RETURNING TO THE RIGHT SHEPHERD

15 01 2018

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In the Book of Joel 2:20, the second half of the verse going into verse 21 reads, “Surely God has done great things! Do not be afraid, land of Judah; be glad and rejoice. Surely the Lord has done great things!” These words were written to the Israelites as they were coming back to the faith they had abandoned. The Hebrews had wandered from their God, choosing to try to replace Him with worldly pursuits and temporary pleasures. They found no lasting satisfaction; as a matter of fact they ended up losing much more than they had ever gained. But now they were returning to the source of their very being. If there is a word that defines their behavior; it would be repentance.

 In the midst of our chaos, God brings us a promise of comfort as a response to our repentance. Repentance is a word that I believe is misunderstood in the modern day. It literally refers to an individual reversing their course.  They were walking away from God and now they are turning in the opposite direction to go after him. It makes room for God’s amazing grace to redecorate a heart. Old habits are replaced by a new behavior that reflects God’s holiness. Prior labels are replaced by signs that reflect the new ownership of Heaven upon what was once monopolized by the things of earth.

 Real repentance happens when you are genuinely sorry for what you used to keep a secret! You no longer try to hide what you know must be addressed. You are no longer sweeping under the rug what must be totally removed. You allow God to go into your closet and deal with every one of those ugly skeletons. Your faith in God leads to you forsaking your old ways. You humbly surrender your stubborn and selfish ways so that you can freely be available to serve in God’s will. Repentance is so much more than just feeling guilty. It opens the door for you to be godly! There can be no saving faith without sacrificial repentance. There can be no real rescue without admitting that you are drowning.

 God’s holiness is not on display to render us hopeless. God’s goodness is our only hope to open our eyes to the truth that only within his hands will we ever really discover the path to find our way home! It is only by our sudden and sincere return to the Lord that we can receive and reap his promise that he will miraculously provide more life from fewer moments than we could ever hope to muster or manufacture. God can do more in one day surrendered to him than we could ever hope to accomplish in a lifetime.

 The Prophet Joel also proclaims this promise for those not afraid to admit that they can’t do much living without a commitment to the author of life. In Joel 2 we read that God says that he will make up for the lost years of the great locust devastations. He will heal us from the memory of both the savage locusts and those that were deadly. This includes the fierce locusts and the locusts of doom. The Lord will repair, redeem and renew our land from the damage of all those great locust invasions. If we trust the Lord, we will once again eat our fill of good food. Our mouths will stop the grumbling and once again shout out praises of gratitude. Never again will we be shamed or humiliated. Never again will we be alone and unloved.

Religion has always been about us trying to impress God with our outside actions. Christianity has always been about us allowing God to do a transforming work on the inside of our dying hearts. Religion has a way of proving us inadequate. A relationship with Jesus has a way of showcasing God’s amazing grace. There is nothing embarrassing about coming clean with the Lord. We can be secure that in the Lord’s care, we will never have to worry about our heart’s being hung out to dry again.

 When I was 8 years old I went on an Altar Boy’s Trip with my Church from North Jersey. We went as a group to Point Pleasant. It was a different time because we were left loose to roam with very little supervision. I remember that on this day I actually jumped off a diving board for the first time. It was a really good day until my moment of disaster. Father Mark told us that we had to be back at the Bus by 7PM. I was terrified of him. I made the decision to not be late at the expense of me wetting my pants. I confided in the Priest what I had done with the hope of receiving mercy. What I got was total humiliation. He announced to the entire bus what I had done and proceeded to tell me to move away from him because I stunk. Needless to say, I felt like a hopeless Loser in this man’s sight. And I never again felt good enough to be loved by God.

 Who is your Shepherd today? I have decided to follow Jesus and only in him can I delight in the redeemed miraculous provisions that God has promised a plague filled person like me. What the locusts have attempted to annihilate, the Lord has powerfully renewed to animate and because of his intervention, he has opened the door to some exciting brand new adventures. This time I won’t be shamed. This time I will be saved. This time I won’t be rejected. This time I will be respected. This time I won’t be left alone. This time I will be loved.  It does matter how you walk and where you walk and who you choose to walk with. Rather than wandering aimlessly in a world of charades and smoke and mirrors, why not get back to where you once belonged. It’s a New Year and it’s time for some new moves. Sheep are vulnerable to begin with. In the wrong hands, they are lamb chops. I don’t want to be basted. I am tired of my days being wasted. I desire to humbly be part of God’s flock. And when we come to Jesus, we will never be turned away!





THE WORD FOR 2018

10 01 2018

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 For the past several years, because of a practice that I first picked up on from my daughter Abbie, I have chosen one specific Word to act as identifying my primary goal and hope for the New Year. In 2016, my word was Pray piggybacking on the powerful Movie, “War Room.” Last year, it was Contentment because I too wanted to learn like the Apostle Paul just how to be content no matter what the circumstances. This year it is Restore. I have been beseeching and begging the Lord for quite a while to help me find my way back out of the irritating fog caused by constant physical ailments and setbacks, paralyzing anxiety and fits of discouragement and depression.

 I have nothing to hide. I love the Lord, my wife and kids and grandkids, my call as a Pastor with all of my heart and I try to live life to its fullest extent. But I have had many obstacles in my path the last dozen years that have done its darndest to puncture my balloon of dreams! The enemy has been busy planting mine fields in my green pastures of grandeur. Life is good and certainly a gift but it isn’t easy!  It is much too safe to buy into the lie that our best days are behind us. I refuse to receive this as my mandate from Heaven. Habits are much too accommodating to form and even more difficult to break. I believe that we consciously need to retrain our brain so our minds can be renewed to think the way the Lord would want us to and never surrender to a platform of defeat.

 So I have picked the word, Restore! Restore the grounds the locusts have tried to destroy! Restore to me the pure joy of my salvation! Restore to me the mind that will trust and obey no matter what mountains might be standing in the way. Restore to me the energy to be on the offensive and not just get stuck playing daily in a prevent defense mode. Restore the faith that believes God loves me and is right by my side no matter where the adventure may take me. Restore the confidence, courage and consistency that I once knew as a devoted disciple of my Savior.

 Restoring old houses or vintage items is certainly popular these days in our culture. The whole concept of taking something old and making it look new again. I want God to overhaul the broken parts and pieces of my life and bring them back to their original classic glory. Several years ago I watched Paul Brant restore a 1972 Chevy Nova, which happens to be my all time favorite car, piece by piece. He did it as a labor of his love for that car. When Paul was done with all of his efforts; that Nova looked like it had just rolled off the assembly line in pristine condition. I want Jesus to do the same in me. Rescue me from the junk yard. Redeem me out of the pits of despair. Restore me to the place that God always intended me to be. Make me believe now what I was so sure of then.

 I am not going to wait very long to put this word into practice. This Friday, I am leading a Missions trip with twenty other individuals from The Lighthouse Church to Ecuador. When I was younger, traveling the world came so easy to me. I couldn’t wait for the next assignment. But that has not been the case lately. Traveling is very difficult for me. Anxiety comes too easy and the yearning to stay put has kept me homebound way too many times. If I could explain it, I could conquer it on my own but I know it is beyond my own ability. So I am humbly asking the Lord to restore to me the simple trust of following him wherever and whenever he leads, even if it takes me out of Cape May County. This is a pretty big step of faith and I am determined to take it. “Restore to me the childlike dependence upon you my Lord. I choose to believe that you will look out for me so that I can just be the man you created me to be. I can’t do it without you but I want to do it with you so here we go!”

 What is your word for 2018? I’d love to hear it and have you share it with me. Perhaps you can do it as a family, a small group or even as a church! All I know it that in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God and so words can be pretty powerful. The difference between Yes and No is life changing. Let the Word give you a word and when you have his word on it, you are ready to lay your life on it and a whole new story begins. It is so much better when the Author of Heaven writes our tales here on earth!  





CHRISTMAS ALL YEAR LONG…

10 01 2018
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“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” – John 3:16-17 


We need to understand that when God looks at the world and sees the selfish sin and surrounding degradation that is so prevalent, He chooses to bring us a solution to the problem. God hates sin and there can be no doubt about that. But when He sees us stuck within the sin we are in, it instills within the Lord a desire, not to destroy the person who is sinning, but to make a way in the human race so that our sin no longer will disable us and keep us spiritually paralyzed.

“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” We can’t be good enough until we admit that we are helpless and hopeless without him. All Religion ever does is leave us with the impossible task of trying to earn a love that is well beyond our price range! I heard a car commercial this Christmas that was singing the jingle, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Payment.” I know they were using these words within the context of automobile sales, but I took it into the light of the present state of our souls. Nobody could afford the necessary means to cover the debt that our disobedience to Heaven has put us in. I don’t care how many good deeds that a man or woman tries to do, it could never be enough to purchase even one splinter if the Tree that Jesus died upon for you and me.

Once there was a little boy who was really mean. No matter what his parents tried, he continued to be ornery and extremely defiant. Christmas was coming soon, so the little boy, in his usual selfish way, compiled his “Dear Santa” letter and gave it to his parents. It was twelve pages of gadgets and toys. When his parents saw the monstrous letter, they were outraged.

The father picked up the little boy and carried him to the living room, setting him firmly on the floor right in front of the family’s nativity scene. “I want you to sit right here and look at this scene until you remember what Christmas is all about. Then I want you to write a letter to Jesus.”  So the little boy sits there a while and then returns to his bedroom. Finding paper and pencil, he begins to write: “Dear Jesus, if you will bring me all the presents I want, I’ll be good for a whole year.” Then he thinks for a moment and tears up the paper. He starts again: “Dear Jesus, if you’ll bring me all the presents I want, I’ll be good for a whole week,” but once again he tears up the paper. The little boy quietly leaves his room and returns to the living room, looking intently at the nativity scene.

He gently reaches down and picks up the figure of Mary. Returning to his room, he places the figure in a shoebox and sets the box in the back of his closet. Then he writes another letter: “Dear Jesus, if you ever want to see your mother again.”

Let’s just say that left up to our own ingenuity- we come up quite short! Jesus is God’s gift to the world, not because our world deserves Him, but because we need Him. If you want more of less this Christmas- Make sure you do it on your own! But if you want to discover that less of you means more of Him, plug into Jesus!

At the first Christmas God entered the world in the Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus came for the express purpose of saving the world, and Jesus gave the church the mission of carrying out His purpose until He would return. Through the church the entrance of Christ into the world continues.

Our church is God’s instrument for retelling the story of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If we strip away all the glitter and tradition that has attached itself to the Christmas story, what we will find is God being birthed through a human womb so that He can save humanity. Unfortunately- too many people run away from their one and only option for eternal rescue. God is not your enemy! Christmas proves that He is the only real ally we have!

A radio station reported a story about a stolen car in California. Police were staging an intense search for the vehicle and the driver, even to the point of placing announcements on local radio stations to contact the thief. On the front seat of the stolen car sat a box of crackers that, unknown to the thief, were laced with poison. The car’s owner had planned to use the crackers as rat bait.

Now the police and the owner of the car were more interested in apprehending the thief to save his life than to recover the car.

Oftentimes, when we run away from God, we feel it is to escape His punishment. But what we are actually doing is eluding His rescue. God came into this world in the Person of Jesus Christ because He wanted to rescue us from our lost condition and become the Lord of our lives.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. – Revelation 3:20

Now if you answer Jesus’ invitation He will come into your life and change you from the inside out. Jesus will be in your life, literally. Do you really believe today that God is literally in your life? If so, there are no limits to what you can accomplish in this world.

 





WHAT HEROD MISSED AT CHRISTMAS!

18 12 2017

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The Judean Province where Jesus was born actually lay beneath a double curse. Their primary burden was the fact that the Romans dominated the Israelites in just about every area of their lives. Another dark and looming shadow over the Hebrews was cast by King Herod himself who wore his title as King of the Jews as permission to be a tyrant and maniacal dictator. And for all the power that Herod pretended to wield, he was one insecure individual. If Herod didn’t like you, there was a huge reason to believe that your days on earth would be numbered. He had a habit of assassinating anyone and everyone who even hinted at disloyalty. The man killed off his own Wives and Kids as often as you and I might change socks.

 King Herod was never going to be held in high esteem amongst his subjects. As the time approached for the Birth of Jesus, Herod was literally in his final days this side of the grave. He was a cantankerous old man who immersed himself in pain and bitterness, almost all of it caused by him. As an obscure Peasant named Joseph and his very pregnant wife named Mary embarked upon that little town of Bethlehem just in time for the census, Herod was consumed by thoughts of death. Ironically this was all happening at just the time when God was sending his Son into the world to conquer the darkness for good.

 It was also during these days of personal decline that Herod was thrown for a loop by a band of traveling magicians who were chasing a star in the east! It forced him to face the facts that his reign of terror was not going to last forever. Herod was not a religious man and had no idea of God’s promises about the coming Messiah and the prophecy that foretold his birth to occur in the City of David. As he gathered the missing pieces of this puzzle, his misery was increasing by the minute. If you thought Ebeneezer Scrooge was no picnic in the park, then trying to function under Herod would have shanghaied any remaining substance of sanity.         

 Meanwhile, just a short walk down the road, a real Monarch was being crowned. The King of kings and Lord of lords occupied the humble throne of an animal trough. His legacy would include providing the light that would open the door to everlasting life. And while Herod was guilty of shedding plenty of innocent blood, it would be the ultimate sacrifice made on our behalf by the perfect Lamb of God offered freely to every man and woman which would  purchase the pardon that all of us desperately need. And while the reign of Herod would soon go bust as it decayed into a pile of dust, the Savior Jesus would rule forever.  

 Herod thought he could beat the Almighty God in a daily game of tug of war but oh how wrong he turned out to be. Herod couldn’t even convince the Magi to do his bidding. Heaven eventually always trumps the laws of the land. The Wise Men yielded to the Lord’s directions and went home a different path as transformed individuals. Isn’t it the same today? Any of us who have ever by grace through faith received the Lord Jesus Christ know by experience that nobody ever leaves the Lord in the same manner they came. And anybody with any sense of decency understands that you can’t harvest infinity from finite means.    

Did you know that Herod’s name actually means “heroic,” but there was nothing valiant about him? Herod lived in constant fear that he was about to lose what he could never grasp and when his time came to exit, he certainly expired in vain.

 Fear makes people do crazy things. And while the governments of mankind attempt to set up rules and regulations, it can’t make you do anything that you don’t want to do. Power can’t bully anyone to love! Only God can transform the hearts of people and that is exactly what Jesus came to do when he moved into our neighborhood that first Christmas.

 What will you do with the real light of Christmas? The greatest heroes are the one’s who are willing to abandon it all and answer the call and follow Jesus. Herod saw Christmas as nothing more than just another threat that he tried to thwart. God means Christmas to be a holy gift and that is a present we can’t leave under the tree unopened. Don’t compete with the Father and end up with nothing more than an empty soul like Herod. Let the love of Noel complete you and give you keen insight into what we should be doing with our day. Pride will assure you of nothing more than a fatal fall. Worshiping the Christ of Christmas will open the door to way more than one magical day in December. Let Jesus be born in you and give God room to redecorate your heart for good. Merry Christmas and let nothing stop you from celebrating all that matters most!       





I’M STILL BELIEVING IN CHRISTMAS…

11 12 2017

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 Hello Family! This is my absolute favorite time of the year. I am a lifelong card carrying hopelessly devoted Fan of Christmas. And with the snow coming down upon us here in Cape May County last weekend, I believe this one is going to be even a bit more extra special. Maybe because my name is Rudolph but I have always celebrated Christmas all 12 months of the year. I keep the decorations up in my office complete with tree, lights and ornaments. And don’t be surprised if I am blasting my Ronettes version of Sleigh Ride in the middle of a hazy, hot and humid August day!

 I have always believed in St. Nicholas and his unconditional giving and I still make it a point of following his example. I am a big fan of participating in anonymous random acts of kindness for strangers, family and friends every December. I watch every Hallmark Channel Countdown to Christmas Movie even though I know what is going to happen in the first five minutes. I look forward to reading the annual Yuletide offerings from celebrated Authors such as Richard Paul Evans, Debbie Macomber and Elin Hilderbrand. I long for my annual dates to The Nutcracker with my daughter Leah and Ice Skating in New York City with my daughter Abbie. And the more Christmas Services that we hold at The Lighthouse Church, the more energized I become. As a matter of fact, this year we will be holding 5 of them! I love the midnight candlelight one the best.

 When I was a kid, I remember how hard it was for me to go to sleep on Christmas Eve. I was notorious for sneaking downstairs and being the first of my siblings to peak at all the presents underneath the Tree. I got a blue bicycle back in 1965. I was quite disappointed when I opened the box and found out that it still needed to be assembled. Needless to say I badgered my Dad all day to put it together so I could get out and ride it on the snowy streets of Cedar Knolls up in North Jersey. By the way, I have nearly lost my sanity more than once trying to put together my children’s’ gifts on Christmas Eve. I will pay any price to buy the floor model so I can leave the fixing to the experts.    

 And as I write these recollections, I can’t help but recall the nostalgic gatherings of our beloved but dysfunctional families. I had some very large Aunts and one could easily suffocate when one of them would embrace you in a bear hug and smother you with their sloppy lipstick kisses. We all would suffer from lasting marks on our face from having our cheeks pinched again and again. There was always lots of food whether it was with my Mom’s Italian relatives complete with the Feast of the Seven Fishes or my Dad’s Polish side which always included a Christmas-themed Talent Show. My Dad’s Brother Joey was a television star back in the 1950’s and appeared on a daily variety show with other such notables as Barry Gordon and Connie Francis.  

 I surely miss my Dad who now has been in Heaven since September of 2000. We had so much fun together and because of his constant fear of our house burning down; he never kept the Christmas lights on and refused to ever use our fire place. He’d always tell me to turn on Channel 11 WPIX if I needed to warm up because that station ran a continuous video loop of a burning Yule Log. I would actually hold up popcorn to the screen but for some reason, it never popped!

So much has changed down though the years and I think we as a Nation have lost our way. If the word Christmas by definition means the celebration of Jesus; then it begs the question, “How can you celebrate Jesus without celebrating Jesus? It’s like when people tell me they can’t come to church because they have Christmas shopping to do. So ironically they are missing out on coming to celebrate the Lord because they are out shopping to get ready for the day we commemorate celebrating the Lord but they do so without ever celebrating the Lord. If you ask me, it defeats the purpose. How can we truly have hope on the darkest night of the year if we ignore the light?

 I am not ready to concede to our Culture’s demand of referring to this time of the year as “The Winter Break,” when we put gifts under “The Holiday Tree.” The first word of Christmas is still Christ and as far as I am concerned it is still a season where we look to the Savior to accomplish what the old pagan Saturnalia could never pull off. I make no apology to wish Jesus a “Happy Birthday!” as publicly as I can! I wouldn’t dare to tell anyone else that they couldn’t celebrate the important days of their faith. So I am free to shout, “Merry Christmas” and buy and give Christmas presents and send Christmas cards and eat Christmas cookies and decorate my Christmas Tree while singing Christmas Carols telling the Christmas Story! If you call me politically incorrect, so be it! I have been labeled much worse in my life.

 This will be my 58th Christmas here on Earth and while I cherish those of yesterday I am still excited about the one that is now only a week and a half away. I still believe in the magic of Christmas and challenge those who share my convictions to also allow your lights to shine brighter than ever before. I pray that many more will embrace the greatest gift that God ever gave us and make room in their hearts for Jesus. We won’t ever benefit from winter if it doesn’t promise the new life of spring. So why not let Christ be born in you and let his presence shine in you? And let’s never give up ringing those silver bells until the day we finally walk the streets of gold! If there’s no place like home for the Holidays, then we must make sure we observe a celebration that promises us an eternal destination.

 With the time remaining, which by the way is zipping by, let’s forget about our selfies and concentrate on the Baby born in the manger and together make this the coolest Yule on record. Let’s leave the commercialism to the retail stores and let’s make the church a haven where we are following the example of the Savior! If our love for God can result in actions that can transform this crazy chaotic world, then now is the time. Let’s believe in Christmas again!  

 





FAITHFUL FOLLOWERS THIS CHRISTMAS!

11 12 2017

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A coach without a team is just a glorified sports fan. A teacher lacking students is a master of soliloquies. A conductor without an orchestra is just a madman waving his hands in the air. A favorite leadership adage states, “He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.” In other words, a tongue-in-cheek test of one’s leadership skills can be taken by a quick backward glance over the shoulder. Is anybody following? No? Then you’re not leading. What good are leaders if nobody follows them? And what good are so-called leadership skills if the people they’re called to inspire to action only exhibit indifference, apathy and resistance? Clearly, successful leadership depends on a responsive audience that is willing to forfeit their comfort so that they may become fully engaged to fulfill the purposes that they were created for.

  If all I do every weekend at The Lighthouse Church is preach sermons that do nothing more than inform, I am not being faithful to my calling from God. The people gathered out there in the sanctuary chairs need to receive the word, believe it, embrace it, live it out, and engage with it as they allow God to transform their daily lives. All of these and more are the key results that I constantly pray for God to do within us. Way too often we waste too much time asking God to just change our outer circumstances when what we really need to seek is for Him to strengthen us from the inside out. If the Lord can make us secure in whose we are, then it doesn’t much matter much what happens on the outside if the inside is handled with the extreme divine care.   

 If I have one insight to offer about our current culture is that we are not as tough as we claim to be. In our desperate attempts to try to fulfill every want and to do so in an instant manner, we might very well have created a monstrous self-centered society. If we always get whatever we want whenever we want it, how do we ever learn to patiently wait and provide perseverance and endurance? If we constantly come to the rescue of our children and those we love, how will they ever come to know that they have the potential to conquer their trials and tribulations? When I was young, I remember my Grandparents telling me the story of how they survived “The Great Depression.” They shared the joy they all still had on Christmas even though there was only an orange and apple in their Stockings. Can you imagine giving your kids or grandchildren an apple or an orange and not expect them to throw them back at you? It wasn’t the times that made them tougher. It was the inner tenacity being developed within them that made them courageous enough to come out victorious in the midst of the mess. They endured hardship, exhibiting works of faith, love, and hope in the midst of suffering and lean times! How easy it would have been simply to surrender under the pressure and pain.

 Suffering is one of the most difficult aspects of life that we can face, and its difficulty is not diminished if we are Christians. When we suffer, or when someone else suffers, we are often at a loss as to what to do or how to handle it, but the Bible says a great deal about suffering, and it provides a proper understanding of difficulties in the life of a believer.

If we are faithful in our following, God will use our pain for the purpose of our redemption, our growth in holiness, and for the insulation of our souls to create a character that nothing can hinder or destroy. So here’s my caution; don’t be so focused on getting out of difficult circumstances that you don’t get anything out of them. Sometimes the circumstances we’re trying to change are the very circumstances God is using to change us. So before you take a painkiller, listen carefully to what God is saying during the tough times.

 Let’s not pretend that pain doesn’t exist. Whatever you do, don’t fake it to make it.

That doesn’t do anybody any favors. It’s okay to not be okay! That admission is the first step in the healing process. Generally speaking, Americans aren’t good at sackcloth and ashes. When we fail to grieve, wounds remain open. Grieving is part of the healing process.

It’s an emotional antiseptic that cleans the wound. And different people grieve in different ways, so please give others a little latitude. Pain is part of the curse, but that doesn’t mean God can’t redeem it, recycle it, and speak through it.

 If we are still on this earth, then the work is not finished. God has committed to work with us in that journey until Christ returns. How I wish for a greater understanding of this in the body of Christ. Too often we judge, measure, condemn, and isolate. The gospel of Jesus Christ invites us to sit together in our rags under the wide-open sky of grace. Maybe our Christmas Wardrobe is more about allowing Jesus to choose what we put on so we can take the masks off! This is the truth I pray that you would discover this December!

Christmas was where the Gospel began: a Baby in a manger! Easter was when the Gospel broke through; a Sonrise for the ages!  As the Magi did before they knew where it all would end, we too need to follow the Lord. Follow the Lord, today, tomorrow





GOD’S IN IT THIS VERY MINUTE!

27 11 2017

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1 Thessalonians 5:18 is one of those Bible verses that you might wish wasn’t there. It calls us to do what we aren’t by nature geared to do. The Apostle Paul writes, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” I am all for celebrating those blessings that make me smile; but that which rips my heart out; not so much! At the very least, I am especially glad that the Scripture doesn’t command us to be grateful “for” all things because being appreciative of cancer, death, discouragement, anxiety and despair makes no sense to me whatsoever. I don’t believe that Jesus was grateful for the cross as much as our Lord was standing upon the truth that His Father was working all things to work together for good when all was said and done.  

Sadly, I tend to be a whiner and complainer. I’m not bragging about this trait because I wish it would not define me as it does. My word for 2017 was “Contentment” as I prayed that the Lord would continue to teach me how not to be so frustrated by my current circumstances. Things were aggravated by the fact that because of a really bad chest cold, I was kept home alone on Thanksgiving. I started to feel sorry for myself. When you want to splash around a pool of your own self pity, the enemy will provide you with plenty of ammunition.

I missed the Church Family Football Game! I look forward to playing in this contest all year long. I reached deep down inside for my inner Charlie Brown. Did you know that in all 17,897 comic strips, Charlie Brown never once got to successfully kick the football from Lucy? Asked whether Charlie Brown would finally get to kick the football in the last “Peanuts” comic strip, Schulz replied, “Oh, no! Definitely not! I couldn’t have Charlie Brown kick that football; that would be a terrible disservice to him after nearly half a century.” The cartoonist later became remorseful and in 1999, recalling the final time he signed the comic strip, “All of a sudden I thought, ‘You know, that poor, poor kid, he never even got to kick the football. What a dirty trick — he never had a chance to kick the football!’”

There are days that I look up to Heaven and shout, “Lord, please let today be the day you let me kick the football!” Some days, I feel like God is Charles Schulz and even though He knows how much I want to connect with that football, He always pulls it away and allows me to land smack dab on my back. I am not saying that these feelings are accurate because the Voice of Truth tells me a different story; but I do wrestle with the devils darts that shout to me things like, “God is always playing a joke on me and He seems to be enjoying it.” This frustrates me to no end.

I have learned the hard way that if we are ever going to be able to be “Thankful” in each situation, we need to make sure we keep looking up before we start mouthing off. If we don’t, our worship will quickly be reduced to glorified whining and our contents of praise sabotaged to morph into nothing more than lots of complaints about our position. Do any of these statements sound familiar? “I don’t like where I am God.” “I can’t believe that You would just leave me here!” Lord, how can You say you love me when You just up and left me to fend for myself all alone?”

When our wounds are the rawest, we need to turn down the volume of earth’s noise so that we may position ourselves to hear Heaven’s voice. The language of lies can only be trumped by “Truth Talk.” And yet it’s so easy for any one of us to be led astray. As a follower of Jesus, there is power in your story when you choose to live it even though you don’t like it. By going the distance, you will have been given the divine assistance that only shows up when your “watch” is set to God’s daylight savings time! We need so much more than just “bumper sticker” clichés to get us by. It is time to ask the Lord for a “Bumper Car” mentality! But just make sure your “crash helmet” is on!

When you lose your health it’s hard not to lose your hope. Getting older presents its own challenges when you can’t do the things you once could. But no matter what our circumstances may be, the truth remains the same and that is, “God is in it this very minute!” You may not like where you are or what you are or when you are but it doesn’t negate the promise of our Lord’s presence path of Jesus. When we look for the Lord rather than just use the Lord for what we want; we experience His presence in the middle of our pain even when we don’t like the purpose. His company means more to us than the mere change in our circumstances.

In her book “The Hiding Place,” Corrie Ten Boom tells of a time she discovered that God was working even in the most horrific circumstances. Corrie and her sister Betsie had been imprisoned by the Nazis for hiding Jews behind the wall of their Holland home. They both, along with their Father, ended up together in Concentration Camp. Yet, in the midst of the suffering, the women prisoners around Corrie and Betsie found comfort in the little Bible studies they held in the barracks. Corrie writes they gathered around the Bible “like waifs clustered around a blazing fire.” The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the Word of God.

When they were moved to Barracks 28, Corrie was horrified by the fact that their reeking, straw-bed platforms swarmed with fleas. How could they live in such a place? It was Betsie who discovered God’s answer: ‘”Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.” Corrie stared at Betsie and then all around the dark, foul-aired room. Corrie thanked God for the fact they were together. Corrie thanked God that they had a Bible. Corrrie even thanked God for the horrible crowds of prisoners, that more people would be able to hear God’s Word. And then, Betsie thanked God for the fleas. “The fleas! This was too much. Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.” “Give thanks in all circumstances,” Betsie reminded Corrie. “It doesn’t say, ‘only in pleasant circumstances.’  Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.” And so Corrie proceeded to give thanks for fleas even though this time she was sure Betsie was wrong.”                                                               

It turned out that Betsie was not wrong; the fleas were a nuisance, but a blessing after all. The women were able to have Bible studies in the barracks with a great deal of freedom, never bothered by supervisors coming in and harassing them. They finally discovered that it was the fleas that kept those supervisors out. Through those fleas, God protected the women from abuse and harassment. Through those fleas, God protected the women from much worse things and made sure they had their deepest, truest needs met.

We all have “fleas” in our lives. We all have those things that we can see no use for, things that are obviously horrible, unpleasant, painful things that we want gone. No life is free of “fleas”, but if Corrie and Betsie can be our examples, God can use even these nasty insects for our protection and blessing. As we celebrate the Season of Advent, lets thank God for His constant care and provision, and for His hidden blessings that come in ways we can easily overlook when we don’t see Him! He is in it this very minute. He is Emmanuel. Jesus is the eternal reality of “God with us!”