are made good by a good God!

The challenge then is that we have to take the power that God gives us – to “rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky…and over all the creatures…” – seriously. We have to be committed to making sure that all of our actions reflect God’s goodness, and the beauty and the marvelous-ness with which He created us. It is up to each of us to try and reflect this goodness as individuals, and to support our brothers and sisters so that we can all do it together.

The attacks of 9/11 were not a natural disaster. They were not caused by an earthquake, or a hurricane. They were caused by people – who were made in God’s image, just like you and I – but who lost a sense of that goodness and beauty along the way. We can help each other to remember what matters most and to hold onto it no matter what circumstances we encounter in our lives. And maybe if we can do that, evil won’t have to get so much airtime in our world.

Oh God, help us to remember where we come from; help us to reflect your goodness and beauty in everything that we do, and strengthen us for the times when we must help our brothers and sisters to do the same. Lord, help us to stay focused on what matters most.

Prayer focus for the week: the beauty in our lives, and how we can make more of it.

Posted in Pastor's Blog.