Tis the Season

This past Friday was Black Friday. Today is Cyber Monday. And the Christmas season is all around us. The reality is, it has been all around us for quite some time. Our local Wal-Mart had Christmas decorations out as in September. Before the Halloween costumes were on the shelves I could by a Christmas tree. I saw a meme the other day, that spoke of this absurdity. Black Friday shopping was starting earlier and earlier each year. 10 years ago it started at 6:00 AM Friday. 5 years ago it was at midnight. 2 years ago it was at 10:00 Thanksgiving night, this year it was at 6:00 Thursday night and in 5 years it will start on 4th of July. While I was at out running errands earlier today, I was speaking to an acquaintance who was noticing similar problems. Christmas was no longer about what it was when we grew up.

I know that makes me sound like a person who was attached to tradition and the way things used to be. I know that makes me sound like a person out of touch with the modern world. But, just because something is modern, it does not mean that it is something better. (Ask any Star Wars fan. The original trilogy was way better than the more modern trilogy). As I look back on the way things used to be for this holiday season, compared to what it is today, I am deeply saddened. Today materialism has seemed to grip the nation. People are trampled to buy a TV half off. People get into fist fights to make sure they are the ones that get their hands on the latest iphone. People are pushing, shoving, and yelling at each other over a doll. What happened to our nation? What happened to us?

I love watching the Christmas episodes of The Little House on the Prairie. My favorite season was the year that Laura sold her horse to pay for a new stove for her mother. She made the ultimate sacrifice to give to another person.   I also appreciated the fact that most of the gifts given through the years on that show were handmade. They were given from the heart. They were not just the most expensive gift that could be purchased. And most of all, I appreciated the fact that the children were more than thank to receive one gift. Of course, that really shouldn’t surprise me. My favorite Christmas was the year I didn’t open a single present on Christmas day. My aunt, uncle, and cousins came home for Christmas (from South Carolina I think). We all went to Grandma’s house. A blizzard hit Christmas eve and things got so bad that we actually couldn’t make it home. We were snowed out of our home! We spent the week just hanging out with family, wearing the same clothes (and PJs that we opened on Xmas eve) all week. None of us (my brother, sister, and I) were disappointed about it. To be honest the only other Christmas I remember as well was the year that I got a car. (Just something about that 1st car isn’t there).

Today, we seem to feel the need to shove as many presents under the tree as humanly possible. Today we seem to feel the need to buy the world’s most expensive gift. Today we seem to feel the need to give our children the latest gadgets, smart phones, tablets, and whatever else lest they be noticed as being not cool. But not my home. I am taking a stand. I don’t want to teach my children that Christmas is about getting stuff. I want my children to remember cuddling up as we read stories together. I want my children to remember laughing together. I want my children to remember family.

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Thanksgiving

Thursday millions of Americans gather together with their friends and families and partake of massive turkeys, hams, and other delicious goodies. Some have traditions that before they partake of that tasty meal to go around the table/room and mention the things for which they are thankful. My first Thanksgiving here in Iowa was the 1st time I had the opportunity to partake in this type of tradition and in memory of that, I would like to offer a few things for which I am thankful for.

I thank God for each and every wonderful spiritual blessing he has bestowed upon me. I am thankful for his tender mercy in pardoning my worthless soul. I am thankful that he was willing to forgive me for all the things I have done wrong in my life. I am thankful for the fact that he allowed Jesus to live for me and to die for me. And I am thankful that these blessing are not just extended to me, but also unto my family. I am thankful that though my children will come to know the pains of sin that God is waiting there with open arms ready to forgive them. I am thankful that they too have the hope of eternity waiting for them.

I thank God for each and every physical blessing he has given us in this land of plenty. Talking to those that have lived, preached, etc overseas it reminds me of how well off we actually are here in the United States. We often talk of how rough things are and how much uncertainty exists in our economy, but things could be much worse. We could be living in shacks where typhoons are commonplace. We could be living in caves, cardboard boxes, etc. We could be living in a land where preventable and curable diseases are constantly taking the lives of our loved ones because health care does not exist. I thank God that I have a roof over my head, food in my belly, and clothes on my back. I thank him for granting these same privileges to my family and friends.

I also thank God for the church here in Grinnell. The brethren here have often found ways to encourage me. They were there for me when I brought in a new addition to my family 4 years ago. There were there for me earlier this year when my wife lost our unborn child. I am thankful for every kind word, every meal, and every phone call I have received over the years that remind me, that while I may live for from my parents or my wife’s parents, we are not really far from home.

And I thank God for the churches that support the work which we are doing here.  Five different churches besides the church here in Grinnell have supported me as I labor here. I thank God that they have helped me not just financially, but by giving me the peace of mind that comes with knowing your bills are paid and your children do not go without.

But most of all I thank God for reminding me daily of all these wonderful blessings. If we are only thanking God once a year I promise you it is not enough. If you can only think of things to be thankful for when a special holiday which bears that name rolls around, you have to be blinded to the great blessings that God has poured forth upon you. It is interesting that Paul stated in Phil. 4:6 that in all our prayers where we ask God for aid, forgiveness, help, etc it is to include thanksgiving. “Be anxious for nothing, but supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Brethren, God is not a genie. We don’t rub a magic lamp and say, “Our Heavenly Father, hallowed be thy name” and automatically get what we want. He is not to be addressed to just fill all of our wants and wishes. Sadly, I think this is exactly what most people think of when it comes to our prayers. And partly I understand. We are frail creatures that are in dire need of his healing hand, we all face times of uncertainty and we want God to guide us through it, we all want the forgiveness of sins, etc. In fact, if we were to give God a list of all our needs I am certain that it would be rather extensive. But likewise, our list of thanksgiving ought to be equally extensive.

There is a song I love to sing; “Count Your Blessings.” In this song it encourages you to name your blessings, one by one. When we sing this song we encourage one another to do this. Have you? Have you named them one by one? If not, then why not start today. Make a list of the things of which God has blessed you. Then, spend the night thanking him for everything.

Brethren, in seasons of distress and grief our souls can often find relief in focusing upon the blessings that God has blessed us with. Brethren, genuine happiness (which blessed means) is a state of mind. The blessed man focuses upon his blessings, not upon the trials and tribulations.

 

Worryganda

paris

What a tragic weekend we have faced. I my heart goes out to all of those who are suffering right now. Not just in Paris, but in Syria, Libya, Beirut, and every other location that has been recently rattled, attacked, and terrorized by ISIS. It didn’t take long and the backlash from these recent events started to take shape. We learned that at least two (at the time of writing this blog) of the attackers in Paris posed as refugees from Syria. This morning, I learned that the attackers may have been using the PS4 gaming system to coordinate the attacks. As these news reports started to fall in, the inevitable replies from Americans (and Sony itself) started to come in. Sony replied that they do not condone such actions, they are concerned about the safety of their gamers, etc, etc, etc. Why did Sony feel the need to reply in such a way? Fear. They were afraid that because someone abused their system that someone, somewhere might think Sony is okay with it. They were afraid someone might boycott their system because some jihadists used it. (That would be like Ford having to come out and apologize because a ISIS video showed them standing in front of an F-150.) Numerous groups here in states are showing concern about what to do about the 10,000 Syrian refugees that are headed here. I even received information about the supposed cities that they are headed towards (not sure if this is accurate as I honestly didn’t care enough to research it). Why? One word. Fear. Terrorism is meant to incite fear. It parlays onto the biggest fear man has, death.

We are afraid, no, terrified that the worst possible thing that could happen to us is death. And sadly, our media feeds upon it. It is like a zombie. It craves those ratings. It knows that it cannot pull the ratings in with stories about bunnies the way it can lure us in as we see chaos on the streets. (Think of the car wreck that is in the ditch. You always have those people that slow down to see what is going on. They don’t slow down to observe the beauty, but they do to observe death and destruction).

A few years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to the term “worryganda.” It is a word he coined. A clear play on the terms “worry” and “propaganda.” The media creates fear or at the very least sensationalizes it so much to the point that we permit fear to rule our lives. It moves us to vote certain ways. It moves us to make often time irrational decisions.

But, we don’t have to let our lives be ruled by fear. Paul wrote, “to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).” For the believer in Christ the worst thing to happen to us is not to die a physical death, but to die a spiritual death. Jesus himself stated that we ought not fear man that can only destroy our bodies but to fear him capable of destroying both body and soul in hell (Matt. 10:28).

But, what does this mean in light of our present distress? I am not saying that we should open our borders to the terrorists. I am not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned about our health, or our well being. I am saying that as a Christian, a terrorist should have no control over me because I have no reason to fear him. God is with me. And if God is with me, who can be against me? (Rom. 8:31). Tonight I will pray for those suffering. Tonight I will pray for my nation. And tonight I will sleep soundly. And why not, is that not what we teach our children? “… if I do before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

 

The Power of the Tongue

... and target bullying and that schools need to consider evidence

It is often said that the most powerful muscle in the human body is the human heart. But, as powerful as it is, I don’t think it is the most powerful muscle. The human heart only has the ability to impact one life. Your own (baring a heart transplant). The human tongue on the other hand has the power to impact more than your life. This was a truth I was reminded of this past week. Regretfully, I said something that was not received in the manner that I had hoped. As a result I hurt a friend. As a result I hurt our friendship. And as a result, I hurt myself (I haven’t slept well since). Sure, I can apologize (and I have). However, I cannot take back what was said (or in this case written).

For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water (James 3:2-12).”

James warns us of the grave dangers of the tongue. He calls it the very world of unrighteousness. He says that it is set on fire by hell. He says that it is a restless evil. The tongue has the ability to build up and to tear down. I recall as a child being told sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. This simply is not true. Bullying hurts. Whether it be online, as my transgression was. Or in the home in how one talks to one’s spouse. Or how a parent talks top a child. Or how we interact with our fellow employees.  We need to be mindful of the impact our words have upon others.  With them I can either tear down my children, or I can build them up.

As the song we teach our children to sing says… “Oh be careful little mouths what you say.”  Or perhaps we need to start saying, “Oh be careful little fingers what you text.”

Go and Do Likewise

Foot Washing of Jesus

One of my favorite stories of Jesus happened on the night he was betrayed. Typically when we think of that last night our minds go to the garden where Jesus fervently prayed most of the night. Or perhaps we go to the Last Supper where Jesus installed the memorial feast we call the Lord’s Supper. Or maybe we look at his prayer recorded in John 17. For me, I like to look at the last object lesson he gave his apostles.

In John 13 Jesus gets on his hands and knees and washes the feet of his disciples. Simon Peter certainly did not care to see his Master doing such a “dirty” job. I think it is quite possible that Simon thought that feet washing was beneath the dignity of Son of God. Jesus rebuked him, and ultimately Simon Peter accepted the service rendered here by Christ. He then looked at his disciples and said, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you (John 13:13-15).” Jesus gave the charge to his disciples to go and wash someone else’s feet.

For years I have heard people try to explain away this passage about how customs come and go. I have heard people try to explain away how Jesus shouldn’t be taken literally here. As they do this, they fail to recognize the big picture. This is not just a foot washing!

We need to be considering the emotional state Jesus must be in as he does this. Later that night, we know Jesus is sitting in the garden, sweat is pouring like blood. He cries out, let this cup pass from me. Jesus was distraught. He was heavy laden. He was hard pressed to continue the journey He was on. He was full well aware of what was about to happen. He would be betrayed by a friend, a friend whose feet he was washing. He would be handed over to be crucified. He would have to bear the sins of the world. And yet, here we find Jesus stooping at the feet of his apostles, with towel in hand washing their feet.

We need to be considering the reality of the event. This was the last meal Jesus would have with the 12. This is the last time he would be able to serve them. For in the morning he would be nailed to the cross and before the sun set, he would be gone. Jesus knew this. So, we see that he didn’t waste this last chance; this last chance to show his friends how much he loved them.

To all of this, Jesus said, go and do likewise. Yes, he offered the great explanation, “I am your master, you are my servant.” But, there is so much more here than fulfilling an obligation of service. It is about loving those whom you serve. Husbands do you love your wives? What are you doing to serve her? Wives, do you love your husbands? What are you doing to serve him? Parents do you love your children? Are you serving them? Do you serve your neighbor? Are you serving the sick? The downtrodden? The oppressed?

Do you not realize that today might be the last day you have to show your love? As you look to your wife, if you knew you were going to die the next day, what would you do? Just send her flowers? Jesus’ actions are far greater than a token gift. Service always should be!