Thursday, November 3, 2016

God says, "Here I Am!"

What current events in the media just now worry you?  I will not seek to bring my personal observations to bear regarding these, but I too have such worries.  I have wondered if Scripture speaks clearly to them.  In my daily devotions, this did…
            “I say, Here I am!  Here I am!  To a nation that did not call upon my name.  I have stretched out my hands all the day to a rebellious people who walk in evil paths and follow their own thoughts—people who provoke me continually to my face.”  (Isaiah 65:1-3)
            God, talking through God’s servant Isaiah thousands of years ago, may have a word for us as well. “I say, Here I am!  Here I am!”  This is a word to boost our spirits and make our conscience free.  It suggests that the number one expectation God has of us is to “call upon God’s name”.  How?  We pray.  We discipline ourselves in private devotions.  But even more important is to worship God.  That is what calling on God’s name is, worshipping God, in God’s house, on God’s day of rest.  When we gather to worship God, not only do we place ourselves in God’s presence, but we allow God’s will and ways to influence our thoughts about the issues of the day, even when they are as complex as our current issues are.  So come to worship.  God calls us to worship.  God says to each and every one of us, “I say, Here I am!  Here I am!”
Next, we hear of God stretching out God’s hands all the day. It tells us God takes the initiative.  If you or I were to try to stretch out our hands all the day long, we could not do it. God has the strength and the tone and whatever else is needed to bridge whatever gap we have allowed to happen between God and us, no matter what path we have wandered down, no matter what kinds of thoughts we have followed.
Picture God stretching out God’s hands to us, as far as God can, all the day long, and not just to us, but to all the people God has made.  Even to those who are walking in truly evil paths, to those who are following only their own thoughts, to those who provoke God continually to God’s face.  To each one, God says, “I say, Here I am!  Here I am!”    God goes to whatever lengths it takes to reach the ones God loves.  And God urges those whom God reaches, to do likewise.
            If you form the mental picture of God extending God’s hands all the day long for all of us, and all of these, then you soon form one particular picture, the mental image of our Lord Jesus Christ, upon the cross, with His arms extended for everyone, everywhere in every time and season. “I say, Here I am!  Here I am!”  Jesus loves the world that much.  Jesus loves those we love that much and Jesus loves those we don’t love that much. By any stretch of the imagination, we find that Jesus is the only One who can reach that far, to everyone for all eternity. “I say, Here I am!  Here I am!”

‘See you in church,

John A. Dalles, Pastor

Faith of the Presidents: Grover Cleveland

Did you know that U.S. President Grover Cleveland (1837-1901, 22nd and 24th President) was a Presbyterian and the son of a Presbyterian minister?  Like many other ministers, the Rev. Mr. Cleveland supported a large family on a small salary. His children went to work as soon as they were able. Grover worked in a store in Fayetteville, N.Y., where his father served his final church before his death.
            Later, Grover went to New York City, where he taught for a while in a school for the blind. Here he became acquainted with Fanny Crosby, the noted hymn writer. He moved from New York City to Buffalo, where he studied law and was admitted to the bar.  While in Buffalo, he remained on the roll of his father's old church in Fayetteville.
            After Grover Cleveland entered the White House, he gave more attention to the Church, he also married Miss Frances Folsom, a lady of great personal charm.  Duirng his second term, he became prominently religious. In a Thanksgiving Proclamation, Cleveland recognized the Lordship of Jesus Christ, something no other President had ever done in a presidential proclamation.
            Cleveland was an advocate of "practical Christianity" that is, putting the ideals of Christianity into action in one’s daily life.  Perhaps the most poignant moment to try his faith was when the Cleveland’s daughter Ruth died (the “Baby Ruth” candy bar was named for her).  On January 7, 1904, after Ruth’s death, Cleveland wrote to a friend:
"I had a season of great trouble in keeping out of my mind the idea that Ruth was in the cold, cheerless grave instead of in the arms of her Savior. It seems to me I mourn our darling Ruth's death more and more. So much of the time I can only think of her as dead, not joyfully living in heaven. God has come to my help and I have felt able to adjust my thought to dear Ruth's death with as much comfort as selfish humanity will permit. One thing I can say: not for a moment since she left us has a rebellious thought entered my mind."
            Later, his sister was heard to say that she knew "his boyhood's faith brightened his dying hours." 
            Being a faithful Christian is a life long journey.  We draw upon our beginnings in the faith every day thereafter.  Some days, the way is challenging, and we are burdened by grief.  Yet, God comes to our help, just as he did to President Cleveland.  God helps us adjust our thoughts, even in our bleakest hours.  God offers us comfort, and shields us from rebellious thoughts.  Just as boyhood faith served Grover Cleveland all his life long, may your faith in Christ brighten all of your hours.


John A. Dalles, Pastor

Faith of the Presidents: James Buchanan

Lancaster, County Pennsylvania, where I grew up, is filled with history and in addtion to the beautiful farms that are so neatly kept, such as the one shown here, one of the other high spots of Lancaster is "Wheatland", the home of James Buchanan (1791-1868) the 15th President of the United States.  

James Buchanan was Secretary of State and Minister to England. The only President born in Pennsylvania and the only bachelor President, Buchanan was a Presbyterian by family background. All of his life, he worshiped regularly and gave to many different denominations.  Yet, Buchanan did not join the Presbyterian Church until he retired to private life. Here is how it happened:

In August of 1860, Buchanan’s last year in the White House, he was vacationing at the Bedford Springs Hotel, a fashionable summer resort in the Pennsylvania mountains.  There, the Rev. Dr. William M. Paxton, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of New York City, was a guest at the same time. Buchanan knew the pastor, and so one day he invited Paxton to the Presidential suite, where he opened his heart. The President confessed, 

"I think I may say that for 12 years I have been in the habit of reading the Bible and praying daily. I have never had any one with whom I have felt disposed to converse, and now that I find you here I have thought you would understand my feelings, and that I would venture to open my mind to you upon this important subject, and ask for an explanation of some things I do not clearly understand."
The President then asked Dr. Paxton what a religious experience is, and how a man might know he was a Christian.  The minister gave responses that led Buchanan to say,

            "Well, sir, I thank you. My mind is now made up. I hope I am a Christian. I think I have had some of the experience which you describe, and as soon as I retire from my office as President, I will unite with the Presbyterian Church."

Soon thereafter, on the 4th of March, 1861, President Buchanan kept his promise and was received into membership at First Presbyterian Church of Lancaster.

Today, expect to find people in your life who want to know if they are a Christian, and who are eager to hear Jesus’ words of life, from YOU!


John A. Dalles, Pastor

Your Assist is Needed!

Recently a concept has come my way in conversations with members of our congregation and other faithful Christians.  In a sentence, it is this:

The task of our church and every church
is to assist people of all ages
become full-fledged disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The idea of assisting people is entirely Biblical.  The commandment from Galatians that we are to bear one another’s burdens to fulfill the law of Christ is the best example but there are many others.  We know that God is at work in people’s lives, so of course the primary “assist” comes from the Holy Spirit.  People have their own insights, gifts and abilities, but no one can “go it alone”.  Every person needs that inner drive that comes from God.  Also, they need fellow believers.  That’s where our “assist” comes in.
Think about it in basketball terms. An assist is a pass to a teammate who then scores.   When someone “assists”, they themselves do not score.  But without the “assist” it might never happen.  We are all called to that for one another.  We set up the shot, as it were; we help those around us.
How have you been “assisting” others to become full-fledged disciples?  Make a list of at least ten things you have done in the past month that have been “assists” to others.  Look over that list, and then say to yourself, “How will I do the same, in the month ahead?”  Make a new list and keep it before you these next 30 days.  And as you answer that question, here are twelve practical applications of the concept for you to consider for your upcoming month’s list:  I will…

1.     Have a living relationship with God and others, in Christ. – John 14:6
2.     Develop my own and other’s spiritual discernment. – I Cor. 3:2
3.     Put faith in action daily: learn, pray, relate with and serve others. – I. Cor. 12;27
4.     Take the Word of Jesus with me wherever I go. - Col. 3:16
5.     Celebrate and share the glory of God in worship every Sunday. – Ps. 95:6
6.     Make people glad to be with me, offering holy welcome to everyone. – Rom. 12:13
7.     Study the Bible’s Christian ideals and use them in my life. – Ps. 119:105
8.     Value every person for who they could be in Christ. – I Thes. 5:14-22
9.     Apply my best energies for those who need mercy and justice. – Matt. 5:7
10.  Pray alone, pray with others, pray for others, pray unceasingly.  – I Thes. 5:17
11.  Bring my friends to church. – Ps. 122:1
12.  Be joyful and enthusiastic in all that I do. – Phil. 4:4

Your pastor and your friend,

Dr. John A. Dalles

What Must I Do to Be Saved?

In one of the most telling encounters in the New Testament, a terrified jailer, whose prison had been reduced to rubble by the power of prayer, knelt before Paul and Silas and asked them this question:  “What must I do to be saved?”

As recorded in Acts 16:31, they responded, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved; you and your household.”  The answer Paul and Silas gave the jailer was clear.  Then, it was the jailer’ turn to decide.  “Will I believe, or not?  Will I act upon that belief, or not?  Will I live as I have ever lived, imprisoned within the walls of the jail I oversee, or will I accept the freedom Christ brings?  Will I stay the same, or will I be changed by the power of the Living God?  Will I throw myself upon my sword, fearful of those who seem to have power over me, or will I choose life abundant and eternal?”  All of these questions, and others much like them, flashed through the jailer’s mind as quickly as the first frightening tremors of the earthquake, and with even more force.  Sometimes it takes an earth-shaking event to move us from complacency to conviction.  Then, by the grace of God, we may begin to live reconfigured lives.

What is remarkable is this: The jailer asked the right question.  Notice, he did not ask:  “What must I do to be lost?  It is fair to say the jailer knew the answer to that.  “What must I do to be lost?”  “Nothing at all.”  The jailer had been there; he had done that.  He understood that to become lost, to be lost, to stay lost, all one must do is nothing at all. One cannot be healthy, one cannot be happy, one cannot be prosperous if one does nothing at all.  To remain lost, is to remain sulky, or surly, or cynical, or superior, or defeatist, or fearful.  But to be saved, one must believe in the turned-around limitless-love and grace of Christ Jesus. 

God wishes your life to be worthwhile.  This is a truth we know; yet, a truth we need reminded of every day.  God went to infinite pains—even death on the cross—for your life to be worthwhile.  God is still seeking, moving heaven and earth, for your life to be worthwhile.  If you want what God wants—if you want your life to be worthwhile, you must start now, to train yourself in the daily exercise of believing in Jesus Christ.  Do not allow yourself to dwell on anything that is not good.  Believe God’s will for you is good.  Let no thought of failure, disappointment, trouble, criticism, spite, jealousy, or condemnation of yourself or others have any place in your life.  Believe God’s purposes for you are positive, constructive, and kind.  

Give yourself a week of unbroken, mental discipline to get your mind set in this new direction.  See what a difference a week makes. Then, make that difference the guiding force of the rest of your life, if you want what God wants.

Faithfully yours,

Dr. John A. Dalles


Reinhold Niebuhr, Author of the “Serenity Prayer”

Did you know that this coming year is the 125th anniversary of the birth of one of the finest theologians America has produced?  To be specific, I am speaking of Reinhold Niebuhr, whose dates are 1892-1971.  

Reinhold Niebuhr is perhaps best remembered in the world at large for one specific prayer that he authored.  Many people know his prayer, even if they do not know that someone actually wrote it and that the someone was Dr. Niebuhr.  His prayer has come to be known as the “Serenity Prayer”.  In its original form, it goes like this:

"God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other."

What a gift!  This prayer has whispered its quiet strength to those in need.  This prayer has given encouragement to those who face challenges.  This prayer has given countless persons the ability to continue although circumstances are still difficult and disappointing.  This prayer has found its way in to wallets and pocketbooks and on to refrigerator magnets—wherever we need a small but powerful dose of responsible Christian living.  If good old “Dr. N.” had written nothing else—that one prayer would have been more than enough to secure his fame.  His witness to us in those few lines would be reason enough to revere his witness as a Christian.  But, he did so much more. 

Reinhold Niebuhr was born in Wright City, Missouri, on June 21, 1892, the son of Gustav and Lydia Niebuhr. Gustav was an immigrant from Germany and became a ordained minister of the German Evangelical Synod after graduating from Eden Seminary at St. Louis. His mother was a daughter of German Evangelical Synod missionary, Edward Hosto.  Gustav and Lydia had four children, Hulda, Walter, Reinhold, and Helmut Richard (Hulda and H. Richard are also famous in theological circles). His works include, Moral Man and Immoral Society. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1932; An Interpretation of Christian Ethics. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1935; The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness: A Vindication of Democracy and a Critique of Its Traditional Defense. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1944.

One other quotation from Dr. Niebuhr might peak your interest and spark your further reading of his works.  It speaks to our age every bit as clearly as when he wrote these words two generations ago…

"The tendency to claim God as an ally
for our partisan values and ends is ...
the source of all religious fanaticism."

Today, when you read about the excesses that are caused by forms of religious fanaticism, you might want to remember these other words of Dr. Niebuhr’s.  And as a corrective to them, you might wish to pray his Serenity Prayer. 

With grace and peace,

John A. Dalles, Pastor