Thursday, December 26, 2013

In the quiet…

God still comes in the still and the quiet; the soft and the slow, just like he did on that first Christmas.
Jesus didn't come with a thunder or mighty flame. The fanfare was minimal, to say the least. A few wise men and shepherds. This wasn't an affair that drew what would have been considered celebrities or powerful authorities of the day. The event of Jesus' coming was hidden away.
Today Jesus comes in the same way.   We may meet him in the quietest of moments and humblest of surroundings. If we aren't careful we might miss Him entirely. If we get caught looking for something flashy to signal the coming of the King we might not realize that He has come and is right here, right now.
At Christmas time we are reminded that Jesus came on a mission to be the ultimate and final sacrifice for lost, sinful people. We are reminded that His mission started in a stable, born of a virgin. The mission, the most crucial of missions that would lead to a cross and the salvation of the whole human race by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ, began in the most unassuming of circumstances.
As we celebrate this Christmas season and the gift of our Savior, let us not forget how He comes. Our lives are dotted with encounters with Him that easily be missed if we don't know how He comes.
Yesterday I had the beautiful reminder of how simply God shows Himself. There was one gift that I had wanted for Christmas but I didn't vocalize my desire to anyone and didn't scratch it down on a list. I  debated whether or not to just pipe up and ask. The desire of my heart was a new cross necklace but I don't like asking for jewelry. To me, jewelry is one of those gifts you just want to receive, not one you ask for.
So, I didn't ask. Instead I sent my request to God and laid it down at His feet. The gift of a cross necklace wouldn't make or break my Christmas. It's just a material possession. In my heart I knew all those things and knew that God would see to it that if I was meant to get a cross, I would. And if He didn't want me to have it then I would rest in the knowledge that He wanted me to learn a different lesson, maybe one that strengthened my happiness and joy regardless of the gifts under the tree.
As I said my silent prayer I was immediately comforted. The words were almost audible, "don't worry, you'll get your cross." As I walked through stores, running across tables full of little crosses, I held onto those words, believing that God's care reaches to even the small and simple desires of my heart.
On Christmas morning the thought of that cross wasn't on my mind as I began to open gifts but it only took a moment for me to be reminded. In my stocking, my first gift to open, all wrapped in tissue paper, was a small silver cross.
My heart was overwhelmed with the presence of my King who came as a tiny baby in a manger. He didn't come wrapped in a big red bow or with applause and banners waving. But He came. And here He was again, showing Himself to be my constant Companion, mighty Savior and all-sufficient Provider. He didn't need to show me His love with a big flashy gift decked out with all the bells and whistles money can buy. He showed me in the most precious of ways - with a small, delicate silver cross. It was perfect. Just like that baby in a manger.
Jesus is still present and active in the lives of those who seek Him. He may show Himself in a whisper or the quietness of a falling snow. But listen carefully. Look closely. He is there with mighty power and all consuming love.
Christmas is a special time for us to celebrate the small baby that gave the greatest gift. The perfect child, born in a manger, brought the path to eternal life. In His life, death and resurrection He has paved the way for those who surrender to Him.
Much of the world missed the coming of the King on that first Christmas. They didn't expect Him to come in a stable amidst farm animals and hay. But He came in a way the world would never have imagined. He still comes in that same way today. In the soft, still and quiet He comes.
Dear friend, don't miss Him.

Monday, December 23, 2013

I am a sheep, are you?

The temperatures were hovering at freezing and the air spit out a mix between rain and snow, making the roads a sloppy mess and the air damp and dreary. But the atmosphere was alive and rambunctious. It was New Years Eve in Times Square, so of course it was filled with excitement and anticipation. Not even inclement weather could dampen the spirits of the millions who had gathered to count down to the new year.
Standing in the middle of Times Square at the moment that iconic ball dropped has always been a to-do on my bucket list. Now I can say it is crossed off. I attended the festivities and survived! Mission accomplished. As fun as that night was I would be perfectly content to never repeat it. That kind of excitement can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, if you ask me. I'd be satisfied with crossing it off the list just once.
Like I said, the weather was less than ideal. For the six hours we stood on Broadway the skies spat out rain, snow, sleet and freezing rain on a continuous loop. By the end of the night I was unsure of whether or not my toes were still attached. It wasn't until I got home and was able to inspect the situation that I could rest easy knowing that I still had all ten toes I had begun the day with.
To say that Times Square is crowded on New Years Eve is like saying that standing under Niagara Falls will get you wet. Crowded just doesn't do it justice. The crowds are packed in like sardines, shoulder to shoulder and sometimes even closer than that. You get awfully comfortable with complete strangers since you are practically hugging them. You don't have much of a say in the matter. You are literally corralled into the barricades and shuffled closer to the famous Waterford Crystal ball that will drop, aka "slowly lower", as the clock strikes midnight.
Essentially you are herded like a sheep. The sound of "bahhh" plays through your mind on repeat all through the night. The crowds are the sheep. The police are the farmers. Just like on a farm, the sheep don't have a say in the matter. The farmer knows where they are supposed to go next and he sees to it that they end up there.
And so it is on News Year Eve in Times Square. The police play farmer as they control the crowds and move them into position for the big moment.
Throughout the night I couldn't help but think of that age old advice parents always give their children: don't be a sheep. What they mean is, don't be a follower. Be a leader. I laughed internally as I thought about how what I was doing, standing in that crowd of people, was the exact picture of what our parents didn't want us to become! They wanted us to be on the outside of the barricades even when the rest of the world said bahhh all the way home, trapped behind a wire fence.
Famous writers and speakers have driven this point home using the sheep as the perfect picture of a dumb follower, blindly walking behind the person in front of them, never thinking for themselves or taking a risk. One woman once said, "It is better to be a lion for a day than a sheep all your life." Ouch. That doesn't say much for the sheep.
But have all of these writers and parents considered what flock their child or reader might join? Sure, we don't want to become a sheep of the ways of the world - following into moral decay simply because the rest of the crowd is marching forcefully in that direction. But is there a good flock with a good shepherd?
What about Jesus' flock?
Psalm 95:7 says, "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand."
I am perfectly content to never be a sheep on News Year Eve in New York City ever again. And I hope to never be a sheep in the flock of this world, embracing sin and political correctness so that I can fit in and "get along." But I do want to be a sheep in the flock of Jesus. I want Him to be my shepherd, leading and guiding me. I want to follow, even blindly, behind Him. 
Why would I willingly want to be a sheep, an animal seen as so dumb and stupid that it would be better to be a lion for a single day than a sheep for a lifetime? Because I know that I am just as lost and confused as those poor sheep under the care of a farmer. I know that, apart from God, I am a lamb to the slaughter, caught in a life of sin and destined for a lifetimes of eternal damnation. I need a shepherd to save me from the pit.
On my own I know I am bound for destruction. I will get attacked by wild animals. I will search for food and water and find none. I will get lost and turned around in a land that is unfamiliar to me.
God is my only hope. It is only by His shepherding I will be shown the way.
Blessed are the sheep in Jesus' flock. The world might look at those sheep and shake their heads in confusion. Why would anyone willingly become a sheep? I will tell you why: because we have a Good and Perfect Shepherd. By His love and grace we are given life and direction. Apart from Him we are hopeless. But with Him we have a hope eternal. He is the Good Shepherd and I am happily among the sheep in His flock.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ducks, the dynasty, and God's truth

This whole Duck Dynasty, Phil Robertson controversy is probably overly talked about. And with that I will now voice my thoughts about the whole situation, knowing that everyone on planet earth is probably sick to death of hearing the name Phil, seeing a duck or hearing the word "controversy."
Personally, my opinion of this situation is quite simple. Phil had the right to speak truth. The journalist at GQ had the right to print it. And A&E had the right to essentially fire Phil.
But what it says about our culture is a bigger issue. TV broadcasts "twerking" and sexually demean female conservatives on so-called news programs. Yet, when a Christian says something about a topic that they find offensive because it has to do with actual Biblical truth, they are shutup in a New York minute. The problem isn't that people have free speech. The problem is that certain free speech is having its mouth duct taped shut because it has to do with Christianity - heaven forbid.
As freedom loving Americans there is nothing we can do to reverse the actions of A&E, and who would want to, quite frankly? It is their constitutional right. I want them to have that right. We can, as freedom loving Americans, choose to support the people, programs and companies that share our values and are standing up for Biblical truth even in the midst of a firestorm of opposition. We can share the truth of scripture in the market place and in our neighborhoods, refusing to be silenced just because truth is somethings uncomfortable for some people to hear.
Brothers and sisters, there are lessons to be learned from Phil Roberton and the A&E split. Truth makes people uncomfortable because it confronts them with the stark difference between right and wrong. Lets face it, our culture doesn't like the idea of right and wrong. They want everything to be right and acceptable. Be gay. Sleep around. Drink to drunkeness. If you want to do it, then go for it!
But the Bible does not accept that lifestyle. The Bible lays out a clear, black and white, right and wrong. There is living in obedience to God and then there is sin. The Bible clearly states what sin is. Those living in sin and wanting to continue living in sin, don't want to hear what the Bible has to say about their lifestyle choices. They want to be told they are A-O.K. The Bible says there is no excuse for sin.
What Phil Robertson said was offensive to a segment of the population because it hit them where it hurt: their lifestyle. They heard that the way they were living was wrong and so they took up their fists to defend the sin they have claimed as their normal.
Their defensiveness is not a reason to be silenced.
Ephesians 4:25 says, " Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another."
Scripture doesn't give the born-again Christ follower an out for spreading the message of the gospel just because the world doesn't want to hear it. If we have been saved and changed by the blood of Jesus Christ then we are to speak the truth of His word. Period. End of story. We are not to be silenced just because there are some people who won't like the truth.
Truth can be spoken in love. But it still must be spoken. Love is truth. And this love can be shared with boldness when we do it with the power of scripture, the power of God's word. There is no substitute for the truth. So speak it with conviction;  in the love of Christ and with the boldness of  Christ.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A sure foundation

When you get outside of LA, California is known for its scenic landscapes and natural beauty. The Pacific Highway is famous for the views of the ocean that run right into the foot of mountains. The state is dotted with valleys, mountains and rolling hills.
California is also known for the fires that ravage communities and destroy lives.
One such fire hit the community of Summit in 2008. This small community was dotted with mini-mansions that had been built by new comers to the area who had migrated out of Santa Cruz for a more leisurely pace of life. But one man didn't fit that description.
Hugo Zazzara had been in the community for nearly thirty years and wasn't living in a mini-mansion. His home was a replica of the old Chart House, a victorian style building in Los Gatos. He fell in love with the architecture of that particular house and set his mind to building it for himself. So that is precisely what he did. With his own two hands, complete with his great-grandfather's stained glass windows and self-milled redwood roof, he rebuilt that famous structure.
This home was more than a dream, it was a labor of love. He worked hard as a welder and furniture commissioner to pay for every cent of it without ever taking out a loan. He built it to stand against earthquakes. But when the fire came rolling through Summit the house didn't stand a chance.
Hugo ran back to the house to try to save it despite his son's pleading with him not to go. His son knew the dangers and the hopelessness of the situation. But he couldn't stop his father. Hugo had given his heart and soul into his home. Time, effort, money, dedication…it all was poured out to make his dream a reality. He had used the best materials, even family heirlooms, to make the house a masterpiece. He wouldn't let it go down without a fight.
Hugo's son Nathan didn't know if his father would survive. Would he stay with the house till the bitter end? As he waited with the rest of the displaced who had suffered the loss of their homes in the fire, he feared for his father's safety. Finally, he saw him approaching. The roof of the house had caught fire and the whole structure had been destroyed. His father had finally left the property, later crying for the first time in front of his son. His dream had gone up in flames in front of his very eyes. He had given everything for it. And then, in an instant it was gone.

We all get the chance to built our home - our physical home, this body that we inhabit. We can choose to build it up with the things of this world, putting our effort, love and soul into the that which won't last. We can fill ourselves with the temporal and earthly, hoping to satisfy our deepest desires.
Or we can build our lives on the rock of Christ.
Building your home with the things of this earth will always lead to disappointment. As beautiful as they may seem they simply won't last. Fire can destroy them, flood can ravage them and moth can eat away at even the finest of garments. The attributes of this world won't stand the test of time. They won't truly satisfy. They might look good but in the end they are nothing more than a facade, cheap materials used to build a house that can be blown over at the slightest gust of wind.
But a house build on the rock of Christ will never be destroyed. Winds, rain, fire and even that pesky moth can all try to destroy it but the person who sets their foundation on God's truth will not be defeated because God will always reign victorious.
There is no greater foundation and no greater home built then the one built on Jesus Christ. Your home rooted in His foundation will be better than any dream home you can ever imagine and it will never be destroyed.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

You complete me

In 1996 the movie Jerry Maguire made this simple little phrase famous: you complete me.
You remember the line. Jerry Maquire (aka Tom Cruise) says in the film, "I love you. You…you complete me. And I just…" And before he can finish we all remember what Renee Zellweger says, right? "Shut up… just shut up… you had me at hello."
These lines sound so corny when you type them out letter by letter but in the context of a romantic comedy/drama/chick-flick, they were just the ticket to pull on the heart strings of women everywhere. The entertainment industry banks on these types of one liners. Women are suckers for a man begging on his knees and since it is such a rarity in reality they have to get their fix at the movie theater.
Unfortunately these types of movie fantasies only further to disappoint the lonely heart. The women longing to hear such words leaves with a bigger hole that she yearns to have filled. The clever plot and fairy tale ending do nothing to ease the aching heart. All they do is perpetuate the dilemma. The woman still wants someone who speaks those words to her. She still wants to complete someone. She still wants to be complete because she is united with her Prince Charming.
What a sad glimpse into the human heart. We strive to be complete. Some try to find it in love, in the uniting of two lives or the embrace of a lover. Some believe that by finding a special someone they will, at last, be satisfied in their own self. They must first find that other person, their "other half" in order to be a whole.
Others look for completeness in work, success, money or fame. They want accolades and diplomas to show that they've made it and that they are worth something. Some men and women work to the point of exhaustion in an attempt to make a name for themselves or they want to secure a bank account, all so that they can feel satisfied. They simply cannot be complete until they have reached their definition of success. Failure to achieve their goal makes them a failure, worthless in their eyes.
Beloved, I don't want to find my completeness in the things this world has to offer. I don't want my wholeness to come from another human being and the flawed love they may offer. I don't want my completeness to come in a bank account or career. I don't want my completeness to come from reaching a higher level of education or being a household name.
I want to be complete in Christ. I want Christ to complete me.
Chasing after the things of this world will always leave me coming back dry and empty. I will never feel satisfied. My heart will never feel at rest and peace when it is only feeding on what this world has to offer.
To be complete is to make something whole or perfect. There is no way that the world can accomplish that for me. Even this earth's greatest attempts at completeness will always fall short. There will always be another dollar to chase, another degree to obtain, another award to strive for. Human love is always imperfect, leaving us disappointed. The world will always scream "more, more, more." Buy more, be more, try more, experience more.
I don't want to miss the point of my entire existence because I'm looking at the successes the world wants me to run after. I want to look at Christ and find my completeness, my wholeness, my purpose and worth in who He is and who He has created me to be.
I want to live in the light of Colossians 2:10: "and you are complete in HIM."
Every day I can strive for the things of this world to make me whole. But I might as well be chasing after the wind. Christ and Christ alone can complete me. Until He is my portion and my ALL I will never be truly satisfied. The rest of the stuff of this world will be as filthy rags.
But when Christ is my all He makes my heart whole and filled to the overflowing. I am complete in Him. I am enough because of who He is, not because of what I have accomplished. My life has worth and purpose because I am His beloved, not because I have achieved what the world has stamped as "success".
I, too, love those words spoken in Jerry Maguire… you complete me. But not because I long to hear them from a man or want to find their fulfillment in the ways of this world. No, I love those words because I can claim them now as I speak them to my heavenly Father. Christ completes me. You, dear Jesus, complete me.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Dear singles,

The Christmas season is filled with excitement, joy and love. No matter where you go, you can't escape the festive feelings. There is Christmas music playing, lights twinkling, red and green galore and an abundance of decorations. This is a truly magical time of year.
But for many single men and women it can also be a depressing time of year.
For the single, Christmas is a reminder that they are quite alone. When you look at the scenes of Christmas time they are so often filled with happy couples, hand in hand, enjoying a winter wonderland or dressed up for a special party. Dating, marriage and pairing up in general are front and center.
Is this a recipe for a Christmas spent in despair? Are singles stuck as onlookers, wishing for not just gifts under the tree, but a date on New Years Eve? How do we avoid spending this time of year in a state of ill-contentment and dissatisfaction?
What follows are just a few suggestions for the Christian single looking to spend Christmas in a state of joy and excitement, despite the fact that they aren't part of a couple and don't have a date on the horizon. The focus of the holidays can get stuck on what we don't have: a date, someone buying us a special gift, a hand to hold on an ice-skating rink, a person to surprise with the perfect present. But if we get stuck adding up our have-nots we miss the incredible blessings we are enjoying as singles.
This year if you are spending December and New Years as a single I pray that you will embrace the privilege of enjoying this season of celebration as a party of one. After all, Christmas isn't about having a date on Friday night. It is about celebrating the date in history that our Savior made His entrance into this world. Christmas is a special opportunity to stop the routine of our daily lives and simply praise God for the gift of His son: perfect, merciful, loving, gracious son. While you marvel in the overwhelming power of that love enjoy these simple suggestions to celebrate the season as a content and peaceful single.

1) Find the perfect gift.
So there is no Mr. or Mrs. Right in your life, but there are kids all over the world who would love to receive a specially picked gift from you. There are many ministries and organizations that provide an outlet for this type of giving. Find a ministry that you trust, respect and want to support and then go out and get the perfect gift. My personal favorite is Operation Christmas Child. They ship shoe boxes of gifts to kids all over the world. The giver picks an age group and gender then gets to shopping for just the right toys and clothes to pack in a shoe box to be sent to their special child. This ministry, and others like it, are a beautiful way to share Christ's love with kids who, otherwise, might not receive a single gift on Christmas morning.

2) Go on a date.
Nope, not a date with a table set for two. No, not a date that you find through the classifieds or I'm talking about a "God date". This is a phrase that I've coined to define the following: a special activity, set at a specific time, shared by you and God alone. This isn't devotional time or Bible study. This is a date with God! I'm talking ice skating, dinner out, a Christmas Tree lighting… anything that you consider a "date" can be a "God date." You don't need to spend your God date on your knees and you don't even necessarily need your Bible. Enjoy an outing with God. Set a time and a place and meet Him there. Enjoy the adventures and outings of life in His company.

3) Pour out love on your family.
The time of singleness is a golden opportunity to show your family (birth family and church family) an abundance of love. Bake cookies for loved ones, cook soup for a friend who's sick, send cards to the special people in your life, thanking them for who they are to you and reminding them how much you care for them. Everyone loves to feel loved. Share that love with the people you care about. Don't be stingy. The season of singleness is a chance to learn how to show love. What you glean from this time in life will be vital; a priceless understanding of how to display love to a spouse someday in the future. Christmas is the perfect time of year to be deliberate in your sharing of love.

4) Volunteer.
There is no better way to take the focus off yourself then to get your hands busy doing for someone else. Pick a place, a ministry or a cause and get involved. Serve at a soup kitchen, decorate with a church, carol at a nursing home. Look around, spot the need and then jump in and fill it. I guarantee that you will find it hard to be lamenting life's singleness when you are busy helping those around you that are in need.

This list could go on, I'm sure. But these suggestions are great starting points for enjoying the Christmas season as a single. This time of year is really quite perfect for singles if you ask me. After all, Jesus was a single and isn't this time of year really all about Him?  Enjoy the season, fellow singles. Marvel at the gift of Jesus Christ born in a manger. Embrace the celebration of our King.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Running on Ice

If you live up north and happen to be a runner then you probably understand the difficulties and challenges of running in icy conditions. If you don't run and don't live up north but have experienced ice skating then you might also understand the challenges and difficulties of running on ice.
This is my first winter as what I would call a "runner", meaning that I run at least 4 times a week and look forward to my runs and miss them when I have a day off. I do believe this qualifies me as a runner, despite the fact that I never ran in high school, have never won a race, and don't belong to a special club. I run. I read running magazines. I purposely fuel my body to run better, faster, and longer. In my mind, this makes me a runner.
I began my running habits in the summer when the roads were clear and the most taxing weather was heat which could be avoided by running early in the morning or choosing shady paths. But now the seasons have changed and so have the running conditions. Instead of clear roads I'm dodging snow piles and ice patches. Instead of looking for shade I'm searching for sun. Instead of sweating I'm pulling out extra layers and doubling up on gloves. The running experience has changed dramatically.
And I love it.
I thought that the cold might deter me from my running routine. I feared that with the changing of seasons would come a change of heart but that is not the case. Instead, my love of running has been renewed. With the snow and ice have come new challenges and new insights into how to be a better runner.
While running on ice the runners focus is shifted from pounding pavement to staying upright. Conversation becomes difficult to maintain because your mind is so fixed on avoiding the slick spots on the road. The music playing through headphones fades away. The road noise disappears. All of your focus is placed on the path ahead and the best way to navigate it safely and effectively. Form becomes paramount. Speed is no longer a top priority. The run becomes an obstacle course of ice patches and your goal is to run with the best possible form and posture so that your feet can hit the ground steadily and securly.
This morning that was the challenge ahead of me on my run. Last night a thin dusting of snow coated the ground and beneath it lay a thick layer of ice. I hadn't planned on lacing up my sneakers first thing this morning but it was as if I was being called out the front door. God was bidding me to come and run with Him. How could I say no?
So I layered up with a water-wicking shirt, sweatshirt, and wind breaker; put on my two layers of running tights and knee-high ski socks; laced up my winter sneakers and secured my hat, face mask and two pairs of gloves. Then I stuck my ear buds in and turned on my Christian Pandora radio and headed out to the cemetery near my house.
It didn't take long to realize that this was not going to be a quick three miles. The roads winding through the cemetery were coated in ice with little snow coverage to provide traction. This meant I would have to be on high alert if I wanted to remain upright.
I started out slow and steady to get my bearings and get into my rhythm. But something kept tripping me up. It wasn't my feet, it was my headphones. They have always remained in place, never giving me trouble even during my longest of runs, but today they kept falling out. After stopping a few times to put them back in I decided to quit messing with them and pulled them out of my ears, continuing my run without the hassle they were creating. Instead of music I was left with the calm of a cold morning and the crunch of ice and snow beneath my feet. The sound of my rhythm was comforting.
As I ran my mind shifted from lyrics of a song to my running form. I noticed that my feet weren't hitting the ground with the precision that would keep my from slipping. As soon as I started thinking about how I was lifting my feet I found that my gait was more secure and steady.
Then I realized that I was looking straight down instead of looking forward and down. I shifted my glance up and out. The view was more beautiful than I had previously realized. The sun was hitting the trees and making the brilliant white snow gleam. The ice was making everything sparkle. God's creation was, once again, dazzling.
On that run I was given the opportunity to stop focusing on distractions to get me through my three miles and focus, instead, on the form that would carry me forward. The ice forced me to improve my form.
Just like with running, God can use the ice in our lives to achieve the same purposes. He can use slippery surfaces to shift our focus away from our circumstances, away from distractions, and onto the form of our faith.
When the road is clear it is easy to let our minds wander and faith grow stale. During the summer months, the seasons of ease and comfort, we can easily stop relying solely on our faith. When we are confident in our own power to sustain us and our own power to carry us forward we tend to stop looking to God to do it for us.
But when we hit ice we go calling out for His help. On ice we are sliding and slipping unless He reaches out to us with His steady and secure hand. We can no longer focus on how fast we're moving forward or how many miles we've covered, our minds are totally fixated on staying up - being held upright by our Savior.
If it weren't for the ice on my runs I might not have realized how much improvement I needed to make on my form. If God hadn't allowed my life to hit ice I might not have realized how much work needed to be done on my faith's form.
God has allowed the ice in my life to grow and strengthen my faith. My run through life isn't about how fast I accomplish it or how many miles I log, it is about staying devoted in faith to my Savior, relying solely on Him in all circumstances and in all seasons. That is truly good form.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The ONE who holds my times

I have become completely convinced that the National Weather Service has little to no idea of the true trajectory of storms and weather systems. They warn us and put the fear into travelers. They put the news stations on high alert for impending gloom and doom.
But then the storm hits and the world doesn't end. Sometimes rains don't even fall. Here in Northern Pennsylvania we seem to be under the constant threat of monster storms only to be dodged time and time again. I am losing my faith in the predictions of meteorologists. I don't think they really know as much about the patterns of the weather as they'd care to admit.
It makes me wonder about my own life. There are storms coming that I don't know about. There are clear days that I want to be able to predict but simply cannnot. I must plead ignorance to the future, knowing that what is to come could be impacted by a host of forces outside of my control. I can't give a ten day forecast for my future. I can't even give a forty-eight hour forecast!
Quite frankly, my times are not in my hands just like the weather is not in the hands of the Weather Channel anchor. I can spend my days wondering and fretting about what might lay ahead but I don't have a crystal ball. Even my greatest predictions, based on sound evidence, could be entirely off base. I could see a storm on my radar screen only to be missed by it entirely. Or I could miss the clouds above and get hit with a downpour that catches me off guard.
My times are not in my hands.
My times are in HIS hands.
The future isn't mine to know. Worries, anxieties, concerns, trials…they aren't in my hands. But they are safe and secure in the hands of my Savior. My times are not teetering on the edge of some cliff, swaying with the winds, constantly in danger of falling off all together. God holds my life, my circumstances, my uncertainties, my times in the palm of His hands.
When I try to put my faith in my own faulty predictions, relying on my human alert and warning system, I come up more frustrated every time. But when I put my faith and trust in God, knowing that the things I can't see and don't understand are all safe with Him, I find peace and reassurance even in the midst of storm clouds.
The times to come are not mine to see or know. They are God's. He has plotted out a path for me. He sees the patterns that lie ahead that will influence my life and shape my circumstances. He has my times in His hands. That is enough for me know.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The farming committment

I used to believe that to be a missionary you had to sell everything and move to a foreign country where the people didn't speak your language and had never even heard of Jesus Christ. This was my perception of what it meant to go into the missions field.
What I'm beginning to learn is that there is more than one way to go into missions. Certainly the most obvious way is the one in which I've just described: selling it all, moving to a whole new land and speaking to the spiritually deprived in this world. Noble and selfless don't even begin to describe this kind of sacrifice and service. Those who become overseas missionaries or even inner city missionaries give up their entire lives for the cause of furthering the gospel. They are saints.
But there is another kind of missionary, one that is not as easily spotted yet just as active. These quiet, unassuming missionaries are in their mission field right at home. There is a need for these Christ followers, those that don't sell everything and who don't move away from home, to share the truth of God. They are needed to share Christ's message with the lost right in their own towns and homes.
When we ponder the life of an overseas missionary we can quickly come up with an overwhelming list of difficulties and struggles they would face: a language barrier, a lack of modern day comforts, separation from family, and economic uncertainty just to name a few. There is one particular struggle that might not come to mind right away but is a difficult reality for the long term missionary: cultivating new believers.
Anything that takes time requires patience and patience always comes up against frustration. For the long term missionary who has devoted their life to sharing the gospel this can be a matter of great struggle. They are living among people who do not yet know God and their entire life mission is to bring them the life changing message of Christ. How frustrating when the people don't respond! How discouraging when weeks, months and even years go by and there is no great revival in the towns they are ministering to.
This struggle isn't reserved for only the overseas missionary. It is a very true reality for the at-home missionary, too.
When we are ministering to our family and friends around us we are not just in it for a moment. This isn't a quick two week trip to Mexico to build houses. Missions work at home is a long term commitment. We are cultivating long term fruit. Just like the overseas missionary, this task isn't completed over night. It is a life long dedication.
While considering the responsibility and challenge of being a long term missionary at-home and abroad I couldn't help but think of the Christmas tree farmers. Did you know that Christmas trees take, in general, about 5 to 10 years to grow to maturity? It makes you appreciate the patience of the Christmas tree farmer, doesn't it?
By the time we see a Christmas tree all cut and wrapped at the local nursery it has already been cultivated for years and years. The farmer didn't decide to go into business in September and set up his harvest of trees in late November. Those trees were in his mind's eyes nearly a decade ago. He put forth the effort of planting and tending to his trees long before any of us saw the fruits of his labor.
But without his years of dedication and diligent tree-tending we would not have the Christmas tree  strapped to the top of our car, carried into our living room and decorated with ornaments and lights. It is the farmer's work that makes the traditional Christmas tree possible.
Just like Christmas tree farming, long term missions is a long term commitment. The results aren't visible over night. The harvest takes years to cultivate. But just like the Christmas tree farmer, one day your work will be visible. It may take a decade, but God is doing the work of growth beneath the surface. When the time is right He will show you the miracle of the harvest that He has been using your work to cultivate.
You don't have to move across the globe to a missionary. God can use you right where you are. Beware, this isn't a short term commitment. God wants a plentiful harvest. He is looking for long term fruit. He wants to make you like the Christmas tree farmer, farming the seeds of the gospel, in your own home. You won't need a passport. What you will need is God given patience while you work the fields that will one day, praise God, bring forth a plentiful harvest.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Holiday Cheermiester

At this festive time of year it is hard to turn on the TV without catching the glimpse of a holiday movie or wintery scene. Every channel takes advantage of the holidays to play non-stop Christmas specials. The 25 days till Christmas is counted down with great anticipation on every other channel. Radio stations have been playing carols since before Thanksgiving. You can't escape the celebration of this season.
Last night one of the modern day classic Christmas movies was playing on repeat on ABC Family. "The Grinch that Stole Christmas" came to life thanks to Jim Carrey in 2000 but has already been thrown into classic status. Nearly everyone watches it at least once during the month of December. And I challenge you to find a soul on earth who doesn't have a sweet spot for little Cindy Lou Who. She is endearing, the embodiment of the kindness.
Little Cindy Lou Who takes her kind spirit a little too far for the liking of the rest of the citizens of Whoville. In their town Christmas is the most exciting time of year. They deck the halls from top to bottom and turn their lives upside down to make sure every bow is tied just right and ever inch of space is covered in decoration. To top it off, they even have an annual Whoville Holiday Cheermeister that is chosen by nomination. You know how the story goes. The mayor asks for nominations in the assembly of the gathered town and little Cindy pipes up with a nomination that is enough to send her parents into a state of shock: the Grinch.
The Grinch: the least cheery being to every set foot in Whoville; the green isolated scrooge who lives by himself in a cave on a hill and taunts the citizens below; the one person in Whoville who despises Christmas and every bit of celebration that goes along with it.
Yet, Cindy wants to make him the cheermeister. Talk about shock and awe.
To make a very long story (a 104 minute story to be exact) short, the Grinch's hard heart is softened and his love of Christmas and his love for his fellow Whoville citizens, is restored. His heart grew, as the story goes.
The Grinch didn't become a changed man because of boxes and bows. All the years of seeing the town below decked out in red and green never budged his hard heart. What changed him was the love of a girl who saw past his flaws and grumpy demeanor. She didn't see him for the scrooge he was to the rest of the world. She saw the cheer that could be unlocked from within him when he was loved unconditionally.
"Christmas doesn't come from a store, maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more…"
The Grinch was changed by love. His heart was filled with cheer because he received the gift of love freely. There was nothing he had to do to earn it. He didn't even ask for it. Yet, Cindy Lou Who showed love to the Grinch and the result was stunning. His heart was turned inside out and upside down. He was no longer the man he had once been. Sure, on the exterior he still looked the same, namely green. But on the inside he was a changed man with a new heart. The love he received filled him with cheer that he was then, in turn, able to share with the rest of Whoville.
So, my question for you today is where does your cheer come from? Are you looking for satisfaction and fulfillment in the boxes and bows of the Christmas season? Are you trying to buy the perfect gifts or decorate your home to be the most elaborate on the block? Are you so caught up in the stuff of the season that you're missing the true reason for the season?
Cheer, real honest to goodness life changing cheer, doesn't come from a store. It comes from something much, much more. The only truly lasting cheer comes from the realization that in a stable was born a baby who would one day die on a cross for our salvation. In that little baby came the precious gift of eternal life and the forgiveness of sins. The birth of Jesus Christ was the ultimate gift of love, unconditional and free.
Just like the Grinch didn't ask for Cindy Lou Who's love, we never asked for God's love. Still He has poured it out on us in the birth and life of Jesus Christ. Because "He so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
There is no greater love than that. There is no greater reason for cheer. It is life changing, turning hard hearts soft. The message of Jesus Christ and the salvation He brings is the free gift of love that invades the lives of the lost and changes them for good. Beautifully wrapped boxes and even the most perfectly tied bows can't change the hearts of the lost, only Jesus Christ can do that work of the soul.
This Christmas season spread the cheer that will last throughout the year. Share the cheer that Jesus brings. His love is the real reason for this season that can turn even the most stubborn of scrooges into a holiday cheermiester.