Friday, December 29, 2017

Forgotten

Friday, December 29, 2017
Sing for joy, O heavens!  Rejoice, O earth!  Burst into song, O mountains!  For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on them in their suffering.  Yet Jerusalem says, “The Lord has deserted us; the Lord has forgotten us.”  “Never!  Can a mother forget her nursing child?  Can she feel no love for the child she has borne?  But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!” 
Isaiah 49:13-15(NLT)
When our family gets together there are (by actual count) more than a dozen IPhones on the loose.  And when we’re trying to coordinate four households showing up at a theme park at the same time, in the same sector of a huge parking lot…well, let’s say the texting wars sound like the bell-ringers have arrived!  Someone will do a “fat-finger” goof, so OTW (On-the-way) becomes OTB, and the translation puns start to pile-on:
Ding…OTB – you On-The-Beach?
Ding…OTB – I didn’t know you were into Off-Track-Betting J
Ding…OTB – Where-r- you parked…Omaha-Transportation-Booth?  
It happened again this week, although I’m happy to say there were no death-threats this time.  But when I went to delete the whole thread there were 168 texts; I’m surprised there were no death threats, especially from me!
The whole point of sharing this is, with today’s abundance of communication tools, there’s no place to hide.  And nobody gets left out.  And that’s a good thing for a family, because there are so many ways to feel left out, left behind, or forgotten!
Israel felt that way, collectively-forgotten in a strange land.  The Babylonian captivity was like being forgotten in back of the tool shed for decades.  Every never-ending day drags-on like someone forgot to wind the clock and nobody cares whether you’re alive or dead.  There is no slower time than time-out; just ask a six-year old who has sinned egregiously by kicking his Dad in the shin because he doesn’t like carrots, and he’d rather be outside playing, but has to stay at the table until he at least tastes the hated veggie.
The nation of Israel had sinned a lot worse than that.  They collectively had forgotten their covenant with God and had fallen into idol worship.  When God sent prophets to warn them to either turn back, or prepare to suffer the consequences, the prophets were ignored, or, even worse, the prophets were killed.  The subsequent overwhelming judgment God sent was at the hand of Babylon’s King, Nebuchadnezzar, and lasted for 70 years.  It was easy to feel they had been forgotten by God.
But punishment is never to be confused with being discarded.  God had not forgotten His beloved Israel, the jewel of His covenant.  They were being purified, cleansed, and straightened-out, not discarded. 
It’s called discipline:
Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good.  Deuteronomy 8:5(NLT)

For You Today

If you’ve been through a time when you felt forgotten by God, know that discipline doesn’t last forever; the perfect loving embrace of God awaits those who repent and turn to their father…even if you’ve kicked Him in the shins!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

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[1] Title Image: Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Thursday, December 28, 2017

When Life Gets Broken

Thursday, December 28, 2017
This is what the Lord says:  “A cry is heard in Ramah—deep anguish and bitter weeping.  Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted—for her children are gone.”  But now this is what the Lord says:  “Do not weep any longer, for I will reward you,” says the Lord.  “Your children will come back to you from the distant land of the enemy.  There is hope for your future,” says the Lord.  “Your children will come again to their own land.  Jeremiah 31:15-17(NLT)
Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him.  He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance.  Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:  “A cry was heard in Ramah—weeping and great mourning.  Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.”  Matthew 2:16-18(NLT)
Through Jeremiah God foretold the wickedness of King Herod trying to eliminate the threat of a child who might grow up to replace him.  In one monstrous, terrifying night of genocide he had all the male children less than two years old killed.  A night of weeping is bad; a generation of sadness of that magnitude is life broken beyond measure.
I have been (too often) with a group of people gripped by sadness over one of life’s twists – a child’s death, or a loved spouse taken too soon...news of tragedy from a distance where no hug is possible.  And we have heard these words offered as a sincere, well-meaning attempt to make sense of the darkness:  God won’t put any more on you than you can bear.
I have an idea that if you offered that to the mothers of Ramah that night it would have brought little comfort.  Their pain was too deep; a clich├ęd you can do this is just too hollow and shallow…just not enough.  Somehow philosophical or theological whistling in the dark just cannot blunt the pain of loss beyond imagination. 
Telling someone she is strong enough to bear the unbearable, because God has given her faith, is not comforting – it merely lays another burden on an already broken life.  And it is that life, grappling with the loss over the following weeks, months, perhaps decades, which will learn to receive the comfort we long-for, but can’t imagine, exists.  As with cooking a meal, stirring a pot faster doesn’t get supper on the table any sooner.  Pain takes time to simmer.
A word to the wise:  If you would be a caregiver, let it simmer; just be there to hold whatever needs holding.

For You Today

Today I’d like for Dr. Mitch Chase to have the last word:
Trials come in all shapes and sizes, but they don’t come to show how much we can take or how we have it all together.  Overwhelming suffering will come our way because we live in a broken world with broken people.  And when it comes, let’s be clear ahead of time that we don’t have what it takes.  God will give us more than we can handle—but not more than he can.[2]
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

When There Was Nothing But TRUTH

Wednesday, December 27, 2017
We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen.  We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands.  He is the Word of life.  This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him.  And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life.  He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us.  We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us.   And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.  This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you:  God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.  So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth.  But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.  If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.  But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.  
1 John 1:1-9(NLT)
The Apostle John has a way of repeating himself.  No less than five times in the opening few sentences he restates the case that Jesus is eternal, having existed in the fellowship of the Father in Heaven before coming to earth to bring eternal life to all who believe.  But that repetition is just fine with me; I want him to leave no doubt about his message.  And John’s purpose is just that; his mission is to let the truth of who Christ really is, and what He came to do, create a fellowship that is fully developed, out in the light, stuffed with joy, and operating in nothing less than truth – eternal, joyful, life-giving truth!
The fellowship of which John preached takes us back to the original state of creation, when God made everything and could say with a straight face that it was good…very good!  That restoration of relationship is two-fold:

1.   Fellowship with God

John says God maintains that it is important to live in the light (truth).  There is no sense that light and darkness can ever live together.  Darkness, of course, represents the lie that there is any genuine life apart from God.  The closer you get to light the more darkness has to dispel.  A relationship, or fellowship with God requires coming close.  When you come close to God it’s all truth, nothing but the truth, so help you….

2.   Fellowship with all creation

Think of a triangle with darkness at the bottom and blinding light at the top.  Humankind in a fallen creation is in the dark, stumbling around in anger, lies, frustration…death.  As we turn towards the top of the triangle there is God, light, acceptance, truth, contentment and life…eternal.  John tells us that we are base-dwellers, attempting to survive and make a home at the base of the triangle; that leaves us with nowhere to go.  But if we confess our sins, admit to the darkness within, God invites us into the light.
Not being sure you deserve living in God’s light is a really good first step towards the truth John was talking about.  As a young boy I doubted God could ever want somebody like me.  I wasn’t like those good people I saw in church.  I did and thought things that made me ashamed to even think of Russell and God in the same room.  I wasn’t one of the good ones – I botched relationships, did wrong stuff, hated myself and everyone around me.  I felt like I left a stain wherever I walked. 
Then the truth of God’s love opened my heart and I began to see that Jesus left the perfection of Heaven to come and redeem me, and you, and the relationship we could have between us and Him…and us with each other.  God wanted nothing more than to heal our broken love affair with darkness.  He wanted to take us back to the time when there was nothing but TRUTH!

For You Today

The celebration of the manger was two nights ago; yet it is an ongoing celebration that lasts not just for 12 days…it lasts an eternity!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

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[1] Title Image: Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

O Come Let Us Adore Him

Tuesday, December 26, 2017
Praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord from the heavens!  Praise him from the skies!  Praise him, all his angels!  Praise him, all the armies of heaven!  Praise him, sun and moon!  Praise him, all you twinkling stars!  Praise him, skies above!  Praise him, vapors high above the clouds!  Let every created thing give praise to the Lord, for he issued his command, and they came into being.  He set them in place forever and ever.  His decree will never be revoked.  Praise the Lord from the earth, you creatures of the ocean depths, fire and hail, snow and clouds, wind and weather that obey him, mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all livestock, small scurrying animals and birds, kings of the earth and all people, rulers and judges of the earth, young men and young women, old men and children.  Let them all praise the name of the Lord.  For his name is very great; his glory towers over the earth and heaven!  He has made his people strong, honoring his faithful ones—the people of Israel who are close to him.  Praise the Lord!  
Psalm 148:1-14(NLT)
It is really difficult to get your mind around a sleeping infant in a cattle feeder being     He who created everything.  Yet, that is exactly what Scripture proclaims, that the pre-incarnate Jesus, before time, space, and anything else existed…made it exist!
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.  He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth.  He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.  Everything was created through him and for him.  Colossians 1:15-16(NLT)
It’s pretty easy to get some Christmas spirit and get all gushy over holiday gatherings, family reunions and a newborn child on the Hallmark Channel special.  Throw in a little after-dinner football and you’ve got a winner for everybody.  Well, except for the one who has to clean up after everybody, while everybody else is watching football…but that’s another subject.
We do a pretty good job of putting Jesus into that manger.  Each Christmas I take note of all the decorations, especially the manger scenes.  The whole world is alive with festivity, parties, gift-giving and carol singing.  By December 26th it’s time to move-on.
And, move-on we do!  Decorations, lights, tree, nativity sets are all carefully packed away.  The Christmas specials disappear from the networks until next year.  And all the commercials morph to President’s Day white sales, or even Valentine’s Day chocolates.
The point is, for this day after THE DAY we really need to focus on getting that child out of the manger and onto the cross, and then out of the tomb.  After all, that is the cycle; you have Advent, Passion, and then Easter’s resurrection.  The child in the manger can become a sweet memory and a very controllable part of our heritage.  But if that happens we have missed the whole point of His coming. 
Jesus laid aside all the prerogatives of deity in Heaven to be born in that vulnerable way; but there is no wavering on the fact that the child in that feeding trough was fully God on a mission to die.  Let us not miss the subtle point that most every artist portrays in a nativity scene:  worship.  The kings, shepherds, Mary, and even the animals are in rapt attention and bowing towards Jesus on the straw. 

For You Today

It’s a fast-moving world in which we live; it’s right to move-along (so you don’t get run-over).  But take some time to worship as you put away the lights and garland this year.  Get Jesus out of that manger and onto a cross.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

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[1] Title Image: Courtesy of Pixabay.com
[2]  Cross/Manger image courtesy of The Glorious Deeds of Christ  (web blog)

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Good Medicine - Part 4: SUPPLICATION

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary.  She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.  Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman!  The Lord is with you!”  Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.  “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”  Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”  The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.  What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age!  People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month.  For the word of God will never fail.”  Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant.  May everything you have said about me come true.”  And then the angel left her.  Luke 1:26-38(NLT)
We have been journeying through Advent looking at Good Medicine for our souls. 
·       In week 1 we saw how Adoration, praising our Heavenly Father releases all the praise stored in our hearts.  It’s like personally offering the Great Thanksgiving we always pray before sharing the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper.  We praise Him and it is good medicine for our souls.
·       In week 2 we learned that Hope brings us close to God and helps us hold-fast to the faith once-delivered to the saints, and the impact that makes on the world makes a difference in the world.  Making a difference is good medicine for our souls. 
·       Last week we explored Thanksgiving, the right response to being cleansed of our sins, and how that opens the pathway for genuine worship.  All good medicine for the soul!
Today, on Christmas Eve, we will complete this series as we consider the good medicine of Supplication – a fancy word for asking for stuff.  Now, that’s very connected to what we hope will be under the tree tomorrow morning. 
At this stage of December little children have written volumes of letters to Santa, asking for toys, baby dolls, puppies and ponies.  Older children have asked for new bicycles, Playstations™ and new IPhones™.  Women have dropped hints (some subtle, and others not-so-subtle) about what kind of jewelry they prefer (as well as where such baubles can be purchased), and men have wondered why they haven’t gotten a new Mercedes or fishing boat on previous Christmas mornings.  We all understand the concept of supplication!
But this season is not without its stressors.  And stress shows up in many unexpected ways (and all of them unwelcome); just ask the man who was engaged to Mary – Joseph.  As a local carpenter from a good family Joseph thought he had everything he wanted for that first Christmas.  His life was in order.  He was engaged, betrothed to the love of his life.  Mary was beautiful and his career as a carpenter was on track.  This changed everything.  It was big time stress! Betrothal was more than engagement; in those days it was legally marriage, except for the couple living together.  That’s so different from today where many couples live together and have children before marriage.
Well, Joseph had it all going in the right direction...until the news hit him that Mary was pregnant.  Joseph knew he wasn’t the father, so this shattered his dreams and hopes for a normal, respectable life.  It had to have crushed his heart.  Christmas stress indeed!   Joseph came to the first Christmas without tinsel, twinkling lights or fruitcake.
Scripture tells us Joseph didn’t want to see Mary hurt or embarrassed.  So he hatched a plan to divorce Mary privately.  He didn’t want her to go through the public humiliation he knew was coming.  It was more than just the snide remarks and social snubbing to which they’d be subjected.  While it may be hard for many in our 21st century culture to imagine why they would be judged for having a baby before marriage, in those days it was downright against the law!  That was the pressure society would bear on remaining a virgin until marriage.
Elizabeth and I know something of that pressure.  We married in 1967.  I had been inducted into the Army five months prior.  We made the decision to get married if I got orders for overseas, but we didn’t share that with anyone but our parents.  When the orders came I called and told Elizabeth I had nine days leave.  We met with the minister, bought all the stuff and had a wedding three days later.  We are certain some of our friends (and a few snooty relatives) were doing math for the next nine months!  (Jennifer came along a little more than four years later; so there!)
These days that kind of thinking is seen as prudish; something out of the Victorian-era.  In the eyes of the new millennium person, marriage is either seen with a romantic’s eye, that everything must be perfect because everyone is happy, stays happy, and lives happily ever after.  Or marriage is viewed as a throwback to oppressive male domination and is to be avoided at all costs.  Either way, Biblical marriage of one man and one woman for one lifetime has become the rare exception, rather than the norm.
Now the reason Joseph scurried around to find a plan to do something about this development privately is that sticking with Mary would bring danger into Joseph’s equation.  Mary had a few serious liabilities:
·       Legal liability – as a convicted adulteress she could have been stoned under Jewish law. 
·       Religious liability – Mary claimed to be pregnant by God; the Pharisees would’ve had a field day with that one.  They hung Jesus on a cross for that kind of claim.  Mary could have gotten the death penalty for blasphemy
The first Christmas was extremely stressful for Joseph.  His stress came from financial, emotional and spiritual drains.  He was picturing a wife, kids, dog, and white picket fence kind of life.  What he got was over-taxed, shamed, confused and run out of town.  Is this first Christmas not the most stressful you’ve ever heard about?
Turning back to our friend Luke’s story about Mary we find there was family stress in her first Christmas as well…in two different cities.  Of course Mary faced all of what Joseph was feeling – with the added factor that she was the one the community would stone if things went badly. 
But there was also Mary’s Aunt Elizabeth to consider.  Everyone in her family knew Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and she was well-past child-bearing age.  But the angel visiting Mary told her old Aunt Elizabeth was already six-months along.  So, really, there are two miracles in this story.  Mary is pregnant even though she is too-young and still a virgin, and so is Elizabeth, the too-old barren one.  These two are connected at opposite ends of the spectrum.
What’s really surprising here is that Mary went to her Aunt for comfort and enlightenment; but Elizabeth was the one who got both.  From this we learn that humble hearts are connected and never overlooked by God when it comes to blessing.  Mary was young, Elizabeth old; God blessed both of them.  We also must learn to not judge the young Marys or the old Elizabeths in our lives.  Unexpected beginnings are not endings!
Granny Parker was a church member in a small church I served in Florida.  By virtually all human standards she was not influential or revered as a leader.  Granny had a learning disability and couldn’t participate in a traditional education process.  But that was only her beginning.
As a young woman in the depression, Granny’s parents died and she inherited the 100 acre farm she lived on all her life.  When the opportunity came to start a mission church she gave two acres to begin the work.  Later she graciously parted with 10 more acres as the church grew and needed more space.  Today, where humble Granny Parker began life on a small farm in 1911 there is a 600-seat sanctuary and several other buildings to serve that community for Christ.
Granny died shortly before reaching 100 years in her journey.  This under-educated, unsophisticated, rough farm girl could barely write her own name, but her relationship with God was so strong, when you heard her pray, it was clear every angel in heaven had stopped what they were doing and were paying attention as Jesus and Granny caught up on the day’s events.
The Mary in our story is something like that.  When the angel told Mary what the future was going to look like she asked a question…how can this be…I’m a virgin…never even been with a manWhen the angel told her to trust God, she bowed in worship, and with a simple statement Mary teaches us what genuine supplication looks like:
I am the Lord’s servant.  May everything you have said about me come true.
Mary made her petition, supplication – tell me about this impossibility.  She got what she requested, and it wasn’t anything like she could have possibly dreamed.  But it was good medicine for her soul, because she embraced it as a gift from the hand of God.
Beloved you wrestle this week with embracing what Mary faced, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

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[1] Title Image Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Humanity of a Hero

Friday, December 22, 2017
I will sing of the Lord’s unfailing love forever!  Young and old will hear of your faithfulness.  Your unfailing love will last forever.  Your faithfulness is as enduring as the heavens.  The Lord said, “I have made a covenant with David, my chosen servant.  I have sworn this oath to him:  ‘I will establish your descendants as kings forever; they will sit on your throne from now until eternity.’”   Interlude
Long ago you spoke in a vision to your faithful people.  You said, “I have raised up a warrior.  I have selected him from the common people to be king.  I have found my servant David.  I have anointed him with my holy oil.  I will steady him with my hand; with my powerful arm I will make him strong.  His enemies will not defeat him, nor will the wicked overpower him.  I will beat down his adversaries before him and destroy those who hate him.  My faithfulness and unfailing love will be with him, and by my authority he will grow in power.  I will extend his rule over the sea, his dominion over the rivers.  And he will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’  
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26(NLT)
David was a shepherd, musician, author, warrior, and the most celebrated king of Israel.  In choosing David as successor to Saul, God promised the strength of heaven would be on this new king; enemies would be defeated in the name of JHWH, and his kingdom would extend to the end of the earth through his descendants.  The only enemy God never promised could not defeat King David was…King David!
Scripture tells us that David’s life was a life of struggling with bears and lions when he was a shepherd.  Then, in King Saul’s palace, it was a struggle to survive the mercurial mood swings of the demented king who was jealous of David’s popularity with people.  When David became king he struggled to unite the kingdom under his throne.  But when his struggles all turned to victory and the spoils of conquest made him wealthy and powerful beyond measure, it was the selfishness of his free human will that crumbled the very promises and power of God that had given him everything.
In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to fight the Ammonites.  They destroyed the Ammonite army and laid siege to the city of Rabbah. However, David stayed behind in Jerusalem.  Late one afternoon, after his midday rest, David got out of bed and was walking on the roof of the palace.  As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath.  He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”  Then David sent messengers to get her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her…. Later…she sent David a message, saying, “I’m pregnant.”  
2 Samuel 11:1-5(NLT)
The story is as mystifying as it is common.  The one thing David demonstrated throughout his lifetime was integrity – keeping a pure heart before God, and acting with righteousness towards everyone.  When he chose against that integrity he chose to unravel everything worthwhile God had given:  the trust of the people of Israel, his family unity, and his own peace of mind.
But this is the legacy of sin; we choose it, and it owns us.
But, as Paul wrote:  Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words!  2 Corinthians 9:15(NLT)
Like David, all of us have chosen selfishly; and like David we can all be forgiven.  It is the will of God to forgive those who confess and repent of sin.  No exceptions!
I guess I love the Bible because it’s such an open book; it presents even the most revered heroes as human in every way – good and bad, warts and all…it’s all there for our instruction.

For You Today

David was a hero, and he was as human as they come.  He was forgiven, and that means there’s hope for you too!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

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[1] Title Image: Courtesy of Pixabay.com