A Gratitude for Unity

“Behold, how good and how pleasant, it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

Covid-19 swept over our world, instantly changing our lives. One day our children were at school, the next they were home indefinitely. One Sunday we were at church, the next week we couldn’t gather for worship. Never before in my lifetime had I experienced anything like this pandemic.
At first, it seemed as if we were on a staycation. We were not sick, we just suddenly had nowhere to go. It was amazing! It felt like a much-needed breather from the busyness of life. I could take the time to read to my kids, play a game with them, or bake cookies. I could do all of this without feeling like I was in such a rush. Close quarters did not  increased fighting or strife, rather I felt God’s grace upon our home. We drew closer to each other and appreciated the time spent together. When the world around me was out of my control, I learned to appreciate my home, family, and blessings even more than I had before.
The kids still had to learn, of course, and they struggled to adjust to online school. We were all under one roof more than we had been previously, and some days it was very difficult to have four grades being taught in one home! The children had to learn to respect each other’s space.
I felt more in tune with my kids and what they were learning in school because I was there every day assisting them. I felt responsible to help them keep up on their education. At times, they would become very frustrated and stressed but I was there to encourage and soothe them.
While our unity at home was getting a real work out, so was our unity with our congregation. Church is the very center of our life. The weirdest feeling was not getting up on Sunday and dressing for church.  All the game nights, outreach nights, picnics, everything that normally fills our life was canceled indefinitely, leaving our lives with an odd sense of loss. How many times have we heard the sayings, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” or “You don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone.”
This was certainly the case. While we were away from each other in body, we remained close in spirit. Our pastor never quit carrying a burden for our souls and several members in the congregation helped put together services that were live-streamed. Sunday school teachers prepared lessons that were delivered to the children. Prayers were offered up for each other. Groceries were given to those in need. Cards were mailed to homes as we suddenly valued our communication with each other more than ever.
When we finally all got back to church for services, it was so special. To sing our congregational songs together and lift our voices up to God in praise was a beautiful thing. We don’t take our right to assemble for granted anymore. Hebrews 10:25 reminds us, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
~ C Karns

What have you learned from your trials?

The Bible says in 1 Peter 5: 10 “But the God of all grace, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.”

Instead of letting our hard times cripple us, we can rise from them with more grace, more gratitude and a new perspective on life. God may have put us through the fire so we could come forth as gold. Though the fire was hot and in the moment it seemed like you would never make it through, you did! With Him by your side, you can make it through anything.

Does this mean that God wants us to suffer pain and hardship? On the contrary! Christ is known for his deep love and compassion for us, and He came to this world as a baby to put Himself in our place– to experience earthly sorrow just like we do. But He also wants what is ultimately best for our lives– what will bring us closer to Him! Sometimes, that may be a trial.

Last March, we were all struck with a trial. One that, unlike most trials, affected almost everyone in the world. We all experienced the trial differently. Some grew deathly ill, or lost loved ones. Some suffered job loss and tough financial times. Some, both children and parents alike, were affected by school closures. Some suffered all of the above!

It is not for us to know why it all happened in the way it did.  But we as Christians do know that He was with us every step of the way. With our unique perspectives and experiences, we all learned something different. In this issue, you’ll find articles about how various members of the Church of God at Connoquenessing came through– what inspired them, and what they will remember.

We at the Church of God at Connoquenessing wish you a wonderful holiday season and health and happiness for your friends and family’s future. If you keep Him first, He is sure to bless it.

~ A Irwin

The Hindrance of Distraction

One spring, I signed up for a 10K race with a particular goal in mind. I wanted to achieve a PR of finishing in fifty-six minutes or less, or roughly nine minutes per mile. It was a very attainable thing if I would faithfully put in the work for the remaining few weeks until that date came. Over the month leading to the race, I put in the effort to increase my speed. The results were pleasing, and I watched my total time drop steadily.

The morning of this particular race, everything went well. The weather was perfect—a cool morning with a cloudy sky. I was up early enough to fully prepare and felt strong as I got to the starting line.  Sometimes when waiting to start a race, I feel full of nerves, but this morning I felt confident.

Yet by the end of the run, I had not accomplished what I had hoped. Instead, I missed it by almost a minute per mile. Not because of some glaring error or poor running conditions; looking back on that day, I remember all of the distractions that came during the race. So many things happened around me that I allowed to pull focus from my aim. Some of the distractions were insignificant: a falling branch that caused me to slow down, a rustling in the brush nearby and a visit to the mile 3 water station. Some of the distractions seemed legitimate: an untied shoelace, a fellow runner who I stopped to help and dealing with a faulty running app on my phone. Physically I was prepared, yet I allowed so many disruptions in my mind that in the end, I fell short of the goal.

Distractions can result in failure if we don’t push them out. It takes a fixed mind to see the race to completion. A sanctified heart desires to keep an unwavering vision of God, to follow Him without fail. There is a rest and calm to the consecrated soul.

We easily spot the negative distractions. We can point them out and say, “I must distance myself from these things or they will pull my focus from God.” But they also may be good things, blessings in our lives, which pull attention from the spiritual race. They may deter you from being all that God would have you to be; that pliable, usable vessel He desires. Distractions can sway us to spend ourselves for earthly things when God’s kingdom is calling for workers. It is not that we don’t enjoy the good things of life, but that we keep them in their proper place. They must not take our priority in time, love or effort.

You can be confident that you are going to run well and still disappoint if your eyes are not centered on Christ. Matthew 6:22-23 “If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” Consider trying to run, or even walk, if your eyes are pulled in every direction and you have no focus. You would be bumbling into everything in your path, causing detriment and hurt to yourself and others. So is the person who does not have a sole focus on God. There is a consistent pattern of falling short, of no clear victory in that life. There is agitation and distress around them instead of a steady walk with Him. Are you full of God’s truth and His ways or filled with the diversions of the world and your own ways? As the apostle Paul put it, “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air.” Running this spiritual path with an unfocused mind will hinder your stride and slow your pace.

Distractions interfere with the true heart of a matter. Too easily, some are distracted with their own thoughts. When you place your own lens over the preaching, or over the preacher, you lose the message God was sending you. If you see your pastor as just a man instead of God’s chosen watchman, you will refuse the very counsels of God. If you look at the saints not as the body of Christ, but just as people you see every week, you lose the love and respect we need to show to one another. So often, we can be distracted by physical things: what we observe, what we feel, what we desire. Where are your spiritual eyes? Spiritual eyes help us understand the incredible truths of God, and to also recognize our true reflection in the Word. It takes an honest and submissive heart to see when we are not keeping step with the preaching.

Distraction can be a gradual process. The saved are slowly pulled off-track by the cares of life that demand attention. When    Martha and Mary had Jesus in their home one of them became distracted. Mary chose to lay aside her work and cares to concentrate on the real issues of her soul. When Martha complained, Christ made it clear that Mary had chosen well and that Martha should reconsider her own focus. Distractions may come in the form of loved ones who are unsaved. While we care for them and pray for them, we cannot allow our minds to center on them and their decisions. We must leave them in God’s hands, even when it is painful. Distractions might be an affliction that we carry, that physically takes our strength. Yet our minds must be single-minded toward God to bring us through.  Distractions could even include physical labor. Remember that our greatest reward is not for everything to go smoothly, but to reach lost souls and shine the truth of the gospel to them. Being busy for God is very needful, so we should work together with His blessing and leading, prayed up and filled with grace.

In all that we do, let’s move forward with a focused view of the goal. As Paul admonished in Hebrews 12:1,  “Let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”

by R Smith

Rescue The Perishing, Jesus Will Save

“If I had a choice, I would still choose to remain blind; for when I die, the first face I will ever see will be the face of my blessed Savior.” Fanny Crosby, a song writer of many spiritual hymns and blind for most her life, stated these words. She was devoted to Christ and through her writing, did all she could to win others to the Lord. She is one of the most revered female song writers from the 1800’s.

Crosby wrote over 8,000 hymns, poems, and lyrics, many that we receive joy from today. She was a true mission worker for souls. Through her music, many have realized their need for Christ and knelt at an alter with conviction on their heart.

Frances Jane Crosby was born near New York City in the year of 1820. Her parents were presumed to be first cousins, possibly the reason for her   blindness. When she was six weeks old, she caught a cold and developed inflammation in her eyes. Due to this and the congenital issues, she was termed blind from birth. Her father died when she was six months old and she was raised by her mother and grandmother. While she was still a child, doctors diagnosed her with permanent blindness and told her mother she would never be able to see.

Fanny used this blindness to her advantage. She honed her brain by memorizing the Bible, playing multiple instruments, and developing a beautiful soprano voice. She was the first woman to speak before the United States Senate and a lobbyist for the blind.

Fanny Crosby’s song, “Rescue the Perishing” reads: “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying, snatch them in pity from sin and the grave; Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen, tell them of Jesus the mighty to save. Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter, feelings lie buried that grace can restore; touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness, chords that are broken will    vibrate once more. Rescue the perishing, duty demands it; strength for thy labor the Lord will provide; back to the narrow way patiently win them; tell the poor wand’rer a Savior has died. Rescue the perishing, care for the dying; Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save. “

The only thing we can take with us to heaven is another soul that we helped rescue. Fanny’s epitaph read, “She hath done what she could.” Fanny was blind and did not let this hinder her. We can follow her example to win souls for Christ.

by C Smith

Tithing – A Reward In Giving

How does the Church of God support itself? Do the people donate baked goods and spaghetti dinners to sell every month? Is there a periodic rummage sale? The answer to your question, friend, is simply no. Our congregation is self-sufficient in the fact that we follow the doctrine of tithing taught in God’s Word. The word tithe means a tenth part of something paid as voluntary contribution. It is that first part set aside for the Lord, ten percent of the gross income. Tithes and additional offerings are used to offset the church’s financial obligations and to further the cause of the gospel of Christ.

The doctrine of tithing not only blesses the individual for giving but blesses others by meeting their needs. When the offering plate is passed in the    congregation and members willingly give, it enables the Church to give as well. The money is given to help locally with our outreach program and also to missions around the world.

In the book of Genesis, we read that Adam and Eve’s sons gave offerings to the Lord. Cain was a farmer and gave fruit; Abel was a shepherd and gave from his flock. However, only Abel’s offering was accepted because he gave “of the firstlings of his flock” or the choicest lamb. We can suppose that Cain was careless in his offering, bringing spotted or withered fruit. Yes, it was an offering but it was not worthy to give back to God. God will only accept our very best. “Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the first fruits of all thine increase.” (Proverbs 3:9)

One may think, “There’s no way I can afford to give, I’m already living tight financially.” Bills may be large, but if an individual will give to God first, they will personally experience their needs being met. So many in our congregation will testify to the blessings they have found by giving of their tithes when it seemed they could not afford it. The Lord not only helped them with their monetary needs, but blessed them with so many other intangible benefits – such as peace that passes understanding, unspeakable joy and abiding hope.

There is a promise or reward for obeying this   doctrine. “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” (Malachi 3:10)

When the Lord sends blessings, He does it in a large way! The result is like David says in Psalms 23, “… my cup runneth over.” Consider how faithful the Almighty  Creator is to mere mortals every day, His faithfulness is great and His mercy is everlasting. The tithe that we give hardly scratches the surface of all that we owe to the Lord! That is why we cheerfully give back to Him. We’ve proved God is true to his word. Tithe, and He in turn will bless abundantly in both temporal and spiritual ways.

by J Shick

Proud To Be An American; Proud To Be A Christian.

“I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free and I won’t forget the men who died who gave that right to me and I proudly stand up next to you and defend her still today. Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land, God bless the USA!” 

Most Americans feel a sense of pride when they hear these lyrics penned by Lee Greenwood. It stirs something in the hearts of those proud to live in the United States of America.

Yet Americans are facing the another pivotal time in our country, with an abundance of contention and fighting occurring in high places. How are we to be united? Though we have been through much, we are still better and stronger as a nation than we were 245 years ago at the time of our birth.

“Proud to be an American” is not an arrogant statement but rather one of thankfulness and gratitude. Our great nation has much for which to be thankful. Our freedoms are envied by the rest of the world, and unrivaled by much of it. Our rich heritage is second to none. Are we perfect? No country is unblemished in their actions and while the USA is imperfect, it is ours. The American flag still waves as a symbol of freedom and bravery and is still a sign of strength and courage.

The case is the same for Christianity today. Those who are free from sin are grateful for the one who died to give them this great freedom! As proud as we are to be Americans, we are prouder still to be Christians. Now more than ever, we must stand together to make our voices heard by everyone around us and defend the Judeo-Christian beliefs that this great country was founded on.

“Proud to be a Christian” is only an offensive statement to those who refuse to honor God, but never to the true      Christian. The godly foundation that this great nation was built on is still the strength that has held us steady through years of battles from those outside our country as well as those who have fought us within. The cross of Jesus remains our symbol of strength and forgiveness.

As Christians, we face challenging times. All around us is bitterness and vengeance. A loud minority are using their anger and hatred to strike out against those of us who will stand for truth and honor. Many want to rob Christians of their freedom to worship and serve the great God of heaven.

Are you proud to be a Christian? Are you willing to stand for truth? If you are asking, where can I find people like this to stand with? It is at the Church of God.

The most effective way to demonstrate our pride and conviction to both our country and to God is to be saved from sin. Our forefathers knew that if a nation were to stand the test of time it would have to be built on godly values. How are you showing your pride of country and belief in God?

Many need to be   reminded to stand for the flag and kneel for Christ.

by J Kretzler

When the Gospel is Abused

Most people would agree that abuse is toxic, destructive and inherently evil. Whether it be physical, emotional, sexual, financial or institutional, these are still viewed as reprehensible in society today. One abuse, which has eternal consequence, has become commonplace in America today: the abuse of the gospel and principles of God. Where once stood a reverence, respect and awe of God, now stands a perversion and assault against the Word of God and its divine precepts.

This is nothing new. Throughout history nations have rejected the gospel of Christ. Christ himself faced this very rejection among His own people in the cities where he lived.  But be not deceived for God will not be mocked, there are always severe consequences to a society, a nation, and a people when the   gospel is abused.

In Matthew 11:20-24, we find a turning point in the tone of Christ’s ministry and a severe warning to those who abuse the gospel. Christ pronounces a woe on three cities. These three Galilean towns were known as the “evangelical triangle” because Christ had spent 80% of his ministry there. The people of that area were witnesses, even recipients, of His divine wonders, miracles and mercies. They reaped the benefits of His gospel. They were consumers of the grace God shed upon them.

Yet, despite all the blessings, it could not change their minds about the gospel. They would not repent of their independent attitudes of heart. They would not cease from counting on their own righteousness to earn God’s favor. They would not turn from their own ways, from their own thoughts and accept the gospel as Christ had delivered it to them.

Now think about America and the grace God has shed upon this land. What have we done with the gospel? For most of society, it has been abused. We have  become a nation that is content with  consuming the mercy and grace of God while abusing the very principles and  precepts taught by God’s Word.

This abuse is not without  consequence. Just as the three biblical cities received their judgement, America will also face the consequence for mocking God’s righteousness. II Peter 2:21 says, “For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than after they have known it to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.” A nation which once knew the grace of God but now chooses to reject it is forever changed. May it never be said of us  individually that it had been better if we never knew this wonderful gospel of Christ.

by M Karns