Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Are you ready?

I've been working from one list to another the last few days, making last minute preparations: writing my Christmas Eve message for our Church service, doing hospital visits, church office work, making plans for church in 2009, attending all the Christmas parties and programs, trying to squeeze in time for those last few Christmas presents. This time of year is always a flurry of activities and "to do" lists. But one thing I've been trying to hold onto: my time with God each morning, nothing elaborate, just a half an hour or so to read Scripture, pray, and let God's Grace shower over me. If it wasn't for that time, that "God and me" time, I might be overwhelmed with all the preparations for Christmas. In fact, I might just forget what this season is really about altogether.
How about you? I know you're probably running around like me, attending to all those last minute Christmas details. Or maybe you are wishing you had some details to take your mind off the trials in your life. Have you taken a few minutes today to be with God? To let His healing, forgiving, graceful, righteous, peaceful, and always loving Spirit wash over you?
It doesn't take much: five or ten minutes (how ever long you can make), a Bible, the Lord's Prayer, whatever you have. It doesn't have to be in the morning. It can be at night, at lunch, at your break time. Whatever you have, if you offer it to God, you'll be surprised how ready God is to bless you this Christmas Season.
Don't worry too much if you missed a Christmas card, if the turkey is dry, or if that last present doesn't quite work out, JESUS COMES TO YOU AND ME NO MATTER WHAT AND SAYS: "I LOVE YOU TODAY, JUST LIKE I DID ON THAT CROSS ALMOST 2,000 YEARS AGO! MERRY CHRISTMAS!"

Friday, December 19, 2008

Step up to the plate

There is a phrase in baseball (and life) which I use a lot: "step up to the plate." Since I am a lover of baseball, this phrase gets a lot of mileage with me. It is very relevant for our spiritual lives, as well.
Just this morning, I was finishing the story of the biblical character, Esther. What a hero of our faith! Even though she faced possible death for approaching the king of the land in which she dwelled, she did "step up to the plate." Sometimes, what is not said in a Biblical passage is as important as what is said. The text doesn't say exactly how Esther felt when she approached the king. Were her knees knocking? Was her voice crackly from nerves? Did she feel butterflies in her stomach? Was she filled with dread on what would happen to her? The text does not say! It simply says that she put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the palace, opposite the king.
Later, she seemed to lose her nerve and delayed sharing her request with the king (which involved accusing his assistant, Haman, of a heinous plot to annihilate her race). She invited the king and Haman to a banquet then balked, then invited them to a second banquet, where she finally blurted out Haman's genocidal plot.
What all this means to us today is that there are times when we have to "step up to the plate," and exercise our faith. That doesn't mean it will be easy. That doesn't mean that we will have no doubts. But it does mean that God calls us to act on our faith.
It may be to reach out to someone who is needy. It may be to sing in the choir or praise band. It may be to oppose a racist remark someone makes. It may be to step up to the altar and say "I do" to the one you love. It may be to step into that funeral of a loved one. It may be to walk away from gossip. It may be to walk away from that group of friends at school who offer you drugs. One thing is for sure: if you "step up to the plate," Jesus steps with you. He will strengthen you, even if you feel unsure, scared, or downright nauseas. Step up to the plate!!! And you will be blessed by the One who made you!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

For such a time as this!

  • The biblical book of Esther is interesting. There is no mention of God in the whole book. According to some scholars, it barely made it into the Bible. Yet, it is such an engaging story of courage, faith, and deliverance. The main character Esther is caught in a dilemma. Through God's providence, she ends up as the new queen of King Xerxes of Persia, a position most girls in the Persian Empire of Esther's day would die for. Yet, her head doesn't even get used to the crown when she gets word from her cousin, Mordecai (her legal guardian) that her whole race is going to be annihilated by an evil man named Haman. Mordecai asks Esther to speak to the king on behalf of her whole race, the Jews (God's Chosen People). Esther balks at the idea, reminding Mordecai that she could be put to death for having the audacity to appear before the king uninvited. Then Mordecai makes the following exclamation:
"For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?"

Mordecai tells Esther that she will not be safe just because she is in the king's palace.
In the mystery of God's providence, I believe we are all here for "such a time as this." Everyone has a purpose conceived in the mind and heart of God. Years ago, I went to the bedside of an elderly woman who could not speak, move, or eat food. She had a feeding tube. For some reason, I started singing Amazing Grace to her and she joined in. She could not really sing like you and I can, but she definitely was singing in her own way, with all her heart. Many would look at this woman as useless. They would even question why she was still here, but that day, in her room, many years ago, I was moved beyond words.
If this woman, bound to a bed, totally handicapped and incapable of "normal" speech had the purpose of showing me how to praise God no matter what happens, then certainly, you and I have a purpose from God today! Wondering what your purpose is? (So did Esther and she found out) Ask God! Pray! Read God's instructions for you, the Bible! Worship with God's people at church! Sooner or latter, God will show you a place of service for His Glory! You are made for "such a time as this."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cynicism, false messiahs, and real HOPE

In Disciple Bible study this week we considered two extremes in which people often live. The one is CYNICISM, characterized by a negative view of the world, people, and a sort of hopeless outlook on life. We all know people who are like this. They are always negative, always pointing out the flaws in everything. My grandma used to call these types of folks "nay-sayers," meaning that they put down any new ideas or possible solutions to problems. This seems to be the prevailing spirit in these times of economic tribulation.
But did you know that CYNICISM is really a religion???!!! Yes, it was founded by Antisthenes in the 4th century B.C. It was a religion that rejected all the usual forms of the pursuit of happiness in the wider culture. Not all of this was bad, as cynicism pointed out the pointlessness of greed. However, the Cynics (followers of Antisthenes) got quite a bad reputation because they ended up crticizing EVERYTHING, not just morally bankrupt behavior. Soon, they were simply known as the most negative, critical people in the world. Because Cynicism is really a religion, then it is completely unacceptable for someone claiming Jesus as Lord and Savior. Are you a Cynic?
The other extreme are the folks who believe the solution to all our problems (and the human dilemma itself) is one quick fix away. (I saw much of this that centered around the recent presidential election in which many seemed to expect Obama or McCain to be an "instant messiah" who would cure all our problems as a country).
The Disciple lesson this week encouraged us as Christians to reject either extreme. We, instead are called to HOPE, not a naive kind of hope that expects things to be instantly cured, but a REAL HOPE in the power of God to set things right in the universe. As a response to the great love that God has shown us in Jesus Christ and the incredible victory over sin and death that Jesus won, we are called as Christians to live out God's HOPE by sharing the love of Christ in a cold, cynical world. We do not think that we have all the answers, but we do know that we have the most valuable gift of all: the grace and forgiveness of the Lord.
How might you reject cynicism and false hopes in the powers of this world this week? Maybe feed the hungry, visit the sick or imprisoned, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked. It is the response that Jesus himself recommended to all his followers including you and me.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Trouble, trouble, trouble

Daniel 12.1:"At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people--everyone whose name is found written in the book--will be delivered."
There has always been a lot of heated discussion about the book of Daniel. Some scholars think it is only referring to the "abomination that causes desolation" that occurred when Antiochus Ephipanes desecrated the altar of the Lord in the Temple in 167 B.C. Others think Daniel refers to the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Still other scholars believe that Daniel is referring to different times of suffering at the hands of brutal dictators in the past, present, and future.
I will leave these arguments to the full time professors. One thing that stands out to me in the verse above is that God has supernatural powers that are working for the good of those who are God's chosen people. Michael, that is mentioned, is an archangel that does much of the Lord's fighting in the supernatural realm. I've always thought that if we even had a glimpse of the battles that go on in the spiritual realm, we'd be terrified to death. Suffice it to say that GOD IS IN CONTROL, even when we are overwhelmed by the cataclysmic events we see and experience in this world, even during this "time of distress" or any other time of distress. And the best news of all is that, if you trust Jesus as Lord and Savior, then your name is written in the book, God's book of eternal life!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

All kingdoms rise and fall except . . .

I'm continuing to read the biblical book, Daniel. Today the reading covered Daniel interpreting dreams and visions of King Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius. All these kings were faced with the harsh truth that their kingdoms would fall. In fact, Daniel goes so far as to say that ALL EARTHLY KINGDOMS will fall. Only one KINGDOM will last forever and that is the Kingdom of God. We do well to remember that, even in America.
I want to be sure that I'm connecting my hopes, dreams, and plans for the future to a Kingdom that will not end. As the Apostle Paul writes in ICorinthians 7.31: "For this world in its present form is passing away." One glance at history tells us that the kingdoms of this world are indeed fragile, even the most impressive ones.
Egypt is not a superpower. Assyria is no more. Babylon is no more. Alexander the Great's Empire lies in ruins. The Roman Empire is no more. But the KINGDOM OF GOD goes on forever. That's where I want my true citizenship to be! "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3.20)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

God's kitchen

This morning, my Disciple Bible Study reading was from the book of Daniel. If you've ever read Daniel, you know that Daniel and his friends were some of the exiles from the Jews' homeland of Judah. They were young men, most likely from the noble class who King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon deported from Judah and sent through his royal training program, intending for them to be servants in his court.
Part of the program was to eat royal rations from Nebuchadnezzar's palace. (I'm sure most of you are just about salivating now, just imagining what kind of tasty delicacies a king must have.)
But Daniel and his friends did a very strange thing! They refused to eat even one bite of the rich king's food! Why in the world would they do that? Because their God had commanded them that some things were off limits for them, including some foods. Someone once said: "a God that doesn't get care what you eat isn't worth serving!" So, Daniel and his friends' act of refusal was much more than simple taste preference. IT WAS AN ACT OF OBEDIENT WORSHIP TO THE ONE TRUE GOD!
Now, all this seems quaintly ancient to us modern folks. Or does it? Last year, on a famous reality t.v. show, a local Christian radio host refused to participate in a Buddhist worship service that she and other participants in the reality show were encouraged to attend. She was strongly criticized as being "another one of those goody-two-shoes, holier than thou Christians."
I saw it as a clear act of obedience similar to Daniel's actions so long ago. What do you need to say "no" to today in order to faithfully follow Christ? The latest gossip at school, church, or work, racism, assuming the worst about someone, always trying to be right, driving dangerously just to get ahead of others . . . the list goes on and on . . .

Monday, December 8, 2008

Mystery and Wonder

The biblical book of Job confronts the question of human suffering but does not offer any simple answers. Someone once said: "beware of simple answers to the questions of life because life is anything but simple." We are told that the biblical character, Job, is a good man. In fact, the Lord boasts that "there was no one on earth as faithful and good as [Job]. He worships me and is careful not to do anything evil." Job was incredibly blessed, but lost everything but his own life (and even that was on thin ice). Job questions why God has chosen to make him suffer so terribly. He questions why God allows the good to suffer and the evil to prosper. After Job has a verbal wrestling match with his friends over the cause of his calamities, God enters the scene and asks: "Were you there when I made the world?" "Can you guide the stars season by season?" In the end, no easy answer is offered for the cause of human suffering. What is offered is an emphasis on God's sovereignty and God's ultimate control over the Universe. The other result is MYSTERY AND WONDER. A wise teacher recently taught me: "when you don't understand something, turn to wonder." Brilliant! In our analytical, scientific, cynical world, we resist WONDER. Why? Because we want to have control. But mystery and wonder can ultimately lead us to WORSHIP, worship of the God who made us. And that is exactly where we need to go!
(Interested in Job's story? Read if for yourself at www.crosswalk.com!)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A good friend sent me this excerpt from Anne Graham Lotz' s new book. I believe it is God's word for me today:


When your spirit is heavy, When your heart is broken, When your future is bleak. When your dreams are shattered, when your memories are haunting, when your burdens are unbearable, JUST PRAISE HIM...
If He never answers your prayers,
if He never heals your disease,
if he He never solves your financial crisis.
If he never reconciles your relationship,
if He never lifts your burdens.
If He never erases your memories,
Just exert your will and PRAISE HIM FOR WHO HE IS.
And because praise is the switch that turns on the light in the darkness of your life!!!"

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


In Disciple Bible study, we are reading Job this week. I began to re-read this always-challenging story of a man who had it all and then lost it all. What struck me this morning as I read was the way Job reacted to unspeakable tragedy in his life. (In one day, he lost: 500 yoke of oxen, 500 donkeys, countless servants, 7000 sheep, 3,000 camels, seven sons, three daughters, and his health! And we think we have bad days, sometimes!)
Job then said these now famous words Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1.21)
Now, I think this is much more than Job just "keeping a stiff upper lip." It reflects an understanding that ultimately, our lives are in God's hands. It also reflects an understanding that we are to hold on loosely to the things of this world.
If you're a Star Wars fan like I am, you may recognize these wise words of the Jedi Master, Yoda, "Attachment leads to jealously. The shadow of greed, that is." The truth that Yoda is echoing is found most completely in the Bible as it teaches us to "seek first God's Kingdom" and not to set our hearts on the passing things of this world.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Shack--conclusion

Elizabeth Barrett Browning writes:
"Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries."
Thus ends the incredible work of fiction called The Shack that William Paul Young created.
This masterful work of literature is perhaps akin to The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis or The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein. It's almost that good! Certainly, present in The Shack are the themes of God's love and grace, friendship, and God's never ending reaching out to humanity for salvation and redemption. Most books do not change your life. A few are enjoyable while being read, but the details quickly forgotten. But I know that I shall never forget this book. Young's exploration of the Holy Trinity and God's way of relating to the main character are fascinating.
One troubling point about the book: in Young's universe, the Church seems to be relegated to an outdated institution at the least and as an all-out sinful attempt to control and dominate people at the worst. Not true! The Church can be the very place where a relationship with God like the main character in The Shack experiences can begin, be nurtured, and grow. It seems that in The Shack, "church" is only experienced with Mack's nuclear family and closest friend.
I can truly see how someone who has had bad experiences in the Church would resonate with this creative conception of what "church" is.
Overall, I have received good ideas from The Shack: things fresh from Sarayu's garden, things like love, grace, redemption, reconciliation, sacrifice, honesty, and over all the LOVE AND GRACE OF GOD FOR ALL GOD'S CHILDREN!