Friday, December 30, 2011

the promise keeper

We are not used to living in a world where people keep their least not all the people...all the time.  We don't even keep our promises to ourselves.  As we launch into a New Year this weekend millions will make promises to themselves about losing weight and changing habit patterns but millions will not follow through to keep those promises.  Business deals are based on promises, often formalized by contracts, but they are often broken for a variety of reasons.  Marriages all start with a promise for a lifetime partnership...but many marriages crumble despite the promise.  We don't seem to always have the strength, courage or integrity to keep our promises.  In a sense we are conditioned to this and we build skepticism into our world view.  But there is One who absolutely keeps His promises.  There isn't a promise that God has made that He hasn't fulfilled (or is in the process of fulfilling).  We need a God who can be relied on because we cannot rely on ourselves, or each other, or society as a whole.  It just isn't in our nature to reliably complete what we start...In fact we don't even know what or where to start anyhow.  But God is the one who starts and who finishes.  He has started each of our lives and only He can bring our lives to the proper finish.  So, one daily resolution we might try to make this coming year is to acknowledge that we don't know what promises to keep and we don't know how to keep our we will bow before the One whose promises are always kept.   

Let's look for His promises as we walk with Him and build our actions on the basis of His commitments to us and through us!

1 John 2:24 Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life.

Monday, December 26, 2011

the importance of others

2 Corinthians 1: 13b Now I trust you will understand, even to the end 14 (as also you have understood us in part), that we are your boast as you also are ours, in the day of the Lord Jesus.

In the day when we stand before the Lord Jesus to personally review our lives, I believe that many things we hold dear now will evaporate like mist.  But what will remain is the investment and impact our lives have had on the lives of others who will also stand before the Lord.  It is all the "others" in our lives here that make life incredibly precious.  And it is in the nature of our interaction with others that we find our highest purpose, our greatest calling and our most enduring worth.  As others come to a knowledge of Jesus and find His reflection in our lives they have opportunity to turn to Him and return to him and find that Heaven awaits and eternity beckons.  Our lives matter here and now as we have opportunity to reach out to others for eternity.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas gift

What will I give you, Lord Jesus?
to You who gave all to me...

Heaven declared its love for the world
When you humbly came to the scene.

No longer two; for You have made one
and life is found in your name.

Wandering astray...far far away
You have brought sheep to the fold.

You said you would come and that's what you've done
Now Heaven's forever my home.

What will I give you, Lord Jesus?
As we celebrate Christmas Day.

I'll give you myself, as you did for me
Thank you for coming this way.

John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

only a man...only the Lord

1 Corinthians 15: 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.

We've been walking through the epistle of 1 Corinthians in the Mini Bible College study and recently reviewed the great "resurrection" chapter (Chapter 15).  The heart of the Gospel message is clearly shown in this passage as the apostle Paul answers the concerns of some about whether the dead really are raised to life.  One aspect that grabbed my attention this morning, as I reflected on resurrection, was that only a man needs to be resurrected, because only a man can die.  Ever since Adam, we have all experienced a natural birth followed by a natural death...but God really intended for life to be eternal.  His solution was to become a man, Himself, so that He would be capable of death also.  But only God can raise the dead to life because God is the inventor of life.  Only a man can die...and only God can raise to life again.  Now here's the really interesting part: Only a man can believe that this is possible through faith...and through believing his eternal life begins even before he dies.  God doesn't need faith...the angels don't need faith...Satan has rejected this reality...but fragile, vulnerable, flawed man who is traveling in this temporary bag of bones and flesh has the unique opportunity of experiencing death and resurrection.  Our train got derailed back there with Adam but God placed the wheels back on the tracks when Jesus came, died and was raised to life again.  Over 500 people saw Jesus after he was raised, according to Paul.  

Only a man can die...only a man can be resurrected...only a man can believe that God came as a man to do both for us!

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Word

The Word is how it started,
How God created Man.

The power was expressed by Him,
and all we see began.

A Plan came into being,
When spoken from His mouth.

Atomic structure, hills and plains
Rabbits, iron and trees...

His Word made all appear it seems,
We know His Word is truth!

His Word came as a babe one day,
and grew to be a Man.

To walk with those His Word had made,
A rescue of that Plan!

And now we find Him through His Word,
The One who spoke's still giving.

And through that Word we know we're known
Eternal life we're living!

1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Three wonders

Little did I know, when I fell for a pretty farm girl in Southwestern Michigan that the joy of knowing her would lead to the three wonders we have had as children.  The first wonder was expected when I was still in the Navy and represented the pride of having a child for the first time...quickly followed by the amazing realization that my wife seemed to know everything about how to take care of this vulnerable infant when I knew virtually nothing.  The second wonder showed up about two years later and we wondered if we'd have a boy to go with the girl and found our second girl to be equally beautiful while amazingly different even from the outset than her sister.  The third wonder took a little longer to make her appearance and this turned out to be her tendency in later years, when she'd take a little longer to get out of bed and down for school.  Well the story unfolded and the wonder of a family played out and now these three girls are just about through the hurdles of school and finding a job and finding their own partners to walk through the wonders together.  

Now we get to experience the wonders of children having children and the greater joy of seeing our adult children walk with Jesus on a daily basis...trusting Him, leaning on Him, sharing Him with their children and friends.  I guess it's all wrapped up in the Wonder of His wonderful is that?!

Psalm 107:8 Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness,
         And for His wonderful works to the children of men! 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

deep country

This morning I went for a drive through some back roads.   You wonder, as you follow the curves of these narrow roads, about why the roads have so many bends and twists and then you realize that today's roads were built on yesterday's paths, which wound around farms and family property and negotiated hills and ravines.  These country roads are a truer picture of our lives than the interstate highway, which can stretch for miles with barely a change in elevation or turn.  Life is like a country road, with hidden twists and sudden drops and you are always close to the woods and to the lives of others on the road and by the embracing roadside.  As I rounded a bend in the road today I found an old church nestled in the angle of the road's curve.  It was a simple frame building, and there was no sign proclaiming a denomination.  But you could tell it was a church from the windows, which were stained in translucent color and each window had triangular panes pointing up at the top.  You could also tell it was a church from the gravestones out back, with family clusters of parents and children who have lived and died in this church family for the past century and a half.  There was no parking lot for this church so folks must still walk here from nearby places, or line the narrow road for parking.  Deep in the country there is no need to impress...there is only the basic need to connect with one another and with almighty God.  He meets folks on their windy roads in a simple and sincere greeting and speaks truth from His house.  They find comfort with Him and with His children and, one day, they are content to lay down at His feet in the ground outside His doors, confident that they will wake up next to Him.  We find ourselves as we travel down deep country roads.

Judges 5:5 The mountains quaked in the presence of the Lord,
      the God of Mount Sinai—
   in the presence of the Lord,
      the God of Israel.
 6 "In the days of Shamgar son of Anath,
      and in the days of Jael,
   people avoided the main roads,
      and travelers stayed on winding pathways. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

unconditional love

A parent just naturally loves his child without condition.  The very idea that God would permit the privilege of bringing new life into the world, through your own life, shows how much God loves us.  But, along the way, we often come to think that we must earn love from others and if we don't get it we are not only unloved by them...we are unable to love ourselves.  I believe this is the basis for much unhappiness and insecurity.  All of life and life's experience is a wonder...a mystery...a miraculous event that we neither asked for, nor can explain.  We can try to fill our days with self-made purpose but we cannot address the wonder, solve the mystery or explain the miracle of life without coming back to the Source of all life.  And we hesitate to do that because we feel unworthy, unholy and unloved.  The good news of the Gospel is that our Maker loves us just because we are His.  His love comes to us with only one condition.  That condition is that we accept the unconditional love and sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf.  It is true that we are unworthy and unholy but it is untrue that we are unloved.  You are greatly loved and highly prized.  The whole Bible story was crafted to reach you with this message of heavenly embrace.  One word of caution: just as you cannot earn this love from the Lord, so you cannot lose it by failure.  You are just going to have to get used to the fact that you are loved...just are His!

1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

rich sound

The Christmas concert at the Chapel has been glorious with the range of music from children's voices sweetly singing of the sincere simplicity of the Savior to the grandeur of God and His great plan for redemption and restoration that would be fulfilled through Emmanuel.  One favorite song for me was the spiritual, "Sweet Little Jesus Boy".  It featured a solo by Kaare Loftheim, accompanied by the choir and violinist, Carolyn Kluge.  I have known Kaare for some time and he has much experience in Colonial Williamsburg as a skilled woodworker.  He has a rich and warm baritone voice and the tones that came as he sang were mellow, like the sound you might imagine coming from a fine recording being played through a hand crafted music box fashioned meticulously by a woodworker and crafted in a blend of soft and hardwood.   The song is really about all of us who have found somewhere down life's road that we didn't recognize Jesus properly at first.  We had mistakenly thought He was a baby in a manger scene in a far off place and now we know that He is the Lord come down from Heaven to save us and to know us personally.  Kaare's voice, at once strong and rich while also measured and soft, was an apt picture of the grace and strength and patience of Jesus.  He came as a babe because He came to share our experience and we are reminded that we also need a fresh birth to see Him... as He was... and as He is.

"Sweet little Jesus boy,
Born long time ago,
Sweet little Holy Child,
We didn't know who You was."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Silent Light

My new friend, Paul Copeland, is almost totally deaf and has been his entire life.  But he has amazing skills at lip reading and the intelligence of an engineer.  He has effectively "solved" many of the problems of communication and as long as you are facing him as you speak there is no problem with conversation.  Paul is also gifted in the area of creative lighting for dramatic productions.  He has done this for church and dramatic presentations at his previous church in Ohio and this year he is serving our church for our Christmas concert series (Paul and Cindy now attend the Chapel).  Paul and the team of  technology people at church spent hours setting up lights and the sophisticated systems to program and "cue" them and the results have been stunning.  Shades of color from every hue are coordinated to match the mood and spirit of each song as the lights wash the background and focus on the choirs and center-stage speakers.   Cf course Paul cannot hear the music and so he watches for other signals, such as director Ted Cornell's hands, to indicate the next song or stage of the program.  Paul explained to me that, because he cannot hear the music of the concerts, the lights represent much of the beauty of a Christmas program.  It is in the subtle variations of light the Paul finds the worship experience.  He multiplies the importance of vision to replace the absent sound.  He finds the Lord in the silent light.

Acts 12:7 Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, "Arise quickly!" And his chains fell off his hands.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

vertical alignment

It occurred to me on a recent walk that when it comes to spiritual exercise we do not need a "well rounded" workout.  If we're talking about physical exercise we probably should work all the muscle groups, including that most important muscle- the heart.  We may tend to repeat the same kinds of exercise because they are the most enjoyable or the most convenient but we need discipline to balance out the effort.  But when it comes to spiritual exercise we need a different kind of discipline...the discipline to keep looking and listening in the vertical dimension.   I think we need to "overwork" the vertical through prayer, praise, meditation on the Word and thoughts of God because the horizontal dimension of living our our days tends to sweep us away.  The stronger our pillar of relationship with God...and the more vital and real He has become...the less we are drawn astray, aside and away from abundant living.  That's one of the reminders I get each morning as I walk the forest trail near my home because virtually all the trees surrounding me are faithful to point upward, as they align to the sun.  As my thoughts align with those trees and I point vertically also, I am realigned with the One who can keep me from all the sideways forces that seek to knock me off the trail.

Philippians 3:13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

across the table

Sometimes it enhances the worship experience to visit a different church than your home church.  We attended church with Courtney and Ben this past Sunday and enjoyed a lovely Communion Service with them.  As we participated I listened to the familiar words from scripture that relayed Christ's intention for us to remember Him through the bread and wine.  Suddenly my thoughts transferred from the wonderful meaning of the broken body and shed blood represented by the elements to Christ, Himself, and I realized that I was sitting across the table from Him and He was distributing the bread and wine to me.  I thought about the truth that I now sit daily at the same table as my Savior.  We share meals...we share the daily walk of living...we share all of life in this personal way.  Because I have received Christ as my Savior, I have received the body and blood just like a person receives food to eat and the result is that the Savior and I are united.  He is in me and I am in Him...
And Jesus is always across the table from me, passing the bread and wine each and every day.  I am glad to share this table and my Savior with you.

Luke 22: 27 For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. 
28 "But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials.29 And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, 30 that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

the river

We visited our daughter, Courtney, and her husband, Ben, this past weekend.  They live in the western suburbs of Philadelphia.  While there I expressed an interest in going for a walk for exercise and they suggested that I walk part of an old river trail.  I found myself walking for a few miles beside a powerful river, called the Schuylkill.  This odd name is Dutch and apparently means something like "hidden river".  As I walked beside the water it seemed anything but hidden to me.  It looked to be about 3 or 4 football fields in width and had an impressive current of several miles per hour.  All this water was rushing towards Philadelphia where it would ultimately pour into the Delaware River and on into the ocean. It averages about 5,000 cubic feet of water per second as it empties into the Delaware.  Day in and day out the water flows.  Where does it come from?  The river is 135 miles long and is fed by many mountain streams and other sources along the way.  Over its recent lifetime, the river was the site of revolutionary war battles, the industrial revolution and transportation by canal and train.  But...all that water!  I thought about all the source of the water...the raindrops that dripped off rocks and rooftops and rain off to streams to feed into smaller rivers and eventually fuel this huge river.  The river seemed like a living thing, with its rush and its sound, as it broke over rows of rock here and there.  I thought about the river of life that is the Lord living in you and me.  His power and presence are coursing through our lives with a vitality like the "hidden river".  He is not standing still and His power starts with raindrops of faith that build to streams of trust and ultimately become an ongoing river flow that courses through and also carries us.  This powerful river of God will ultimately empty into Heaven's eternity and we are riding this river carried safely in a boat named "Jesus" and a river guide we know as "Holy Spirit".

Revelation 22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city.