WE ARE ALL BROKEN

10 02 2020

IMG-6396

Let’s face it. We all have our issues which keeps the tissue company doing a lucrative business. It’s that and the fact that I am also allergic to just about everything but cats and dogs. But my article today wants to encourage each and every one of us that if you are feeling bad that life hasn’t turned out better, it’s not all your fault. Look at what we have to work with. This earth is only a hint of what it once was before Adam and Eve chose poorly in the Garden of Eden. We can exercise and be in great shape and still get hit by a drunk driver. We can love children beyond measure and still end up with more heartbreak than hallelujahs. Believers can be faithfully following Jesus and be hopelessly devoted to His word and way and still be the target of injustice, hatred and cheap shots. The craziest part about what I just shared is that many of the punches come from those who are supposed to be on the same team!

There is nothing worse than when someone finally has the courage to go for their dreams, they are met with words like, “That’ll never happen!” Teachers, Coaches, Pastors and Parents who deal with their own personal insecurities decide that the best that they can offer is to rain on a parade that hasn’t even gotten off the ground. No woman should ever have to be compared to another woman. I have two adult daughters and they are absolutely beautiful and the apple of their Daddy’s heart so if you mess with them, I am going to come to their defense. Men hear things like, “Big boys don’t cry!” “Real men don’t show emotion.” “Athletes don’t play music and Musicians don’t waste time pitching no-hitters!” I was someone who never fit in the stereotype of any one group. All my life I was told by Mom, Priests, Coaches and Christians that I wasn’t this enough or that enough and I wouldn’t amount to anything! My Preaching Professor in College gave me “D” Grades simply because I wouldn’t stand still when I gave a sermon. He was so put off by the package, he never took the time to appreciate the contents. Aren’t you glad that God is not looking for cathedrals to dwell in but simply those empty and cracked jars who will make room for Him to invade the space!

I’m 60 now and while random words still sting, I am also glad I got good at ignoring the crowd! The Lighthouse Church wouldn’t be on Route 9 if I listened to the self-appointed know-it-alls! Isn’t it ironic that those who talk the most usually do the least? What is easier? Is it to be the individual who writes the song, paints the picture, puts themselves out there and shares their talent or the one who sits in the bleachers yelling insult after insult while they never lift a finger unless it’s to stuff another hot dog into their mouths! By the way, in all of history, nobody has ever built a monument to a Critic. Only those who get up and go for it ever get there! I’m cheering you on! I hate that old “sticks and stones” chorus because it isn’t true! Words can hurt and when they come from those who are supposed to be nurturing you, they can cut very deep! It is not constructive criticism unless the end result is that somebody is built up after the encounter. Truth with grace shared in love plants promising seeds of faith and hopeful happenings and there is nothing more wonderful in a world that is so messy than seeing a beautiful garden growing in the concrete! God can use us to transform junkyards into art exhibits! Isn’t that what amazing grace is all about? Taking what was left to be trashed and transforming it into true eternal treasure.

So why is the church playing roles when the most powerful part we can share is being real? Jesus continually tried to get the religious rulers to loosen up when it came to relating to their flock. This has nothing to do with bad behavior and misusing God’s love as permission to get away with what is wrong. This has everything to do with pretending you are one thing when you are really another. We are all broken and messed up! Even as Christians, we are in process to make progress and while we should celebrate the steps of success, we can’t hide the dismal failures. I beg people not to put me on any pedestals. I don’t need anything new to fall off of. I take my responsibility and calling as a Pastor very seriously and I know that many people look to me to be an example. But let’s make it clear what I am an example of. I am a learning, active follower of Jesus who is still battling depression, anxiety and frustration. I am a recovering perfectionist who for so long actually believed that I could live like I was already in Heaven but that’s impossible in my present address. Jesus was heaven on earth but he didn’t build his kingdom here, at least, not yet! He was preparing us for the real deal. Why would I ever want to settle for make believe when God has promised true authenticity?

I talked to an old friend today. We have known each other for almost 40 years. He was at my wedding. I performed his. We hadn’t seen each other for a long time and yet it took no time at all to get beyond the niceties to the nitty gritty. There were no attempts to one upping each other. As a matter of fact, we both expressed quite clearly that life has not turned out as we both thought it would. But in the midst of all that went wrong, we also highlighted the moments that went very right. Our kids, our adventures, our faith and our friendship were true gifts worth valuing. Also, we remembered that we aren’t finished yet, and reminded one another to keep on trucking. It was what faith and community and family should be all about. We didn’t exchange empty flattery. We didn’t skirt reality. We continued to love each other knowing that neither one of us have arrived.

What does it take to be real? What needs to happen so the Body of Christ is open and honest and shares what we actually feel? Weekend Services are not events to attend. They are not places to practice anonymity. Nobody should be looking to sharpen their acting skills while intervening with the congregation. Come on Believers. We are not consumers. We are challenged to be the Lord’s disciples. Jesus knew full well who He was talking to when He bantered with the woman at the well, defended the lady caught in adultery and invited to dinner the dishonest tax collector who He knew was hiding up the tree. Jesus never condoned bad behavior but He didn’t condemn the honest and seeking heart. God won’t work with a façade. Stop playing games and let’s be the hands and feet and heart of Jesus amidst a world that desperately needs to taste the original recipe.





GET OFF THE COUCH CHURCH!

6 02 2020

IMG-6347

I love old western movies and television shows. I secretly wanted to always be a cowboy, not from Dallas, but from Dodge City. I can dream of riding the open range and hanging out with the likes of John Wayne, Gary Cooper, James Stewart, Audie Murphy, Randolph Scott, Errol Flynn, Walter Brennan, Brett Maverick, the Cartwrights, Chuck Connors, Wyatt Earp, the gang from Wagon Train and Marshall Dillon from Gunsmoke. Did you know that the experts rated all the gunmen from video lore and discovered that the fastest draw was none other than James Arness. Miss Kitty knew that she was in good hands under his protection.

From the pages of actual history is the fascinating tale of the Pony Express. These mailmen of the open plains served a private company that specialized in making special deliveries via an organized relay of horseback riders. The eastern end was St. Joseph, Missouri, and the western terminal was in Sacramento, California. The cost of sending a letter by Pony Express was $ 2.50 an ounce.

Being part of this elite team was very dangerous in every aspect of the word. There were the severe weather conditions, the utter dependence on the horses to hold out, the constant threat of Indian attacks and the durability of the men themselves. All would have to go right if the correspondences had any shot of completing the entire 2000-mile journey in a speedy 10 days. It did surprise me when I discovered that the Pony Express was only in operation from April 3, 1860 until November 18, 1861. Once the telegraph line was completed between the two cities, the service was no longer needed.

Being a rider for the Pony Express was a deadly job. You were expected to ride 75-100 miles a day, changing horses every 15-25 miles. Other than the mail, the only baggage you carried contained a few provisions, including a kit of flour, cornmeal, and bacon. In case of danger, you also had a medical pack of turpentine, borax, and cream of tartar. In order to travel light and to increase speed of mobility during Indian attacks, the men always rode in shirtsleeves, even during the fierce winter weather. How would you recruit volunteers for this hazardous job? An 1860 San Francisco newspaper printed this ad for the Pony Express: “Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over 18.
Must be expert riders willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”

Those were the straight honest facts of the service required, and you would think that trying to get guys to sign up would be a never-ending challenge but the Pony Express never had a shortage of riders. As a matter of fact, there was always a waiting list of thousands of men hoping for their call to saddle up and ride.

If you asked my opinion of what is wrong with our culture today, I would share that I believe a huge issue is the pursuit of comfort we make a priority. Too many people are seeking to relax in recliners when what they really need to experience life at its fullest is to be reaching for the reigns. If we think retiring from having adventures is good for the heart, we are sadly mistaken. God has a purpose for us that becomes real when we aggressively play the position that God has empowered us to perform. Bench warming is not admirable when Jesus made it possible for us to be His key instruments when it comes to shining His light in this dark world.

Like the Pony Express, serving God is not a job for the casually interested. It’s costly service. The Lord asks for you to surrender all of your life. God asks for a passionate service to Him to become a priority, not a pastime. Jesus expects His way to lead to His works being done in us and through us. Jesus expects us to be His hands and His feet so that we can meet the needs of those around us. By showing up to worship, we are signing up for service. And we are delivering a treasure that is so much more valuable than silver or gold. Nothing should stop us from being God’s ambassadors of grace and truth.

What if the church prioritized the Savior’s messages like we do our social media? I read that the average person spends 1 out of every 5 minutes on social media. It’s literally taking over our lives, minute by minute. It’s way too easy these days for Believers to get distracted by everything else but what we should be keeping our eyes fixed upon. When it comes to making time for praying or reading about Jesus, we get fidgety and restless. Our minds start to wander. Our fingers reach for our phones to take a quick peek and see what our friends are doing. How many likes did my last Instagram post get? Was I retweeted lately? How many more friends can I add on Facebook?

We’re not wasting time when we are making God our main focus! It’s actually the best use of time, to spend time with the One who created time in the first place. The Lord knew we would need to eat, sleep, work, and brush our teeth, yet He still asked us to pray. He urged us to spend time with Him because He knew it would actually change everything else about us. Sure, it’s good to guard your time, but it’s even better to guard your heart. Don’t keep such a tight grip on your agenda that you miss out on Jesus. Decide to allow your mind, heart, soul and strength to only be distracted by Him and commit to being wholeheartedly a big part of His positive posse. Let’s put down the remote and pick up the roster and make sure that we are ready to ride. Let’s get off the sofa and saddle up to see what Jesus has in store on the horizon. It might not be as safe as riding the merry-go-round but I guarantee you that you till taste the thrill of being fully alive.





A WORD FROM ABBIE

28 01 2020

IMG_5781

I am the proud Daddy to four wonderful children and Pop-Pop to presently four but soon to be six grandchildren. My oldest Son Rudy pastors a church in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania. My Daughter Leah is a Teacher in Dennis Township. My Daughter Abbie is the Worship Director at the Lighthouse Church. My youngest Son Joel is a Junior at Cape May Tech. Each one of my children have their unique and very special talents and God given abilities. Yesterday Leah celebrated her 32nd Birthday. She is expecting twins in the Spring and as a Kindergarten Teacher, there is no one better! Today I want to share with you something my youngest Daughter Abbie wrote recently. She like her Father has a way with words. I hope you enjoy this blessing.

Abbie writes, “Every year for the past decade has been marked by a word. December would roll by, leading us into the “start” of a new year, a new day, a new word. With each word, came a prayer and hope of what the Lord might mold or shape. So many words. Hope. Simplicity. Steadfast. Bold. Expectancy. Cultivate. To be honest. This year, I got nothing. No word. No revelation. No feeling or pull toward a certain phrase. Nothing popping off the pages of the dictionary.

There were moments in early January, as I saw “Word of the Year” posts where I grew frustrated and even fought feelings of failure. My plan-ahead anxious mind went down rabbit trails, How do you move forward if you don’t have a clear vision. Can you march faithfully onward without a word shaping the forefront. But maybe it’s not a word this year. I penned these words 4 years ago:

“I want more than anything to be able to share a testimony of the changes in my life so more people can know freedom and come to know Jesus.”

The pain yet freedom, steps backward yet triumphant leaps forward—that all followed in the year and years to follow those words—I believe are only a glimpse of what is to come, of how He will continue to bring those words to fruition. Prior to penning those words, was this paragraph:

“You know how I’ve lived one way for what seems like a million years and some days it feels like a huge chore for me to even put my feet on the ground and get out of bed—and those days it’s easy for me to get wrapped up in how I’m feeling because it’s not how I want to be feeling. Well, today was one of those days.”

I kept trying to find a way to work my way out of it this morning. And I struggled a lot to get moving. I struggled to stay focused during devotions, to stay focused at the gym or to even want to do anything. But I went for a walk outside anyways. And I was trying to figure out how to not beat myself up because of how unmotivated I was. And then it hit me that maybe these days aren’t the worst. Because, maybe on days like this instead of focusing on feeling defeated by my feelings (which the enemy would love), I can feel strengthened by my Jesus. Because it’s days like this that we can be extra thankful that His love is unconditional. And without days like this, I wouldn’t know the sweetness of His grace or the peace of surrendering. So even though I want to cry about everything, I can still say today has purpose. I need to give myself the freedom to feel instead of automatically attacking myself and give the Lord control, then I can be assured that it actually is going to be okay. It’s not my job to try and fix everything “wrong” with me.”

I wish I could go back to that girl, the same way that I know I’ll want to come back to who I am today—and share the reminder—that it actually will be okay. If and when, Jesus is first.  At the end of the day, the story is still the same. To know freedom, is to know Jesus. To know peace, is to know Jesus. To know the sweetness of grace is to know Jesus. To wake to new mercy is to wake to Jesus. To know strength in weakness is to know Jesus. To know gentleness in the midst of an anxiety attack, is to know Jesus. To know motivation to get up and go and move when depression weighs on your chest, is to know Jesus. To know purpose, is to know Jesus. He is the author. The perfecter. Etched and woven into all of history—from the beginning, it was Jesus. For always, it will be Jesus. And if I have any hope or word for this year it’s Him. My word is a name. It’s Jesus.”





A TALE OF TWO STORIES

21 01 2020

IMG_5522
You will never hear me say that being a Christian is easy. Following Jesus doesn’t necessarily even make life on earth better for you although I will share that it certainly does add challenges you wouldn’t have if you only decided to go with the flow. When Jesus comes into your heart, it ignites a light to shine from your life and that glare certainly does irritate those that prefer to do their deeds in the darkness. Believers should not take the opposition personally because it’s God working in us that rubs the culture the wrong way.

The day one surrenders their heart to the Lord is the day that he or she becomes a citizen of heaven. Christians are known as sojourners, pilgrims, visitors and strangers in a foreign land. No longer are followers of Jesus at home on this planet. No longer are we the number one to look out for because now that place has been set aside for the Lord. But God is not going to wait until we get to glory to begin the process of making us His saints. That transformation begins the moment you and I put on the uniform informing all those around us that we now play for God. The learning doesn’t happen in the classroom as much as it occurs in the course of everyday living.

God never wastes a teaching opportunity. Scripture informs us that He uses all things to work together for good to those who love Him. He makes messes into masterpieces. He redeems trash into treasure. What was blatantly unfair can be repackaged by the Lord to give us a glimpse of the hope and the future that He promised us. God uses the trials of this world to make us robed and ready for the triumph to come when we move on up to our new address. It is part of God’s providence. It is part of God’s plan. It is part of God’s purpose. It is not evidence that God has forsaken you. Actually, it is clear evidence that God has not forsaken you.

When you enlist or are drafted into the armed forces; the very moment you sign up, you are officially a soldier. But while that may be true on paper, someone is going to be in charge of making it a reality in practice. You may be recognized as a soldier, but as a new recruit, you are a “SINO- A Soldier In Name Only!” The Drill Instructor that you are assigned to in boot camp has one job and that’s to turn you into the real deal! He will not be gentle, meek and mild. You might even assume that he doesn’t like you. He will use many hard times and difficult assignments to get you to live up to your name! Whatever it takes to get you battle ready is fair game.

There are no such people as “Christians In Name Only!” Jesus through the Holy Spirit will make your walk live up to the talk. The evidence that will define you as a follower of Jesus will be the spiritual fruits that are produced because of your holy roots. Our purpose is to bring glory to God in everything we say and do. God provides the equipment that we will need to stay focused on heaven no matter how much hell might be breaking loose in our midst. Earth no longer grades our report card. We have graduated to living by faith through grace and only in that realm does anything make sense.

While some call me crazy for what they have concluded to be me throwing my life away, I am so blessed that God doesn’t let any move or moment go to waste. Even when the hammering is happening via hellish and horrible means, I’ve got heaven protecting my back. The Lord purges and purifies us even as the world pounds us. And when you are tempted to run away from the Lord, that is the very season that you best be running right into His arms. The way to paradise is much more about becoming a warrior than it is just taking another quiet walk in the park.

During World War II, the ten Boom family of Holland harbored Jews in their home until the Gestapo arrested the elderly father and his two grown daughters, Corrie and Betsie.
Months later, after their father died, the sisters faced unimaginable cruelty in a concentration camp. Yet in the face of extreme darkness, Betsie, in her own dying days, felt compelled to continue sharing Christ’s love with others.

She remarked to Corrie that we “must tell them what we have learned here. We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that he is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here.” These words, as recounted in Corrie’s book The Hiding Place are indeed moving and inspirational. But how can we know they are absolutely true? Because as believers in Jesus we have tasted life in the hole where it seemed like we were destined to dwell. When it appeared that we might have been forgotten by God, we experienced His presence and it gave us just what we needed to press on. What the world thought might knock us out as only made us more determined.

In August of 1984, Terri and I were ready to finally share the good news that she was pregnant again. Our first child was miscarried on April 24, 1983. On the very night we finally felt confident to tell people, was the very night that we saw that baby go to glory way earlier than we had ever expected. In the waiting room of Morristown Memorial Hospital, I faced another of what has become many crisis moments in my Christian walk. I wanted to scream and shout and knock somebody out. I begged God for answers and all He gave me was a verse from Deuteronomy 29:29 that let me know the secret things belonged to the Lord but He would let me in on all I would ever need to know. Since that time, Terri and I would have the honor to raise four of our children but we have five in heaven. Without the Lord, I’d be a distant memory. Because of the Lord, He still gets life out of this broken and busted up believer. And it is all because Jesus bore for us the weight of the world’s sin, willing to sink deeper into the pit of separation from God than we’ll ever comprehend, we are going to be raised up! Nothing will stop the momentum of God’s mighty hand!





A CHURCH THAT GOD IS PROUD OF!

14 01 2020

Photo credit to the Amazing_ (7)
What is your church proud of? There are some churches that are very proud of their buildings.  Some churches are proud of their stained-glass windows. Some churches are proud of their innovative programs. Some are proud of their hot worship band while others talk of their award-winning choirs. Too many are much too proud of their wealth and their impressive clientele. A good number will brag about their big numbers. Some are proud of their famous pastor who is huge on social media. Some are proud of being old school while just as many point to the fact that they’re hip and cool. Some are proud of their liturgy while others are much too satisfied with their lethargy. And as Sonny and Cher once sang, “The beat goes on!”

When you look at all of this data, and information, you still must wonder, “What kind of church would God be proud of? If God were to write an article about churches that He would endorse, I must ask us again, what kind of church would show up in His assessment? Scripture does point to what healthy groups of believers look like versus those local bodies that could use a spiritual doctor. One just needs to read the Book of Revelation where in the first few chapters, the Spirit evaluates seven different churches to point out positives and negatives. When will we human beings ever learn that the qualities that earth brags about doesn’t necessarily equate to success in heaven?

I do believe there is way too much pride and not enough authentic praise to God and God alone when it comes to church today? Have you ever been on a sports team where there were tons of talent but it didn’t produce a winning season because egos got in the way? There were ball hogs, stat chasers, players who ignored directions and others who knew only where the cheerleaders were located. In Christianity, there are way too many who call themselves disciples but the goal is selfish and they misuse God to bring attention to themselves. Believers are to be available so the Lord can use them to bring glory to Himself. The Church is at its biblical best when it exists for only One to get the glory and His name is Jesus. We don’t use God to glorify ourselves. We humbly ask God to use us to bring Him all the glory. We are at our best when we are all about Jesus and one another. Scripture challenges us to do absolutely nothing out of selfish ambition. I have a strong conviction that we would make God all the prouder if we would just forget about ourselves, concentrate on Him and be purposefully and passionately selfless.

The church needs to consist of godly teams of people working together. The Lord Jesus Christ says that teamwork is made up of all kinds of gifts, talents, abilities and strengths. Every local church is made up of many different and diverse members and when everyone is moving together in unison to serve Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we operate authentically as one body. Churches should be looking to fight the battle against sin and not be in constant warfare with one another.

What good is a beautiful sanctuary if the saints that inhabit its pews are always at each other’s throats? Do you really think the Lord is pleased by music teams that are looking to sign autographs rather than lift up God? Do programs that prohibit Jesus to shine through because the programmers are too busy taking bows rather than encouraging others to kneel at the foot of the cross really make heaven happy? You say, “Without significant buildings, or programs, or music, or wealth, or size, or famous pastors, or published material, how could a local church be a significant place?” God would answer that question by challenging us to love Him first and love others as ourselves; because by this the watching world would know that we are followers of Jesus! If there is anything that is eternally lasting and good happening in our midst, it’s both from and because of God and God alone. We do our best work and we desire for God to do His best work in and though us. When all hell breaks loose around us, heaven should be breaking loose in holy power within us.

God must be our primary source of life. Only Jesus is the source of amazing grace. Churches may boast in their efforts of dispensing information, but it is only because of the Holy Spirit freely working within us that there is ever going to be transformation. What good is learning the word of God if nobody is intentionally living the truth? What good is it to boast of booming attendance, if nobody within the building is growing in their faith and love?

God isn’t impressed because congregations are greatly enlarged. God created the universe so I doubt He is wowed by buildings and budgets if the Bible is not coming alive within its midst. Who really cares about pipe organs and pianos if the notes are spiritually sour? Make a joyful noise to the Lord and He loves when He hears our lives obediently in tune with Him!

God never, ever evaluates a church by its external features. It’s more about motives than motions. The Lord never evaluates a church for its innovation, its cleverness, its artistry, its political influence, its social prominence, its size or anything else on the outside. It needs to be about breaking the sin barrier and not the size ceiling. A church to be proud of is a church where the people are real, vulnerable, selfless, faithful, giving, growing and living in love with the Lord and one another. If ever there was a time that the church needs to be the church, it is now. Are we a church that God is proud of? I pray that the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”





UNWRITTEN

6 01 2020

unwritten

A new year and a new decade came upon me while I was still enjoying the Christmas break. I wish I could have made that magical time last a little bit longer. It was one of the rare moments where Terri and I had all of our kids back home and all of the grandkids were in the house at one time. Because there is never enough of the real deal for me in Cape May County, I had pre-purchased a whole basket of artificial snow plush balls ahead of time for the indoor battle of the ages. Everyone was involved and it was just pure and plain fun to engage in an activity that didn’t involve video gadgets of any kind. There were many more memories to be made as we read books, played games, went on the rides together in Ocean City and experienced lots of laughter during these wonderful days. I wouldn’t have traded any of it for all the gold in Alaska. And that is what I am mostly grateful for when all was said and done. I didn’t miss any of it this time. I was fully present for this glorious gift. If I had to express my biggest regret and frustration over the last decade, it would be how much of life I have missed because of anxiety, depression and the daily battle with the emotional landmines that have decked my halls for way too long.

If I have any victory cry from the last ten years, it would clearly be, “I’m still here.” There were too many close calls along the way that I thought for sure would lead to my swan song. I thought I heard a Fat Lady singing somewhere but thankfully I was mistaken. I came close to throwing in the towel more than once, but I didn’t let it go. I wanted to cry, “Uncle,” but lost my voice just in the nick of time. Because I grasped on to genuine faith in a God bigger than any worldly weapon that attempted to blow my world to smithereens, I persevered. The Lord’s love didn’t fail when my own feeble attempts to gain ground got miserably sacked and my man-made wells got sucked dry. The fact that I’m still standing at all on January 1, 2020 is a miracle in and of itself. As the beloved Apostle Paul once reiterated, “I have been knocked down but not knocked out. I have been crammed in but never crushed. I have flailed and faltered more than once on this path to glory but never failed in not bouncing back up for more fighting on yet another day.” As Yogi Berra said as he was managing my beloved Mets, “It ain’t over until it is over.” There must be a reason that I have lived to play ball another day. So, my New Year’s prayer sounds an awful lot like, “Put me in Coach, I’m ready to play! If I’m still breathing, I’m still begging to be in the game!” But I need to make the necessary personal mental paradigm shift of not telling God what I am going to do but instead to start each day with my life literally being a blank sheet of paper and my only expectation being showing up for duty.

My word for 2020 is ‘Unwritten.” For way too long I have allowed my Type A personality and my over-the-top expectations to actually become a bigger negative than ever being a positive. I’m 60 years old and honestly but inaccurately, I still expect the production of a 30-year-old man from my input and output. When I come out of the chute and pull a hamstring in the 50-yard dash, it is not because I was not prepared, or didn’t generate enough passion, it was more because I was not properly equipped. I need to approach the challenge with the same providential pursuit but not looking to use the same old personnel that I once did. While I might still have the same knowledge of how to play the field, I don’t have the same athleticism and that Is not something to become anxiously depressed about, but better to become godly educated and spiritually suited for.

For the first time in my life, I am committing to paying attention to directions. I am surrendering my just run a hundred miles an hour and figure out things as I go to kicking the transmission into slow and steady. Now that statement alone would be anathema to me in the past but it may well become my mantra in the days to come. I have almost written myself off way too many times along the way of these last ten years. Today, I am asking Jesus not to take the wheel, but to take the pen and script His will into my way from this day forward. This not a negative by any means but more of an accentuate the positive move that must be made to keep me from digging a premature grave.

The brain is a powerful organ. The more I have read about it, the more I have become humbled over how fierce but yet fragile it really is. Maybe multitasking is not a spiritual fortitude to be championed. Perhaps to do one thing and to do it well all the while you are doing it may be more celebrated in heaven than we ever thought it might be. Making wholly eye contact in our daily conversations and staking regular holy heart connection in God’s revelation may be more fruitful than any 100-hour work week ever produced. Could it be running out of ink might have been God’s doing all along the way? Might it be that the best posture of worship that I may muster at this point of my journey is that I don’t bring any writing utensils to the altar at all?

This conclusion is my best introduction into this new year and decade. I’m still here God and I long to serve You with all that I have. I think much of my anxiety has been caused by trying to follow You with the things that I no longer possess. We can’t offer what we don’t own but will we lay down whatever that is left? As I begin 2020, I am saying a resounding, “Yes!” I can’t do much about the words that filled up my pages from 2010 until today, but I am responsible from this day forward so the rest of this story is up to God! Unwritten and unexpected but undeniably undaunted. Ready or not, here we go! What’s God’s word for you?





THE BATTLE OF BETHLEHEM CONTINUES

28 12 2019

IMG_5253

One of my all-time favorite stories is Charles Dickens’s, “A Christmas Carol.” Last December, I read a wonderful biography about Dickens. Did you know that in many ways, Mr. Dickens is known for redeeming the Christmas Season and bringing back the joy of the holiday?

I’ve seen almost every tv and movie version of “A Christmas Carol.” I loved Felix and Oscar’s take on it in a classic episode of “The Odd Couple.” When it comes to the big screen’s presentation of the scary ghost story, Alistair Sim gets my vote as the best Ebenezer Scrooge. As a matter of fact, after the last of the Christmas Eve Services have ended after midnight, I always come home to this. Over the years, I’ve even attended numerous live productions in New York City, Chicago, Cleveland, Omaha and Philadelphia. Here is a bit of personal insight, as a kid, I performed as Scrooge in a junior high version of the play. I still can quote verbatim most of the lines.

A Christmas Carol is like most memorable stories that we all know and love in that it features a wicked villain whose chief goal is to make Christmas as miserable or nonexistent for everyone. If you look closely, the one common denominator in almost every holiday film is that there is always an antagonist. In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” it’s Mr. Potter who battles George Bailey. My very favorite movie of all time, the 1947 version of “Miracle on 34th Street” has cynical Mr. Sawyer who is convinced that Kris Kringle is looney. “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” has the Abominable Snow Monster. “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” has, well, the Grinch! “Home Alone” has the bumbling wet/sticky bandits, Harry and Marv. Don’t forget the Burgermeister, Mesiterburger who outlawed toys in “Santa Claus is Coming To Town. And being an avid watcher of all things Hallmark Channel, there is always somebody in every script who is a heartless, money loving, narcistic developer who attempts to bulldoze, evict and spoil whatever yuletide joy there may be. Thank God for Candace Cameron-Bure, Lacey Chabert, Erin Krakow, Danica McKellar, Alison Sweeney, Alicia Witt and all the other Hallmark heroines who jump in to save the day!

The reason I bring this all up is because the original Christmas story had its own monster. He and his cruelties were far from cute and from what we know, he never turned the nasty pages of his heart to rewrite his tale for the good. Herod was a legitimate villain, which is why we try to avoid him in all of our December memories. I don’t know of any nativity sets that include this maniac. Yet, Herod figures very prominently in the history of the birth of Jesus. To ignore him is to not only ignore the world into which Jesus was born, but to miss an important thread in God’s grand plan of redemption. Underneath the silver and gold glow of our nostalgic scenes of Bethlehem, is a very real and awfully dark thread of violence. There were signs of a spiritually driven cosmic clash between the old serpent, the dragon and the coming of the Christ!

In history class, we learned of many famous bitter battles. There was the “Battle of Bunker Hill,” the “Battle of Gettysburg,” the “Battle of the Bulge,” and Christmas which hosted the high noon showdown known as the “Battle of Bethlehem.” Like it or not, Jesus was born into a warzone.

In the months after that holy night, when the shepherds witnessed Jesus in the manger, Joseph and Mary stuck around in Bethlehem, making their temporary dwelling in David’s City. The magi were still on their way, following the star to take them to the newborn King. These pagan experts knew more about the sacred texts than the religious priests of Jerusalem. When they finally got to Jerusalem, they knew they were close and there was no stopping them now as they made this journey to honor the newborn king and pay tribute to his majesty. They began to ask around, “Where was he born the King of the Jews?”

Herod the Great was a power hungry, madman, paranoid sociopath. He actually gave himself his own nickname about being “great!” He built his legacy to give him the appearance that he was omnipresent. In addition to his fortresses at Herodium, Sebaste, Machaerus, and Masada, he also built palaces in Caesarea, Jericho, and Jerusalem. At any moment, he could have been in any one of them, so at every moment, he might as well have been in all of them. As far as it was on his watch, there could only be one ruler in Judea. When Herod heard of these learned men and their quest, his blood began to boil when he heard the words “king” and “Jews” in the same sentence with no mention of himself.

The Bible calls our enemy, the devil, and defines him as the one who wants to steal, kill and destroy anything good and godly in our lives. He knew that this Baby Jesus was under two years of age so he went on a murdering rampage eliminating every male child two years of age and under. He tried to con the magi into giving him the exact location of God’s Son but an angel prevented that from happening. It was another heavenly messenger that got Mary and Joseph out of town taking Jesus to Egypt. The Gospel of Matthew says, all of Jerusalem “was disturbed” (Matt. 2:3 NIV). The population was disturbed because the king was ticked. And like in a home where Mom isn’t happy, nobody is happy, Herod began to raise hell on earth.

There is a personal lesson we should learn from the life of Herod this Christmas. Jesus calls Christians to a lifetime of following Him and receiving His will and His way into our worlds. But too many times, when God’s kingdom threatens our meager control on our own agendas, we too begin to whine to the One we should be worshipping. The Lord doesn’t share the throne with us. If you want to be king, and someone else comes along saying He is the king, somebody has to get out of the way. Jesus is the Leader and we come to know who we are when we recognize Him as who He is. Only one person can be King of kings and Lord of lords and it isn’t us!

It’s easy for us to point to the tyrants who ruled in Jesus’ day and to the egotistical politicians who try to intimidate us today and think that we are totally innocent of ever doing right the wrong way. As long as we call earth home, there will always be a tug of war happening in our hearts. There is part of us that wants to come and adore only Jesus the Lord. There is another Herod side that will always root for our own self-centered pursuit. Herod serves as a powerful reminder that we cannot be neutral about Jesus. We are either for Him or against Him. He is either Lord of all or not at all. If God be for us, then who can be against us? This Christmas time, recognize the villain for who he or she is. There is always going to be opposition. As long as we play offense for heaven, hell is on the defensive. The Battle of Bethlehem must be won and when we lift Jesus up, we are victorious.