Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Dodging Bullets

One of my favorite movies of all time has got to be The Matrix. Why do I like it so much? The cutting edge video techniques were amazing for their time, the music was edgy and the characters unique and stylish. But the reason I like the movie so much are the many moments that remind me of my Christian faith. The movie is filled with allusions.

For example, during Neo's training he undergoes an exercise with his mentor, Morpheus, in which this brief conversation takes place.

Neo: "What are you trying to tell me? That I can dodge bullets?"

Morpheus: "No, Neo. I'm trying to tell you that, when you're ready, you won't have to."

That doesn't sound very "Christian" when we first hear it but perhaps we should first ask ourselves, "What are the bullets we might need to dodge?

The first "bullet" that pops into my head that might require dodging is death. Any time we cheat death it's known as "dodging a bullet."

The death rate for humans is reportedly 100% We all die. There's no escaping it.

"It is appointed for man once to die." - Hebrews 2:27

Dodging bullets is something we usually associate with luck. GOOD luck. Tonight I saw a news story about the tornado that killed 11 people in Texas. Searchers found two dogs buried in the rubble several days later. Those dogs "dodged a bullet." Somehow they cheated death and lived to bark another day.

How do we humans dodge bullets? It is by the grace of God.

Have you dodged a bullet recently?

I dodged a bullet ten years ago by placing my faith in Christ. A future bullet. By trusting in Jesus I dodged the bullet of death. True, I WILL die one day, but I get to dodge that bullet through my faith in Jesus. I get to live again. Why? Because Jesus took that bullet for me. He died for MY sins.

The promise of God . . .

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” - John 3:16-21

That line from The Matrix . . . modified for the believer in Christ.

You and me: "What are you trying to tell me? That I can cheat death?"

Jesus: "No, my child. I'm trying to tell you that, when you're ready, you won't have to."

Praise God for His amazing promises!!

"What are you trying to tell me? That I can dodge bullets?"

Monday, December 28, 2015

Something's Missing

Christmas is over. The wrapping paper we carefully applied to our packages is now in the trash. Unwanted Christmas gifts have been returned, gift cards redeemed. There are leftover Christmas cookies lying all over the counter . . . because we are still too full from all the other food we've eaten.

Christmas can be a very glutinous time of year, considering our unhealthy consumption of so many things - presents, cash, food, football, vacations, Christmas Carols, Christmas lights, trips to grandma's house. It seems like the only thing we don't overly consume at Christmas time is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

There is a disconnect, I think, in the life of the modern day Christian. And I think it begins in the pulpit on Sunday mornings and continues with the church of today. Something is missing.
I have heard pastors speak about the necessity to pray a "sinner's prayer." That's okay I guess, the praying of the prayer, not the necessity of it. But if things end right there, if there is no follow up, chances are that "new believer" will backslide right into the same place he was before. And what if the prayer that was prayed was not sincere? Are they still saved?

The disconnect for the new Christian is what to do AFTER the prayer. There is no instruction book . . . other than the Bible. Often, new believers are left alone, on their own, to try figuring out what to do next.

I myself never prayed a "sinner's payer" but I was blessed to have someone in my life to guide me when I finally DID come to believe. That has made all the difference in the world for THIS Christian.

If we go back and look at the Book of Acts we can find out what the early church did when it came to new believers. After the Holy Spirit was given to the people of the church Peter preached a sermon to all present in the synagogue. After Peter's powerful message the people asked a rather typical question for the new believer.

"37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do? - Acts 2:37

Peter replied with this critical statement for ALL believers.

"38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call." - Acts 2:38-39

Are today's new believers told they must REPENT of their sins? Are modern day Christians Baptized AFTER they come to believe? Let's continue reading.

"40 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.”  41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.

After these new believers came to believe Peter continued to pour into their lives. He encouraged them to separate themselves from worldly living ("Be saved from this perverse generation"). Peter was mentoring them. Let's keep reading. What else did the new believer do back then?

42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.  43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.  44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common,  45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,  47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church[h] daily those who were being saved." - Acts 2:40-47.

That's the key to why many "sinner's prayer believers" fade away in their faith. They don't continue in fellowship, there is no post-belief education or instruction. And what is really scary is, most of these new believers think they got saved and that's all there is to it. Not so. Satan LOVES devouring new believers, getting them to drift away from their faith and making them ineffective tools for Christ. They are still saved because of their belief but they are rendered impotent through their post-belief inaction and apathy. And that is where many churches fail.

Do you know a new believer? Someone who is relatively new in their faith? Come along side them, encourage them, instruct them, rebuke them should any false doctrine come into their hearts. We are supposed to encourage one another. We are a family! We should act like one.

War On The Sinner's Prayer - Paul Washer

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Only You

Have you ever had something happen in your life that could ONLY have been "of GOD"? Something that only God could have done or arranged? I bet if you stopped and though about it, we could ALL come up with something like that.

Many instances of God at work in our lives go unnoticed. Maybe you're running late getting to school or work and you come upon the scene of an accident. We often drive right by without thinking that, "That could have been me if I was running on time."

We don't tend to think about stuff like that because nothing really happened. But what about the things that DO happen? The life changing events in our lives . . . are they really of God? Do we say, "Only You, God" in our prayers of thanks?

When Israel was fleeing the Egyptians (Exodus 14) and Moses raised up his staff towards the Red Sea, did the people really think that Moses did that? No! Only God could have done something like that! Only God could have delivered His people in such a way by separating the waters of a sea to create a walking path!

Still not all "miracles" are of God. That parking spot we found right by the entrance to the mall on Black Friday is probably just random chance. The Packers kicking a game-winning field goal with time running out is probably not "an act of God." Those things COULD be examples of God intervening in our lives, but probably not.

I am planning a building project when I retired. It's a rather ambitious project and I have had my doubts about whether or not I can accomplish it and if my idea is "of God." The idea is to build homes for the homeless. Specifically teens, young adults and veterans - ANYBODY in need. That is rather an ambitious project for someone with marginal ability and finances. But in the past few months, as I have told people about this idea, I have been amazed at their willingness to help. For free!!

A structural engineer, a plumbing designer, an architect, a cabinet maker - all have signed on as willing members of this "miracle" team. I have also seen the need in the lives of several acquaintances of mine who could benefit from this program. Example after example of people who could use a safe place to stay. Hmm. But there is one example that stands out among all the rest.

I got a call from a local pastor, requesting that we meet. He told me he represented a group of 20-30 men and women who "felt led" to do something for our area's displaced (homeless) teens but had no idea what to do. Uh . . .

When I told this pastor my ideas about a building / mentoring program, he began taking notes. After I had finished my brief description of what I was planning he said, "That's odd. You are planning a rather ambitious building project. Half of the men in the group I represent . . . are builders."

In my opinion, only God could arrange something like that!

When we meet challenges in our lives, or obstacles, seemingly to large to overcome, do we give up quickly on them or not even attempt them because they are simply "too big"? NOTHING is "too big" for God. It is our faith that is too small!

"14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15 said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 17 And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” - Matthew 17:14-20

I think God does things in our lives for a reason . . . a purpose. And I also believe that, when He does them, He will do them in such a way that will leave us KNOWING that ONLY GOD could have done something like that. GOD will get the glory, not us. And that's the way things SHOULD be.

How is your faith? How strong is your belief that God can do ANYTHING? We must believe and not doubt. I have seen many things happen in my own life that are examples of "divine intervention" but still I doubt. Where is MY faith? Where is MY trust in God that "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13)? I tend to fall short in my faith and trust. My prayer is that my strength in those areas of my faith life might increase.

May I have more faith and trust in You, Lord. May my faith be capable of moving mountains, not because I can move them, but because I KNOW that ONLY YOU can.

Only You - The Platters (1955)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Letter 2015

I have tried writing this Christmas letter three or four times already and have somehow always ground to a halt. Nothing seems to come out right. It doesn't "feel" like Christmas yet. Maybe it's because there's no snow on the ground but I think it's something more than that.

Bev's watching Monday Night Football in the living room so I picked up the laptop and went into "the green room," which is named for the color the room used to be, not what it is now. This world can be as confusing as it is distracting.

Across from the green room's couch there is a shelf containing family pictures . . . and half a dozen dusty Bibles. There's a picture of my mom and dad, my grandma, my brother. There's Bev's mom and dad. So many images. We were all so happy back then. Things seem to have changed.

Bev's mom died this past January. My dad passed the year before. My parent's generation is fading away . . . disappearing. It occurs to me that getting old sucks. I go to bed earlier now than I ever did. The reason I do is so I will have more time in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. LOL!

I miss my dad. I'm sure Bev misses her mom as well. I do. Where did all those years go that are depicted in our photographs? It seems like the older I get the tighter I cling to God's promises of a new body, a "heavenly" body.

As I looked closer at the family pictures I thought how each one of us has a family. Even Jesus had a family. If I were to open up one of those dusty Bibles over there I could ready about his family in Matthew 1 or Luke 3. God loves family.

Have you ever seen The Nativity Story? It's a movie about the birth of Jesus. There is a moment in the movie, a short time after Mary gave birth to Jesus, where Mary looks up through a hole in the roof at the star shining overhead. She smiles. She smiles because God, the father of her baby, was looking down from heaven at His one and only Son. God is all about family.

Our family is doing well. Bev's dad is getting by in assisted living and for the most part the rest of us are hanging in there as well.

Someone once said that grandchildren are a blessing. It was King Solomon. "Grandchildren are the crown of the aged," - Proverbs 17:6. Bev and I have found that there is nothing quite like walking hand-in-hand with our grandson, playing cars and building towers and then knocking them down. Sometimes we even let Lleyton play with us!

I invite you to take a look at Mary's eyes in this picture. It's finally dawning on her, as she stares at the star, that this child she just delivered is no ordinary child. She remembers the angel who came and told her that she would give birth to a son. She was told that she should name Him Immanuel, which means "God with us." She realizes that she is literally holding God, in human form, right there in her arms. Wow!

Have you held a baby recently? I encourage you to do so. Each child has a future. Each child is a representation of hope, a promise of things to come. When we think about the life of Jesus - born to live a sinless life, born to become a sacrifice for us all, and finally betrayed and murdered so that He might rise from the dead - how can we not look at a baby and see hope?

Each of us has been born. Some have been born twice, speaking of a spiritual birth. Jesus once told Nicodemus, "No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again." (John 3:3). The Bible says "it is appointed for men once to die" but we can be born TWICE. Think about that for a moment. If we only die once and are born twice . . . doesn't that mean we will not die again? This is a promise from God!

 "16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." - John 3:16-17

This Christmas I encourage you to look at pictures of your family . . . especially baby pictures. Do you see what God sees? Do you see the hope He has for each of us? My prayer for you this Christmas is that you would embrace God’s desire for you, for each of us – to love Him and to love others. This is His greatest command to us all.

Do You Hear What I Hear - Carrie Underwood

Nativity Story - Jesus Birth

Monday, December 21, 2015

Be Born In Me

As we near Christmas our family is getting ready to travel "over the river and through the woods" to my wife's father's house - an assisted living unit tow and a half hours away. The winter scenes we see along the way do not resemble a Courier and Ives scene in the least. The "city streets" no longer resemble paintings. Rather, they look more like something out of Badlands.

My daughter tries to get us into the Christmas spirit by creating games for us to play along the way and song CD's to listen to as well. This Christmas we are making CD's of our favorite Christmas songs to play for one another when we arrive.

While looking for new Christmas music this year I found a beautiful song that made me stop and think for a moment. Stopping and thinking is where I get most of my stories for this blog from. Before I tell you about the song though, let's set the stage by reading part of the Christmas story found in Luke 2.

"7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." - Luke 2:7

"No room for them in the inn."

I heard someone speak once about the similarities between "the inn" and our hearts. They asked, "Do WE have room for Jesus in our hearts? Or do we turn Jesus away because our hearts are already full of other things?"


The name of that song I found is Be Born In Me. It really spoke to me about the closed hearts we tend to have these days - filled to the brim with narcissistic Christmas lists, selfies with Santa and the latest Star Wars movie. That ain't what Christmas is about, Charlie Brown."

The song was probably written about Mary asking Jesus to be "born in me" but I think it really goes deeper than that. It really should be an invitation from each of us to our Lord and Savior to enter OUR hearts that we might be born again IN HIM - receiving His Holy Spirit IN US.

Let that be our prayer this Christmas, that each person in our lives who does not know Christ asks Jesus to enter into their hearts, to change us from the inside out, and create in us a new heart. It is only through surrendering our will that allows Him to enter in.

Some people are too filled with pride to "surrender" to anything. For them this song has no meaning. But to me this songs speaks of that desire that ALL believers have - to allow Jesus to take the controls as we surrender ourselves to Him.

Dear Jesus . . . be born in me today. I have tried to live a good enough life on my own that you might think me worthy, but I have failed. I fail everyday. I surrender my life to you Lord. Please, Lord, make me new this Christmas. Be born in me, Lord. Amen.

Be Born In Me -Francesca Battistelli

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Healing Hand Of God

We all have visions of what Christmas should be like. For some it is coming downstairs on Christmas morning to see presents under the tree. For others it might be a night out with friends, a glass of wine around a comfy fire, laughing and telling stories. There are however, other stories of Christmas that are NOT so warm and fuzzy.

A man sits alone in his room, staring out the window. His mind is filled with thoughts of his wife who passed away a year ago - his first Christmas without her in 60 years. A young adult woman . . . still a child in so many ways . . . spends Christmas Eve on a friend's couch. There is no room for her in the house she used to call a home.

For many, Christmas brings nothing but bad news. It shouldn't be that way. And it doesn't have to be. There is healing available to anyone willing to take a chance. Or as the Bible invites in Psalm 34:8, "Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him."

Is there someone in your life who will be alone this Christmas? Is it you? Might it be someone at work or at school? I have a few people like that in my life. I'm not asking you to invite them into your home necessarily but I am suggesting you invite them into your heart.

There is One who can heal ALL wounds. His name is Jesus. He came into this world on a mission. Her came to serve others. He came to live His life as an example for us to follow and He lived his life . . . to die.

Have you died lately?

That's not a stupid question when you realize where it came from.

"20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." - Galatians 2:20

"23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." - Luke 9:23

"24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." - Galatians 5:24

The lives we live in this world are NOT to be about ourselves, our ambitions or our goals. Our lives are to be lived for others. Our lives are to be lived for God. We should be asking ourselves, what are we doing for others this Christmas? How can we reach out to someone? Who can we extend a helping hand to? How can we be "Jesus" to someone this Christmas?

God uses US to pour into the lives of others. Are we willing? Are we able?

Look at those verses once again.

As Christians, it is no longer US who lives, but CHRIST who lives IN us. Have we denied ourselves? We belong to Christ Jesus! Celebration of His day of birth should be a year-round thing. May He be born again in us this Christmas season . . . and every day of the year.

The Healing Hand of God - Jeremy Camp

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Only Gift That Satisfies

Each year millions of kids get up Christmas morning and rush to see what gifts are under the Christmas tree. Usually, if they are like most American kids, they get the specific gift they were hoping for. We're pretty spoiled in this country. As a matter of fact, we are SO spoiled that last years Christmas gifts are soon forgotten and this Christmas we will want a newer, brighter, better whatever-it-was and we'll repeat the same thing year after year after year.

Nothing seems to last. We get easily bored and tire quickly of our gifts, even the most unique ones.

We had a pair of Kirby vacuum cleaner sales reps come to our door last night. They were really sure we wanted their latest vacuum cleaner. I told them we literally had our carpets cleaned just the day before but they were still insistent on showing be their fabulous new machine. Even when I tld them we JUST bought a new vacuum cleaner they still wanted to clean our already clean living room carpet.

Sometimes I wonder if I sound like a vacuum cleaner salesman when I talk to someone about Jesus. I hope not. I don't provide any flashy demonstrations like Kirby but I do tell people that Jesus can "make them clean" Ha ha! . . . even if they're REALLY dirty.

Jesus doesn't need any salesmen and, unlike the Kirby vacuum cleaner company, His "product" (salvation) is totally free! And it has an eternal guarantee!!

The cool thing is, after you receive the free gift of salvation you will never need to receive anything again. God always provides. And here's the interesting thing . . . after we receive God's Holy Spirit we become content with whatever it is that we have been given in this life. Suddenly we have everything we need because God is enough.

Salvation is the only gift that satisfies . . . and sanctifies. :)

Have you made Jesus your Lord and Savior? If you have, here's proof. What do you want this Christmas? If you have truly received God's Holy Spirit in your heart the answer most likely is "I don't want anything"

"8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,  9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.  10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." - Ephesians 2:8-10

"16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.  17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.  18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of His creatures." - James 1:16-18

The Gift - Jim Brickman

Monday, December 14, 2015

Longevity In Relationships

This time of year is known for its "family" traditions. We've already had Thanksgiving - a time of giving thanks to God, usually celebrated with a family meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and corn. Soon we will be celebrating Christmas, a time to celebrate the gift of Jesus by giving gifts to our family members. Everyone has those special childhood memories of these holidays. Memories to last a lifetime.

There is a part of me that wishes those childhood memories could be relived. There was so much joy and happiness, and life was so much simpler then. But people grow up and people die. Relationships change. Sometimes relationships that once were so treasured disappear through no fault of our own. How can we make those treasured relationships last? How can we maintain relationships when it seems like everyone is leaving to go someplace else?

I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday in church. He is now a youth pastor in Southeastern Wisconsin. We were speaking about longevity in relationships and the key to maintaining those relationships. We both agreed that the essential ingredient in making relationships last is . . . love.

My friend and I have many relationships with young people - both teens and young adults. My friend was actually in town because a former youth group kid of his is getting married and wanted to speak with him about doing the wedding. Now THERE is a lasting relationship! And why will it last forever? I submit that it is because of another lasting relationship. A relationship between each of these people and Jesus Christ.

The key to longevity in ANY relationship is placing one's faith and trust in Jesus. After that, the rest is easy. Establish trust, exhibit unconditional love, and pattern that love after the one who taught US how to love - Jesus. :)

There is a verse in The Book of Micah that described perfectly what relationships should be like and especially our relationship with God.

"To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." - Micah 6:8

In this time of self-centered, narcissistic relationships we see many relationships fail. That's because the focus of those relationships is on self. When we begin focusing on our relationship with God, and placing others first in our lives, things begin to change.

This Christmas, rather than creating a Christmas list for yourself, make a list of the needs of others in your life and make it your Christmas gift to God by checking off items on that list for others all for HIS glory.

Walk humbly as a child of God. Love my showing mercy and compassion towards others. Act justly in this way and truly . . . your relationships will last forever.

Courageous - Casting Crowns

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Death Of Me

My wife loves to look at Christmas lights. Whether they are on the Christmas tree in our sun room or hanging on the outside of our house, Christmas lights make my wife happy. She also likes to look at other people's Christmas lights. So, upon occasion, my wife and I have taken a winter car ride through neighborhood after neighborhood just looking at the various Christmas light schemes people have decorated their houses and yards with.

With my wife's love for lights in mind, each year this 62 year old man climbs up onto the roof of our house and drapes strings of lights for his wife to look at. This year, however, I have finally figured out her evil scheme. Yes, my wife is trying to kill me!

I don't put a lot of lights on our house - just four strands of those big-bulb lights. They go up and down our roof line. I plug them all into a long extension chord and plug them into a timer. It's nice and it makes my wife happy. My wife loves Christmas lights.

However, last week for some reason, when I came home from work at night, one of the strings of lights was not lit.

"It's probably a fuse," I said to my wife. "I'll fix it on Saturday."

When Saturday rolled around I got out our 40-year old creaky wooden ladder, climbed up on the roof and replaced the tiny fuse. Yay! The lights lit up. My wife was happy. I'm such a good husband. My wife loves Christmas lights.

The next night TWO strings of lights were out.

Again I got out the old, wooden ladder and replaced one of the fuses that had blown. All the lights lit up again. My wife was happy and so was I. Climbing up on a slippery roof in winter is not always the safest thing to do. I was glad the lights were finally working. My wife loves her some of them Christmas lights!

The following night ALL of the lights were out.

Somewhere in the world I am sure there is a man who puts lights on his house and never has any trouble with them at all. I would like to meet him and shake his hand and then punch him in the face for violating the Christmas light Man Code - rule 139b - "When lights go up, they must go out - whether on trees or on houses - and preferably in the most inaccessible location possible."

As I stood in our front yard and stared into the face of my enemy - the darkened roof line of our house - I heard a voice in my mind that sounded a lot like my dad.

"Fuses blow for a reason, son."

My dad was right. I had four strands of lights running into one outlet. Not too safe I guess. Too many lights, not enough brains. So I split the lights in two strings, adding another extension chord and things have been fine ever since.

So this Christmas, with sounds of Christmas carols and Ephesians 5 still ringing in my ears, my wife is happy, I am still alive, and I thank God for fuses and old ladders. I am thankful for fuses because, without them, I could have been standing in my front yard staring at a rather large pile of ashes where my house once had been. And I am thankful for my old ladder because, just like me, it still does its job and, in its own way, helped me get closer to God this Christmas.

Last night, as my wife and I returned from a night out together, she reached over and grabbed my hand as we approached our fully-lit house. Men? Listen to me. There is nothing quite like "dying to self" to bring out the true meaning of Christmas - Jesus. It gave me great joy to know that my wife was happy . . . and that I was still alive to enjoy it.

Oh, and did I tell you? My wife loves Christmas lights!

"25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband." - Ephesians 5:25-32

250 Strands Of Lights - Chevy Chase

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

You Can Have Me

My wife and I have been enjoying the warmth of our wood-burning fireplace this year. Bev had Monday off so she had a fire going all day. When I walked in the house after work the temperature was 78 degrees inside. That’s really warm! I could walk around inside in a tee shirt . . . in Wisconsin . . . in December.

On the days when my wife and I both work we come home to a cold house – usually in the low 60’s.
“Where did all our heat go!?!”

On my way to work this morning I heard one of my favorite songs on the radio – You Can Have Me by Sidewalk Prophets.
When I first heard that song several years ago it struck me pretty deep. One line in particular, but more on that in a moment.

When I first became a believer in Jesus I guess you could say I was on fire for The Lord. I had a passion for His Word, a passion to read ANYTHING about Him. My friend at work, the one who led me to Jesus, began calling me Sponge Bob because I soaked up God’s Word like a sponge soaks up water. My faith was all new and exciting back then. Now, nearly 10 years later, the fire has died down somewhat. It’s still burning but I miss the FIRE I once had. Back to that song now . . .
“When did love become unmoving? When did love become unconsuming?”

I guess that’s what the song speaks to – the fire in each of us. The fire for our Lord tends to fade after a while. It’s sad to admit but it happens. So what causes our fire to fade and grow dim? The second line of the chorus speaks to that. It tells us not only what dampens our fire for Jesus but it also tells us how to stop the fade.

“Forgetting what the world has told me.”
“The world” is what takes the oxygen away from our fire for Christ. The constant pull of it can choke out the flames. I have even seen fires even go out upon occasion. Sad. But the way we can keep the fire alive is written in the first world - “forgetting.” We are to forget what this world tells us and only listen to our Lord. Which bring is to the last line of the chorus, the title of the song, and what should be the cry of every Christian when he or she is faced with worldly desires.

“Father of Love, You can have me.”
One of the duties of every Christian is for us to examine ourselves to see where we might come up lacking. Even in our prayers we pray for this. David did this from his throne. When Nathan confronted David with his sins, David repented and prayed this prayer.

"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right[b] spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit." - Psalm 51:1-12
You Can Have Me - Sidewalk Prophets

Monday, December 7, 2015

One Step Beyond

When I was growing up in the 60's there was a television show called "One Step Beyond." It was a show similar to other "out there" shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. It took the general subject matter for the show and extrapolated possibilities to frightening or unthinkable ends.

This story has nothing to do with any of those shows at all. All I am interested in today is the concept incorporated into the title - the concept of taking . . . one step beyond.

I believe that if we are to get noticed in today's world we must take one step beyond what is normally expected. Maybe it's a business going the extra mile or somebody showing up on your doorstep in a time of need with a frozen meal. Success and recognition come to those who take and extra step in their relationships.

We can watch the television news and we can whine and complain about things we don't agree with, but the person who makes the biggest difference is the one who actually does something about it. They make the effort to go a step beyond what might be anticipated.

Where I work there is a man who is undergoing cancer surgery today. He is not a believer in Jesus. Before I left work on Friday I had wanted to pray with my friend. I hoped for an opportunity during my busy day.

About mid-afternoon I sent a plot to the print room, got up from my desk to go get it and noticed this man, coat on, walking out the door. His day was done and I had failed to pray with him. Disappointed in myself I began to pick up the pace, hoping to pray with him in the parking lot.

Suddenly I slowed and thought, "Hey, if God wants me to pray with Him God will provide." Or, perhaps it was more like God telling me, "Hey! I've got this."

The man suddenly walked back in the door! He said something to one of our fellow employees and then turned again to leave . . . just as I arrived on the scene. I asked him if I could pray for him. He said sure, so I did. I gave him a hug and he left.

I don't know what the outcome of his surgery will be. But I do know this. He left the building that day knowing someone loved him and cared for him. It felt good to go that one step beyond what is "normal" in this world. Saying "have a good weekend" just doesn't make it when you're thinking about cancer.

This week my challenge for you is to go one step beyond in someone's life. You can do it! It's Christmas time!! That couple down the street that is struggling, maybe invite them over for dinner. Your friend whose mom is battling cancer, send her an encouraging message. The friend you had a fight with. Call them and apologize . . . even if THEY were wrong. Go one step beyond the expected. Jesus did. He went WAY beyond the norm. We should too. They will know who we are, and whose we are , by the things we do. So let's do it!!!

The following is an episode from One Step Beyond called The Promise. Please watch it . . . all the way to the end. Then you will understand why I have selected this verse for you today.

"For the Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life." - Job 33:4

The Promise - One Step Beyond Episode

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Meh-ry Christmas

Well, I bought my Christmas cards this week - the first week of December. The store I went to didn't have the widest selection.  I probably did my Christmas card shopping too late. I had to settle. Still, I liked the cards I selected. They said exactly what I wanted them to say. Then . . . I brought them home.

"Here's this year's Christmas cards!" I said to my wife with pride.

She looked at them and gleefully said, "Meh."

In that one single word, if 'meh' is indeed a word, my wife summed up exactly what the problem is with the world we live in today. Indifference to what the world needs most. Jesus.

One doesn't have to watch the news for very long to figure out this world has a rather large problem. There is violence everywhere. Paris, San Bernardino, Syrian refugees fleeing their home country just to mention a few. All of these violent episodes have been ignited my Muslim extremists in the name of their god. I look at my choice for a Christmas card. It has all the answers the world could ever need beginning with, "Peace on Earth."

And the cross itself, representing the sacrifice Jesus made so that WE might have peace through His atoning sacrifice, paying the penalty for our sins.

Look at the dove. The dove has traditionally represented peace. The dove is also representative of God's Holy Spirit. And usually we see doves carrying an olive branch, right? But this one is carrying a star. And not just ANY star. It is carrying six-pointed star - different from the five-pointed stars immediately surrounding this cross on the card. Do you know what is significant about the six-pointed star? It is the symbol of Israel, also known as the star of David. The dove (The Holy Spirit) is carrying the star of David. And who is The Bright and Morning Star? The Son of David? Yup. The Holy Spirit is carrying Jesus!

What the world needs now is peace. That can only be obtained through our Savior, Jesus. We need Jesus now more than ever before. Won't you please join me in praying that He will not tarry in his return.

"For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay." - Habakkuk 2:3

Finally, the message inside my Christmas card this year is this:

"2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord." - 2 Peter 1:2

The only true way to experience peace in this world is for the world to know God . . . to know Jesus. There simply is no other way. And just how does that happen? Through our words, God's Word, our actions, The Holy Spirit's action, and God's love lived out through the lives of His children.

"13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ." - 1 Corinthians 2:13-16

I still think my card is a good choice. It contains the answer for the world's questions. The only thing is . . . the world will never receive Him because, to them, His message is foolishness. And that is the true tragedy . . . far worse than any mass shooting or terrorist attack. That many people will never know the peace that only Jesus can give . . . peace on earth. What a wonderful Christmas prayer.

Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy - Bing Crosby and David Bowie

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Your Biggest Pain

I have a question for you. Do you think God allows us to make mistakes, MAJOR mistakes, because He is actually turning you into who He wants us to be? I am seeing that more and more in this lives of my Christian brothers and sisters. And it doesn't surprise me at all.

I have a friend who experienced a rather nasty divorce. What does she do now? She is a marriage counselor. I have another friend who slept around when he was in college. Now he speaks to others, advising them not to do what HE did. Another friend of mine was addicted to porn. What does he do now? He is a youth pastor and leads a young men's purity study. Are you sensing a pattern?

Jesus told us, "In this world we will have trouble." I think He knew what He was talking about.

"32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” - John 16:32-33

We all will have trouble. Jesus promised us that. Why? Why would Jesus tell us that we all will struggle? I'll tell you why. Because this life we are living right now is being lived in one big classroom. All of the struggles we will be going through in life are part of God's curriculum.

The first reaction people have to this news is a negative one. Why would God do that to us? How COULD He do that to us? As always, the answer is in scripture.

"27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." - Romans 8:27-30

Read verse 28 again slowly. Lots of good stuff in there.

"28 And we know that for those who love God . . . 

For those who love God . . . who is that? Well, that is you and me . . . hopefully. You DO love God, don't you?

. . . all things work together for good, . . .

All things, ALL things. The good AND the bad, the happy and the sad. ALL things work together for good. How can our biggest hurt in life "work together for good?" Verse 29.

"For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,"

This testing, these trials we undergo, are all part of our training. God is watching us. God is testing us. He is training and shaping us into the image of Jesus. Why? To turn us into Godly men and women, to prepare us for future battles and trials. He tests us and challenges us because He loves us.

"18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." - Romans 8:18

Praise God in your trials, praise His through the pain. Because, on the other side of our pain is the holy love of Christ, waiting for us. He is waiting to smile at us as we emerge a stronger, braver, more determined soul, better capable of withstanding the battles yet to come.

Praise You In This Storm - Casting Crowns

Cornerstone - Hillsong United