Immeasurably More – What I’ve learned about grief

more“Well Dad, it’s been a year. What would you tell somebody in your place about grief?” Sean asked me over breakfast. A little later, walking on a South Florida beach, I kept thinking about that question. What have I learned about grief in this year-long journey?

Grief a process not just an event.  Just like physical healing, the healing of our heart takes time. There is no miracle cure, no instant relief.  I found the rituals that surround grief so very valuable.  The day of her burial, freezing cold on top of that New Jersey mountain, helped me know that she was not coming home. The words about our hope in the One who is the Resurrection and the Life echo in my memory a stark comfort. Seeing that coffin lowered into the earth and the soil pushed over it, made me know the reality of her departure. I cannot pretend she is coming home. The funeral service where songs, tributes, and God’s Word were another step ahead.  Her birthday, trips to see the kids, Easter, my birthday, the first day of school (she taught for many years), Thanksgiving, and Christmas each came with unique reminders; each season presenting new reasons to cry and to thank God for her.

Grief is easier to endure with people- friends and family- than alone. How people go through this loss without a community is beyond me. Phone calls, emails, Facebook notes, visits with family, invites to dinner, and the ordinary interactions day in and day out with people who cared, who remembered her with me, kept me from sinking into depression. My children listened to me cry on the phone. Friends helped me to see the sunshine, and to know that there is more ahead; different but still full of promise. All of the crises of life are better endured with a circle of friends who love.  Are you loving and being loved? Don’t wait ‘til it is necessary.  Love today!

Grief opens a person to a wide array of temptations that have the potential to destroy life. Shocking? I am only human and I’ll spare you the details but suffice to say when the heart aches, there are a hundred voices that offer soothing. By the grace of God, I’m largely without regrets. I did not realize how badly a soul desires some solace when the pain feels like it will never end! When my heart was ripped open I saw, in new depth, both the beauty of His grace and the depravity of human nature. (Don’t let your imagination go too wild here, friend! Smile.)  Momentary pleasures sparkle with allure and it is so easy to fall prey to retail therapy, over-eating, toxic relationships, poor decisions. I am glad for people in my life who were ready to speak the truth to me, to remind me that God was greater than my pain, and to urge me to go steadily forward.  Be patient with those who grieve even as you encourage them to obedience to the Spirit’s leading. Don’t add shame to pain. Offer a hand or a shoulder!

Everybody’s different. I have read at least a half dozen books written by people about their grief. In each I found echoes of my own thoughts as well as things that were non-existent for me.  One man wrote of feeling the need to completely shut the door on his life with his late wife. He quickly emptied the closets, disposed of her things, sold the home they shared, and moved to a new city.  He said that it was the way he survived his grief. Good for him! But, I still have Bev’s clothes hanging in the closet and I find being in the same house, doing the same work, living with the same people a great comfort.  Remarry? Several wrote of their happiness and I am glad for them.  Perhaps that will happen for me but certainly not at this time. Some said that they chose to stop talking about their dead spouse.  I like to talk about Bev. I visit and care for her gravesite. Some never go back after the burial.  Lesson?  Other than avoiding the sinful and the toxic, we will all make the journey in ways that reflect our personality, training, and experience.

The pathway is not straight!  Each month’s passing should bring about a measurable kind of healing, a lessening of grief, right?  Not for me.  There are wonderful days, when laughter comes quickly, when my thoughts are clear for the future, when I feel great hope. Then, a day will come when the wound feels as tender as it ever did, when tears turn into sobs.  In my experience, those kinds of days are fewer with time, but they still show up.  Just before Christmas I went to our attic to look for wrapping paper and saw rolls neatly taped and stood in a corner, just like Bev left them. It was a moment of devastation that led to a day of sorrow.

The past will take on a rosy glow and you will be tempted to try to live there.  With time, Bev has become something of an angel in my memory. I forget the arguments we had and the disappointments that we struggled to overcome. I remember the brightest moments, the sweetest words.  I have to tell myself not to canonize her and to refuse to look back too often. Her life is a closed book, now in God’s hand. Mine goes on and He has, as I reminded by a dear friend, “immeasurably more” (Ephesians 3:20) for me ahead.

Sorrow has deepened my faith and tolerance for Mystery.  I still have no answer for why God allowed my wife to die. Someone asked me a day or so ago, “Aren’t you angry at God?” Honesty, no.  Puzzled by His ways?  Surely, but angry, no.  He’s God, I am not. I choose to trust Him.  The words of the Scripture fill up my mind, a deep reservoir of hope and assurance. My worship is not as experiential or emotional these days. But I can sing, “praise God from Whom All blessings flow,” with conviction and for that I am grateful.  Don’t wait for the crisis to try to create faith. There was a foundation and the storm shook the house but it stood because it rested on the Rock of my salvation.

Tears are our friends. Really what I mean is that expressing emotions is critically important. Pretending to be happy while sad twists a person’s soul into crippling condition. Ignoring the reality of loss is a sure way to get sick – in every way. God has found me in my tears, late at night in my bed, when silent tears slide onto my pillow, He whispers peace.  Yes, I have had a few friends walk away, unwilling or unable to cope with my sorrow. And, that’s fine. I bear them no ill will.  My tears have made me a more tender man with a much greater capacity for love and greater patience. So, yes, tears are my friends and they fall from my eyes without any shame.

Do I know it all? Of course not.
Will everyone’s pathway through grief look like mine? No.

But those are my ‘take aways’ in year one. Sorrow is a common experience among us humans, as much as we try to avoid it. But, we serve a God who is loving and good, the God of all comfort.

As we look into 2017, here is the benediction that blesses me. May it bless you as you receive the Word of God.  “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:16-21, NIV)

___________

Good, Good Father

I’ve heard a thousand stories
Of what they think You’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whisper
Of love in the dead of night
You tell me that You’re pleased
And that I’m never alone

 You’re a Good Good Father
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
And I’m loved by You
It’s who I am
It’s who I am
It’s who I am

 I’ve seen many searching for answers
Far and wide
But I know we’re all searching for answers
Only You provide
Because You know just what we need
Before we say a word 

You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways to us

 Love so undeniable I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable I can hardly think
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
Into love love love

Anthony Brown | Pat Barrett © 2014 Capitol CMG Paragon (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)Common Hymnal Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)Housefires Sounds (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) CCLI License # 810055

Making 2017 the Best!

wisdom2“Just think, son!” is a line that is used by every parent at one time or another especially during that transition time from child to adult that we call ‘teen age.’ Failure to understand consequences, is a nearly universal trait.  Teens will often take terrible risks, acting on an impulse. The smashed car, fractured limb, or broken heart is evidence of the yet undeveloped frontal lobes of the brain that will eventually make it possible for him to connect cause and effect!  “Just stop and think,” we beg them, not realizing that they are still in development.  Few of us do not have some regrets about things we did on the way through that developmental wilderness.

As we come to the end of another year, might our Father in Heaven be saying to us, “Just think!” as He implores us to choose wisely? How easily we slip into the grasp of our emotions, our appetites, failing to exercise the powers of our thought processes so that we live wisely and honorably. The Psalmist prays “With all my heart I want your blessings. Be merciful as you promised. I pondered the direction of my life, and I turned to follow your laws.” (Psalm 119:58-59, NLT)

Taking some time to evaluate at year’s end is always a beneficial choice. Ask the hard questions about how the way you are using resources of time, money, and health.  Are there places in your life where you are letting yourself slide, making excuses for not getting focused on truly important issues?  Are you  putting off something that needs to be done today?  Where do the things of the Spirit find a place in your day to day activities?  The Proverb tells us to “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” (Proverbs 6:6-8, NIV)

A first step to true wisdom is to give ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, inviting Christ Jesus not only to be our Savior, but also to be our King! Surrender is hard. Acknowledging that we need to be guided, accepting that His ways, revealed in the Scripture, are superior to our ways is an ongoing choice.

That must be followed by a choice to ‘keep step with the Spirit’ (Gal. 5:25)  Time spent in contemplative prayer and with the Word is a critical part of knowing His leadership. “Jerry, I just do not have that kind of time,” you may insist. In fact, you do.  It does not require hours. It does demand focus, clarity, and willingness to persist in practice until you learn the skill of hearing His voice.  15 minutes of time with the Lord each morning will most certainly produce the richest results for your life.  A person who learns to experience His Presence will hunger for that time with eager anticipation.  “ As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him?” (Psalm 42:1-2, NLT)  Being in the company of other disciples engaged in true worship, in discovery, hearing solid teaching of spiritual truths will always be a priority for mature disciples. The richest practice and experience of Christianity cannot be found outside of Christ’s Body.

One of the pernicious lies of our time is that we are victims of our emotions, desires, and impulses. “I’ll just die if I don’t have that piece of cake,” we say without any sense of silliness.  Many Christians tragically live as slaves to their bodies, unwilling to learn how to say no to indulgence of ‘the flesh’ so that they can say ‘Yes,’ to the Spirit’s call.  An evidence of the mature life of God’s Spirit is self-discipline.  “Just think!”

As we close out this year, tally up the wins and losses of your life.  Be rigorous in evaluating where you need to make the choice to live the best way for the glory of God.

Here is a word from the Word.  Soak your mind in the promise. “Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right. And what was the result? You are now ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life.”  (Romans 6:19-22)

______

Father, open my eyes to truth.
Give me courage to face You without excuses.
Help me to think, to take the grace You offer to live a holy life.
Teach me to love the things You love,
To find the Life You desire for me,
To walk faithfully.

Jesus, be my Lord.
Spirit, be my guide.
Amen

A Mission to Bring Joy!

jesusbirthYesterday I took a keyboard to Good Shepherd Christian Academy, the school that is associated with our church, for the weekly chapel. The students, especially the little ones, love when I play for them. Their little eyes sparkled as they stared up at me. We sang “Go, Tell It On the Mountain.” My heart overflowed when little voices flowed back to me, high-pitched with excitement. I left that time with a greater desire to be a messenger of joy.

Christmas is the account of how God creates the possibility of joy; “for all the people!”  “I bring you good news of great joy,” the angel reassured a group of frightened men, shepherds who were seeing the strangest sight ever.  An angel in the sky over a field outside of Bethlehem was talking with them! Shepherds of that day were a rough lot, earthy men. They were almost certainly not well versed in the prophetic texts. They were not very observant of the Law. And still God choose to make His announcement to them. Accidentally? Did the angels get lost on their way to the home of the mayor of Bethlehem? No, of course not. God’s desire was to bring all people – shepherds from the field – and wise men from the East – to worship the Savior. And in that worship, they found joy.

Even in the middle of my own sorrow (12/29 will be the first anniversary of my wife’s death) I want to carry the Spiritual fruit of joy to others. Oh yes, there will be a little happiness this year that come from sharing gifts with those I love. When I join my children next week we will make merry!  But, my mission is to be a messenger of  the joy of the Lord.

Every day I encounter those who need much more than a hearty, “Merry Christmas” greeting.  Bent under the weight of life, problems, dysfunction, or meaningless existence – only a realization of God’s love which was announced by angels and demonstrated by a Baby born in stable will change their sorrow to joy. They won’t be ‘fixed’ by a gift or a happy song. Only in God can we all find the reason for real joy, a hope that is bigger than any set of circumstances in this world.

I invite you to join me in this mission! “Hey, Jerry, we’re no angels.” Right you are!
But we are ambassadors of the Heavenly Kingdom.  God said so. We have the awesome privilege of leading others to Him, sharing with them the Hope we have found.
Give JOY this Christmas.

A word from the Word, urges us to this high calling.
” God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you. How? you say. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God. “ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21, The Message)

If you’re reading this today and you do not have real joy (not to confused with transient happiness), let me point you to Jesus. He came to be our Savior, to close the gap between the Father and ourselves. He came to give us the gift of eternal life, which we can own now, while we wait for the Second Advent of our King. Tell Him your deepest need, yes, in your own words, your own way. Ask Him to help you. His answer may not come in the way you expect, but He will come to you. He promises!

(Want to know more about choosing the joy of Jesus? Click here – Two Ways To Live)

_____________________________

Angels we have heard on high,
Sweetly singing o’er the plains;
And the mountains in reply,
Echoing their joyous strains.
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
Say what may the tidings be;
Which inspire your heav’nly song?
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Come to Bethlehem and see,
Him whose birth the angels sing;
Come adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Angels We Have Heard On High
Chadwick, James / Barnes, Edward Shippen
© Public Domain CCLI License No. 810055

CWTW will be sporadically sent until Tuesday, 1/3/2017.
I will be taking a break. Thanks for reading along.

 

Even the Angels are Talking!

angelsBuzz! It’s what happens when something catches on, gains attention, and creates anticipation.  Nothing helps a local business like creating a conversation that spreads as in “Hey, have you been to that coffee shop down on Clematis? You have to check it out!” A positive buzz brings increased customer flow and profit. Unlike advertising which is the communication of a message designed to sell, buzz grows out of the experience of people and is usually more authentic.

Did you know that God invests His gift of grace to people in His Church to create a ‘buzz’ among the angels?  (You’re smiling!)  Check out what Paul wrote about this. God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:10, NLT)  A paraphrase of the Scripture, The Message, puts it this way: Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels! (Ephesians 3:10, The Message)

Imagine the powerful spirit beings of Heaven gathering ‘round to talk about Faith Discovery Church. “Gabriel, did you see what that little group of people did in their region? Have you noticed how they care for one another, the difference they are making in their corner of the earth?  It’s amazing. They are not rich, their numbers are not great. Yet, they are making Jesus’ Name known.”  Dream that, friend! 

It’s not that far-fetched.  When Christ is Lord, where the Spirit is invited to empower, where people are desiring God – He is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.”  (Eph 3:20-21)  There it is again – His reputation is enhanced and He gets the praise (buzz!) when the church is being who He created her to be.

Christian, let’s begin to pray bigger prayers, not to become famous, but to make His Name glorious on earth and in Heaven. Let’s ask God to do something in us and through us that gets the angels talking. Make no mistake about what that means. It isn’t about a grand musical Christmas show. Impressive to some, perhaps, but not the core mission of the Church.  It is surely not about building a huge organization that generates huge streams of revenue to enrich some leader.  It is about seeing lives changed, hope shared, hungry people fed (physically and spiritually),  evil defeated, and disciples made. God helping us, let’s give those angels something to talk about.

 Hallelujah! Praise God from heaven, praise him from the mountaintops;
Praise him, all you his angels, praise him, all you his warriors,
Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, you morning stars;
Praise him, high heaven, praise him, heavenly rain clouds;
Praise, oh let them praise the name of God— he spoke the word, and there they were! 

…Earth’s kings and all races, leaders and important people,
Robust men and women in their prime, and yes, graybeards and little children.
Let them praise the name of God— it’s the only Name worth praising.

His radiance exceeds anything in earth and sky;
he’s built a monument—his very own people!
Praise from all who love God!
Israel’s children, intimate friends of God. Hallelujah!”  (Psalm 148, The Message)

Good News, Bad News

john-1-12-precious-childChristmas is a season when we try to focus on joy, rightly so. The story of a Babe in Manger catches our imagination. The songs of angels in the sky makes us want to sing, too. Wise men who come with gifts for a new King, inspire us to worship.  But, let’s not tell the in a way that ignores the whole truth.  Jesus came into the world to save us. That is the good news.

There is the ‘rest of the story’ that ought to be as compelling as the love. An old man who blessed the infant Jesus in the temple courts of Jerusalem a few days after He was born had insight to understand that Jesus’ entry into His Creation had many implications. “Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (Luke 2:34-35, NLT)  Yes, Christmas is good news and bad news.

For Jesus’ mother, His birth was the fulfillment of a divine promise. She was included in the Divine Plan for the salvation of the world, the defeat of evil, and the bearer of the One who held out the invitation to Eternal life. What joy! Yet, she also would stand at the foot of the Cross 3 decades after that amazing night of His birth and weep at the awful sight of her Son made the Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world.

For humanity from that time to this there are two sides to the Gospel.  John explains that “to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12, NLT)  We dance with delight in that hope, and yet, we realization that if there is reconciliation with our Father, there must also be separation. “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.” (John 3:18-19, NLT)

One of the great issues about Jesus that we wrestle with is His claim to be the Way, the Truth, the Life.  He did not say He was a way among many.  That is implied in many tellings of the Christmas story, but it is a telling that ignores the whole of the Scripture.

He claims to be the only Savior and He is! So, what will we do with this good and bad news?

Let us not make the mistake of some who become modern Pharisees who ‘thank God that they are not like others;’  spiritually proud, so ready to condemn others who they regard as outside of God’s family. Nor can we airbrush the unpleasantness of the Truth with some mistaken idea of tolerance that ignores the true identity of Jesus.  Rather, we let the amazing love that is given to us only because of grace humble us. The fact that we are who we are, beloved children of God, has nothing to do with our merit. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV)  We are recipients of a gift. Knowing that, we love with the love we have been given.

“At the heart of the Christian’s view of spiritual reality is a man who gave his life in sacrifice for people who did not believe in him, a man who died asking for forgiveness for the people who were killing him. Therefore, Christianity is an exclusive claim, but it is the most inclusive exclusive claim because it wants you to exclusively believe in this man who died for his enemies, and asks you to love and care for yours.” (Timothy Keller)  Keller is oh so right to insist that a true understanding of the Savior and His gift of salvation does not make us intolerant. He makes us people who care most deeply for the world around us with the same kind of love that we have been given in Him!

The Nativity became the dividing line of time for the world and a moment of decision for the world. We can respond to the Spirit’s invitation, believe the truth, and live; or we can reject and remain alienated from our Father, destined for judgment.  I want to ask two questions of you today – first, have you accepted the Gift?  Humbly, faithfully, without if’s, but’s, or maybe’s – will you accept the Savior’s invitation to Life?  Second, if you are beloved, alive in Christ, are you faithfully loving those around you, extending the offer of salvation, withholding judgment that belongs only to God?

Here is a word from the Word.  May it be Good News for you today. He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t even notice. He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him. But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. These are the God-begotten, not blood-begotten, not flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten. The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” (John 1:10-14, The Message)

_______

Joy To The World (Unspeakable Joy)

Joy to the world the Lord is come

Let earth receive her King

Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room

And heaven and nature sing

And heaven and nature sing

And heaven and heaven and nature sing

 

Joy to the world the Savior reigns

Let all their songs employ

While fields and floods rocks hills and plains

Repeat the sounding joy

Repeat the sounding joy

Repeat repeat the sounding joy

 

Joy unspeakable joy

An overflowing well

No tongue can tell

Joy unspeakable joy

It rises in my soul

Never lets me go

 

He rules the world with truth and grace

And makes the nations prove

The glories of His righteousness

And wonders of His love

And wonders of His love

And wonders wonders of His love

 

Chris Tomlin | Ed Cash | George Frideric Handel | Isaac Watts | Matt Gilder

© sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Vamos Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

BIG, expensive gifts this Christmas?

 

giftsI love giving gift at Christmas. I’m not all that good at it, but it is fun to try. Bev, my late wife, was the a master of gifting! She never just went shopping to  ‘get a gift.’   She thought about the person and gave things she thought would delight that person.  Here are some tips on bringing joy and blessings to others this Christmas.

  1. Make it personal. A few years ago, my son Sean created a ‘book’ in which he shared ways that I had been a good Dad. It’s a gift that holds value, years after the giving. The best gifts don’t come from Amazon, do they?
  1. Give yourself. Time is the most valuable commodity we have.  It’s easier to write a check than it is to offer someone ourselves. In the year since Bev went home to Heaven, my life has been enriched by so many who take time to talk, who offer hugs, who send a note, write a Facebook message. Those little gifts have steadied me in the anguish. So, give yourself! Make an offer of a night of babysitting for a young couple. Offer to spend an evening with an elderly person who is alone. Sit on the floor with a 4 year old and give her your full attention while she tells her stories.
  1. Enhance the value of another. Pay somebody a sincere compliment and watch them light up.  Write a paragraph that tells somebody how her life makes the world a better place.  Tell them they are a great Mom, or an inspiring Christian, or a super-listener, or a hard worker, or… you’re getting the idea, right?  Use the gift of words to speak blessings into the life of another. Critics abound. Go against the stream and speak words that build up.
  1. Sacrifice without seeking notice! Find out a way to take care of a need for somebody, then do it anonymously, if possible. Few things bring me greater joy than hearing about a need and taking steps to meet it, whether that’s putting the person in touch with somebody who can help, writing a check to put some gas in their car, or praying earnestly. When we give from our own need, God blesses that kind of sacrifice.

    Remember the widow that put a penny in the offering?  The Lord told His disciples, she gave more than the rich guys who gave out of their abundance. In our giving, be it to God or others, Jesus reminds us, “Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. … Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.” (Matthew 6:1, 4 The Message)

Personal, engaged, other-centered, unselfish – who taught me those things?  The One whose Gift inspires this Season. The Word says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NLT)  He gave Himself, for us, at great cost.

My prayer is that we will be changed by His gift and then, from the richness of grace poured into us, become people who give the best gifts.

Here’s a word from the Word. “There is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:15-17, NLT)

________________

How Many Kings

Follow the star to a place unexpected.
Would you believe after all we’ve projected?
A child in a manger,
Lowly and small, the weakest of all.
Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in His mother’s shawl,
Just a child
Is this who we’ve waited for ’cause.

 How many kings stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
And how many gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that is torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

 Bringing out gifts for the newborn Savior,
All that we have, whether costly or meek
Because we believe,
Gold for His honor and frankincense for His pleasure
And myrrh for the cross He’ll suffer.
Do you believe
Is this who we’ve waited for? 

How many kings stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
And how many gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that is torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?
Only one did that for me, oh,
All for me, all for you.

Jason Germain | Marc Martel © 2006 Centricity Music Publishing (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

Germain and Martel Publishing (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

What Time Is It?

fulltimeRecently I discovered that it was railroads that brought the concept of ‘time zones’ to the US about 150 years ago.  Up until then, each town set its own clock by the sun which was not a problem when people seldom traveled or if they did, were on horseback or carriage.  But, as the rails were laid and trains began to transport greater numbers of people, keeping schedules became important. So standardized time was needed. To adapt those schedules, the railroad companies came up with the idea of dividing the United States into time zones.

Today we live by our clocks, incredibly scheduled lives, packed with dates and deadlines!  But, are our lives synced with Heaven’s time? Are we living with an awareness of God’s time?

I read this line in the Christmas story of Luke – “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born.” (Luke 2:6, NIV)  Paul tells us that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-7 ESV)  From the timeless, eternal Father, Jesus came to us about 2000 years ago in Judea. Why then, not a century earlier or later? The mystery is hidden in the mind of God but the fact revealed is that when He was ready, He acted. Something that seemed so inconsequential, another baby’s birth in an obscure village at the edge of the Empire, was to become the pivotal event for humanity and for us.  That baby was Jesus, God come to us, to save us and to restore our place in the Father’s household, beloved children.

And He was act, again, in His time to change history once again. “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30, NIV)  When will that be? No one but God, the Father, knows.  But on some ordinary day, when the sun has risen just like a thousand days before, the sky will suddenly be lit up with a divine radiance and the King will return for His Church, to bring justice and peace for which those who love Him are longing.

Are you living on Heaven’s standard time? Is your heart beating in time with the Father’s heart, your steps ordered by the cadence that is called by the Spirit?

This Christmas week, as we bring Advent to a close with the celebration of the Birth of Jesus, let’s renew our hope in the Return of the King.

Here is a word from the Word.  “I don’t think, friends, that I need to deal with the question of when all this is going to happen. You know as well as I that the day of the Master’s coming can’t be posted on our calendars. He won’t call ahead and make an appointment any more than a burglar would. About the time everybody’s walking around complacently, congratulating each other—“We’ve sure got it made! Now we can take it easy!”—suddenly everything will fall apart. It’s going to come as suddenly and inescapably as birth pangs to a pregnant woman.

 But friends, you’re not in the dark, so how could you be taken off guard by any of this? You’re sons of Light, daughters of Day. We live under wide open skies and know where we stand. So let’s not sleepwalk through life like those others. Let’s keep our eyes open and be smart. People sleep at night and get drunk at night. But not us! Since we’re creatures of Day, let’s act like it. Walk out into the daylight sober, dressed up in faith, love, and the hope of salvation.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-8, The Message)

Lord, give us ears to hear what You are saying to us.  Keep us ready for the moment when time is no more and the blessedness of Eternity envelopes us. Amen.

_______________

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

Come, Thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art.
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart. 

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King.
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious Kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit,
Rule in all our hearts alone,
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

Charles Wesley
Public Domain

An invitation to ‘outsiders’

nearDo you ever feel like an ‘outsider?’  As conversation swirls around you, do you ever wonder, “where do I fit into this scene?”  I do!  I can connect in social settings that are shaped around my role as a pastor where I know where I fit and generally understand the expectations of other people. However, if you put me at a Christmas party my anxiety will rise as I deal with that old question for me, “Do I really belong here?”

There were some men at the manger where Jesus was born that naturally did not fit in. What were shepherds doing there? Sheep herding was a menial job in Judah. They were rough, men who lived outside of regular society. The work was constant and kept them from the synagogue and from observing Jewish rituals so the smug Pharisees sniffed that shepherds were all sinners. But God chose to bring them into the scene.

Strangely, to our understanding, God chose these outsiders, these simple men to be the first to hear about a new era for humanity. “And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” (Luke 2:9-10, NKJV) “So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:15-16, NKJV)

There’s a real lesson in His choice of an audience that night. God still seeks those marginalized, those pushed to the fringes, those without power or wealth. Unlike us, His creatures, He is not enamored with beauty, captivated by celebrity, or impressed by shiny gold. Our titles and resumes do not mean a thing to Him. Make of it what you will, there were no Pharisees (people admired for their devotion to religious detail) at the manger!  But, there were shepherds.

The faith of those men is implicit in the story. They did not form a study group to determine the authenticity of the  angelic appearance. They did not consult the local leadership guru about the best long term response. They received an invitation, exercised faith, and took off running. Luke tells us that “They came with haste.” Men who normally avoided society, who were used to rejection, who were obligated to make sure their flocks were safe, offered their hearts and witness to God’s amazing news of Earth’s redemption.

  • Perhaps you are feeling a little marginalized by others?
  • Perhaps it is just a thing inside of you that insists you are not worthy of God’s love or His goodness?
  • Does some past sin haunt you and whisper to you that you are beyond the reach of grace because you are too bad, too sinful?
  • Do old rejections rise up to tell you that you are too old, too sick, too poor, too unattractive to come to worship the King of kings?

People have lots of reasons (excuses) for not responding to God’s invitation to come to Jesus.  The shepherds standing around a new born baby sleeping in a manger of Bethlehem reminds us that we are never “too anything” to be beyond His love and grace.

Jesus Christ is ’ good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’

Throughout His ministry, Jesus found common people – fishermen, laborers, social outcasts, street people – and He invited them to “Come, follow Me.”  When they did, He changed them, included them, and made them a new community which came to known as the Church, ‘the Ekklesia’ – the called out ones.

Are you a reluctant disciple (an oxymoron, really)? Are you eager to follow Him?
Are you a captive of fear, believing the lie that God does not care about you?
Are you tangled in the troubles of life, convinced by circumstances that you’re outside of the circle of God’s grace?

Here is a word from the Word. Silence the voice of rejection and come home to your Abba.
“But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has brought peace to us.” (Ephesians 2:13-14, NLT)

 “So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness.” (Colossians 3:12-15, The Message)

Come running!  Don’t stop at the Manger.  Continue to the Cross where love spilled forgiveness, then move to the Empty Tomb that assures us of our final victory over sin, death, and Hell.

________________

O Come All Ye Faithful

O come all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him
Born the King of angels.

Yea Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning.
Jesus, to Thee be all glory giv’n.
Word of the Father
Now in flesh appearing.

O come let us adore Him.
O come let us adore Him.
O come let us adore Him,
Christ, the Lord!

Frederick Oakeley | John Francis Wade
Public Domain

Kneel before your King!

kingI am deeply suspicious of institutional power!   A person who is handed authority without any checks or balances in place is almost certain to eventually become a tyrant. History tells us that ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Those who gain power tend to hold onto it and turn their position into a place for enriching themselves. But there is One whose power I love and to Whom I willingly submit because He loves me and uses His sovereignty for my good.

He is my King. Jesus Christ, my Savior and King!

“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17, NIV)

That doxology was first written to pastor Timothy who found ministry difficult. Paul opens his letter to him urging him to stand up to the false teachers that opposed him and reminding him that God is greater than his own personal temptations. Paul buttresses His appeal with a short testimony of his own. “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16, NIV) Then, he breaks into this shout of worship – “Deep honor and bright glory to the King of All Time— One God, Immortal, Invisible, ever and always. Oh, yes! “ (1 Timothy 1:17, The Message) If you’re where you can do it, read that line loudly, joyfully, declaring to all the world your praise for the King!

I love Jesus, the Man, who I meet in the Gospels. From those pages the mystery of “God Immanuel” (God present in my life) is handed to me. By faith, I receive that truth that He is my Savior. The revelation of Jesus’ identity is not complete in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In Revelation, we meet the Christ, the King.

Do you know this Jesus? “They (the evil of the world) will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” (Revelation 17:14, NIV) “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.” (Revelation 19:11-14, NIV) When I read that my heart leaps with joy, my faith stirs.

He is a King who loves me, who uses His power benevolently for me. He will not oppress me. He raises me up. He extends His power to protect me and promises to bring me into His kingdom, under His reign. Is He YOUR King, too? Today, I took all my trials, my fears, my foes and petitioned my King to intervene. What a release from fear and despair I found at the Throne of God.

As we celebrate Advent, worship the Jesus, our Immanuel here, and do not forget to “Crown Him King!”

“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17, 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 the angelic host proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem
Hark the herald angels sing
Glory to the Newborn King

 

I cry, too

break-my-heart2Thirty years ago while I served alongside of my father in ministry as an associate pastor, in a thriving church, I would sometimes go with him to funerals, to the hospitals, on visits to homes of the elderly. He often did something that acutely embarrassed me. He cried!  As he stood beside a hospital bed he would take the hand of a sick person and as he spoke to them, tears would slip down his cheeks.  When he held babies in dedication services, he would often weep. “What’s wrong with him?” I would wonder. “Can’t he control his emotions?”  He was not a weak man. Now I know the ‘why’ of those tears, because now I cry, too.

Dad chose tender over tough, opened his heart wide enough to let the pain, problems, hopes, and aspirations of others become part of who he was. He chose to experience life with those he served. He did not stand on sidelines, he was right in the game with them!  And, yes, his love for the flock he served had a down side for him. When people left the church (as people do), he was hurt and sometimes he allowed that pain to turn into anger. I used to urge him to ‘keep a professional distance.’  “Dad, you just can’t care that much for everybody. It’s going to kill you.”  But, he loved, worked, and tried to change the world right up to the end of his life. I understand all of it so much better now than I did when I was so ‘professional.’

If the Church is going to be the living Body of Christ that she is supposed to be, we are going to love, laugh, cry, argue, and hang together just like any other human family. Sunday morning gatherings must not be a place where we show only our smiles, put on our game faces, polite like people at a rally. Those meetings should be much more like a family reunion – full of emotion, hugs, shared experiences of our Father’s love holding us together. Being the family of God does not just happen. Paul shows us an intentional choice that we make, over and over again. If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. (Philippians 2:1-2, NIV)

The love that brings us together is not just a human thing. It is a demonstration of the Spirit’s life in us. When we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ, when we accept His invitation to become new, when we receive the grace of God, we will become increasingly tender just like Him. Remember this – Jesus reserved anger for ‘professionals!’  Those religious men who so carefully controlled their lives, who worked so hard to keep every comma and period in the Law that they lost touch with the heart of God, earned only His scorn.  But, the broken people – those who were possessed by sin, who drank too much, who were beaten up by life – were the ones that He loved. And, yes, Jesus cried, too.

As I learned from watching my Dad, you can’t fake tenderness!  It comes from being willing to enter into the lives of others in a way that feels what they feel, that hopes for them when they can’t hope anymore, that believes God when they only doubt Him.  Authentic love comes only when we are able to admit that we are broken too. The Pharisees would never allow themselves to acknowledge their brokenness, their sinfulness. Jesus told them that when they found a person in need that their efforts to convert him would  “make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” (Matthew 23:15)  We need to look into the mirror, see what God sees, let Him break us from our pride, and take the healing love that He offers. We will become increasingly tender and that will make this true of us – “We love because He loved us first!”

Love is at the heart of the Gospel. 

Here is a word from the Word.  May it help us to be the tender-hearted children of God in a loveless world. And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.(2 Corinthians 5:18-21, NLT)

______

This Is Amazing Grace

Who breaks the power of sin and darkness?
Whose love is mighty and so much stronger?
The King of Glory, the King above all kings!

 Who shakes the whole earth with holy thunder?
Who leaves us breathless, in awe and wonder?
The King of Glory, the King above all kings!

 This is amazing grace.
This is unfailing love,
That You would take my place,
That You would bear my cross.
You laid down Your life
That I would be set free.
Oh Jesus, I sing for all that You’ve done for me.

 Who brings our chaos back into order?
Who makes the orphan a son and daughter?
The King of Glory, the King of Glory!

 Who rules the nations with truth and justice,
Shines like the sun in all of its brilliance?
The King of Glory, the King above all kings!

Jeremy Riddle | Josh Farro | Phil Wickham
© 2012 Phil Wickham Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)
Bethel Music Publishing CCLI License # 810055