Monday, December 30, 2013

Wounded

There are days I don't really feel like going to church, especially now that the temperatures are below freezing, or worse. It never used to feel that way. I used to be so excited, going to church early in the morning and staying late into mid-afternoon.

I volunteered all over the place. I was a youth leader, I went to classes and meeting, mission trips and conventions. I'm not involved that much anymore, much to the delight of my wife. So, what happened? What happened to all the excitement I once felt in going to church? Well, I got wounded, wounded by my church.

Has that ever happened to you? Things were going along just fine when suddenly, out of nowhere, a rumor got started or somebody stabbed you in the back or there was a difference of opinion about the design of the bulletin or the style of worship music creates some tension. So what do we do when we are the victims of "church abuse"?

Well, the first thing hat popped into MY head was to leave. Obviously we've been hurt. It's us against the church. They're bigger than us individuals and aren't going to change. Might as well blow them off and find a new place to worship, right? Let me tell you this. Churches are filled with people who used to belong to other churches.

To tell you the truth, after I got hurt, I did look around. There are lots of churches out there, each one thinking they have a better idea, a better way of "reaching the lost" or "engaging our community." All that's really nice and probably matters to somebody with a seminary degree or an MDiv. None of that really matters to the extent we'd like to think it does. I'll tell you what does matter though. God and neighbors.

The Great Commission. Come on, you know what it is.

"37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” - Matthew 22:37-40

Love God, love others.

"Yeah, but so-and-so really hurt me."

What part of "love others" do we not understand? It doesn't say love everyone except those who hurt us. Do we forget about forgiveness? And how often are we supposed to forgive someone? Once? Twice? Even though they might be wrong and we are right?

"21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times." - Matthew 18:21-22

I have chosen to stay at my church and I'll tell you why. It's not the pastor or his "vision." It's not the style of his sermon or the number of members in the worship band. No. It's the people. I love my brothers and sisters and I would never leave a family member just because of how I feel. We're family. We're all a bunch of sinners saved by the same savior.

This past Sunday was a perfect example of how a family sticks together in both good times and bad. I listened to a women from my small group who had gone through a messy divorce. She experienced a lot of pain and still has many open wounds, yet she met someone who makes her happy and I celebrated with her as I listened to her telling the tale.

I felt compassion as I listened to a young man tell me about the struggles he has been going through. He too had experienced a divorce and was trying to meet the needs of being a single dad with four mouths to feed besides his own.

A couple fought back tears as they anxiously awaited news from their daughter who had fallen ill while on a mission trip in Africa. How would they get her home? How could they take care of their precious daughter from thousands of miles away.

My church family is a good family. We have differences of opinion, just like any family does. But we stick together when times get tough. We don't abandom ship. We are family. We all have the same Father. We who believe are part of one large family. We have been given the right to be called children of God. Where else can we go to find a more loving Father than the one we already have? Nowhere! Let us rejoice in what we have been given for we have been truly blessed. 

"60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?"
- John 6:60-68

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dentist

I don't know about you but, to me, this Christmas was missing something. Something had been ripped away from what normally is a wonderful time of celebration and joy. Something was definitely missing.

Perhaps it was the passing of one of our pastors - a friend to many. This Christmas had to have been especially hard for his family. The first without the head of their household, a husband and a father. What does a widow do who sits beneath the Christmas tree, alone, and cries while remembering Christmases of old.

The lack of "that special feeling" this Christmas could have also been due to the death of a young girl in our town two months ago. Her family must certainly miss her this Christmas. Certainly the tears flowed freely at her family's house as they hung up the stockings on the fireplace, tears lingered on their cheeks as they held her stocking in their hands. Christmas for them will never be the same.

The usual Christmas festivities and traditions our family once enjoyed by all have changed. This year our children are celebrating multiple places with other families and Christmases of their own. Yes, Christmas was "different" from what it had been and I found myself missing all the laughter and the overeating, the sugared-up kids running around, filled with too many Christmas cookies. Things just weren't the same. But then something wonderful happened. Something special. I broke a tooth.

As I sat in the dentist chair getting prepped for a crown my dentist spoke some words to me that resonated deep within my soul. They made me reflect on this Christmas season and they provided the answer to the reason this Christmas feels so different to me. My dentists words, it seemed, might very well have been spoken by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

"Everybody needs me . . . but nobody wants me."

My dentist friend was speaking about his profession and how we all hate going to the dentist. We never WANT to go to the dentist but we all NEED to go if we want to keep our teeth healthy and clean. I, of course, was hearing something totally different. I was hearing how we all need Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives but, sadly, many of us don't really want him. I think that THAT was what was bothering me this Christmas. There are just so many people that NEED Jesus this Christmas.

This Christmas Eve we were in Milwaukee visiting my wife's parents. But instead of going with them to church, I decided to visit my church's former pastor at his NEW church in West Allis. And that was where my attitude for Christmas changed. That is where Christmas found ME.

I hadn't even gotten to the church yet when I was recognized on the street by our former pastor, my brother in Christ, and received a warm, welcoming hug. Then later, during the singing of a hymn, O Holy Night, I really felt things change. The chorus specifically, a reminder to all of us this Christmas.

"Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!"

Amen!!

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph's son?” 23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’" - Luke 4:16-23

And so it was that this Christmas was "saved" in my life this year. Despite all the sad things that have happened, the struggles that have taken place, God is still on His thrown and is still in charge of everything. God helped me break out of my "funk" through the words of a physician of sorts, a dentist, and ended with the birth of The Great Physician and the words of a Christmas hymn.

May the joys of this Christmas and of Christmases long past, bring peace and joy into your hearts as we ALL . . . fall on our knees.

O Holy Night by Rhema Marvanne (7 years old)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas

Hey there! Merry Christmas!!!

For those of you who receive Christmas cards from this house, perhaps you have already read this. It's my Christmas letter! I'm enjoying Christmas with my family today. You should be too! So, right after you're done reading this, turn off the computer and enjoy those incredibly precious gifts that God has given you - your family. :) Here goes! Merry Christmas!


Didn't I just type one of these Christmas letters? Where has the time gone? It's been a busy year for us Halls. We took three trips to Michigan this year (our March birthday get-together, our family reunion and our nephew's wedding. Lots of time spent driving down the road!

Our son and his wife have been keeping busy trying to keep up with our grandson. He's walking now and loves to grab things. Lots of things! What a cute little dude they are raising! Our son works at a large paper products company and his wife is a stay at home mom, plus she watches three other kids during the day! Yikes!

Of course the BIG news this year was our daughter's wedding. They live about 90 minutes from us where the new hubby works at a hospital. Our daughter is a substitute teacher and keeps quite busy doing that . . . plus walking her dog.

My wife works at keeping our counties babies healthy and strong. This summer my wife spent a week in Door County while I was at Lifest. We each had a good time. She could shop at her leisure and I could listen to rock music all day long. Win-win! I DID visit her for two of those days, which was good. Time apart CAN be good, just as long as it doesn't last too long. :)
And me? I've been writing this blog, spreading the Gospel one story at a time. I've been writing it for a year now. It has been read in 78 countries and viewed over 8,600 times. What I really enjoy is when I hear from someone about how God has used my writing to touch someone's life. I also feel encouraged when I notice someone from Pakistan, Iran or Syria reading my posts. People ARE searching and that is good news.

There are many stories I could tell you in this letter of where I have seen God at working in the world around us . . . but I already do that in this blog so . . .

I will tell you one story though, the main topic of this letter - Jesus. Like the head of the wedding feast in Cana (John 2:10), I have saved the best for last. Ha!

There are SO many things I am grateful for this Christmas season – family, friends, health and a job. But the gratefulness I feel for all these things pales in comparison to the incredible joy I feel knowing that I am in Christ.

It is one thing to KNOW about Him. Quite another to be IN Him. Our faith is like an airplane. We can know about an airplane and all the things it can do. We can imagine all of the places we could go in that airplane but at some point we need to GET ON THE PLANE!! Simply knowing about Jesus is not enough. He is not looking for believers, he wants disciples (Matthew 28:19)

At our daughter’s wedding, when I gave the father of the bride speech, I spoke about relationships and what makes them successful. The main ingredient in the most successful relationships is Jesus. He is the third strand in the triple-braided chord described in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. A relationship with Christ at its head "is not easily broken."

And so this Christmas season I pray that God might bless you and your family. Draw closer to Him and you will find yourself automatically getting closer with those you love. Place your faith and trust IN Him, first and above all, and you will be blessed beyond measure as I have. Family, friends, the blessings are countless for those who follow The Good Shepherd.

In the book of Exodus, the 16th chapter, manna came down from heaven. It was sent down to earth by God to feed His people. That story was a foretaste of the birth of Jesus, who also came down from heaven to "feed" His people.

"48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” - John 6:48-51

May this Christmas season find you absolutely swimming in His love. May you be surrounded by family and friends and the incredible love of Christ - The Messiah - Yeshua Ha-Mashiach. And may God bless you, today and always.
 
 
 
 
 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Presents

This is traditionally the time of year when our hopes and dreams turn to thoughts about . . . Christmas
presents! The exchanging of gifts, or for the children of the world, the receiving of gifts, creates excitement in the hearts and minds of all of us, all around the world. It is an incredible time of the year.

As we grow older and wiser, the excitement of receiving gifts begins to wane and our focus tends to be more on the giving of gifts than on the receiving of them. We begin to find more joy in making someone else happy, someone other than ourselves. That's a good thing. The funny thing is, when we focus more on the giving of gifts, it often seems like we actually receive MORE gifts for ourselves. And the value of those gifts goes right through the roof. Let me explain by way of an example.

This past Saturday I volunteered at one of our local food pantries - Ruby's Pantry. I have been doing that for a few years now. I have gotten to know many of the other volunteers as well as many of the people going through the lines. They are all amazing people, all of them. Well, I received several "gifts" the other day and I KNOW that God gave me each and every one of them. And the value of those gifts was priceless.

I usually get to the food pantry around 7:00 in the morning to pre-register people. There are usually several dozen people waiting in line by the time I get there - some of them have been there for hours in the sub-freezing temps. I am usually the first person they see from Ruby's. That fact alone should send many of our guests running and screaming but they actually seem to like me. It's probably the candy I give them.

As I was about half way through the line a car pulled up and three adults got out. They were wearing leather jackets, bandanas, and some of those gloves with no fingertips in them. All three looked rather "bikerish." I began talking to this one young man. His name was Chris. The guy was probably in his late 20's - early 30's, divorced, four kids. He said he had gone through a bad stretch in his life but "this last month has been amazing!"

He got a new job in town which he loves. He really likes his boss and things are finally looking good in his life again. And guess what. He attributes it all to God. We became fast friends. Later, as we were loading his food into his car for him, he thanked me once again. This guy thanked everybody! He was SO appreciative! Then he stuck out his hand to shake mine. I ignored it and gave him a hug, which he accepted with thanks. He climbed into his car with his friends, thanking us once again as he did so. That young man made everyone feel incredible. Chris was truly a gift from God, for all of us.

Later, I met a lady who had nearly completed her trip through the food line. She was just leaning on her shopping cart, staring at nothing as she waited patiently. I walked up to her and, placing my hand on her shoulder, asked if there was anything I could pray for. She immediately began to cry saying. That's when I learned that her husband had just left her and her girls.

I motioned for my friend John to come over and told him "This lady needs a hug from John" which he freely gave. "I almost made it all the way though without crying until this guy came along," she said, pointing to me. Her name is Kate. Kate received a gift she really needed. Love. She was loved on by two of the ugliest guys you'd ever want to meet, but she was loved. Something she desperately needed, right when she needed it.

Everyone who goes through the line at Ruby's Pantry has a story. Some are amazing stories of resurrection like Chris. Others are the tales of incredible lows like Kate whose husband abandoned her family just one week before Christmas. But everyone, EVERYONE, leaves that place being fed . . in more ways than one. Everyone leaves there feeling loved.

I was talking with a friend of mine that day, another volunteer at Ruby's, who told me that her sister suffers from depression. "You know what I tell her to do? Volunteer!! Help someone else out!" Volunteering is truly the cheapest psychiatrist money can, or should I say "can't," buy. Because love and being loved is truly priceless. Oh, and my new friend and brother, Chris . . . he wants to come back next month . . . to volunteer. I look forward to that day. :)

"42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." - Acts 2:42-47

 Here's something you don't see everyday. A celebrity giving his time and money to help others. The late Paul Walker . . . volunteering.

"3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." - Philippians 2:3-4

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dynasty?

There are a lot of cyber opinions floating around out there about this whole Phil Robertson - Duck Dynasty - A&E Network thing. The LGBT community is outraged and many media outlets are with them. If someone got fired from their job because they were gay these same people would be at their side in a second. One can almost taste the hypocrisy. Maybe that's why Jesus didn't care for it.

People's opinions are all over the map. You know, there is an old saying from an ancient philosopher, Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry) that comes to mind. "Opinions are like a**holes, everybody has one." [Sorry about the bad word popping in there.]

Why is this issue attracting so much attention? Because a Christian said it? Before I tell you what MY opinion is on the whole LGBT / gay rights / free speech issue, I thought it would be a good idea for us to take a deep breath and read a wee little story about a wee little man - Zacchaeus.

"19 He (Jesus) entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” - Luke 19:1-10

Let's glean some facts out of this "short" little story. (How can I be this funny at 5:00 AM?!)
  1. Zacchaeus was a sinner. The crowd knew it (v2, v7). So did Jesus . . . even before they met.
  2. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus (v3). And Jesus wanted to see him as well (v5).
  3. Zacchaeus went out of his way to see Jesus (v4)
  4. The crowd had an opinion about Zacchaeus (again v2).
  5. The crowd was also forming an opinion about Jesus (v7)
  6. Zacchaeus repented of his sins (v8)
  7. Jesus forgave Zacchaeus (v9)
  8. Jesus came to save every sinner, not just Zacchaeus (v10). Also see Romans 3:23 - "For ALL have sinned and fall short . . ."
Let me see if I can summarize the lesson we are to learn from the story of Zacchaeus and Jesus. Every one of us is a sinner. Left unchecked, we all will continue in our life of sin . . . until we meet Jesus. Once we understand who Jesus is and just what His message is, the message of the Gospel, we should repent of our sins, seek His forgiveness and receive it.

While "the crowd" was unforgiving and accusatory towards Zacchaeus, and even Jesus, Our Savior met Zacchaeus with love and understanding. Then, over an evenings dinner conversation, explained things in a clear concise manner, to the point where Zacchaeus realized his sin and repented.

That is exactly how we should handle situations with ANYONE caught in ANY sin. The tax collector, the person cheating on their taxes, those having sex outside of marriage, those downloading songs without paying for them . . . even those who print off copies of the family Christmas letter at work without compensating the company. We are ALL sinners. We ALL need Jesus. We were ALL created in the image of God.

A few interesting facts from this "ducky" situation . . .

One headline I read exclaimed, "Robertson equates homosexuality with beastiality." That's actually a little inaccurate, attributing that statement to Robertson. The newspaper should learn to check its sources more correctly. Robertson was merely quoting from Leviticus 20. GOD is the one who said it. Both of those activities, along with adultery and dishonoring your father or mother, were punishable by death under Levitical law.

Christianity is not the only religion that frowns on a homosexual "lifestyle." Present day Islamic homosexuals are treated a little differently from the Christian church of today.

In 1991, the Iranian Government adopted this not quite so LGBT friendly law into their Constitution (articles 108-113). It stated that "Sodomy is a crime, for which both partners are punished. The punishment is death if the participants are adults, of sound mind and consenting; the method of execution is for the Shari'a judge to decide."

It will be interesting to see what happens next. My guess is that the Robertson family will stick by the head of the family. A&E will be forced to either retract their suspension (that, in my opinion, will never happen) or run the risk of losing their #1 hit show to another network where it will be assured of having a top ranking because of all of this publicity. I feel like A&E has lit a fuse that leads to a great big pile of smoldering Christians.

But whatever your opinion is on this issue, when it comes right down to it, all of us are sinners. We are all deserving of death for our sins. But by placing our faith in Jesus, the one perfect lamb who already received our punishment, our sins are washed clean. But like Jesus told the woman caught in adultery . . .

"Go, and sin no more."

And my opinion? Well, my opinion on this entire issue is that . . . I'm with God. Whatever he says is good enough for me. And that, again in my opinion, is how ALL Christians should feel. Jesus is our King. We are his subjects. He is our teacher. We are His students. He is our shepherd. We are His sheep. Let us listen for the sound of His voice in whatever we do. If we are truly followers of Christ, we know the sound of God's voice. Our call is to simply obey.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Zealot


A zealot. Are zealots good things or bad things? What does the word zealot mean to you? A nut? A fanatic? The 1828 Webster Dictionary says a zealot is "One who is zealous; one who engages warmly in any cause, and pursues his object with earnestness and ardor; especially, one who is overzealous, or carried away by his zeal; one absorbed in devotion to anything; an enthusiast; a fanatical partisan."
The first thing that pops into MY head when I read that definition is The Green Bay Packers. Their fans I mean. They do crazy, outrageous things, all in the name of Packerdom. You've seen them on TV. Wearing next to nothing on icy cold days, screaming at the top of their lungs, beers in their hands . . . and those are just the women! Just kidding . . . but only slightly. The REAL idiots are usually the overweight men, with letters on their . . ab, spelling out Go Pack! as they stand in line with their friends, their fellow zealots. Insane right?

There are also religious zealots. When I think of that phrase I get the image of a middle eastern Islamic jihadist or a suicide bomber. A Muslim extremist, willing to die in the name of Allah, by walking into a crowd with an explosive-covered vest and pushing the button. I think that's probably where zealots get a negative connotation. They're extreme, they're radical, they're dangerous.

On the other hand there are the Orthodox Jews who spend all day reading the Torah, rocking back and forth in front of the Wailing Wall. Those guys are considered religious zealots as well.

Today, however, I want to write about another zealot, a religious zealot. His name is Jesus Christ.

If you go back and re-read that 1828 definition of the word you will find that "zealot" fits Jesus and his ministry quite nicely. Jesus had real zeal for His Father and the reason His Father sent Him.

Open your Bibles to the second chapter of John.

"13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” - John 2:13-17

Psalm 17:69:9 is the prophetic verse that speaks to the character of the coming Messiah.

So far we have looked at different types of zealots, people who are zealous about their favorite football team, people who are zealous about their faith and a Son who is zealous about His Father's business. But today I'd like to turn our focus inward, I'd like to ask you a very important question about your faith. Are YOU a zealot? You should be.

Are you "on fire" about God? Is He all you can think about from the moment you get up until them moment you go to sleep. And then, while you are sleeping, you dream about heaven and what it will be like. Are you like that? We should be. Read this verse . . .

"5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." - Deuteronomy 6:5

Later, Jesus would call this the Greatest Commandment. God's greatest commandment is for us to be . . . religious zealots!

That is a big problem in Christianity today. There are too many professing Christians are not really walking the walk, who are fooling themselves right into hell. It reminds me of the beginning words of a Dc Talk song which says

"The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable."

That is SO true!

We need to be zealous for The Lord, Our God. HE must be the focus of everything we do. Anything less would find us breaking The Greatest Commandment, as Jesus called it, in Matthew 22. And if we don't keep his commands, how do we professing Christians reconcile John 14:15 ?

"If you love me you will keep my commands."

So is that right? If we aren't zealous for God then we don't love Jesus? That, my friends, is 100% correct.

Let's become zealots . . . today . . . for our King!

Zeal for My Father's House by John MacArthur - a 34-minute message about the zealous Jesus.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Stress?

I'm sitting in our sun room this morning, watching the birds coming to our bird feeder. We get all kinds of birds. Chickadees, Slate-Colored Juncos, Nuthatches (both Red-Breasted and White-Breasted). We get Cardinals and Mourning Doves and Woodpeckers - Downy, Hairy and even the occasional Piliated Woodpecker. My wife and I love to watch them fly to and fro from our bushes to the feeder and back again. They don't have a care in the world!

Why can't we humans be like that? For one thing, we'd never fit in the feeder!! Actually, I was talking about their demeanor. They don't care about anything at all. No feed in the feeder? No big deal. I'll just go to another feeder or to those berry bushes over there. Water in the bird bath frozen? Who cares. I'll just fly over to the state park. There's always open water by the culvert between the two lakes. No biggy. Why don't they care? Probably because their brains don't really think that way. But you know what? It's really because God provides for their every need .

But I think we need to take a closer look at out feathery little backyard friends. God has provided examples of His wisdom and knowledge right there for us. All we need to do is watch and learn from some of their God-given characteristics.

Have you ever noticed what birds do when storms hit? They disappear. Ever wonder where do they go? They head for cover, that's where. Every once in a while we will see a bird in our bird feeder during a rain storm. Usually they are not eating, they're just sitting there, waiting out the storm. Birds seek shelter when they encounter storms in their lives.

Have you ever seen a bird sitting in a tree on a really cold day? I have. They look bigger or should I say fatter, that they normally do. Ever wonder why? It's because they puff up their feathers to provide more warmth for themselves. It's their form of insulation and protection against the cold.

So what do we learn from our little fluttery buddies? Well, during this hectic holiday season, with all of the Christmas shopping, gift wrapping, Christmas parties, travel arrangements, the list goes on and on and on. We must remember to take time to pray, to read His Word and to worship. Doing so will prepare us for any storm that happens to come our way.

We should not worry about your daily needs because God will provide for every one of them for us. And if we turn off the television, filled with those commercials telling us all of the things we absolutely NEED, if we insulate ourselves from worldly desires and influences, I am willing to bet that we would find ourselves feeling warmer and cozier than we have ever felt before.

There is great protection and comfort to be found in the arms of our Savior. We need to seek Him out whenever we encounter storms in your lives. Seek Him out ALWAYS! And in that way we will be prepared for whatever comes. He will protect us from the evil one. All we need to do is ask.

"28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” - Matthew 11:28-30

"25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." - Matthew 6:25-34

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Funerals

I love funerals. Well . . . not really. I love what HAPPENS at funerals . . . for the most part. Like
yesterday. What an incredible display of love an affection I witnessed at the funeral of our discipleship pastor, Pastor Gary.

Many tears were shed during the service. Tears of joy as people told stories that amazing and humble man of Christ and all of the peoples lives he touched. But also tears of great sorrow for the loss of a husband and a father and a mentor to many. May we ALL live in such a way as to have people testify to OUR godly character when WE die. We should live the way Pastor Gary did, always encouraging, sometimes rebuking, but always faithfully following His Lord and Savior, the King of all Kings, Jesus.

I have a theory. I think that the same reason we wait until a funeral to tell someone how much we love them is the same reason we don't tell someone about Jesus. We're afraid. And in both cases the people we need to tell these things to are dead, or about to die. Why do we wait? Why?

Several years ago I began telling people I love them, right to their face. It doesn't matter whether you are a man or a woman, young or old, rich or poor. If I love you, I'm going to tell you. Sometimes people look at me with a wondering expression on their face, especially the guys, but then I tell them a little story and they always return a smile.

"The Greeks have three different meanings for the word Love. One is the kind of love a husband and wife have for each other, a physical love. The second kind of love is a the love present in a friendship, brotherly love if you will. But the third kind of love, agape love, is the kind that Jesus has for everyone of us - a deep, sacrificial love." Pastor Gary had that kind of love and he gave of it freely.

When Jesus died for us on the cross He exhibited the perfect example of agape love. He sacrificed Himself out of love for each of us whether we loved Him or not . . . whether we believe in Him or not. There are many in this world who feel that Jesus wasn't real, they think He was a myth. Yes, He died for even them. He also died for Muslim extremists, serial killers, you name it, He loved us all. And then He tells us in John 13:34-35 to "love one another as I have loved you." In that way people will know that we are disciples of Jesus.

As I heard the stories of Pastor Gary the other day, just from the testimony of the lives Gary touched with his own brand of agape love, I KNOW that Gary was a disciple of Christ. I KNOW this because I can see it in the lives of everyone he touched; their tears bearing testimony to a REAL man of God.

So I challenge you today, I challenge myself, to live a life for Christ, and, in Christ, love all whom we meet in this world. And deliver them message of The Gospel to all we meet.

In yesterdays service, one of the people who offered testimony about Pastor Gary asked those who had been discipled by him to stand up. Nearly everyone present arose. Standing proudly in tribute to a teacher, and mentor, a husband and a friend. I am proud to call him, my brother.

Tell someone today that you love them. Pour yourself into the life of someone whose vessel is running dangerously low. In that way you can fulfill The Great Commission . . . to make disciples of all nations. And live a life devoted to Jesus. He will be glad you did.

You know, each time I donate blood there is a sign on then way out, thanking me for "giving the gift of life." What an amazing testimony that would be, to give The Gift of Life, Jesus, to all we come in contact with as we walk through this world. May we make an effort to live that way, always.

"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." - Micah 6:8

Amazing Grace by The Royal Scots Dragoon Guard

[This post is dedicated to Violet, their two sons & grandchildren. Ans also to the rest of Gary's family and friends, especially Pastor Paul and my friend Jenny]

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Layers

My wife likes to dress me, and by that I mean she is always trying to subliminally chose the clothes I wear each day. Like yesterday . . .

"It's going to be really cold tomorrow. Perhaps you should put on some more layers and wear that sweater I got you."

I usually ignore her suggestion to put on more layers. I also usually get uncomfortably cold later in the day.

Layers can keep our sensitive bodies warm when the temperature outside gets cold. We also can build up layers in our relationships. Layers to keep us safe.

"How are you this morning ?"

"Fine."

Quite often we are NOT fine when we are asked how we are, but we just don't want people to begin peeling back the layers and getting too close to us. We are afraid of what might get revealed about us. We are afraid of having our emotions or our sins exposed.

Have you built up "layers" in your life? The sins you keep to yourself so no one will know? Jesus knows . . .

"43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” - John 1 43-51

Jesus knows everything about you, like he did with Nathanael. That story we just read kind of makes me wonder just what Nathanael was doing under the fig tree . . . when he thought no one was watching.

We all have those secrets in our lives. Those things we have done wrong. Thew sins we have committed. We  keep them safe and warm, buried beneath layer upon layer of pride and fear. The fear of what others might say if they ever found out.

Remember the story of the woman at the well?

"16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet." - John 4:16-19

Jesus has a way of getting right down to the basics. He can peel back the layers like an onion. And do you know what the primary tools He uses to do the peeling are? The Bible, His Holy Word . . . and love.

Do you have a close friend? How about a small group? Are there people in your life who you can talk to in times of need? There should be. I have an amazing friend in my life who keeps me accountable. After many talks and tear-filled conversations there are not many layers left between us. As a result we are very close.

And a small group. In the safety of a small discussion group, emotional layers can get peeled away. The result is a very close, tight-knit group, with Christ at its center.

Layers can be good when "the weather outside is frightful" but layers can be bad if we try navigating this life all by ourselves. I would encourage you today to gather with a bunch of friends and allow those painful layers to be stripped away in the restorative waters of God's Word. Open up to Jesus. He knows everything about you anyway. Open up to him and remove the layers of chains you have clothed yourself with. You will be glad you did. And so will Jesus be glad.

Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) by Chris Tomlin

Monday, December 9, 2013

Taps

The finality of death is so . . . final. So . . . permanent. We can hope that the news we receive about someone's death can be altered somehow. But there is no instant replay or booth review to suddenly reverse "the ruling on the field." Death, no matter if is unsuspected or not, is irreversible. It is unchangeable. It is final. Unless, of course . . .

There ARE actually two ways that death is NOT the end of someone's life. Yes, that IS true. It is possible NOT to die. Both of the ways I am going to write about involve God. And in both cases we are totally dependent on His will, not on our own. And both ways would both be considered miracles by our earthly standard of gaging things.

The first way to survive death would be for God to intervene on behalf of someone's pleading or prayer. And this would only be done to bring glory to God. Just read the story of Lazarus. He was dead for four days when Jesus came on the scene and raised Lazarus back to life.

"40 Jesus said to her (Martha), “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” - John 11: 40-44

Truly Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead was a miracle indeed. But that's what God does. He performs miracles. That brings us to the second way we can not die when it's time to die. Again, this second way, just like the first one, is also a miracle. And guess what. It too brings God glory.

Open your Bibles to the Book of John, the 17th chapter. Just before Jesus was about to be taken away he prayed for His disciples. The third verse that Jesus prays to God contains the key to dying, but not dying.

"3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." - John 17:3

We must KNOW God and KNOW Jesus. So what did the word KNOW mean 2000 years ago? This is from BibleStudyTools.com:

Thus, biblically to know God is not to know about him in an abstract and impersonal manner, but rather to enter into his saving actions. To know God is not to struggle philosophically with his eternal essence, but rather to recognize and accept his claims. It is not some mystical contemplation, but dutiful obedience.

Do we "know" God in that sense? Are we "dutifully obedient?" I'll let you wrestle with your answer to that one. I know what my answer is. My answer is . . . no. Am I obedient to God in ALL things? My heart tells me that I am not. If you had a similar answer, and we ALL should, here's what we must do.
  1. Pray. We must get down on our knees and ask God's forgiveness. Without that, we are still dead, even though we currently walk this earth, we are dead in our sins.
  2. Believe. We must believe in Jesus and His Father who sent Him.
  3. Repent. We must change. We must become dutifully obedient. And how can we do that?
  4. Follow. Our only hope is in Christ, and in Christ alone. We are to pick up our cross and follow.
  5. Repeat. We all screw up. We all fall short. We must get up and continue on our journey, despite our stumbling nature.
We all have had people in our lives who have died, who we wish were still with us. A spouse perhaps, or a best friend. Even a pastor and his family are not immune from the sting that death can inflict. But the saving grace in the death of a Christian is that their truly is no death at all. Let us remember that as we mourn the death of our brother in Christ, or whom ever we have lost. And in that death, let us rejoice for the memories in our hearts, let us comfort those who mourn, but we MUST rejoice. For we who believe, yet we die, so shall we live.

"8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord." - 2 Corinthians 5:8

This post is dedicated to the family and friends of Pastor Gary Strike, Faith Community Church, Waupaca, WI. If Gary wished one thing for ANYONE it would be that they know God and know Jesus. Until we meet again, my brother . . . my friend.

Pastor Gary
 
Taps by the United States Navy Band


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Prunes

Do you like to eat prunes? I'm not sure I've ever just sat down and eaten a prune but they're supposed to be good for you. I know my wife likes to sneak "healthy things" into her baking now and again so I can't really say for sure if I've ever eaten them or not. Actually, you know, now that I think about it, I think my wife DID slip some prunes into some chocolate cake once. I remember the cake TASTING okay but shortly there after . . . well. Let me just say that prunes can have a "purging" effect on one's body. MAYBE the prunes were healthy but the after effects were "uncomfortable."

Speaking of "purging," have you ever gotten in one of those moods when you just want to get rid of all the clutter in your house? I get that way every now and then. I'll ask myself things like "When was the last time I used this?" Pitch! Or "What am I saving THIS for?" Toss. It can be very good to purge outselves of all the junk in our lives.

Have you ever had someone purge your stuff for you? I have. I used to have a pair of cut-off jeans. After I blew holes in both knees of my favorite pair of jeans I cut off the legs at the knee and made shorts out of them. I thought I was being thrifty - getting the most "mileage" out of my jeans. Made perfect sense to ME.

However, my wife didn't like them very much. One could say she hated them. It wasn't long before they simply disappeared. I put them in the laundry basket one day and they never returned. Now that they're gone I don't really miss them. I probably look more "normal" walking around in the front yard. But I KNOW my wife feels better about things.

Have you ever been pruned? Do you NEED pruning? Has God ever pruned something from your little portion of His vine? Do we even notice it? Is there some bad habit we need to get rid of? Smoking? Drinking too much? Eating too much? God has a way of pruning us in ways that are not always comfortable for us. Lung cancer, being arrested for drunk driving, heart attacks. These things can get our attention and force us to look at ourselves.

As I look at MY life I can see a few areas where I could use a little trim. The first one that pops into my head is television. I try to not watch any shows that are not honoring to God in some way. That's most shows I think. But even the ones I consider "safe" contain commercials that are not. They just pop up without any prior notification as to their content. Do I need to prune this particular branch from my life?

Facebook is another. I probably spend too much time scrolling down through all of the posts I see every day. And although it's true I search mainly for opportunities to witness to people or to come to the aid of a friend, the time spent scrolling could be spent reading or studying His Word.

If we look at our lives I'm sure we ALL could find a few things to trim here or there. Scripture says we are to examine ourselves, test ourselves (2 Corinthians 15:3). If we don't "self-trim" the vinedresser will do it for us, and that could hurt a wee bit.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." - John 15:1:11

New Year's Day is coming up in a few weeks. A time we traditionally make those to-often-temporary, self-help resolutions. I challenge you, and myself, to make a self-pruning resolution this coming January. And make it stick. We have the power to handle any pruning that might come our way . . . through Christ. It is in Him and through Him that we find hope. He is the only way we can stay out of the fire!

The following is a video of a present day vine dresser. He knows exactly what he must do to get the most fruit. He removes the non productive portions of the vine. And so it is with God.

How and Why to Strip Leaves from Grape Vines

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Smilies

I'm not really sure why I called this particular post "smilies." I'm not really writing about them. It's just that I've seen a lot of them lately and I've noticed they come in various shapes and sizes. Like this one: :)  That's the one that I use. It's easy to type. Simple.

There are people who type it backwards, like this: (: I'm sorry, that's just wrong. It's like the little face is looking backwards. No.

My mom uses this smilie: :-) I'm not sure if I like it or not. There's a whole extra character to type (less efficient) and the little dude has a slot for a nose. Nah. I'll stick with mine. :)

The different kinds of smilies I saw this week kind of reminded me of my small group. Not that we're "all smiles" all the time, but after we met this past Monday night, all I could do was smile.

We have a good group. It all started with a Facebook post near the end of summer. "Anyone interested in starting a small group?" Just like that, we had one. :) God is good. :)

Monday night was a good discussion. We're going through the Book of 1 John. It's a good book. It's a short book. It's a book filled with the basics of Christianity . . . and this is a great encouragement. But what I find equally encouraging are the people in our small group. Every one of them I respect greatly. Every one of them has been through their fair share of pain and suffering. I am proud to call them my brothers and sisters.

Are you in a small group? You really should be. If you're not, you are really missing out on an incredible experience. I think in many ways a small group represents the very best attributes of the early church. There is mutual support and love for one another. A small group also provides accountability for our actions, a good source for advice and encouragement and a means of sharing each others burdens and struggles. It truly is a support group - a support group that includes Jesus. You can't get much better than that! :)

There I go smiling again. It's hard not to. There is not one member of the group we had this past Monday that wouldn't give you a helping hand if you needed it, whether they knew you or not. Yeah, we're a bunch of sinners. Yeah we fall down. But we get right back up, and with each other's help we'll be just fine. I am both humble and proud to be a part of that group. Not just because we have fun. But because we have fun . . . while talking about Jesus.

Jesus is our source of joy and comfort. He is the reason for the season as they say. Jesus provides us strength to get up every morning and the peace to fall asleep each night. Jesus is the reason we came together as a group. He is the leader of our group through His God-breathed words. Jesus is the reason we gather in fellowship and in love . . . all in the name of Jesus.

I love you my brothers and sisters!! You have blessed my life greatly and I smile whenever I think of any of you. But to God be the glory. Amen! :)

"13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened.  While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them." - Luke 24:13-14

Monday, December 2, 2013

Punishment?

I was late for church yesterday. I had gotten up in plenty of time to make the 8:45 service but I was delayed. I did something that caused me to be late. I opened up Facebook. I know. I know. But I'm not all THAT addicted. At least that's what I tell my wife whenever I "come up for air." But I do like to keep an eye on my friends. And actually, it wasn't the opening of Facebook that caused my tardiness. It was my replying to a message I received. A message from a friend.

It was the third or fourth message of this type I have gotten in the past few months so I thought it might be beneficial to write something about it here today. All of the messages seem to be based on a couple of common misconceptions. The first is that we have been placed here on this earth to have fun. The American dream is to get the most we can out of life and have good time doing it. We want to have a good job, a nice home, and perhaps a spouse and some kids. These are the things that we all want for ourselves. But then something goes wrong with the plan. Our plan. So naturally we complain about it.

The messages I receive usually begin with the same "dream theme." Life was going along good but them all of a sudden something bad happened and everything just went into the toilet. It might be the loss of a friend, the breakup of a relationship or the loss of a job - some life-changing event or another. The problems are all major to the person experiencing them. That brings us to the second misconception, that God caused it. I don't know if God CAUSED it so much as He ALLOWED it.

"Why is God doing this to me?"

"What did I do to God to deserve this?"

"Is God punishing me for something I've done? Why?"

"God must want me to be unhappy in life. Why else would this be happening to me?"

The main problem that everyone of these people have, and quite frankly a lot of us have (including me), is this: We simply do not KNOW God. If we truly knew God we wouldn't be asking those types of questions. If we truly had faith we would know exactly why we are being tested or tried or even punished. It's really rather simple to understand . . . from a heavenly perspective.

Think about it. What does God really want from us? Does He simply want us to believe in Him? Or does He want something more? Our devotion perhaps? Or our love? Our obedience maybe? The answer is . . . yes! He wants ALL those things. And more!

If we are to love the Lord, our God, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength . . . and we are . . . just where do WE fit into things? When do WE get what WE want? And that's the problem. WE should not be a consideration. At all.

Maybe this would be a good time to ask that age-old philosophy question, "Why are we here?" The answer, from a Christian perspective, is easy. We are here to worship. To a minor degree we are also here to grow, to learn and to follow but primarily we are here to worship and praise our creator. We are slaves, our lives having been bought and paid for on the cross.

But does God really punish us? Surely not our loving Daddy God!!! Really? Did your parents ever punish YOU? Do THEY love you? Then why wouldn't God punish us? He loves us enough to discipline us so that we will learn. Learn . . . from our mistakes.

The Old Testament is filled with examples of God punishing His people. Let's look at the book of Jeremiah for one particular example AND the answer to all of the "Why me?" questions we keep asking. Please read this and read it . . . slowly.

"11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity." - Jeremiah 29:1:11-14

God has a plan for us and His plan is for us to prosper! To have hope and a future! And what's God looking for? Verse 12 . . . He wants us to worship Him and praise Him. And then what? What does God promise He will do then? He will listen to us!

Our primary focus in life must be the Trinity - God, Jesus and His Holy Spirit! After we offer up our praise and worship THEN God will hear us from heaven. And when I say "hear us" I mean he ALWAYS hears us but then, through our faithfulness and obedience, God is more likely to act. "The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." - James 5:16

When we learn more about God we will find ourselves asking different questions all together. Rather than ask, "Why is God doing this to me?" we will be asking, "What is God trying to teach me?" Instead of asking, "What did I do to deserve this?" we well ask, "Why has God shown me His grace when I deserve death?" Instead of asking, "Why is God punishing me?" we will say, "Thank you Lord for revealing my sins to me. Please forgive me."

God loves us. There is no denying that. He loves us enough to discipline us when we screw up. Remember, sanctification is a life-long process. We are trying to become more and more Christ-like in our behavior. God is just trying to help us get there. Let's allow Him to do His work in us.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" - Micah 6:8

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Peace

There are moments, all too fleeting these days, when we somehow manage to find that seemingly unattainable state of being known as . . . peace. Perhaps it's late at night, after all the Facebook chatter dies down . . . whenever THAT is. Or perhaps it's early in the morning, before everyone else in the house has risen from their beds. Perhaps it's just you and your thoughts. Or more likely, you, your thoughts and a steaming cup of your favorite blend held warmingly in your hands.

Perhaps peace comes in a steeping hot bath after the kids have gone to bed or perhaps you have known precious little peace since your spouse died and the stillness that often accompanies peace is just too much to bear because you live all alone in an all-too-quiet house. Whatever the case, true peace seems increasingly difficult to find these days. There IS a way.

Today I am writing you about a friend of mine where I work. She was raised Catholic but is currently not a church-goer and, in this sinner's opinion, is not a believer in Jesus Christ. In a conversation a few years ago she told me "Jesus could never forgive me for some of the things I've done." She's probably in her late 40's or early 50's, smokes and drinks, sometimes to excess.

A few years ago she lost her best friend to cancer. Her friend did not believe in God. She was a nurse and placed all of her faith in her doctors because that's all she knew. It was the doctors . . . or nothing. And now . . . she has nothing. She has been lost for all time.

My friend at work was really impacted by the death of her friend. Yet, on the times I have spoken to my friend about Jesus, she seems rather unimpressed. I was reminded of my friend as I read a passage from John 6 this week. The story of Jesus walking on the water.

"16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading." - John 6:16-21

Let me see if I can explain the earthly situation of my friend, and many others among us for that matter, by using the words in bold as my talking points.

Every one of us starts out like the disciples did. "They got into a boat." The boat is our life's journey. We got into it when we were born. When we leave the boat our journey here on earth will be over. We will have, as they say, crossed over to the other side.

"It was dark." What a perfect description for the world in which we live. It's cold and dark and it is, for the most part, totally without The Light - Jesus, as he is known in scripture. Jesus is The Light of the World. And do you know why this world, and many of the people in it are "dark"? Spiritually dark? Because The Light, "Jesus had not yet joined them."

Then, "the waters grew rough." Those are the "storms" we encounter in each of our lives. They are the broken relationships, the accidents, the illnesses. They are the divorces, the addictions and the deaths that each of us can face in this life. For my friend at work it was the death of her best friend.

Sometimes the struggles we face are abrupt and pack a powerful punch. Sometimes they are long and drawn out. Sometimes is seems as if we have "rowed about three or for miles." That's a long distance to row during a violent storm. What a struggle! But then something incredible happened. "They saw Jesus." They even "saw Him walking on the water" but still "they were frightened."

At some point in our lives we all have the opportunity to hear about Jesus. We all have the opportunity to come to know Him. Maybe were not quite sure what to do. The disciples were unsure and they already believed in Him! But then Jesus did something. He calmed their fears. He reassured those in the boat by saying, “It is I; don’t be afraid.”

Maybe my friend needs to see a miracle in her life. Maybe she needs proof. Maybe she's like Thomas and needs to see the scars in His hands and in His side. Maybe my friends need to be reassured somehow. Perhaps that's MY role, to reassure her by my witness, by my testimony of how Jesus calmed the storms in MY life. But ultimately, my friend has got to make the decision. She has to feel calm and reassured about things. She must become more afraid of the storm that she is about any pending leap of faith. My friend must become willing "to take Him into the boat." Her boat. Her life. She must become the willing recipient of Gods free gift - forgiveness of sins. All she must do is repent of her sins and allow Jesus to come aboard. As soon as she does that, the long, stormy journey will be over . . . "immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading."

Those of us who believe have all allowed Jesus to enter our boats. We are all anxiously standing on that distant shore, staring out to sea, hoping to spot another arriving boat headed for shore. Each time Jesus rescues another boat, another life, from imminent destruction we, who have made it to shore, cheer. We cheer because another life has been saved from a fate that is literally worse than death.

And so it is that I seek your prayers for my friend. We need to pray for those who are about to encounter the decisive storms in their lives. Perhaps God will soften their hearts and they receive enough courage from above for them to allow Jesus to enter their boats, to take control and allow Jesus to calm their storms. Then, and only then, will they know the TRUE meaning of peace.

Peace on Earth / Little Drummer Boy by Bing Crosby & David Bowie