Welcome to the November 2005 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture quotes taken from the American Standard Version
A WORD FOR TODAY, November 2005
November 1, 2005
Saint The word saint refers to several different groups of people. A saint is one who has been set aside for special recognition for their lives of faith by the church. Yet, it also refers to all those who have died in the faith. The biblical witness gives a third definition, using the word saint to refer to all those who believe. Each Sunday we confess together our belief in the communion of saints, the fellowship of all believers throughout time and space. We gather together around the table of our Lord Jesus Christ and receive His body and blood with all those who believe from the beginning until the end. Even future generations - those who do not yet know the Lord - are with us in the liturgy, sacraments and the word because God promises it to be so.
We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, people throughout the ages that have lived and died for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through their testimony we see the love and mercy of God as they pass the things He taught and did from generation to generation. Not all of the people in that great cloud of witnesses have been recognized for their faith. Millions of Christians have died without fanfare or memorials, and yet in their own quiet way have touched our lives with their faith. It is for those Christians that we celebrate All Saints. Who are you remembering? Your parent, spouse or sibling? An old teacher or pastor? A neighbor, friend or relative? For many, this has been a difficult year, a year filled with loss to violence and disease. We have had plenty of reason to mourn.
Yet, All Saints Day is not really a day for mourning. It is a day to celebrate the promises of God. For a Christian, death is just a passing into new life in Christ, when we receive the blessings promised by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We weep over the loss of those we love, for they will never again join us in the laughter and pain of this world. Even Jesus wept, for in death we see the reality of sin and the grave. It is separation from those we love, an end to the blessings of life. When someone we love dies, we mourn the loss we feel because they are no longer with us, but we know that there is hope beyond the grave. Jesus made it possible. In His name we gather around the table of our Lord to celebrate the promise and get a foretaste of the feast to come.
And in this mountain will Jehovah of hosts make unto all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering that covereth all peoples, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He hath swallowed up death for ever; and the Lord Jehovah will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the reproach of his people will he take away from off all the earth: for Jehovah hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is Jehovah; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation. Isaiah 25:6-9 (ASV)
Those who believe in Jesus will receive blessing from the Lord, salvation from our Savior. We will see the day when mourning is turned to joy. We will feast at the victory table. Jesus overcomes even time and space by drawing all the saints - past, present and future - into one body. All Saints Day is sad as we remember those whose lives have slipped from our grasp, but it is also a joyous event as we remember that they are still with us as part of Christ's body. Jesus is the resurrection; He is our hope and life. He has overcome death and the grave and in Him alone is our hope for salvation. We will receive a blessing from the Lord, those who seek after Him and believe in His name. Thanks be to God.
Upside down I think my favorite magicians are Penn and Teller. There are other magicians that do more amazing feats, extraordinary acts that defy explanations. There are others who are more charismatic, who grab your attention with their showmanship, and who leave you with a sense of wonder. I enjoy watching those magicians too, but I prefer Penn and Teller.
The first time I saw them perform was on the show "Saturday Night Live." They were doing a simplistic yet amazing act with tissue ghosts making them fly up in the air and seemingly levitate above their heads. As with all magicians, I spend most of the act trying to figure out the trick, but I could not figure it out even though it seemed like it must be simple. The thing about Penn and Teller (and the reason other magicians do not like them) is that they give you the answer at the end they reveal their tricks. After several minutes of these dancing and flying tissue ghosts, the camera pulled back to reveal that Penn and Teller had been hanging upside down during the entire act. There was no magic involved in the flying ghosts they were simply dropping them to the floor. The dancing ghosts were on strings they held and moved. You'd think that this leaves the wonder out of the magic, and yet think about what those two men did. They spent five minutes hanging upside down without any evidence they were doing so. Their hair did not stand on end and their faces did not change colors. While I lost a sense of wonder about the flying and dancing ghosts, I left even more amazed by the real trick.
Yesterday was All Saints Day and we saw that the saints are not just those who have received the title or even just those who have died in faith. The saints include all those in Christ in every time and every place. The saints are those who have been blessed by God's grace and who lived, do live or will live in the faith that is a gift from God. That blessedness is not accompanied by some sort of giddy happiness or a life of prosperity and peace. Instead, Jesus calls those whose lives are ravaged by the world as "blessed."
"And seeing the multitudes, he went up into the mountain: and when he had sat down, his disciples came unto him: and he opened his mouth and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you." Matthew 5:1-12 (ASV)
We've talked about the Beatitudes so many times that it seems impossible to look at them from another perspective. We could spend weeks discussing in detail the meaning of each of these beautiful attitudes. Usually the perspective we see is that those who are poor in spirit, in mourning, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and persecuted will be blessed because of those things. It is certainly a perspective that makes sense in our world. If we have to suffer, then certainly we would like to think that we will find some reward through our faith in God.
Yet, what if we consider this upside down like the magic trick by Penn and Teller. What if the gift is not the blessedness, but rather the suffering? It has certainly proved true in the lives of the martyred saints that faith in Christ did not bring happiness, prosperity or peace. Even in our lives we experience those times of suffering during which we are witnesses to the grace of God. The suffering is a gift because as we live in faith through our suffering the mercy and grace of God is made manifest in our life and we are seen as blessed. In our suffering the world sees the kingdom of heaven, the comfort and mercy of God, the filling of our needs and our identity as sons. We look on the surface for the blessing but the reality in God's realm is that the blessedness is found much deeper and it is all from Him, not by any effort on our part. Thanks be to God.
Bankruptcy Frances Ridley Havergal was an author and poet who lived in the late 19th century. She was preparing for a prosperous new year when she wrote the following poem for her Christmas cards. "Another year is dawning, Dear Father, let it be, In working or in waiting, Another year with Thee; Another year of progress, Another year of praise, Another year of proving They presence all the days." Shortly after writing this prayerful poem, she received news that her work would not be published in America because her publisher had gone bankrupt. She could have been bitterly disappointed because the publisher had promised great things for her and the bankruptcy put a halt to her plans.
However, she bore the crisis with peace because she had a hope and a promise that is greater than man. She knew the Lord and His faithfulness. Though she was counting on the American deal financially and for further exposure of her work, she firmly held on to God's faithfulness. She wrote to a friend, "I really had not expected that HE would do for me so much above all I asked, as not merely to help me to acquiesce in this, but positively not to feel it at all, and only to rejoice in it as a clear test of the reality of victorious faith which I do find brightening almost daily."
Thomas a Kempis once said, "Why art thou disquieted; because it happeneth not to thee according to thy wishes and desires? Who is he that hath everything according to his will? Neither I, nor thou, nor any man upon earth." We will face disappointment in our life. We will be disappointed by people and by the circumstances that do not go our way. The true test of our faith is how we deal with those disappointments.
"Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified, even as also it is with you; and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and evil men; for all have not faith. But the Lord is faithful, who shall establish you, and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command. And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patience of Christ." 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 (ASV)
The Lord is faithful, even when the world around us seems to have no faith. He gives you peace and strength to get through all your disappointments. When we are disappointed, we can look to the Lord and His promises and know that we will not be disappointed by that hope we have in Him. When the world fails us, like the publisher failed Frances Ridley Havergal, there is one that will never fail us. He will establish us and guard us from the evil one. He will direct our hearts so that we can wait patiently for the day when we will see the fulfillment of His covenant and fully experience His grace for eternity. Until that day, disappointments will come, we will suffer pain, but we can do so with peace knowing God's presence in our lives. Thanks be to God.
Deer This is the first weekend of deer season here in Texas and many hunters are preparing to go out into the woods to hunt. I'm sure similar preparations are going on in many other places for hunting trips, if not for this weekend, then very soon. Many people look forward to these trips every year.
There has been an odd phenomenon reported in the news this year, almost as if the deer are fighting back. There have been numerous reports of deer crashing through windows. In Bentonville Arkansas, a deer crashed through the bedroom window of a woman's home. Her father happened to be there at the time and he wrestled the deer until he broke its neck. The deer was so upset by his surroundings he apparently did not expect to end up in a woman's bedroom that he trying to climb the walls to get away. In Alma Michigan, a deer was spotted walking through the hallway of a hospital. A nurse blocked his way so that he would not enter into any patient rooms while her coworkers quickly shut all the doors. They covered the deer's head to calm him down, then tied his feet and rolled it out of the building on a cart. The deer had to be put to rest because his wounds from crashing through the window were too bad to be healed.
Finally, from St. Minnesota we have the story of a deer attacking the state capital building. He nearly harmed Governor Tim Pawlenty as he was charging through the hallways. The deer eventually escaped and has not yet been found. This weekend is also the opening of hunting season in Minnesota so many people have quipped that the deer are just getting a head start at vengeance. Of course there is a logical explanation for the upsurge in deer encounters. The deer population is high this year, many of which have moved into urban developments. It is mating season, a time when male deer are more aggressive and territorial. When these male deer see reflections of themselves in plate glass windows, they think they are seeing another male, so they charge. The end up crashing through glass and find themselves inside a building or face to face with humans. That which began as a natural inclination turned out to be a very dangerous action.
"As the hart panteth after the water brooks, So panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, While they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? These things I remember, and pour out my soul within me, How I went with the throng, and led them to the house of God, With the voice of joy and praise, a multitude keeping holyday. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him For the help of his countenance. O my God, my soul is cast down within me: Therefore do I remember thee from the land of the Jordan, And the Hermons, from the hill Mizar. Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterfalls: All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me. Yet Jehovah will command his lovingkindness in the day-time; And in the night his song shall be with me, Even a prayer unto the God of my life. I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? As with a sword in my bones, mine adversaries reproach me, While they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him, Who is the help of my countenance, and my God." Psalm 42 (ASV)
We have a natural inclination to do a great many things that are dangerous to our health and safety. Like the deer, we often act upon our desires, only to find ourselves trapped in some great difficulty. However, we have been created with a deeper longing, a spiritual hunger and thirst that nothing in this world will ever feed. We may try to find satisfaction in material things or work, in false religions that worship unworthy gods. When we chase after these things that are meaningless, we find ourselves unsatisfied and even troubled.
Only God can give us the water of life that will quench the thirst in our souls. Only He can give us the comfort and peace we seek. Only God, who has manifest Himself in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, can fulfill all our needs. Only He deserves our praise. Thanks be to God.
Decorations Bruce has been preparing our Christmas decorations for this year. I know it seems a bit early, but he is building a nativity scene for our front yard. It takes time to cut, sand and paint the plywood so that it looks attractive. We are also planning a display of Victorian skaters on a pond with deer on the shore. The house will be outlined with lights and embellished with other decorations. I suppose many people would consider this a waste of time and money. Doing a Christmas display is not inexpensive the materials and the electricity cost money and we all have busy schedules that leave little room for hobbies. It might seem wasteful, we could use that time and money to do other things like serve our neighbor or feed the poor. Yet, we do it because it brings joy and it gives witness to our faith.
I went to visit a show in San Antonio called "St. Peter and the Vatican." It was an exhibit that tells the story of Rome and the Roman Catholic Church. The history was fascinating and the exhibit was well done. I have to admit that I was at times shocked by the opulence on display. There were papal tiaras with weighty jewels and vestments made with gold and silk. Since I come from a faith tradition that rebelled against such lavishness, I could not help wonder about the waste of resources that could have been used to serve their neighbors or feed the poor. Yet, I can see that this is one way that the Roman church brings honor to God.
There is a long history of such opulence. Solomon's temple was not humble and unadorned. The finest materials were used because Solomon was willing to give everything to pay honor and respect to the God of his fathers. It may have seemed like a waste of time and money, after all, God does not live in a house of stone. Yet, the temple offered a place for all believers to gather to worship God and it is never a waste if it brings glory to God. The problem Jesus had with the opulence found in the temple was that much was given to bring glory to man. However, he uplifted those who gave everything for His sake and whose gifts from the heart acted as witness to God's mercy and grace.
"Jesus therefore six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus raised from the dead. So they made him a supper there: and Martha served; but Lazarus was one of them that sat at meat with him. Mary therefore took a pound of ointment of pure nard, very precious, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, that should betray him, saith, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred shillings, and given to the poor? Now this he said, not because he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and having the bag took away what was put therein. Jesus therefore said, Suffer her to keep it against the day of my burying. For the poor ye have always with you; but me ye have not always." John 12:1-8 (ASV)
It might be a waste of our time to go to so much trouble for our Christmas display, but it is our hope that someone who sees it as they pass by might wonder about the joy of the birth of Christ and seek to know more about Him. We hope that it acts as a witness to our faith, so that others will come to know Jesus Christ and His saving grace. Though I was sometimes shocked by the opulence of the artifacts on display in the exhibit, I'm drawn to this story of Mary's gift to Jesus. The perfume she wasted, according to the disciples, brought joy to Jesus and honored Him. Her witness was not only something they could see, the smell of the perfume filled the room. The money might have done well to feed the poor, but as Jesus said "the poor will always be with us." Perhaps some of those things were a waste and did honor man instead of God. However, I have to believe that there were those throughout the history of Christ's Church no matter what their faith tradition who gave abundantly out of humble faith in an effort to bring glory to God. Just like Mary, they were willing to appear foolish with their resources to honor God with an extravagant gesture.
Todays Word is a repeat from November 8, 2002
Evidence Evidence means, "testimony in proof of something." For evidence to be admissible, it must be clear and must provide a fair representation of the facts to the judge and jury. The testimony can be oral, by a person who witnessed the event or who can give character information of those involved. Other types of evidence may be physical, such as pictures, video, objects found at the scene or other such things. The evidence may directly support the case, or may be circumstantial. Circumstantial evidence means that the facts can be reasonably deduced from the testimony.
Any sort of lawsuit or criminal trial is dependent on the evidence provided. The testimony is based on the words of witnesses and the items that are presented in the case. Of course, evidence is important outside the courts. I have found myself quickly reacting to situations with my children because I was not fully aware of the evidence. I jumped to conclusions without getting the facts. How often do we make decisions and judgments without looking studying all the issues?
Sometimes we have to trust people and circumstances with little evidence. There have been times that I have just had to accept the word of my children because there was nothing to prove what they say. We often purchase products based on their advertisements. We must just believe the word of God. Many people are not willing to just believe based on the oral testimony of Christians or the written testimony found in the scriptures. They seek physical proof of the existence of God. We can see the truth of God in everything around us in His creation. Psalm 104 speaks of God's mighty hand as He made everything and set the waters in motion. The psalmist gives praise to God for the animals, the earth and the heavens.
"O Jehovah, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: The earth is full of thy riches. Yonder is the sea, great and wide, Wherein are things creeping innumerable, Both small and great beasts. There go the ships; There is leviathan, whom thou hast formed to play therein. These wait all for thee, That thou mayest give them their food in due season. Thou givest unto them, they gather; Thou openest thy hand, they are satisfied with good. Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled; Thou takest away their breath, they die, And return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created; And thou renewest the face of the ground." Psalm 104:24-30 (ASV)
Though this evidence will do nothing to change the mind of one who has judged that God does not exist, creation does provide constant reminders to those with faith that God is very close and active with His people. I find it impossible to walk out my door without seeing the hand of God in the landscape, people and circumstances that come my way. I pray today, as you go about your work, you will look for God in everything in the running water, in the laughter of children, in the food upon your plate. God's works are many, His love is complete, and His provision is very real. You can know this by the evidence of His creation, but you must have faith. Thankfully, He gives that too. Thanks be to God.
Claim I've been working on the business of my father's estate for nearly a month and I have been learning so much about the process and about business. I went into this with the expectation that it would only take a month or two to settle all his accounts, but several people have warned that it will be more like a year or two. I don't think it will take that long, especially since much of the paperwork has already been completed and mailed.
Some of the financial transfers have been completed, so I've been able to pay of some of his bills. However, there are others to be paid that must wait until more money is freed. Some of the creditors have been very patient, but others have already contacted lawyers to deal with collection. It is amazing how slow some aspects of this process can be while others go very fast. It seems like the things that would be helpful to our work go slow and the things that go fast are to the benefit of the creditors. I'm left unable to pay the bills and harassed until I have the money.
In one case, my father had begun a claim for unclaimed property in his home state. It was very easy to get the paperwork for me to be the recipient of this property. I filled it out and sent it quickly. The other day I received an acknowledgement that the claim was received. The card assured me that they would like to move quickly to return the property as soon as possible; however it would take months because they have to do the appropriate research to ensure that they are giving the property to the right person. One day, after everything is finished, I will receive a surprise in the mail when the finally send that check.
Things don't always happen on our time line. When we expect things to happen quickly, they move very slowly and vice versa. I suppose that's just the way of the world. When we need or want something it does not come, but when we are avoiding something it is right on our back. I suppose in some ways it is simply our perspective. It might not really be moving that slowly, but it seems that way to us. The whole process of dealing with my father's estate has gone on for less than a month and much is already complete. I may want it to go faster, but everything takes time.
"But it is not as though the word of God hath come to nought. For they are not all Israel, that are of Israel: neither, because they are Abraham's seed, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, it is not the children of the flesh that are children of God; but the children of the promise are reckoned for a seed. For this is a word of promise, According to this season will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. And not only so; but Rebecca also having conceived by one, even by our father Isaac for the children being not yet born, neither having done anything good or bad, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth, it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. Even as it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy." Romans 9:6-16 (ASV)
As we look at the world we often wonder how God is going to manage to fulfill His promises. The chaos and confusion is overwhelming. Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. Things do not happen according to our time and expectation. We have plenty to fear and to worry about as we go through our daily living. Yet, God is faithful and His promises are true. We don't live in fear or worry because He has promised us something greater than this world beyond this day. God does have mercy: mercy and grace gets us through all our difficulties. We might think that the word of God has failed as we wait impatiently for everything to be completed. Yet, there is still work to be done, people for whom God's mercy has yet to be revealed.
When it comes to the work of my father's estate, I can only go forth day by day and do what can be done as it can be done. The creditors will simply have to wait until the money has been made available. I need not worry, for everything is going well and time just seems to be passing slowly or quickly according to my own perceptions. As for faith, we are called to go forth into the world knowing that God is faithful and His promises are true. We can trust in His promises even when they seem to be taking too long to be fulfilled. Thanks be to God.
"Give-up-itis" Viktor Frankl experienced Auschwitz and Dachau. He'd been condemned to a living death, as so many who were affected by the horrors of the holocaust. It was humiliating to be treated like an animal, stripped, whipped, shaved and put into prison. He lost many family members, who either died in the camps or were sent to the gas ovens. He had every right to lose hope, what did he have to look forward to? Yet, Viktor knew that the only thing that kept him alive in the midst of the cold, fear, starvation, pain, lice and vermin, dehumanization, exhaustion and terror was hope. Faith in the future kept him going day by day. When a person could not see the future they gave up. Many prisoners just stopped living, they refused to move off their beds, wash or dress, even when they were threatened by the guards. They no longer cared, they had no hope and so gave up. This is what Viktor called "give-up-itis."
We can almost understand giving up under such extreme circumstances, and yet looking at those who survived we can see that God did amazing things through their lives. When we think of the record that has been written by those who lived through the horrors, and the lessons they've shared, we are thankful that they never lost hope. Otherwise, we might have lost their witness, not only to the horrors of what happened at the hands of the Nazis, but also the amazing grace of God.
"Give-up-itis" is found in others, such as those who were prisoners of war, but I don't think it is limited to people who are in extreme circumstances. Have you ever known someone who felt there was no hope in their job or their relationships, and so they just gave up on them? They stop working to make things better. When there is no room for promotion, a worker will only do what is necessary to get through every day at the job. When there seems to be no future in a marriage, a couple will give up and stop trying to build up their relationship. "Give-up-itis" even affects simple things in life. We give up when we do not see the possibilities of the next moment.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, ye have been put to grief in manifold trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth though it is proved by fire, may be found unto praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ: whom not having seen ye love; on whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice greatly with joy unspeakable and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls. Concerning which salvation the prophets sought and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them. To whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto you, did they minister these things, which now have been announced unto you through them that preached the gospel unto you by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven; which things angel desire to look into." 1 Peter 1:3-12 (ASV)
When we hear the stories of those who survived the holocaust, we have to wonder how they managed to get through every day. Yet, Viktor Frankl knew the answer courage and strength is found in the hope for tomorrow. Though there seemed to be no reason for hope, the survivors had faith that there would be a tomorrow. For some, that faith was in God and His promises.
We may never face anything so horrifying as concentration camps or ovens, but we do often face circumstances that might leave us without hope. When we do not look beyond this moment, it is easy to give up and let something inside us die. Yet, those of us in Christ have something greater even than the future life we might live in this world. Whatever it is ewe face, we have an inextinguishable hope because that hope comes from God. We might want to give up our job, our relationships or our activities when we seem to be failing, but God gives us the strength to go on because we know that even if we are at the end of our rope, there is something beyond this day toward which we are journeying. Knowing this gives us the courage and the strength to get through our every day troubles until that day when everything will be fulfilled. Thanks be to God.
Noncitizens Today is Veteran's Day in the United States, a time for remembering and thanking those who have served in the military over the years. Their sacrifices both in death and in life have impacted the world. The impact has not always been positive, but very often the soldiers are men and women who are willing to go into the world for the sake of justice and peace, and they have done good things.
It seems like every year we hear the stories of specific people, often part of specific groups. There are writers that have researched the service of groups falling into a unique category of people. Much has been said about the commitment of African Americans, particularly those who were part of the 369th Army Regiment and the Tuskegee Airmen. They were heroes in the midst of difficulties -- insulted, harassed and unappreciated for many years.
One of the little known categories of people are foreigners who have fought for America. A woman in San Antonio has been fascinated by her grandfather's story and has decided it is a story that needs to be heard. He was a Mexican living in America during the Korean War and he volunteered to serve. She has discovered that his story is not unusual many other foreigners over the years have chosen to go to war for the sake of U.S. freedoms and interests. These men, and perhaps women, knew the U.S. offered boundless opportunity and it was worth their sacrifice.
It is interesting that the men who served as foreigners in the United States military were not afraid of death, but they were concerned about the possibility of capture. They had no papers proclaiming them to be U.S. citizens, but as residents of the United States their home country would be unlikely to stand up for them. Many of these soldiers became citizens after serving in the military, and for many it was a dream even before they moved to the United States. Yet, they willingly served as foreigners, giving their lives for the sake of a country to whom they did not belong.
"Wherefore remember, that once ye, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision, in the flesh, made by hands; that ye were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus ye that once were far off are made nigh in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who made both one, and brake down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in the flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; that he might create in himself of the two one new man, so making peace; and might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and he came and preached peace to you that were far off, and peace to them that were nigh: for through him we both have our access in one Spirit unto the Father. So then ye are no more strangers and sojourners, but ye are fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone; in whom each several building, fitly framed together, groweth into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit." Ephesians 2:11-22 (ASV)
We are made citizens of the kingdom of heaven and even better, children of the king through our baptism into Christ. Yet, we still must live in this world. We are called as children of God to serve those to whom we have been sent, foreigners living in the midst of the sin and darkness that surrounds those who've not heard God's Word and received that faith that will make them part of the kingdom. It would be very easy for us to say that it is not our problem we have faith and so we need not take the risks necessary to share the Gospel. After all, it is dangerous business being witnesses for the Christ who is hated by the world. However, our Lord has brought us into faith so that we will go out and take those risks for the sake of the world so that they too might hear and believe. This is true love to give ourselves for the sake of others no matter what consequences we might face. This is the love Christ shared with us when He died for our sake, though we were enemies to God. Now, let us share that mercy and serve in this world even though we are foreigners and strangers. Thanks be to God.
Search We are trying to do some special Advent calendars for the members of our congregation this year, to help grow disciples by encouraging daily time in God's Word. We want to ensure that each member of the family has something that will be interesting and appropriate for their point of view. Young children won't need a devotional that has words to read, teenagers don't want a picture calendar and adults need something that will continue to teach and challenge them in their faith. We found some really wonderful resources in some catalogues, but costs are often out of reach particularly at the end of the year when budgets are already being stretched.
One day I stopped into a store that has a greeting card department and found the most adorable stickers of the nativity. I bought every pack which I am planning to use with the preschool kids with whom I still do a weekly Bible story time. I want to tell them about the crθche and then give each child one of these pages of stickers so that they can create their own manger scene. I realized these sheets each have twenty four stickers just enough for an advent calendar. I designed a page with places for each sticker and found appropriate scripture for each day. It will look almost professional when it is printed and it did not cost us nearly as much as we might have spent for a similar item.
Unfortunately, I've had trouble finding enough packs of stickers. I went into another local store that carries the same brand and they had nothing on the display. I tried another store, still no luck. I decided that perhaps I needed to check out other locations of the same store where I found the first stickers, so I spent several hours today searching the city for these cities. I've asked for help from store workers and employees of the company, but they are all unable to order more of these stickers for me. I was disappointed and ready to give up when I stopped at just one more store and there I found another six packs of the stickers. There was hope.
"Now we that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each one of us please his neighbor for that which is good, unto edifying. For Christ also pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell upon me. For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that through patience and through comfort of the scriptures we might have hope. Now the God of patience and of comfort grant you to be of the same mind one with another according to Christ Jesus: that with one accord ye may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, even as Christ also received you, to the glory of God. For I say that Christ hath been made a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, that he might confirm the promises given unto the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, Therefore will I give praise unto thee among the Gentiles, And sing unto thy name. And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; And let all the peoples praise him. And again, Isaiah saith, There shall be the root of Jesse, And he that ariseth to rule over the Gentiles; On him shall the Gentiles hope. Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:1-13 (ASV)
We still do not have enough stickers to make enough calendars for all the children we hope to share this calendar, so we may have to purchase something different to be used for our church. Yet, now that I know for sure those stickers can be found in other places I will keep looking. There are dozens of stores that might have them. It could be a time consuming search, but well worth it.
A great many people are searching for something to fill their lives with hope. They seek such hope in a variety of places at work, in relationships with other people and in their homes. All too often the things they think will give them peace and joy let them down because they are imperfect. My own search for stickers could fail. However, in Christ we are given a hope that does not disappoint even when we see failure and uncertainty. God is with us, He is faithful and by His grace He has promised us mercy and forgiveness. We can rest in these promises and sacrifice for the sake of another because we know that God will never disappoint. This hope in which we live gives us the courage and the strength to go on day by day, no matter our circumstances, so that others will see God's praise and glory through our lives. In this they might too find the hope they seek and turn to Christ as Lord and Savior. Thanks be to God.
Cold It has been rather warm in Texas this fall, warmer than normal. Some days have even been hotter than we would like and we've had no appreciable rain for some time. It is November and I'm still putting on the air conditioner some days and we still water the lawn occasionally. The weathermen have been talking about cold fronts that are expected to come through. For the past three weeks there has been the promise of change. It seemed like every forecast included a prediction of a cold front and cooler temperatures in just two or three days. When the day arrives, the cold front misses us. It moves too quickly or does not drop far enough south, so we are left with warm weather and no rain.
We live in expectation and that expectation is founded upon promises. We hope for good things to happen at our jobs because we received the promise of our employers for growth. We hope for success in our marriages because we promised one another that we would love each other through better and worse. We hope for great things from out children because they've shown such promise in school, sports and other activities. Yet, things are not always good. The promotion seems to take forever, and we are disappointed when others get the step up we were hoping to receive. Every marriage faces bumpy patches as outside forces create friction as is true in every relationship. Our children don't always fulfill our expectations and we are left wondering if they will ever succeed. The promise of happiness seems to be right around the corner, but somehow misses us.
"And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: and Jesus also was bidden, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when the wine failed, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. And Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. Now there were six waterpots of stone set there after the Jews' manner of purifying, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the ruler of the feast. And they bare it. And when the ruler of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and knew not whence it was (but the servants that had drawn the water knew), the ruler of the feast calleth the bridegroom, and saith unto him, Every man setteth on first the good wine; and when men have drunk freely, then that which is worse: thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of his signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed on him." John 2:1-11 (ASV)
Mary knew from the time before Jesus was even conceived that He would do great things. She probably had some expectations, based not only on the promise of God but also of her knowledge of the world, for what He would accomplish. Yet, He was now about thirty years old and not following in the path she saw for Him. He'd gathered a rag-tag group of men who seemed to have no future. They were a bunch of low-class uneducated men, some of whom seemed to have nothing better to do than to be disciples of the latest prophet.
Mary had been waiting for so long for the promise for Jesus to lead His people and fulfill all that God had sent Him to do. So, as any good mother, Mary pushed Jesus. "Do this, for me." Jesus told her that it was not yet His time, and yet He did fulfill her wishes. Mary did not always see clearly Jesus' purpose and she even tried to divert His path, Jesus knew the right time and the right way to complete the work of salvation. While Mary might have moments of disappointment, when Jesus did not meet her every expectation, in the end she saw her salvation at the cross on which her son had been hung.
While we might be disappointed that the weather is not changing as we would hope, we do know that there is a promise that will not disappoint. Even when our life does not seem to be going exactly the way we would hope when our jobs, relationships and children seem to be taking more time than we expected we know there is something on which we can count. Jesus knows the right time and He will fulfill all He has promised. Thanks be to God.
Outdoor store There is a new breed of retail establishment popping up all over the country. There are different stores, with different names, that have a similar arrangement and product line. These stores sell sporting goods, mostly camping, hunting and fishing. The stores are huge, designed to be more than just a place to buy your supplies, but to also visit and enjoy. The one we visited had huge aquariums stocked with local fish. There was also a mountain in the center of the store with stuffed examples of the many different animals that have been hunted all over the world. Another display showed different types of deer and yet another exhibit had safari animals. There was a restaurant and even a gift shop. I have very little interest in the activities promoted in this kind of store, but I enjoyed the trip.
We went because we were curious. Zack, being a boy scout, was excited about the different camping products and we might return to purchase things he can use. We found a few things to buy that day a stuffed animal, some candy, a camera bag and clothes. My curiosity was sated and we had a good time. This has not always worked out as well. I have gone into stores that seemed like they might have some interesting product, but found that they did not have anything of interest.
Jesus had a loyal following of friends, but He also had a great many people seek Him out of curiosity. Either they'd heard about His miracles or they wanted to test His knowledge. They did not believe in Him, but they wanted to see for themselves what Jesus had to say. Occasionally someone would believe, but most often the people just kept walking. There were some who even early in His ministry knew that Jesus would have to be stopped.
"But when it was now the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught. The Jews therefore marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned? Jesus therefore answered them and said, My teaching is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself. He that speaketh from himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh the glory of him that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him. Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you doeth the law? Why seek ye to kill me? The multitude answered, Thou hast a demon: who seeketh to kill thee?" John 7:14-20 (ASV)
Jesus was in Jerusalem during a major feast, so the town was filled with pilgrims and visitors from distant lands. This was still rather early in His ministry and there were probably many in the crowd who had not yet heard about Jesus. When He began to speak, it was obvious to the crowds that He was not what they expected because His words were like those that had studied but He did appear to be a scholar. He answered well, but then He told them they were not obeying the Law and asked why they were trying to kill Him. This made no sense to the gathering crowd, especially since they were in Jerusalem doing what they were supposed to do during that feast and they could not figure out why anyone would want to kill Jesus. They weren't interested in Jesus, they were in Jerusalem for another reason. They may have stopped by out of curiosity, but they did not stick around the words He was speaking were beyond their understanding and they did not believe.
Collar Felix and Tigger wear collars, though neither of them like having it around their neck. We are required to license our pets in our town, a very inexpensive fee that is really a benefit to the family and to the cats. Though they live indoors all the time, there is always the risk that one of them will get out and run away. If they are found by someone, the tags will help officials find us and bring them home. The only way they can wear the tags is if they are hung from a collar. Each collar also has a jingle bell, which helps us to know where they are.
One of the difficulties with having cats is that they are able to climb in the most extraordinary places. I've found Tigger lying on Bruce's pants that were hanging in his closet. Can you imagine that? Tigger climbed through the hangers as they hung on the pole and laid down. Wearing a collar can be dangerous for cats because they crawl in tight spaces. They can easily get caught on something and hang themselves. This is why they have special safety collars which can easily break free if the cat gets trapped.
Unfortunately, this also makes the collar relatively easy for the cats to get off, especially Felix who has always been known for ingenuity. When he wants something, he manages to make it happen. He's been known to open doors, jump out of windows, climb to the highest points in our house and hide where he can't be found. He also gets out of his collar. It has happened several times. The collar just disappears. The most recent incident sent the entire family on a search throughout the house. We looked in all the places where he might have left it, checked under his favorite cushions and in his favorite corners. We even asked the cats where it was left.
This might seem very strange, but we are sure if he could answer Tigger could tell us. He likes to play with collars we once gave him Felix's old collar because it has a bell and is the perfect size for him to carry. I was in the den today, working on the computer when I looked at Tigger resting nearby. There, in the middle of the floor was Felix's collar. I don't know how it got there, though I tend to think Tigger found it and decided to play with it. It certainly was not there yesterday. It was missing for days and just showed up this morning.
"My son, if thou wilt receive my words, And lay up my commandments with thee; so as to incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thy heart to understanding; yea, if thou cry after discernment, and lift up thy voice for understanding; if thou seek her as silver, And search for her as for hid treasures: then shalt thou understand the fear of Jehovah, And find the knowledge of God. For Jehovah giveth wisdom; Out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding: he layeth up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to them that walk in integrity; that he may guard the paths of justice, And preserve the way of his saints." Proverbs 2:1-8 (ASV)
We spent days searching for Felix's collar and today it just showed up. We spent time looking, but eventually just hoped that Tigger would bring it out into the open as he's done before. A great many people in our world today spend a lot of time seeking knowledge intellectual and spiritual. The world hungers to know God, to understand His kingdom and to find ways in which we can live according to His Word. Yet, a great many of those people seek the wrong kinds of knowledge in all the wrong places and call what they find "wisdom". They try to fill the hole in their heart with false Gospel, with false gods, with false understandings of Christ. The mystery of God is hidden, and though we should never stop seeking to know more about Him, He will be revealed to those who are willing to hear His Word and believe. Wisdom is a gift of God that is out of our reach. However, it is readily available for those who patiently wait, listen and receive all that God has to give. Thanks be to God.
Storytime Even though I am no longer teaching at the preschool at our church, I still meet with the children once a week to do a bible story time. It is the most wonderful experience because for just a few minutes I am privileged to share Jesus with those children. We meet in different places in the classroom, on the playground and even in the church. Today we gathered around the altar which is set up for Thanksgiving.
The children have been preparing for a special program next week. Instead of doing something around Christmas when everyone is so busy our preschool does a program for Thanksgiving. This is a chance for the children to show the songs they have learned so far and to show their thankfulness. The group then celebrates with a feast of popcorn, fruit juice and treats. Since they have been working on this program, they are well aware of the holiday next week. All this month the preschool has focused on giving thanks. I decided to take advantage of this knowledge and share with them about thanksgiving in the church.
Since they were in the sanctuary, I met with them around the altar. I asked them about their favorite Thanksgiving food and whether or not their tables will be packed with food next week. I told them how our table would be so full there would almost be no room for plates! Then I pointed to the altar and asked them what it was called. I was hoping that they would eventually see that it looks like a table, but one smart young lady recognized it immediately. I told them the story of the last supper and how we celebrate that meal with Jesus every time we come to the altar for communion and how we thanksgiving is not something we do only once a year.
After these things I heard as it were a great voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, Hallelujah; Salvation, and glory, and power, belong to our God: for true and righteous are his judgments; for he hath judged the great harlot, her that corrupted the earth with her fornication, and he hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand. And a second time they say, Hallelujah. And her smoke goeth up for ever and ever. And the four and twenty elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshipped God that sitteth on the throne, saying, Amen; Hallelujah. And a voice came forth from the throne, saying, Give praise to our God, all ye his servants, ye that fear him, the small and the great. And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunders, saying, Hallelujah: for the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigneth. Let us rejoice and be exceeding glad, and let us give the glory unto him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And it was given unto her that she should array herself in fine linen, bright and pure: for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they that are bidden to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are true words of God." Revelation 19:1-9 (ASV)
This weekend most Americans will be preparing for the great Thanksgiving feast they will hold next week, but few will be thinking about the even greater feast that is being prepared for us. We remember whenever we approach the altar our Lord's table to receive communion which is a foretaste of the feast to come. At that moment we are feasting with all the saints, we are outside time and space and are enjoying the fellowship with all believers that we will know fully when the time comes. It might not seem like much right now a small piece of bread and a few drops of wine. Yet, when we finally see the Day, the feast will be greater than any Thanksgiving meal we could ever think to prepare. Thanks be to God.
Infomercials I was awake very early Sunday morning and just could not get back to sleep. I did not want to disturb Bruce, so I got up and went to the living room to watch some TV. I began at the beginning of the dial and just started surfing, hoping to find something interesting to watch. Most of the stations had one of three choices. A few stations had some sort of religious programming. Even fewer had news. Most of the stations had infomercials.
These half hour commercials are designed to look like real television shows. Some of them are even listed on the programming with a title rather than just the words 'paid programming.' They often have a host interviewing guests that appear to be experts in some field. They have other guests that rave about some book or product, probably created by the main guest. In the end you discover that it has all been a sales pitch for that book or product and you are given the information necessary to purchase it for yourself. If you don't do so, your life will be incomplete.
The products include everything from appliances, books, exercise equipment or programs, beauty aids, business opportunities, sports, music, self-help, instruction (in everything from potty training to languages to scientific research). You can buy things for your kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, garage and yard. There are products available that will help your marriage, your parenting skills, your work and your inner self. As you listen to these infomercials, you realize that your life is empty and that you need whatever they are selling to make your life whole.
Of course this is not true. Though some of the products might be useful, we certainly do not need to have them to be whole. I think it is ironic that the stations are filled with these infomercials on a Sunday morning. It is most certainly because the cost of air time early on a Sunday morning is relatively inexpensive. Since the company is not just buying thirty seconds of time but rather thirty minutes, they must do it at a time they can afford. Television viewing is low on a Sunday morning because we are busy people who like to try to sleep in at least one day a week.
Yet, there are many people who are searching for something to fill the void in their life but they are not active in a church. They are seeking wholeness and often look for it on the television. Sunday is when they have the time to think about these things, but they have no desire to go out to a place of worship to hear about God. Instead, they watch television, find these infomercials and are drawn to the promises. They think that the new self-help book or business opportunity will change their life. They think that if they have just one more thing they will feel like their life is complete. Unfortunately, the promises of infomercials and the accumulation of stuff do not fill the void.
"Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live: and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David." Isaiah 55:1-3 (ASV)
Some of the products sold on those infomercials might just be worthwhile items to have in our homes. The instruction programs might just teach us something valuable. The books might just have something important to say. Yet, we should never consider these things solutions to our problems or ways to fill the emptiness in our lives. All too often these products do not do as they have promised. There is a greater product to buy and it doesn't even cost anything. It is given freely by our faithful Lord and it will not be a disappointment. It is the promise of God of forgiveness and the peace that comes from knowing the mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him we find wholeness and by the power of His Holy Spirit we are made complete. Thanks be to God.
Comment It is a story that we hear regularly someone makes a comment in a personal discussion that becomes public knowledge. The comment is usually something offensive to someone not for the person to whom it was originally spoken, but to others. Take, for instance, two friends are discussing work and one blurts out something about a co-worker. In the heat of discussion, blame may be laid on some aspect of the co-worker's life. Perhaps it is a gender or racial joke, a religious reference or something about appearances. The friends would not normally say such things in public or to the person about whom they are talking.
I recently saw a story about a man who spoke something in private that became public. The comment was hurtful and he is now making national headlines because of what he said. When interviewed, he said, "There are just some things said in private that are not meant for public knowledge." While this is true, secrets are not easily kept. We often speak in the heat of the moment with the expectation that they will never be heard again. However, our words often come back to bite us. Our conversations are overheard or they are passed on to others. Eventually the words we say come out in the open. We would never say those words to the face of the person about whom they were spoken and we probably would say we don't even mean it.
"And knowing their thoughts he said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: and if Satan casteth out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebub cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges. But if I by the Spirit of God cast out demons, then is the kingdom of God come upon you. Or how can one enter into the house of the strong man, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathereth not with me scattereth. Therefore I say unto you, Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in that which is to come. Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree corrupt, and its fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by its fruit. Ye offspring of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. The good man out of his good treasure bringeth forth good things: and the evil man out of his evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. And I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." Matthew 12:25-37 (ASV)
Families are preparing to gather together for Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Many families are dealing with difficulties sibling rivalry, ancient hurts and differences of opinion. As people sit together and share their feelings, their hopes and their dreams, it is likely that words will be spoken that can cause deeper hurts and greater division. Some complaint made in a private conversation will most likely come out in the open.
Our scripture reminds us that what comes out of our mouth comes from our hearts. When we hold on to bitterness or hurts, we are more likely to say something we may not wish to be known. What we need to remember is that secrets do not remain hidden. If we do not want something to be made public, then we should think twice about saying it. As we gather with our families this week, let us say only that which will build up our brothers and sisters even when we are in a private conversation with someone we trust.
Decorations We began decorating for Christmas this weekend. I say started because we still have a great deal of work to do to complete the process. It seems like our display grows a little bit every year, and now it takes us days to get everything accomplished. After the decorating, we have so many other things to accomplish our cards, shopping, and food preparation. In between all the preparations, we will gather with friends to enjoy their hospitality and fellowship, to share the Christmas joy with one another.
It might seem like to much to some people, a waste of time and a focus on all the wrong things. After all, what do cookies have to do with salvation, and why are we using pagan practices to honor God? Admittedly, Jesus often gets lost in the hustle and bustle of the holiday. The stampeding crowds in the stores on Friday certainly were not living the Spirit of Christmas as found in the story of Jesus' birth. Jesus came to bring forgiveness, peace and light to the world. So, perhaps the cookies are pointless and without biblical foundation.
Yet, these preparations are part of our watchfulness. We could ignore every aspect of the secular Christmas season, but are we replacing that time with something worthwhile? Are those who refuse to celebrate Christmas actually worshipping God more? Are they studying the Bible more? Or are they simply living in December as if nothing is different? It is possible to prepare for Christmas with all its glitz and glitter while still watching for Christ.
See, Advent, this season before Christmas, is a time not only to wait for the child, but also to watch for Christ to come again. It is about seeing God's hand in the world around us, even in the secular aspects of the world. God created the whole world to glorify Him, and He is glorified when we see Him in this world. So, as we prepare, we look for Christ. We watch for Him. We see Him in the faces of the other shoppers, in the hearts of those for whom we are baking the cookies. We live the Christ-spirit so that those who see only the greed and evil in this world might see the light of Christ and know that God still dwells with His people in this world.
"But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send forth the angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven. Now from the fig tree learn her parable: when her branch is now become tender, and putteth forth its leaves, ye know that the summer is nigh; even so ye also, when ye see these things coming to pass, know ye that he is nigh, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, until all these things be accomplished. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. But of that day or that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. It is as when a man, sojourning in another country, having left his house, and given authority to his servants, to each one his work, commanded also the porter to watch. Watch therefore: for ye know not when the lord of the house cometh, whether at even, or at midnight, or at cockcrowing, or in the morning; lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch." Mark 13:24-37 (ASV)
We do over do things during the holidays. We eat too much, buy too many gifts out of duty instead of out of love. We put up too many lights and make too many cookies. In the midst of all of this, we often forget to watch for Christ. We get caught up in the world and do not leave time for God. In some ways Advent is like it will be in the end times darkness, confusion and chaos. Yet, in the midst of all of this, God still dwells among us and we need only stay awake during it and we will see Him. We stay awake by watching, praying, studying, worshipping and fellowshipping with other believers even while we are busy doing all the work that will make the season merry for those we love. We need not give up decorating and baking, but let us remember to look for Christ and shine His light for others to see. For He is with us always, just as He promised. Thanks be to God.
Lights I was putting the lights on a Christmas tree last night. I had turned on the overhead light to better see as I spread out the branches of the artificial tree. It was necessary to have that light to get the tree ready for the strings of twinkle lights I planned on using to decorate. I prepared the light strands by untangling the mess and I plugged them in. As I began to string the lights, I realized that the overhead light was making the task more difficult. It was causing shadows which made it hard to see inside the tree where I wanted the lights to go. When I turned off the overhead light, the task became so much easier and I did a much better job of placing the lights.
Light is a big part of the Advent season, after all it is the season of light. Christmas decorations have been springing up all over the neighborhood as our friends are decorating their own houses. Inside, I managed to get most of our pretty things placed throughout the house, including plenty of candles. We have a Christmas village to which I added lights this year. Now the village is all lit and looks especially pretty when our living room lights are turned off. It looks like a village in the evening and almost twinkles with the Christmas spirit. I realized that all the lights we use during Advent look much better when the normal lights are darkened. Outdoor decorations are useless during the day. Candles do little good with bright electric lights shining. The Christmas village does not appear lit when the rest of our lights are turned on.
Advent is the season of light because it is the time during which we wait for the coming of the True Light, which is Christ Jesus. He often gets lost amongst the hustle and bustle of the season. Though He is the True Light, He is not necessarily the brightest light. When our focus is solely on the other aspects of Christmas the food, shopping and decorating we do for the holidays we often loose sight of the true purpose of Christmas. Advent is a time to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ, to live expectantly not only for His coming as a child, but for His coming in glory.
"Beloved, no new commandment write I unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning: the old commandment is the word which ye heard. Again, a new commandment write I unto you, which thing is true in him and in you; because the darkness is passing away, and the true light already shineth. He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother, is in the darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in the darkness, and walketh in the darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because the darkness hath blinded his eyes. I write unto you, my little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye know him who is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the evil one. I have written unto you, little children, because ye know the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye know him who is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the evil one." 1 John 2:5-14 (ASV)
When Christ is our light and our life, He shines His light out into the world that others might see and believe. Unfortunately, at this time of year we often get so caught up in the stresses of preparation and partying that we forget that Advent is a period of waiting and watching for the True Light. He is like those special lights we set up to decorate our homes but that are useless when the sun is shining or the bright lights are blocking their twinkle. When our focus is solely on the food, shopping and decorating, we miss out on seeing Christ in the midst of it all and we act accordingly not Christ-like. Yet we are called to live in the light of Christ even as we are walking in this crazy world. We do this by living in the love of Christ, sharing it with others while we watch and wait patiently for His coming in glory. Thanks be to God.
Shopping Last Friday was what the retailers affectionately call "black Friday." It is the day when businesses expect to see a change in their financial records from red ink, which means losses, to black ink, which means profits. The stores prepare all year for that moment, building up inventory, investing in supplies, so that when the after Thanksgiving sales begin they are ready to receive buyers with plenty of choices. The Thanksgiving Day newspaper is as heavy as a Sunday paper, with hundreds of ads from stores that are vying for your business. Commercials tout how this store or that store has the best deals. Some have even suggested that a trip to their sale will conveniently complete all your shopping lists in just one trip!
Black Friday is not the biggest shopping day of the year, however. The Saturday before Christmas is a higher grossing day because so many people wait until the last minute because they have not had the time to shop or because they are hoping to find a late sale with drastically reduced prices. Many of the people that do that late season shopping are also the ones who were out there early. I have often thought myself finished with my shopping, but as the day drew nearer I found more gifts that would be just perfect. My budget is shattered and my pile of gifts under the tree is bigger than I want it to be, again.
Retailers play upon this phenomenon by encouraging people to buy early and buy lots. Then as the days grow closer to Christmas, they focus more heavily on reminding the buyers of all the things they have forgotten stocking stuffers, brand new products made available late in the season and items for that hard to shop for person in your life. Though you may think you finished in October, it is hard not to find things in December that you would really like to share with someone. Then, when it is all over, you realize that you've gone too far, spent too much and it was all really very unnecessary. We are easily played by the world and we conform to what the world expects us to do.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, making known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him unto a dispensation of the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth; in him, I say, in whom also we were made a heritage, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will; to the end that we should be unto the praise of his glory, we who had before hoped in Christ: in whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation,-- in whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance, unto the redemption of God's own possession, unto the praise of his glory." Ephesians 1:3-14 (ASV)
Giving gifts for Christmas has a long history after all, the wise men brought Jesus gifts when He was a young child. However, gift giving has often become the sole focus of our Christmas celebration, and the gifts have been little more than packages bought out of a sense of duty or as a response to the expectation of the world. We spent too much money and put too little thought into what we wish for those we love.
When shopping this year, let us ask ourselves, "How is this glorifying God?" By keeping Christ in Christmas, by keeping our eyes on Him in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we will not purchase things for the wrong reasons but will do that which will share the gospel of Jesus Christ and the love of God. Christmas is a time to look beyond ourselves, not only at others in the world but most especially at the Lord, watching for His coming and for His coming in glory. We act as witnesses to His presence in this time and place. We do this as we walk in His grace and pass it on to all those who cross our path. Thanks be to God.