Christmas Day

Try as he might, to the Grinch's dismay,
Christmas arrived once again today.
Some began with stockings, others with gifts.
Some are joyfully playing, others engage in tiffs.
Tis the season of giving and kindness
And listening to "And there were shepherds..." recited by Linus.
Tis the season of eggnog and feasts
When even the Grinch carves the roast beast.

Today we quote angels and speak of oxen kneeling.
Today we sing carols and listen for bells ringing.
Our tree, though drier now, still stands.
And families pray together hand-in-hand.

Thank yous are shared and written.
Your neighbor's daughter tightly hugs her new kitten.
Pies and candy bring tummies joy.
Your neighbor's son already broke his new toy.

We enjoy time with those we hold dear.
As we celebrate this date so close to the end of the year.
We delight in all that it brings
As we rejoice in the birth of the King of kings.

Merry Christmas!


Gimme A Break

Thursday will arrive soon.  The sounds of joy will echo throughout our city - specifically between 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m.  Loading into buses, walking with backpacks, and driving out of the school parking lot, students will eagerly depart the classroom knowing that, thanks to Winter Break, school will not resume until January 7th. 

Whether they are on the Honor Roll or just out of Detention Hall, students look forward to a rest from quizzes, papers, and lukewarm half-pints of milk.  Some will hit the slopes with friends, others will sit in the island sands far away, and still others will sit on couches with thumbs ablazin' on the controller.  Some, who are unfortunate enough to have received an assignment from a teacher who forgot the meaning of "break," will frown as their homework keeps them home.

Thankfully the Teacher understood the value of a break.  Among the red letters in the sixth chapter of Mark's Gospel, we "hear" Jesus invite His apostles to . . .

vs 31 - “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
Prior to hearing that invitation, the disciples were busy doing various works of ministry and teaching - so busy that they had to skip breakfast and lunch.  So, as Mark tells us . . . "they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place."

It appears that they will have a "Winter Break" of their own - minus the winter.  The subtraction continues however.  The "But" that begins the next sentence alerts us to a change of plans.

vs.33 - But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.

I can almost hearing them saying, "Gimme a break" - and not as a request for a KitKat Bar.  (Are you singing the jingle now?)  Yet we discover as we keep reading Mark's account that no break came their way.  In fact, the tired disciples hear from Jesus again, but this time it is a command rather than an invitation.

vs 37 - “You give them something to eat.”

Mark leaves it to our imaginations to fill in the thoughts running through the Twelve's weary heads.  They certainly were not thinking how excited they were to receive more work.  Nevertheless, notice what happens next.  Over 5000 people were fed as God multiplied five loaves and two fish.

As you live your Ordinary Life, sometimes your breaks will be interrupted.  You may be surprised by what an invitation will bring.  Sure, sometimes it will bring frustrating busyness.  Other times, however, it will bring a profoundly exciting experience that you do not want to miss.



Three of the Twelve, while on a mountain, experienced a mountain-top event.  They saw their Lord and Teacher shine like the sun with clothes as brilliant as the light (see Matthew 17).  They were also given the privilege of seeing and hearing the long-since-Paradise-dwelling Moses and Elijah.  The Law-giver and the prophet of renown stood and conversed with Jesus. 

While the sons of Zebedee stood speechless, the other fisherman-by-trade-turned-disciple who often spoke when nervous or uncertain opened his mouth and suggested setting up camp.  During his attempt to help, the voice of the Father boomed from the heavens.  He said . . .

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
Matthew 17:5b (NIV)
"Listen to him!" the Father instructed.  Listen to Jesus.  That instruction did more than quiet Peter; it set in motion the practice of wise Christians.  Wise Christians listen to Jesus.

Recently David Crowder released his song, "Red Letters."  Within his lyrics, Crowder declares . . .

Then I read the red letters
And the ground began to shake
The prison walls started falling
And I became a free man that day 
Felt like lightning hit my veins
My dead heart began to beat
Breath of God filled my lungs
And the Holy Ghost awakened me
Yeah, the Holy Ghost awakened me
When I read the red letters
And the ground began to shake
The prison walls started falling
And I became a free man that day
For God so loved the whole wide world
Sent his only Son to die for me
Arms spread wide for the whole wide world
His arms spread wide where mine should be 
Jesus changed my destiny

No one's life remains unchanged upon reading the red letters - the words of Jesus.  Yes, some will choose to ignore them and others will just breeze through them; yet everyone who reads the letters experiences a change.  For those who read and respond with a mixture of joy, repentance, feelings of conviction, and thrill - the words alter their life both for the now and the eternal.

Seeking wisdom?  Listen to Jesus.
Needing answers?  Listen to Jesus.
Looking for meaning?  Listen to Jesus.

In everything, Listen to Jesus!


Hanukkah for Christians

Jesus celebrated Hanukkah.  

This surprises many Christians.  We cannot fault them for such surprise.  Even those believers who read the New Testament gospel accounts can miss John's mention of Jesus' celebration - especially if they fail to read the footnotes or if their Bibles do not have such notes.  John wrote . . .
22 Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.
John 10:22-23 (NIV)

The Festival of Dedication, also known as the Festival of Lights, is synonymous with Hanukkah.  The Festival, celebrated for eight nights and days, serves as a reminder of an event that Jews cherish.  That event was Judah Maccabee's victory over the Greek oppressors to the Jewish people.  On December 14, 164 BC (25th of Kislev in the Jewish calendar), Judah led the Hebrew soldiers to victory and restored the Temple of Jerusalem to the descendants of King David.  He purified and rededicated the Temple as the central place of worship to God (thus Festival of Dedication). 
According to tradition, during the hostile standoff, a lantern with one day's worth of oil burned, miraculously, for eight days (thus an eight-day Festival of Lights).

The fact that Jesus participated in festivals such as Hanukkah and weddings (see John 2) is worth our notice.  God created us and equipped us with a capacity for joy and celebration.  With good reason, we find joy in holidays.  We can use them as great times to remember.

During Hanukkah this year, devote some time to remembering the miracles and even the "small" wonders with which God has blessed you.  Say "thank you" with a song of praise.  Maybe even light a candle (or eight).



Lessons from a Piano Lesson

Just over two weeks ago, as I listened to my youngest son grace the keys during a piano lesson, I learned a new (to me, at least) word.

I am quite sure that without the help of Webster or Wikipedia, I would struggle to define the word.  Nevertheless, even as one whose half-hearted piano days included complaints about practicing and fingers never straying far from Middle C, I now know that hemiola is a musical term which refers to the alteration of the rhythm in which the composer intends the musician to play the composition.  The one mastering the keys imposes duple time upon triple time.

Imposing one rhythm upon another, while beautiful in a piece of music, can cause disruption to other pieces of life.  Seeing the word "disruption" usually brings visions of confusion and memories of uncomfortable experiences to our minds.  However, disruptions - while at times painful and pointless - just as often bring new starts and fresh perspectives to our lives.

What areas of your life could use a bit of disruption?  Where could you alter your pace a bit (or quite a bit)?  Where could a hemiola adjustment bring beauty into your life?  Perhaps you would benefit from slowing down a little so you can enjoy a stroll on a path and an exit from the fast-paced race.  Perhaps your life would be enriched by speeding up a bit so you lose the burden of slothfulness and embrace well-paced living.

Just as with our planet, you and I experience seasons.  At times we live in a season of high-demand planting (starting a new job, raising toddlers, preparing for a significant presentation).  At other times we enjoy a less-demanding harvest (finding our groove at work, graduating from diapers, soaking up sun in Hawaii).  Through it all we have access to a gift from the Creator of time itself that, when received, brings beauty into all of our seasons.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

Find your rhythm in His rhythm.



"And I awoke in the house of God."

Those words, rather than coming from the mouth of one who fell asleep in church and awoke at the sound of his inadvertent snore, belong to the late Rich Mullins.  They serve as a portion of his lyrics to the song, "The Color Green."  Mullins, an appreciator of God's nature, intentionally dedicated time to noticing - to paying attention - to the majesty of the Ordinary.  The rain that falls.  The winter wheat.  The hollow of the oak.  The wrens. 

Long before Mullins, another musician likewise took time to ponder.

1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord Almighty!
2 My soul yearns, even faints,
    for the courts of the Lord;
    my heart and my flesh cry out
    for the living God.
3 Even the sparrow has found a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may have her young—
    a place near your altar,
    Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
    they are ever praising you.
Psalm 84:1-4 (NIV)
The psalmist, noticing the sparrow and the swallow, longs to dwell with God.  People of God long to dwell with Him; they also long to see Him.  God, knowing our longings, offers glimpses of glory divine.  We can delight in those glimpses when we dedicate time to noticing.Those who commit to living their Ordinary lives to the glory of God do well to notice. 

What can we notice when we pay attention?  Just over the past few days I have noticed . . .
  • the sun setting and coloring the sky
  • an eagle riding the wind
  • a moose calmly making his way
  • the beauty of voices in our singing to Almighty God
  • the sound of children's laughter
  • the clear way in which God communicates through His Word
  • the taste of fresh fruit
  • the smell of baking bread
  • the pristine white of snow
  • the mysterious complexity of the house of God
What do you notice?


Animals Change, Not God

Last week Americans went to the polls to cast votes.  Elephants voted red, donkeys voted blue, and those of some hybrid filled bubbles of various hues. 

Today, some voters are joyful while others count the days until they can try again. 

Election day stands outside the Ordinary days of life.  Yet on November 7 (this year), Ordinary days resumed.  The joyous and the saddened alike arose from sleep, grabbed a warm mug, combed their hair, and met the new day.  Just like every other day, diapers were changed, classes were attended, and dentures were set in place.  The young, the old, and the "in between" returned to life as usual.

Speaking through the prophet Malachi, God challenged and assured the Israelites ("descendants of Jacob").  He said . . .

 “I am God—yes, I Am. I haven’t changed. And because I haven’t changed, you, the descendants of Jacob, haven’t been destroyed."
Malachi 3:6 (The Message)

Borrowing those words to personalize them, we can feel their challenge and comfort.

“I am God—yes, I Am. I haven’t changed. And because I haven’t changed, you,(your name here) . . .
     can carry on."
     can rest assured."
     can trust me."
     can know that I am in control."
     can know that I know you."

Election days as well as public office holders (Hopefully, each lives up to the title "Public Servant.") come and go; and through it all, God remains the same.


What Time Is It?

What did you do with your extra hour?  If you live in the United States (except Arizona and Hawaii), you gained an hour on November 4th. 

If that is news to you, you're welcome.  Now you know why you seem to be early to every meeting and your favorite TV shows seem to be on at the wrong time.  Go ahead - take a moment now to set your watch or clock.  Then continue reading.

As a pastor, I much prefer the end over the beginning of Daylight Savings Time.  Since the clock-changing times always occur on Sundays, the ending of DST allows for even the late-risers to make it to church on time or, at least, closer to on time.

Several years ago (long before we carried computers, aka smart phones, in our pockets), we could not depend on electronic reminders of the nationwide hour change.  So, on one Sunday, my wife and I commenced with our morning routine of readying ourselves for church and then drove to the church building where I served as Minister to Students.  To our surprise, the only person there was the Building and Grounds Manager who was unlocking doors and switching on lights.  I did not recall any dispute or member-uprising from the previous Sunday that would have caused a Sunday morning boycott.  The helpful manager, noticing the confusion on our faces, offered a grin on his face and then kindly asked a question to which he knew the answer, "You forgot to set your clocks back, didn't you?"  I cannot recall how we spent our extra hour; I hope I helped him ready the building.  Whatever we did, I do remember thinking how grateful I was that our forgetfulness had not occurred in the spring.  It is not a good thing for the Minister to Students to arrive late to minister. 

Ever since that day, I change our clocks about midday on Saturday - just to be safe.  I do so in order to avoid a repeated mistake. 

Some mistakes result in more harmful consequences than arriving to church one hour earlier.  How can we avoid those more costly mistakes?  We can take steps that are similar to setting clocks at midday.  That is to say, we can take preventive measures such as . . .
- Count the cost.
- Say "I'm sorry."
- Say "I forgive you."
- Don't judge a book by its cover.
- Keep your promises.
- Don't set unreasonable expectations (for yourself or others).
- Train your children in the way they should go.
- Listen to your parents.
- Listen to Lady Wisdom (see Proverbs).

Those nine actions are but a small sample of the near countless steps you can take to avoid costly mistakes.  Each step you take will draw you closer to God and, therefore, to a life well lived.


Renewed by the Equation

The Bible in 27 minutes.  A month ago, I accomplished my goal of summarizing the biblical account (Genesis to Revelation) in twenty-seven minutes.  Rabbit Creek Church - Bible 101.   With whiteboard marker in hand and digital clock setting the pace, I began with "In the beginning God" and closed with "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen." 

Those bookend phrases of the Bible set the stage and close the curtain.
  "In the beginning God" sets the stage by establishing the truth that before all things, God was.

The grammar critic in me cringes at ending that last sentence with a passive verb.  I could, appropriately, add a word to follow - such as mighty, or eternal, or great, or creative.  Clearly, the Bible itself continues the sentence.

Nevertheless, I contend that a pause at "wa
s" proves beneficial.  A pause at "was" draws our attention to the utterly important understanding that all things find their root and meaning in God (with the exception of evil).

You and I belong in the category of "all things."
  Therefore, with God as our rest and source of meaning, the only way we will discover our reason for being and our significance is to seek His leadership (Lordship) in our lives. 

Two sentences from the Bible reveal the equation for a successful search. 

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:2 (NIV)
All sincere seekers of God long to know and live His will.  Most sincere seekers struggle to find it. 

It is for those reasons that I greatly appreciate the clarity of 12:2 - especially the "then you." 
"Then you" tells me that what follows "you" depends on what precedes "then."
Here's the equation:
To solve that equation, we need to identify the ways in which we tend to conform to the world.  In what ways do you tend to conform?
  • Spending too much time doing less than important things?
  • Viewing things that your eyes need not see?
  • Speaking words that hurt rather than help?
  • Talking more than you listen?
  • Seeking revenge rather than restoration?
  • Celebrating another's defeat rather than supporting the weak?
  • Cashing in rather than helping those in need?
  • Aiming to be first while forgetting the value of last?
A transformed mind minus those things leads to knowing God's will. 


We Said Never

"We will never . . ."  One must be wary of starting sentences, particularly proclamations, with such words.  

When our three children were much younger, my wife and I (with every intent of following our own words) said something to the effect of "We will never become one of those families who is overly busy."

I can almost hear you laughing.

Our proclamation, while heartfelt, gradually became void. 

Today we commit to necessities such as work, education, and involvement in our faith community.  We also engage in other good things such as musical instrument lessons, sports, exercise, dance, and Scouts.  Add to those necessities and good things the everyday activities such as laundry, lunch-making, carpooling, grocery shopping, and house tending.  The hours disappear rapidly.   

"We will never" transferred into "Yes, are we ever!"

So now is the time to reset. 
Now is the time to reflect. 
Now is the time to rest.

How's your "we will never" holding up? 

If you relate to my family's situation, you recognize your own need for a reset, some reflection, and a rest.  May I suggest (and I assume I may) that you join my family and me in this exercise?  Will you take time to analyze your use of time? 

As an example of things to consider, think about Saturdays.  In an early morning men's group (we meet early so we don't take away from other good things) in which I participate, a friend reminded us that fathers have just over 400 Saturdays to spend with their sons and daughters before the kids "leave the nest."  He challenged us to use our Saturdays wisely. 

God, who calls us to surrender our everyday, ordinary lives to Him, gives us, as part of those days, time to spend with those we love.  After all, God established family! 

So join me in considering our use of time.  Pay attention to your findings and adjust accordingly.  Be wary of "never" for we will never completely get it right, but keep the "we will."  It's a great start!


Jesus Smiles, Too

Two weeks ago, most Alaskans smiled - even if their face smiled for the first time since October of 2017.  On October 4th of this year, Alaskans smiled as $1600 (multiplied by the number of members of their household) entered their bank accounts.  Anticipating those smiles, retailers have been encouraging the recipients to spend, spend, spend. 

How do Alaskans use their PFDs (Permanent Fund Dividends, not Personal Flotation Devices)?

They . . .

  • buy airline tickets to Hawaii
  • buy the "toy" they've always wanted (usually involving a motor and/or tires)
  • put the funds toward a debt
  • save for a kid's college expenses
The options are many. 

Now, unless living in sub-freezing temperatures and icy conditions count toward "earnings," I do not earn the PFD.  No one does.  I receive my PFD.  Alaskans do.

In the New Testament letter Romans, the Apostle Paul wrote . . .

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23 (NIV)

One can think of the gift of eternal life as the ultimate PFD.  I do not earn eternal life.  No one does.  I receive salvation.  Followers of Jesus do.

Jesus came into the world to bring His people life, eternal and abundant.  By "His people," I mean those individuals who have joined the family of God by declaring Jesus as Lord and believing (trusting) in Him.

How do Christians (followers of Jesus) use their salvation?

They . . .

  • live with gratitude
  • spread joy to those who need it
  • put their gifts (spiritual and natural) to work
  • tell others about the love of Jesus

Each Sunday that a girl or boy or woman or man receives baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (thus indicating that they love Jesus and have received His salvation), the people of Rabbit Creek Church smile.  I believe that Jesus smiles, too.  Most gift-givers do.


Broken Windows

Last Christmas a couple of men broke one of my office windows in order to burglarize our church.  They walked away with a computer and a couple of tablets.  In between the breaking, the entering, and the leaving, they dug through my desk - taking nothing.  They left my many books on the shelves.

Just a few days ago I learned from another pastor that during this past summer, an unknown number of people broke into their church as well.  In similar fashion, probably because the perpetrators were the same as those from our Christmas break-in, they searched his office.  They did, however, do one thing that was different.  They dumped his books on the floor.  That causes me to wonder - if they were indeed the same thieves, why did they leave my books alone and dump his? 

Based on speculation alone, I reason that they grew more confident during the approximately six-month period between the burglaries.  They felt confident enough to stay a few extra minutes and cause damage - just for the fun of it. 

Windows are fixed.  Computers are replaced.  And books sit nicely on their shelves.  However I still wonder why the presumably young thieves targeted our churches and took time to cause harm. 

While I will most likely never know their exact reasoning, I trust that I know a deeper reality.  Namely, each person (including the one writing this) is capable of taking actions that are selfish as well as harmful to others. 

Most of us will not break the windows on churches and steal church items, but do we break relationships because of hurt feelings?  I have never thrown a person's books on the floor, yet I have harbored anger toward one whose words caused me deep concern and self-pity. 

We don't break in and enter the property of others on Christmas Day, but do you recall when you rejected the opportunity to invite someone onto your property and into your home?

Perhaps you are familiar with these words of Paul.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?
Romans 8:22-24 (NIV)
When people break windows (actually and metaphorically) in my life, I know the reason.  When I break windows, I recall that "all have sinned" includes me.  It is then that I best understand and fully appreciate "his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."  

The faulty way of others and the foolish ways of our own provide a time either to give way to anger (at them; at ourselves) or once again show our appreciation to God for His grace.  I suggest the latter.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28 (NIV)


Times Are A-Changin'

Recently my daughter and I went to one of our local theaters to watch "Incredibles 2."  Bob, aka Mr. Incredible, learns the demands of caring for children - his children.  During the portrayal of his learning, we watch as Bob and Huck, aka Dash, struggle with completing school homework, particularly "new math."  At precisely the same moment, my daughter and I exchanged grins and muffled laughs as we recalled a time when that fictional scene was truly non-fiction in our family.

I love the English language and the use of it in writing and reading.  I do not, however, care much for math.  I was encouraged by the news years ago that my degree plan in college required only one math class.  However, to my dismay, they (whoever "they" are) changed math!  Not only did they change math, but they also required new methods of finding the same answer that the old way found just as well. 

As much as I enjoy English, I equally enjoy routine.  Therefore, for me, change is not easy. 

With that said, we live in a changing world.  I will do well to find more comfort with that fact.  When I especially notice the fast-paced change that occurs around me, I take heart in remembering a never-changing fact.  God does not change.  The psalmist makes the point.

God, who is enthroned from of old,
    who does not change—
Psalm 55:19a (NIV)
James sings the same tune.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
James 1:17 (NIV)
Shifting shadows - Perhaps no other combination of two words better expresses the condition of our world.  Peter Pan was weary of his shadow.  Likewise, shadows of most types bother us immensely.  Yet, the Father of lights who sent the Light of the world to us brings light into the darkness of our shadows and comforts us in our experiences of change.

Thankfully, after receiving some feedback from teachers, parents, and students, the school (at least the one my child attends) returned to the "old" math.  Perhaps the new math was worth a try, but I'm glad it did not stick. 

You might be fortunate and have the change you experienced "unchange."  Or you might be forced to choose whether you will embrace the new.  Regardless - know that while some "news" will return to "olds" and some "news" will hold their ground, you can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that in this world of shifting shadows there is One who never changes.

James said it oh so well - "Every good and perfect gift is from above."


Waiting Forward

Two days ago, I concluded a five-week sermon series during which our church focused on the letter Paul (along with Silas and Timothy) wrote to the small group of new believers in the Greek port city, Thessalonica.  Within that letter, the Apostle encouraged the Christ-followers to stay strong in their faith with a hope fueled by the expectation of Jesus' return.  They, like modern-day Christians, looked forward to the Lord's return.

Looking forward goes hand-in-hand with waiting.  Waiting goes hand-in-hand with patience.  

Impatience forces its way in seeking to separate the hands of patience and waiting and, when successful, thus handicaps one's looking-forward.

None, save the few number of extra patient people among us, wait well.  As a general rule, we rank poorly on the delayed-satisfaction scale.  What we want we want as soon as possible - actually "now" would be better.
So how can we strengthen our waiting abilities?  To answer in a word - run.  No, I'm not suggesting that you lace up your Sauconys.  Rather, I'm encouraging you to hear and heed the words Paul wrote to a young man named Timothy.
11-12 But you, Timothy, man of God: Run for your life from all this. Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to, the life you so fervently embraced in the presence of so many witnesses.

13-16 I’m charging you before the life-giving God and before Christ, who took his stand before Pontius Pilate and didn’t give an inch: Keep this command to the letter, and don’t slack off. Our Master, Jesus Christ, is on his way. He’ll show up right on time, his arrival guaranteed by the Blessed and Undisputed Ruler, High King, High God. He’s the only one death can’t touch, his light so bright no one can get close. He’s never been seen by human eyes—human eyes can’t take him in! Honor to him, and eternal rule! Oh, yes.  1 Timothy 6:11-16 (The Message)
Run.  Run toward wonder.  Race to faith.  Sprint for love.  Dart steadily.  Hurry with courtesy.  Seize the eternal life by living your everyday ordinary life with a passion for life, true life.

Ready . . . Set . . . (You know the rest!)


Experiencing Transition? Don't Panic.

According to the Western calendar, autumn begins this Saturday.  Autumn, one of the four seasons, serves as a transition time between summer and winter.  Already in Alaska, the temperatures are dropping ever so slightly.  Wardrobes change, lawn mowers roar less often, and rakes stand at the ready. 

During the fall season, Alaskans check to see that the condition of their studs (on their tires, that is) is suitable to carve the ice through the winter.  They also remove their garden hoses from the outdoor spigots knowing no watering will be necessary until May.

So, autumn marks transition.

Are you in a time of transition right now?  What is changing (or threatening to change) in your life? 

For some, transition means a move away from home to a college dorm.  For others, transition looks like selling a long-comfortable house before snow flies in order to relocate to a new neighborhood.  Others are presently experiencing less exciting transitions.  As the current year draws to a close, they know that 2019 will be the first year without a loved one who passed away.  Others enter into autumn still in the shock they experienced when the physician shared the unwelcome and unexpected news.

Transitions.  Some are thrilling; others are frightening.  No matter the adjective that best suits your situation, you can take comfort in the promise of God as recounted by the prophet Isaiah.

Don’t panic. I’m with you.
    There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.
I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you.
    I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.
Isaiah 41:10 (The Message)

Look carefully at those first five words - "Don't panic.  I'm with you."  Notice the charge and the rationale.
Charge:  Don't panic.
Rationale:  I'm with you.
Knowing that God is with you fuels your ability to keep it together.  Your sanity directly relates to your knowledge of His presence. 

Take a few minutes (or moments) now to experience God's presence.  How?
1. Read from the Bible.
2. Listen to a favorite song of faith.
3. Write yourself a reminder of a time you felt His presence.

Don't panic.  God is with you.


Difficult Dates

Seventeen years ago today, we watched as the Twin Towers collapsed due to the selfish and murderous acts of angry people.  The combination of the numbers 9 and 11 is etched into our minds.  Events such as 9/11 force their way into our long-term memories. 

The years 587 BC and AD 70 are etched into the minds of people of Jewish heritage as they remember that their most holy site, the Temple, was destroyed in those years. 

I recall hearing the news of the explosion of the Space Shuttle (two actually). 

Those of a generation before me remember the day of the Grassy Knoll. 

One generation before them was shocked on December 7, 1941.

Other events are far more personal but no less painful.  You have yours; I have mine.  Without taking the unwise step of numbing the memories, what should we do with our own "personal Pearl Harbor days"? 

You probably expect me, as a Christian pastor and blogger, to answer that question with the answer, "God."  If so, you are correct.  I stand by that "Sunday School answer."  (Sometimes those are the best answers.)

God can free you from your distress that is causing you stress.  Bring your bad memories to God.  In his song, "Forgiveness," Crowder declares . . .
I've done things I wish I hadn't done.
I've seen things I wish I hadn't seen.

Our bad memories consist of recollections of things that we have done wrong and that others have done to us.  We can find freedom from both kinds of recollection.  Crowder's song title points us to the "how."  Forgiveness.

When you recall a wrong you have done, ask forgiveness from God and the one(s) you harmed.  (Don't forget to also forgive yourself.)

When you recall a wrong done to you, extend forgiveness - it is for good reason that Jesus told us to forgive our enemies and pray for those who harm us.

On this September 11th, decide to give your "personal Pearl Harbor days" to God.


Church Speak - Part 7 - Why So Much Blood?

Christians sing about blood.
- "Are You Washed In The Blood?"
- "O The Blood"
- "Love Ran Red"


Christ-followers talk about blood and its power. 
Some churches display images of Jesus with varying amounts of blood on His body.

Why so much blood?

To help us find the answer to that question, we can read the words of the biblical writer of the letter to the Hebrews.

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
Hebrews 9:14 (NIV)
Those words immediately follow the writer's (possibly Paul) assertion that the old (former) way of symbolically atoning for sins, which involved the sacrifice (killing / shedding blood) of goats and bulls proved, while meaningful, incomplete.  In fact, the shedding of the blood of "Innocent" animals foreshadowed the death of the innocent Son of God - Jesus the Christ.
For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
Hebrews 9:15 (NIV)
Other passages of Scripture help answer our question of Church Speak.  The writing of Matthew in the book bearing his name serves as a prime example.
27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Matthew 26:27-28 (NIV)
The Lord's Supper (Communion / Eucharist), as established by Jesus serves as an unmistakable reminder of the significance of Jesus' death.  Jesus' death, best symbolized by blood (think "life blood"), serves as the open door to salvation for all who believe.
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—
John 1:12 (NIV)

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
Romans 3:22a (NIV)
Christians, I am quite sure, will continue to sing and talk about blood, specifically the blood of Jesus.  For without His blood (death), all are without hope; but with His blood (by His death), all who choose to believe and follow hold firmly to hope.
9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
Romans 5:9-10 (NIV)


Thank you for reading these blogs on Church Speak.  Next week I will return Ordinary Lives to more ordinary themes.  😉
Next week's topic - Waiting on Jesus.


Church Speak - Part 6 - Fear God

Fear God.  Really?

The final sentence of the introduction that opens Scripture's richest collection of Wisdom Literature (Proverbs) reads . . .

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
    but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:7 (NIV)
Both Matthew (the disciple) and Luke (the doctor) penned accounts of Jesus exhorting the crowd of listeners to fear God.  (See Matthew 10 and Luke 12.)  The Old Testament Jews, in Hebrew tongue, expressed the importance of yirah (fear) of God.  The New Testament Christian writers, with Greek pen, upheld the value of the phobos (fear) of God.

Many answer-seekers ask how the Scripture can, without contradiction, express both the fear of God and the declaration that "God is love" (see 1 John 4).

A good place to begin in search of clarification is the Song of Moses, found in Deuteronomy 32.  Within the great Hebrew leader's lyrics we read . . .

Is this the way you repay the Lord,
    you foolish and unwise people?
Is he not your Father, your Creator,
    who made you and formed you?
Deuteronomy 32:6 (NIV)
That is the first direct reference to God as Father in the Scripture.  The Bible (Old and New Testaments) presents God as a righteous and loving father.  

One seeking to understand the fear of God finds help in connecting the word fear and the image of God as Father (a loving one - remember).  

Merrill Unger, in his dictionary of the Bible, identifies different concepts of fear.  He rightly identifies the fear of God as a filial kind of love.  Filial, remember, is a word pertaining to a son or daughter.  Unger explains that the filial kind of love, "has its spring in love, and prompts to care not to offend God and to endeavor in all things to please him."

A believer's love for God, as a son or daughter of the Father, drives him/her to long, seek, and quest to please God.  Believers long to bring a smile to the Creator's face.

I know of not one parent who has not heard their child say, "Daddy (or Mommy), watch me!"  Kids enjoy seeing their mom's and dad's joy at seeing them dance, flip, dive, climb, play, etc.

Believers enjoy knowing that their Father takes joy in seeing them live to glorify Him.

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
John 15:8 (NIV)
You can express your fear of God through . . .
worshiping, singing, dancing, seeing others as He sees them, forgiving others, taking your sin seriously, repenting of that sin, not treating grace cheaply (research Dietrich Bonhoeffer's repulsion to "cheap grace"), obeying His commands, serving others, using your money wisely, minding your own business (see 1 Thessalonians 4), sharing, seeking to please Him (not Man), . . . and ways nearly endless.
God your Father loves you.  As His child, seek to please Him; then you will know the fear of God and your search for wisdom and knowledge will be off to a good start.

(Be sure to check back next week to read about why Christians talk so much about blood.)


Unger, Merrill F. Unger's Bible Dictionary. Chicago: Moody, 1977.