Peace on Earth

Luke 2:13-14   Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests."   

             In the past I have spoken with people who told me they base their non-belief in God on the above passage.  They claim it is proof the Bible makes false statements.  They contend that, according to this verse, if Jesus were real – and who He claimed to be – there should be peace on earth. Of course, anyone with walking-around-sense knows that peace is a rare commodity in our world. Internationally, nationally and locally, various groups and individuals are at odds with one another – not just verbally disagreeing, but engaging in physical acts of violence against one another. Even ‘religious’ people can’t seem to see eye-to-eye. Therefore, since peace does not exist, these people say the Bible is false and they are justified in not believing.

            While it is true that the world is overwhelmed with war, conflict, anger and ill feelings, I believe it is incorrect to say that peace does not exist. True, it is not universal peace – but the Bible never claimed that would be the case…at least not in this lifetime.  Look at the verse once again and notice that it says “…peace to men on whom His favor rests.”  This is not a claim to universal peace, but rather to peace on a certain group of people. Pockets of peace exist in every community.  Individually, those who experience such peace are known as Christians; collectively they are called the Church – the Body of Christ. 

            You probably won’t be able to detect who they are based on mere appearance, however. They can be found among all ethnic and racial groups, socio-economic brackets, every educational level and (believe it or not) even among differing political parties! 

Of course the type of peace which exists among these people is probably different than what the unbeliever thinks of as peace.  This peace is not the expected absence of external strife. Indeed, the people upon whom His favor rests are just as prone to encounter tragedies, hardships and difficulties as are their counterparts in the world. They are just as guilty of misunderstanding others and being misunderstood as anyone else. The difference is in the fact that Christians possess an internal peace of heart and mind – a peace that allows them to cease striving and worrying about what is happening in the world around them. Such a peace exists only when a person knows that every aspect of this present life, as well as their eternal destiny, is in the care of a loving, Sovereign God.  It is the peace of knowing that those things over which you have no control are in the hands of the One who not only is in control, but directs all things according to His Divine purpose. 

            This Christmas, take time to reflect on the peace that Jesus has brought into your life and your home – and be thankful.  Be prayerful, also.  Pray for those who do not know or understand the peace that Jesus was born to bring. Finally, be prepared to share the Good News of God’s peace whenever and wherever opportunities arise.

May the peace of Christ dominate your home and your heart this Christmas season!

Show Us Your God

     Ours is a very complex society.  We live in an age of computers, robots and fiber optics.  We are identified more often by an account number than our name. In the midst of all this we find countless numbers of people filled with despair, bitterness, and feelings of isolation – especially during the holidays.  Without coming out and saying it, our society is longing for people like you and me to show them our God and make Him relevant to their lives.  They are seeking a sense of self-worth and to feel that they belong to a group somewhere.

     No, we won’t hear their cries with our ears.  But if we listen with our hearts, there is an unmistakable sound coming from them which is all too familiar.  We once sang the same song of lament and danced the same dance of uncertainty.  Like them, we were in search of God, even if we didn’t know it.  We tried the same idols they are now worshiping and did so with the same sad results.  How did we escape such a bog of hopelessness?  It required someone who actually knows God, who has experience with Him on an intimate, personal level to show Him to us. 

     In my situation that was difficult because many of the groups who were falsely claiming this knowledge kept getting in the way.  I was so very confused.  At last someone explained to me where real self-worth comes from; they shared the joy of being known as the people of God and how that made a difference in every phase of life.  I could see in their life that God was real. 

     That is exactly what the world is asking us to do today – to show by our lives that God is real; that His promises are for them.  They want to know they have a place of honor waiting for them in His family, a family that will never desert them and will always be ready to support them. 

     I (we, us) can only do this if the fellowship I have with the Father, His Son, and His people are what they are supposed to be.  If I am holding back or keeping others at arm’s length they will know the words I use are not true in my life.  Spouting Christian clichés while living like the rest of the world will be seen for what it is - hypocrisy.  We must show them the reality of God by our lives and our willingness to interact with them at their level. 

     Yes, it is a very great responsibility we have been given.  But if we don’t show them the true God, who will?  Who else is capable?

Fishing

   My Grandpa taught me what I know about fishing.  Even though he was an avid fisherman, Grandpa didn’t always have the latest and greatest equipment.  That honor belonged to my Uncle Chaz.  We fished with him almost every weekend.  Uncle Chaz always had the best rods, reels, and lures available.   He believed it was absolutely necessary to have a certain kind of rod for a certain kind of fish.  He had bass rods, catfish rods, crappie, perch and bluegill rods.  Grandpa, on the other hand, had 3 rods and was happy to catch anything on any one of them.  His favorite was one that was originally a 7-foot graphite with a Zebco 33 reel.  Unfortunately, the tip had been broken a couple of times and it was just over 5 feet long when I knew it.  And the reel, for some reason, didn’t always cast very well.  Many times I saw Grandpa pull the line out by hand and then whirl it over his head and toss it out.  Of course, a reel that doesn’t cast well, sometimes doesn’t reel in well, either.  When that happened, Grandpa would grab the line with his hands and pull it in. 

   The crazy thing about fishing with those two old geezers was that they would be only 10 or 20 feet away from each other in the same fishing hole and Grandpa, with his rundown equipment, would always catch 2 or 3 times as many fish as Uncle Chaz.  It gave my uncle fits.  Every trip he would inevitably tell Grandpa that he couldn’t expect to catch anything with that worthless equipment.  And Grandpa would always tell him, “it ain’t got nothing to do with the equipment – you just gotta hold your mouth right.”  I can’t tell you in this space what Uncle Chaz said to that.  

   But as I reflect back on my time with those two men, I have come to find a lot of parallels between the fishing they did and the fishing we are called to do in the church.

First, having the latest, greatest equipment does not guarantee success. Grandpa was successful because he relied on instinct rather than his equipment.  In the same way, we need to rely on the Holy Spirit and not on technique, training or systems.

Second, the more often you fish the more fish you will catch. Grandpa was successful because he fished often.  It is only reasonable that the more frequently you fish, the more fish you will catch.  The same truth applies in the church.  The more we share our story of faith, the greater our harvest for the Kingdom will be. 

Last, you don’t always catch something.  Sometimes Grandpa came home with an empty stringer.  But that didn’t stop him from going again.  For those who fish for the Kingdom, the same should be true.  We will not always “land a big one” (or even a “small” one), but that shouldn’t stop us from trying again.  

   So, how long has it been since you went fishing?

Reflections on Advent

"Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten.  It wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot.  But all too often the greedy eyes are only deceived; the fruit that seemed so precious is still green on the inside, and disrespected hands ungratefully toss aside what has so disappointed them" - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

"A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes - and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent" - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

"Jesus stands at the door knocking (Rev. 3:30). In total reality, he comes in the for of a beggar, of the dissolute human child in ragged clothes, asking for help.  He confronts you in every person that you meet.  As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neightbor, as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, makes demands on you.  That is the great seriousness and great blessedness of the Advent message.  Christ is standing at the door; he lives in the form of a human being among us." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

"While it is good that we seek to know the Holy One, it is probably not so good to presume that we ever complete the task." -Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

"We have become so accustomed to the idea of the divine love and of God's coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God's coming should arouse in us.  We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "The Coming of Jesus in Our Midst" -Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

_____ One Another

_____ ONE ANOTHER

            I had a great deal of difficulty deciding what exactly to title this article.  I knew the last two words would be staying. For the blank, however, I couldn’t choose between:  love, encourage, edify, bear with or care for.  So I chose to leave it blank and explain.

            You see, each of those words which didn’t get filled in have to do with how believers are to relate to one another.  And each one is important.  No matter which one is used the point is the same: Christianity is “other people” focused.  I have not been able to find anything in Scripture which even remotely points to seeking one’s own needs fulfillment.  I have yet to find a command to join a local church “aslong as it meets your needs.”  Yet, in my years of ministry the times are too numerous to count when I have been told by disgruntled members that their reason for leaving was because “my needs are not being met.”

            I have often wanted to ask the question, “where in the Bible are we told that we are supposed to get something out of church?”  I have always been taught that church was a place for giving: giving gifts, talents, offerings, encouragement, counsel, edification, compassion, fellowship and intercessory prayers. Somebody has said, and I agree with them, that the local church is like the neighborhood bank – you get nothing out of it until you put something into it. It seems rather odd to me that the church has become a place for building up the individual instead of a place which helps individuals build up the church.  After all, the reason the Holy Spirit gives gifts to individuals is for the building up of the entire body. There is no place for “me”ism in the church.  Not even if it is wrapped up in the vernacular of ”evangelical egocentrism.”

            The only I way I know of to combat this ever increasing attitude is by filling the blank above with one of the selected words and then doing it.  If we were to seriously Philippians 2:3, then we would 1 Peter 1:22 naturally.  So would we also John 13:34 and Romans 12:10 and Ephesians 4:2. 

            In order to receive the dividend of having one’s needs met in church that someone must first make a substantial deposit by _____ing one another.

 

Hebrews 10:24  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (NIV)

The Trouble With Transparency

The Trouble With Transparency

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.  “It’s a thing that happens to you.”  ... “Does it hurt?” asked the rabbit. ... “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse... “When you are real you don’t mind being hurt.” ... “Does it happen all at once...or bit by bit?”  “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse.  “You become. It takes a long time.  That is why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges or have to be carefully kept...Once you are real you can’t be ugly, except to those people who don’t understand.”

Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

A number of years ago I was introduced to a guy who I had previously heard described as “transparent.”  I really had no idea what people meant when they said that – whether it was a compliment or a word of warning to stay away from him.  But it didn’t take me long to realize that the term fit him like a glove. 

            He wasn’t overly social, but in small gatherings he seemed to really come alive in a way that made many people uncomfortable.  His “problem” was that when he discovered a person was a Christian he would immediately begin to describe some area of his life where he was struggling to let God have total control and then ask that person to pray with him about it.  And he meant then.  Or on other occasions he would describe how God had been dealing with him about a certain situation and would want a prayer of thanks offered – yes, right then.  He was the type of person that you could not help liking, no matter how uncomfortable you might feel around him.  

            Many times I have looked back and wondered why so many of us felt out of place with him.  I used to think it was simply because he was “odd.”  I have since come to believe that it was not him who was “odd” – but the rest of us. 

            You see, he took the term Family of God literally.  He believed it was his privilege to share every struggle, every need and every victory with his “family” – even if he had just met them.  His entire life revolved around his relationship with Christ and Christ’s people.  I can’t help wondering what life would be like if we all were as open and transparent as he was.  I also can’t help wondering why we aren’t. 

            While I can’t speak for you, I do know what hinders my life from that kind of open display of transparency.

¨      I am afraid of what people will think. 

¨      I am ashamed of the shallowness of my own spiritual life.

¨      I am afraid of what God might want to do to me or through me.

¨      I am afraid to give up total control.

The trouble with transparency is that it requires us to take off our masks and let people see the real person underneath.  Many of us are like comic book super-heroes – few people know the real person under the mask.  Even more, we have worn them so long we have begun to believe that is who we truly are.  To be transparent is to be real.  Just ask the Skin Horse.

Out for Coffee

Out For Coffee

            One morning every week my Grandma would disappear for a few hours.  I knew she didn’t go far because she didn’t take the car.  She never told me where she was going - just that she would be back “in a while.”  When she returned I could tell that she was tired.  Yet, when she sat down with one of the many cups of coffee she had each day, there was a strange sense of satisfaction on her face. 

            It wasn’t until I was 11 or 12 that I really began to wonder about those morning visits.  Being a great little sneak, I decided to follow her one day.  To my surprise she only went next door.  In the little ready-to-tumble-down shack next to us lived Mrs. Fleming, an elderly widow.  I say elderly, but she was probably only a few years older than Grandma.  She looked as though she had lived a hard life though - small and frail with deep valleys in her face that I supposed were wrinkles.  I remember many times seeing Mr. Fleming, before he died, shove his wife all around the yard while screaming ugly words at her.  I remember hearing that she had several children living near by, though I can’t say that I ever saw them more than a few times.  I also remember how sweetly she would smile at the kids in the neighborhood and speak to us with such a gentle and elegant voice. 

            It was many weeks before I had the courage to ask Grandma what she did at Mrs. Fleming’s house on those mornings that consumed as much as 2 or 3 hours of time.  All Grandma told me was that she “had coffee.”  It wasn’t until several years later, after I began driving, that I found out what really went on.

            One day I saw Mrs. Fleming walking home from the store (she had no car) and gave her a ride.  It was then that she told me how grateful she was for Grandma coming to clean her house each week and provide her some company.  I’m not sure what I had expected, but somehow that touched something inside of me.  It moved me deeply.  I was impressed not so much by the fact that Grandma had been cleaning for this woman for so many years, but rather by the knowledge that it gave Grandma great joy.  From that day on, I had a standing “date” with Mrs. Fleming to take her to the store, the bank or sometimes for quiet ride through the park. 

            That is what giving is all about.  The joy isn’t in the accolades or the applause.  The joy comes from knowing that you have touched another life with compassion and kindness.  The joy comes in knowing that you have freely given of yourself for the cause of another.  

            One day Grandma asked me where I took Mrs. Fleming on our outings.  I responded simply with, “out for coffee.”