Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Message 2008

This sermon was delivered on Christmas Eve 2008 at St. Patrick's Church in Amherst, NY by Rev. Kevin L. Baker

Why I Love Christmas Lights


· Merry Christmas, everyone. This is a beautiful time of the year. It is a time to celebrate family and friends, it is a time of warmth, a time of peace, and a time to enjoy Christmas lights.
· As a priest and ambassador of heaven, today I would like to help us pull off all the paper, bows, and ribbons that decorate the true gift of Christmas and simply behold the simple gift that started it all.
· After cutting through all the hype, marketing, and the commercial Christmas, inside all the trimmings is the actual Christmas gift.
· Here is the gift. Jesus left heaven and came to earth as told by St. John the Apostle in the first words of His Gospel. God himself lived in the womb of Mary, blessed among all women.
· Then, in the dark of night on a Judean hillside near Bethlehem, a bright star and angelic lights of heaven filled the sky announcing that God himself had been born as a human being.
· He came to the earth he created to live among us; to make himself known to us so we would never have to doubt that he exists or that he cares about us.
· At the core of John chapter 1, the Christmas Gospel, is a story about Christmas Light. Like most of you, I have been enjoying my ride home at night looking at Christmas lights at the darkest time of the year.
· Although many people are trying to eliminate the religious significance of Christmas, the very existence of all the lights points to Jesus Christ.
· St. John says about Jesus being born at Christmas , 9That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.
· In God’s world, Light represents God’s glorious presence of inapproachable light, Light is His love shining out from his heart. Light is everything good—love, the source of life, and ethical truth.
· Darkness is the antithesis of life. It is evil, wickedness, sin, death, and the absence of God’s Light.
· St. John’s Gospel begins by telling us that John the Baptist was chosen by God to tell the world that into the darkness of this world, the Light of Heaven had arrived to shine and bring a new day.
· Isaiah had prophesied this day 700 years earlier in Isaiah 9:2 "The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them."
· How do we personally experience the dark? Author Joyce Rupp says darkness manifests as:
1. A time in which the energy and focus of life is almost completely funneled into physical, emotional, or psychic pain.
2. An experience of being buried in deep sorrow and grief.
3. A discouraging and empty inner sojourn when nothing seems valuable or worthwhile.
4. A stage of spiritual desolation in which there is no sense of God's presence and little or no desire for things of the spirit.
5. A battle of indecision and struggle, when the unknowns and fears of the future press painfully on decision to be made.
6. A fog-like state when life is confusing, unclear, and seemingly impenetrable.
7. A situation with evil and atrocity which threaten to overpower or annihilate.
8. An excruciating time of helplessness in which one feels paralyzed or powerless to alleviate the pain of another.
9. An on-going negativity which brings with it a constant state of frustration, irritation, and dissatisfaction.

· Jesus came into a world filled with darkness. But when Jesus comes the darkness hides.
· John tells us that Jesus is the Word that was in the beginning in Genesis. The Word that said “Let there be Light and there was Light” now came into the world as a person.
· The sad words of the Gospel this evening tell us 5And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
· So many living in dark times don’t realize Jesus is the Christmas Light .
· He wants to shine the light of heaven into your dark world. My prayer is tonight you will see the Christmas Lights and understand why Jesus came on that first Christmas.
· For many, Christmas is a time of more intense darkness. Some of us have lost loved ones and miss them intensely during the holidays stricken with grief.
· For some Christmas is a time of deep sadness because their lives have not followed the plan they set out for themselves and their children. Dreams have died.
· Marriages have failed. Careers have been disrupted by sickness or sudden unemployment.
· Families have been wounded by addictions, and good people have suffered wrongs.
· Remember John’s Christmas message about the baby Jesus , 9That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. John says Jesus is the Light for each of our lives.
· Christmas means that Jesus is here in the dark to bring light. He cares. He loves. He gives hope.
· The real cool thing is Jesus wants to make each of us Christmas Lights too. Once the Light of Jesus shines in our hearts, we become Light bearers; the Light of the World
· The Church is really one big string of Lights that Jesus is hanging all over the world.
· Peter says God’s Church is a group of people God called out of darkness into His wonderful Light.
· Daniel the prophet said3 Those who are wise [a] will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.
· Tonight, may we live in a dark world of recession, uncertainty, loss, worry, depression, poverty, pain, sickness, hunger, war, suffering, and sadness.
· Jesus has been stringing his lights--the people of God--all over the world and the power of the Holy Spirit is the switch that turns on the Lights.
· Singer Lauren Christy wrote, The truth is here, So come on hold me tight 'Cause I was not a child afraid of darkness But an Adult Afraid Of The Light.
· Tonight if you are afraid of the light, of becoming a Christian, hear the message of Christmas, "And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings...which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10,11).
· Did you hear what the Christmas Angel said? FEAR NOT. FOR UNTO YOU IS BORN THIS DAY A SAVIOR. Do you know what Christmas means?
· Jesus came to this world for YOU. He came to be YOUR Savior. Don’t be afraid to come to the child in the manger and bow before him. Come like the Shepherds and Wise Men and worship Jesus.
· At Christmas, Jesus comes to all living under the power of darkness; to those who are weary.
· He is reaching out. He is giving us the opportunity to come of out of darkness and live in Light.
· Are you worried and afraid in this recession? Come to Jesus and tell him and Light will come.
· Are you living in depression, suffering, and sadness? Ask Jesus to come into your life.
· I want to close by reaching out to anyone here who has trouble believing that Christmas could really be all about Jesus Christ.

There was once a man who didn't believe in God, and he didn't hesitate to let others know how he felt about religion and religious holidays. His wife, however, did believe, and she raised their children to also have faith in God and Jesus, despite his disparaging comments. One snowy eve, his wife was taking their children to a service in the farm community in which they lived. They were to talk about Jesus' birth. She asked him to come, but he refused. "That story is nonsense!" he said. "Why would God lower Himself to come to Earth as a man? That's ridiculous!" So she and the children left, and he stayed home. A while later, the winds grew stronger and the snow turned into a blizzard. As the man looked out the window, all he saw was a blinding snowstorm. He sat down to relax before the fire for the evening.

Then he heard a loud thump. Something had hit the window. He looked out, but couldn't see more than a few feet. When the snow let up a little, he ventured outside to see what could have been beating on his window. In the field near his house he saw a flock of wild geese. Apparently they had been flying south for the winter when they got caught in the snowstorm and couldn't go on. They were lost and stranded on his farm, with no food or shelter. They just flapped their wings and flew around the field in low circles, blindly and aimlessly. A couple of them had flown into his window, it seemed. The man felt sorry for the geese and wanted to help them.
The barn would be a great place for them to stay, he thought. It's warm and safe; surely they could spend the night and wait out the storm. So he walked over to the barn and opened the doors wide, then watched and waited, hoping they would notice the open barn and go inside. But the geese just fluttered around aimlessly and didn't seem to notice the barn or realize what it could mean for them.

The man tried to get their attention, but that just seemed to scare them, and they moved further away. He went into the house and came with some bread, broke it up, and made a bread crumb trail leading to the barn. They still didn't catch on. Now he was getting frustrated.

He got behind them and tried to shoo them toward the barn, but they only got more scared and scattered in every direction except toward the barn. Nothing he did could get them to go into the barn where they would be warm and safe. "Why don't they follow me?!" he exclaimed. "Can't they see this is the only place where they can survive the storm?"He thought for a moment and realized that they just wouldn't follow a human. "If only I were a goose, then I could save them," he said out loud. Then he had an idea.

He went into barn, got one of his own geese, and carried it in his arms as he circled around behind the flock of wild geese. He then released it. His goose flew through the flock and straight into the barn--and one-by-one, the other geese followed it to safety.

He stood silently for a moment as the words he had spoken a few minutes earlier replayed in his mind: "If only I were a goose, then I could save them!" Then he thought about what he had said to his wife earlier. "Why would God want to be like us? That's ridiculous!" Suddenly it all made sense.

That is what God had done. We were like the geese--blind, lost, perishing. God had His Son become like us so He could show us the way and save us.As the winds and blinding snow died down, his soul became quiet and pondered this wonderful thought. Suddenly he understood why Christ had come. Years of doubt and disbelief vanished with the passing storm. He fell to his knees in the snow, and prayed his first prayer: "Thank You, God, for coming in human form to get me out of the storm.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Look Ahead to 2009

Dear Ones,

Every year as we begin the new church year in Advent, I send out a message that summarizes the year spiritually, and looks forward to the coming year. This is not a state of the church address for our local church, but a more general note as a pastor to the larger audience of whoever reads this in the blogosphere or on the web. An expanded version is sent to friends and family and anyone who asks for it.


I think it will be a few years before we sing "Happy Days Are Here Again." I believe church prophetic voices and economic forecasters are converging to say the same thing these days--we are going to come out of this recession, but it is going to get worse before it gets better. I believe, along with others, that Obamanomics will fall short. As a student of economics, this means Austrian economics is part of our hope, not Keynesian government command economics which is what the new President is planning. We need to pray for President Obama daily. Socially and spiritually, I believe America will be refined in 2009. Spiritually, Isaiah 48:10, Joel 2, and Daniel 3 are important scriptures for Christians. For awhile, I think we will shake our heads in the midst of our country and say "Lord have mercy."


In all the days ahead, God does not want us to fear, but like Joseph, our call is to understand the times and know what to do in both plenty and famine. For those who are retired and have suffered significant contraction of life savings, I think Joseph is part of God's word of hope. Thrown into a pit by the actions of his brothers, what at first looked like evil God turned around for good because Joseph kept the faith and eventually his family was healed. Draw close to both your earthly and spiritual families in this recession. Band together, pool resources, and love each other selflessly. God is in control of this recession. Put your faith in the sure foundation of hope that is our Rock of Salvation. Make a daily time of prayer, Bible reading, and meditation part of your life and you will do much better for the next few years.


Having stepped into the waters of sounding the alarm on possible threats to our society in the past, I want to offer the disclaimer that all forecasters whether economic, prophetic, or weathermen must admit--due to our limited human knowledge, we only see in part and know in part. We can only offer possible outcomes in our forecasts, and as the events grow closer clarify them. So, when a hurricane is forming forecasters can only say there are several possible outcomes with varying degrees of probability of which one is most likely to occur.

Which outcome actually happens--whether a hurricane makes landfall and affects your life or turns out to sea and does not effect you is in God's hands. Similarly, the current recession is worsening--this is for certain. What comes to pass and how each of us are affected in this season of refining depends on God.
I am sending this to you for your own prayerful consideration.


In addition to being a priest, I have an MBA degree and am a CFO for a non-profit in western New York. For the past six months I have been studying every analysis I can find on recessions and the Great Depression. I have been to a recent local economic summit where I heard a Federal Reserve President (Charles Plosser) and JP Morgan Chief Economist (James Glassman) give mixed forecasts for the economy. I regularly scan the economic and financial environment reviewing hundreds of analyses and forecasts of economists from a wide variety of perspectives. I am do business on Wall Street and have several friends working for major investment banks there that provide me with insight to the Street. I also monitor government and market activity, and what the prophetic voice of God through the Church is saying. I also pray. This is my watch of the Lord.

A few months ago, as a result of this lifestyle of watching, I called our church to get their financial houses in order, live under your means, save money, pay down debt, be faithful to God, and get in a good cash position and invest only in value--no speculative gambling trusting greedy thieves, but only real stewardship investing. I agree with Rick Joyner FROM Morningstar Ministries and the economists who say we will recover. I believe the data forecasts a deeper recession and longer gradual return to stability than we would hope for. I agree with Rick Joyner--God is calling us to know his hope, and be ambassadors of hope.


In closing, I must confess that my shepherd's heart has ached for those whose faith in Jesus Christ is growing cold. Since 1992 when I was ordained, I have noticed that during hard times people either draw close to God or they fall away from God and pursue pleasure to numb the pain of life.

This year, I have seen many who do not even realize how far they have fallen away from God. A few weeks ago I was sharing songs I loved as a new believer with my daughter Stephanie. I got on You Tube and we found two Dallas Holm songs that were close to my heart as a baby Christian in 1984 "Rise Again" and "I Saw the Lord"

These songs are my prayer for those who have fallen away from God their first love; drawn away by materialism, pleasure, cares of this world, pride, or emotional and spiritual pain. I pray they would know that God sees them, and they would see a fresh vision of God in their lives and rise again to faith. These words of Jesus, are for those who are backsliding from Revelation 2-3:

Rev. 2:4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.

Rev. 3: 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. 19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

I agree with a word the prophet Bob Jones has recently spoken and I would like to share a portion of it. This is for all pastors, leaders, and believers whose hearts ache having seen Christians they love growing cold in their faith, drunk on the things of the world, and blind in the midst of even global calamity:

And this year the walk shall be hard to begin with. We shall walk through the sewers of man and begin to discern what is God and what is of man. Then we shall put our shoes on and follow God the rest of the year. Offended, The Holy Spirit offends the mind to reveal the heart. If you are offended, the Holy Spirit will not be able to reveal the truth which will set you free. He will not violate your free will. So repent from your sins and seek Jesus and you’ll find Him. This will be a very, very hard year but the righteous will be given a little help when they look to their Lord.

Joel 2:13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. 17 Let the priests, who minister before the LORD, weep between the temple porch and the altar. Let them say, "Spare your people, O LORD. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, 'Where is their God?' "

Rick Joyner Wisdom from Jim Rogers from whom I learned how to buy and sell commodities futures for the Abbey. Buffalo area academic on the economy


Kevin Baker+
Priest St. Patrick’s Church, Amherst, NY
CFO Abbey of the Genesee, Piffard, NY

Advent 2008

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Conspire--A Word That Can Change Christmas



• I wonder how many of you as kids or parents have had the talk—Christmas isn’t going to be as big this year. These words of small Christmas are spoken when a person has a consumer mentality of Christmas.
• Today as we enter week two of our Advent Conspiracy, I want to show you how to make Christmas big every year for the rest of your life. How to accumulate things that really matter and not junk.
• Back to Genesis to make Xmas big. God created the world and all in it, and said it was all good.
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."
• God made us to be like him, and gave us everything we needed in this world, and made man and woman King and Queen to rule together over God’s world. Then Satan came with a lie.
• The temptation and fall for men and women is for us to become discontent with God’s blessing and want the KINGDOM OF MORE instead of the KINGDOM OF GOD.
• What caused Adam and Eve to fall, and what causes God’s people ever since to fall away from God into sin is to become obsessed with getting what God has not given us.
• That was the story of God’s people leaving Egypt as well. Delivered from slavery and oppression and on the way to the promise of a land of their own.
• There God would give them a land where they could be free people to worship God, land filled with plenty, they became obsessed with what God had not given them on their journey.
• Even though everyday, bread from heaven would just show up supernaturally to give them all the food they needed on their journey to the promised land, they became obsessed with what they did not have.
• They wanted meat, and throw in a little garlic and some vegetable salad too God.
• Americans are like this. We have so much, but what a re we concerned about? The STUFF we do not have.
• In the KINGDOM OF MORE, we are told a lie too. If you can just get the stuff you don’t have, the stuff that the Jones’s next door have, then you will have that life you always wanted.
• Right now, commercials; emails; texts ads are all coming at you with lies from the same source that Adam and Eve were tempted.
• OK. STOP. Right there, some of you are going to think, wow—Fr. Kevin is going Scrooge. I see where this is going. He is going to go activist and give us preacher rant about not letting the commercial consumer Christmas steal the truth that Jesus is the reason for the season, etc.
• Now, let me tell you right up front, I like getting gifts, especially things I needed or wanted, and especially when they are the right size, color, or brand I wanted 
• I do confess, there are some gifts that make me want to rant. Have you ever noticed how much junk shows up in stores—especially dollar stores—this time of year? If I can rant, please don’t rationalize giving people useless stuff they will only throw away saying “Self, feel good about giving the dollar store your money for junk people are going to throw away after getting it because it’s the thought that counts! They’ll appreciate and like you because of the thought.”
• It is the word driving this whole Advent series—CONSPIRE. 2: to act in harmony toward a common end circumstances conspired to defeat his efforts
• The second Sunday of Advent is the Sunday of PEACE/SHALOM. At Christmas, Jesus came to bring peace on earth and good news for mankind.
• When Jesus was born, the Romans were in power. This is the background to Advent. They were the Empire that dominated the world like America has been since WWII.

Luke 2:1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to his own town to register.

• A little background to the Jesus story. Octavian, the adopted son of Julius Caesar was in power at the time Advent angels started appearing to Joseph and Mary from 27BC to AD 14.
• Octavian said that since his father was a god, he was the son of God. There were prophesies that the son of god would bring peace to the whole earth, so Octavian changed his name to Augustus.
• This was a religious title of divinity meaning the illustrious one. He saw his divine mission to bring peace to the world as the son of God.
• If you look at Roman coins form the time of Augustus Caesar, they say things like:
o Salvation is found in none other save Augustus.
o There is no other name given to men by which they can be saved.
o Caesar is Lord.
• So into that world, Jesus was born to bring real peace. The world will always offer one type of peace, and then Jesus comes offering us a peace that is sourced in heaven—the realm of God not of this world.
• The early Church all acted in harmony together toward a common purpose of saying that the only name and true salvation that could bring peace was that Jesus is Lord, not Caesar.
• Shalom or peace is a state of being where everything it put right. It results in a sense of wellness.
• Christians since the beginning say real peace only comes when Jesus, not Caesar is Lord of your life.
• I am not proposing we become Scrooge. I am proposing we conspire together to change how juts our family does Christmas. Maybe it will catch on like church did in the Roman Empire.
• The world’s merchants tell us hyper-spending and consuming is the altar of worship where you will find happiness. Spend your cash and all your credit cards the banks were readily supplying for the cause—notice—were past tense.
• The message of the KINGDOM OF MORE—getting stuff is going to make you happy. Foreclosed?
• In America we think buying things will cure everything. Lose a boyfriend or job, shopping is the cure. Getting new things is what will make you feel new. It doesn’t last though.
• In fact, even a Skymall on planes to sell you junk at 600% markup to cure you!
• Get beauty, sex, fame, education, money, bigger better houses and you will be somebody, you will have influence, you will be happy.
• Nothing wrong with any of these when received from God used as he intends. HOWEVER…
• When we get obsessed with wanting these things or suing them in ways God does not want for us, and we arrange our whole life thinking these things will satisfy us—God is going to destroy these false gods and altars of worship to set people free from the lie of THE KINGDOM OF MORE.
• A shocker—in a deep recession, a housing and credit crisis—the KINGDOM OF MORE IS IMPLOSING… Guess how much money economists forecast will be spent on THE KINGDOM OF MORE in 2008? $475 Billion. 50% of people still paying off last year’s Xmas credit cards!
• A couple passages and I am going to end.

Isa. 55:2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.

Luke 10:1After this the Lord appointed seventy-two[a] others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2He told them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. 5"When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.'

• Let me pull this all together now. Adam and Eve conspired with Satan to invade the Kingdom of God with the Kingdom of More.
• When Jesus was born, the Kingdom of God invaded the Kingdom of More and challenged the false gods of this world like Caesar who promised a false kind of peace.
• When Jesus came, look how he told his foot soldiers of peace to invade the Kingdom of more.
• Go to every town and place with the message of real peace. AND TAKE NO PURSE, OR BAG, OR SANDALS.
• He was saying, it is not going to take a lot of money, or expensive luggage or shoes, you don’t need $3000 suits to do it.
• In fact, the way the Kingdom of God will invade the Kingdom of More is not by being obsessed with accumulating the stuff the world has that doesn’t matter, but getting less of that and accumulating things that really matter. He called those things treasure in heaven.
• SELAH. STOP AND THINK NOW. LISTEN TO YOUR HEART. What thoughts are coming to your mind? What is Jesus saying in there?
• Here is the CONSPIRACY. Pray. If you are a family, start having a conversation about what God is saying to us. As a church—if you can’t feed 1000 people feed just one—that’s our prophecy.
• The Empire of More is calling out. They are obsessed with getting things to make them feel new and happy. Jesus says “NO, you don’t need more. You need less.” Not $17B in makeup. Not $10B in perfume. Let’s talk about WWJB. It is the new thing. Not just WWJD.
• Morgan Spurlock who made the McDonald’s expose “Super Size Me” has a new message “What would Jesus buy.” Rev. Billy is warning everyone in Times Square about the Shop-ocalypse yelling STOP SHOPPING. The Shop-Ocalypse happened in September and October.
• Here is the Advent Conspiracy message. Less is more. I am not saying don’t have Christmas or buy gifts. I am saying don’t get sucked into buying useless things and think that will make you feel new or make you or someone else feel happy giving or receiving those kinds of things.
• $10B would give clean water to the whole world. $19B would feed all the world’s hungry. Our nation wants to spend $34 billion on automakers and $700B on banks to prop up the Kingdom of more. It’s time we focus not on CNBA but on the pulpit on Sunday for useful things.
• Story—parents with 2 kids. Son makes it real big and has everything. Your daughter did not do well. Doesn’t have enough food. No good schools. Poor roads out where she lives. You as the father or mother as your son to help but he won’t.
• As Xmas, God the Father looks on us and asks us to sacrifice to help those in need.
• St. Francis heard the call and gave everything including the clothes off his back. Not what I ask.
• I ask, think about an Angel Tree Kid. Sponsor a child from Compassion International. Give to Helping Hands. How about giving each other gifts of time together? How about we conspire to not buy useless junk at dollar stores…Help one family in need; or one child without clean water, or a school, or roads where they live.
• God’s Kingdom will fill you with peace, joy, love, and, hope when you accumulate less of the Kingdom of more and give away the Kingdom of God.

Worship--A Word That Can Change Christmas



• Advent is the season where we look forward to Jesus coming at Christmas, and at his second coming at the end of time. This year, I am asking us all to join together in what we are calling the Advent Conspiracy.
• Conspire = 2: to act in harmony toward a common end. The end this year is transforming the consumer Christmas back into the real Christmas gift.
• In traditional Advent services, each Sunday of Advent focuses on a different theme—hope, peace, joy, and love.
• I think God’s Spirit fills the air with the presence of these blessings each December in America because we are still a nation where many, if not a majority, are Christians.
• As we begin the new Christian year today, our Advent celebration will combine the traditional Advent themes with 4 important words that can change our Christmas.
• Every year, I think most of us ask the question, “How can I recalibrate my heart and soul to capture the real spirit of Christmas? That’s where we want to begin of preparation for Xmas this year.
• Each week, I want to share just one important word to think about.

READ LUKE 2:22-38

• What we notice here in Luke’s Gospel is the Old Jewish ritual of a woman who had a baby was to present herself in the Temple for ritual cleansing, and on the eighth day after birth, the male child was to be circumcised which was the sign of being in covenant with God.
• One thing to make note of was the offering of turtledoves was that of a poor family who could not afford the more elaborate offerings.
• In v. 25, we meet Simeon. A faithful believer who had it revealed to him by Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ come.
• He waited all of his life for the coming of the Lord on the scene to make all things right—to ransom captive Israel.
• So this older faithful believer is led by the Holy Spirit to go hang out in the Temple courts at the same time Joseph and Mary have come with Jesus to present him to God.
• To make a long story short, Simeon ends up meeting the Holy Family. He who had held the promise in his heart, now holds the realization of the promise in his arms.
• Now, here is the one word for this week that I am going to ask you to hold on to through the Advent and Christmas seasons—WORSHIP. Notice Luke 2:28

28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God,

• The word used by Luke for praised here is eulegeo—we get the word eulogy from it. To eulogize is not only something you can do when someone dies, but when some one lives.
• In Greek, eulogy meant to bless and celebrate with praises. This is what Simeon did when he caught on to what the birth of Jesus really meant for him and the whole world.
• WORSHIP is a word we want to cultivate in our lives the next 3 weeks. We will talk about it, read about it, learn about it, and do it.
• Now don’t be afraid of this word. For some early in your spiritual journey worship might seem strange. I remember being real self-conscious about singing in church… Let me share more…
1. Worship is the reason God made us.

• We all sense deep in our soul that we live for a reason bigger than paying bills.
• Worship means we were all meant to look for wonder, and awe in our lives. We have a longing to find that something that seems to be missing in our lives.
• Worship happens when we find what we were missing. It happens when like Simeon, we find that dream we have been hoping for. This is what happens when Jesus comes into our lives.
• Let’s lay a foundation for understanding worship from Leviticus 23:

1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'These are my appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of the LORD, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.

• Back when God was first guiding the spiritual leaders of his people in how to lead worship, God had Moses put in place a series of feasts and festivals. We get our word festive from feast and festival—it means a time of joy!
• What God built into the calendar of worship 3450 years ago, was a time for his people to relax, celebrate, and focus on who God is. This would be a time of joy—a party! Weekly, seasonally, and annually. That’s what holy days were—days set apart from all others for God.
• God was saying to them and to us today, that holidays are times where God wants us to realize life is not just about GO, GO, GO and wearing ourselves out.
• Life will find focus when worship is in the center of it. Festive joyful celebration of who God is.
• If you want to have a new kind of Christmas filled with hope, here are some reasons to celebrate:


• In my life, I remember one time at Christmas, in the midst of our kids excitement on Christmas, in all the noise, paper, empty boxes, and playing, I looked at them and said God—thank you for my kids. Now they are all grown up and Kathie and I have hearts that ache for that…
• Then, for married people—have you ever looked at that person God gave you as a spouse, and thank God for them? I was watching a movie “Family Man” and in the midst of problems and her husband’s apparent mid-life crisis, she says “No matter what happens, I choose us.”

LET ME TELL YOU A STORY ABOUT WORSHIP. Pastor Gene Appel. Most recently a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Church, and recently back on his own as senior pastor of a local church.

• Church in Vegas growing, new building, dedication >>> Wife leaves him that night a guy at work.
• Decision made by leaders that he should stay as pastor. First Christmas> After Xmas Eve service
• Alone in a mostly empty casino lounge eating the blue plate special while other lonely people pull slots.
• Goes home to empty house, did laundry, packed for next day, and went to his empty bed.
• Heart aching, sings Jesus love me this I know to fall asleep.
• What Gene Appel teaches us is sometimes we worship not because we feel like it, because we have to. All he had at that most empty moment on Xmas eve was the love of Jesus.
• The only thing that makes sense sometimes when the world and life is spinning out of control is to worship.

Walter Brueggemann: Worship is a bold refusal to let the trouble that surrounds us be bigger than the God who comes to meet us there.

• Sometimes a song is what helps us put words on what our heart is trying to say to God in worship.
• This is why music and poets are so powerful. They tap into releasing the emotion of our hearts.
• This song is by Chris Tomlin and we sing it here. I know it helps me worship…

The splendor of a King, Clothed in majesty Let all the earth rejoice, All the earth rejoice
He wraps himself in light, And darkness tries to hide And trembles at his voice, And trembles at his voice
CHORUS(1): How great is our God, sing with me How great is our God, and all will see How great, How great Is our God

• And this is one of those Christmas hymns that taps into my heart and helps me express something I might not otherwise be articulate:
1-What Child is this who, laid to rest On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet, While shepherds watch are keeping?
Ch: This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing; Haste, haste, to bring Him laud, The Babe, the Son of Mary.
3-Why lies He in such mean estate, Where ox and ass are feeding? Good Christians, fear, for sinners here The silent Word is pleading.
4- So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh, Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings, Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
• Advent and Christmas mean that just as Jesus once appeared in this world, he is about to appear in your life this Christmas.
• Jesus appears when the magic fills the air—people treat each other differently, a spirit of giving fills the land, festivities and parties start.
• I wonder what would happen if all of us started reacting to Jesus like Simeon. What if we looked for Jesus in the sea of people that we meet during the holidays?
• What if we reacted like the shepherds who were working the midnight shift when Jesus appeared in this world.
• Today is the Advent Sunday of Hope. Hope has a name—JESUS.
• This year, HOPE and WORSHIP mean that God intends to appear to you like he did to Simeon. The Spirit says “You will not die till you the Lord’s Christ appear in your life.”
• What would happen this year if you found the real joy and the source of all the festivities and holy-days we are experiencing once again in the month of December.
• Remember, God commanded his people to set apart special days as feasts, festivals, and holy days.
• Since Jesus came the first time, the Church has set apart the weekly day of the Lord, as well as seasonal days like Advent and annual holy days like Christmas.
• Worship are the appointments God has written into your Outlook or Daytimer for you to rest, celebrate, and rediscover that God made us to experience the awe of his presence, and praise him and thank him for his goodness.
• So as we begin this awe filled season of Advent, let us conspire together. Let us act in harmony toward the common goal of transforming the consumer Christmas.
• Look for Jesus in the children; in the people you meet; in the love you realize God has given you in your family; and see him in the needs of the poor.
Come next week and I will give you another word that can change your Christmas.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Two Dimensional Love

"The Two Dimensions of Love"
Rev. Kevin L. Baker
October 26, 2008 Proper 25

On the whole, God's love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him. C.S. Lewis.

• Today, our Gospel reading calls us to think about our love for God and being like God by loving other people in life. There is a vertical dimension of love—toward God. There is a horizontal dimension—if you really love God you will love people like Jesus loves them.
• As CS Lewis said, it is always a nicer thing to think of God’s love for us than of our love for God.
• Why? Because all of us struggle with being unloving. We prefer to do what we want rather than what God wants—especially on Sundays.
• One of the greatest ways to keep us from God, or at least of weakening our faith, is to convince us—little by little—to trade REAL love for a counterfeit. The world offers many counterfeits.
• I hope to tell us about real love today so we can always recognize counterfeit love when we see it.
• "Teacher," they ask, "which commandment in the law is the greatest?" There were 613 of them in Hebrew Scripture. Which was the most important?
• Jesus responded to the lawyer’s question with two quotations from the Torah. The first quotation came from the Sacred Jewish Prayer called the Shema Israel. Shema = LISTEN
• This was a prayer contained in the sixth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy 6:5 and recited by pious Jews every morning and evening, "Hear this, O Israel, Shema Israel, Listen up—this is huge.
• This is the most important thing—The Lord our God; The Lord is one. You shall love your God with your whole heart, your whole soul and your whole mind."
• The second quotation came from the Book of Leviticus, 19:18, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
• We can't just love God part time, we have to love Him with ALL—with everything we have. We can't just be good to our neighbor sometimes, we have to treat our neighbors with the same concern we have for ourselves.
• We hear these words repeated to us every week as we begin to worship. The summary of the Law as it is called, is right before the confession of sin. It is designed to cause us to ask ourselves—did I love God with my all and love my neighbor as myself since the last time I was in church?
• Since the answer is always no—we then move right into confessing our sins.
• I think the main reason we can never give perfect love back to God as he gives it to us is we still do not know what love really is.
• Let’s take the words Jesus says to us in what is known as his Great Commandment, the one commandment that summarizes all the commandments, this morning and look at them carefully.


37Jesus said to him, " 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38This is the first and great commandment.

• The question was “What is the Greatest Commandment of all God’s laws?” Jesus said “If you love me, you SHALL keep my commandments. If we don’t, we fall short of loving God.
• Jesus directs his answer to all of us like he did to Peter after the resurrection. Do you love me?
• Jesus says the Greatest of all God’s laws—you shall love me. This is personal. Do we really love God?


You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38This is the first and great commandment

• Well if we are to love God, we need to know what love is. What is love? Can you define it?
• Where we learn about love is from God. Love is God’s very nature. Humanity by nature is selfish and unloving. Everyone of us are unloving on a regular basis.
• We don’t love God and we don’t love others. We think love is a good feeling of pleasure. We think love is how we feel when people give to us. Some think love is sex or gifts.
• In reality, love is a willful decision to make a commitment to totally give all our focus and energy in life for the good of someone else other than ourselves even when we are wronged in the process.
• Since we are unloving by nature, God came to change our nature—to give us a new heart, a new will, and new miracle power to change the way we think and live from being about us to being about others.
• Love is a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. It is the number one character trait God wants to produce in us when we become followers of Jesus and he comes to live in our hearts and lives by faith.
• Greater love has no man than this—than he that will lay down his life for his friends. There is no love greater than the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus left comfort and got involved totally to help us.
• That is why the ancient Church made sure every time worship takes place, that the love story of Jesus for sinful man is front and center at the altar as we offer up our thanksgiving for Jesus.
• Worship is about coming to love God in words, in actions, and in renewing our vows to him. I will always love you Jesus. I thank you for loving me. I give myself to you. Worship is loving God.
• It is not about being entertained, or technologically awed, or emotionally moved so we feel good, or about how good some ministry is or is not.
• Worship is about giving ourselves to God and loving him because he first loved us.
• The ISBE defines love this way: Love, whether used of God or man, is an earnest and anxious desire for and, an active and beneficent interest in, the well-being of the one loved
• That means when someone loves another person, it is serious concern; it is that longing and anxious desire to make sure the person we love is going to be okay.
• Love is the expression of this concern to the point of total sacrifice that we would give all we have including our very life without condition, and take nothing so the person we love is okay.
• We see this in real love stories—in marriages; in parents love for their children; in real friendships; and in people who give up their lives to the cause of taking the Gospel to the world.
• In 1 Cor. 13 St. Paul defines this kind of love, a love the Greeks called AGAPE, unconditional love. Total giving of ourselves without reservation for someone else.


• The question today is do we really love the Lord? Do we give him our hearts—what we are committed to? Do we give him our soul—our emotions and will? Do with give him our mind—how we think about everything? Or, do we have idols—things that are more important than God.
• Notice Jesus says the word ALL. We are to love the lord with ALL our heart. ALL our soul. ALL our mind. ALL OR NOTHING.
• Funny, the Greek word there όλη (whole-ay), translated "all" really means "ALL", as in whole, complete, total, ALL. It means everything!
• Are we really most concerned to seriously give our whole life to God so that we really care about what God is concerned about? God is passionate about driving hate, sin, and death from the earth.
• Loving God is a question--are we willing to really commit ourselves without condition to seeing the Good News of God’s love reach every nook and cranny of this planet so love overcomes sin?
• If you are willing to try, then learn to love God as he defines it, and learn to love your neighbor.
• Now, do any of us actually achieve this kind of love, probably not. But we're moving toward it.
• And in order for me to love God with my WHOLE heart, I have to first let go of the piece of my heart devoted to ME! And it's a BIG piece.
• "Love the Lord" means to give up our own sense of lordship. This vertical love means that God is in charge, not us. Alright. That's the first part, the vertical love relationship. Love God.

Part two. This is the horizontal love relationship. Love your neighbor at least as well as you love yourself.

• The first and greatest commandment is to love God taken from Deuteronomy 6.
• The second greatest commandment, Mr. Lawyer, even though you only asked for the greatest let me also tell you the second greatest is Leviticus 19:18.
• Mr. Lawyer, if you really love God, the evidence is in how you love your neighbor.
• The way you love God most is by loving people like Jesus did. Love your neighbor.
• Not just your family and people who are nice to you, but the person next to you—on your street, at work, at the store, on the side of the road, in the hospital, the one who just lost their job or a loved one—those people. Do to them as you would have people care about you.
• Jesus is quoting everybody's favorite book of the Bible, Leviticus. Yes, there is some really good stuff in there. It's not just that all the talk of priestly duties and proper sacrifice techniques.
• Chapter 19 is pure genius. If you have a Bible turn there and look at it. If you only read one chapter of Leviticus, let it be that because God tells us how to love our neighbor here.
• Here is a quick summary of the first 17 verses of Leviticus 19--Be holy. Share what you have with others. Don’t steal from people, cheat people, or lie to people.
• Don’t make fun of people—especially the disabled. Don’t show favoritism. Don’t slander people.
• Don’t hold grudges and bitterness toward others or plot revenge but speak frankly about problems.
• I might also add from our first reading in Exodus today—caring about widows and fatherless kids, and lending money to the poor. This is what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.
• Last night God showed me a glimpse of LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR in Joe Drachhio as his mother died his main concern was not for himself but for his family. Tell the story… In his own pain, he was giving so others could be okay.
• I wonder if today we can step back and really look at what the focus of our lives is all about.
• Is loving God really at the center of your life every day? Are you really concerned about what God is concerned about? Look at the cross—what does it say?
• It says I care enough to leave the comforts of heaven to get directly involved in the lives of others.
• It means I care enough to commit myself, without conditions, to the point of self-denial and self-sacrifice to help remove the pain and hurt that sin has caused in them so they can be okay.
• 1 Cor. 13 AGAPE Love means I am seeking God to make me like him—to be patient and kind to people. To not envy people, to not boast which makes other people feel bad.
• To not be prideful and arrogant, to not be rude to people, to not be easily angered, to not keep a record of wrongs when people in my life screw up and hurt me.
• Loving God means I am learning to hate what evil does in this world, and instead to love The Truth—thy Word is truth; Jesus is the Truth.
• Love means I am learning to always trust God and people, to protect God and others, to always be hopeful even when things look bad, and to persevere in my relationships with the people God puts in my life.
• This is the Great Commandment. Two dimensional love. Vertical toward God, and horizontal toward others. Let us pray.

Friday, October 17, 2008

What is Life Like In A Monastery--Part One

What It Is Like to Work in A Trappist Monastery—Part One
By Rev. Kevin L. Baker

When people think of monks and monastic life, I am sure images of beautiful settings, paradise, Gregorian chants, peace and quiet, contemplation, and silent other-worldly monks fill the imagination. Yet, there is more. I am often asked what a monastery is really like. I pray this very short article will give a glimpse into monastic life while protecting the privacy of the community in which I live and work.

Two years ago, God gave me a blessing that ranks among the most significant opportunities of my life. I was hired to work in a Roman Catholic monastery as a Controller. My job has since developed into more of a Director of Finance and Marketing. The monastery where I work is a chapter of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. You can learn more about them by clicking the links at the conclusion of this article.

Cistercians, or Trappists as they are also commonly called, live under a Benedictine Rule. The Cistercian way of life is one of living by the work of one’s hands and prayer. The center of work life at the Abbey of the Genesee is primarily a bakery called Monks’ Bread. Since 1953, our products have been a regionally popular line of breads and cakes. It is a large industry and needed an MBA to look after the business in an increasingly complex and competitive marketplace. In addition to the bakery, there are three retreat houses with a capacity of 47 beds, a farm, forestry industry, bookstore, online store, and the Abbey Church.

As a priest, I am no stranger to the spiritual life, liturgy, or prayer. Yet, a monastery is completely different than the life of a local church pastor. A monastic community, on one level, can be compared to life in the military. The armed forces protect their nation from enemies. Monasteries protect the God's holy nation from spiritual enemies (1 Peter 2:9-10) with spiritual weapons of warfare that are mighty unto God to the pulling down of strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4). My experience is that the monks are the special forces of God.

Life in a monastery feels like you are on a military base and in a church at the same time. The community life is very institutional. The life is one of rank, order, obedience, self denial, hard work, prayer, striving for perfection (be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect), and discipleship. Much like life in the local church, the monks are working out their salvation in the context of a group of imperfect people. Humanity is definitely part of monastic community life. People are people.

The very human side of the monastery also reveals the presence of the Divine. In the midst of the order of the Benedictine Rule, the discipline of the liturgy of the hours, the work of the hands as counter-balance to the intense focus on the interior life, and lectio divina (spiritual reading), the monastery is also a conduit of God’s presence, power, and glory. There are many times while I am working that I experience a sense that heaven and earth have truly become intermingled.

Keep watch for Part Two of This Article Soon.

About the Trappists

Abbey of the Genesee

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Become a Better You In The Hard Times of Life


When I hear my friends say they hope their children don't have to experience the hardships they went through--I don't agree. Those hardships made us what we are. You can be disadvantaged in many ways, and one way may be not having had to struggle.

• That quote reminds me of my grandmother. Born in 1912 to immigrant parents, she knew what the word struggle meant.
• After her mother died in childbirth, she lived in an orphanage, after her father remarried she was neglected and abused by her stepmother, so as a teen she moved out into a rented room on her own just as stock market crashed in 1929 and Great Depression set in.
• 50 years later, in her own small modest home, my grandmother would exhort me with words similar to what we heard in our opening quote. She would tell me one day I would appreciate the struggle and hardships. They would make me better.
• At a time in my life when I was struggling through those hard teen years, my grandmother coached me about the need to work hard in life; the need to learn to not complain about things you cannot control; and how to focus on what was really important.
• Today, 30 years later, we are living in tough times. We are living through a stock market crash and banking failure with recession coming on. The Baby Buster and Millennial Generations have never really tasted hardship. This message is for them, and for all going through trials and struggles.
• The Apostle Paul speaks to us again this week from a Roman prison where he was unjustly jailed for preaching the Gospel.
• Our reading from Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi outlines four Christian attitudes that can make you a better person in the midst of hardships and struggles.


4Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!

• To rejoice is to express joy, gladness, and happiness. Joy in the general sense is an emotional response to any pleasurable state or event.
• For a Christian, joy is a wellspring of gladness and happiness that results from fellowship with God.
• It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Spiritual fruitfulness is who and what we are—our quality of character and the essence of who we are as a person resulting from the indwelling Holy Spirit.
• The Fruit of the Spirit are nine qualities of godliness that God produces in a person when he comes into our lives to transform us so we become like him in who we are and how we live.
• When Paul tells the Church to REJOICE IN THE LORD AWAYS he is teaching us how to have a basic outlook in life that says no matter what goes on around me, nothing can take away what God has given me.
o He has given me forgiveness from all the guilt and sin in my life. He has given me a purpose, direction, a reason to live, a new beginning, eternal life beyond the grave, and he is my ever-present encourager, comforter, and friend.
• No matter what we are going through, at all times, and in all circumstances, God is always with us, so whether we are in prison like Paul was, in a struggling church like the Philippians were, or living through a stock market crash and hard times, we can have an inner happiness.
• Once Paul tells us to rejoice always, he repeats it a second time!! Again, I say rejoice. I think we need to hear this over and over. By nature, human beings are focused on themselves. We whine, complain, and want the world to revolve around us.
• The spiritual person focuses on God, and is able to say “At the cross at the cross where I first saw light, and the burden of my heart rolled away. It was there by faith I received my sight and now I am happy all the day.


5Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.

• Hard times of struggle test our character, especially in our relationships with others.
• In hard times, the worst of people will often come out under stress and pressure. People will throw you under the bus, steal from you, blame you, neglect you, and abuse you to survive hard times.
• Yet, Paul says, for the Christian, God wants to bring out the best in us in hard times.
• He wants us to remember when people do terrible things, He is at hand, He is always present to bring justice and take care of our enemies—his part. Our part is to let the fruit of gentleness be evident in us.
• Again, gentleness is a spiritual fruit of the Holy Spirit. Gentleness is a true humility that does not consider itself too good or too exalted for humble tasks. Opposite of pride or snootiness.
• “Meekness, a synonym for gentleness, is enduring injury with patience and without resentment.”
• Gentleness is never self-important but is considerate, courteous, and modest. In hard times when people are stressed, hurting, fearful, or angry, gentleness makes us leaders of the fearful.
The story is told of a corporal at Valley Forge who was directing three men as they tried to lift a log into place. It was too heavy, but the corporal commanded again and again, “All right, men, one, two, three, lift!” A man in an overcoat came by and said to the corporal, ‘Why don’t you help them?” The corporal pulled himself up to full height and replied, “Sir, I am a corporal.” Without a word the man stepped over and with his help the log went easily into place. The man was General George Washington.


• So often in life, when hard times come, we let the hard times set the agenda. When we face hard times we can easily become worried, stressed, and become full of anxiety. What if I lose my job? What if the money I lost in my 401k doesn’t recover? What if this illness doesn’t get better?
• Paul tells us the key to getting through hard times without anxiety:

but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

• Prayer is one of the main keys to overcoming anxiety during the struggles of life. Prayer means God wants us to talk to him. So, we cannot approach God with sin in our lives, so prayer always means we must first confess our sins, so we can stand in the presence of a Holy God.
• When our spirits are burdened, only prayer can ease our mind.
• As we come into God’s presence in prayer we say “Lord, I thank you that you gave me life, my family, and all I have. Now, I want to bring to you my struggles. I need your help and your direction for all these things that are troubling me.”
• Paul says, that when we make prayer and thanksgiving our response to the hardships and struggles we face, that another fruit of the Spirit forms in us—peace.
• Peace is calmness and quietness in the deepest level of our being. In our lives as Christians it is paradoxical. It surpasses understanding.
• God is in control. So while I don’t understand how all this will work out, I know that God is going to work it out so I can rest and not have stress. God is guarding my heart and mind now. I can calm down.


• Truth is whatever God thinks about something since he is truth. Have you ever wondered how God thinks? In this letter to the Church at Philippi, Paul tells us.

8Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy-meditate on these things.

• In life, you can either focus on the good or the bad. You can have, as they say, stinkin` thinkin` that is negative and focused in ways that will tear you down, or you can learn to think optimistically and positively which will help you to not get dragged down into the pit of despair.
• When facing struggles and hard times, Paul says to think about the things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of a good report; things that are virtuous.
• Don’t think and act like the cable news or radio talk show hosts. Don’t become morose and focus on all the bad in the world. It will ruin you. Turn off the TV. Read, get out in nature.
• Learn to think of goodness; think and meditate on God, and on all the good that God brings into the world himself and through his people.
• Learn to take time to smell the roses; enjoy the leaves changing; smell the fresh air; live life like a child experiencing the wonder of this world as if it the first time you have ever seen it.
• The result of rejoicing and being gentle to others, of praying, and thinking about life like God--you will learn to be content in whatever life brings your way.
• Paul says, content people, no matter if we are lacking or abounding materially, we will have learned the attitudes that no matter what hardship or trial we face, we will say like he did,


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Voter Consideration Liberal and Conservative

I found this note posted by my friend Steve Smallwood on his Facebook page excellent. I re-post it here. Steve was the Pastor of New Life Assembly in Nixa, Missouri where I did my ministerial internship prior to graduating from seminary --Fr. Kevin

“Roger E. Olson (PhD, Rice University) is professor of theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University in Waco, Texas and author of the recent book, How to be Evangelical without being Conservative.
With the presidential election just around the corner I asked Dr. Olson to give us some "food for thought" before we vote:

5 Questions to consider before voting Republican:

1) What will happen to the poor in a Republican administration?
2) Will a Republican administration pursue world peace?
3) How will a Republican administration promote mercy, compassion and justice for all?
4) Is a Republican administration likely to be unduly influenced by large corporations?
5) Can a Republican administration show respect for every human person's dignity and rights?

5 Questions to consider before voting Democratic:

1) What will happen to the not-yet-born in a Democratic administration?
2) Will a Democratic administration keep America and others safe from terrorism?
3) How will a Democratic administration promote security and safety for Americans and others?
4) Is a Democratic administration likely to be unduly influenced by liberal special interest groups?
5) Can a Democratic administration show respect for traditional family values?

Sunday Sermon 10/5/2008 How to Keep Moving Forward When Life Wants to Hold You Back

Sunday October 5, 2008
Fr. Kevin Baker

• Postage stamps are getting more expensive, but at least they have one attribute that most of us could emulate: they stick to one thing until they get there.
• Today, my message is about how to stick with your faith and make it to heaven. It is a message about how to keep moving forward when life wants to hold you back.
• Our lesson is taught by one of the greatest teachers and encouragers whose message has never been forgotten—St. Paul the Apostle.
• Our lesson is found in a letter St. Paul wrote to a small discouraged church in W. Macedonia while he was a prisoner in Roman chains for preaching the Gospel.
• This church had small beginnings and took many years for it to grow. The people in this church were faithful to the call, yet they sacrificed much facing many obstacles that caused them to become discouraged at times.
• Paul’s message in his letter, which theologians call the Epistle of Joy--keep your eyes on the prize; keep pressing on toward your goals even when it seems they are so far from ever being attained.
• This discouraged in this church eventually flourished because they listened to Paul’s encouragement. Your life can also flourish if you will practice Paul’s lesson of persevering faith!
• I wonder this morning how many of you are going through tough times in your life?
• Paul was in jail for preaching the Gospel when he wrote this letter—tough times.
• The Church at Philippi believed in Jesus Christ and were struggling to establish a church in a part of the world where people hated what they stood for as Christians—tough times.
• We all face tough times in our lives. Paul’s message to us when we are down and discouraged is:


14I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

• St. Paul—wow! Imprisoned for preaching the Gospel, encouraging a small new church, Paul’s message is press on toward the goal. Keep perspective! This is an attitude of Christian maturity.
• Paul says in hard times, remember the ultimate goal-- our upward call. We are a heaven bound people. Heaven puts things in perspective. The hope of heaven motivates us to persevere.
• We will live in heaven for a lot longer than we live on earth. The tough times and hard things we are experiencing here will only be a faint memory when we have been with God in heaven for 10,000 years!
• The lesson here is when you face tough times, setbacks, losses, disappointments, and heartbreaks keep pressing on toward your goals. God is with you. He loves you. He supports you.
• Maybe you didn’t get the job promotion you hoped for. Maybe you didn’t get accepted to the college you always dreamed to attend. Maybe a relationship ended or a painful loss took you into a period of deep darkness. Maybe your hopes and dreams have been shattered.
• Paul says Keep pressing on toward the goal. Don’t give up.
• God will take a life that you have lived for Him with His priorities and work all things together for good.


15Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; 17Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.

• St. Paul calls our life in Christ a "spiritual walk." In the midst of hardships, He calls us to maturity by making his walk with the Lord an example for us to follow
• He also exhorts us to take note of those who also have walked out their faith following Paul’s model —her saints or heroes of faith--they are our pattern; our example.
• Did you know some of the Church’s saints suffered from mental illness? Were alcoholics? Contemplated suicide? Were betrayed by friends? Yet they pressed on and overcame?
• I want to recommend that everyone read Ordinary Suffering of Extraordinary Saints by Vincent O’Malley.


• The saints through the ages have faced many tough times doing the will of God in their lives, but they pressed on toward the goals God gave them and are now a pattern for us to walk out our faith.
• Now Lets’ learn about walking out our faith.
• By definition--To walk is to advance by steps toward a destination.
• St. Paul is encouraging all of us that when we face tough times, keep walking.
• Step by step, keep advancing toward your goals and toward your destination. Keep trusting in Jesus. Keep believing. Keep following. Keep serving.
• Don’t trade in your born again birthright of heaven for a bowl of earthly pottage.
• As Christians, we often say we need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. We can say we love God, trust God, praise God—but what about when the going gets tough? Will our faith stand?
• Many of us will come to points in life where the tough challenges and trials of life can trip us up.
• Illness, grief, divorce, disability, unemployment, loneliness, poverty, and discrimination. All experiences that can trip us up in our spiritual walk.
• When we get tripped up, that is when we can stumble and fall—turn away from God in anger, disappointment, discouragement, and shattered dreams.
• Now let’s go back to St. Paul. Called by God to preach, he was constantly opposed and rejected.
• He could have looked at being in jail as unfair, why did this happened when I have done everything you asked? Why God? Where are you God?
• In his letter to the Philippians, from jail, Paul tells this church things like “Rejoice in the Lord always!” “Work our your salvation without complaining,” and forget the things that are behind and keep pressing on. Keep walking. Keep advancing step by step. Don’t let life get you down.
• Where did Paul and other overcomers get the strength to press on? From God’s Word.
• A promise I encourage all of to hold on to in tough times is found in

Psalm 37:3:
23 If the LORD delights in a man's way, he makes his steps firm; 24 though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.

• No matter what hardship, temptation, grief, or trial you face today that could trip up your spiritual walk, remember God calls us to keep walking; to press on toward the goal.
• His promise is if we will choose to keep the faith, he uphold us when we stumble so we will not fall.
I want to conclude with a record of perseverance from the diary of the great Anglican priest John Wesley. . .

Sunday, A.M., May 5 Preached in St. Anne's. Was asked not to come back anymore.
Sunday, P.M., May 5 Preached in St. John's. Deacons said "Get out and stay out."
Sunday, A.M., May 12 Preached in St. Jude's. Can't go back there, either.
Sunday, A.M., May 19 Preached in St. Somebody Else's. Deacons called special meeting and said I couldn't return.
Sunday, P.M., May 19 Preached on street. Kicked off street.
Sunday, A.M., May 26 Preached in meadow. Chased out of meadow as bull was turned loose during service.
Sunday, A.M., June 2 Preached out at the edge of town. Kicked off the highway.
Sunday, P.M., June 2 Afternoon, preached in a pasture. Ten thousand people came out to hear me.

• John Wesley kept pressing on toward his goal of reaching the world for Christ. He learned to persevere and keep advancing forward step by step.
• Behind the scenes, God was upholding him with his hand helping Wesley to not stumble or fall.
• Today, God is here to help you keep moving forward in faith even when life wants to hold you back. Call out to him. Bow your head and ask for strength to go on, and he will give it. Amen.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Does Anyone Read This Blog?

After the Labor Day holiday I stopped blogging here to see if anyone actually reads this. If you are a reader of the blog, would you please leave a comment. If there is no substantial audience, I will most likely discontinue regular blogging here and concentrate on our Facebook presence.

Thank you.

Fr. Kevin

Monday, September 01, 2008

September 1, 2008

Today is Labor Day. One day of rest per year as a civil holiday for American workers. I am glad God in His wisdom and love for man tells us that we need a weekly day of rest from our labors!

I want to thank Sharon Pittman for spearheading our "Back To School Backpacks" outreach in partnership with Prison Fellowship. The people of St. Patrick's have shown their ministry of mercy and giving to bless many inner city families this school year. The reactions of the kids to their backpacks full of supplies and the families receiving a $25.00 gift card have brought much glory to God! In their faces we have seen and ministered to Jesus (Matthew 25).

Let us continue to hear what the Spirit of God has said to us through the saying of Mother ATeresa of Calcutta "If you cannot feed a hundred people then feed just one."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

End of Summer News

Dear Church Family and Friends,

It was priceless from what I hear. A little girl going into the second grade whose mom is incarcerated had her face light up last Sunday at St. Patrick's after church. It was as though she was opening gifts on Christmas morning. "Cool! Awesome!" and big smiles as she got a pink backpack full of everything she needs for school. Then, it was grandmother's turn as she received a $25.00 gift card.

This is the fruit of our "Back to School Backpack" outreach this year. Real people from our community are being blessed because you cared enough to give. Thank you!

Fr. Kevin

Thursday, July 31, 2008

From Orlando Convocation 1

Hi All!

We arrived safely in Orlando late Sunday night. We met up with Josh, Jessi, and Stephanie who arrived a few hours before us. Monday was a personal day of rest and relaxation. Tuesday I had a business meeting for Monks' Bread at St. Armand's Baking Company in Bradenton which is our franchise bakery here.

Wednesday evening was the kickoff of the convocation where Abp. Bates was enthroned as our Patriarch. It was along service lasting from 7:00-10:00 p.m. Our Music Director, Christine Clerc, and Ronna Bulera (temporarily residing in Louisiana) sang in the choir--awesome choir! Sharon Pittman, Josh Baker, Jessi Baker, and Kathie Baker ministered to a class of over 60 elementary school age kids during the homily. They made convocation t-shrits and hats and the kids were having a blast!

Podcasts of all speakers and photos are available at Dr. Simon Chan's plenary sessions are items I highly encourage all to listen to, especially if you are new to the CEC. He is explaining convergence worship which is at the very heart of our identity as a communion.

One point he made today is that the old mainline churches had as an underpinning of their worship a desire to make the Gospel acceptable to the culture. This approach to worship proposed by Frederick Schleiermacher, the father of modernist liberal theology, actually removed Trinitarian worship from the Church, and changed the Gospel. Acceptable Gospel = social message of peace and justice. Unacceptable = preaching the evangelical message of the creation, fall/sin, incarnation, life, suffering, death, ascension, sending of the Spirit, and coming again of Jesus.

There is an obvious connection here. This liberal church approach has been accepted by the evangelical seeker movement, and expanded in the emerging church movement! However, the liberalization of the evangelical church is also being countered by the conservative resurgence of convergence worship!

Off to the evening services!

Fr. Kevin

Monday, July 21, 2008

Monday Afterglow 7/21/2008

Our Gospel yesterday was the Parable of The Wheat and Tares. The sermon yesterday calls us to contemplate the truth that good and evil are both being planted and growing in the world till the end-time harvest. The planting of seeds of good and seeds of evil has been taking place since Eden. The beautiful garden planted by God quickly had the seed of the Evil One planted within it.

The truth of the parable calls us to think about our own lives. Good and evil are planted within us as well. God is working to make the garden of our heart a fruitful and beautiful reflection of his love and goodness. Yet, even though God's grace and life has been planted within us when we received the Seed of the Woman, Jesus Christ, into our hearts by faith, why do we still allow evil to be planted within us?

Why do we, like Adam, allow the Evil One to enter the garden? Why do we allow temptations and sin to be planted in us? Why do we sow tares into the wheat? Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil. Amen.


Why is God silent? Why does he withdraw? Why is it that just the opposite of what I wanted is happening? This distance between what Jesus promised and what we experience in our own lives makes you think, every time - it has that effect in each generation, for each single person, and even for me.

Each one of us has to struggle to work out an answer for himself, so that in the end he comes to understand why God has spoken to him precisely like that. Augustine and other great Christians say that God gives us what is best for us - even when we do not recognize this at first.

Often, we think that exactly the opposite of what he does would really be best for us. We have to learn to accept this path, which, on the basis of our experience and our suffering, is difficult for us, and to see it as the way in which God is guiding us. God's way is often a path that enormously reshapes and remolds our life, a path in which we are truly changed and straightened out.

To that extent, we have to say that this "Ask, and you will receive" certainly cannot mean that I can call God in as a handyman who will make my life easy ever time I want something. Or who will take away suffering and questioning. On the contrary, it means that God definitely hears me and what he grants me is, in the way known only to him, what is right for me. --God And The World, Pope Benedict XVI

My prayers are with you this week. Each hour of prayer at the Abbey this week will be a calling upon God help us drive away the Evil One from the garden of our hearts.

Fr. Kevin

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Southtowns Small Group?

If anyone who lives in the south towns of Buffalo is interested in forming a Bible study group, fellowship group, or some other kind of gathering for that area, please let me know. Our church strategy is to be a metro church meaning people from all over come. In order to then facilitate support and relationship building, we need to form small groups in every area where we have families.

This group could meet weekly, every other week, or even monthly in the beginning. Let me know if God speaks to your creative heart to pioneer a new group!

Fr. Kevin

6/23/2008 Monday Afterglow

I don't know about you, but I have been blessed in our recent church services. There has been what I think is a very gentle presence of the Holy Spirit in our Sunday school and worship services as of late. Ever since beginning worship at the new building, as pastor I sense less spiritual warfare and a growing sense that the Holy Spirit is coming in our services to touch each of us, or better yet, pour into our hearts how much God loves us and cares about us.

Sunday's Gospel from Matthew 10:16-33 told us that as we go into the world to live and speak for Jesus Christ, that we will face opposition of various kinds from mild to severe. When those times come, God wants us to know he sees us. His eye is on the sparrow and since we are of much more value to our Heavenly Father, his eyes are on us too. He knows how many hairs are on our head, so he certainly sees the more important things such as when when we need His protection and strength when undergoing trials and troubles for his sake.

God sees and he cares.

This week, please pray that God heals the various healing needs in our church, especially Kathy Bucierka after foot surgery, and for Fr. John Denurger--Abbott at the Abbey of the Genesee--who had knee surgery Tuesday.

Please pray for God to add to our numbers, and for God's leadership on how to best let the neighborhoods surrounding the Church that we are there to love and serve them in Jesus' name.


Fr. Kevin

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Church and Politics: Election Year Discussions

I read an article today about a church that is challenging the IRS code that prohibits churches from endorsing candidates and getting directly involved in political activity. The quote that caught my eye was from an 1863 sermon by Henry Ward Beecher, he said, "It is sometimes said that ministers must not preach politics. … They would have to toe hop, and skip and jump through two thirds of the Bible if they did not, for the there is not another book on the face of God's earth that is so full of commerce and business and government, and the relations between the governing and the governed, as this same Bible."

In 1954, the IRS arbitrarily passed code that forbids churches , "from directly or indirectly participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office." Churches today are allowed to teach what the Bible says about politics, foreign and domestic policy, and church and state, but cannot endorse or be actively involved in supporting a campaign.

My questions today in this presidential election year are:

1.) Why do you see so many churches, mostly in certain segments of society, hosting political speakers primarily from one party and this is not considered a violation of the tax code?

2.) Does this law only apply to churches? What about Islamic mosques where political endorsements are made regularly? I simply do not know--has anyone looked into this?

3.) In the Bible, the prophets from Moses to John the Baptist regularly not only spoke about politics, but actively participated in calling kings and queens into account to God. The Church has continued this prophetic task of declaring God's heavenly position on earthly matters. What do you think the Church's responsibility is before God as it pertains to its relationship to the State/Caesar?

Let the discourse begin.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Monday Afterglow 6/16/2008

Here at the Abbey of the Genesee where I work by day, I look out at 1200 acres of farmland. Bros. Alberic and James work dilligently as our "farm brothers" to plant, care for, and harvest peas, sweet corn, and other crops that are a vital part of the community well being. Without farming, a significant source of revenue and the ability of the Abbey to survive would be threatened. When harvest time comes, the farm is buzzing with activity to bring in all the fruit of the labors that have preceded the harvest.

This past Sunday, our Gospel took us to the portion of Matthew where Jesus tells his disciples that the harvest is plentiful and ready, but there are too few laborers to go and bring in all that God has made ready in the land of the earth. It is a convicting message. Jesus is basically saying that he has made ready the harvest by doing his part. He has done the work of salvation at the cross. He has sent the Holy Spirit to prepare the hearts of men. People are ready to believe and be saved.

The problem is, we do not want to work the fields. Illegal immigration in America has taught us that Americans think they are below doing many manual labor jobs like picking the harvest on farms or cleaning hotel rooms. My thought today is, "Has this attitude infiltrated the church to the point that we are not willing to do the harvest work of the Church?"

American churches are more built on entertainment models than agricultural models. Do you think this has any correlation to the ability of the American churches to harvest what God has prepared?


Fr. Kevin

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hello from Phoenix, Arizona

Greetings from beautiful sunny Phoenix! The Abbey sent me here to a training conference. Kathie was able to come along with me, so we are taking in the sights.

Getting here was no joy. When we got on the Northwest flight out of Buffalo heading for Minneapolis, the air conditioning was broken on the plane. We were scheduled for a 6:55 p.m. departure. We sat on the ground for almost an hour with a cabin temp over 90 degrees. With babies crying and hot irritated people surprisingly "keeping their cool," we finally got on our way. We were scheduled to land in Minneapolis to connect with our flight to Phoenix at 9:15 p.m. We got to the gate at 8:45 p.m. and had to make a run for it from H terminal to G terminal. We were one of the last to board, but made it just in time--Praise the Lord!

A little over three hours later we were on the ground in Arizona where it was 95 degrees at 10:40 P.M. I got on the rental car shuttle and could not believe how far the rental car center is from SkyHarbor Airport!!! After picking Kathie up at Terminal 3 we headed off to Tempe Mission Palms Hotel where we are staying. It was 3:00 a.m. Buffalo time when we got into the room. The hotel is adjacent to Arizona State University and I can see the Sun Devils Stadium from my window.

On Wednesday we went to mass at St. Mary's Basilica. Then we visited Heard Museum. If you are ever in the area, it is a real neat place to visit and not too expensive at $10.00 each for adults.

Here are some local web cams right here in the South Mill area near ASU where we are staying. If anyone needs anything, feel free to call the church phone 716-548-4785. If you need personal care, Dn. Pittman is covering for me while we are away. We return Saturday and look forward to Sunday when we will be meeting Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew where he talks about having compassion on his people and looking at fields white unto harvest asking us to pray for laborers.



Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Monday Morning Afterglow 6/9/2008

OK--I was finally asked "What is an afterglow?" In Exodus 33, we discover the prayer of Moses for God to show Him his glory. Many years later, Moses and Elijah, along with Peter, James, and John would see the glory God in the Transfiguration. 1450 years BC, Moses got a "sneek peek" at the revelation of glory. What Moses was privileged to see was the afterglow of the glory of God passing by. He could not see the direct glory of God and live.

18 Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory." 19 And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live."


This past Sunday was an unseasonably hot day for early June in western New York with temps in the mid-90s. Praise God the weather did not hinder the people of God from coming to worship. The Gospel for the day was from Matthew where Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees for keeping company with tax collectors and sinners after calling Matthew to follow him. It is the sick that need the physician; the righteous do not need to be called for repentance but the sinner.

The key lesson we all need to learn is that the fellowship we enjoy as God's people should not cause us to lose contact with those who need to know Jesus. Jesus met Matthew in the business world, and took people from church (disciples) to hang out with Matthew and his friends who were not yet believers.

This week, think about how you can find people like Matthew and his friends to hang out with. Jesus calls us to go into all the world with the Gospel. The best way to do this is to be the good news yourself! People need good news--they need you.


Fr. Kevin

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Monday Morning Afterglow 6/2/2008

Our Sunday services on 6/1/08 definitely were filled with the Lord's presence. While attendance went from a weekly high since Easter to a weekly low since Easter in the space of one week, there was a special sense of family Sunday, especially in the fellowship coffee time after church.

My sermon was on the Gospel reading for the day in Matthew 7--Not all who say to me Lord, lord... and building life on the rock or the sand. I spoke about being ready to weather life's storms, and carefully presented Jesus' teaching on building the foundation of our life on the Rock or the Sand. Life in 2008 is pretty stormy, so I made sure I preached a clear message of salvation and presented four kinds of faith relationships to Jesus that can end up with one being numbered among those who say "Lord, lord" and then hear "Depart from me I never knew you." If you would like a text copy of the message, email me.

On another note, we may have to curtail our Sunday school class before church due to ACC needs for us to not be in the building while their church is letting out. I am awating word from the Pastor, and this item is on our next parish council meeting agenda as well. I will keep everyone posted. We could do the class immediately after church till 2:00.


Fr. Kevin