A GIFT FROM THE WISE
A Gift. Actually, three Gifts. They brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These of course are the gifts the Wisemen brought to Jesus in the Christmas story. I guess “Babies R Us” was not open. Or maybe these men had never been to a baby shower. It seems like inappropriate gifts for a baby. Diapers and more diapers, that is what you need when you have a baby. It is enough to make you wonder if these men were really all that wise after all. One could think of a lot of gifts more appropriate than gold, frankincense and myrrh for a newborn. I hope the gold was in a large bar and not small gold nuggets that would serve as a choking hazard. And the liquids should come with a child proof lid. What were these Wisemen thinking?
I will share with you what these Wisemen were thinking, at least part of it. They were thinking this was no ordinary child. As a result, they did not bring ordinary gifts. Gifts that would seem inappropriate for most babies would be perfectly appropriate for a child that was very special. Perhaps a baby born to royalty. But of course, Joseph was no king and Mary was not a queen. There was no sign of royalty or riches in the manger scene. At first glance there was nothing special about the family, the birth, or the child. Every sign pointed to a child born of poverty and born to parents who would not receive a second glance by any passerby. But that is why we should not judge by first glances.
God certainly saw something special in Mary and Joseph. An angel visited each one to tell them of Jesus birth. And of course, Jesus was not an ordinary baby. John chapter one tells us how God became man and walked among us. Jesus was not just of noble birth, but was God. How could this child be both fully God and fully human? And what kind of special people would God select to be his earthly parents? Those are good questions. It is difficult to comprehend the reality of the baby Jesus. However, it is not hard to understand how special this birth was when we consider all the circumstances.
The gifts brought by the Wisemen reflect their recognition of the special child they came to visit. He was a child deserving of the best they had to offer, so that is what they brought. As we give gifts at Christmas, we also should be wise and offer Jesus the best we have, which means offering him ourselves, to follow him with our lives. That is the appropriate gift for a savior.
LET’S GO TO MARS
How would you like a one-way trip to Mars? Don’t miss the part about it being one way; that is kind of important. It means you get a ride to Mars but not a ride back to Earth. Sign me up? I don’t think so. Mars falls into the category of a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. And the “nice place to visit” idea comes with a lot of conditions that are a bit unrealistic at this time. Conditions such as a starship reminiscent of Star Trek’s “Enterprise”, that can take me there in comfort and with artificial gravity. Then when I arrive, they can beam me to the surface with a comfortable space suit, adequate transportation to the sights I want to see, and decent hotel type accommodations on the surface. This is supposed to be a vacation after all. I don’t see any of that happening soon, so I think I will pass.
Others, apparently, have different requirements and are willing to sign up for a one-way trip to Mars. In 2011 a company was founded in the Netherlands in order to carry out a project called, “Mars One”. The idea of the project was to establish a colony on the planet Mars. Initial plans were to send the first group of four colonist in the year 2024, but eventually those plans were pushed out to 2032. Then four more colonist would arrive every two years. There were no plans to bring anyone back to Earth. It was a one-way trip. You would spend the rest of your life on Mars, which I am thinking might not be a very long time under the circumstances.
The cost of the project would be in the billions. The project apparently raised tens of millions in funding; the rest of the cost was intended to be raised through television. They were going to produce documentaries on the process, and the whole project was going to be one giant reality show. However, they were unable to sell the show, and by 2019 the whole project went bankrupt. But there was a lot of interest. People actually signed up for this one-way trip to Mars. A few thousand people around the world submitted applications and paid the registration fee. The group was whittled down to one hundred by the year 2015.
I can’t help but wonder if these applicants were serious, or did they assume the whole project would go under before they had to go through with it. Also, I wonder, what would happen when the show got cancelled. You know, the show that was paying for shipments of new supplies for the colony. Did people think about that? Shows get cancelled all the time. “Sorry, show was cancelled, you’re out of a job, and that resupply ship that was being funded by the show… not coming.”
Would anyone really want to spend the rest of their life on Mars. I will admit that Mars does have some appeal. The largest volcano in the solar system, Olympus Mons, is on Mars. It is about 72,000 feet tall and 370 miles wide. Mars is also home to the solar system’s largest canyon, Valles Marineris, which is about 2,500 miles long and 125 miles across at its widest point. The Grand Canyon, a popular vacation spot here on Earth, is only 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide. In spite of some interesting sights, Mars is missing some very key elements, like animals, insects, trees or any other vegetation. Another key element severely lacking is oxygen, and gravity is only 38% of Earths. Basically, it is a barren, dusty, rocky, cold planet. It is also darker than Earth because it is much farther from the sun, as a result the sun is much smaller in the sky.
Honestly, I would prefer to live on Earth, and the choice is not even close. We live on an absolutely beautiful planet, filled with plants, water, and an amazing assortment of living creatures. As wonderful as Earth is, especially when compared to a place like Mars, can you imagine what the Garden of Eden must have been like? Wow! But why? Why did God provide us with such a beautiful place to live? He could have provided us a planet that looks more like Mars. Add a little oxygen, enough ragged plant life, raise the temperature a few degrees and we could survive. But God didn’t want us to just survive. He wanted us to enjoy the life and home he gave us. We messed it up when humanity turned from God; we rebelled beginning with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. But, even after getting kicked out of the Garden, we were still left with a beautiful home.
We should take some time to remember God’s original creation and what it tells us about God. God loves us; he loves you. He has demonstrated that love in many different ways. One of the first ways was by providing us a beautiful place to live. If he didn’t love us so much, he could have made Earth very different. So, I think I will pass on that trip to Mars, and keep enjoying the home God provided.
Covid-19. Are you sick of hearing that name yet? Do you find yourself just wishing it would all just end and we could get back to normal? Are you tired of adjusting your life to something that was once really scary, but perhaps seems less threatening? That is where many people find themselves. A few months ago, there were a lot of unknowns, and reports of mounting deaths. People watched the news faithfully for news of the pandemic. What do we need to do to stop it? How dangerous is it? What can I do to protect myself and the people I care about? We have since discovered that some groups are at greater risk than others. But we are all at risk of exposing at-risk people if we get sick, so we must all remain vigilant. But it has been so long, and over time vigilance, by nature, starts to wane.
It seems to just be human nature. After we stand guard day after day after day, and nothing happens, we start to become less cautious. If nothing bad has happened yet, then it probably won’t, at least that becomes our thinking. We become less alert over time. We lose our edge. We let our guard down. And that is when it strikes, because that is when we are most vulnerable, and are most careless.
It happens in lots of areas of life. People drive too fast, or too carelessly and start to think they are safe from an accident. “I’ve texted many times while driving and never had a problem, so I must be doing it safely.” No, you have just been fortunate, but your good fortune will leave you when you least expect it. And you have already quit expecting it. We become desensitized to the dangers around us when those dangers are not striking at us. We can even convince ourselves to ignore the downfalls and misfortunes of the people around us, as we continue to be spared. People were constantly alert for anything suspicious after 9-11, but now most don’t give it a second thought.
But dangers are still lurking and need our attentiveness. The Bible warns us that many of those dangers are self-inflicted. The Bible calls it sin. When asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus replied with, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40). Anything else breaks God’s command and is sin. Sin lurks everywhere.
But what happens when you sin and nothing bad seems to happen. You seem to “get away with it”. Then it becomes easier to repeat. You drive recklessly, or drive home after a couple of drinks because you made it safely the last time. You speak hatefully to a friend, family member or spouse, and nothing bad seems to happen. You tell a lie, and perhaps not only does nothing bad happen, but perhaps it seems to get you out of a tough or embarrassing situation. Next time it gets easier, and more tempting. You let your guard down. It is not so bad, not so damaging. Perhaps God is wrong and sin is not such a bad thing after all.
You find yourself in the same situation that many people face in life. We let out guard down, thinking all is safe. We quit being diligent, quit being careful, on guard. We become convinced that nothing bad will happen as a result, and then crash, reality smacks us in the face. We get sick, relationships break, an accident happens, the warnings come true and we wish we had heeded them. It is easy to fall into complacency. We get lulled asleep by the lack of obvious consequences, and the only thing we allow to awaken us is dire consequences. We push the envelope because nothing bad has happened and we push it until something bad does happen.
There has got to be a better way. Indeed, there is. I Peter 5:8-10 (NIV) tells us to “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” Guard your heart and thoughts with the instruction and presence of God. Never ignore God’s warnings and instructions, they are there to protect you and provide for you. Look at your life. It is time to take God seriously and make some changes, before reality crashes into you.
IS ANYONE LISTENING?
My phone rings once again. And once again it is the warrantee department informing me that the warranty on my car is about to run out. But don’t worry, just press one and someone will tell me what to do about it. It is almost funny to get calls like this when your car is only a few months old. But of course, you can’t explain that part to the person on the phone because it is just a recorded message and not worth pressing one just to explain to someone that their system is mistaken.
Sales calls can become annoying, especially when they are misguided like the one just mentioned. And of course, they just keep calling back, over and over and over. You can hardly get the calls to stop because it is an automated system. But if a real, live person had to make each call over and over they would eventually give up and stop wasting their time when they discovered that the person on the other end didn’t want to hear what they had to say.
That is what you would do, right? If you took the time and effort to call someone and they didn’t want to talk, and you tried over and over with the same result, eventually you would give up. You would realize it is a waste of time. It is the same with email, texting, or going to someone in person. If your efforts are always met with silence then at some point your effort will stop.
In Psalm 86, David is offering up a prayer to God and he says, in verse seven, “When I am in distress, I call to you because you answer me.” David sought God out in his time of trouble because he knew God would not ignore him. God would always be there. We can have that same confidence in our prayers.
Sometimes it may feel like our prayers are met with silence because we don’t hear an audible voice in response. But we can have confidence, just as David did, that God hears us in our distress, and he responds to our prayers. Deuteronomy 31:6 reminds us that God “will never leave you nor forsake you.” We can go to God in prayer knowing that he hears our words, loves us, and will always be there. There is no need to become weary of trying to get him to listen, because he always listens and always cares. As 1 Peter 5:7 tells us, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” God is waiting to listen so take some time to talk to him today.
The month of June is normally a time of graduations. Years of hard work culminates in celebration and ceremony. Time to don your cap and gown and walk across the stage to receive your diploma. But not this year. Due to the pandemic, graduations were cancelled. Students still got to graduate; they just didn’t get to attend commencement services. As a result, they didn’t get to listen to graduation speeches.
How many graduation speeches have you ever heard? How many do you remember? Of the graduation speeches I have heard, most have a couple of common themes. One is to remember the great times with friends as they conquered the years of education together. Good times were had by all, or at least those are the times remembered. The second theme is more forward looking. And this theme comes with a challenge and enough inspiration to meet the challenge. The graduates are encouraged to go out and change the world. Often this comes with examples from history of what they can become or achieve. By the time we get to the end of the speech we are likely convinced that failure to change the world is simply failure. If someone from this graduating class does not become president of the United States, then we will not have lived up to our potential.
When I graduated from high school, a fellow student by the name of Jeff gave a different sort of speech. He reminded us that great accomplishments are not necessarily measured by greatness. At least not greatness as the world often measures it. He pointed out the statistical reality that it was unlikely anyone from our graduating class of two hundred students would ever become president. It also seemed most likely, in his eyes, that when this group of graduating students ended their lives that the majority of the world would hardly notice. Sounds like a bit of a downer for a graduation speech. Actually, it was not. In fact, it was very inspirational.
You see, his speech was aimed at getting us to measure our impact on the world in a more realistic manner. Sure, some people, or groups of people, make huge impacts around the world. But, the vast majority of people don’t fall into that category. However, that does not mean that their impact is insignificant, or unimportant.
It is like the story of a man who approached a young boy on the beach. The boy was searching the sand and when he found a stranded starfish, he would take it back to the waves and throw it into the water. The man asked the boy why he was doing that. Didn’t he realize there were thousands of miles of beaches all over the world with stranded starfish all around? You are just one little boy, what difference can you make. The young boy picked up another starfish, tossed it into the water and said, “I made a difference for that one.”
We don’t have to change the world to make a difference. It is not about doing big things, but doing great things even when they are small. Make a difference even when it does not make a difference for most people. Touch the lives of the people we come in contact with each day. Instead of fretting over all the lives we cannot change and all the deeds beyond our reach, we should be focusing on what is within our reach. Often, we overlook what we can do because we think it is not significant enough, it is too small. We wait for something beyond our reach and end up doing nothing. However, people who truly make a difference are too busy with their efforts to worry about the size of the difference they are making. And while their accomplishments may go unnoticed by most, there is at least one person whose life is touched.
This week, do something important. Make a difference. Don’t wait for opportunities that are unlikely to arrive. Instead, make use of the opportunities sitting at your doorstep. It only has to be one starfish for it to be significant.
“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Isaiah 40:30-31 (NIV)
This passage from the prophet Isaiah is a favorite of many people, and it has always been a favorite of mine as well. You will find it quoted in greeting cards, pictures, banners and songs, often accompanied with a beautiful picture of a soaring eagle. Of course, there is a reason for its popularity. Quite simply, its message provides great comfort and hope. When the storms of life are swirling violently all around us, the thought of lifting off the ground and soaring above it all sounds wonderful.
Do you feel tired or weary? Have you found yourself stumbling, or feel like life is falling apart around you? Are you facing family struggles, job concerns, health issues, financial shortages, or any of the myriad challenges common to daily life? If so, and I think we all do at some point, then this passage offers genuine hope. Hope that you can, indeed, soar above it all.
This offer of hope is more than a mere escape that some are tempted to pursue. As appealing as it may seem to simply run from our struggles, ignoring them and hoping they go away, there is no peace to be found in that approach. The peace is found in faith. A faith that trusts God with your concerns. But don’t expect God to make your troubles go away; he doesn’t make that promise. In fact, scripture teaches us just the opposite. John 16:33 tells us, “In this world you will have trouble.” But the rest of this verse gives us hope. “But take heart, I have overcome the world.”
God grants us the ability to soar above the storm, not because the storm disappears, but because we are given a different view of the storm. When we are able to see our troubles from God’s perspective, that is when we can soar above them. God’s promise is that he will get us through the storm, not that the storm will miraculously vanish. God sees the hardship that will make you stronger, the trial that will strengthen your faith. It is like the butterfly that needs to struggle to escape the cocoon, so that it has the strength to spread its wings and fly.
“Hope in the Lord”, is the message of Isaiah 40:31. He will give us the strength to endure and overcome whatever life throws at us. Trust that God is in control. Know that he loves you and will never leave your side, no matter how challenging or lonely the situation appears. He will give you the strength and wisdom to work through the struggle. And in the end God will still be there no matter the results. In Mark 8:36 Jesus instructs us, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Likewise, we should be reminded that as long as we have our soul, our eternity in heaven with God, then whatever we lose of this world is nothing. We can truly soar above it all if we can learn to trust God and see through his eyes.
DO IT MYSELF
In the windowsill of the upstairs spare room, it sat lonely and neglected. At first it was simply an oversight that led to the neglect, but later the neglect would become intentional. Eventually, it became an experiment to see if the victim of the neglect could actually live up to its reputation of being nearly indestructible. Kohleria, that is what they called it. Actually, there are many different types of Kohleria. I don’t recall which one I bought. I just know it’s a plant, it blooms, and they said it’s almost impossible to let it die. And if you think it is dead, and it looks dead, start watering it and it will probably put out new growth.
My plant was in a pot upstairs, along with two other plants. I moved the other two downstairs to spend winter with my other downstairs plants. When I watered, for a few weeks, I forgot about the one upstairs plant tucked away in the corner of a room I seldom entered. One day I walked into the spare room and noticed the drying leaves falling off the neglected plant and thought, “Oops”. So, I gave the plant some water, thinking it still looked like it had some life left, though not much. Then I started neglecting it on purpose to see how long it would live. Over the coming weeks the green left the leaves, as they turned a darker shade of brown and most of them fell off. Surprisingly, it persisted in holding onto a few leaves at the very top and they even maintained some green color as they curled up trying to preserve what little moisture they still held.
After about three months, probably closer to four, I wasn’t really counting since that would seem contrary to the concept of neglect, I decided to provide some attention to my Kohleria. It looked pretty bad. The soil had a dust like quality that lacked any sign of moisture and had shrunk away from the side of the pot. The Soil was so light from drying out that it could not support the roots or the weight of the plant, which had now fallen to the side with the roots rising out of the soil. So, about a month ago, I pruned the two stems of the plant to within two inches of ground level, which required cutting off a good foot and a half of plant. I repositioned the roots into the soil and started to water the lifeless, dried up remnants. And over the next few weeks it started to grow. Now it has ten stems, each about six inches tall, that have sprung up from the roots.
Consider the amazing ability of this plant to survive, even after it should have withered up and died. But, even with that ability, it still needed my help. If I had not been there to prune it back, tend to its roots and water it, the plant would have eventually died. Left to its own efforts, alone in the forgotten windowsill, it would have eventually died. And no amount of care from me would have helped. It is like a packet of seeds. Buy a packet of seeds from your local gardening store, take it home and toss it on the table and what happens? Nothing. The seeds have some life hidden away inside, but it needs a gardener to plant the seeds in the soil, and water it, maybe even add some fertilizer. The seeds on their own cannot provide what they need.
Compare this to human life. If we are ill, a doctor may be needed to help us get better. But if we die, it is too late for even a doctor to help. We are like a plant that has been neglected too long, or seeds that have gone too long without planting. No amount of care, gardening, or doctoring will help. When life comes to an end it is gone, and we die. Of course, in the Bible we read of a very few exceptions. We call these miracles. Such as when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus was beyond the need of a doctor; he was dead and already placed in a tomb. But Jesus said in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”, and he did. Life came back to the dead body of Lazarus. This is beyond watering a plant that seems beyond hope, but has a spark of life still hiding inside. This is a body that has genuinely lost every spark of life, but Jesus miraculously gave it a new flame of life. But, just like watering a plant or doctoring the sick, it took someone other than Lazarus to give Lazarus life again. Jesus demonstrates great power in raising Lazarus from the dead.
Now, let’s consider an even more powerful demonstration. Jesus was crucified on a cross. Jesus died and was buried in a tomb. Jesus the Messiah, who had healed others, had even raised Lazarus from the dead, was now in need of a powerful Messiah capable of raising him from the dead. But the one with that power had just died. There was no one left alive with that power to raise Jesus from the dead. Who were the leading candidates for such a role? Perhaps John the Baptist? No, he had already been executed. How about one of the disciples? No, they were too busy hiding in fear after Jesus’ crucifixion. How about Jesus himself? What a crazy idea, he was dead. But remember what Jesus had said in John 2:19-22, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” He was using the temple to symbolically refer to his own death and resurrection, as is clearly stated in verses 21 and 22. Jesus, although dead, didn’t need someone with power to come to his tomb, as he did with Lazarus, and give him life again.
While dead, Jesus still had the power to give himself life. Now that is power. That is impressive. Jesus was fully human and fully God. The fully human body had fully died, but the fully God of Jesus defeated death and could not be destroyed. That is why he had the power to give life again to his own dead human body. He did not need someone else’s effort. He did not need help. In one incredible display of amazing power, Jesus rose from the dead, and event unlike any other in all of history. An act that could only have been done by God himself, declaring without a doubt that Jesus is Lord of All. Happy Easter. He is risen! He is risen indeed!
AN EMPTY TOMB?
It began as a murmur among the people, and as more heard about it the murmur grew louder and louder. What began as a small rumor became a loud public outcry demanding to know if the tomb was truly empty as the rumor suggested. The questions must be answered. The public must be satisfied. The truth must be known. So, the grave was examined, and the tomb opened. There inside the tomb was found the remains of the dead man’s body. The tomb was not empty.
At a later time, the rumor surfaced again, “The tomb is empty”. Again, the public demanded to know if the body was still there, so once again the tomb was examined. When they opened the tomb this time, they found that nothing had changed. The body was still there. The first time they opened the tomb was in 1887. Fourteen years later they opened it for a second time, and for a second time discovered that Abraham Lincoln’s body was still there, it had not been stolen.
Nearly two thousand years earlier the same cries of an empty tomb were heard. The stone had been rolled away, and the grave of Jesus of Nazareth was left vacant. I would guess that most who read this have heard of the claims of Jesus’ empty tomb, but most probably are not familiar with the same suggestions made about Lincoln’s grave. Why are we not familiar with this similar event occurring only a century ago? Both Jesus and Abraham Lincoln are well known individuals. Claims of an empty tomb were made for both. So, what is the difference?
The answer is simple. Jesus tomb really was empty. However, the body of Jesus was not lost or stolen. He had risen from the dead, and many saw him and talked with him. Paul tells us that over five hundred people witnessed the risen Jesus proving that the tomb was indeed empty. (I Corinthians 15:6)
The resurrection of Jesus also had a great impact on the lives of many people. The disciples were completely transformed during this time. After witnessing the death of Jesus, many of the disciples were afraid and uncertain. But when they found that Jesus had conquered death their lives changed, and they became the foundation upon which the church would be built. Their newfound enthusiasm and boldness enabled them to spread the news of Jesus throughout the world. According to church tradition all but one of the disciples were killed because of their strong faith in Jesus and his resurrection.
As we celebrate Easter, imagine the celebration in the hearts of the disciples when they found that Jesus was again alive. Consider their transformed lives, enthusiasm, commitment and dedication. What transformation has occurred in your life as a result of knowing that Jesus has risen from the dead?
HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
The little boy stood there, his fingers tightly clinched around the handle to his basket of food. Like everyone else he was getting hungry, but unlike everyone else he had food. He could not remember ever seeing such a large crowd. “There must be several thousand people here,” he thought to himself. A growing murmur rippled through the crowd. People wanted food, and they were beginning to notice that there was none around. The boy started to feel uncomfortable, even a little scared, but that quickly faded as he remembered all the words that had just been addressed to the crowd. The man everyone had come to see had spoken of love, serving and forgiveness. He spoke with a power and authority that had captivated everyone as they ignored their hunger and pondered this man’s message. For some reason he felt safe here.
A man, one of the assistants to the speaker, approached the boy asking what was in the basket. “It’s my lunch, some fish and bread,” the boy responded.
“Would you be willing to come show it to Jesus,” the man asked?
The boy did not hesitate. He was excited about the possibility of meeting Jesus, the speaker. He walked with the man up to Jesus. Eagerly, he listened and waited as the man explained to Jesus that this was all the food they could find in the entire crowd. The boy glanced around to see the rest of the food they had gathered, but saw that he stood alone. His was the only basket of food.
Jesus looked at the boy and spoke, “Would you be willing to give me your lunch so I can feed the crowd?”
Still clutching his basket, he looked down at the two pieces of bread and three fish. Then he turned and glanced at the crowd of people scattered all around. Everywhere he looked, he saw more people. On the hillside, under the trees, sitting on the rocks, people where everywhere.
Turning to face Jesus again the boy reached out the basket and said, “It’s not much, but if you can use it, here it is.”
Watching with curiosity and then amazement he saw Jesus take the food, pray over it, and divide it up to be given to the masses. Suddenly, there was food everywhere. Jesus kept passing out more food and it was all coming from his basket. He couldn’t take his eyes off Jesus as he watched Jesus miraculously feed everyone from his small basket. And after everyone had eaten, it took several baskets to hold the leftovers.
When we consider the events of Jesus feeding the five thousand from the perspective of the young boy, it’s easy to see that the boy probably thought that he had little to offer Jesus, especially compared to the task at hand. Who would believe Jesus could take so little and accomplish so much? It makes one wonder how much God can accomplish with what little we have to offer. So often we stand before God thinking that what we have to offer is too insufficient for God to use. But what kind of resource does God need? It is not the quantity of resources that matter to God. It is their availability. Do you make yourself available to God? Do you offer to God all that you have and all that you are, however little that may seem to you? God is big enough to make up for what you lack. God is looking for people who are willing and available. Then, like the boy with his lunch, you get a front row seat to watch God in action. (Read John 6:1-15)
PUTTING CHRISTMAS BEHIND US
It is that time of year again. No, I am not talking about it being time to make New Year’s resolutions. Although, it is about that time as well. Instead, I’m talking about it being time to wrap up this Christmas season and put it behind us. Chances are that sometime around Thanksgiving you pulled out all of your Christmas decorations in anticipation of the joyous holiday, desiring to surround yourself with the feelings and reminders of Christmas. All the excitement of pulling out the Christmas boxes has now drained away as the holiday season has come and gone. After the hurricane of Christmas morning blows through your home leaving behind its debris, you soon find that it is time to clean up and then pack up.
All the wonderful items you so excitedly pulled from their boxes a month or so ago, now hang around your house as reminders of a time that has past. Like disco balls, vinyl albums, and black and white televisions, it is time to pack them away because their usefulness is over. They are the wrong colors for birthdays, anniversaries, or any other celebrations. The ornaments, tinsel, and lights that captured our attention so well now seem out of place. The Christmas tree gets tossed out, recycled, or disassembled. The candies have all been eaten, and the Christmas knickknacks can now be returned to their boxes. It is time to wrap up the star that once stood atop your tree. It no longer has any event to shine upon. The angel can be put away, since there is no longer a message for it to share.
The nativity set has outlived its usefulness as well. Carefully wrap up the shepherds and their sheep. The wisemen will not need to give gifts for another year. Mary and Joseph can disappear again. And the child in the manger, just stuff him in the box and hide him away with all the rest. The Christ child, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, God who became man, will not be needed again for another year.
“But it is only a little figurine,” you say. “It is not really Jesus we are packing away.” That is true. And, indeed, it is time for the nativity set to be put away. But so often we make the mistake of getting rid of the real thing at the same time. We easily pack Jesus away with all the trappings of Christmas, and focus on other priorities until next year.
Christmas is a convenient time to talk about the gift of Christ our Savior. We defend Christmas against the attacks of those who want to take Christ out of Christmas. But those who take Christ out of Christmas are no different from those who remove Christ from the rest of the year. Jesus, the Christ, is Lord and Savior every day of the year. We cannot just pull him out with the Christmas decorations and put him away again like a box of decorative lights. If Jesus is truly Savior and Lord, then he must fill our homes and lives each and every day. Unfortunately for many, Jesus in the manger is nothing more than a Christmas ornament. Don’t pack him away with the rest of Christmas.
Dear Church Family,
It is the Christmas season once again. Time for celebrating the birth of Jesus with family and friends. As we look around us, we see the world we live in transformed with decorations recognizing the holiday. Throughout our neighborhoods and communities, we see decorations adorning buildings, trees, and streetlights. People love to celebrate Christmas and to do so with lots of big displays of lights and ornaments.
In a world filled with so many problems, Christmas gives people hope. Even people that don’t call themselves Christians find hope at Christmas. Everyone seems to understand that Christmas motivates people to goodwill and selflessness. We all desire a world filled with such behavior as we hope for peace, joy and love. People tend to find the best version of themselves this time of year, and to see the best in others as well.
What some miss, is the source of all this hope. A hope that was fulfilled over two thousand years ago with a baby born in a stable and placed in a manger. A baby visited by the lowliest of people, shepherds. The birth of Jesus was a gift to us all, a gift of love from God, a gift of peace made available, and a gift that brings joy to all that receive it. This Christmas may you enjoy all that Christmas promises. Live in the fulfillment of that hope, experiencing the joy, love and peace that God offers so freely.
WHAT CHILD IS THIS?
As this year comes to a close, you will probably be exposed to several versions of the top news stories of 2018. All the headline news stories compete with one another for top billing. Among all of these news events it is very rare that you find a story about the birth of a child. A child being born is great news for the family, but seldom does it have much influence on the general public. However, the birth of a child can be deserving of a front-page headline.
I would like for you to think back a few years to the birth of a very important child, a child which the world would not be the same without. This birth was not widely announced, but for those who came it was a joy to share in such a blessed event. As they rejoiced together, I am sure that God was looking on with a happy smile.
Perhaps no one realized how important this child was to God. They probably did not understand that as God looked upon this child with love, he saw someone who could help accomplish his will on earth. If God had been the editor of the local newspaper, the next day’s front-page would have been filled with reports of this infant’s birth and importance. What child is this that God would have plastered on the front of the newspaper? No, I have not been talking about the birth of Jesus. Instead, I have been looking back at your birth. Do you realize how important you are to God? Do you realize how much God loves you, desires to spend time with you, and have a relationship with you? Have you considered the many ways God wants to use you to impact the world for him?
To better understand God’s love for you, all you have to do is look back at the birth of Jesus. God loves you enough to send his son to be born in a stable, to live among us on Earth, and to die on a cross so that you could be forgiven and reconciled to God. He did this because of his great love for you, and his desire for you to recognize him as Savior and Lord, and spend eternity with him.
“And the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” (Luke 2:10-11)
TAKING IT WITH YOU
Several years ago, I came across a picture in the newspaper that really captured my attention. The article associated with the picture was about a funeral, but it was the picture not the article that I noticed. Obviously, for my attention to be riveted to the picture, this could not have been an ordinary funeral. Two peculiarities jumped off the page the moment I saw the picture. First, I noticed the unusual size of the grave. It was longer and wider than any grave site I had ever seen. Second, the casket they were lowering into the grave was very unusual. Instead of lowering a normal casket into the grave, a crane was lowering a 1984 Chevrolet Corvette. Inside the car was the ashes of a seventy-one-year-old man named George. On that March day the ashes of George and the Corvette were lowered into their final resting place.
While I’m sure that particular vehicle had a lot of meaning to its owner, other than sentimental reasons, being buried in a car serves no purpose. That vehicle has been rusting away for the past twenty years. It serves as an effective reminder that “you can’t take it with you.” Whatever we accumulate, whatever we earn, all the materials and money we value on earth must all be left behind when we die. There is no way around this fact.
Comedian, Jack Benny, spent nineteen years on his radio show and many years afterwards on television and other appearances portraying a penny-pinching miser. His character was the comedic embodiment of a modern-day Scrooge, although in real life he was described as a very generous man.
In one episode he was having a problem with his insurance company. At first, the insurance company refused to issue him a life insurance policy, because they had never written one the way he wanted it written. He wanted to name himself as the beneficiary of his own life insurance policy. They finally agreed to write the policy, but on one condition. They required him to leave a forwarding address so they would know where to send the check. The fictional character, Jack Benny, thought he had found a loophole, discovering a way to take it with him, but in the end, it didn’t work.
But, in reality there is a loophole, well…, sort of. You can take your treasure with you, if it is the right sort of treasure. In Matthew 6:19-20 Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
The point of Jesus words is that there are some treasures that you can take with you, but these treasures are not riches, possessions, fame, or properties. The treasures that Jesus promoted can be accumulated by all, regardless of social or financial standing. They cannot be bought, sold, or traded. In fact, they are not material possessions at all. Instead they are actions performed for the benefit of others, words spoken to share God’s love and forgiveness, a cup of cold water shared to one who is thirsty, an extended hand to a brother or sister who has fallen, a need that is filled, a life that is touched, or a heart that is changed. These are the treasures Jesus instructed us to accumulate, treasures that you can take with you. So, as you go through life, don’t be afraid to accumulate treasures, just make sure they are the eternal kind. (Also Read Matthew 25:31-46)
“God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food. By his hands we all are fed. Give us Lord our daily bread. Amen.”
I cannot begin to guess at how many times I have joined with others in singing or reciting the above words. This is a very common prayer to offer to God before a meal. How beautiful it sounds when a hundred people join together for a meal at summer camp and sing together, “God is Great”. During four summers on staff at camp years ago, I heard those sounds fill the dining hall countless times. I remember once standing silently, listening to all the others sing, and being struck by the beauty of so many voices singing words of praise and thanks to God.
Such sounds must be especially wonderful to the ears of God. But is it possible that they are not? Sometimes, yes, I believe these sounds are not pleasing to God. This happens when the words are offered without thought or meaning, instead of being offered to God as heartfelt messages of thanks and praise. I wonder how often we say grace simply because we know it is something we should do before a meal, and not because we are truly thankful. We need to consider our words, and make sure they are accurate reflections of our hearts.
Often, we offer thanks to other people in the same manner we offer it to God, thoughtlessly. When someone receives a gift usually a quick “thank you” follows, because that is what we have been taught to say. At times a thank you note is mailed, emailed, or texted. But are we genuinely expressing thanks, or simply doing what is proper and expected.
Let us not express thanks to other people or to God simply because it is appropriate or out of habit. Instead we need to make sure that our words are always true, and our thanks always genuine. As we enter into a season of thanks and of giving, we are reminded that we have been blessed with an abundance of reasons to be thankful. Take the time to consider the truth of your expressions of thanks.
God is looking for a few good failures, people who know what it feels like to be a snowflake in July. Of course, this is good news for many of us who have tasted the pain and agony of defeat. But before we get too excited thinking about how much God needs those of us who have failed, we must realize that God wants a certain type of failure. Someone who has only failed a couple of times many years ago just will not measure up. God is looking for people who are a bit more consistent at failing, those who make failure a way of life.
Quitters need not apply. God wants failures not quitters. Perhaps you have forgotten that there is a difference. A quitter is one who gives up, admits defeat and goes home, throws in the towel. A good consistent failure is someone who faces defeat and does not quit, but tries again and again. Perhaps failure strikes several more times before success is accomplished. I am sure we are all familiar with the story of the little train engine carrying a very heavy load over a mountain. It tugs, pulls, strains, and chants “I think I can, I think I can …” Finally, it inches over the top. That is persistence. The train did not gain some extra power because of its positive thinking. It managed to use the abilities it had because it never gave up.
I think it is time for a sequel to the train story. We need to hear the story of the little engine who couldn’t the first two or three times, but finally made it over the top after backing up and making another run at the obstacle. Actually, we are surrounded by such stories. I wonder how many times the Wright brothers failed before that first plane flew. Thomas Edison had over a thousand failures in his attempts to invent the light bulb. Every great inventor, or leader or anyone who was ever successful was also unsuccessful in many attempts, but they never gave up.
God wants us to attempt great things for him. And when we fall down, he wants us to get up and keep going. If we are persistent in reaching for the goals God places in front of us, pretty soon we will discover ourselves accomplishing many of them.
BUILDING A CHURCH
“Hindsight is twenty-twenty.” “If only I had known then what I know now.” Those are the kind of statements many of us eventually find ourselves uttering. It seems that our best decisions come after it is too late and we have already lived through the mistakes of bad choices. Not only is this true in our personal lives, it is also true in the life of the church.
When our present church building was constructed there were many decisions to be made. What size should the church be? How many rooms do we need? Where should the doors, stairs, bathrooms, and kitchen be located? Pages and pages of questions had to be answered, providing the details for what would eventually become the church building we see today. I wonder how many of those details people would like to go back and change. Over time it is easier to see the mistakes and identify the improvements.
What kind of church do you want to build? This may sound like a useless question considering that the church building was completed years ago. However, it may surprise you to discover that the most important decisions still need to be made. Consider the following story which I heard a pastor share years ago.
A man once called a pastor to say that he wanted to join the church. But, he went on to explain that he didn’t want to come to worship every week, study the Bible, visit the sick, witness to non-Christians, or serve as a leader or teacher.
The pastor commended him for his desire to join but told him the church he sought was located in another section of town. The man took directions and hung up.
When he arrived at the church, the man came face-to-face with the logical result of his own apathetic attitude. There stood an abandoned church building, boarded up and ready for demolition.
The point of the story is that the decisions about what the church building will look like were made a long time ago, but the decisions that determine what kind of church we will be are made every day. Each one of us is an important part of the church God is building at this location. Make the decision to be part of that work and ministry. Otherwise, you will find yourself looking back at what you could have done, and what the church could have been with your participation. Who we are as a church is being written in the present, not the past. More will be written in the future but let’s focus on what God is calling us to do today. People’s lives are being impacted every week through the ministry of this church. Are you playing the part God has called you to be doing? Let us participate in the building of God’s church with good decisions that we make each day.
A PROPER FOCUS
Darkness had settled over the sea several hours earlier. Floating along in the darkness was a lone boat, slowly making its way across the water as it was being tossed about by the wind and waves. The little craft with its handful of occupants was the only obstacle the wind faced as it rushed across the water. The wind lifted the waves out of the sea, carrying them along and crashing them against the side of the boat.
As the night wore on, the wind strengthened. But, suddenly the little boat was not alone on the sea. The men in the boat caught a glimpse of something out over the waves. At first, they were frightened as it appeared as if a ghost was moving about in the distance on top of the waters. But, to their amazement, they discovered that it was not a ghost but a person moving towards them. It was Jesus walking in the midst of the waves to meet them. Matthew 14:27-33, tells us what happened next.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Notice that as long as Peter maintained a focus on Jesus he was able to withstand the wind and waves as they pounded on him. But, as soon as he took his eyes off Jesus he found himself alone and overwhelmed by the stormy waters and wind. Alone he was not able to walk on the water, but instead was devoured by it as the waves engulfed his body as he fought helplessly to swim.
How often do you take your focus off of Jesus as you walk through the trials and challenges of life? How often do you feel yourself being swallowed up by the storms swirling around you? Jesus is there to help you walk through those difficult times. No matter your circumstances, keep your focus on Jesus and he will help keep you afloat. And if you do find yourself distracted by the fury of the pounding waves of life, and you begin to sink, just follow the example of Peter and cry out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus will reach out his hand to catch you, just as he did Peter.
“Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 14:31)
READY TO BITE
Have you ever been out for a stroll, just enjoying a beautiful day, and stumbled across a crocodile? Admittedly, this would be a rare occasion unless you live in a swamp. But, let’s say that you are visiting a friend who lives deep within the heart of a murky swamp. During your visit you go out for a stroll and happen upon a crocodile. Would you know what to do?
For those who are not sure of proper behavior for such a situation, you are in luck. A few years back, the government of Australia, a country with an abundance of crocodiles, published a “Workplace Health and Safety Guide” for the crocodile industry. This brochure contains such valuable advice as, “Do not sit on the back of a crocodile.” In addition, this guide includes helpful hints for those who have moved beyond simply sitting on crocodiles to more adventurous pursuits such as capturing crocodiles. For these more adventurous people the safety guide warns against trying to capture adult crocodiles, especially if they are bigger than your boat.
But the warning that will be most helpful if you find yourself face to face with the gaping jaws of a crocodile is the advice not to “place any part of one’s body in the mouth of a crocodile”. Now we must all agree that this is sound advice. However, you are probably also thinking that it seems a bit unnecessary. Surely, no one would ever consider doing something so reckless and destructive. But how often do you participate in actions that are just as senseless.
When you find yourself face to face with temptation, it is decision time. Do you stick your foot in its mouth or not? Certainly, you know what will happen. Your marriage will be damaged if not destroyed. Your friendship will never be the same if you speak those angry words. Your reputation will be scarred if you tell that lie, or someone else’s reputation if you pass along that juicy gossip. You risk your marriage, health, family, friends, reputation, conscience, and your relationship with God. You know better, but you extend your hand into the mouth of temptation and grab hold anyway.
And just like before, you end up bitten. That is no surprise. What did you expect? Why did you do it? In fact, we have all done it. It seems so ridiculous, so clearly wrong and destructive, but we find ourselves lured into the trap of temptation knowing that it is a trap. We should all follow the example of Joseph in Genesis 39:7-12. When faced with temptation, Joseph simply ran from it. Temptation can’t bite you, if it can’t catch you.
When you are confronted with temptation keep your distance because it bites, often leaving a nasty scar. I Peter 5:8 warns us, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Perhaps we can paraphrase this passage by saying, “Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion waiting for someone to put their hand in his mouth.” But surely this is an unnecessary warning. Certainly, everyone knows better than to do something so reckless and destructive. Right?
MORE THAN WORDS
It seemed innocent enough when it began, but the end would prove otherwise. A friendly competition can be fun, as long as it remains friendly. On this day in Dadeville, Alabama it would not remain friendly. Before the day was over the man who lost the competition would return to seek his revenge, which was carried out with a single gunshot to the face of the winner. First place was rewarded with death, administered by the loser. Second place, in this two-man competition, received a prison sentence for murder.
Murder is always a shocking occurrence. However, in this instance there is an additional reason to be shocked. You see, the man sought revenge because he lost a Bible knowledge contest. The two men were quoting Bible passages to determine which one had a superior knowledge of the Bible. How can this be? How can a man, after quoting scripture after scripture, end up committing murder? Wasn’t he familiar with the passage, “you shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13). Certainly, this man had read Jesus’ command to love your neighbor. How can someone know so much about the Bible, and still commit such a heinous crime? Scripture tells us that “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Where was the power of God’s word in this man’s life, a man who had memorized so many passages?
To understand this terrible event, we must distinguish between reading God’s word and listening to God’s word. Teachers understand this difference. A teacher will give students a quiz on a reading assignment to make sure they do more than just read the words. The teacher wants to encourage them to actually listen to the words and understand their meaning.
A person can read words from the Bible without really paying attention to what the words are saying and how they apply to life. You can hear without really listening to what you hear. That is why someone can read the Bible, but totally miss what is being said. God’s word should be heard, understood and applied. It must be allowed to guide and transform your life. Just reading or even memorizing scripture is not enough. You must devour God’s instructions. Don’t try to master scripture; instead, let scripture master you. As you read the Bible, read slowly, listening intently to God’s teaching, and thoughtfully consider how your life should be impacted.
DO YOU SEE THE POTENTIAL?
I really enjoy watching spring break out all around me. What a wonderful time of year. The dull colors of winter are miraculously transformed into an impressive display of living color. Spring is that time of year when all the neighbors emerge from their winter’s hibernation and begin mowing lawns, planting gardens, and setting out flowers and shrubs.
Spring is also the time of year when you may find yourself strolling along the aisles of the local home and garden store. If this happens you may find yourself noticing racks upon racks of seed packages waiting for some ambitious gardener. The front of each package will display a beautiful picture of the appropriate daisies, pansies, snapdragons, impatiens, forget-me-nots, or whatever other flowers or vegetables that correspond to the seeds contained in the package. The pictures are so wonderful, and you can just imagine the beautiful red impatiens filling that empty spot at the corner of your house where last year’s impatiens died.
But, if you are ambitious enough to buy the package, when you take it home and open it you will notice that your purchase is not quite what was advertised. When you tear away the top of the paper envelope and pour the contents into your hand, instead of a beautiful bouquet of flowers, you will find a tiny handful of round brown stuff. Stuff that if you saw it lying on your kitchen floor you would quickly sweep it up and throw it away. A quick glance takes you back to the picture that enticed you to buy the package and then back to the seeds in your hand and you wonder, “Can these little round dead looking seeds ever really look like that? Is it really possible?” And of course, with the proper care, they can.
The ability to see the potential in the seeds is very similar to what would have been necessary to see the potential in people like David, Gideon and the twelve disciples early in their lives. When Samuel arrived at the house of Jesse looking for the next king of Israel, God pointed past the older more impressive sons to the runt of the litter, David. God looked at David, the shepherd boy, the youngest of the family and said, “He is the one!” Everyone else saw only a seed, but God saw a heart unlike any other, a man who would take a stand for God and one day slay the mighty Goliath.
Gideon was threshing wheat for his father, while in fear of the Midianites who regularly raided the country and stole their crops. He was an unknown among a people living in fear. Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him saying, “The Lord is with you mighty warrior.” When others looked at Gideon, they only saw a young farm boy not a mighty warrior. They saw the seed, but God saw the mighty warrior he would raise up to lead Israel and free them from the oppressive Midianites.
Jesus’ disciples were a ragtag group of forgotten people. None of them would have been included on anyone’s list of important people in Galilee. But they were all hand-picked by Jesus who knew they had what it would take to change the world, and they did. The people watched Jesus travel the countryside with a handful of unimpressive seeds, but God saw a group of mighty men of faith upon whom he would build his church.
God’s focus is who we can become, not who we are. God desires to show us our potential when planted and nourished in the fertile soil of his hands. When you look at yourself or at someone else, what do you see – a disappointing little seed that needs to be swept away? That is not what God sees! God sees potential that can be nourished and grown into something incredible.
FLOWING THROUGH ME
A few years ago, during a season of drought, I found myself hiking along a familiar path but to an unfamiliar scene. The stream of water that normally flowed along the trail had completely dried up. I looked where once a powerful force flowed but now there was just an empty stillness echoing through the trees. The heat of summer had watched as the waters raced over the rocks and vanished downstream. A harsh sun and unyielding sky had refused to allow the stream to be replenished. What had been a vibrant flowing stream now stood motionless and lifeless.
As I stood there staring at the empty stream bed, my attention was drawn to the silence. There was no sound of water rushing over the rocks. The small fish that normally could be seen darting back and forth in the deeper water were no longer there. The deeper holes of the stream had turned into small puddles, most of which were doomed to finish evaporating leaving behind only dusty sediment. There were no signs of the fish unfortunate enough to get trapped in the puddles as the stream shriveled away. Their remains had probably been devoured by birds, or some small animal. The stream had become a graveyard with thousands of dry dirty stones marking the life that once thrived in the waters.
Standing in the middle of the empty stream, it was obvious that the water that had flowed only weeks earlier was greatly missed. The water had supplied homes and supported life. It quenched the thirst of forest animals and birds. When the water stopped flowing, all the life and activity it supported disappeared as well. But the water would return after the dry season, allowing the rain to refill the stream, bringing a flow of life giving water filled with activity.
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38). In this passage Jesus compares our spiritual lives to a river. A river that can be filled to overflowing by God with living water. God offers a supply of living water that he wants to unleash within us and through us, changing our lives and those around us.
Jesus instructed, “Let the one who believes in me drink”. Are you drinking of the living water offered by God? Is your life a river flowing and overflowing as a river filled to the point of flooding, or have you become parched and dry like an abandoned river in a time of drought? Jesus offers us an abundant and satisfying life (John 10:10), and invites each one of us to come and drink!
IS IT FAIR?
A brother and sister were sitting at a table staring at a single plate holding the last piece of cake. Their mother, tired of the arguing, decided to solve the conflict for them. The mother joined them at the table, picked up the knife and handed it to her daughter. “You divide the cake,” the mother said.
“That’s not fair,” the brother complained, “she will cut herself a bigger piece.”
The daughter took the knife from her mother’s hand, and prepared to divide the cake. However, before she could begin, her mother continued with her instructions.
“After you divide the cake, your brother will be allowed to decide which piece he wants,” she said.
The daughter paused for a moment, then relocated the knife to the center and cut two equal slices.
“All one’s ways may be pure in one’s own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit.” (Proverbs 16:2)
Often, we may be able to convince ourselves that what we are doing is fair, but is it really? Would the people around us agree? To answer that question, we must be willing to step outside of our own perspectives and concerns, and try to see our actions and intentions through the eyes of others.
True fairness requires giving the interests of others equal value and priority with our own. This is the lesson Jesus taught when he said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31)
Remember, even though we may convince ourselves that our actions and decisions are fair, “the Lord weighs the spirit”. God knows the intentions of the heart, and the final weighing of every action will be done with God’s scales.
TIME TO PAUSE
Late on a cold winter’s night, when the ground is white and snowflakes fill the air, I love to turn on an outside light and step out into the snow-covered world. It’s fascinating how a place can be so transformed. Most people are seeking refuge behind insulated walls, many of them already tucked away under warm blankets. What remains outside is a peaceful world being quietly transformed into a winter wonderland. There is a tranquility and quietness to snow. A blanket of snow over the earth seems to muffle all the sounds, and of course the number of sounds is fewer as most people, animals and other noisemakers have found some shelter from the storm.
As a kid growing up in rural Virginia, I remember going for walks on a snowy day, surrounded by silence in a field or forest. And when a bird chirped or the wind blew through the pines the sound was so powerful and distinct. In the stillness you could hear every detail of the sound, there were no other distractions. That’s hard to find in today’s world.
We are so surrounded by noise, busyness, and distraction. In fact, life seems to be defined by distractions, one activity after another pushing us forward without giving us the time to pause and consider what we are doing, or why we are doing it. It’s all one urgent request pulling us in one direction until another seemingly urgent demand sweeps us away in a new direction. Technology has allowed us to be more connected than ever before, but we are so busy being connected that we don’t pause to consider what we are connected to.
And what connections have we lost? We sacrifice a handful of friends and family that we actually see and once knew for a few thousand online friends that we will never really know. We ignore Doug and Amanda who live next door so we can connect to drummrdude519, whose real name we don’t even know and never will.
And what about that connection to God? In Psalm 46:10 God says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” How relevant that request is in the midst of our busy lives. When was the last time you pushed pause on all the other demands, and quietly focused on knowing God? It’s like stepping out into the snow. When your surroundings get quiet and all the other distractions are tucked away, then the voice that speaks can be heard so much more clearly. Take God’s word, the Bible, and find a quiet place and listen to what he is saying. You may be surprised at how clear his voice is when every other sound is muffled by the snow.
THE PERFECT GIFT
The turkey has been cooked and eaten, including the leftovers which were not so creatively disguised in sandwiches and casseroles. Black Friday has come and gone. Hopefully you survived that day, or better yet, just ignored it and stayed home. Or maybe you opted for Cyber Monday to do your bargain shopping, or perhaps the earlier versions of Black Friday aimed at convincing you to avoid the mad shopping rush after Thanksgiving by contributing to the creation of an additional mad rush before or on Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is more and more obscured by the frantic necessity to take advantage of the one-of-a-kind bargains offered just in time for a Christmas of gift giving. So partly motivated by bargains, and partly by the pursuit of the perfect gift, the concept of Thanksgiving is prematurely abandoned and the long arduous shopping journey begins. Some gifts are easy to find, but there are always those people or person for whom buying that special gift becomes a monumental task. You want to buy that perfect gift to make them feel special but just how do you accomplish that feat. What do they really want? What do they already have? What do they really like, and in what color or style? What if someone else gets them the same thing? What if you overslept on Black Friday, or just couldn’t fight your way to the front of the line and now it’s too expensive.
If that describes your shopping experience I wish I could help, but the truth is it describes me pretty well also. Perhaps we can all learn something from the most perfect gift ever given. If we go back to that first Christmas, long before anyone ever thought to call it Christmas. There was a baby born and placed in a manger. No fancy wrapping paper, just swaddled tightly and placed in a feeding trough that would normally be used for livestock. It was a gift of profound love offered from the creator of all things. No greater gift has ever been given. No Black Friday bargain could ever compare.
Perhaps it would be good to remember the gift giving example that God himself set for us that first Christmas. And this year, when you are passing out those carefully wrapped presents that you stayed up into the late hours on Christmas Eve to wrap or generously paid someone at the store to wrap for you, remember that the real value of the gift isn’t the money you paid but the love that it represents. The same is true for the gifts you receive. Although some people miss this point, it truly is the thought that counts. And when we can truly understand that simple fact, then we are able to give and receive the perfect gift.
WANTED, A THANKFUL HEART
November is the time of year when thoughts turn to giving thanks. But what do you do when your mind looks around and sees all the chaos and problems in the world and informs your heart that reasons for giving thanks are just not to be found? What is easily found are destructive hurricanes, earthquakes, political turmoil, nuclear threats, racism, terrorist attacks, increased murder rates, rising drug deaths, and an explosion of people struggling with addictions, depression and loneliness. For which of these should we give thanks? Of course, the answer is none. So, is your brain correct to instruct your heart to shut down during this season called Thanksgiving? And if we can’t find reasons to give thanks this time of year, then the other months are completely hopeless.
Unfortunately, the news media doesn’t present us with a lot of reasons to be thankful. Therefore, a change of view is probably required. Let’s turn our heads in a new direction. Instead of the destructiveness of a hurricane, let’s look at the outpouring of help and love from so many people and organizations who sacrificed time and resources to help those in need. Instead seeing a mass shooting, let’s focus on the three-hour long line of people waiting to give blood to help those who were injured. And let’s notice the little actions around us: a mother’s love, a helping hand, a joyful smile, a friendly greeting, and all those undeserved acts of kindness that are usually missed unless you adjust your focus to see them.
Yes, the world can be a crazy and painful place, but that is to be expected because we live in a fallen world. It started with Adam and Eve. But if we look in the right places we can find many reasons for thankfulness. In John 16:33 Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Through Jesus we have a thankfulness and hope that extends far beyond this world and into an eternity in heaven. Until we reach that destination we are God’s hands and feet, called to bring hope to those around us, so they can find reasons for thankfulness.
A thankful heart can still be found if we just look in the right places. And I will add one final thought for you to ponder. Sometimes it can be difficult to see all the good that is being done. But if you are one of those standing in line and reaching out, then it’s kind of hard to miss. Let’s give thanks, and let’s give others a reason to be thankful.