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Christmas is not very jolly for some…

How easily we are drawn to the mysterious and the supernatural. We love to read books on the amazing religious conversions of some people in history or how others overcame great disability or tragedy to live successful lives.  However, we often skip over the years of waiting, disillusionment, pain, and sorrow that formed the context of these unusual lives. We love to think about the Christmas story in all its beauty and splendor, quietness and majesty but we tend to edit out the pain, the ordinariness, the smells, the frustration and raw conflict which form the backdrop of the Christmas event. It was the people that waited in darkness who would see a great light… Isa 9:1,2.

Could it be that our search for God leads us to the ordinary and the difficult rather than away from it? What I am saying is that God may be more present in the middle of our disappointment, pain, and disillusionment than He is in the mystical or in the monastery. God came into the grinding poverty and harsh reality of a young couple in Palestine and told them that the Son in Mary’s womb would be the Redeemer of the world. God’s Son was not born in a desert hermitage or in the Roman White House but in the back streets of Bethlehem.

There is one more thing about pain and disappointment; not only do they often reveal God but they reveal our own “unsanded” natures. A seventeenth century French mystic, Franois Fenelon wrote, “Slowly you will learn that all the troubles in your life- your job, your health, your inward failings- are really cures to the poison of your old nature.” Thus the very difficulties of my life which I abhor are the very means of grace in which I can find God and are the raw materials of my spiritual development. Pain is often God’s megaphone (C.S. Lewis).

Many of you are facing difficulty this Christmas; financially, emotionally, relationally and spiritually. Don’t give up hope, God is present and He is doing a deeper work in you. May the light of Jesus Christ shine into your darkness this Christmas and may the grace of our Lord be with you as He uses your difficult circumstances to sand smooth the rough surfaces of your inner life.

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O Thou in whose Presence my soul takes delight

Are you suffering or grieving or just being overwhelmed by the stuff of life? Let me suggest a hymn which will nourish and comfort your soul. How do I know? Well, I don’t but it has been a great encouragement to me and that why I want to share it with you.

 May the Lord bless you with joy in his Presence even if you are facing the death of a loved one. Rest assured that if they belong to Christ they will soon experience unspeakable joy in his Presence. 

The Childrens Bible in a Nutshell

I posted this one awhile ago. Here it is again because a little humor is good medicine. (Prov 15:13, 15; 17:22) 

In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but God, darkness, and some gas.  The Bible says, ‘The Lord thy God is one, but I think He must be a lot older than that.

Anyway, God said, ‘Give me a light!’ and someone did. Then God made the world.

He split the Adam and made Eve.  Adam and Eve were naked, but they weren’t embarrassed because mirrors hadn’t been invented yet.

Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven from the Garden of Eden…..Not sure what they were driven in though, because they didn’t have cars.

Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was Abel.

Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who lived to be like a million or something.

One of the next important people was Noah, who was a good guy, but one of his kids was kind of a Ham.  Noah built a large boat and put his family and some animals on it. He asked some other people to join him, but they said they would have to take a rain check.

After Noah came Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Jacob was more famous than his brother, Esau, because Esau sold Jacob his birthmark in exchange for some pot roast.  Jacob had a son named Joseph who wore a really loud sports coat.

Another important Bible guy is Moses, whose real name was Charlton Heston.  Moses led the Israel Lights out of  Egypt and away from the evil Pharaoh after God sent ten plagues on Pharaoh’s people.  These plagues included frogs, mice, lice, bowels, and no cable. God fed the Israel Lights every day with manicotti.  Then he gave them His Top Ten Commandments. These include: don’t lie, cheat, smoke, dance, or covet your neighbor’s stuff.

Oh, yeah, I just thought of one more: Humor thy father and thy mother.

One of Moses’ best helpers was Joshua who was the first Bible guy to use spies.  Joshua fought the battle of Geritol and the fence fell over on the town.

After Joshua came David.  He got to be king by killing a giant with a slingshot.  He had a son named Solomon who had about 300 wives and 500 porcupines.  My teacher says he was wise, but that doesn’t sound very wise to me.

After Solomon there were a bunch of major league prophets.  One of these was Jonah, who was swallowed by a big whale and then barfed up on the shore.

There were also some minor league prophets, but I guess we don’t have to worry about them.

After the Old Testament came the New Testament.  Jesus is the star of The New.  He was born in Bethlehem in a barn. (I wish I had been born in a barn too, because my mom is always saying to me, ‘Close the door! Were you born in a barn?’ It would be nice to say, ‘As a matter of fact, I was.’)

During His life, Jesus had many arguments with sinners like the Pharisees and the Democrats.

Jesus also had twelve opossums. The worst one was Judas Asparagus.  Judas was so evil that they named a terrible vegetable after him.

Jesus was a great man.  He healed many leopards and even preached to some Germans on the Mount.

But the Democrats and all those guys put Jesus on trial before Pontius the Pilot.  Pilot didn’t stick up for Jesus.  He just washed his hands instead.

Anyways, Jesus died for our sins, then came back to life again.  He went up to Heaven but will be back at the end of the Aluminum.  His return is foretold in the book of Revolution. I can’t wait, canoe?

 

 

July 4th: A Call for Concern 

A rewrite of an earlier blog post:

This is July 4th and I am re-reading the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution written eleven years later; amazing documents. While many consider them to be “inspired,” they are not inerrant; the 28 amendments to the Constitution are witness to that. Also the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments in particular prove that the Constitution has blind spots and must supported by something more if it going to provide the foundation for continuing freedom.

Os Guiness has written in A Free Peoples Suicide that there are many people in America today who scorn religious fundamentalism but are hard at work creating “a constitutional fundamentalism. It is being done through lawyers and judges rather than rabbis, priests, and pastors. Constitutional and unconstitutional have replaced orthodox and heretical.”  First amendment rights are being argued as the basis for opposing agendas and the interpretation of the Constitution itself is at the whim of political bias. Thus this incredible document alone cannot form the foundation for sustainable freedom. It needs to be supported by something else.

Guinness offers; “What the framers believed should complement and reinforce the Constitution and its separation of powers is the distinctive moral ecology that is at the heart of liberty.” French historian Alexis de Tocqueville called this moral ecology the “habits of the heart.” Guinness calls it “the golden triangle of freedom…freedom requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom.”

What resonates with me, as we have seen time and again in the political arena is the diminishing importance of virtue (character) that we see in our nation. We stress a written Constitution over the moral constitution of our nation’s citizenry and leadership. Unfortunately, examples of this are not hard to find.

Look at the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 when he was the sitting president. He was not convicted by the Senate of “high Crimes and Misdemeanors”(Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution), and the overall consensus to the whole “affair” was that the character of the president was irrelevant as a public issue. What really matters to our society is competence (or getting things done)– not character.  

Look at the unrestrained greed and unfettered capitalism  of the Wall Street crisis and the recession of 2008. Look at our most recent presidential election (sorry to bring it up again) which basically boiled down to which untrustworthy candidate America trusted more. Our nation has sown the wind by making faith and virtue a private matter; it is now reaping the whirlwind of having a President who is a loose cannon with personality flaws.

George Reedy, special assistant to Lyndon Johnson looked back on his experience in the halls of power and said, “in the White House, character and personality are extremely important because there are no other limitations…. Restraint must come from within the presidential soul and prudence from the presidential mind. The adversarial forces which temper the action of others do not come into play until it is too late to change course.”(The Twilight of the Presidency, 1970, p. 20)

In spite of their importance, experience and competence are not the most important ingredients to what we should look for in a leader. We need a person of character who has demonstrated trustworthiness in his/her private world as well as in the public square. It is not the rhetoric or the promises for the future, but it is what they have done about keeping their promises in the past, both privately and publicly.

I think Os Guinness borders on the profound when he says, “Externally character is the bridge that provides the point of trust that links leaders with their followers. Internally, character is the part-gyroscope, part-brake that provides a leader’s deepest source of bearings and strongest source of restraint when the dizzy heights of leadership mean there are no other limitations.”

Our Constitution is a magnificent document and we can be thankful for it. But let us not fool ourselves into thinking that our nation can be sustained by a document alone without the virtue of its leaders and citizenry. “A good government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual and slavery will ensue.” (John Witherspoon, the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence.)

Let us commit ourselves to pray for our country and for our President, regardless of your opinion (1 Timothy 2:2). And may God have mercy on America!

Do you see Giants?

I just read the account in Numbers 13 and 14 of the thirteen spies sent by Moses into the land that God had promised to lead them. This was after a miraculous deliverance from Egypt a year earlier. 

Read over these two chapters very slowly. They are filled with timely lessons for us. I want to briefly mention just one of those lessons that resonated with me at this time in my life. Notice the “bad report” of the eleven spies in 13:27-33 and compare it with the “good report” of Caleb and Joshua in 14:6-9. 

The eleven saw the giants, who kept getting bigger and bigger the more they told their story, inciting fear in the hearts of the people. The other two saw the Lord and His protection and presence,  encouraging the people not to fear and to claim God’s promise. 

So let me ask you a simple question as you look at your life and what you are facing or going to face. What do you see? Do you see the giants and are filled with fear or do you see the Lord who has delivered you from jaws of sin and death and will be with you to the end? 

It really does boil down to who do you trust: yourself and your ability (or lack thereof) to control your circumstances, or the Lord? The writer of Hebrews in chapters 3 and 4 would say it was the difference between “an unbelieving heart” and one who “holds fast to our assurance firm to the end.”

So I ask myself, “Dave, who do you see as you face your present circumstances and an uncertain future?”  I can honestly say, by God’s grace, that I see the Lord and am not afraid! How about you? 

Is this the greatest Easter painting of all time? – Mike Frost

http://mikefrost.net/homepage/greatest-easter-painting-time/

An Ash Wednesday Meditation: “Incline our Hearts, O Lord…”

In Psalm 119:33-40, the Psalmist recognizes his complete dependency upon God to do for him what he cannot do for himself. This is nowhere more clearly stated than in v. 36, “Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to covetousness.”

There are two things gleaned from this verse to consider on this Ash Wednesday, the day when we publicly declare our frailty and sin, as well as the hope of forgiveness that we have in the cross of Jesus Christ:

1)  In this verse there is a clear recognition of our sinful condition and corruption; that we are not naturally inclined to the things of God. David asks God to incline or bend his heart, which is not inclined to the law of God and not to leave him to his natural bent, which is to covetousness. (cf. Ps 141:4)

There are things towards which we are naturally inclined, but they are not the things of God. Paul’s depiction of the human condition in Romans 3 is hauntingly accurate; not only is there “no one righteous, no not one,” but there is “no one who understands or seeks after God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, no not one.” The Scripture is filled with examples of those who followed the natural inclinations of their hearts to covetousness at the expense of love and obedience to God:

  • Balaam whose desire for earthly gain caused him to rebel against the very strong warnings of God.
  • Ahab, whose desire for power blinded him to prophetic warnings and drove him to murderously possess what wasn’t his.
  • David, whose covetousness took the form of lust and brought sexual dysfunction into his family.
  • Achan, whose covetousness led him to steal and bring death to his family.
  • Judas, whose greed led him to betray our Lord Jesus and bring overwhelming guilt to himself.
  • Gehazi, whose greed led him to misuse his authority, lie to Elisha, and inherit Naaman’s leprosy.

This is why we believe (must believe) that God is sovereign in salvation and it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that anyone can overcome the inclinations of their own corrupt hearts and come to faith.

Jesus said, “This is why I told you that no one can come unto me me unless my Father draw him.” (John 6); “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 16); “Unless a man is born again, he cannot perceive the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3) Also, in Acts 16 we read, “And the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying.” (Acts 16)

And so, the Psalmist acknowledges the natural corruption and crookedness of his own heart and asks that he be bent in a God-ward direction. “Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to covetousness.”  I think David put this request in another way when in deep repentance he cries out in Ps 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in me.”

2) The second thing I glean from Ps 119:36 is that we need to be vigilant and pay close attention to the condition of our souls, even as believers. Paul warned the Ephesian Elders to “pay attention to yourselves and to your flock” and told Timothy to “pay attention to yourself and to your teaching.”

The reason is, once again, that even as believers (those for whom Christ died) we are still engaged in a struggle between the flesh and the Spirit; between the law of sin in our members and the law of our mind; between the things towards which we are naturally inclined and the things of God. St Augustine and Martin Luther both described our natural inclination as incurvatus in se, to be curved in upon ourselves. We are naturally drawn to those things which are a means to the end of satisfying and glorifying ourselves. SELF- the greatest enemy of the follower of Christ which is why we are told to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ. SELF- is the greatest enemy of the church; a failure to consider others above ourselves. SELF- the greatest enemy of relationships, especially marriage where I have learned that the opposite of love is not HATE, it is SELF!

There are a thousand forms of covetousness which flow out of our self-preoccupation and which dis-incline us to love and obey God:

“You cannot love God and mammon… you cannot serve two masters.” (Matt 6) “But the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (Mk 4) “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1 Tim 6) “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me…” (2 Tim 4)

Summary:

And so, we must come to the place along with the Psalmist and daily ask God to bend our hearts to His testimonies so we might listen, turn our eyes away from worthless things, and to love our God with our whole heart. This is the way of repentance, not just for today, but every day it should be our constant prayer; that our hearts be bent towards God, towards love and good works, and away from the natural inclination to love ourselves. If we are not vigilant in this repentance, then the weeds will grow and will begin to choke out the very life of God from our souls and make us unfruitful.

I will lift up my hands into your commandments which I have loved. Open my eyes and I shall see, incline my heart and I shall desire, order my steps and I shall walk in the way of your commandments.

O Lord, be my God, and let there be no other before you. Grant me to worship you and serve you according to your commandments: with truth in my spirit, with reverence in my body, with the blessing upon my lips – both in private and in public…

Help me to overcome evil with good, to be free from the love of money, and to be content with what I have. Help me to speak the truth in love, to be desirous not to lust, or to walk after the lusts of my flesh.

O Lord, help me: To bruise the serpent’s head. To consider the end of my days. To cut off occasions to sin…To make a covenant with my eyes. To bring my body into subjection. To give myself to prayer. To come to repentance. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 (A Prayer by Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, 1555-1628)