Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Grace and Politics

On Sunday, September 25th, we wrapped up a four-week series called “The Table of Grace”. In our first week, we talked about how God’s grace is unmerited favor and the only appropriate response was to receive it with humility and gratitude. We then talked about the sufficiency of grace that tells us that no matter what, God is still good. Our third week we transitioned and talked about how we as recipients of grace now have the obligation to extend grace to others. Finally, we talked about how the church is to be a community of grace to the world.

The last week was the most challenging because we delved into how the world sees the church and how the church needs to respond to politics. Philip Yancey wrote a very challenging book, Vanishing Grace, and in it he writes about church and society. I was deeply impacted by some of his thoughts as I prepared for the message and felt strongly that I needed to address how Christians need to respond to the very contentious political environment we live in today.

Here are some thoughts from the last message:

Hebrews 12:14–15 tell us to “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

In this verse, the writer of Hebrews presents us with an image taken from a company of travellers, one of whom lags behind, and so never reaches the end of the long and laborious journey. We are to do our best to make sure the world knows about the grace of God and believers don’t miss it, because without grace, bitterness takes root in our hearts.

The Life Application Bible points out, “Like a small root that grows into a great tree, bitterness springs up in our hearts and overshadows even our deepest Christian relationships. A ‘poisonous root of bitterness’ comes when we allow disappointment to grow into resentment, or when we nurse grudges over past hurts. Bitterness brings with it jealousy, dissension, and immorality.”

In my experience, the most destructive of all sins is bitterness. Bitterness destroys people, families, and churches. Bitterness is an attitude that refuses to extend grace. Like a cancer, it grows until it destroys everything around it. Bitterness is passed on from generation to generation.

Bitterness is what I have observed in recent years concerning the church as a whole when it comes to politics.

Philip Yancey, in Vanishing Grace, made some observations about the church:
I began with a concern that the church is failing in its mission to dispense grace to a world thirsty for it. More and more, surveys show, outsiders view Christians as bearers of bad news, not good news.

Nonbelievers tend to regard evangelicals as a legion of morals police determined to impose their notion of right behavior on others. To them, Christians are anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-women — ​ probably anti-sex, for that matter — ​ and most of them homeschool their children to avoid defilement. Christians sometimes help with social problems, say by running soup kitchens and homeless shelters, but otherwise they differ little from Muslim fanatics who want to enforce sharia law on their societies.

If Yancey is right, the outside world sees the church as motivated by hate, judgmental, hypocritical, close-minded, angry, and intolerant.

He continues:
“The great divide between Christians and a society that seems increasingly post-Christian. Fear abounds on both sides. The secular world sees Christians as a threat, a breed of morals police intent on reforming society by their own rules and punishing those who object. On the other side, Christians see themselves as a harassed minority holding out against forces hostile to religion.”

We know that the paranoid church narrative is not accurate. Throughout history, it is the serving Christians that have made the most profound change.

As Yancey points out:
In early 2014 Christianity Today published a cover story on a sociologist named Robert Woodberry, who had wondered why some countries take to democracy so well while their next-door neighbors wallow in corruption and bad government. Painstaking research led him to conclude that missionaries made the difference. They taught people to read, built hospitals, and gave a biblical foundation for basic human rights. He concluded, Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations. That does not fit the Hollywood stereotype of missionaries ruining cultures, I know, but so far no one has been able to refute Woodberry’s findings.

I wish those who ask “What good is Christianity?” could spend time with some of the remarkable people who dedicate their lives to humble service. I have visited schools for the Dalits (“ untouchables”) in India where the first generation from that caste in five thousand years is obtaining a quality education. I have reported on leprosy hospitals in Asia, AIDS clinics and orphanages in Africa, and a renowned hospital for obstetric fistula sufferers in Ethiopia, all products of missionary work.

I personally can attest to Yancey’s observations as I have had the opportunity to travel to some remote places in the world and witness the impact of Christians who are serving people with love and grace.


I believe our rhetoric keeps people from seeing who we really are. It seems we have become crusaders rather than servants.

It seems to me that Christians today are more concerned about who we are voting for than how we can extend grace. The Christian Right operates as if it has the right to slander and be hostile. It should not matter if I disagree with someone, but rather how I treat someone with whom I profoundly disagree. We Christians are called to use the “weapons of grace,” which means treating even our opponents with love and respect.

We sometimes talk of God judging America as long as he doesn’t include us. Sometimes we even act like we wish it would happen. Where is the brokenness?

Christians are not all to blame, but let’s own the areas we need to own. Our rhetoric and our discussions are usually based on CNN or FOX or radio talk shows, not in scripture or core values. We pick and choose our issues, when both sides of the political isle have very significant issues. Issues such as racism, abortion, immigration, poverty, helping widows and orphans, homelessness, mental health, adoption, alcoholism, gambling, pornography, homosexuality, divorce, murder, suicide, debt, drugs, human trafficking, etc. We should be very concerned about these things, but instead we pick and choose to match our own agenda.

We would rather stand on a street corner and shout than walk across the street and care for the hurting, the needy and the wounded. We are angry at universal health care, yet we don’t do the job we need to in order to help people. We are angry at abortion and yet we don’t care about the pain it causes to the individuals who made a horrible decision and have to live with it the rest of their lives. Our first response is that of condemnation and not grace for those who have made mistakes.

We are more concerned about the removal of the Ten Commandments, but we don’t live by the Sermon on the Mount, the beatitudes. We want to condemn people for living ways that are contrary to our beliefs, but we don’t deal with our own greed, pride, lust, deception, malicious talk, gossip, and disunity. We want to transform society but not transform our hearts.

Martin Luther King Jr. said that the government can require a white man to serve blacks in his restaurant, and can stop whites from lynching blacks, but no government can force a white person to love a black one. That requires a transformation of the heart.

We all need to realize:
  •  People who do not share our political viewpoint are not all going to hell.
  • Yes, we need a great spiritual awakening, but it has never, nor will it ever, come through politics.
  • No matter what the personal satisfaction we feel when we say it, one of the candidates is not the savior and the other is not the anti-Christ.
  • The way we treat others is a direct response to our understanding and acceptance of God’s grace.

We are living in a wounded world trying to find answers and the only answer is in the one who gave himself for us as a sacrifice – Jesus.

Grace is liberating and life-changing. It prevents bitterness, jealousy, dissension, and immorality. When we extend God’s grace to others, it not only brings hope to the receiver, but fresh life to the giver.

The church has an amazing opportunity to be a light to the world because we are living in a wounded world trying to find hope.

My friend, who is a pastor, found out that his unmarried daughter was pregnant. She had lost her way during a bad season of her life and it broke my friend’s heart. He decided to get in front of the rumors and share it with the congregation. I saw him shortly afterwards and he wept as he shared when the response of the church that surrounded him and his family, including his daughter with grace and strength.

That’s the power of grace. It opens the door for others who need to experience grace. 

Richard Blackaby writes, “Gifts of grace are like ointment on a wounded soul.”

It’s not that we should ignore politics or bury our heads in the sand. I’m all for getting involved. It’s a great privilege to live in a country that allows us to be part of the process. John MacArthur wrote four insightful articles about how Christians should engage in politics. Click HERE to read.

My prayer is that until election day, we will be people filled with grace speech. Let’s practice what Paul wrote:

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)

“Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6).

References for further studies on Grace:
Philip Yancey, Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?
Lee Strobel, The Case for Grace: A Journalist Explores the Evidence of Transformed Lives.
Richard Blackaby, Putting a Face on Grace: Living a Life Worth Passing On
Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?
Max Lucado, In the Grip of Grace: Your Father Always Caught You. He Still Does.
Randy Alcorn, Grace: A Bigger View of God’s Love.
Andy Stanley, The Grace of God.
Max Lucado, Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Profound Thoughts on Prayer

From Deeping Your Conversation With God, "The less demanding and personal God is, the more boring he will be. One doesn’t pray to a God like that, one meditates; except for an elite few, one loses interest and falls asleep. An abstract, boring God is finally a shrunken God, too big and therefore too busy, we think, to get involved with people. But the God Jesus told us to pray to can both run the cosmos and knit a baby together in his mother’s womb. He can number both subatomic particles and the hairs on your head. Anything less, and he is shrunk to the size of the senator Julia Ward Howe invited to her home. She wanted him to meet the up-and-coming actor Edwin Booth, but he declined, explaining loftily, “The truth is, I have got beyond taking an interest in individuals.” She later commented sarcastically on his remark in her diary: “God Almighty has not got so far.” Indeed, George Buttrick was right when he said, “The field of second-rate religion is strewn with the corpses of abstract nouns.” A second-rate God will elicit a second-rate, boring prayer life."

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Tribute to Uncle Harris

Yesterday, I had the tremendous honor of speaking at the funeral of my Uncle Harris. I am one of the many nephews and nieces that experienced the blessing of having Uncle Harris in my life. As I walked into the funeral home in New Freedom Pennsylvania, I noticed a t.v. screen scrolling pictures of him with his family and I could hardly move because of the many memories that came rushing to my mind about my childhood with Uncle Harris and his first wife, my Aunt Betty, who died in an car accident when I was twenty-six.

As a young man, growing up without a dad, Uncle Harris, along with other uncles invested in my life like I was one of their sons, but I was not alone. The stories I shared at his funeral represented how he treated everyone: accepting, non-judgmental, uplifting, and fun.

It is no secret that Uncle Harris loved fishing – and not just a little, no, I mean he LOVED fishing; consequently, I loved fishing. One bright summer morning, after getting off work, I headed for Pretty Boy Damn to fish. This is where Uncle Harris’ fishing career began. I worked a night shift at a grocery store and often went fishing afterwards. That morning, I noticed his truck was parked at the boat loading dock. I figured if I made a dash down through the woods, I might just catch his attention. I did not want to assume he wanted a partner, so I reached the shoreline and cast out my line to act as if I just happened to be there. He did notice me and welcomed me into the boat. “Fishing has a lot to do with luck,” I reflected after not catching anything. He responded, “Luck favors a prepared mind.”  I have repeated that phrase more times than I can count. 

I recounted that story to Paul and he said, “yea, one time he asked me to get out of the boat and left me because I was talking too much.”

Which reminds me that he left me one time as well. He was driving my sisters and I on Mt Carmel Road one day and at a stop sign, we decide to do a Chinese Fire Drill, but he warned us not to. I jumped out of the car anyway and was running around to get in the other side when he drove off. I mean for real. He did come back, but not until I learned not to mess with him.

He loved cards, and my cousins and I spent many Friday evenings at his house playing cards. We started with Rook, but eventually learned Pinochle. It was during these late evenings that my uncle also taught me to enjoy the mature things of life, like drinking coffee without sugar.  “Son, real men don’t need sugar.”  He would say after watching me put the forth teaspoon in my cup.  Well, that did it for me; I wanted to be a real man like my uncle.

Uncle Harris lent me his single barrel 410 shotgun. Although he himself was not an avid hunter, he made sure I knew how to walk with a gun – finger off the trigger – pointed at the ground and not at a person – important things like that.

Uncle Harris invested in others. As an early teenager, he was the adult sponsor of our C.A. youth group (Christ Ambassadors). When I was twelve, he sponsored our singing group called The Salt and Pepper Plus. Brian, Alan, Mike, Donna and myself represented salt. Ronney was Pepper. The Plus of course, was Jesus. We traveled to a couple of small churches and sang songs like “I’ll Fly Away”, “The Healer”, “Oh Happy Day,” we even sang “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun.”

Uncle Harris was our manager, which meant that he got 10% of whatever offering there was, and since we never got a real offering, we gave him 10% of the chicken we got at the church pot luck dinner. He didn’t care. He purchased sound equipment for us and proudly drove us around like we were the next Christian rock stars. 

My later memories involved pigeons – homing pigeons. He loved birds. He shared this love with his sons.

While in college, I would just show up at his home, as it was on the way to my mom’s home in Hereford, Maryland. We would sit and talk about fishing, pigeons or college and drink coffee. He would let me know he was proud of me and encourage me to keep going.

Most of life is simply showing up, and Uncle Harris did that for me and so many others. I was not the only kid he loved and invested in because there is a whole group of cousins who experienced his love. After the funeral, I met so many others who shared their stories similar to mine.  

His wife, Donna, and her son James experienced his warm embrace for his last twelve years. His charm never stopped.

He leaves a great legacy.

His last few years were not physically pleasant. He suffered with a disease that his body ultimately surrendered to.

Our family came together to celebrate a life well lived. We also grieve. We grieve the missed opportunities. We grieved the times we didn’t say “Thank you.” We grieve that he spent the last few years suffering in his body.

We grieve, but not as people without hope.

During the funeral I spoke about our earthly tents, our bodies, that eventually wear out and how we look forward to being with Jesus and our loved ones, without pain or suffering. 2 Corinthians 5, Hebrews 11, and John 14 help up understand a little about this hope and offers peace while we are still on earth.

I concluded the message with three simple lessons from Uncle Harris’ life:

  1. Teach me to number my days. Uncle Harris lived just seventy-one years, but he made each day count. We all have just a few trips around the sun, let’s make them count for something.
  2. Investing in the people around you makes a profound difference. The small, kind things we do for people are remembered and impacting.
  3. Luck favors a prepared mind. Uncle Harris prepared to catch fish therefore he caught fish. If luck favors a prepared mind, eternity favors a prepared heart.

Psalms 46:1-3, 7, 10-11
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

“Fish On” Uncle Harris. This world will miss you.

Harris Almony ObituaryHarris E. “Ed” Almony, 71, died Saturday, April 16, 2016, at home. He was the husband of Donna (Lutz) Almony and they celebrated 12 years of marriage in May, 2015. His first wife, Betty Wirtz Almony, preceded him in death.

Born February 23, 1945, in Parkton, MD, Ed was the son of the late Victor Jenkins and Helen (Harris) Almony. He proudly served in the U.S. Navy from June of 1963 to June 1969. Ed was employed at Northrup Grumman, Baltimore, for over 36 years, retiring as a manager. Passionate about fishing, Ed also raised pigeons in his younger years.

Surviving in addition to his wife are four children: Holly L. Farmer, and her husband Chad; Michael W. G. Almony, and his wife Rebecca; James K. Gillispie, and his wife (Stacy); and Victor P. Almony, and his fiancée, Melanie Markline; three siblings, James V. Almony, and his wife Joyce; Linda M. Cummings, and her husband Mickey; and Vickie C. Almony; 7 grandchildren.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

2016 State of the Church Report

Five years have passed since I accepted the invitation to become the pastor of Centerpointe Church. Each year has been filled with faith in God, patience, persistence and hope in our future. These were foundational years, each year building upon the previous one.

Each year began with a season of fasting and prayer, and God has led us and blessed us. We have seen people won to Christ, grow in Christ, and be sent out for Christ. 

As we review the last five years, we can see that God brought the right people, at just the right time, to give us wisdom, direction, and guidance.

In 2011, our theme was “Unstoppable.” The theme proclaimed that this church is God’s church and it will move forward. The leadership of the church made some structural changes that gave us a model for how we were going to work together. We also added a café in order for people to connect and nurture community.

In 2012, the theme was “Ready the House.” We raised the funds and remodeled 90% of the inside of the church with the intention of making the physical house as exciting as the people who attend.  

In 2013, we went through The Bible in a year. It was called “The Story.” For some, it was the first time they read through the whole Bible. We also gave a $100,000 offering to Instituto Biblico Rio de la Plata, a Bible School in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which at the time was 25% of our building fund.  

In 2014, our theme was “Greater.” We made a commitment at the March business meeting to make a decision about our property, and in December, we entered into a 99-year ground lease that would enable us to transition to a new facility by 2018. We also made adjustments in the youth leadership, rebuilt the stage, and repaired the parking lot.

In 2015, our theme was “Forward.” We took a major step toward our future by adding Pastors Brandon and Hannah Horst to our staff as children’s pastors. Because of this decision, we were able to provide more resources to families with children and add an additional worship service on Sunday mornings.

2016 looks to be another great year of life-changing impact as we further define our discipleship process to help more people grow in Christ. Furthermore, we will expand our outreach, media, and music ministries and continue to have an emphasis on missions. Finally, our plans are to identify a location in order to start the moving process.

Block buildings use a strong steel rod called rebar. The rebar runs through the block in order give support and strength to the wall. As I look at what is holding us together as a church, I can clearly see six areas:

  • Fasting and Prayer – Each year we begin with a time of fasting and prayer, which guides us in our decisions for the year.
  • Unified Leadership – We have an incredible staff and board that operate in faith and are not afraid to make courageous decisions.
  • Word and Worship – Every Sunday, we gather as a family to spend time in worship and learn from His Word.
  •  Missions Focus – Centerpointe Church has a long history of praying and supporting our home and world missionaries. In 2012, we supported 38 missionaries on a monthly basis. Today, we support over 60. 
  • Church Unity – Every step made over the last five years was accomplished because our hearts remained connected in love and unity.
  •  Focus on the Next Generation – We have made significant resource investments in our children and youth. We can see the benefits of those investments as our youth lead in worship, work and give to missions, lead small groups, and make a difference in their schools and families.

We are very blessed to have godly staff, leaders and workers, who have caught the vision and mission of Centerpointe Church. With God’s help, we will continue to be passionate followers of Jesus, inviting everyone we know to join us. We will continue to pray for a great spiritual awakening in Northern Virginia and we will continue to be a strong supporter of missions throughout the world.

I am blessed to pastor such an incredible group of people!

Serving Together,
Pastor Keith

May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalms 90:17 NIV)

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Your 2016 Assignment

Instead of making a New Years resolution, ask God what your assignment is for 2016.

New Year's resolutions are self-initiated but assignments are directed by someone else; in this case, God. Resolutions are easily dismissed but assignments carry heavier consequences. Resolutions are built upon self-willpower, determination and strength, but assignments from God are dependent on His strength and power.

Resolutions usually come from a place of self-want - "I want to lose weight" or "I want to be nicer to my neighbor" etc. Deficiency is the driving factor - "I want to be more, have more, give more, work more." Assignments by God start with a higher perspective, an eternal perspective. God says, "I want you serving here, because I have a plan with eternity in mind." God knows our weaknesses, but he also knows our strengths and gifts because he gave them to us.

Every assignment given to people in scripture went beyond human capacity, but when completed, changed lives and saved nations.

Not every assignment will be glamorous. People who promise miraculous breakthroughs and prosperity for everyone attract crowds who applaud and get excited, chanting, "Finally, this is MY year!!"

What if your assignment is sitting by the bed of your loved one as they go through physical suffering? What if your assignment involves sacrificing your wealth to serve the poor? What if your assignment means being in a room full of atheists with a professor curses the God you love? What if your assignment includes loving an undeserving spouse or parent? No one desires these things.

Abraham did not desire to leave his home in Ur. Joseph did not long for the years he spent in prison. Gideon did not choose to lead the Israelites into battle with only 300 men. Mary did not hope to be pregnant before marriage. John's final wish in life was not to be on the Isle of Patmos. However, each of them surrendered their preferred future to God's eternal plan.

Whatever your assignment is, there is one thing you can be sure of: if it comes from God, it will change you. There will be times where you don't feel great about your situation, but you will different in the end. You will look back and say, "God helped me," "God is faithful," and "God is good."