Shepherds 5

Psalm 126:1-2

With the exception of a broken kitchen pipe in 2004, we have often said that it is nice to go on vacation but even better to come back home. What can bring about that kind of feeling? It is a return to safety, security, and familiar settings. It is a return to a place of comfort.

The psalmist in this passage is talking about the return of the Jews from captivity and exile. They were permitted to come back home, back to a place of comfort and safety. How are these returning exiles described? How did they react? What did others say about them?

This is an event that happened hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, yet these words can describe the present-day believer in Jesus Christ. Our exile is a life of sin and hopelessness. Our exile is fearing that there is nothing for us but the struggle of life in this world.

When we realize the importance of the profound gift of Jesus and the salvation he brings, then we too can be like the returning exiles. We can feel as if life is a dream when we recognize the importance of what Jesus is to each of us.

Our mouths can be filled with laughter and songs of joy when we know in our hearts that God loved us so much he gave His Son to us so that we might be reconciled to Him. We are brought back to a place of security and comfort, brought back into the presence and mercy of our God.

Christmas is a time of joy for all of us when we see that we are returned to everlasting life through the gift that was given in Bethlehem.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Take time this holiday to thank God for bringing you back to a safe place.

This will be our last 10/2 Grow for 2007. We will resume during the first week of January 2008 when we begin a series looking at the Fruit of the Spirit – based on Galatians 5:22. It is our sincere desire that all of you have a happy and blessed holiday.

Shepherds 4

Isaiah 12:4-6

“What did you get?” This is a question we will hear a great deal over the days we celebrate Christmas with friends and family. It is not a time of empty boasting or bragging, but a time of sharing the joy we know from the gifts we receive. It is a time of celebrating with the one who receives that they have been given a gift they wanted.

The prophet Isaiah speaks of sharing the joy of the faithful believer. This joy is experienced when the faithful know that the Messiah has come. What is the first thing we should do? Then what do we do? The second half of verse 5 talks of who should hear of this. Who is it? Why should we shout and sing for joy?

The first reaction of joy talked about in this passage is giving thanks to the Lord. As we celebrate Christmas, in the midst of all our excitement and gratitude, we should turn first to God and give thanks. We should thank the Lord as the source of all good gifts.

Then we can proclaim our joy to others. We can share the happiness and excitement of the many gifts we have received. But the first and most important gift we have received is the gift of Jesus.

God has been made flesh. He has come to earth to dwell among us, to offer guidance and mercy. And this is the greatest gift, making all others pale in comparison, but also paving the way for our happiness in other gifts because the most essential concern, salvation, has been taken care of through Christ.

This passage from Isaiah is a gushing forth, an outpouring of gratitude and elation over the gift of the Messiah. This holiday we too should gush forth with praise and gratitude for all that we receive, but primarily for the great gift of God’s Son in Jesus Christ. God has done glorious things, and He has done them for you.

Let us not forget to thank the Maker of all things with joy for what He has done.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How will you shout and sing for joy this holiday?

Shepherds 3

1 Peter 1:7-9

The great evangelist Billy Graham once said, “I have never seen the wind. I have seen the effects of the wind, but I have never seen the wind.”

The wind is not something we can see with our own eyes. We can see the results of it, and therefore we know it exists.

The same is true of our faith in Jesus Christ. Peter is talking about the trials and struggles of faith. Why do believers experience these trials? What emotion do we have even though we have not actually seen our Savior? What is the goal of our faith?

Faith is confidence in things left unseen. Although we have not actually seen the person of Jesus, we have faith in him. Most of us who believe have seen the evidence of Jesus in the lives of others, in the stirring of our own hearts, in the joy we have in knowing of our salvation.

Our trials and tribulations should not weaken or defeat our faith, but should refine it, perfect it. The struggles of life should strengthen our faith and build up our reliance on God.

And this should bring us joy. We should have joy in knowing God is with us, starting with the birth of His Son, our Savior. And part of that joy is knowing that Jesus was given to us as a way to achieve eternal salvation, eternal life with God.

Now, we should share that joy and the opportunity for joy with others. Christmas is more than a celebration of God’s gift; it is an opportunity to invite others to know the glorious and life-giving joy of our faith in Christ.

This is a gift to you. This is a gift to others that you can bring to them.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Who do you know who needs to see and experience joy with you?

Shepherds 2

I dare you not to laugh at this.

Luke 2:8-15

When there is good news to be shared it is easy to tell everyone you see. With the birth of each of our children there were many phone calls, some even from the delivery room shortly after the birth, as we called friends and relatives about the miracle of life and the gift that we had received.

This story from Luke is about the shepherds, special shepherds who tended the flocks of special, perfect sheep. Who appears to them? What is their reaction? What news does the angel announce? How do the shepherds react then?

These shepherds were the first group of people outside the immediate family to hear about the birth of Jesus. A Savior was born, the long-awaited Messiah had been brought forth to begin the lifelong ministry that would change the hearts and lives and the very souls of all who believed.

What tremendous and exciting news. What incredible information had been imparted to these men who were out in the cold, lonely world.

Like the shepherds, we too are out in the world going about our daily tasks of work and caring for ourselves and family. But good news breaks into our lives and we are made aware of the wonderful love that God has shown all of us. And with that news comes great joy – not just for ourselves, but for all people. There is hope. There will be peace. God has shown His love, and so we experience joy.

The shepherds went to bear witness to this incredible birth, and from there they went back out into the world sharing the joy they had experienced personally.

This is the introduction of our ministry. We too must experience Christ on a personal level, and then we should go into the world spreading the news of joy we have known.

DAILY CHALLENGE: With whom can you share your joy?

Shepherds 1

Psalm 16:8-11

One talent that I developed years ago (and now has begun to fade) is the ability to tune out co-workers and activities going on around me when I worked. Employed in a business that involved hundreds of cubicles and people talking and working all around me, it was essential to be able to focus on my work goal and ignore everything else.

A similar talent is needed in our spiritual life. We can be led away from God or caused to doubt if we allow our spiritual attention to fall on anything other than God.

What has the psalmist done? What benefits are there in that (verses 8-9)? According to verse 11, what else does God offer?

The birth of Jesus was the answer to a centuries-long desire and hope for the Jews. They had prayed and longed for a Messiah, a deliverer to save them from the fears and difficulties of life. Unfortunately, much of the image of the Messiah became the image of a political king who would resolve the physical hardships of an oppressive life.

Instead, God sent a Messiah with a more valuable salvation. Jesus came, not to stop the troubles of life, but to rid the world of our fears and sorrows for eternity. Sin was removed. Spiritual freedom and joy was given.

For those who set the Lord always before them, who can keep their souls focused on God and obeying the commands and examples of Jesus, there is security. God does not always prevent bad things from happening to faithful believers, but faith in God certainly makes it easier to endure the hard times. As I grow deeper in my own faith I find fewer and fewer problems in my life, and those difficulties I do experience are not so devastating when I know that God is with me.

Christmas is the time when we celebrate the birth of Christ, the opportunity to be shown the path of life. With the gift of Jesus, all who believe may have glad hearts and may rejoice. The gift of Jesus is a gift that brings joy to all who set the Lord always before them.

This Christmas, take the time to be joyful in the gift of Jesus and then set the Lord before you, keeping your faith focused on God through the holidays and into the new year.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can you do to keep the Lord always before you?

Mary 5

John 15:12-13

The other evening we watched an episode of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” One in particular featured a toddler who was arguing with his grandmother. The little boy could not say very many words, but his nonsensical babbling conveyed the frustration and anger.
What struck me was how unfortunate it is that this child had learned to argue, even though he didn’t know the words. And he is not alone. Others, especially children, learn how to speak and how to act by the examples we present.
Jesus condensed much of his ministry into one command. What is it? What is the ultimate expression of love?
As we celebrate the gift of Christmas, which is the gift of love, let us remember the command of Jesus. This love that came down from heaven is not a gift we should hold within ourselves, a gift to be hoarded. Instead, we are to share this gift with others.
“Love each other,” Jesus has commanded. But he adds to his instruction – “as I have loved you.” We are to express love to everyone the way Jesus did. We are to give freely, give sacrificially, and in abundance. We are to give love to all, not just a select few.
And the love of Jesus was demonstrated to be the greatest love of all because he did indeed lay down his life for his friend. Jesus laid down his life for you and me.
Christmas may not seem like the time to think about the crucifixion of Jesus, but we can remember the attitude of Christ’s love. This attitude of sacrificial, all encompassing love began with the birth of the baby. And it is that love we should share now, at Christmas, and throughout the year.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you love someone else “as Christ has loved you?”

Mary 4

Psalm 72:12-14

In the game of golf, when all players have reached the green, the player furthest from the hole gets to play first. The idea is that the one who is farthest from reaching the goal, the one with the greatest need, is put before the others.

Psalm 72 is one of those passages in the Old Testament that speaks of the Messiah. In verse 1 “the king” is also referred to as God’s “royal son.” Who will this royal son deliver? What will he do for the needy? Why will he do this?

The gift of the Messiah was a unique gift that many people could not comprehend. Many people then and now consider God’s love and graciousness to be intended for those who are worthy of Him. Yet, Jesus came for everyone – not the powerful, not the good, but for all people. He came not just for the poor, but especially for the needy.

The birth, life and sacrifice of Jesus was all an act of love for everyone. This is good news, particularly for the needy, the weak, the afflicted, and the oppressed. Jesus came for all, but especially for those who are furthest from the goal – the goal of perfection. But in reality we are all far from the goal. We have all fallen short of where we should be.

We are all the needy. We all need deliverance and the promise of eternal life. We all need love from God.

But this is not a time to despair. Instead, we should celebrate the precious gift of Jesus and all that he has to offer us in love. Each of us are precious in the sight of God, and each of us can receive the wondrous gift of God’s love through Christ.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Read Psalm 72 and determine how God’s love is shown by what is foretold.

Mary 3

Luke 1:26-38

Simple things can mean a great deal. Receiving a card from someone, a card of encouragement or appreciation, especially one with a hand-written note can mean so much. A simple card with a few words can really lift my spirits.

Today’s passage is a lengthy one but one that involves simple responses from Mary, the young woman God selected to bear His wonderful gift. Where is Mary? How does Gabriel greet her? What does Gabriel say to explain his greeting?

How does Gabriel answer Mary’s question? What evidence does he offer as proof that God can do anything? How does Mary answer?

“May it be to me as you have said.” Mary’s response to all she has been told is a simple response. She gives no long dissertation on why she is accepting the will of God, and offers no commentary on what it will all mean to her. She simply agrees to be part of this tremendous plan of God’s.

And those words mean a great deal. Mary’s response to what she has heard is an act of love – love for the child she will bear, love for God and love for the world.

By confessing herself as God’s servant, by saying that she will be part of this miraculous story, she is agreeing to be the mother of the baby Jesus. She is agreeing to show love and protection to this helpless child that she will help bring into the world.

Her words also show love for the Lord. She will not argue or resist the Lord, but trusts in what God has planned. Her willingness to serve God in this way is an expression of her love for God.

She is also showing love to all mankind, to you and me. Allowing God to work through her and taking on the responsibility of parenthood means she will be providing all humanity with a Savior, the Messiah. Because of her willingness to serve God we have the promise of eternal life through Christ.

We have all received the gift of love expressed in the simple words of Mary.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you show great love in a simple way?

Mary 2

John 3:16

It is a nightly ritual between my wife and I to say “I love you” before we go to sleep. We try to say it to our children as often as we can so they will know, without question, that we indeed love them. But words can become empty, especially when they are said almost out of habit.

We try to show love too, not with words, but with actions, by caring and providing for each other, and by sacrificing our time and efforts for each other.

“I love you.” Three simple words that can mean so much to so many people. Three simple words that can also have no meaning if no emotion is behind them.

But God has said “I love you” to all of us. And today’s passage is an expression of that love. What did God do to show He loved us? What benefit is there for those who believe in Jesus?

The celebration of Christmas is a celebration of love. The birth of Jesus Christ is a gift from God. It was an expression of God’s love to all humanity.

He gave His son, Jesus, to the earth. He gave Jesus so that he could show the way for all of us to have that eternal life in heaven.

The sin of mankind – the wrong thoughts and wrong actions we can all fall into – has broken the relationship between man and God. Because of that brokenness we cannot be in the presence of God. But God showed love by making a way for us to be forgiven, for us to have eternal life.

God’s love is expressed not in empty words that have lost meaning, but in the act of giving His son. His love is expressed in the action that was the life, teaching, sacrifice, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And for all who believe in who Jesus was, all that he taught, and those who believe in the sacrifice that he made to redeem us from our life of sin, the promise of eternal life is given.

That also is a gift of love from God. Jesus was the embodiment of the active good will of God to all humanity. To receive it we simply need to accept and believe. We need to have faith that God is with us and live the life that Jesus exemplified while he was on earth.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Accept the gift of love from God by confessing the sins you have committed, receiving the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice, and believing in the Savior.

Mary 1

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

We rarely watch "COPS," but it seems like any time I've seen the show, there is some woman who is a victim of domestic abuse and her reason for not prosecuting? "But he loves me."

The concept of love has been misconstrued and twisted throughout history. But Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, describes love with perfect accuracy. What words are used to describe love? What does love NOT do? What does love do?

Love has been described as “active good will for another person.” Looking over this section of the famous “Love Chapter” shows me that love is outwardly focused, and not inwardly focused.

Patience and kindness are outward acts. Refusing pride, envy and rude behavior are acts of self-denial, which is a form of outward focus. Rejoicing in the truth, protecting, persevering, hoping and trusting are outward acts.
To love someone is to deny the self and focus outwardly, on the other person. Jesus was love in the flesh. His ministry, his teaching, his sacrifice, his very being was all outwardly focused – centering not on himself at all, but shining God’s compassion on everyone else.

The same is true of Mary. Her willingness to be used by God to bring His Son into the world was an outward act of love. She trusted and obeyed God. She provided life and nurturing to the person of Jesus. And through her life and actions, through her faith, she shared God’s love with all mankind.

Saying the words is not always a true expression of love. Saying “But he loves me” means nothing when the actions are not outwardly focused and are not actions of good will to others.

God showed love through the gift of Jesus. Jesus showed love through the gift of himself. Mary showed love by what she did. We need to receive the love of God, in Christ, and pass that love on by being outwardly focused to other people.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What action can you do to show God’s love to others?

Joseph 5

Isaiah 9:6

“What do you want to be when you grow up?’ That’s a question many adults will ask children. And, as a parent, when our children were younger (and still today) we speculate on what these young people will grow to be. What interests and talents do they have? What type of person will they mature into?

The prophet Isaiah had many prophecies concerning the long-awaited Messiah. Today’s passage is frequently read at Christmas, a rather accurate prediction of the coming of Christ. What titles will be given, and have been given, to Jesus?

The Jewish people had expected a Messiah for centuries, but the image of this savior was often that of a mighty king who would come in conquest to overthrow the yoke of oppression and tyranny. “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end” (verse 7) applies to him. Words such as “he will come in power” were also used.

But the power and the government that were realized in Jesus were not those of war and domination through force. Instead, the power of Christ was to bring the power of love and mercy and forgiveness. What did Jesus, the son who was given, grow up to be? He grew to be a teacher of peace and love.

The birth of Jesus was a gift from God, offered to a fallen humanity in an attempt and an effort to reconcile man to God. Through sin all people are estranged from God, forbidden to be in His presence. But through the teaching, life and sacrifice of Jesus that chasm between us and the Almighty is bridged. We are brought into God’s presence because God has provided a way for that to happen.

So, the last title – “Prince of Peace” – may be the greatest. Jesus brought peace, or at least the opportunity for peace, to all people. And that peace comes about not through military conquest, not by dominating an opponent, but through spirituality.

By obeying the commands of God, by trusting in Christ as Savior, the peace is achieved, first inwardly, in our hearts. The peace conquers not our enemies, but our own fears and failings. Then, when we have attained this peace, we can share it with others.

DALY CHALLENGE: How will you share God’s peace with others this year?

Joseph 4

John 14:25-27

I would imagine that if I asked you to try really hard you would be able to list just about every gift you might receive this year. Some people in our lives give the same gift or same type of gift each Christmas. You can count on something hand-made from Sister Sophie; you can count on something crass from Uncle Bob; and so on.

What we often forget is that we are constant recipients of gifts from God, but these gifts are not what we may be accustomed to getting. Who will be helping the disciples after Jesus is gone? What will the Holy Spirit do for them? What gift is Jesus giving?

This passage is part of the Last Supper, and Jesus is preparing the disciples for the time when he will be gone. Jesus knew they would be facing some emotionally low times – times of fear and loneliness and loss.

He begins this section by giving a promise. The disciples will not be left alone for very long. The Holy Spirit will come to them soon and they will be transformed.

Then Jesus gives another gift – peace. And it is interesting that in speaking of that peace Jesus calls it “my peace.”

How is the peace that Jesus has different from any other peace? I believe it is a spiritual peace, a peace that only Jesus had. Jesus was able to accept all that was happening to him and would happen to him because he knew the Father. He knew that God was truly with him and would be with him in all things.

Then he says that he does not give the way the world gives. Perhaps he meant that his gift is not something that will be used up or fade away. It will not grow stale or become broken. It will not become a tired tradition you encounter each year.

Instead, the peace of Christ is an ever-flowing, ever new, ever refreshing experience that brings joy to our souls and not just our hearts.
If we can live in the surety and confidence of knowing our Lord and Savior, if we can trust in the Father as Christ did, we too can receive peace. It will be a continuous gift, not like gifts in the world, and will keep our hearts from being troubled. It will keep us from fear.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Give yourself the gift of the Bible passage that gives you the most peace. Write it down and put it where you will see it every day this holiday season.

Joseph 3

Matthew 1:18-25

One of my favorite movies is “Big Jake,” with John Wayne. In it Jake, John Wayne, works with his sons to rescue his grandson. Part of the problem is that Jake’s sons don’t have a close relationship with their father.

At one point Jake’s friend, somewhat aggravated with them, offers some advice. He tells the sons “Do what your father tells you, every time he tells you, and you might get out of this alive.”

As we progress with the Christmas story and the angels who visit, we reach the time where Joseph is visited by an angel. What complication has arisen according to verse 18? How will Joseph deal with it? What does the angel tell him? Why is this happening? What does Joseph do?

The author of Matthew is closely linked to the Old Testament. Throughout the book there are many references to Old Testament scripture and prophecies. So it is fitting that Joseph’s story would be told here.

Joseph was apparently a devout Jew, faithful and righteous. For one, we know he was chosen to be the mortal father of Jesus. But we also see indications of his goodness – he was going to avoid scandal and shame through a “quiet” divorce. Out of respect for Mary (and God) he had no relations with her as a husband until after the baby was born.

But most important is Joseph’s faithful obedience. As a devout and faithful Hebrew he knew of the predictions and prophecies of the Messiah and he obeyed the angel without question. He knew that this child was the most important life to ever enter into the world, and he respected God by doing what he was told.

Big Jake had sons who had never learned to trust him. They had not had an opportunity to build their faith in him. Joseph, however, was ready to trust his heavenly father.

What gave Joseph the ability to obey without question? I believe it was his faith and trust in God. He had peace in his heart because he knew that God would fulfill His promises, and that if God commanded him to obey Joseph would do just that.

We need that same peace in our hearts. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, as we acknowledge the peace on earth God gives, let us have the peace of trusting that God is loving and merciful. Like Joseph, let us remember the scriptures that tell us of God’s wonderful grace.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you show your trust in God this holiday season?

Joseph 2

Philippians 4:6-7

Another pastor who had to do a difficult funeral recently shared how she was tense as she approached the pulpit, but felt the presence of God when it was time to begin. Her fears were released and she was fine.

It is something I have felt on many occasions myself. I have felt the very presence of God enter and give me a peace that transcends all comprehension.

What does Paul say about anxiety? How can we avoid this anxiety? What will the peace of God do?

Unfortunately Christmas can be a time of nothing but anxiety for many people (I often have anxiety-filled holidays). There is stress and worry over the finances of buying so many gifts. There is anxiety over getting the right thing for everyone, or at least SOMETHING for everyone. Even attending parties can be a source of stress – because it can come with a sense of obligation in an already full schedule.

But this is not the purpose of Christmas. The time of Christmas should not be a time of anxiety and worry, but a time when we focus our attention on the gift of Jesus, a gift intended to bring peace, not fear.

We should remember the reason for the birth of Christ. He was born to reconcile man to God, to cast away fears and doubts and be an assurance and a comfort to us all.

Paul’s words to the Philippians are God’s words to us as well. We should not be anxious about anything. We should not worry or fret about things. Instead, we should give all to God and trust in His great mercy and love. If there is an issue that does cause us concern, we should present it in prayer to God and then let Him resolve the issue.

When we can trust in God and trust that He is taking care of us, then we will receive that indescribable, unexplainable peace that comes from knowing we are in God’s hands and all will be well.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What holiday worry can you hand over to God?

Joseph 1

Isaiah 2:4-5

Part of Sunday’s worship service was a time of greeting which included the question – “What gift do you hope for the most?” The person I greeted said simply, “world peace.”

What a wonderful gift that would be if there was indeed peace in the world. How wonderful if wars would stop, violence would end, and differences between people could either be accepted or settled without hostility.

This is the image presented in Isaiah. What will God do? What will the people do? What will nations NOT do?

The time of Christmas is that time in life when the impossible seems possible. It is easy to imagine in the stillness of a winter’s night as we look on soft lights of decorations that peace is possible. It is possible that God will allow the world to get along, to have no disputes, to eliminate weapons.

The concluding verse in today’s reading is an invitation. “Let us walk in the light of the Lord.” If we could all walk in the light of God, that is in His love and wisdom, if we could walk the way God wants us to walk – as people who love and care for others – then we may indeed reach that point where peace will come on earth.

When Jesus was born I am sure that most people believed the impossible was just that – impossible. But we know that is not true. The impossible IS possible. God could become human. God could provide a way for us to be reconciled to Him.

If we cling to the knowledge that with God all things are possible, and if we focus on what Christmas is all about – God wanting to mend that relationship between us and Him – then the idea of peace presented in Isaiah is closer to becoming reality.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can you do this week to walk in the light of the Lord?

Zechariah 5

Titus 2:11-13

Guess Roger wouldn't like living in this house! Peggy!

I’m not big on a great deal of holiday decorations. I like things relatively simple. When I see extravagant decorations and lights on a house over the holidays I often think it odd to invest that much money and storage space on something you can only use for a little while.

In this letter to Titus, a fellow believer, we have a comment on grace. What has the grace of God done? What does grace teach us? What is the “blessed hope?”

While it is important to keep our hearts, minds and souls focused on the goal, the end, our reward in heaven, it is unfortunate that many Christians are so focused on eternity that they have lost sight of today. Their faith is a lot like the decorations – it is all focused on a very limited time.

The celebration and commemoration of Christmas and the Christmas story is not limited to a few weeks in December. This is a gift that covers a lifetime. And the love from God to us should be shared with others.

God’s grace, His love and tenderness, His caring for us, has appeared to all men in the form of Jesus. And Jesus offers us salvation. But we are not simply to hoard this grace from God, clinging to the blessed hope of Christ’s return.

This grace from God goes beyond just our own salvation. It covers all time, and helps us to live good and godly lives. God’s grace, especially in the form of Christ, teaches us how to turn away from ungodliness and worldly passions. By following the example of Jesus, we can live self-controlled and upright lives here and now.

And, just as was mentioned in the Hebrews 11:1 reading, when we live this type of life, we are living examples for those who are not familiar with Jesus. And living as an example to others is a way of passing on the gift of hope and God’s grace to others.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Share the blessed hope with someone new this Christmas.

Zechariah 4

Hebrews 11:1

We held our “Hanging of the Greens” service Sunday evening, which included a carry-in dinner. I was asked how many people to expect for the dinner so we would have enough juice, napkins, coffee, etc. I said we should expect 30 people. Thirty-two showed up.

The writer of Hebrews has a simple sentence at the outset of Chapter 11 which sums up faith. What is faith? What does this mean to you? How can you apply it in your own walk of faith or ministry?

My estimation for Sunday was a hopeful guess and nothing more. It was more coincidence than anything else that we had the number of people that we did, however, that kind of attitude is what we need as we go through our lives as believers in Jesus Christ.

If we believe in God, then we have faith. If we have faith, then we should be confident in our hopes – sure of them, certain of them. It is all too easy for us to doubt and question, but that is not what we are called to do.

Christmas is a commemoration of the gift of Jesus, God’s Son sent from heaven to show us the way to live and the path to salvation. Part of the ministry of Christ, which began with that humble birth, involves teaching us to have hope for good.

First, we can hope for the salvation and mercy that comes from God, and that hope need not be weak or vague. We should live in confident knowledge that Jesus Christ did indeed live and die for us.

And not only should we have hope for good, we should have confidence in our hope, knowing in our hearts without doubt that goodness will be done. This is also part of the gift of Christmas, the knowledge that you have a shepherd king who watches over you in the strength of the Lord. And he also imparts to you, his heir, the strength of the Lord, so that you may serve God’s kingdom with goodness and grace, and with the certainty that what you work for – if it is meant to serve God – will be successful.

This attitude of confident hope can also be a gift to others. When you live out this attitude you show others, those not familiar with the ways of the Lord, how they ought to live too. The gift of hope with certainty is then passed on.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can you do to share your hope, and your confidence in that hope, with others?

Zechariah 3

Truly one of the strangest shepherd pictures I could find on the web.  Peggy

Micah 5:4

One of my self-appointed duties has always been to check the doors before going to bed. I make certain each one is closed securely and locked. Then I can sleep with some confidence that nothing bad will happen at night. It is something that brings a sense of security.

The prophet Micah has a vision of a new king who will rule over Israel. What type of king will he be? Where will he gain his strength? How will the people live?

This image of a shepherd, a king who rules with the authority and power from God, is traditionally interpreted as a prediction of Jesus. Earlier, in verse 2, Micah has predicted that this wonderful king will come from Bethlehem. Part of the description is that this is a king “whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

We can keep our life as safe as possible with locks and doors and planning that avoids trouble. Yet, there is not always protection from the stresses of life, nor the heartache and sorrows that come. But, rather than hiding away in fear, we can live a life with some hope knowing that no matter what our troubles may be, physical or emotional, we are guarded over by a great and glorious king of mercy and love.

Jesus is indeed our king. And Jesus is indeed a shepherd who watches over his people – us – with the strength of the Lord. Knowing that our king has come, that he is with us now, should bring us a sense of security, a comfort and a hope that is greater than that which comes from the strongest of locks.

No matter what may happen to us in life, no matter what adversities we face, we can rest in the hope and peace of knowing that we are guarded by the great king and shepherd Jesus Christ. For it is true what Micah has predicted, his greatness has reached the ends of the earth and his grace and love and protection has no limit.

In Jesus Christ is our hope and our security, for in Christ is our salvation.

DAILY CHALLENGE: As you lock your doors this night offer a brief prayer of thanks to the shepherd king who watches over you.

Zechariah 2

Psalm 42:5

(Here's what Roger SHOULD have done! LOL Peggy)

Nearly 30 years ago I worked as a cashier at a convenience store. One night a few days before Christmas a man came in and robbed the store. It was a very traumatic experience for me, one I will never forget. I thought it odd that such a crime would happen at Christmas, but the police said that crime actually goes up at the holidays.

Why? People feel desperate to have things, to be able to provide for their families. There is also much more new and valuable merchandise available for the taking.

It is ironic that the season of Christmas, the season that celebrates God’s gift of love to the world, is also when crime reaches a high point.

But this is nothing new. What emotion is the psalmist feeling? What is the solution?

We can find ourselves feeling downcast at the holidays. For many people, the holidays are actually a depressing time – the cold weather prevents them from getting out and about. The darkness of winter can cause depression. The stress of holiday shopping, of crowds, of expenses can really bring some folks down.

Even those of us who are able to keep our spirits up can feel discouraged and tattered by the hectic hustle and bustle of holiday parties and preparations.

We may easily find ourselves feeling downcast, having our souls disturbed within us. What is the solution to such a problem? The psalmist realizes he must focus on God. The troubles of life are set aside so that he can put his hope in God.

We can do the same. When we find ourselves feeling down or pushed around, beaten up by the holidays, we can put our hope in God. Focusing not on the material and tangible trappings of the holidays, but on the true reason for this celebration can lift our hearts and our souls.

Christmas is a season of hope. The birth of the Messiah was a reason for a world without hope to lift their eyes to heaven and praise God for His mercy. Christmas is still a time to remember the great gift of hope that God gives us through His son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Set aside a time each day of Advent to praise God, to put your hope in Him, and thus avoid feelings of being downcast.

Zechariah 1

Luke 1:8-17

The other night at a gathering of people I was reminded of the first indications that I was being called into the ministry. Those incredible moments when God broke into my heart were not on a mountaintop or in a grand cathedral. They happened while I drove home from work or attended a small service at a local church.

God’s incredible presence can be found in the everyday occurrences of our lives.

How was it that Zechariah was in the temple? Who appears? What will happen with Elizabeth? What can Zechariah expect from his son?

This is the earliest beginning of the Christmas story. An angel appears to a man named Zechariah, a priest in the temple. The angel predicts the birth of a son to the priest, not the Messiah, but the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah.

The angel has some incredible information and incredible predictions for John. Verses 15-17 give us some profound statements about the child who would become John the Baptist.

What strikes me, however, is the “when” and “where” of the appearance of the angel. The angel appears in the temple, true, but not on a special holiday nor during some grand ceremony. Zechariah was going about his duties, a commonplace occurrence for him, when the angel announces such awe-inspiring news.

This was a message of earth-shattering importance, a message of hope for a people who had no hope. And the angel came during an average day in a familiar place.

But that is the story of Jesus Christ – a profound Savior who comes to the ordinary person. And that is the message of Christmas – a story of hope that breaks in to our everyday lives.

This Advent season, be a messenger of hope for other people, not in grand and elaborate ways, but in the everyday, common times of life. Tell others the story of Christ.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Find someone you see almost every day who needs to hear about Jesus and tell them about him.

Water Walking 3

2 Peter 1:5-8

When a co-worker and I were brought on to the FRAT (Function Report Automated Table) team at Proctor & Gamble our duties were simple – a six-month job moving data from files into charts. As time went on we learned more and more about the reports and we began suggesting other ways we could help. These new duties led to more information, more suggestions, more work. The six-month assignment became open ended and after four years we had became an essential part of the process.

Through effort we gained knowledge. Through knowledge and creativity we re-applied our talents – and gained more knowledge. Peter speaks of a similar growth and progression.

What are we to add to our faith? What are we to add to our goodness? What are we to add to our knowledge? Our self-control? Our perseverance? What is the benefit of having all the qualities listed?

A recent meeting with other pastors touched on the ideas of this week. How much is enough? Can we ever reach that point where we have done all that can be done for God? Will we ever completely know God?

So many people I encounter have reached a point in their lives where they feel they have done enough. They taught Sunday school for X number of years. They attended church faithfully for X number of years. Now it’s enough. They begin to feel they have done their share and they can step down.

Do we retire from being Christians? Do we stop doing work for God? Do we stop trying to perfect our faith?

Of course not. No matter how old we are or how much we have done, there is more to be done. Our faith is a lifelong experience, not a career of so many years ending in retirement.

Our consultant position was a piece of cake, the easiest job I have ever done in my life. And we could have simply done our time and been terminated after six months. But we added to what we knew and tried harder, becoming better, more valuable employees.

The same is true of faith. Build your faith by adding goodness and knowledge. Learn to be self-controlled and to persevere in hard times. Study the Scripture, attend worship, build your godliness and brotherly love. When you build yourself in these spiritual ways you are becoming more effective in Christ Jesus.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Set a specific spiritual goal for yourself for 2008 and work to achieve it. CLICK HERE to go to our list of possible goals.

Water Walking 2

Matthew 14:25-31

Many people are familiar with the name “Edsel.” The car was created by Henry Ford and named after his son, Edsel. Unfortunately for Edsel, the man, “Edsel,” the car, was a flop and the name became synonymous with failure. Poor Edsel. Poor Henry. We can easily overlook the many successes Ford had in auto-making because sometimes we have a tendency to focus on the negative and not the positive.

The story of Peter walking on the water is a familiar one and is frequently trotted out as an example of failure. Who comes to the disciples during the storm? How did the disciples react? What did Peter ask for? What did Peter do in verse 29? What did Peter do in verse 30?

This passage was used on Laity Sunday to illustrate our speaker’s message about giving more effort in our spiritual life. The key verses here are 28 and 29. Peter prompted Jesus to call to him, thus assuring Peter that he would have the authority to do what Jesus was doing.

And what happens in verse 29? Peter walks on the water. We so often overlook that. We focus on the failure of Peter. He couldn’t stay on top of the waves. He lost faith. He should have kept his focus on Jesus.

But the fact is, even though he eventually began to sink, Peter DID walk on the water. He even suggested it. The other disciples didn’t even try. They were too afraid to leave the boat.

It is unfortunate that Peter is remembered for his lack of faith, his sinking, because he is the only human (since Jesus was human and divine) to have walked on water. We remember the failure but we forget the success.

And this is what keeps many people from trying something hard or new. What if I fail? Peter failed, but he succeeded first. He may have sunk, but he walked on water first, and no one can take that away.

When it comes to strengthening our faith by trying new challenges we can either be like the eleven who hid in the boat, or we can dare like Peter. We may sink, but we won’t know until we try. And if we sink, well, at least we did something.

Peter wanted to walk on the water. He asked Jesus to summon him. We need to ask Jesus to summon us to something new, something that will deepen our faith. Is Jesus calling you to read more of the Bible? Is Jesus calling you to try teaching Sunday school or a Bible class? Is Jesus calling you to volunteer more time at church or increase your financial giving?

DAILY CHALLENGE: Call to Jesus and ask what your walk on the water is supposed to look like.

Water Walking 1

1 Kings 19:9-13

There was an old Saturday Night Live skit about a television personality much like the current Dr. Phil and the like. The female host had a single line that she persisted with when dealing with her guests. “Look at yourself.”

“Look at yourself,” she would say over and over again.

The skit was meant to be amusing because of the simplicity of the approach, but today’s passage reminds me of that one line.

What does God ask Elijah? How does Elijah respond? What does God have Elijah do? What is the point of this dramatic presentation in verses 11 and 12? What does God repeat in verse 13?

The repetition of God’s question seems to be God saying “Look at yourself, Elijah.” What are you doing here, Elijah? God knows why he is there and what he has been through, yet God asks the question twice.

Is He really seeking an answer or is God making Elijah look at himself, making him examine what he has done and what he needs to do?

I believe Elijah needed to examine himself and where he was to see that his work was not finished. It had been difficult so far and it would be difficult again, but he needed to remain faithful in serving God. There was no stopping and hiding in a cave.

We can be like Elijah, hiding in a cave of safety, a spiritual place that is secure and comfortable, away from the wind and earthquake and fire of life. But we are not to stay in the cave. Like Elijah we need to move on.

We may have spent years attending worship services, studying Scripture, volunteering at church, but it isn’t over. Many people reach a point where they feel it is enough. In spite of the effort and challenges we can’t go to a cave and hide away. We need to continue moving deeper in our faith – studying more, attending more, giving more.

Look at yourself. What are you doing here? Are you finished? Have you had enough? Are you spiritually at the end, your limit? Or can you go deeper in your faith? Can you serve God more and can you grow closer to our great God and Father?

DAILY CHALLENGE: Find a new spiritual challenge. Re-dedicate yourself to worship attendance, tithing, small group involvement and Biblical study.

Give Thanks 5

Not TV orphans, but actual Korean refugees helped by a United Nations Official.
Job 42:1-6

When the TV show “M*A*S*H” was a hit series I was a big fan. I recall one episode where the rebellious “Hawkeye” Pierce was told to help out a local Korean woman who appeared to have a great deal of money. Pierce resisted at first but eventually discovered that the woman was not as she appeared. She was very involved in sheltering and caring for orphaned children.

He had acted at first as if he knew exactly what was going on. In the end he had to concede that there were things going on he was not aware of and he had acted foolishly.

Job stands out as a man from the Bible most people are familiar with. He is a man who has endured great suffering, and because of his suffering has begun to ask questions of God. Near the end of his story (Chapter 38) God responds, a little impatiently, perhaps a bit tired of the complaining.

God asks, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone?” (Job 38:4 and 6) It is then that Job concedes he is a mere mortal, nothing in comparison to God.

What confession does Job make of God? What does Job realize of himself? What growth has Job experienced (verse 5)?

It is so easy for us to become caught up in ourselves, to think too highly of ourselves, and to assume life is here simply to make us happy. We must realize that the world, the universe, and certainly God are much bigger than we can comprehend. In spite of our troubles and our suffering we must approach God with humility and acceptance. We must realize that God is so much bigger than we are and we must trust in His goodness and grace.

When we are able to acknowledge the greatness of our Lord and trust Him, and praise Him and thank Him for all that He has given, then our troubles may be easier to deal with. And, like Job, we can come to the realization that our faith will grow. We can move into a deeper relationship with God – seeing with our eyes and not just hearing with ears.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can you do to keep your own thoughts and feelings from obscuring God’s counsel without knowledge?

Give Thanks 4

Psalm 69:30-31

Years ago when we owned a dog we took it to obedience training. To train the dog we had to give clear commands to the dog and then offer a reward for correct obedience. The easiest way to reward the dog was with an edible treat, but the instructors pointed out that verbal praise and physical contact – such as petting the dog and speaking in an approving voice – was better.
They pointed out that a dog values being praised and accepted. The dog desires physical contact and a tone of voice that conveys praise.

What does the psalmist plan to do? What comparison is made between praise and offerings?

People can be like dogs when it comes to praise. Sure, there are many people who have very materialistic desires, who value the cost of the gift. But most people are pleased with any gift because the best gift is the knowledge that the giver was thinking of the recipient. “It’s the thought that counts” is a common expression, and one that is true.

The same can be said of God.

Can we offer God something He does not already possess? Is God impressed by the monetary value of our gifts? Absolutely not.

The psalmist points out that God values our praise and thanksgiving more than sacrifices of money. God desires for us to acknowledge Him and to thank Him for all that He does, not with donations of gold and silver, but with our hearts and our mouths. We are to sing praises to God, earnestly offering an attitude of gratitude and thankfulness.

We may not always be willing to give that kind of effort. We may find it easier to donate items or money in the vague hope that God will be satisfied. But what we need to offer is a genuine, heartfelt thankfulness. We should praise God and thank Him in all circumstances.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can you do to make certain your praise and thanks to God are sincere and not superficial?

Give Thanks 3

Colossians 2:6-7

When I bought my first house there was a pathetic, little plant in the corner of the yard, so I mowed it to the ground at my first opportunity. The plant grew back and was a little stronger, but still rather unattractive, so I mowed it to the ground again. Again the plant returned, healthier and better. Seeing a healthy plant I stopped attacking it with my mower and began cutting it back with clippers.

When we sold the house five years later the plant, a yucca plant, was hearty and beautiful with six-foot tall stalks covered in vibrant, white flowers. The plant survived because it had a strong root system. It also, obviously, responded well to adversity, getting stronger and healthier each time it had to return from a setback.

Paul, in his letter to the church at Colossae, talks about being rooted in Jesus. Once we have accepted Christ, what are we to do then? What is an expression of living in Christ?

As I think of our children growing up and facing the challenges of life I draw confidence in knowing that as parents we have done all we can to instill good values in them, and we have taught them to think clearly and rationally. We have equipped them, as children, to become strong and productive adults. We have given them roots – roots deep in a Christian upbringing, roots deep in an upbringing of intelligence and good instruction.

It is true of our faith as well. Through his life, teaching and sacrifice Jesus has built an extensive root system for our faith and for our lives. By imitating Jesus, by becoming as much like him as we can and becoming as faithful of a believer as we can, we are rooting ourselves in the love and power of Christ.

We will all face hardship and pain. We are not spared these trials. But if we accept Jesus, learn his teachings and internalize them, we are given the strength of Jesus. Our faith is rooted in Christ and we draw strength from him as any plant draws nourishment through its roots.

Like a plant that comes back season after season in spite of the struggle of being cut down or battered by the weather, we too can keep coming back, keep moving forward in our life of faith. Christ can give us strength and sustenance to endure challenges. And one expression that comes from this reliance on Jesus is an attitude of thankfulness, and not just a small amount of contentedness, but a gratitude that overflows in our life.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can you do to be rooted in Christ and continue to live in the Lord?

Give Thanks 2

Hebrews 12:28-29

Our latest pet peeve is the car commercial showing children in the back of a Chrysler Town and Country minivan playing “Jenga.” If you have ever played the game, which involves pulling wooden blocks from a stack without making it all topple, you know how impossible it is to play such a game without the sturdiest of foundations.

Life can sometimes feel like that game. Each day is a block we must carefully remove without having everything come crashing down around us. It can be difficult to find an attitude of thanks in such situations. It can be difficult to be content in every situation, to give thanks in all situations, when so many feel like impending calamity.

What helps is knowing the foundation on which we stand, the firm base of our faith. God provides us with a base that cannot be shaken. As the author of Hebrews puts it, “You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.” The author then concludes this image with today’s reading. God’s kingdom is a kingdom which cannot be shaken or moved. It is solid strength for our souls and our faith.

No matter what tragedy or trial we may be facing we can give our gratitude to God for being our strength, for being our rock who holds us unmovable in all situations.

And what attitude should we have with God? Verse 28 concludes that we should worship God with reverence and awe. Our thanks which we offer to God are a form of reverence. Our trust in God’s unshakable support and guidance should be offered in awe.

God is described as a consuming fire. We know and trust that God will consume all of our troubles and woes with the fire of His Spirit. And that is cause for us to give thanks.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Read Hebrews 12:22-25 and thank God for His strength.

Give Thanks 1

Philippians 4:10-13

Like most people, I guess, I spent many years when I was younger dreaming of the day when I would have all that I wanted – a big house, nice car, lots of money and influence. Years passed as I dreamed and hoped. And then I realized that I was spending my present dreaming of a future that may never be.

I discovered that money truly is not the only way to happiness. I learned to be happy with the here and now, with what I had and who I was with.

In his letter to the Philippians Paul talks about lessons he has learned. What makes Paul so happy here? Why had he not seen the Philippians’ concern before? What lesson has Paul learned? What is his conclusion?

In this time of thanksgiving, as we look at what we have, we can begin to believe that only the best of gifts and benefits lead to our happiness. We forget the words in 1 Thessalonians 5 – “Be joyful always.” “Give thanks in all situations.”

It is easy to appreciate what we consider to be good in our lives – a nice house, a good car, trinkets and treasures that bring us happiness. But we must also learn to give thanks for all that we have, even if at first we see it as troublesome.

Paul knew how to be joyful in all situations. He knew how to feel happy even when he didn’t have enough food, when he was cold and alone. He knew the secret was that God was with him. He knew that it was the Spirit of Christ who gave him the ability to do all things. And he knew that whether he had riches or not, God loved him still.

That was what gave Paul comfort and joy.

And so it should be with us as well. We should see that even though we face challenges in our lives – hardships, pain, sorrow, want – we are still loved by Christ and God is with us to help us through our darkest hour. If we can find happiness and appreciation in the good things we have AND find appreciation for the challenges, then we will truly be joyful people.

We may not recognize it at first, but the dark hours of struggle are when Christ draws us nearer to him for comfort. In that we can find joy and gratitude.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Think of a difficult situation you may be facing and thank God for His presence with you in this time.

In Everything 5

Luke 17:11-19

I can’t stand ingratitude. I can’t stand it when people forget to say “thank you” for what they have received. It is something we have worked on with our children over the years. It is something that I came to realize more than thirty years ago. Everything is a gift. No one “owes” you anything – not the world, not life, not God, not anyone.

Unfortunately it is so very easy to forget the gratitude we need to have when things are going well. And nothing illustrates it better than the story of the ten lepers.

How is this healing story different from many others (dead girl brought to life, the widow’s son raised, the blind who receive sight)? Where were they when they were healed? What does Jesus mean by his last statement?

I feel this story is a little different from many other healing stories in that Jesus doesn’t lay his hands on the lepers. He doesn’t spit into mud and apply it to them. He doesn’t say “be healed” to make them clean.

Instead they are on their way to see the priests when they were healed. We must assume that they expected the healing or the trip to the priests would be pointless. And we might excuse those nine for not returning because perhaps they were a long way off from Jesus.

Mostly, however, I think they were simply so excited that the miracle happened that they forgot to say “thank you.”

And yet, how much like them are we? We can get so caught up in happiness that we forget to thank God. And when I mention happiness it may not be the giddy, laughing, giggling happiness of a new bicycle. Instead it is the common, day-to-day contentment of knowing that things are fine. That is a form of happiness, and that form of happiness lulls us into such a sleep of complacency that we forget what we need to thank God for.

He may not have healed us of a deadly disease. He may not have rescued us from financial ruin. He may not have spared us from some tragic accident.

But his blessings are just as great in the day-to-day miracles of life, of being healthy, of being able to see and hear and touch and taste the bounty of God’s love in the world around us.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Be like the one and not like the nine. Go to God in gratitude.

In Everything 4

Philippians 4:18-19

As the days get shorter and cooler I begin to think of the coming winter. When I hear Christmas music (Yes, they’re playing it already in stores!) I think of the various Christmas music CDs we own and I can see the snowy fields pictured on the covers. And I found myself not looking forward to winter at all. But, like Paul, I have some hope.

As Paul is concluding his letter to the church at Philippi he begins to speak specifically about support the church has given him (see Philippians 4:10). Logic tells us this is a financial gift from the church to help this traveling evangelist do God’s work (look also at Philippians 4:14-17). How does Paul feel about the gifts? Who obviously brought them to him? How does Paul describe these gifts? How will God respond?

Two things strike me in this passage. The first is that Paul is “amply supplied.” The words make me think of myself as the coming winter approaches. I have come to dislike the cold of winter, and I realized it was because I do not want to go outside in the cold. It’s uncomfortable.

But I also realized that I don’t have to dread the winter as I am amply supplied. We have all the comforts we need to make it through to spring. We have ample food. We have ample warm clothes. We have ample things to occupy our time indoors.

The second thing that strikes me is that the gifts Paul received were described as fragrant offerings to God. These gifts were expressions of thankfulness and love. These ample supplies were like pleasant scents to both Paul and God.

We all must be mindful of the fact that God gives us ample supplies. He gives us what we need to make it through good times and bad, through challenges and ordinary days. In response we should offer thanks to God.

The Philippians offered support to Paul out of gratitude, both to him and to God. These expressions of gratitude gave God’s kingdom what it needed to move forward. These thank offerings were fragrant offerings, acceptable sacrifices and pleasing to God.

When we thank God for what He has done our thanks are gifts, offerings to God. Whether it is through financial gifts to ministries or words of thanks to God, we all need to offer ample gratitude to God – fragrant offerings of appreciation.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What form can your fragrant offerings take?

In Everything 3

Psalm 33:1-5

At our charge conference I was able to see a contrast in worship attitudes. The event started with some praise songs – the first being a song about singing, clapping, dancing and jumping in celebration of God. The concluding ceremony was a somber, silent parade of pastors bringing their statistical reports forward. I suppose we all celebrated God in all that we did, but I prefer the jumping and dancing.

What type of attitude is presented in Psalm 33? What instruments are listed? What attitude and approach is suggested? What reasons are given?

Five simple verses sum up our approach to appreciating God. We are called to praise God. We are called to give thanks. And why is this? Because it is fitting for the faithful to do so. The word of the Lord is right and true. In other words, God can be trusted to give us good things, so we should thank Him for His generosity.

Our praise and gratitude should not be a narrow, limited thing, but something that encompasses all things. We should praise with harp and lyre. We should shout our praises. And, I find it interesting, we should “play skillfully.” God deserves our heartfelt and intentional praise, praise that requires a little effort on our part.

So many give thanks to God on a limited scale – only when reminded or when the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays roll around. But our praise should not be something we forget, neglect or overlook. It should be heartfelt and constant. It should be something we invest ourselves in.

We should be joyful in our gratitude, not grudging. We should be skilled in our praise, and not second-rate. We have so much to thank God for that we should never forget all of His blessings. After all “he is faithful in all he does,” and “the earth is full of his unfailing love.”

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you praise and thank God “skillfully?”

In Everything 2

Colossians 3:15-17

When I traveled to Europe in the 70s there was a joke with the German family we visited about the Austrians. The Austrians are so polite that they say Dankeshon (Thank you) and Btiteschon (You’re welcome) with every encounter. (When said quickly –dankeshon-bitteshon – it sounds like a train.)

We found it to be true and, aware of this, noticed how funny visits to restaurants became because of all the “thank-yous” and “you’re welcomes” involved in being seated, receiving the menu, the silverware, the napkins, the drinks, the food, the bill, etc. It may be amusing, but it is a charming part of the culture. Showing appreciation is an automatic and almost constant thing.

Paul, in this reading from his letter to the church at Colossae, seems to present a similar attitude. Look at how often he says to be thankful. The people (and us too) are called to be thankful because they are members of the body of Christ. And we are to be thankful that we are called to peace through that body.

Their worship, and our worship, should be filled with gratitude. In conclusion, Paul sums up that all we do should be done in the name of the Lord and should involve giving thanks.

It may not be part of our culture or our personal nature to say “thank you” and “you’re welcome” every time we are given something. It might make society function a bit smoother if we did.

But we are called as children of God and as followers of Jesus Christ to give thanks to God in all we do, and to be aware of – and therefore, thankful – of what it means to be saved by Christ. When we gather to worship – to sing songs of praise, to sing hymns, to pray, to be taught and to teach – we should do it all with gratitude.

Our thanks to God should not be reserved to one day a year, one season of the year, or one day a week. Our thankfulness for all that we are and all that we have should be a constant outpouring from us.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How often on average do you thank God in one day? Find a way to increase that number.

In Everything 1

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

This has been a very trying year. There have been so many things that want to tear us down. The death of a child and the death of a friend. The loss of loved ones, the end of marriages, the lack of rain, and then a flood. On television we saw a bridge collapse and wildfires ravage California.

Sometimes it seems like the world is coming to an end and we can't imagine going on. Yet, here, at the end of Paul's letter to the church at Thessaloniki, the oldest writings in the New Testament, are these simple little instructions. Be joyful. Pray continually. In everything give thanks.

We know, from the previous chapter, that they had lost many of their brothers and sisters to death. Paul mentions it starting in verse 13. So it wasn't as though they were untouched by grief and pain themselves.

But still, he urges these early Greeks to find joy--to pray continually--and to give thanks in all situations.

There is an important distinction to be made here. Every moment of our lives are not filled with joy. But we must remain joyful in every situation because our joy does not come from what surrounds us, but from what God has done for us. It is through continual prayer... constantly seeking the face and will of God, that we are able to have HIS joy in all situations, even those that are far from joyful.

And it's the same with thankfulness. We may not be thankful for every situation. But we must be thankful IN every situation. Not for what is happening in the world around us--no one is thankful for death and destruction. But we must remember to be thankful to God for His goodness in EVERYTHING, for this is His will.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Since today's passage is so short, I am asking that you read it again, but from the Amplified Version:

16Be happy [in your faith] and rejoice and be glad-hearted continually (always);
17Be unceasing in prayer [praying perseveringly];
18Thank [God] in everything [no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks], for this is the will of God for you [who are] in Christ Jesus [the Revealer and Mediator of that will].

Where I Am 5

Romans 8:35-39

Whenever our children are in serious need there is nothing that will get in our way to be with them. The time our communications got crossed and our son was left standing on our front porch alone, we hurried back from across town determined to overcome any obstacle. It is that way when you love and care for someone. Nothing can get in the way.

In his letter to the church in Rome Paul is reminding the faithful followers, those who have been enduring much suffering, of the love of Christ. What problems does Paul list in verse 35? For whose sake are the faithful facing death? Through whom are we conquerors? What can separate us from the love of Christ?

As we face the sadness of life, those losses and setbacks that can even make us numb with sorrow, we can feel that we are all alone. We can often think that no one cares and no one knows the depth of our own depression. But we need to remember that Jesus Christ is the presence of God, even in our darkest times, to offer the comfort of love.

This passage has always been a profound reading for me. Paul in his masterful way of communicating presents all the possibilities – present, future, height, depth – and states that none of these can come between us and Jesus’ love. And what is the first thing he mentions? Death. Not even death can separate us from Jesus.

As we recall the loved ones we have lost over the past year, as we consider our own personal sorrows, our hardships and our own suffering, we must always remember that there is no power – not even the power of death itself – that can come between us and God. No matter what we are going through, no matter how profound our anguish, God is always present with us to give comfort.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Get as comfortable as you can – a warm blanket, hot cocoa or coffee, slippers, scented candles, whatever it takes – and thank God for giving you more comfort than all of these.

Where I Am 4

Psalm 23

Most of us have jobs we love and jobs we hate. We may work at a job we love, or we may find the job tedious. But even jobs that do not garner a paycheck may bring us happiness or be a drudgery to us.

Some people struggle through the 9 to 5 obligation of their career, while others enjoy their labors. We also have jobs or responsibilities at home – cooking, cleaning, mowing the lawn. Each of us can usually find something that must be done, but something that is also a pleasure to do. For myself, I love the job I am paid to do, and I also (believe it or not) love to do the laundry at home. They both are necessary things to be done and they both bring me joy.

Psalm 23 is one of the most famous and well-known passages of the Bible. It describes a job being done by God. What job does the Lord do? What are some of the things He does in this job? Who benefits from this?

The 23rd Psalm is a common reading for those in need of comfort. It serves as a very simple and descriptive reminder of all that God does for each of us. Like a human shepherd who tends sheep, God tends to us. He gives us rest and comfort – green pastures and quiet waters. He accompanies us through good times and bad – restoring our soul and guiding us in right paths. He also provides protection with His rod and staff, and sustains us with whatever we need by preparing a table for us.

And a big part of this job that God performs is giving comfort. He anoints us with oil, an act to make us feel special and valued. He makes our cup, what we have in life, overflow with His love and goodness. And He plays host to us, not for a little while, but forever.

It is important to remember all the many things that God does for us. But we must also remember that this job of shepherd is a job that God loves. He delights in giving us the good things in life. He delights when we rely on Him for guidance, protection, and comfort. We certainly find happiness in knowing God watches over us as a shepherd. But let us remember that God does it gladly.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Remember a time when God gave comfort, guidance or sustenance. Thank Him for it, and remember that God was joyful when He did it.

Where I Am 3

Isaiah 25:6-8

Holiday celebrations are often marked with tremendous meals. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, birthdays all involve a special meal. There is usually an abundance of food and typically it is some of the best food. The time and the food are an opportunity for being together in fellowship and happiness.

This passage from Isaiah describes such a celebration. Who will prepare the meal? What will the meal include? What else will God do? How do we know this will be true?

As we work through the trials and difficulties of life we can keep our focus on the eternity that we will spend with God. In His tremendous love and mercy He will invite us to a banquet of the best food and drink.

And why will He do this? Because He loves us so much that He will be celebrating our being together with Him. And the celebration will involve more than the best food. God will remove our sorrows and our grief. He will give us comfort – wipe away our tears. He will remove any sense of remorse or loss, any bad feelings that may cover us like a sheet. The celebration will be more than just for us too. It will be a celebration for God that His children in need have come to Him for comfort.

But we need not wait until the end of all time to enjoy this celebration with God. God waits for each of us to turn to Him. In our moments of sorrow and loss God promises comfort and His presence to get us through. As we weep for our loss, as we grieve the ones we love, let us remember that our God is with us to give comfort. And our time with God, as we turn to receive His embrace, will be a time of celebration and great joy as our hurting soul communes with the eternal Almighty who abounds in mercy and love.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Take a moment to remember the losses which cause you to grieve. Then lift your arms to receive the loving embrace of God, who will celebrate you.

Where I Am 2

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

Near the end of the movie “Little Big Man” (one of my favorites) the Indian chief who is “grandfather” to Little Big Man prepares for his own death. Wrapped in his burial cape and standing on a mountaintop he speaks to God thanking Him for all that the chief has been through. “Thank you for my victories, and thank you for my defeats,” are some of the words he says.

I have always found that moment in the film to be very moving, and I have felt that the chief’s prayer is one that every Christian should have. It is easy to thank God for all the good things that happen in life. It is easy to appreciate happy times.

But we need to learn to appreciate (appreciate – not enjoy) the difficult times in life. It takes all times, good and bad, to make a life complete. It takes happiness and sadness, laughter and tears to make all of life a whole life. The first 8 verses of Ecclesiastes 3 express all the elements of what makes up a life.

As much as we want a lifetime of happiness, a life of nothing but ease is no life at all. Without hardships and challenges we only see part of life. It takes both happiness and sorrow to make a life complete.
I find it interesting that scar tissue skin is stronger than skin that has not healed. I feel the same is true of our spiritual life. Overcoming hardships and challenges gives us strength, teaches us lessons, and makes us better people.

And, although it is cause for sorrow, the loss of a loved one is a natural order of things. We must look at the life that has ended and appreciate all that has been experienced.

Just as in nature old plants must die to the world, be buried, so that they may give life to new plants growing in the next season, so also each of us must come to the end of our time. We yield to those who follow, offering our experience and wisdom, our blessings and instruction, in the hopes that the next life will be better.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What is the most recent challenge you have faced? What have you gained from that experience?

Where I Am 1

John 14:1-3

The game of “Peek-a-boo” is fairly simple and one that almost every child enjoys. But it is also an essential game in the development of an infant. One of the stages in the development of a child is a stage where the child learns to trust in the absence of a parent. The child must reach that point where he or she knows that the parent will go away, but will return. “Peek-a-boo” lays that groundwork.

Today’s passage is a wonderful expression of assurance and hope offered by Jesus. How can the disciples avoid worry, according to verse 1? What image of heaven is given? How do we know it’s true? Why is a place being prepared?

Today’s Scripture is read at almost every funeral and, so, I have read it dozens of times. As I read this passage this time two things struck me. The first was that this passage is part of the time together in the Upper Room. This is was not something spoken in a void, some pithy non sequitur that resonates with each of us.

This was part of a lengthy conversation and time of intimacy with those closest to Jesus. He was spending this last meal with them, this type of farewell dinner with his followers. Jesus knew he was leaving and he knew the disciples would have a difficult time without him. But he also knew they had to trust they would see him again.

His words were meant to keep the focus, not on the separation, but on the return. They should keep their hearts set not on their sorrow, but on the joy of the reunion. Jesus wanted to give comfort.

And that is the second thing. It is not important to me what heaven looks like. I don’t care if it is puffy clouds, flying angels, streets of gold or lots of mansions. What is important is that we will be there because Jesus wants us there. God wants to be with us for eternity. Jesus said, “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

We each may experience physical and emotional challenges in life. We each may need to confront our own mortality. But we each must remember that although there are times when we feel God is absent, He is with us. Jesus will return to get us and gather us to himself, because he wants us to be with him.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What causes you the most fear or worry? Pray that Jesus will give comfort in that situation.

Christian Magic 5

Mark 2:23-28

Many people have tossed around the expression “I work to live; I don’t live to work.” The idea is that they have no intention of allowing their jobs to control their lives – a healthy attitude. Some people have lost their focus and allow their vocation to consume them.

Our attitudes in worship can become unclear at times too. In today’s passage Jesus and his disciples are walking through a grain field. What do they do? Who sees them? What story does Jesus relate? What is the purpose of the Sabbath?

The Sabbath is a day meant for rest and for a time dedicated to God. The purpose for setting aside such a day is not to give us another situation where we are restricted by rules and regulations. Rather, a day of rest is intended for our physical and mental health. A day set aside for God is meant for our spiritual health. In Jesus’ own words “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

We can have similar attitudes in our worship times and in our faith walk. The new Christian or those seeking God can be shunned or shut out of a church because they haven’t learned how to “do” church. Knowing when to stand, when to sing, where to go, what to say, can be very confusing to a person new to worship. But church was made for man, not man for the church.

The purpose of worship is to give all people an opportunity to encounter the presence of God, to draw nearer to Christ. Embarrassing someone or scowling at a person who may seem confused doesn’t help. Isn’t it more important that the person’s heart is seeking God? Isn’t it more important that the person is trying to get on the right path?

The rites and rituals of worship are established not as obstacles or as hoops that must be leapt through. The act of worship is not a step by step process that absolutely must be followed to reach the ultimate goal. It is an opportunity. It is a time and place meant to help us.

Value the rituals of church for the intention behind them and not for the rigorous observance that may result in mistakes.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Is there a person who may need or want to learn the rituals of your church? Is there a loving and gentle way to teach them?

Christian Magic 4

Romans 2:25-27

We taught our children to say “please” whenever they asked for something. One of our children took this to be the key to getting what he wanted. One day he asked for something we were not prepared to give – like a new bike when it was not his birthday or Christmas. When I refused, he was baffled. “But, I said ‘please.’”

Going through the motions, doing what is required, does not mean what you are doing is right. Saying “please” is no guarantee you will get what you want. Such was the way with certain people in the Roman church.

What does circumcision indicate? Which is more important, according to Paul, being circumcised (outward piety) or obeying religious law (inward piety)?

In the early church there was frequent disagreement between the Jews who were following the teachings of Christ, and the Gentiles who were following Jesus. Many believed that these Gentiles had to become Jewish first, marked by having the males circumcised. Only then could they begin following Christ.

It was a ritual, an outward and visible indication of a person’s faith. Many Jews claimed that anyone not willing to undergo circumcision simply had no faith. But Paul points out that the physical obedience of the law, of faith, is no guarantee of holiness. It is when a person inwardly commits himself or herself to God that they are leading a holy life.

In our own churches and society we can sometime adopt the same attitude toward others. If they have not memorized the Apostle’s Creed or become confused during Holy Communion, or if they do not act exactly as we expect we may think these people can’t be Christians. However, simply knowing the ins and outs of Christianity, of knowing how to do the rituals, does not assure true Christianity.

It is attitude. It is intention. If a person’s heart hungers after God, if a person truly desires a deeper relationship with Jesus, then they are much nearer the throne of God than the most pious of Christians who knows the rituals but whose heart is empty of love.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Pray for more understanding of anyone you consider un-Christian because they do not do what you do.

Christian Magic 3

Luke 11:37-41

One of the classic gags from the old “Candid Camera” show was the bit with Fanny Farmer driving a car into a gas station to see what was making a noise in the engine. The mechanic lifted the hood to find there was no engine in the car at all. It’s a funny bit for a show but it is a sad reality for many people’s faith. They may look great on the outside, but inside they are empty.

In this passage Jesus is dining with a Jewish priest, a man well schooled in all the rituals of religion. What surprises the Pharisee? What is Jesus’ response? What does verse 40 mean to you? How are we made spiritually clean (verse 41)?

As I stated yesterday, there is nothing inherently wrong with tradition or ritual. Many people, me included, find comfort and the ability to focus by performing a familiar act or rite. I wear a cross around my neck, not as a lucky charm, but as a constant reminder that Jesus is with me. I find it easier (not necessary) to pray in a certain place and in a certain order – praise, thanks, confession, requests. Hospital visits are more comfortable for me after I have said a specific prayer in my car before entering the hospital.

The danger of ritual and habit is that these things can lose meaning. Mumbling through The Lord’s Prayer because it is something you have memorized, but no longer recall what it means, is pointless. Reciting creeds as if you are racing your neighbor to finish first is equally pointless.

On the outside such behavior can look very pious and holy. Externally our cup may seem sparkling clean. But if all we do in worship and in faith exercises is done from rote memory and has no meaning, then our insides – our souls – are not at all clean.

Knowing where to sit in church, knowing how to dress for church, knowing the order of the books of the Bible, reciting The Lord’s Prayer (even if you are the first one done) does not necessarily mean you are a good and Godly person. Jesus suggests that we give what is inside to the poor and then all is made clean. If we give our heart and our mind, our passions and our values to doing what benefits the needy, then we need not go through a ritual bath to be pure. Our soul will be right where it needs to be.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Is the inside of your spiritual cup as clean as the outside? Pray that God will help you to be clean.

Christian Magic 2

1 Kings 18:30-38

Over the years my wife has worked with me on being a better cook. What at first seemed a mystery that I could never fathom has become something I can approach with a bit more comfort, even though I still do not embrace it with passion.

After a few inedible results Peggy pointed out the most important aspect of being a good cook – follow the recipe. I had often assumed that if you simply threw all the parts together and cooked it, the cake or pot roast or meatloaf or whatever would come out fine. Many recipes present the ingredients and the process in a specific order because it is essential for good results to follow the steps precisely.

Many people have that same attitude in rituals of faith – do this, do this, THEN do that and God will respond. In today’s passage the famed prophet Elijah is going against 450 prophets of Baal, a pagan god. The contest begins in 1 Kings 18:23 and involves a test to see if the priests of Baal or Elijah can get a sacrifice to be consumed by fire.

How many stones did Elijah use? What did they represent? What did he put around the altar? What did he do with the bull? How many times was water poured on the offering?

What was the last thing Elijah did (verses 36-37)? How did God respond?

What a tremendous story of faith! What an incredible story of God’s power and faithfulness to those who believe! But it can be easy to assume that all Elijah did was a specific ritual, an exact rite to gain a specific result. Twelve stones for the tribes of Israel, a trench of specific measurements, three dousings of water – these can be seen as ingredients necessary to make God respond.

But what prompted God’s response was not the ritual of erecting a soggy altar. What prompted God’s response was faith and prayer. Elijah worked with confidence because he had the faith that God would show Himself so the people would stop following the wrong spiritual path. More effective than the number of stones or the water being poured on three times was the prayer. Elijah turned to God in faith and prayed.

There is nothing wrong with rites and rituals. There is nothing wrong in taking comfort in worshiping in a certain way. Elijah, I am sure, used twelve stones not for magical power but for his own symbolic and spiritual motivation.

Rites and rituals are fine as long as we do not give them too much credit, too much power, too much credence. What is essential is our faith and our communion with God in whatever form we give it. Faith and prayer will give us results.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Think of a ritual you may employ in your own worship, private or public. Be certain you know why you are doing it, and not just how to do it.