A wonderfully privileged life!

Last week I prayed about my kids finding a parking place at the long-term lot at the airport since they are often full to overflowing during the holiday travel rush. This morning I prayed for several people who are going through tough times in their marriages. I prayed for wisdom to lead the church that God has entrusted to my pastoral care. I prayed praise-filled prayers about the myriad joys of my life. Sometimes I pray while playing the piano and singing ‘made up’ songs to God. Sometimes I pray in the Spirit as I drive to share the goodness of the Lord with someone in sad circumstances.

Here’s the thing some might find strange; I seldom pray by getting down on my knees, clasping my hands, and turning my head towards the sky in prayer! I never put together long monologues addressed to the “One who filleth our lives with blessed beneficence, Whose Majesty we implore to rest mightily upon us.” I don’t agonize about finding the right words, posture, or time. I just talk with One Who loves me! I pray about most everything, just about all the time.

Our Father invites us to a continual conversation with Him. My adult kids were around for a few days and just listening to their discussions brought me such joy. Hearing them talk about their lives, their dreams, their disappointments, their successes and having the occasion opportunity to offer some advice made me happy. When they were in my care, they took my love for them and the fact that I would protect them and provide for them for granted, rightly so. They did not need to plead, bargain, or manipulate – though they sometimes did! They just had to demonstrate a real need and it was met!

In His sermon that is recorded in Matthew, Jesus spoke much of prayer. He did not create formulas that ‘guarantee results’ as I’ve heard some preachers do. He did not teach a method to ‘get what you want from God.’ He urged a lifestyle that included real relationship with the Father that sets us up to enjoy constant communication (prayer!) with Dad. He specifically warned about making prayer into a show. “And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?” (Matthew 6:5, The Message) He warned about turning prayer into a rote recitation or empty ritual. “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.” (Matthew 6:7, NLT) He also connected our relationship with people with our ability to speak to God. If we are hateful or unforgiving, we sever the connection that lets us pray from our hearts. Two times in those short chapters he tells of the importance of letting go of the offenses of others which frees us to approach God without the weight of hate!

In words that are misunderstood too literally as a legal contract, He taught us to expect God to answer in the same way a beloved child expects the care of a parent. “For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” (Matthew 7:8-11, NLT) He doesn’t promise that we get everything we want. That would be a disaster, given our short-sightedness, selfishness, and frequently foolish prayers! He invites us to be aligned with our Heavenly Dad’s heart, to ask freely and accept faithfully all that He provides.

Do I understand everything about prayer? No, and that is as it should be. God is God, I am not. He is infinite, I am not. He is all-wise, I am not. He asks only that I stay in right relationship with Him by being obedient to His Word and Spirit. He asks for a profound faith that trusts Him without question.

As we begin a New Year, my desire is that we learn to pray better prayers – not longer, not more eloquent, but truer to our heart, and consistent with what is happening in our lives. I hope that we will really converse with the Lord – crying with Him when our hearts are broken, pouring out our praise to Him when life is working for us, presenting our needs and requests to Him at His invitation, and most of all; resting in His promise to love us through it all!

“I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. (Ephesians 1:16-19, NLT)
“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)

“I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.


Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:16-21, NLT)

May you be greatly disturbed!

Following the lead of angels who announced the birth of Jesus with well-known words about “peace to men on whom God’s favor rests,” there will be many Christmas messages built around the theme. The preachers proclaim, “Peace with God.” Singers laud “Peace on Earth.” I am grateful, deeply so, that Christ brought us reconciliation with our Father. But, His birth also caused consternation! When the Magi showed up at the royal palace asking about a new-born King, Matthew tells us that “King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem.” (Matthew 2:3, NLT)

The most natural thing in the world for us humans is to settle into ruts of routine that keep us snug our comfortable cubbies of complacency. The troubles of the world are shut out, needs ignored, responsibility shunted aside. And this, we call ‘peace.’ Like Herod of old, preserving our position can become our paramount priority. This is not the ‘peace’ that Jesus left Heaven to bring to you and me! He did not come to help us be indulged, self-satisfied, or smug. He came to make peace with God, to call us back to our Father and into His mission of the restoration of all Creation.

Yesterday I knocked on the door of a motel room where a young woman, a single mother of two toddlers, has been housed by the local welfare office. She called the church to tell us that she had no gifts for her little ones. Thankful for the generosity of our congregation that provides resources for such situations, I took some things to her including a small Christmas tree, hoping to make the holiday a bit brighter for her. Her face was full of gratitude when I handed the gifts and money to her. Her little girl giggled and offered her little hand to me for a high-five of thanks. But, it wasn’t a Hallmark moment. It was disturbing! As much as I was glad to provide a moment of joy for that little family, she became the symbol of all things broken in this world for me. Driving away, I wept, knowing that her real need is much greater than a few bucks for the holidays. She needs to be loved and helped to find a way out of the cycle of poverty, physical and spiritual, that has become her life. I am greatly disturbed by the brokenness of the world around me!

When shocked out of complacency by some epiphany of human suffering, the knee-jerk reaction of many is simply to throw money at the need and then to go home and to try to forget about it. “I can’t think about it. It’s just so sad. But, what can I do? I’m just one person.” God disturb us!

Keep the living hell of little girls who are sex slaves to men enslaved by their lusts before us.
Keep the hopelessness of those trapped in our inner cities, in endless cycles of bad choices in our minds. Keep the fear of those dying without hope, without knowing God’s promise of eternal life in our consciousness. LORD, DISTURB US in our palaces!

No real change comes to the lives of those most in need unless we get involved, surrender ourselves, share our homes and lives, and let the messes that the unloved and unlovely bring with them into our hearts. We cannot allow ourselves to think that we can turn sinners into saints by singing them a sweet song of salvation. We must be like Jesus. The Bible tells us that “He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.” (Philippians 2:6-8, The Message) That is disturbing!

Disciple, you will not experience the deep peace of God until you are fully aligned with the purposes of God. No amount of festive celebration can replace the high call of love which we hear when we receive the love of the Savior. He reconciles us to our Father and “he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19, NIV) The words of Jim Elliott, a young intelligent man with a promising future, who died a martyr in the jungles of Ecuador in 1956, are my message to you this Christmas.
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Read all of the words in this carol. Full of promise, their fulfillment will be disturbing. Merry Christmas!
__________________

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With angelic hosts proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King.”

Christ, by highest heav’n adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail, the incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King.”

Hail the heav’n born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Come, Desire of nations, come!
Fix in us Thy humble home.
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head;
Adam’s likeness now efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place;
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King.”
Hark The Herald Angels Sing
Wesley, Charles / Mendelssohn, Felix
© Public Domain

Lord, what will I do?

I was awake for a couple of hours early this morning thinking and praying about a tough decision that is confronting me. It’s time to decide! There’s no easy or right answer for this situation as both options carry both reward and risk. Choices confront us every day. How we make them reveals much about our character, commitment, and core values! The easy ones, for me anyway, are those that are clearly black and white issues, the right and wrong ones starkly defined. Millions of people find an excuse for choosing the wrong one anyway. The choices much more difficult to make are the ones involving equally good outcomes. For example, a person with a good job that adequately meets his needs is offered a new position requiring relocation but with a promise of greater responsibility in the future. Does he stay where he’s happy or make the choice for growth?

Jesus spoke of choices and reminds us that the choice that offers Self the most comfort is also the choice for death. “The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14, NLT) Depravity and sin see to it that default settings of this world lead to destruction. If you slip and slide through life, letting decisions be made for you by others or refusing to challenge your impulses, you will not succeed in building a life pleasing to God or that blesses others. That’s a certainty! Right choices usually go against the flow requiring that we resist temptation.

The Bible says, “If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way.” (James 4:4, The Message) As we choose, we need to be honest about our true motives. Recently, as I sought the counsel of a trusted friend, I explained the options in front of me. Then, I told him, “Here is a complicating factor that is part of the background. I know I’m emotionally attracted to this idea.” Why did I reveal something that seemingly was unrelated to the decision of the moment? Because I don’t trust myself! I need to be transparent, to give others permission to point out flawed motives that could corrupt my decision making process. Over the course of my pastoral ministry, I have heard people rationalize thousands of wrong and/or sinful choices because they refused to admit that they were flirting with the world or just being selfish! The worst excuse? “God told me I could…” Don’t misuse His Name in this way!

Though we are ultimately responsible to God for our own choices, the truly wise person makes his decisions as he considers the advice of others. Proverbs promises that “Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established.” (Proverbs 15:22, NKJV) Even then, there is a choice! What kind of counsel will we seek? Will we look for those we know will agree with us, or will we look for those known for honest, tough counsel? The Word lauds good counsel. “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.” (Psalm 1:1-3, NLT)
As we near the end of 2009, there are choices to be made. Choose rightly and wisely. As I thought about my choice today, I was reminded of two promises Jesus made to us. As you meditate on them, give thanks and invite the Lord of life to lead you to the right way.

First is the promise of the Holy Spirit Who lives in us! “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” (John 16:13, NIV)

Second is the promise of fellowship with Christ Himself! “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20, NIV)

____________

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but Thou art mighty,
Hold me with Thy pow’rful hand.
Bread of heaven, Bread of heaven,
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more.

Open now the crystal fountain,
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliverer, strong Deliverer,
Be Thou still my strength and shield;

Be Thou still my strength and shield.
When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Bear me thro’ the swelling current,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs and praises, songs and praises,
I will ever give to Thee;
I will ever give to Thee.

Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah
Williams, William / Fosdick, Harry E. / Hughes, John / William, Peter
© Public Domain

Life at the beach

Many years ago, I was at the Jersey shore, enjoying a day at the ocean. I was 11 or 12 years of age and carefree as kids are. Playing in water that was about waist deep, I suddenly found myself in the grip of a hidden force that pulled me off my feet. Frantically, I watched the safety of the sandy beach grow further away. Coughing and choking, it seemed like I would drown until the father of the family I was with appeared next to me and told me to hang onto him. 20 seconds of sheer terror is how I remember that day. Later I learned it was called a ‘riptide.’ It’s like a river in the ocean that causes a strong, narrow current that flows directly away from the shoreline. Most ocean drowning deaths are caused by rip currents, hidden and very dangerous.

We all get caught in rip currents that drag us into deep water from time to time, don’t we? A phone call announces a crisis, the boss hands us a lay-off notice, a child becomes ill, war breaks out, the economy fails, emotions go haywire, faith disappears into the fog of doubt – that list goes on and on! People ‘die’ in those kinds of situations; perhaps not physically, but some just give up hope and become the living dead. Some decide to hid in a some substance that lets them escape, if only for a few hours at a time. Some make self-destructive choices, losing integrity in the process.

Rip currents are one of the reasons why I am so thankful for the Church, the Body of Christ! IF she is functioning as she is designed, a lifeguard will appear offering the one in the rip current a rescue, pulling him to safety, or at least helping him stay afloat until the current gives out. Disciple, that is why you need to be networked into a local church, building and protecting strong ties to others who will see your distress and come alongside of you with more than platitudes or condemnation. An authentic church is not a place where neatly dressed people with beautifully ordered lives show up for a couple of hours a week to boast about their accomplishments or to sneer at people whose lives are ‘such a mess.’ It’s a place where real people celebrate God’s goodness and hang onto each other for dear life. It’s a ‘family’ where hurting people are re-connected to the healing Presence of the Spirit. It’s a spiritual hospital where sinful people find a Savior who restores them to the wholeness that God created them to enjoy.

Have we forgotten what the announcement of Jesus’ birth was about? It was not about a coronation! “An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21, NIV)
If you’re enjoying a sunny day at the beach in your life right now (figuratively speaking), give thanks! If you’re caught in a rip current that is dragging you down, YELL- to God, to a trusted disciple. A simple prayer will suffice – “Lord, help me!” There’s hope in Him. The teenage girl who became the mother of Jesus, found her life turned upside by a divine visitation that seemed more like a riptide than a blessing, at first. Tucked into the story of her encounter is a phrase I want to leave with you today. “Mary said to the angel, “But how? … His reply, “Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:34, 37, The Message)

Hang on to hope today! A Savior has been born. He is Christ, the Lord!
_______________

Jesus! What a friend for sinners!
Jesus lover of my soul!
Friends may fail me, foes assail me;
He, my Savior, makes me whole.

Jesus! What a strength in weakness!
Let me hide myself in Him;
Tempted tried and sometimes failing,
He, my strength my victory wins.

Hallelujah what a Savior.
Hallelujah what a Friend.
Saving, helping, keeping, loving,
He is with me to the end.

Jesus! I do now receive Him;
More than all in Him I find.
He hath granted me forgiveness;
I am His and He is mine.

Our Great Savior
Chapman, J. Wilbur / Prichard, Rowland H.

© Public Domain

Going “Primal”

The word means ‘of first importance, original.’ In a book simply titled Primal, (Multnomah, 2009) Mark Batterson leads his readers to reconsider the basics of being a disciple of Christ. On page 2, we learn about his tour of the Church of San Clemente in Rome, where he descends below the existing church to the catacombs that lay beneath several layers of civilizations. There Christians worshipped during Roman persecutions. “I was overcome by the fact that I was standing in a place where my spiritual ancestors risked everything, even their lives, to worship God. … I couldn’t help but wonder if we have diluted the truths of Christianity and settled for superficialities.”

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30, NIV) The author breaks down his call to basic faith by using that primal call of Jesus. We can load up our walk of faith with bells and whistles of our preferences, add our trinkets of religious traditions, but if we are serious disciples nothing replaces loving God first and others second. Batterson reminded me, with his stories, that love is an action verb, engaged with the real world where each one of us live. He reminds me that “God loves the smell of your sweat. Your sweat is sacred incense God loves it when we break a sweat serving His purposes.”

I urge you to think long and hard about what you’re pouring yourself into, to whom you’re giving the rapidly disappearing days of your life. If the foundation from which you build is solid, the structure will be too. If you want a book to help you start 2010 with some fresh thoughts about getting back to basics, Primal, would be good choice. Buy it at:  http://www.amazon.com/Primal-Quest-Lost-Soul-Christianity/dp/1601421311/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1261396677&sr=1-1

Mark Batterson is the lead Pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. He lives on Capitol Hill with his wife and three children.

You can do it!

Some days I wake up thinking, “can I do this another day?” I think most of us do. We tire of the constant struggle to make life work, to overcome sin, to get relationships right, to do our job well, to steer our kids away from delinquency, to …. Well, I think you’re getting my drift. We live against the flow, resisting the tendency to decay that is part of this world. It’s everywhere! Our houses don’t clean themselves. Our cars require constant maintenance. Keeping our marriage healthy demands our daily attention. Even our spiritual life goes cold as a cup of coffee left on the countertop without continual refreshing in worship and wonder!

Sound like a lot of work? It is!

A life of peace, beauty, and holiness does not just happen. We must do spiritual disciplines, resist the Devil’s work, and return often to God. And we know this: we are not in the struggle all by ourselves. The Spirit of God is our Ally, our Source, our Strength! At the end of Romans 11 and into chapter 12, the Word exults about God’s work. Take a look at the passage from The Message –

“Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom? It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out. Is there anyone around who can explain God? Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do? Anyone who has done him such a huge favor that God has to ask his advice?


Everything comes from him;
Everything happens through him;
Everything ends up in him.
Always glory! Always praise! Yes. Yes. Yes.


So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you:
Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Romans 11:33-12:2)

There is no reason for sin to run rampant in our lives any longer. The depravity that once held us captive has been replaced with a new nature, one alive to the will of God, one that rejoices in truth and love. Feed that nature today with worship, with the Word, with cultivated awareness of the Spirit’s Presence. And may the beauty of Jesus been seen in you!
Dear Father, please “let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me, all His wonderful passion and purity; O, Thou Spirit divine, all my nature refine, ’til the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.
In the name of my Savior I pray. Amen. (from the song by Albert W.T. Orsbom)

An Enormous Red Dragon

Somebody hates you! Isn’t that a warm, fuzzy thought? It isn’t and yet, it’s true! In the 12th chapter of the Revelation, John uses ‘sign language’ to tell his readers about God’s plan to save His Creation from an evil one who is determined to oppose and destroy all that is good and godly. Many refuse to take John’s vision seriously, dismissing the story as a superstitious tale of a man steeped in the myths of his time. I don’t. John’s words help me to understand the way the world works and to see what’s really going on in the invisible realm that is as real as the one I perceive with my five senses.

John saw an ‘enormous red dragon’ (a picture language symbol) who was poised to destroy the Messiah at his birth, who rebelled against the order of Heaven and was defeated by Michael, the archangel, who was kicked out of the Presence of God, and who now has “had a great fall; He’s wild and raging with anger; he hasn’t much time and he knows it.” (Revelation 12:12, The Message) Evil has a name and a personality! “This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.” (Revelation 12:9, NLT)

If you think that all the suffering in this world results just from ignorance or human pride, think again. Evil is an organized conspiracy, orchestrated by the Devil, who works through the demon spirits, whose ultimate goal is death and destruction. The Hitlers, Pol Pots, wife-beating husbands, and rebellious teens who hate their parents share a common inspiration – the Devil! When Tiger Woods cheated on his wife, he wasn’t just led astray by an excess of testosterone; he was deceived by lying spirits whose cackles are now heard as his life is in ashes. If we fail to understand this, we risk fighting the wrong battles, trying to solve problems by focusing only on symptoms rather than the real disease. As important as education, eradication of poverty, and behavior modification are in making the world a better place in which to live; they can only accomplish so much. Only Christ Jesus can set us free from slavery to Satan and depravity. Only the Holy Spirit can transform our minds and hearts so that we are able to live whole and holy lives.

While I do not fear Satan or his demons, I have great respect for their power, and so should you. I know that I am safe only because of the sacrifice of Christ that erases my sinfulness and lets the Spirit of God live in me. John says of Believers, “they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony.”  (Revelation 12:11, NLT) He alludes to the Exodus story, where the Israeli people who obediently responded in faith by putting the blood of the Passover lamb on their doorposts escaped the death angel’s judgment. We receive Christ, by faith, and His sacrifice covers us.

Even then, we face the attacks of evil that comes at us through ‘the world, the flesh, and the Devil.’ But, we have a promise of victory! Though we walk in a world ‘with devils filled,’ that ‘threatens to undo us, we will not fear for God has willed His truth to triumph through us.’ (Martin Luther) Here’s a word from the Word. Meditate on it. Let the Truth give you insight into your own behavior and that of those who are around you, then pray to be holy and to be part of the Divine Conspiracy to save Creation!

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.
We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us.


This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.
Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
(1 John 4:4-8, NIV)

_______________

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With angelic hosts proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King.”
Come, Desire of nations, come!
Fix in us Thy humble home.
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head;
Adam’s likeness now efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place;
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King.”

Hark The Herald Angels Sing
Wesley, Charles © Public Domain

Who’s Leading You?

Before he entered vocational ministry at the age of 30, my father had a livestock company. Each summer, he traveled to Wyoming to buy lambs for resale to East coast markets. When I was about 6 years old, he took me with him to Wyoming, to a remote area, where we visited shepherds tending huge flocks of sheep! Yes, it’s true. There in the mountains near Buffalo, WY, were men who lived alone in little houses on wheels, caring for their sheep 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They were Basque immigrants, from an ancient culture in the Pyrenees Mountains on the border of Spain and France. Their people had a long tradition of being outstanding shepherds. These men, helped only by their amazing dogs, made certain that the sheep in their care were kept safe and provided with pasture. Their constant presence caused those sheep to respond even to their voice! I watched as a single shepherd called his flock, sent his dog to round up stragglers, and moved hundreds of sheep from place to place in open range. It is an amazing memory still vivid in my mind a half century later!

Perhaps you do not know that sheep if left alone on the open range without a shepherd will come to a terrible end! Predators will kill them off, one by one. They will stay in one area, over-grazing the land, until they have exhausted their food supply. Only a well-shepherded flock thrives. People are much like those sheep. We need to be led! Without care, we die. Even if we have all we need right now, without guidance we will get stuck and fail to move ahead in life. Jesus saw the need of the people that he lived with observed, “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36, NIV) Perhaps that is how you feel today.

Our world is full of people who would ‘shepherd’ us. They call to us, inviting us to follow them.
There are dictators that demand much of us, but return nothing, wanting only to selfishly take from us.
There are deceivers that want to mislead us into destruction, their plans shaped by twisted purposes of evil.
There are those who just yell at us, issuing a confusing lot of directions, noises that leaves us in a whirl of confusion if we try to follow them.

And, there is One Voice that invites us to – “Come, follow me. … I am the Good Shepherd.”
Jesus says, “I am the Gate for the sheep. … Anyone who goes through me will be cared for-will freely go in and out, and find pasture. … I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary.” (John 10:7-11, The Message) Go back and read that passage again.

“Come, follow me.” Will you take Jesus up on His invitation? It’s an invitation to adventure, to life that is purposeful and meaningful, and – best of all – to a relationship! He promises that if we follow Him, He will never leave us. He does not promise that we will never be attacked by wolves, go through violent storms, or experience difficult days! But, He promises we won’t face those challenges alone. “I’ll be there,” He says, “caring for you.”

Follow the Good Shepherd. Serve Him. Worship Him. Listen to Him. And, you will ‘have real and eternal life, more and better life than you ever dreamed.’ That’s the truth.
Here’s a familiar word from the Word. Don’t rush through it! Savor the promise.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23, NIV)

_____________________

Savior, like a Shepherd lead us;
Much we need Thy tender care.
In Thy pleasant pastures feed us;
For our use Thy folds prepare.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Thou hast bought us; Thine we are.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Thou hast bought us, Thine we are.

We are Thine; do Thou befriend us;
Be the Guardian of our way.
Keep Thy flock; from sin defend us;
Seek us when we go astray.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Hear thy children when they pray;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Hear Thy children when they pray.

Savior Like A Shepherd Lead Us
Thrupp, Dorothy A. / Bradbury, William B.
© Public Domain

Needed – a Prince of Peace

Conflict never really stops, does it? With age, my tolerance for conflict has diminished. In the past, I was ready to argue my point strenuously when I thought it necessary. Today, not so much. My inner voice says so often, “Can’t we just get along?” Apparently, we (all human beings) cannot! After 35 years of marriage, Bev and I still occasionally have disagreements over the silliest stuff, though neither of us is willing to fight the way we did 20 years ago! Within the church that I serve there are always simmering issues to be dealt with, some important, some insignificant, but all loaded with the potential to explode into destructive words and actions if not properly resolved and/or managed.

Our American politics are so loaded with conflict, the major parties so polarized that the idea of building consensus is abandoned in favor of raw power plays. Our President, in his speech at the acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize last week, acknowledged his resignation to the concept of the necessity of ‘just’ war, saying that “the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another – that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy.”
Christmas renews our longing for peace and the promise that there will come a day when wars will cease, when hate-filled words will no longer fill the air, when cooperation will emerge from the perfect justice of a righteous King. Isaiah said that One will come who will be called the “Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace.” (9.6)

Conflict among us, be it personal or international, is commonly resolved with power; the one with the most money, soldiers, or leverage, applies pressure and forces compliance to his will. Resolved is not the best word to use. Suppressed would be better. When the vanquished have had time to heal their wounds and gather new allies, conflict resurfaces.

Christ Jesus calls us to peace and to actively work for peace. Are we naïve to hope for it, pray for it, long for it? No! Jesus taught us to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10, NIV) His kingdom is one of peace announced by angels who said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14, NIV) Jesus’ mission was one of peace; first reconciling us to God through the offering of Himself, and then calling us to be reconciled to one another through death to Self!

What we fail to understand is that peace is costly. It is purchased with sacrifice, not in battle, but in surrender of Self! That is not the peace message most want to hear. They want a peace with preferential treatment. We all want a peace; be it at home, at work, or for our nation, that protects our privilege and/or our point of view. But, godly peace, true peace is not about winning our way, but gaining the heart and love of another. This is a hard word, isn’t it? We cannot aspire to real peace without a deep assurance that we are held in the hands of a God who is perfectly just, who will bring us into His home where there is peace forevermore.

So, let’s pray for peace and let it begin in me, today.

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

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show
And cause us in her ways to go.

O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

O come, thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home.
The captives from their prison free,
And conquer death’s deep misery.

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thy justice here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel,
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

O Come O Come Emmanuel

Neale, John M. / Coffin, Henry S. / Helmore, Thomas
© Public Domain

Did you hear the one about two ministers and a rabbi?

On Saturday, I enjoyed the opportunity, a first in my life, to join with a Methodist pastor and a Jewish Rabbi to conduct a wedding! Rabbi Josh is an amazing man, reaching far out the norm and beyond his comfort zone to help a Jewish dad and mom deal with the emotions surrounding their daughter’s choices; first to be baptized as a Christian and them, to marry a Christian man. At their wedding which we celebrated on Saturday, peace and joy reigned during the God-honoring ceremony. And, best of all, I am certain I sensed the smile of my Heavenly Father!

In earlier communications, Rabbi Josh mentioned that many within his tradition are very disparaging of his willingness to reach out in this way. I’m certain that not a few of my own colleagues may consider me misguided in my willingness to do this wedding, too. But, integrity was paramount on Saturday. Instead of each of us diluting his own tradition to try to find some ‘common’ ground, as is so often done in well-intentioned searches for unity; we each held our faith high. I prayed in Jesus’ Name, not be to insensitive, but to remain true to my convictions. Rabbi Josh prayed in Hebrew and read from the Song of Songs, as he wore his prayer shawl. And, yes, I am certain that the Lord smiled!

Might we have found a little way to practice what God speaks of in Psalm 133? There we read,
“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes.
It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” (Psalm 133, NIV)

The key is peace – be it in religion or family – is ACCEPTANCE, which is not the same as APPROVAL! Do I approve of every tradition of Judaism? Of course not, for I am a Christian. Does Rabbi Josh approve of everything that I believe? Of course not, for he is Jewish. But, we share a common love of humanity and a desire for peace, which allows us to be different and yet to work together to bring joy to a family that is wrestling with change. I don’t have all the answers to the questions raised by this effort, but I know what I felt in that Methodist church was the work of the Spirit of the Lord!
Jesus said that peace-makers would be blessed for they would be called the children of God! (Matthew 5:9) In The Message it reads: “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
Mark Batterson, in his new book, Primal, Multnomah, 2009, writes that “Christianity has a perception problem. … The simple fact is that Christians are more known for what we’re against than what we are for. … We’re quick to point out what’s wrong with our culture.” If we are constantly in a combative position, we will find ourselves walled in, unable to reach out to our friends and family with the Great News about the love of Jesus Christ. Are you building walls or bridges?

This Christmas Season, as your extended family gathers, when the goofy uncle shows up, or the parent who stresses you calls to announce her arrival, pray for the gift of making peace, the ability to get past your personal desires, to be a builder of bridges between people. When you feel the urge to criticize or correct, think twice; pray three times, before opening your mouth once! It may be what is needed is a great deal of ACCEPTANCE, that affirms the worth of the person before you attempt to correct what you believe is wrong about them.

Make peace-making a priority: and, if you do this, I believe you will sense the smile of God! Here’s a word from the Word that is our holy calling.
“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (made us peace-makers!)


We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-20, NIV)