Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Look Both Ways

When we were young, our parents had simple rules to abide by. Say please and thank you. Don’t touch. Don’t talk to strangers...that sort of thing. Another one of the classic parenting lines is "look both ways." We were taught early in life that when we cross a street to look for danger in the form of oncoming traffic from either direction. Sound advice, indeed.
This week has always seemed to be a rather odd week to me, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. One holiday ending and another one right around the corner. The end of one year and the beginning of another. The media will be full of "year in reviews" for various subjects, i.e. news, sports, movies. There will be touching tributes to celebrities that passed away in 2011. In general, the week will be partly a look back on the year that was. But there will also be a great deal of this week invested in the practice of looking ahead...predictions for the upcoming year. These generally take the form of financial forecasts, political prognostications, and even some wacky predictions for the year. That’s what makes the last week of December unique. It’s the only week all year that we stop and "look both ways."

Spiritually we should always be looking both ways. One way, looking back at the many blessings that God has already bestowed upon us. For me personally, 2011's spiritual highlight was Teri and my trip to Lima, Peru with the International Commission. It was a fantastic experience as we shared the Gospel through various evangelical efforts. Below is a link to a video reflecting our ten days in Peru. Looking forward, I eagerly anticipate returning to Peru in July, 2012, for another mission trip. No doubt it will be just as meaningful, just as uplifting as this year’s trip. That’s how God works. His blessings just keep pouring down upon us. We should always look both ways, never forgetting what He’s already done for us, while having faith that He will continue to provide for us our daily bread, and more.

I think the past is something we can over-glorify at times. We like to call them the "good old days." We tend to think of things of long ago as somewhat better than the present. Truth of the matter is, while it’s nice to reminisce about pleasant memories, it’s also important to remember times, when, through God’s strength, we overcame struggles in our life. It’s those times that God shaped us, sharpened us, and shored up our faith. Any of these difficulties visit your home in the past 12 months?

**Financial problems
**Marital Issues
**Work Issues
**Family health problems
**Children-related issues
**Death in the family

If you’re like most of us, you dealt with at least one of these troubles in 2011. I have news for you: 2012 probably won’t be much different. Take the time to reflect on the blessings that you received when God carried you through these situations and let that reflection give you the faith to quickly turn to God when life strikes again in the coming year. That’s spiritually looking both ways.

I have been truly blessed throughout the past year. My wonderful wife suggested that I begin this blog in June, and through it I have heard from many Christian brothers and sisters, some from my past and some, no doubt a part of my future. I thank God for all of you and pray God’s blessings upon you in the coming year.

Our trip to Peru - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OhWaN98Kw4

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Truth about Christmas...

I must have been eight or nine years old. It was Christmas 1967 or ‘68. I was the youngest in my family by 6 years, so naturally when my recently married sister and her husband came home for their first Christmas as husband and wife, I had to give up my room. Being at the bottom of the pecking order meant you were the first one to sleep on the couch when relatives arrived.

My mom got out some sheets, blankets, and a pillow to make me a bed on the living room sofa. The silver aluminum Christmas tree was right across from me, turning red, green, and blue from the tri-colored light wheel shining upon it. You remember those, don’t you?

I laid awake watching the tree glisten and listening to the conversations coming from the nearby family room. Then at some point my father, in his deep, rich voice that I so miss hearing these days said, "Well, it’s Christmas Eve, we’d better be getting to bed if we’re going to get up early in the morning." Someone slipped into the living room and turned off the tree light. Everyone went upstairs to the bedrooms and I found myself laying in the dark stillness of our living room.  

I suddenly came to the realization that I was in the perfect place and time to discover truth that children had wondered about in the depths of their minds for generations: the truth about Santa Claus. The way I figured, if there truly was a Santa, he’d have to reveal himself to me that night as I carefully lay watching our Christmas tree. I was going to stay awake all night if I had to and find out once and for all the truth about Christmas...

I think is it’s safe to assume that Christmas is the most widely celebrated holiday, at least in our country. Both the religious and secular world have Christmas celebrations. Back in my working days, planning for yearly vacation time started with the Christmas season. There are Christmas lights, Christmas parades, Christmas parties, Christmas sales, the day after Christmas sales...the list is virtually endless, I suppose. This worldly emphasis on the yule season makes it quite easy to lose our focus on the real truth about Christmas.

 Back in 1965, Peanuts creator Charles Shultz had to fight network executives for the scene where Linus, under a spotlight, quotes the second chapter of Luke, verses 8 through 14:

"8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.'"

"...And that's what Christmas is all about,  Charlie Brown."

It's a good thing that the show has become such a holiday tradition, because political correctness would never allow Linus to air his speech today, I’m afraid. But Linus was right. Christmas is about shepherds and angels. And Christmas is about a young couple, faithfully carrying out what God had instructed them to do, despite what the world around them must have thought. It was the single most important birth in history, God setting into action the perfect plan for the world which He so loved...

Christmas is about remembering. Remembering the sound of your father’s voice as a small child laying in wait of Santa. Remembering waking up the next morning, having fallen asleep and still not sure about Santa Claus. But mostly, Christmas is about remembering that God came to earth in the form of a babe in a manger, with a tiny, precious heart beating the blood that would someday stain a Roman cross, providing us with the most magnificent of gifts...our salvation.

As Bro. Linus would say, glory to God in the highest!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Coincidentally Speaking?

When it comes to chance occurrences, with which belief are you more closely aligned? Are you a believer that "everything happens for a reason?" Or do you believe in occurrences being "pure coincidence?" Let me state up front, I’m not in the first group, thinking there is a some reason, beyond the obvious, that all things happen. Some things just happen. That said, I am of the belief that God can use all things for His good. That’s an easy thing to believe because the Bible tells me so. Romans 8:28 states, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him..." Coincidences do occur, and God often takes them beyond merely being coincidental to what we might think are divine appointments. Let me share an example...

We were at a crowded amusement park a week or so ago, waiting for the highly anticipated Christmas light show parade, one of the primary reasons we’d gone. Seating was at a premium, as there were literally thousands crowded along the parade route, waiting for the show to begin. We’d staked out a park bench, where Teri sat holding our spot while I went to fetch us much needed food and drink. Upon returning with the refreshments, I found Teri sitting on the bench with another couple, with whom she was now sharing our bench. She was deeply engrossed in conversation with the woman, each sharing stories about having long distance grandchildren relationships, that sort of thing. I was introduced to the couple, then sat down on the end of the bench enjoying my cheeseburger, eagerly watching for the parade. As I overheard Teri’s conversation with the woman, I began to hear tidbits of familiarity. They were from a town that I was familiar with, retiring from 50 years in the ministry. I listened more closely. Other facts began to ring more bells. Then, it occurred to me that I’d read a feature story about this very couple in a local newspaper about 6 weeks prior, and now, here we were, sharing this park bench amongst a throng of people, any of whom could have shared that spot. Coincidence? I think not. Having known their story, I had an instant respect and yearning to hear more. During the course of the next hour or so, we visited with them and heard them chronicle the various aspects of their 50 years in service to our Lord. It was inspiring. We exchanged email addresses, and we’ve already made two or three contacts with each other. Sheer chance meeting? I doubt it. While I don’t think everything happens for a reason, I do believe God puts people in our lives for a reason. This Christian brother and sister didn’t just plop down coincidentally on that park bench that night. And, if they came along just for the inspiration of that moment, then that was reason enough.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Closer Look at Jonah...

You all know the story of Jonah, probably by heart...Jonah is called to go to Nineveh, a city full of wickedness. Jonah decides to jump on a ship headed for Tarshish in disobedience to God’s calling. The ship is tossed about in a wild turbulent storm, while Jonah lays sleeping in the bottom of the ship. The sailors on the ship awaken Jonah, who tells them that his disobedience to God is the cause of the great storm and they should throw him overboard. They eventually do, and the storm immediately ceases. Jonah is swallowed by a great fish where he spends three days and three nights reevaluating his spiritual relationship and repenting. The fish spits Jonah up on shore where he eventually does go to Nineveh to do what God commanded of him...That’s a brief summary of the four chapters that make up the Old Testament book of Jonah. This is probably the short version of the story you heard back in Sunday School, as a child. But a closer look at the book of Jonah reveals a few lessons about our own lives.
First, if you look at a map, by heading for Tarshish, Jonah is going the exact opposite direction that he was instructed to go. This map illustrates this:

Jonah did what we so often do in our lives. Knowing God’s will for our lives, we often do just the opposite. I spent years leading my own life, my own way. Many times I felt just like Jonah did, aboard a ship sailing into a violent storm of my own creation. Added to the problems of our self-created storms is, like Jonah, we can often put others in peril by our own disobedience to God. Now, don’t mistake me for saying that all problems come from disobeying God because that isn’t my point. I do know, however, that God will continue to pursue and discipline His wayward children.
Another lesson we can glean from Jonah is in the actions of the sailors. Jonah tells them, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea," he replied, "and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you." (Jonah 1:12) But look at their actions in the next verse: "Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before." (Jonah 1:13) Isn’t that just what we often do in the middle of life’s storms, try solving the problem ourselves. The men no doubt rowed even harder than they did before, all to no avail, as the Bible tells us the storm worsened. I can think of so many times in when, in the middle of life’s storm, I just kept rowing harder and harder, instead of turning the ship over to God. What storms are you facing in your life right now? Are you continuing to struggle as you row harder and harder, yet getting nowhere? Let God take the helm.
What was God’s solution in Jonah’s predicament? After he was tossed overboard, two things happened. Jonah 1: 15-16 tells us firstly the sailors "...took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him."(Jonah 1:15-16) The storms calmed and the sailors believed in the one true God after previously calling out to an assortment of false gods. Acting out of faith will calm the storms in your life and, like these sailors, your faith will grow. The second thing that happened after Jonah was tossed overboard was "...the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah..." (Jonah 1:17) Scientists have long debated the possibility of a man surviving inside the belly of a fish. But with a closer look at that statement, it’s easier to, well, swallow. The key word is provided. The LORD provided a great fish.

It was the perfect solution, provided just when Jonah needed it. And though your life might at times seem stormy and turbulent, He will always provide you with just what you need, just when you need it.