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Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Father and a Son


Does it feel like Christmas?

I was talking with several people this past week about this and a few of them mentioned that it doesn’t feel like Christmas to them.

They are not where they would like to be or are usually at Christmas time.

The family is all grown up and live far away some as far away as heaven.

Here (Chicagoland), there’s no white Christmas this year.

Some were so busy that Christmas just seemed to pass them by or got lost in all the busyness.

So, does it feel like Christmas to you?

The question behind that question is what is Christmas supposed to feel like?

I’ve come to the realization that all my feelings of what Christmas is supposed to feel like are mostly transitory. The presents, the white Christmas, the wonder and amazement in a small child’s eyes – these are all momentary, for me any way, of what Christmas is supposed to feel like.

You see, there were some years there are no presents, no white Christmas, and, of course, children do grow up. These feelings are fleeting and ephemeral. In other words, they don’t last.
That is why I chose to base this Christmas message on a somewhat unusual Scripture passage – Hebrews chapter 1.

Even before Jesus Christ was born, there was a Christmas Anticipation. It wasn’t based on a snowfall or anything fleeting like that.

1Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets.

God had been speaking to “our fathers” for a long time about a coming savior.

The savior would be an offspring of Eve Genesis 3:15

The savior would be a descendent of Abraham Genesis 12:3 and 18:18

The savior would come from the Israelite tribe of Judah Genesis 49:10

The savior would be a prophet like Moses Deuteronomy 18:15-19

The savior would be the Son of God Psalm 2:7

The savior would be born of a virgin Isaiah 7:14

The savior would be born in Bethlehem Micah 5:2

The savior would save his people from their sins Isaiah 53

These were all promises made to our fathers – our fore-fathers, actually. And it was these promises that formed their anticipation of Christmas.

These promises, these prophecies, were handed down from father to child through thousands of years and hundreds of generations.

These promises were most important when so many fathers and children were in exile from their homeland. That anticipation takes the form of a beloved Christmas carol for us today.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Anticipation for something that never happens is a cruel punishment. Our God is not cruel. He loves us with an everlasting love. One of the most awesome proofs of that love is that Christmas moved from anticipation to actuality.

1Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets

but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 

Then, God spoke to our fathers. Now, God speaks to us by His Son. Jesus Christ speaks to us through words and action. Jesus speaks to us out of His humanity. Jesus was born.

On Christmas.

He became a man. He was the Son of God. And through His Son, God the Father speaks to us.
Christmas anticipation is culminated in Christmas actuality. But there are so many who are skeptical, at best, of any kind of Christmas authenticity.

Christmas is authentic as a father’s love. Ah, but that’s the problem, isn’t it? So many people today are missing their father’s love. Some call it a “father wound.” Some just call it reality today – with 17.8 million children not having a father at home. It’s not hard to look at the “Father’s Love at Christmas” with cynicism.

I can appreciate that. But there is a Father’s love that can be trusted, can be counted on, and that knows no bounds. In fact, it was the Son’s mission to convey that Father’s love to us.

Jesus was born on Christmas. And though many see today as the end of a long season of preparations, presents, and provisions, today is really just the beginning! It was the beginning of Jesus’ mission to bring us the message of God the Father’s love and it was the beginning of Jesus’ mission to bring us back to God the Father.

Today we mark the birth of Jesus Christ – who was born to be our substitute. Our sin, inherited from Adam and Eve and the sin we’ve committed during our lives, was paid for by Jesus Christ. Jesus lived the perfect life that we could not live. Jesus Christ then died on the cross to forgive our sin. He rose from the dead to give us new life (now and when we, too, will rise from the dead), and then Jesus’ mission was completed when He ascended into heaven with the promise that He will return one day to bring us to heaven, too.

Mission complete. Or very nearly so.

Until Jesus comes back, there’s something we have to do, now that we are saved from our sins. Let me, for a moment, speak directly to you fathers today.

Dads, this day can be a new day for you. You have what may be an historic opportunity. You could change history today. Think of it as a Christmas Act…

from a father to a child.

Dads, take the opportunity of having your children around you this day to first, pray for them. And second, tell them you love them and that God loves them through Jesus Christ.

I know some of you will feel uncomfortable because you feel you don’t know how to do that. I know how you feel. That’s why I lead a men’s Bible study each week; to learn more about God’s love for us, how to be men after his own heart, and how to share that with our kids. You can join us – we meet again Thursday, January 5 or Saturday, January 7.

But let me tell you a story about how a dad did this and made a huge impact on America.

“To my knowledge, no biographies have been written about the life of George McCluskey. But he was a man who decided to make a shrewd investment. As he married and started a family, he decided to invest one hour a day in prayer for his children. You see, he wanted his kids to follow Christ and to someday establish their own homes where Christ was honored. After a time, he decided to expand his prayers to include not only his children, but their children, and the children after them. Every day between 11 a.m. and noon, he would pray for the next three generations.

“As the years went by, his two daughters committed their lives to Christ and married men who went into full-time ministry. The two couples produced four girls and one boy. Each of the girls married a minister and the boy became a pastor. The first two children born to this generation were both boys. Upon graduation from high school, the two cousins chose the same college and became roommates. During their sophomore year, one of the boys decided to go into the ministry as well. The other didn’t. He knew the family history and undoubtedly felt some pressure to continue the family legacy by going into the ministry himself, but he chose not to. In a manner of speaking, this young man became the black sheep of the family. He was the first one in four generations not to go into full-time Christian ministry.

“He decided to pursue his interest in psychology and, over the years, met with success. After earning his doctorate, he wrote a book for parents that became a best-seller. He then wrote another and another, all best-sellers. Eventually he started a radio program that is now heard on more than a thousand stations each day. The black sheep’s name? James Dobson, without a doubt the most influential and significant leader of the pro-family movement in America. His ministry is the direct result of the prayers of a man who lived four generations ago.” (Steve Farrar, Point Man, pages 154-55)

This day – Christmas Day – is not just a birthday of a baby born 2000 years ago. It marks an event that changed the history of the world. It is also a day that can change your life.

Moving from anticipation, to actuality, to authenticity – Christmas is a day that a Father loved, a Son was born, and you are saved. It is also a day that you are put in a position to change the lives of a generation of children – change them with the Authentic Christmas Message.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Time is Here


Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year
Christmas 1991 was the first Christmas Nancy and I celebrated as husband and wife. After talking about how we wanted to celebrate Christmas in our new family, one of the things we decided was that we would decorate our Christmas tree with one ornament a year. Each year we would find one special ornament, and only one, and hang it on the tree. It also had to have the year clearly marked on it.
That first was a traditional ornament that depicted a couple in 19th Century garb skating together on a snowy pond with the words, “Our First Christmas Together 1991.”
It didn’t matter that neither one of us skate, nor do we live in the 19th Century (however, I did have a mustache at the time), it was the perfect ornament for our first Christmas together.
The tree that year looked a little goofy with only one ornament on it (plus white lights and a simple garland). But we were looking ahead to the time when the tree would be filled with ornaments as we filled our home with children.
1996 was the sixth ornament for our tree and our first Christmas as parents. Nancy is a great mother, as I knew she would be. So the ornament that year reflected her new role as mother. (You can see R2D2 next to it, that was 2005′s ornament).
Snowflakes in the air
Carols everywhere
Olden times and ancient rhymes
Of love and dreams to share
Our tree now has a diverse collection of ornaments – from footballs to Ralphie with his Red Ryder BB gun.
My favorite is the ornament from 2001. It was our 11th ornament and our house was now full of those children that were just hopes 10 years before.
Sleigh bells in the air
Beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside
And joyful memories there
Our tree now is full with 21 ornaments. The 2011 ornament was picked democratically – but also evidence of a family with three growing boys and one grown boy outnumbering the lady amongst us!.
In our family, Christmas is just about our most favorite time of year. We look forward to the time we get to spend together – playing hockey in the driveway, basketball in the gym, monopoly in the dining room, and baseball on the Wii. We also love the time we get to spend together at church. I’m usually preaching Christmas morning. When we first were married, Nancy had to sit by herself in the pew. Now that the boys are old enough to help with the service, carrying the cross or lighting the candles and taking the offering, she is again usually sitting by herself in the pew.
But we wouldn’t have it any other way. Because we are still all together, sharing memories and making new ones, since Christmastime is here again.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Merry Christmas!
Christmas time is here
We’ll be drawing near
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year…
Christmastime is Here lyrics by Lee Mendelson

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Another Way of Looking At It


Oh that you would rend the heavens aand come down….” The cry of the prophet Isaiah is the cry of many of us today. That Christ would return and we could all go to heaven.

Yet we don’t know when that will be. Just sitting around and waiting for it to happen is not what Christ had in mind for us when He said, “Go therefore andmake disciples ofall nations….”

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, and many of us are still basking in its warm glow of family, friends, and food, what can we do now to carry out the mission Christ has given us?

I propose another way to look at this weekend, the first weekend in Advent 2011.

I think there are three reactions this first weekend after Thanksgiving brings.

Many people put up Christmas lights, their tree, and decorations this time of year. I won’t go into all the commercialism about Christmas in the stores – that’s been done in movies and TV shows and it’s become a cliché.

But many are now into the spirit of “full speed ahead” to Christmas. I’m included in that. I’ve produced my 2011 Classical Christmas show that will be broadcast very soon. I listen to Christmas music on my office computer. At home we have Christmas music on and we watch Christmas movies on Friday nights.
These are very visible and obvious things to do and will naturally draw attention. It can be a good way to tell people about Jesus as you have their attention.

Another reaction is the exact opposite. I know of people – good, Christian brothers and sisters – who are just as visible and obvious about not getting into the more public Christmas spirit at this time of year. And there’s nothing wrong with this – because it can bring glory to God and because doing this can also draw attention and the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be shared just as powerfully.

The third reaction is in the middle of the first two reactions. This is the reaction I most want to have. I really look forward to Christmas. Yet I also have to check myself so that I do not go overboard, trying to do all the Christmas things all at once.

I am eager. I pray to be patient – or at least as patient as possible – in my expectation of Christmas.
This third reaction reminds me of being eager yet patient for the coming – that is, the 2nd Coming – of Jesus Christ. How do I do that, though?

Where can I learn how to be eager yet patient?

By putting myself in some Old Testament Shoes.

1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence—2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3 When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. (Isaiah 64:1-3)

700 years before Jesus was born, God’s people were also expecting the coming of Jesus. They didn’t know how long it would be until God sent His Messiah. Much was going on – foreign enemies threatening them and actually attacking them. Their internal situation was also in question with some chasing after false gods.

Isaiah spoke for God as a prophet and I suspect also spoke for many of the people in their eager and hard-to-be patient expectation of their redemption that would come from God.

The question on everyone’s mind was “God, where are you?” Not unlike today, I imagine.
We are asking this question because of all the problems in today’s world. Wars, famine, crimes, economic failures, lack of jobs, infidelity, immorality, and all the others sins that plague us today.

The prophet Isaiah and the people 700 years before Jesus was born faced the same sins. The prophet is looking for God. Then he looks into his own heart and the heart of his people – as should we.

6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

When we ask where God is amidst pain, danger, and sin, we should also ask ourselves who we are. Not because God is absent because we are sinners – that’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying that we need to understand ourselves and our sinful condition in order to understand where God is and what He is doing. We are directed to the mirror of the Law to recognize ourselves as well as to be prepared to recognize who God is.

8 But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:8)

God formed Adam out of the clay of the ground. In a sense, we are all formed out of clay. And we have a Master Potter – God our heavenly Father. The people of God 700 years before Jesus’ birth were told this again and again. In the same way we have to be reminded that God is our Father and we are the work of His hands.

All the more so as we wait – in whatever way we wait – for both the first and 2nd coming of Jesus Christ.

Now let’s take off our Old Testament shoes and put on our Advent 2011 shoes.

It is so important to be in a Bible study because we all need to look for God where God is. We need to know God and how much He loves, cares, and saves us.

God is here in His Word. God is here in the Sacraments. Worship and Bible study are an excellent – if not the most excellent – way of preparing for Christmas and the 2nd Coming of Jesus Christ.

We also need to recognize who we are in Jesus Christ.

Because of our sin, we cannot come to God. We cannot save ourselves. We need help. That is why God sent Jesus Christ to be our Savior. In order to save us, Jesus had to be God. But in order to save us – we who are clay – Jesus also had to be clay. He had to be born of a woman. He had to live the perfect life in our place (because we could not). He died once and for all to take our sins away. He rose from the dead to seal our eternal life and ascended into heaven with the promise that he would return again to take us to heaven – that would be the 2nd Advent.

Meanwhile, we are again at the beginning of the Season of Advent. Many are going full-speed ahead to Christmas where they will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and our salvation. Many are taking a more low-keyed approach to the holiday season and will have a different opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus at this time of year. And some of us will be in the middle of these two reactions.

Yet we are all eager for the coming of Christ. We are all trying to be patient in our expectation of the return of Christ. And we all – in our own ways and observances – can share the Good News of Jesus Christ who came and will come again.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Forgiveness


"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” – Matthew 18:15

According to Ken Sande, founder of Peacemakers Ministries, there are four promises one makes that involve real forgiving:
  1. I won’t brood over this incident.
  2. I won’t dwell on this incident, bringing it up again to use it against you.
  3. I won’t talk to others about this incident.
  4. I won’t allow this incident to create distance between us or hinder our relationship.
Does your family have an “incident” that keeps being brought up year after year or at more frequent family gatherings? For example, Uncle Ervin getting drunk and violent at the family picnic in the summer of 1967. Or cousin Suzanne being confronted by her husband at the family Christmas party in 1978. These incidents can become almost legendary, taking on the status of a “Hatfield-McCoy” type of legend.

But when they are continually brought up again and again for whatever reasons, they take on a life of their own. They also cripple any healing that can and must happen.

Some of the things we do or say do get out in the open. The consequences of that are enormous. But if we help that along by talking to others about wrongs that happen to us, we tear apart the healing process.

It’s natural to want to tell someone else when we’ve been hurt. We want to have someone else bear our burden with us. While there are circumstances where this is necessary and helpful, not everything should be shared. It could hurt both you and the person who has wronged you.

That’s why Jesus says that the first step in the forgiving process is to “go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.”

Jesus wouldn’t have said it if He wasn’t willing to model forgiving in this way. And so He did. His death on the cross was personal. It was between Him and you. Your sin separated you from God. But God loved you so much that He sent Jesus to restore you with His death and resurrection.

This salvation is also your power to forgive others. As God has forgiven you in Jesus Christ, so you can also forgive others when they sin against you. Your relationship can be restored through the power of the Gospel.

Keep that in mind when your family gets together this day to celebrate Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pilate's Choice


Image courtesy of photobucket.com
Thumbs up, or thumbs down.

Is this kind of stuff in your job description? Is it what you expect in life? 

Probably not.

It was in Pontius Pilate’s job description. As Governor of the Province of Judea for Rome he was always making serious choices, yet at the same time he is, for us, a sort of everyman. He was troubled with difficult situations just as we are when he tried to resist certain pressures, listen to his spouse, have courage, recognize goodness, then make a choice. He did well for nearly 11 years. But he never quite recovered from his brief, face-to-face encounter with Jesus Christ. Three years later, with what became called “The Samaritan Uprising” he was undone. He made a wrong choice.

The result? He was exiled to Gaul (France) in shame and disgrace, committing suicide there in AD 38.
Pilate was good at keeping the peace. But keeping the peace isn’t always the same as doing what’s right. 

Sometimes keeping the peace is just the opposite of doing what’s right. Sometimes we choose not to apologize. Sometimes we choose not to forgive. At what cost this peace — at home, at work or at play? Sometimes peace, as the world defines it, is the wrong choice. Sometimes it’s better to take the risk. 

Sometimes we need to something hard in order to do what is right; to do what we should.

Did Pilate lose sight of that?

Do we?

It was just another early Spring workday for Pilate when Jesus showed up. One can imagine Pilate dropping whatever he was doing, and then going to see this criminal brought to his court. It’s just another day of the week to keep the peace and to keep his post. Just another life to judge. Ask questions, listen, weigh the evidence, then decide. Live or die.

The governor may have smirked at the irony of the circumstances — a captured, bound man accused of claiming kingship. A powerless peasant, really. An unarmed Jew from the underclass. Pilate asks, “Are you a king?

It’s a question he may not have been asking seriously. He probably did not take the matter of Christ’s kingship as soberly as we do on Christ the King Sunday.

On the face of it, it’s a preposterous question. Obviously, to Pilate, Jesus was not a king. He had no army. He had no city. He had no funding. No robes. No weapons.

He had nothing.

He was nothing.

To Pilate.

Jesus responds to Pilate’s question with an unexpected question of his own. (How often are we faced with unexpected questions in our lives when facing terrible or tricky choices?) “Governor,” says Jesus, “why ask your question? Do you think I am a king, or were you told I am a king?

Pilate may have wondered, “Is this stupidity, insolence or some kind of strength?” But he plays the situation with humor and skill — it is, after all, just a game to him. With slight irritation and perhaps a smirk, he replies, “How should I know? Am I one of your people? Your people, your leaders, brought you here to me.” Then getting to the serious point, he asks, “What have you done?

The expectation of the most powerful man in Judea, the representative of Emperor Tiberius, is that Jesus will answer directly.

Jesus does not.

Instead he replies that he is a king, but from another world.

Ahhhh. Another world. Hmmm. A game is afoot. This amusing man is harmless.

So Pilate displays some sportsmanship. Jesus is no threat. The peace will be kept. There’s no justification for killing him. It’s an easy choice. But at the end of this little interview, Pilate rhetorically asks Jesus, “What is truth?

What is truth? It’s not a serious question. It’s an unimportant and dismissive question. It’s a game question. It’s a sports question. It’s a question like “Who’s gonna’ win the game this Sunday?”

But there is another answer, because there is such a thing as godly truth, as opposed to gaming truth.
As it was, Pilate had godly truth standing in front of him, but he was so distracted by playing the game of keeping his post and keeping the peace that he missed it. He loses his footing, he drops the ball, he strikes out — because in making the wrong choice about Jesus, he loses power and he ultimately loses his life.

Jesus tells us that He is the way, the truth and the life. The Epistles further elaborate that Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension are the way to salvation, can be counted on to always be true and give us eternal life. That’s the truth that Pilate missed in his gamesmanship. It may be that we, too, miss this truth when we become so pressured by difficult choices that we forget, or never notice, that Christ is standing within us, beside us and among us as he told us he would.

In life we are not abandoned. God is present always.

It’s in the hard places in our lives that we must ask the tough questions while seeking godly truth. Then we should listen to the answers, weigh the evidence, judge and act — just like Pilate. Only let our choices be truth-seeking, not game-playing.

In the end, Pilate gave Jesus over to the whims of the furious rabble. He did the politically expedient thing. He kept the peace. Maybe he prevented a riot. He believed he had done the right thing.

That’s where Pilate and the rest of us are similar. When we are presented with life’s difficult choices we may choose to be expedient rather than do what is ultimately right. Making the right choice isn’t always easy or popular.

But is it Christian?

So what’s the hardest thing for you? Is it learning to forgive when we are hurt? Apologizing when we would rather not? Raising our children with love, kindness and direction every day, tirelessly? Loving our enemies, both personal and national? Having courage and faith in the face of our child’s death? These acts take hope and courage and are more challenging than anything in sports.

But we’re going to face them. No doubt about it. That’s what life is all about.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Saint? Sinner? Both?


I’ve been having an ongoing argument  discussion with a friend and brother in Christ.

It is about being “sanctified.”

The gist of the argument  discussion is:

Him: We are sanctified. We’re perfect right now! God forgave our sins!

His key Bible verse is “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10 ESV).

Me: We’re in process of being made perfect. A process that was started in our Baptism and will be complete when we go to heaven.

I have two key Bible verses (not that having twice as many as his is better – that’s not my point):

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but  press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12 ESV).

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:15-25 ESV).

There is a Latin phrase – simul justus et peccator - which loosely translated means “At the same time saint and sinner.”

Even though Christ died and rose again to forgive my sins and give me eternal life, I still have flesh and blood. I am forgiven but I am not perfect. I still sin yet am going to heaven because of my faith in Christ.

It is hard to wrap my head around that, as it is for my friend that I am having this discussion with. I’m saved. I sin. I’m forgiven.

I don’t want to sin anymore, but I’m right there with St. Paul.

I know that I shouldn’t sin. I even know how I can not sin – do what God wants me to do.

But I’m kind of like a major league baseball player. He knows how to hit a ball but does it less than 40% of the time he tries. I suspect my not-sinning average is below that, but hopefully you get my drift.

So I keep on trying. I live, breath, pray, repent, and keep at this thing called my Christian life.

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Monday, October 3, 2011

A New Day


“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” – Revelation 21:1

The Apostle John has seen some pretty amazing things – things he’s had a hard time, I think, describing. Seals and scrolls, devastation and destruction, all the things that accompany the end of the world as we know it. At the end of Revelation, John is given a glimpse of what awaits all those who have faith in Jesus Christ.

Heaven. That will definitely be a new day.

Often times I find myself in a predicament. I know that heaven awaits me. I’ll be going to heaven someday. Most likely it will be far away, years down the road, in the future. Even though its far away, I know I’ll be going. I’m certain of that because I have faith in the one who bled and died for me and now prepares a place for me (John 14:2-3). I know that’s coming.

But my trouble is that I don’t usually think about my life now as being “a new day.” But that isn’t right. Every day for me is “a new day.” Each day I wake up I’m not only a day closer to heaven, but I get to live a life that is filled with God’s presence. “Behind and before me” is what God is. Every step I take today, God is there.

When you come to faith in Christ – when the Holy Spirit creates faith in your heart through God’s Word – then each day after that is “a new day.” Each day will be an adventure to live. Each day will be a day that God will work some new miracle in your life.

As I write this, I glance out my window and I see a sky that is a solid blue. This is “a new day” that the Lord has brought me to. It is a day that holds so much promise. At the end of this day, I will sit down, look at the stars that sprinkle the sky and say a prayer of confession and thanksgiving. I will confess for wasting so much of this “new day” by sinning. I will give thanksgiving because Jesus forgives me and has turned my failures into victories (even if I can’t see it).

A new day will dawn where there will be no more tears, pain, or death. That’s the day when Jesus comes to take us home to heaven.

Each new day until then will hold the promise of being one more day closer. It will also hold the promise that Jesus will be with us this day and will forgive our sin and give us new life and a new adventure to live.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Baggage


Long before the "checked baggage wars" erupted a couple of years ago, I've been battling against some checked baggage fees of my own.

In the spring of 1995 I was asked by my best-friend-from-high-school to marry him.

No, not that way. I was soon-to-be ordained and he wanted me to officiate his wedding. I met with him and his fiance and we began to plan my part in their wedding.

I owe a lot to this man. He was my friend in high school when I really needed a friend. He shared with me his locker when I really needed one (my own locker's combination was known to some bullies and I had lost quite a bit of stuff). We shared a passion of computers at a time when Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were just getting their start. He tutored me to a passing grade in math.

At first I was very happy that he was getting married and felt great that he asked me to do the wedding.
Soon after meeting him and his fiance, I received a note from them with some requests about the wedding itself.

Everything was fine until I reached the stipulation that I do not mention God or Jesus. The family he was marrying into were atheists and he didn't want me to offend them.

Here I was, about to be ordained. I was about to start serving a Lutheran church in Michigan. My best friend was getting married. I couldn't mention Jesus.

What was I going to do?

I am ashamed to tell you that I declined to do the wedding, sort of at the last minute. It was about a month before the wedding. I told them I had become unavailable. I was going to be visiting my new congregation for the first time the weekend of their wedding.

I could have changed the date of my visit. But I didn't know what to do about the stipulation. I panicked. I told them I couldn't do it.

And I haven't talked to him in 16 years.

I still wake up in the middle of the night, every now and then, thinking about this. About what I did to brake our relationship. How do I fix it?

I've written him a couple of times, apologizing to him. Seeking his forgiveness.
But I hurt him too much. I can't blame him for closing that part of his past and moving on with his life.
And for the most part, I can live my life in peace and joy, too.

For the most part.

Still, on occasion, I think about it. I get a sinking feeling in my gut. I shake make head. I spiritually palm-slap my forehead.

I carry this baggage around with me. Sometimes I set it aside, move it to the basement or the storage locker I keep in the back of my brain.

Then I'll see something or hear something and I'll drag that particular piece of baggage out.

I don't know how to stop paying this baggage handling fee. I know I'm forgiven by Christ. I live in that forgiveness every single day of my life.

Thankfully, I have a good friend who listens and prays with me about all of this and more.

Someday I'll talk to my friend again. I hope we'll be able to restore our relationship.

Someday.

Persecuted


"Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. - Jesus (Matthew 5:11-2, ESV)

It is unclear what is going to happen to Yousef Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor living in Iran. What is clear is that he has been accused and convicted of abandoning the Islamic faith - which carries a death penalty in Iran. So far he has refused to renounce his Christian faith. His defense has been that he was never a Muslim as an adult and therefore, under Iranian law, has not committed a capital offense. Regardless, he says he will not renounce his faith in Jesus Christ.

He is facing persecution and execution.

Here in the United States, Christians face ridicule for having faith in Jesus. But rarely do we face execution for our faith today.

But it still happens in the world today, just as it did starting in the 1st Century AD.

The question I'm pondering today is: Would I be able to do what Yousef Nadarkhani is doing? Would I be able to publicly declare my faith in Jesus Christ, even to the point of death by execution?

Would you?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wasteband of Brothers


I read this on the blog:  Some Wise Guy.
It was a guest post from Sonny Lemmons, who’s blog is Looking Through the Windshield.
Thanks to both Sonny – for writing it – and KC – for posting it.

Episode #23 of the Wise Guy Wednesday series features Sonny Lemmons (no, he’s not a bright citrus fruit).
Sonny is a stay-at-home dad, a writer of stuff, a receiver of grace, and a drinker of coffee. His wife Ashley loves him, but has been tempted to yank his boxer briefs straight up to his ears at times.
Disclaimer: I suggest you put down the coffee mug while you read this.

Wasteband of Brothers

We’ve all been there. We’ve seen it played out in a movie, bore witness during the glory that was middle-school gym class, or we may have been the unfortunate recipient of one ourselves (raises hand).
courtesy of Fox
That’s right: I’m talking about the bane of the existence of every prepubescent boy who was a band geek, A/V club member, or who ever played or talked about Magic: The Gathering while at school.
The wedgie.
That snag-and-tug maneuver that helps ensure high school choirs will always have a tenor section.
What’s interesting to note is that while the majority of physical wedgies may cease once all parties are old enough to have a learner’s permit, the spirit of the wedgie echoes on throughout many of our adult lives.
God knows if you put enough men in a closed environment, we will eventually revert to seventh-grade humor, ridiculing one another, throwing down “Yo momma” jokes – all in jest. Until. Until there comes the time when the waistband gets pulled a little too tight and gets looped over our heart.
I’ve been there and done that. I’ve crossed into that realm of Proverbs 26:18-19 where after offending or hurting someone, you try to cover it by saying “I was only joking.” I didn’t mean what I said. I didn’t mean for that to be as offensive as it came across. I didn’t mean to sound racist, sexist, homophobic, or to do or say something that could hurt you or make you stumble.
And certainly not to grieve the Spirit.
Now, this is not to say that we can’t sit around on the couch cracking wise to one another. But as believers, we are called to something more, something bigger. We are called to maintain a heart of Ephesians 5:4 and not get coarse in the course of our fun.
While many of us might not wish to literally greet one another with a hagios, that term for “holy kiss” found in Romans 16:16 refers to us acting to one another with our kiss (or, the administered wedgie) as being consecrated, as in devotion to service of our God. Kissing in spirit, not in actuality.
We can show the world – and make our moms proud – by demonstrating through our actions that our underwear is clean and holy, set apart.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of a wedgie?
Boxers or briefs? Hanes or Fruit of the Loom?
For more from Sonny checkout his blog or follow him on Twitter.
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