Saturday, December 31, 2016

With Someone In Mind

Many of these stories that I write come about as a means to respond to a particular person. Either I am writing to someone or I am writing about someone and the situation they have gotten themselves into. I also write about myself - my discoveries, my joys or my sorrows - but ALWAYS I write about God and how He is the solution in all of these scenarios.

Today's story was written with someone in mind. It was one brought to me by a friend - the story of a young woman (married for a few years with children) who professes to be a Christian yet possesses few of the characteristics.

The woman is contemplating divorce as she has found someone more interesting than her current husband. What should our response be to a situation like this? We see these things nearly everyday. What is our responsibility in this world towards the lost or to the straying believer?

First, let us pray. Prayer should be our first and best response. God is the one who changes hearts, not us. Our words can only bring rejection in the ewars of the hearer without God's Holy Spirit laying the ground work.

Second, make sure we have the facts. Is there more than one person involved. Have we talked to both sides in the matter. Perhaps one person is exaggerating things or even telling a lie. Make sure we know where both parties are coming from.

Third, examine scripture for verses that speak to the issues involved. In my friend's case it might be adultery, selfishness or idolatry. Search your Bible for verses that deal with these things. The Internet is a good place to find things like this. I use Google and ssearch for "verses about idolatry."

And now for the tricky part . . .

An experienced sea captain will first chart a course before setting sail. He knows, for example, where the waters are shallow and there is danger of running aground. Experience has taught him the safest routes to arrive at a particular destination. Talking with non-believers or "wanderers" is no different.

What is the ultimate destination? How are we going to get there without endangering ship or crew? From this point forward it is always best to have an experienced captain piloting the ship. His name is Jesus.

Once again, prayer is essential, but the first thing that needs to be done is to make Him known. It is possible that a person knows OF Jesus but doesn't really KNOW Him. That needs to change. How do we do this? Tell stories! Tell them the things He has done. The Bible is filled with them.

The thing we need to remember is we are not steering the boat. Our job is to get people to consider getting IN the boat. And even THAT is not our job. The Holy Spirit does that, SO what do we do? We are the ones who are already on the ship, encouraging others to come join us.

As much as we want a son or a daughter to know Jesus, our job is simple. We are to love them and to pray for them. That's it. If we REALLY want someone to know Jesus let us turn our passion into prayer.

I don't pray nearly as much as I should or as passionately as I should. Yet prayer is the weapon of the Christian in this battle for the lives of our family and friends. I also don't do a good enough job of "Letting go and letting God." I want to be the one to fix things! But only God can do that.

"16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." - Ephesians 1:16-23

We cannot change people's minds or hearts, but God can. If we truly want to see someone change, let us introduce them to someone who can actually change them. "Love and pray" should be our charge. And tell them about Jesus and what He can do for them. If we desire to go beyond those simple commands and do more we are taking over the responsibilities of God and that is not a good thing. Let us pray. And let us become less than we want to be so that HE can become more.

"1 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” - Acts 1:8

People Get Ready - Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck
Love Train - O'Jays

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Teenage Wasteland

I noticed something about us humans this Christmas. It was something that the people in the picture might have missed; glued to their phones as they are. The gift of TRUE relationships.

My wife and I sat down with some life-long friends yesterday. A couple from our parent's generation. What a wonderful visit!

We shared stories from each other's lives. We ate cookies, we laughed, we ate more cookies. It is so good sharing life together with people we love.

Maybe I am overly sensitive but I fear for this current generation, growing up in a technology-filled world which embraces electronic relationships instead of real" ones. People are becoming attached to their phones the way we older generations are attached to human relationships. But we weren't perfect either.

In the late 60's there was this really big rock concert called Woodstock. It was pretty big as concerts go - 400,000 people attended. There were probably just about as many people on drugs and alcohol as there were attendees! Many people tried altering who they were through chemicals and other means to become someone they weren't. That was MY generation. We were just as bad as this current generation. As ALL generations.

The rock group The Who wrote a song about Woodstock and all of the drug use they saw there. It was called Baba O'Rielly. I wonder if wasn't written about ALL generations? Whether we stare into our phones like zombies, waiting for the apocalypse, or alter our minds through drugs and alcohol, we are pretty pitiful examples of perfect relationships. Where are the "other-centered" relationships that Jesus speaks of - those that create life-long bonds? And what about our relationship with Christ Himself?

Relationships are not forged by electronic means. They are nurtured and grown through the application of love. And not from a distance either, but face to face. Love comes from the heart, not through the eyes. Let us love one another and Jesus first loved us. Then we will see REAL relationships based in truth and light. Those relationships lead only to joy and last an eternity.

"24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." - Hebrews 10:24-25


Baba O'Riley - The Who

Monday, December 26, 2016

A Different Kind of Christmas

My wife and I sat in the sun room Christmas morning, opening our presents - all by ourselves. It occurred to us that we hadn't done that (opening our presents alone) since before our kids were born. That's over thirty years folks.

There were a lot of things that were different this Christmas than from Christmases past. For example, usually we get snow this time of year. Last night it rained. Global warming? No. Wisconsin weather. The week before it was fourteen below.

I watched a video of a young couple, two kids from my youth group days, announce that  they were having a baby. That should make for a wonderful Christmas celebration!

My personal favorite gift this year was the restored relationship with a family member. Estranged for a year and a half, God chose this Christmas to restore it. What a gift!

On Facebook I've seen pictures of engagement rings, family reunion pictures, and pregnancy reveals. All these new "gifts" to appreciate and enjoy. Still, the one gift that still amazes me each and every year is the gift of Jesus to all of us here on earth.

The story of His "reveal" STILL amazes. God? Born in a manger? Yeah, okay. That makes sense. But this Christmas story actually does make sense once you understand the reason behind it.

I am reading through the Bible right now, the book of Leviticus. That book is always a tough read until you get to chapter five and you suddenly realize why Jesus was born in a barn among the animals.

"5 when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters (sins), they must confess in what way they have sinned. As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the Lord a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin." -Leviticus 5:5-6

The sacrifice for sins, established long before Jesus was born, was to be a spotless lamb. Every time someone sinned there was to be a sacrifice. This went on daily! It's a wonder there are still sheep on the planet!!

That's when God gave us Jesus, to be born, a spotless lamb, to live a sinless, spotless life, and then to be sacrificed, as that spotless human lamb for the sins of the rest of us sheep, once and for all. One sacrifice for all mankind. Jesus was born to die.

"5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin - because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace." - Romans 6:5-14

What a gift!

May this Christmas bring to you a new commitment to Christ. May you hear of God's plan of redemption in your heart and may you embrace the birth of Christ for what it was - a gift for everyone of us. A gift to take the place on the judgement seat in OUR place! The best gift anyone who loves life and loves Jesus could ever receive - the gift of eternal life with our sacrifice, in heaven!

May each of us have a different kind of Christmas this year. Different from "the world" and they way it thinks Christmas should be like. May WE be the barn. May WE be the manger. And may Jesus be born in us.

Above All - Michael W. Smith
Born In Me - Francesca Battistelli

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Emmanuel

"
My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people." - Ezekiel 37:27

For this Christmas Eve's blog post I thought I would offer up a thought or two about the meaning of Christmas and the name Emmanuel.

If you have sat through as many sermons as I have you will probably know that Emmanuel is an ancient Hebrew word that means "God with us". Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, IS that God (part of the Trinity) and He WAS with us - born in a manger, the "adopted" son of a carpenter - the Son of God. God with us. Hold that thought for a moment, that He, Jesus (God), WAS indeed with us.

When we place our faith in Christ we receive God's promised Holy Spirit. we receive God's Spirit . . . IN us. This gives a second meaning to the words God with us!! God is indeed with us, IN us, when we become one of His children.

Now, consider this. When Jesus returns to earth one day guess what happens? That's right, God will be with us once again. We will hear a trumpet and see the clouds rolling across the sky. He will come back for us so that we can be with Him forever. A third example of "God with us" in the Bible.

"3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God." - Revelation 21:3

That sounds a lot like what Ezekiel said, doesn't it? This is all so perfect!

The prophet Ezekiel spoke the words in my opening paragraph nearly 600 years before Jesus was born. Here is another fulfilled prophecy written 700 years before Christ.

"13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." - Isaiah 7:13-14

God told us all long ago about Christmas day. 700 years before it actually happened. Why? So we could prepare ourselves. So that we could make room for Him in our hearts. There was no room for Him in Bethlehem. Is there room in OUR hearts for this Kings - born in a manger? God wants us to be with Him. He is desiring a relationship with us.

Are you getting the picture of all this? God REALLY wants to be "with us". It seems pretty clear to me. As we celebrate Jesus coming to earth as a baby, so that He could be with us, let us remember that we have the opportunity to be with Him forever! May God bless you this Christmas and may we continue to celebrate "God with us" throughout the new year. Amen.

Emmanuel God With Us - Amy Grant
Top 40 Messianic Prophesies

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Almost Missed It

One of the things I pray for is opportunities to share the Gospel with someone or to pray with someone. I pray for those opportunities as if God never gives them to me. He gives me plenty. I am the one who misses the opportunities He gives me. Perhaps I should pray not to miss the opportunities when they come. And I do. :)

The other day I was at Kwik Trip - Wisconsin's favorite convenience store. I'm probably there every morning during the work week. This past Monday was no exception. I was standing in line with my sausage, egg & cheese muffin and a container of milk, waiting to check out.

When I got up the counter I asked the cashier how she was doing. Apparently she was having a rather bad day. I listened as she told me about her husband who was not being very "Christmassy" and mentioned something about how she'd like to change husbands, just for Christmas Eve. She also spoke about how her children weren't coming home for Christmas. She was NOT having a very good day.

After looking back over my shoulder at the long line of people behind me, I said to the cashier, "I will pray for you." She said thanks and I turned to leave. I took two steps when I could have sworn I heard someone say, "Do it now, you idiot!" That someone was me.

So I went back and stood off to the side for a bit, waiting for the line to go down. When it did, I approached the same cashier again and told her I would like to pray for her . . . now. She consented.

I grabbed her hand and prayed for her husband, that God might soften his heart this Christmas and make him see its true meaning. I prayed for her children, that they might embrace the joy of family. And I prayed for the cashier, that the true spirit of Christmas might be with her and her family, always. Amen.

We get so busy this time of year. We have so many things to do, places to go and people to see. We buy presents, bake cookies, we often forget to take the time to do the really important things in life. To love someone.

After we got done praying the lady looked at me and said, "Thank you. That actually helped." I left the store smiling because I was given an opportunity and, although I almost missed it, I didn't.

How many opportunities are we given during the course of the day that we miss completely? I think I need some type of alarm system that goes off whenever an opportunity presents itself.

I'll leave you with the lyrics of an obscure Christian song by Josh Bates entitled Less. Second verse . . .

The night descends and I have to face the dark
And I should pray before I sleep but it's so hard
Have I done a single thing to make Him proud
I had so many chances, but did I fail Him somehow
I'm afraid that... I'm less than I thought I was.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." - Titus 2:11-14

Less - Josh Bates

Monday, December 19, 2016

And Then It Snowed

We had a big snow storm this past weekend. The weather experts were predicting a foot of the white stuff for us but I think we only got seven or eight inches total. Still, driving around in all that slippery stuff was definitely interesting. Cars in the ditches, dead batteries, snow plow drivers working all day long!

I was walking through a field the other day after a snowfall. I never saw the hole in the ground, under the snow, until I stepped in it. Snow can cover lots of things. Lots of bad things.

My wife and I burned a large brush pile a month or so ago. The ground was charred black and covered with ashes.You can't tell that today after the snow. Everything is all white and clean looking.

Our faith in Jesus has done that for us. God's grace and mercy on us when we come to Him covers over a multitude of sins - just like the snow! Amazing, that grace. :)

Most of my life I walked around with the weight of some stupid things I did as a teenager. Bad things. It was a heavy burden to bear. Yet, through Christ, those sins were forgiven and forgotten "as far as the east is from the west."

Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." - Matthew 11:28. That verse has little meaning unless you have personally had your own burden lifted.

As we look out over the hills and valleys during our next snow storm, let us remember God's grace and mercy. Let us remember His promise to take away our sin and make us clean. Jesus made that possible for us when he died on that cross. He came at Christmas to die in our place so that we might have a path to receive eternal life with Him in heaven.

I once was dirty, covered in shame, but by coming to Jesus my sins have been covered by a blanket of pure white. Sins, no more to be seen by the eyes of God, have been covered for us by the shed blood of Christ. Rejoice in that this Christmas and remember the cross where they nailed the baby He gave. For you. For me. For all mankind.

“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." - Isaiah 1:18

Come To Me - Aaron Shust
East To West - Casting Crowns

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Back Home Again

Today's story is one of those stories where I started out planning to write about one thing and then ended up writing about another. While doing some research yesterday I ran across a sermon by Matt Chandler that convicted me and changed my topic.

Matt was giving a message based on Luke 15 - specifically the Prodigal Son story. I've read the parable many times before. It is a very special passage to me. Why? Because I saw myself in the story. Twice.

When I first read the parable I cried. New in my faith, I reflected on my role as the prodigal with the Father in the story being God. I read it as a convicting story about how I had turned my back on God.

As I increased my knowledge of scripture and read commentaries on the passage I began to see a bigger picture. I began to look at the prodigal's brother more and saw in the story the conflict that arose between the the older brother (the Pharisees) and the prodigal son (us sinners). But that's not the point of the story either.

The story . . . the truly amazing part of this incredible story . . . is the Father, and how He treated both of His sons . . . with compassion and grace.

"20 So he got up and went to his father.“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." - Luke 15:20

That's wonderful. But the story gets better. When the older brother came home and saw the rejoicing over his younger brother's return, he got angry. VERY angry. This was the father's response.

"31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” - Luke 15:31-32

The father had compassion for BOTH of his children.

But for a really interesting light on this story, go back to verse one in this chapter and see who Jesus is telling this parable to.

15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” - Luke 15:1-2

Jesus was speaking to the very people He was describing in the story. And the Pharisees, the older son in the parable, got very angry with Jesus for his telling them this story. So angry in fact, that they eventually killed Him for it and His words.

That was my understanding of the story for the past 10-11 years. I was the prodigal and the Pharisees were just the religious nuts who thought their righteousness set them apart from the lowly sinners. That's what I thought until I listened to a sermon by Matt Chandler.

I not only was the prodigal son . . . I was one of the Pharisees!

The Book of Ephesians tells us that we are to imitate Christ. And if we are to imitate Him in our treatment of others, should we not be showing grace? Should we not be acting like the Father in this story?

As we walk through this world, let us extend grace to ALL we meet. Not just the broken and hurting but to the abortionists, murderers and Muslim terrorists. Our job as I see it displayed in The Bible is to love others as Christ first loved us and to spread the good news, the Gospel, wherever we go.

We are to live IN CHRIST. He is our home. We may stray, we may roam off the path, but our quest in this life is to go home. To get closer to our Lord and Savior. Only by extending HIS grace and HIS mercy to others can we truly be back home again.

Grace Through The Eyes of The Father - Matt Chandler
The Tale of Two Sons - John MacArthur
Back Home Again - John Denver

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Traction

Well, we had our first significant snowfall of the season this past Saturday. Six inches of the white stuff fell on Central Wisconsin. It looked beautiful Sunday morning. The snowplow had yet to go through and everything was quiet and peaceful. Until I went to church.

I drive a little Ford Focus. It has low-profile tires. Not very conducive to driving in 6 inches of snow. Yet, it was time to worship so I headed out. What could possibly go wrong? Besides, if I could make it to the highway, SURELY those roads would be better. Well . . .

Several times on my way into town my little car unexpectedly veered to the left or the right as my not-made-for-winter tires found a rut to follow. Twice I thought I was going to end up in the ditch, yet somehow managed to get to church and back . . . alive.

With the forecast of more snow overnight on Sunday I decided to shovel out my truck - an F-250 Super Duty with four-wheel drive. Have you ever heard the phrase "the right tool for the job?" Wow! What a difference. I turned on the four-wheel drive and drove through the snow-filled ditch in our vacant lot and up and over the mound of snow the snowplow had left by the side of the road. Traction makes all the difference in the world. Traction and power.

Have you ever felt weak in your faith? Have you found yourself veering off the path, to the right or to the left, in your walk with Jesus? It's not uncommon. Are you not even walking with Christ? Are you trying to blaze a trail through the darkness by yourself? Where can we gain traction in this world that keeps sucking us down into its ditches?

There are times we need traction and God's power in our faith lives. We need that everyday! So how do we get that traction? How can we turn on that power, which comes from God through His Holy Spirit, to help get us through the ditches, the snow drifts and ruts that life can throw at us?
  • Read - Reading is the road we drive on. The more we know about the Bible the less chance we will veer off the road.
  • Pray - Our power comes from above. Let's tap into that power by praying to the wielder of it.
  • Trust - If we can't trust our tires we will be unsure about our driving.
  • Hope - This is our last resort. When we are heading for the ditch we hope that God can save us.
  • Serve - Taking action in our faith helps to solidify it. It's like getting a tune up and a new set of tires for the car. Everything seems right with the world.
"21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” - Isaiah 30:21

Winter Storm Traction - F-250
The Path from Atheism to Faith - MIT Computer Science Professor

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Gift of Gifts

One of the reasons I love working where I do is the people. I have worked there for 18+ years and many of the people are like family to me. This time of year is especially fun because I get to be an elf. Not for Santa though. For my wife!

Each year my wife bakes dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies. Yet, strangely, we don't eat many of them. That's because she gives most of them away to family and friends. It's gotten to the point where my wife's cookies have become part of the Christmas tradition in the lives of other people.

We usually get together with some life-long friends at this time of year, Dick and Lana. We eat, we talk, we laugh. But the highlight of the night, at least for me, is watching Dick's eyes light up when my wife gives him a plate of her Christmas cookies. He can hardly keep from eating them right then and there. Lana has said she has to hide them from him when they get home.

Just the other day at work a former co-worker of mine walked into my cube. Smiles, hugs, how thoughtful that my friend came to visit me, I thought. Until this question came out.

"Bev usually sends her plate of Christmas cookies in with you around this time of year, doesn't she? I was just talking to Laura about your wife's cookies and she thought maybe you could send me an e-mail when that happens."

People love my wife's cookies. Why? Well, they're pretty darn tasty! But I think that there is a deeper reason - a subliminal, underlying reason they love them. I think it's because they love receiving gifts that someone has actually made themselves, especially for them. It's special. It's unique.

I think hand-made gifts are often the best because part of ourselves are actually IN the gift. The gift wouldn't even be there if is wasn't for their creator.

[Sounds like a perfect segue to a story about God and HIS gifts, doesn't it? Ha ha!]

I have told you before about my favorite Christmas Carol - Little Drummer Boy. A young boy came before the baby Jesus with nothing to give as a gift to the newborn King except for the gift God had already given him - the ability to play the drum. In this sense, God loves re-gifting.

What is YOUR gift? How can you "package" it to give to someone else?

I have a friend at work who "plays her drum" by teaching others how to sew - a gift SHE was given by God. Now she shares it with others through the giving of her time.  Another friend's gift is her voice. She sings in her church's choir, she sings at funerals, she uses her gift to make the lives of others better and more enjoyable.

Several years ago, when I was part of a youth group, I was invited along to document a unique Christmas gift with my camera. A bunch of high school kids, members of the school's Madrigal Singers, were walking around town singing Christmas carols. They stopped at people's houses and sang a song, then asked the residents to join them which many did. What an amazing gift! It cost them nothing, but at the same time, it was a priceless gift.

It doesn't take much time or money to let someone else know that you love them. It doesn't take that much time and effort to pray or offer up thanks to God for giving YOU the gifts He has. May this day be your gift to someone else who could use a hug or some food or a priceless gift . . . the gift of a gift.

"38 Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” - Luke 6:38

Little Drummer Boy - Pentatonix

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Meh-ry Christmas

Wow. Two weeks from now is Christmas Eve! Where has he time gone? Seems like it was just yesterday that I finally got all the lights working on the Christmas tree. Hey, wait a minute, it WAS yesterday! I am running out of time. At this rate it's going to be Valentine's Day before I get the last of my Christmas shopping done. I haven't even started!

Do you think we will celebrate Christmas when we get to heaven. I personally don't think so. In my opinion, God would not allow some of the "Christmas" stuff we do down here. Throwing lights on a Christmas tree, buying expensive presents to give to each other . . . only to have the recipient take your gift back to the store and get the cash.

I don't even think there will be snow up there. I could be wrong about that. I have no proof. But I do know that there will be no darkness and God will light up our days, always. So, how could there be snow? It would melt.

"There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever." - Revelation 22:5

Here's another interesting Christmas thought. If I have my theology right we will actually get to meet St. Nick when we get to heaven. Saint Nicholas was a real guy (2nd century AD). He probably wouldn't like having a special day named after him either.

I bet there will be Christmas songs though. No, Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer will not be playing (an answer to prayer), but Handel's Messiah might be . . .

Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah - Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

And although John Frederick Handel will be in heaven, the members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir will not be. They worship a different God.

Christmas causes us to do things we wouldn't otherwise do. It seems to enhance the quality of the things we do in life and the gifts that we give. There is a little more thought given to things of wonder - of wise men and stars, of mangers and gifts. Why is that? And shouldn't we be living our lives like that each and every day?

Here's a Christmas challenge for you. Each of us has someone special in our lives who we love and give gifts to. Well, forget about them. Well, not really, but think about someone different. Think about someone you have never given a gift to. Think of someone who could really use the love of Christ right now. Take a chance. Give someone new a Christmas gift.

It doesn't have to be much. Open the door for a stranger at Kwik Trip and wish them a Merry Christmas with a smile. Put someone new on your Christmas card list. Write someone a letter, give a friend some cookies, take someone out for coffee.

The gift of one's self toward others can turn a meh-ry Christmas into a joyous one. So rejoice!!

"4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." - Philippians 4:4-5,7

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel - Aaron Shust

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Bittersweet

I attended a funeral this past Monday. The mother of a dear friend had passed away after a battle with cancer.

Funerals for Christians are interesting things to observe. Yes, there are a great deal of tears and plenty of loving hugs to go around, but the thing non-believing witnesses to funerals don't get is . . . the celebration.

It is true that ALL people will miss loved ones regardless of their belief systems, but for the Christian there is another feeling present at funerals. Along with the despair of loss is the additional feeling of . . . hope. Read these words from Jesus and see if you can find a reason to hope.

"16 Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” - John 16:16

That's a little vague I guess until you link that verse to HIS death and subsequent resurrection. Let me offer you another passage that might help make things more clear.

"Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin -because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God." - Romans 6:3-10

When we place our faith in God, and we accept the fact that Jesus died for our sins, our old self dies. We then receive God's promised Holy Spirit and we become born . . . again. And just as Jesus rose from the dead, so shall we rise to a promised new life.

THAT is why we who believe in Christ celebrate at the funerals of our brothers and sisters!

"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

During the funeral the pastor told us that Jean's wish was that all of her children would serve the Lord. Did you catch that? Jean's wish was for others, not for herself. More evidence of the faith that carried her through her illness.

Before I left the funeral I prayed with my young friend Cheyenne, Jean's granddaughter. I prayed for her and the new life that is growing inside of her - Amelia. I prayed for Amelia, a new life just beginning here on earth. As I did so, I couldn't help but think of Jean, also a new life just beginning . . . in heaven. There is no fear for those who believe. Only hope. May you rest in that hope today.
This story is dedicated to the memory of Jean Palmer - to her loving daughter Jeanne, her husband Steve and their kids Joshua, Kahla, Cheyenne and Jessica. And to Amelia. See you soon!

Jean

He Rose - Deluge

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Favorite Toy

This time of year the newspapers and television ads are filled with things people want us to buy. You will look "fabulous" in a new fur coat. Mom and dad waking the kids and running outside to see the new Mercedes that Santa brought them. All the materialism is WAY beyond me! Or so I thought.

Everybody loves Christmas. The decorations, the wonder of it all, presents under the Christmas tree. But it IS possible to get too much "Christmas." The true meaning of Christmas can be fleeting or lost, just like last years favorite toy, which now lies under the bed, broken and forgotten.

I was at Fleet Farm (a.k.a. The Man Mall) the other day. I was just wandering around looking for nothing in particular. That's when I saw it. A brand new, never before seen (by me), shiny golf disc. I LOVE to play disc golf. Yes, I know it's December, but time has no meaning when appreciating the beautiful things in life. Like a new driver!

So I picked it up and held it. It was smooth and new. It had never hit a tree or gotten lost. It had never felt the air as it knifed its way toward its destination. And it was only $16. I thought about buying it. I had the money and the desire, but I put it back on the shelf, sighing. Tempted to be sure but also practical. It will still be here five months from now when I could actually use it, so I walked away.

On the way home I was thinking about my faith and my life and how easy it is to fall into temptation. Then yesterday in church our pastor throws this at me.

"God gives us all the we need, to do all that He asks of us."

That sentence led me to search for similar verses. I found this.

"His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." - 2 Peter 1:3-11

My temptation with the shiny object at Fleet Farm was relatively easy to overcome. There are more difficult temptations in this world - lust, drunkenness, gluttony, sexual perversion, sloth, false worship, idolatry, the list goes on and on. Everybody has their favorite "toy." What's yours?

I think what I need to remember is that, when I am tempted, I need to remember God and His promises. I need to remember He has given me everything I need. It's all in the Bible.

When we are tempted we must first recognize the temptation and then ask ourselves, "Is what I am about to do honoring to God? Is this the best thing I can do in this situation? Or should I turn and leave?"

There is one thing we can do to overcome temptation. It can be found in the Book of Hebrews. Five little words is all we need to remember.

"Fix your eyes on Jesus." -  Hebrews 12:2

I Am Buzz Lightyear - Toy Story
When Sin Looks More Enjoyable Than God - Francis Chan

Saturday, December 3, 2016

All In The Name

Yesterday morning, as I was driving in to work, a song came on the radio. It was one of those songs that kind of yanks you right out of a bad mood you're in and puts you right back where you should have been in the first place. The song reminded me of my reason for writing these stories and why I named this blog what I did.

The name of the song that morning was Lifesong by Casting Crowns. There's a link to it at the end of this story. The song's lyrics provide some soul-searching words that convicted me pretty deeply when I was just beginning in my walk with Jesus. They gratefully STILL cut deep - a good reminder for any wayward Christian.

Look at the opening verse. It is so true. There is a saying in many churches that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. See if this line doesn't address that.

"Empty hands held high - such small sacrifice. If not joined with my life. I sing in vain tonight."

What good is our worship on Sunday if we don't follow through on Monday? We should be living out our faith every day of the week! We're Christians! Not pagans.

"17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." - James 2:17

The next part of the first verse encourages us to live a life pleasing to God - basically, to make "the song" that is our life, God-honoring.

"May the words I say, and the things I do, make my lifesong sing . . . bring a smile to you."

I could go on but you get the point. The entire song encourages us to live lives worthy of the calling we have received.

"4 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." - Ephesians 4:1-3

As we walk through this place let us remember that we are not home yet. Those of us who have been called to be children of God have a mission - to love others as Christ first loved us. We are not called to judge. That's the job God gave His son, Jesus. We are to be obedient, we are to praise and worship our Lord and King, and we are to become less, making ourselves servants of the Most High God.

"5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross!" - Philippians 2:5-8

"Let my Lifesong sing to you, let my lifesong sing to you. I want to sign your name to the end of this day, knowing that my heart was true. Let me lifesong sing to you."

Lifesong - Casting Crowns

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Danger of Comfort

Have you seen it? Have you seen the change? If you are young you probably haven't noticed anything at all. Everything seems like it has always been. But it's not.

We, as a nation, have grown comfortable. And that is a very bad thing. Comfort is where Satan lives. He thrives on political correctness and fear. We have comfort foods. Why? Comfort foods usually make us fat and desiring comfort all the more.

Being as old as I am, I have seen quite a few things in my lengthy lifetime. I have watched on TV as an American president was assassinated. Then a civil rights leader - a man of peace. I have seen a nation at war and our soldiers spat upon when they returned home from it. And now I am seeing our police officers being murdered in the streets, all because they chose to protect us. Yes, I have seen plenty of lows in this nation, but nothing can compare to the change I have seen in our society.

The line between what is acceptable and what is not has moved. And not in the right direction. We are removing God from everything once held dear and we are replacing Him . . . with ourselves.

Everything these days is all about convenience and comfort. Wouldn't want to offend anyone. Anyone except the silent majority. They don't fight back. We can offend people on the Internet without the inconvenience of facing someone face-to-face. It's so much easier to "pull the plug" on a relationship by un-friending them instead of investing time to repair a damaged relationship.

Our own comfort has taken over where God once reigned and that, I think, is the problem.

The Acts 2 church is a perfect example of what a Christ-centered society could be like.

"44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people." - Acts 2:44-47

Let's break that down.

  • All the believers were together
  • They had everything in common
  • They sold possessions to help others in need
  • They met together daily
  • They ate together in their homes
  • They had glad and sincere hearts
  • They praised God
  • They enjoyed the favor of all people
Let's look at that. Does our society have all those characteristics today? No. Why not? Well, there are several reasons, but the biggest reasons are 1.) we have taken God out of our schools and the courthouses. 2.) Everything has become "acceptable" out of fear of offending someone. Want to marry a goat? Go ahead. We all just want each other to be happy in whatever they are doing. 3.) We are being given everything to the point of our becoming dependent.

Some might say, look at verse 45. The early church gave to everyone. True, but the key difference are these - they gave to everyone as there was a need. The other factor is they gave willingly. These days our government takes our money and gives to those THEY think have a need . . or a want . . or a desire.

If the church was doing its job there would be no need for a welfare system among believers. We would all take care of ourselves.

We will have a new president in a few months. He has promised to "make America great again". He can try. Maybe He can improve a few things, streamline regulations & tax codes, but the only way we as a nation can be made great again is by turning to God, repenting of our sins, and by making Jesus Lord of our lives . . . not some earthly leader.

Our only hope is Christ.

I will close with a portion of an 1863 Thanksgiving proclamation by our sitting president at that time. What happened to us in the time between then and now?

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union. - Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln's full Thanksgiving Proclamation

Monday, November 28, 2016

To Build A Fire

My wife and I just got done burning the last of the brush piles in our new vacant lot yesterday.  We had built the piles up over the summer and now, finally, they are all gone. I bet our neighbors are happy. LOL!

It wasn't the easiest to get the fire started yesterday. The weather was damp and foggy and all the leaves and braches were wet. Here's a little Boy Scout survival tip for you. If you are ever having trouble getting a fire started, try pine needles and pine branches. The sap inside them burns quite nicely.

As I tried to get a fire started I thought back to my high school days. English class. We had to read the short story To Build A Fire by Jack London. The story's main character was an inexperienced city man. He tried to travel across the Alaskan wilderness by himself in 70 below temperatures during the gold rush. He didn't make it. Sorry to spoil the ending of the story for you.

One of the last things that frozen, dying man tried to do was to build a fire. You need three things to successfully build a fire. Fuel (wood, leaves, tinder, etc), a fire source (matches, lighter, magnifying glass, etc) and oxygen.

When God draws us to Himself, it's like He is preparing to build a fire. We are the combustible material. We are what God is trying to ignite. The oxygen, I think, is God Himself. He gave us the breath of life after all. The ignition source or the spark needed to ignite us and our faith is God's Holy Spirit.

The thing about fires is they tend to go out if they are not well attended to. If there is no more fuel the fire goes out. No oxygen? The fire goes out. So how can we Christians keep OUR fires burning brightly when the world keeps pulling us back? There are several ways. But to really get a roaring fire we should be doing all of these.
  1. Read the Bible. Study it!
  2. Pray
  3. Worship
  4. Serve God by Serving Others
This past Saturday I met with a young friend of mine who, I would say, is on fire for the Lord. She serves God by going on mission trips, she volunteers with her church's youth group. She prays regularly and always seeks God's will in her life. She loves to worship and she reads her Bible daily and leads Bible studies. Her fire burns brightly.

But if she didn't do any of those things, her fire would start to fade and her faith would grow cold. How are you doing in those four areas I just mentioned. Are you doing all of them excitedly? Continually? We should be.

One more though about fires and our need to keep them burning. My wife and I have a wood-burning fireplace. We build fires in it but we had to buy our fire wood from a friend. Who pays for the "wood" in the life of a Christian? Who paid for our sinfulness? Well, Jesus did. As the old hymn goes, "Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe."

Don't Let The Fire Die - Stephen Curtis Chapman
To Build a Fire - Jack London
Jesus Paid It All - Newsboys 

(This was my 600th story written for this blog. Thanks for reading! Love you!)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is over. The turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes are all in the fridge, chillin'. The pumpkin pie is half-eaten and covered with aluminum foil. My belt has been loosened to the last notch just to protect the innocent bystanders should there be a structural failure. Things are finally beginning to get back to normal.

It was a rather typical Thanksgiving in that we did all of the same things we do every year. There was food and family and football. Yet this Thanksgiving felt different than any other Thanksgiving for some reason.

Maybe it's because the Packers are sucking this year. Maybe it's the whinny liberal news media who didn't get their way in this year's presidential election. It could be because I see a nation splitting into different factions and then warring with one another instead of "one nation, under God."

Life in our family is going good. We have jobs, we have food, we have love. Still something is not quite right. I think I figured out what it is though.

The Bible tells us in Romans 12 (among others places) that we are all given gifts. It describes

"We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully." - Romans 12:6-8

As far as I can tell through my self-examination I have been given the gift of mercy. What that means is that when someone I love is hurting, I want to help. The helping always makes me feel good. That's not a problem. What hurts is when I WANT to help but am unable to.

There are people I know who are struggling right now. They need help. They need some assistance. I see that need and I want to help. I get that part. But it's more than that. I NEED to help. Not helping those in need eats away at me inside. I causes sleepless nights as I search for ways to come to the rescue of those I love. Sometimes the gift of mercy can feel more like a curse. But that's a good thing. The gift of mercy in His children is God's gift to the hurting.

Perhaps that is why I feel a little down this Thanksgiving. I have been unable to serve some of the people in my life the way I'd like to. For me, my sin is knowing that God wants me to do something and then not doing it.

There is a verse that is haunting me right now. Here it is.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" - Matthew 7:9-11

I read that and think two things. First, I feel like I am giving my friends in need stones and snakes. I am not being much help. The second thing is I am not asking God to help them as often or as passionately as I should. And THAT is why I am not feeling 100% this Thanksgiving. It is my own failure at doing what God wants me to do that is causing me to be sad.

Perhaps this story of my failure will be the incentive I need to turn things around and do something. I hope so. I NEED to do something. God has placed me in a position to serve and I am doing nothing. THAT is what must change. I must turn nothing into something. Perhaps then I can get some rest.

Father, I ask you today to forgive us our sins - the things we have done to be sure. but today I seek forgiveness for the things I have NOT done. I pray for strength and determination, that we might actually MOVE, rather than stand still. So, I personally and humbly ask  for wisdom so I may know what to do when called to do so. And I ask for strength, that I would do the things you ask me to do - not in MY name but in yours. We must become less, you must become more. I pray for your mercy so that we may show that mercy to those you have placed in our paths. May we be not only hearers of your Word, but doers of it as well. And may we be thankful for these feelings of inadequacy and helplessness, for they draw us closer to you. All these things I pray in the name of Jesus. Thank you for hearing our prayers. Amen.

Happiness Is Helping Others

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Commands of Jesus: Don't Throw Stuff!

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces." - Matthew 7:6

"Throwing pearls to swine." What the heck does THAT mean? And why would I do that? If I had some pearls (not likely) I sure wouldn't throw them at a pig.

So what does that phrase mean? Well I'll give you an example. A friend of mine at work made an amazing quilt to give to someone. It was very intricate and took a lot of time to sew all of the pieces together. Surely the recipient would be pleased wit such a treasure.

When the gift was given the response was, "Oh . . . uh, thanks." No appreciation at all. That's what Jesus meant when He told us NOT to throw our pearls to those who don't appreciate what they have been given.

Any Christian, when asked, "What is your most valuable possession?" should answer, "My salvation. We have been given a tremendous gift by God! Unfortunately, there are many people in this world who just don't want to hear about God or Jesus or anything faith-based. Try though we might, they just don't want to hear it.

I think what Jesus is saying here is don't waste your time speaking to those who don't want to hear the message. Move on. There are plenty of other people who will appreciate what we have to say.

That sounds a little cold, coming from Jesus, unless you know Him.

We are merely deliverers of a message. We are not in the business of changing people's minds. God does that. We should deliver God's message, The Gospel, and move on. There are some people will simply refuse to hear it because it is foolishness to them.

The gift of salvation is like a beautiful strand of pearls. Incredibly valuable. One might even say priceless. Why offer someone such a gift if they don't really want it?

We have been called to spread the Gospel wherever we go. We have also been told to make disciples. But nowhere does it say we are to waste our time where God's Holy Spirit has not laid the groundwork.

Preach the Gospel. Always! But if it is not received . . . time to move on to another town.

Thanksgiving is a great time to speak to others about the pearl of great price YOU have been given. Speak from your heart, speak in live, but don't spend time speaking to those whose hearts have been hardened. That is what prayer is for.

14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town." - Matthew 10:14-15

Pearl of Great Price

Monday, November 21, 2016

Human Curling


Do you know what curling is? According to Wikipedia, "Curling is a sport in which players slide stones on a sheet of ice towards a target area which is segmented into four concentric circles." A sport? That sounds more like a bunch of bored people on a Friday night, making up a game to entertain themselves. Just kidding!

When I was in high school my mom had a miniature curling "stone" on her dresser. It's probably still there. I wasn't sure why until I found out the sport was first played in Scotland. My mom is Scottish and rather proud of that fact.

Recently on Facebook I was reminded of "a special memory" that Facebook thought would be good for me to see again. It was from seven years ago when I was a youth leader at church. It was a video I filmed of a youth group game I invented called Human Curling.

That sounds crazy enough to be an AMAZING youth group activity all by itself, but my game also carried a message along with it. I equated the sport of curling to the lives we live while we are here on earth. There is a beginning point and an ultimate goal, and then, in between those two points, there is a whole lot of stuff that happens that can ultimately change our final resting spot.

After we our born (our beginning point) we are directed towards our destination. Often, those effecting our outcome in life are our parents, our teachers, our friends and family members. But we can also be directed by our experiences, our highs and our lows, and even by those who oppose us.

I have a young friend who, I'm sure, was an amazing child. Interactions with friends and foe shaped her early life. But one day her parents got a divorce. I'm sure my friend witnessed many a battle in the living room or the kitchen. How can a child witness those things and not be re-directed in life.

We all have had similar experiences, similar life direction changes. As we travel through this life, how can we possibly end up on our intended target? Where we always wanted to be?

I forgot to mention earlier someone else who has the power to re-direct our lives. His name is Elohim - God. Once we have veered off life's path, He is the only one who can change our ultimate destination. You name the sin, God has the power to overcome it.

Our ultimate target in this life is that, when we come to the end of it, we will have placed our faith in His Son, Jesus. It is by our faith in Him that we are saved and get to proceed to game #2 - eternal life.

The curling rink of life has seen many "stones" thrown down the ice. The side boards are littered with them. But only a few arrive at their final destination. Only a few stay on target or are directed there by our Savior.

Where are you on the ice of life? Has your aim strayed from the target? Is your life going some place it shouldn't be? If it is, it is not too late to call for assistance.

"In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." - Proverbs 3:6

"Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you." - Proverbs 4:25

Human Curling