Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Grace

In just a few days we will celebrate the birth of Jesus. Though we celebrate His birth in December, the evidence is clear that He was not born in December. We have nativity sets that include three wise men and we have no idea how many wise men came to visit Jesus, and it most certainly wasn't at His birth. Though He was placed in a manger, there is not even good evidence that He was born in a stable.

The first two chapters of Matthew and the second chapter of Luke give us what has come to be known as “The Christmas Story.” Those chapters are used for countless Bible studies, sermons, and church Christmas productions this time of year. It’s great to know that, in the midst of Santa Claus, reindeer, and snowmen, the real meaning of Christmas still rings out from churches across America and around the world.

As I've contemplated this Christmas season I must confess that the passages from Matthew and Luke are not my favorites this year. Rather, I like the first chapter of John, in particular John 1:1-18.

1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2  He was with God in the beginning.
3  All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created.
4  Life was in Him, and that life was the light of men.
5  That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it.
6  There was a man named John who was sent from God.
7  He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that all might believe through him.
8  He was not the light, but he came to testify about the light.
9  The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
10  He was in the world, and the world was created through Him, yet the world did not recognize Him.
11  He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.
12  But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name,
13  who were born, not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.
14  The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
15  (John testified concerning Him and exclaimed, “This was the One of whom I said, ‘The One coming after me has surpassed me, because He existed before me.’”)
16  Indeed, we have all received grace after grace from His fullness,
17  for the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
18  No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son— the One who is at the Father’s side— He has revealed Him.
John 1:1-18 (HCSB)

Over 2000 years ago, when Jesus was born into the world, He was already older than time. The most amazing aspect is that He left His home in glory and took up residence among us. And now we receive “grace after grace” from His fullness.

This Christmas, as you exchange gifts with family and friends, and as you sit down to enjoy your Christmas dinner, take time to meditate upon the kind of love it took for Jesus to leave His home to dwell among us so that you and I can experience grace after grace.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

It Doesn't Hurt

I grew up in a pastor’s home. For those of you who don’t know much about what that means, it first and foremost means I went to church before I was born. It became a lifelong habit. It didn’t hurt then and it doesn’t hurt now.
Admittedly, I don’t remember those first nine months of church when I was in the womb. Honestly, I don’t remember much about church the first three years of my life. What “memories” I have are those told to me by my parents. So, you won’t be surprised if I share with you one of those kinds of memories.
In the early days of my life it was customary for the pastor to sit on the platform during the music portion of worship. It was a small church and my mother was the piano player. We didn’t have children’s church in those days. My mother placed me on the second row and told me to sit there.
There was only one problem. His name was George. George was one of the men in the church who sat on the other side of the aisle. It seems that on most Sundays George would hold out one of those soft mints and I would scurry across the aisle for a mint. I stayed with George until my mother moved off of the piano bench.
Since those days I haven’t missed too many Sundays of worship. Today I serve as pastor of a village church. I’ve got to say, I love the church. All these years it’s been my family. I’ve been gone from my parents’ home a good many years, now. I have grown children. In fact, I have grandchildren. So I’ve been in church all my life.
Here’s my observation. I seem to have done okay without children’s church. I know it’s the fashion today. I’ve heard all the arguments for children’s church. But I don’t think it’s all that important. I grew up without it. My “church family” took care of me while my pastor father sat on the platform and my mother played the piano. Honestly, I think it was more important for me to be in the worship service with my parents than it was for me to be in children’s church.
I learned to value the worship experience because my parents valued it and thought it was important for me to be there, too. I learned how to first behave, and then to worship, because I sat in the “grown-up” service. I learned how to value the larger church family through the worship experience. And I learned that it wasn’t about me. It was about God.  I learned how to worship from my mother, father, and my church family.
Oh, by the way, my children didn’t make it to children’s church, either. And if I were raising my children again they’d still be in the worship service and not children’s church.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

I Need A Vacation!

I need a vacation. I know because my wife told me so.

Now you may laugh about that, but she would know. You see, as of last Friday we celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary. You don’t spend that many years with a person without getting to know them really well.

She has seen me at my worst and she has seen me at my best. She’s cared for me when I’ve been sick, mourned with me when my father died, and celebrated with me at the birth of our children. She’s been there through a lifetime of ministry, so she has seen me when I’ve come through the door after a contentious church committee meeting. She understands when I feel like I missed it completely in sharing God’s Word on Sunday morning.

She’s also been there to celebrate with me when the sermon went particularly well that morning and when someone has come to the front during the invitation to profess their faith in Christ. She is my soul-mate and helpmate.

As I think about this wonderful thing called marriage I am reminded that it’s also a reminder of a deeper spiritual truth. God has been there through it all. No matter what has gone on in my life, God has always been there for me. He’s seen be bent by discouragement and despair. He’s been there when my heart broke at the loss of my father. But He’s also been there at those joyous times of my life. And it began long before I even met the woman who became my wife.

On a January night fifty-four years ago I surrendered my heart to Jesus. I entered marriage not knowing that what I knew of love was just the starting point. I hadn’t arrived, but I had begun. When I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior I didn’t understand the depth of His love or the full significance of that new life.

Life my relationship with my wife, my relationship with my Lord is a growing one. I haven’t arrived as a husband and I haven’t arrived as a follower of Jesus. But I’m committed to growing in both relationships. I can’t wait to see what the next ten years holds.

Oh, and by the way. Tomorrow morning I start my vacation she’s been telling me I need. You know, she’s right. I’m looking forward to it.

 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God—God remains in him and he in God. 1 John 4:15 (HCSB) 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Culture of Violence

I haven't posted in quite some time, and have been considering "starting up" again. The recent event at Boston has been an impetus to write again.

There is no doubt that the bombing at the Boston Marathon is a tragedy. People killed. Others wounded. Lives changed forever. Such agony and despair.

What saddens me even more is that this will not be the last such event. The authorities may well catch the person(s) who did this. They may incarcerate them for the rest of their lives. But it won't stop something like this from happening again.

There is another tragedy that is not too far removed. All one has to do is say or write "Sandy Hook" and people all across our nation immediately know what you are talking about. Lives of young children, school administrators, and teachers, killed by a lone gunman who then took his own life.

As a result of the Sandy Hook shootings there was an outcry that has forced the issue of potential new gun laws that are being debated in our Senate. I have no idea if any of the laws will pass. I can't imagine what kind of laws, if any, might be suggested to try to prevent a tragedy like the bombing at the Boston Marathon.

I am sure of this, though. No amount of laws will prevent future similar tragedies. Why? Because you can't legislate morals. And the basic fact is that evil actions are the result of evil-thinking people. The old radio program, "The Shadow," began with the line, "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?" The answer was: The Shadow. Today, if there were a Shadow, I doubt even he would know.

The good news is that there is an answer. It's been the same answer for a couple of thousands years, now. The answer is Jesus Christ. Throughout history Jesus has changed the lives of men and women. He has turned hearts and minds bent on evil to hearts filled with love and minds dedicated to demonstrating Jesus' love to others.

We may have "In God we trust" on our currency, but the truth is our nation is a long way from trusting in God. Until our nation acknowledges that the only answer to evil hearts is a life-changing experience with a loving Lord we'll continue to see senseless killing.

 We love because He first loved us.
1 John 4:19 (HCSB)