Monday, December 21, 2009

What Will Christmas Be Like This Year?

As I look forward to time on Christmas day with some family and highly anticipate New Year's with my two granddaughters, I think about what Christmas will be like for others.

Zannie spent most of this past Saturday afternoon and evening getting ready for Christmas day by "playing" in the kitchen making goodies to nibble on. For some, a nibble may be all they get. A full fledged meal with all the side dishes is completely out of the question. Hunger will not be part of our Christmas.

We do anticipate time with children and we dearly love our son by marriage and our daughter by marriage. Need I say anything about grandchldren? I think not other than we just can't wait. We are not living in dread of a family member coming home and creating some nightmare for us. For some, that dread is the focus of Christmas. Bad familiy relationships will not be part of our Christmas.

I totalled my car the day before Thanksgiving but God has provided exactly the car I had wanted and I am not dealing with broken limbs, internal damage, or worse. Other than still carrying around some of Thanksgiving's excesses, we are all in very good health. Many around us are dealing with loss or very poor health. If things continue as they are, these will not be a part of our Christmas either.

In talking to some new friends recently, I discovered that Christmas has no real meaning to them because Christ has no meaning to them. I think of how sad it is to go through the holiday that celebrates the birth of God Almighty in human form, Immanuel, God with us, only to be wrapped up in Santa Claus and stuff. Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" is great and what is preparing for the big day without Nat King Cole singing, "The Christmas Song" and "O, Holy Night"? But what is this holiday (holy day) without the Holy of Holies being a part of it? An absence of true meaning will also be absent from our Christmas, thankfully!

God has truly given us the opportunity for a Christmas for which we anticipate and greatly look forward. I pray that as you ask yourself, what will Christmas be like this year? you will have far more joyful hopes than fears and hurts. It's just a thought for today.

Merry CHRISTmas!

Friday, November 20, 2009

My 'Bestest' Friend

In recent days, what I thought was some email spam actually was an invitation to my 40 year high school reunion (40 years! Is that even possible?). As I began to make the necessary contact to be included in that event I began to think about the years gone by and I was reminded of the value of friends. Friends are those who you do things with who know who you really are. Some of my high school friends know of some escapades we were involved in back in the '60s. Friends later made dinner just for us-the dishes we like best. For some it was very late night coffee and chit chat. I've seen friends make some very bad decisions and break my heart as well as others around them.

I've seen friends abandon and be abandoned. While we call all of those different categories "friends," in actuality, most of these are acquantances to whom we happen to get rather close. True friends are those who know more about you than anybody and still love you. They are those who don't gauge the level of friendship by performance. When you stop and think about true friends, we all have very few. In fact, I have heard it said that if you have more friends than you can count on one hand you are in a very small minority.

So I began to think about my "friends." Now don't get me wrong, I am very thankful for even those who are friends during a season. You know, those peope with whom you develop a close relationship while you live in a place for a while. You have a lot in common and enjoy doing things together. In the broad sense, they are friends but not in the refined sense.

Many talk about their "best friend;" some talk about their "many" best friends; others talk about their "new" best friend. Comediene and former Miss North Carolina, Jeannie Robertson, refers to her "bestest" friend. Of course, everybody wants friends and even at least one best or bestest friend.

So I began to think of my true friends. While I do count myself blessed, I know that in reality, I have few and that would most likely be true of you as well. My very best friend on this earth is one of whom I actually requested their friendship. We actually made a public declaration of our friendship for each other and have stayed true friends for over 35 years. Yes, my very best friend is my lovely wife, Zannie. She is the one person on this earth who can tell me things no one else can and I still come back for more. She makes me so mad sometimes I could chew nails (not those on my fingers either) and I know I do the same to her. But friendship gets beyond the frustrations of life, forgives, and moves on because we love each other. This kind of friendship hurts when the other hurts and never wishes anything but the best for the other.

And while she is my best friend, I do have a "bestest"friend as well. Few know what that is like. You may or at least I hope you do. He actually wanted to be my friend far longer than I had wanted to be his. He had attempted a relationship even when I had "far better" things to do than be his friend. I know that there were times when I deeply hurt him; not intenting to do so but not caring that I had either.

His attempts went unheeded for many years but finally on October 21, 1985 (my best friend Zannie's birthday), I accepted the continual offer of true freindship from my bestest friend, Jesus Christ. The Bible even refers to Him as a "friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).

As I most certainly do look forward to seeing some of my high school buddies and friends, renewing old relationships, and reminiscing about old times, my desire is that they too, have a bestest Friend who sticks closer than a brother. He is a Friend who will never let you down, who will never leave nor forsake. He knows your heart even better than either you or your best friend. His love lasts forever. He wants to have a friendship with everyone but gives everyone the choice to reject if they so choose.

As this blog post ends, let me ask you to examine your friendships and ask, "Do you have Jesus as your bestest Friend, too?" It's just a thought for today.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What's Your Viewpoint?

Last weekend we had a great missions conference at our church. It was much shorter than in the past but equally effective, if not more so. There was an outpouring of financial commitments, far more people signing up for mission trips, and in general, sort of a "this is normal" attitude about the whole thing. I know such an attitude is unusual for many churches but I have discovered that as my walk with the Lord matures my viewpoint changes. I pray that what actually is happening is that I am seeing things more through Christ's eyes and less through my own.

I found a video that challenged me but at the same time opened my eyes to a whole new concept of "local"missions. It shouldn't; it's one of those "Duh" moments. It shows the difference between attractional evangelism (bringing people to church) and incarnational evangelilsm (bringing Christ to the culture). It takes a little over 9 minutes. See how it will affect you.

This is just something for you and me to think about today.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Things Have Changed

I got into a conversation with a group the other day as we were reminscing about the good ole days. As we talked and shared memories of days gone by, we were all reminded that we tend to remember what we want to from those days. I remember when we got an indoor bathroom. For those of you who have never experienced it, there is nothing glamorous about an outhouse in the middle of the night in February. Actually there is nothing glamorous about an outhouse in the daytime either in any month for that matter. Picking cotton by hand (thankfully a one time experience for me), cleaning out the hog barn, three channels on TV on a good day (two most of the time). So many other things I, and probably you, could mention in addition to these. Things have changed!

Have they ever! I am so glad that even though from year to year as technology advances, conveniences abound, and politics get weirder and weirder there are a few things that remain constant.

The salvation that the apostle Paul received on the road to Damascus is the same salvation I received in 1985 and that hopefully you have received at some point in yoru life. The peace that comes today from belonging to Christ is the same peace that the first century martyrs possessed as they were tortured and burned alive. The joy that comes from leading a loved one into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is as sweet today as it was on a ship crossing the Atlantic for so many who escaped persecution for their faith in England. And the Savior who made it all possible is the "same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).

It's fun to think back and reflect on the good memories but there will be a day when all these days will be forgotten forever because there will be nothing to compare with the "days" of eternity with Him. I am greatful for memories but I am more greatful for the promises that lie ahead. That's just a thought for today.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Is H1N1 the Worst Pandemic Yet?

In less than a week, I have
  • met with a registered nurse to talk about a workshop to share information with our church members about prevention and dealing with the flu, specifically H1N1 or "swine flu,"
  • read and signed an information sheet from the Center for Disease Control regading the flu,
  • dealt with the fallout from a parent who wanted all children who had someone in their family suffering from the flu in the last week to stay home from church,
  • been bombarded from the media with information about the flu,
  • made my own attempt to get a regular flu shot from a drive-through offering, and
  • even went home one day early because I thought I might be experiencing symptoms (apparently a mild migrane).

I have no desire to minimize anyone's concern about the flu. It is tough for anybody to deal with; it can be very dangerous for many; and a reasonable mind would suggest precaution for all of us.

But the worst global pandemic we, as a nation, or we, as a global community (if you prefer that sort of term) face today is the same pandemic the much smaller global community faced in FDR's day, in Martin Luther's day, and in Noah's day as well-sin and a lost world. Each generation has a new set of political, economic, health, and financial issues to face. But no matter how diverse these might be, every generation, every family, and for that matter, every individual must face the pandemic of sin and separation from God because of it.

Many years ago when I was teaching an adult couples' Sunday School class I decided to start the lesson in a different manner one Sunday morning. After our normal fellowship, announcement, and prayer time, I looked at them all and said, "I need to share something with you. None of you knew me in my younger days and are not aware of the lifestyle I led. Because of a very sinful and promiscuous lifestyle combined with regular use of intraveinous drugs I have contracted AIDS."

After a collective gasp sucking all the oxygen out of the room, I continued, " doing lots of research and study of herbal remedies, changing many eating and exercise habits, and an overall change in lifestyle, I have discovered a cure for AIDS and am now AIDS free. I know that some of you might say, 'WOW! You need to tell others who are dying of AIDS how they can be cured, too.' But I don't want to push my discovery on them. After all, I found the cure by myself; so can they if they really want it. It would be very presumptive on my part to assume that they are ready for the cure."

As I saw many puzzled looks I further stated, "Somebody who knows them better can tell them; after all, they might reject me because they don't believe me." As some in the class began to catch on, I clarified, "Of course, I don't have AIDS but I once was infected with a completely deadly and 100% eternally fatal disease, sin! Christ offered me the cure and I am now healed from the penalty of that disease. Should we not be as eager to share that cure as we would be if we actually had discovered a cure for AIDS?" All agreed that, indeed, we should. I then opened my Bible and study notes and continued the lesson on evangelism.

Am I saying that I share the "cure" for sin as eagerly and often as I should? I am embarrassed and ashamed to confess that I don't. Is it comforting to believe that it's not just me but most Christians are just as guilty? Not at all! When I see the fervor with which some parents protect their children from a physical virus and the degree to which our government will go to inform everybody in our country, I am even more convicted that the level of my sharing needs to increase dramatically. Could it be that while we say with our mouths that sin is the eternally condemning pandemic, our actions actually do say that H1N1 is the worst pandemic yet? Just a thought for today.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Plan

"For I know the plans for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future..." I don't remember the first time I read or heard these words nor do I remember where I was the first time they truly resonnated within my heart. But Jeremiah 29:11 has become one of the most encouraging verses in the Bible to me. I understand that these words are specifically for the Jews in exile but I believe through other verses that the God who created me also has a specific plan for me; verses such as Psalm 139:15-16: ...When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. He has a plan for me, a personal, individual plan for me.

When Paul wrote the the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 12:7, 11 about the use of spiritual gifts, he said, But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. But one and the same Spirit works in all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills (empahsis added). The Holy Spirit of God gives me spiritual gifts in accordance to the plan He already has for my life.

He planned it for me. He prepared it for me. He equipped me for it. My part is to follow the perfect, specific plan He already has put together for my life. I can follow Him and receive great peace and joy in knowing that what I am doing is what I was created for or I can go my way and do my thing for my immediate pleasure and receive short-term satisfaction that leaves no lasting impact or peace.

Recently, I heard the idea that in 150 years from now, there will be no one living who knows me or knows my children or my grandchildren for that matter. In fact, chances are very good that no one will ever know I ever existed. What will remain after I am gone is the impact I make on people's eternity. That impact is best made by living my life out through the plan that God has designed for me. God has given me an incredible wife, five wonderful grown children (three by birth and two by marriage), and two beautiful granddaughters. God expects me to be the best husband, father and grandfather possible. But for all eternity, exactly what impact I will make will be determined by how obedient I am in the use of the gifts He has given me for the specific purpose of carrying out the plan He has for me.

I pray for myself, that I never fail Him. I pray for you that if you don't know the plan He has for you that you discover it and carry it out as well. But even more than that, I pray that if you don't know Him you will because whether you realize it or not He already has a plan for you; He's just waiting for you so He can share it with you.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Truly blessed...oh, really?

Are the comforts of life in American truly blessings or have we been cursed with the comforts of live? After falling asleep in my recliner last night-not in bed, but comfy, nontheless-I woke this morning and decided to sleep in (til 6:30-I truly am a morning person). After breakfast from which there were many choices with my wonderful wife it was off for the Friday Wal-Mart run. After the drive-through at Starbucks and a quick stop at Lowes and a stop to gas up my car, I made it to Wal-Mart.

I started looking at the choices avalable: milk-low fat, 2%, whole, chocolate, each in three brands; snack bars-6-8 different brands in low fat, low calorie, regular, and a plethora of flavors. Shampoos: good grief at the choices! This choice thing went on throughout the store. After finishing at Wal-Mart and a stop to pick up some fresh tomatoes at the local produce stand and a stop at Dollar General for a prefered cleaner I returned to our air-conditioned home with a beautiful yard to listen to XM radio on my satelitte TV.

That's when my mind drifted to Ukraine. On our last trip there we stayed at what was classified for the Ukrainians as a 5 star resort; for us it was probably what we would consider budget accomodations. The room was reminiscent of a Micro-tel. So grateful were they for what we shared with them! And when we left they were literally taking our bags from our hands to carry them for us as an expression of thankfulness for what we had given them-encouragement and love. Mouths not being able to communicate with us but faces beaming with joy from what we shared with them.

We have so much at our disposal from food, luxury housing by most of the world's standard to instant entertainment and communication in a variety of forms. Yet happines seems to elude so many of us. And that is the problem for many of us-seeking happiness or contentment from the happenings around us. That is, at best, fleeting and, at worst, never existing. Oh, if we all could forget about happiness and seek joy. Paul reminded me that "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace..." in Galatians 5:22.

In other words, until the Holy Spirit of God is residing and working in my life, happiness is all I can hope for and happiness is always looking to be replaced by the next experience only to leave me looking for the next one ad nauseum.

Francis Chan in Crazy Love says, "We tend to think of joy as something that ebbs and flows depending on life's circumstances. But we don't lose joy, as though one day we have it and the next it's gone, oh darn. Joy is something that we have to choose and then work for. Like the ability to run for an hour, it doesn't come automatically. It needs cultivation...Obsessed people know that true joy doesn't depend on circumstances or environment; it is a gift that must be chosen and cultivated, a gift that ultimately comes from God (James 1:2-4)."

I thank God for the joy that wells up inside me from the presence of His Holy Spirit regardless of circumstances. Are we truly blessed by all the conveniences and choices we have or would we be better off with less and a greater dependence on Him? I am not looking to give all them up but I am giving thought and gratitude to Him for making not only them possible but the joy that comes with or without them.

Just something to think about today.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

No More "Playing Church"

When Robert Raikes developed the idea of a school on Sundays for the illiterate and less than well behaved children of chimney sweeps in Gloucester, England in 1780, he had no idea of the impact on this minister's life or the impact on the eternal lives of countless men, women, boys, and girls yet to come for over two centuries now.

"Sunday School is the church organized," said Harry Piland, the former director of Sunday School for, the then Baptist Sunday School Board, now LifeWay Church Resources. And as long as today's churches continue to view Sunday School as a ministry and not a program, it will not only survive, but it will thrive! Sunday School continues to prove itself to be one of the greatest tools available to today's church for reaching people for Christ and helping them grow and develop their walk with Him.

God continues to equip His leaders for the "work of ministry" and His faithful will continue to not just do Sunday School but work Sunday School in order to continue to make an eternal difference in our own communities and neighborhoods.

The day has come and gone when we can just "play church"!

Crazy Love

It is always exciting for a parent to see the growth of a child in the physical sense but even more so spiritually. While on vacation, my 25 year old baby girl, Grace, introduced me to Francis Chan's book Crazy Love. Her statement was, "It's the kind of book you just underline everything in!" Man, was she ever right! After reading through once, I am now reading again a bit slower with a highlighter. Thank you, Gracie.

Chan points out some things about God that so often slip past us as we go through our lives such as how vast He actually is. As I begin to see Him for who He is I also see myself for who I am; it's not about me (to quote Rick Warren) and I do need to get over myself as Chan instructs. There is only One who can stop the world and everything in it and it's not me.

As I read and ponder the greatness of God; as I look at His majesty and holiness; as I realize that for Him to not only love me but to have a custom designed plan for me and for Him to orchestrate the steps and direction of that plan, I am brought to my face before Him. Chan appropriately says, "This awesome, omnipotent, omniscient Creator of everything has this insane, ridiculous, crazy love for me (my paraphrase)." My heart overflows with gratitude and amazement for Him and then I begin to realize all the more as to how little I know Him and understand Him.

My prayer is that as each day goes by I look less and less like this earth and more and more like the Christ He has given for me. That's a thought for today.