Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Carsons

The Carsons.

No, not the presidential candidate and family. I am speaking of Glenn and Paula Carson. Years ago (1983), in a county far, far, away, Sandy and I, along with an almost 3 year old named Justin and an almost 1 year old named Joshua, moved to Presque Isle, Maine (we were about 15 minutes from the Canadian border) to start a church. It was the old style method of church planting: you raised some support ($300.00 per month for us), went to a town, knocked on every door your feet could carry you, and shared the gospel. Prior to our going to Presque Isle, a man had tried to get a church off the ground, but he ran into an incredibly difficult stretch of health and had to sign-off. Sandy and I were very fortunate to have 7 sturdy people who remained from that effort.

Paula Carson was one of the remnant of the struggling New Life Baptist Church. I'm not sure who put more energy into resurrecting the fledgling church plant--Paula, or Sandy and me. Beyond working in the nursery and going door-to-door, Paula and her husband, Glenn, were often the difference between Sandy and me and our two little boys having food to eat or fuel to heat the leaky farmhouse that was built in 1901. Trust me, in northern Maine, the extremity of the cold winters cannot be exaggerated. And you could throw a cat through the cracks in that clapboarded house. My Texas bride thought she was going to freeze to death. Time after time the Carsons brought food, bought fuel, and gifted our children when Christmas and birthdays came around. When God chose to prosper the church with incredible growth, it was Glenn, vice president of a local bank, who guided us through the process of obtaining a loan and secured the favor of the lending institution.

Paula just celebrated a birthday--her 29th, just after my 60th. Over the last few days their kindness and friendship has returned to my thoughts many times. Over the years there have been some wonderful people in our lives. None better than the Carsons.

Happy Birthday, Paula! 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Sixty

For months, my wife, Sandy, worried about marking a special milestone in my life with a celebration. December 16 would be my sixtieth birthday. My response was always the same, "I'm just glad to be alive! Please don't plan anything." Laugh it you want, but I am much more of an introvert than one might think. There always has been, and I suspect there will always remain, a constant struggle to engage in many sorts of social settings. Also, our children, our daughter-in-law, our grandson, and others we deeply love would be visiting The Shire for an extended stay during Christmas. More and more, the anticipation of having our children and their friends around overshadow everything else.

In the meantime, two tricksy little hobbitses, Sandy and Sammy (our son Josh's girlfriend), secretly set-up a Facebook page for people to send along congratulations. Last night after I returned home from church, I was completely caught by surprise when I logged onto Facebook. Lo and behold, my family and a host of friends from all over the world--some of the friendships having begun over forty years ago, had sent me video messages, notes, and remembrances that brought me to tears.

Thank you, everybody! 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Story

For over thirty years I have been preaching and teaching on a weekly basis. Never have I more greatly enjoyed the story of the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus in Luke's Gospel. This year I have taken the time to help my fellow believers see that both births are truly The Christmas Story.

If you are reading this take time to read Luke's first two chapters. Compare the announcement of their births, the fulfillment, their assignments, and then ask yourself, "What are the implications for me?"

The births of Jesus and John are a seamless story that helps us understand The Greatest Story Ever Told. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Christmas Story: John and Jesus

Tomorrow I will bring a second message from Luke's Gospel, chapters 1 and 2. Doctor Luke did his homework when putting together his Spirit-guided record of the births of John the Baptist and The Christ. Last week we studied John's birth in chapter one. John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was Malachi's prophesied fulfillment: John would break four-hundred years of God's silence and prepare the way for Messiah. I am almost embarrassed to confess that I will cover the births of both John and Jesus in only two messages. In no way am I diminishing the importance and impact of their births, but we know that John specifically identified Jesus' primary mission as the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. Jesus never once asked us to remember his birth. Instead, as Messiah broke bread with his disciples for the last time, he told them and future followers: This do in remembrance of me. Each time we gather to take the communion elements of the bread--representing his broken body and the fruit of the vine--representing his shed blood, we are confirming our trust in the saving work the Son of God accomplished through his death, burial, and resurrection. Sadly, we live in a world when the birth of Jesus has been grossly commercialized and his resurrection smugly trivialized.

Back to the two births... 

Although it's rarely pointed out, both the birth of John and the birth of Jesus were intended to be The Christmas Story, so I decided a while back that I would connect their births the following way.

The Christmas Story: John and Jesus

1. Their Fulfillment
2. Their Assignment
3. Their Employment (what is the implication for us)

Christmas is 13 days away...

Friday, December 11, 2015

Christmas Like You've Never Seen It.

On social media there have been several posts about the uniqueness of this coming December 25, the traditional date many around the world mark as the birthday of the Christ. For the first time since 1977 there will be a full moon on Christmas night. In 1977, Sandy and I celebrated our first Christmas together. I gifted Sandy with a pair of gold earrings (that she still has), a sweater, and a skirt. Sandy gifted me with gloves, a sweater, and dress pants. Since then, meteorologically, there literally hasn't been a Christmas like it!

But in fourteen days a brilliant full moon will climb above the horizon on Christmas night! If all goes as planned our children will be with us, plus our daughter-in-law, Erika, and our grandson, the amazing Wyatt! Sammy will be with us too! I'm praying for a crystal clear night above us, a crackling and colorful blaze in the fire pit, and a wonderful time with people that we love to the moon and back!







Thursday, December 10, 2015

No Room...

There have been several occasions when I was a guest in foreign countries: Gypsies in Bulgaria; Peasants in China, and church folks in Venezuela to name a few. Those dear people gave up their rooms, so that I could have the best accommodations they possessed. I am reminded of the Christmas story. Luke tells us that after a three day journey, Mary and Joseph were turned away from the inn. "There is no room." Said the inn keeper. The exhausted young couple improvised and found refuge from the evening chill among the cattle. But in reality, there was room--if the inn keeper had been willing to give up his bed.

That's an age old quandary that each of us faces. No, we don't have to literally and physically give up our personal space for the Christ-child--who grew to be revealed as Messiah that prophesy predicted.  But we do need to look at the rhythms and clutter of our lives and find room for Jesus. Biblical reality tells us that Christ doesn't settle for a little corner of our lives. No, over time he invades every inch of our lives.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Applause...

After making rounds at two of the companies I serve, I had a space of time before I met with a friend for lunch in Cataula. I returned to The Shire for a few minutes of down-time and sat reading a book at the edge of our pond. To my right, about 75 yards away, I could hear leaves crunching and branches snapping on the south side of the pond. Suddenly, a doe burst out of the woods and ran along the length of the earthen dam that corrals the southern bank of our pond. Then another, and still another, and behind them still another--a small buck! I could see could the sun gleaming off his antlers. Less than a minute passed and three more does leaped from the woods and this time splashed into the pond. They swam to the back edge of the pond, scrambled to dry ground and high-tailed it towards the woods to the northeast. Seconds later, a larger buck averted the water, in pursuit. In all, twelve deer charged through the same section of woods! I stared in amazement and then went into the house and grabbed my 308.

A large buck crossed the back end of the pond, I grunted at him and he stopped. I had him in the crosshairs, but behind him there is the long driveway of one of my neighbors. At this time of year, with the leaves no longer cleaving to the trees, I can see vehicles traveling back-and-forth; I chose not to shoot. Though the chances were slim, I was concerned that I might put someone in harms way if I pulled the trigger. I clicked the safety on and chose not to shoot.

About twenty-minutes later a doe raced across the southern pasture with a buck in hot pursuit. Once again, I got the buck to stop, but this time the road was the backdrop. I chose not to shoot. Instead, I leaned my 308. against the porch rails and applauded God for the experience.

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Benefit Of Darkness

And you, child (John the Baptist), will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1: 76-79 ~ Prophecy of Zechariah at the birth of his son, John 

This weekend I strung thousands of colorful, blinking Christmas lights. Santa and one of his helpers welcomes visitors to The Shire. White lights in the shape of reindeer graze on electricity that keep them glowing at night. Red and white striped candy canes line the walkway between the house and cottage. On its screened-in porch, the cottage has its own tiny tree. Hedges outside it sparkle on each end with alternating green and red in between.

Sunlight bathed The Shire as I illuminated it to celebrate the Christmas season. Warmth and visibility made my projects a pleasant chore. Temps were in the 60's; the days were spectacular. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute outside, because it was a labor of love. Soon, all of our children will arrive for Christmas, along with Sammy and Erika, and among the crew will be our only grandchild, The Wolf Cub Wyatt! Batteries for his F150 are charged, and soon he will be whirring around the yard and up and down our long driveway. Every twinkling light represented a musing of anticipation of having our family together.

But I would need the darkness of night. Why? Because during the day it's impossible to see if the lights are evenly spread out and producing the beautifying effect my mind imagined.

The Scripture at the top of the post was on my mind as I puttered around the yard. I thought about what I was doing in light of Zechariah's prophecy. I was bringing light to the darkness. But without the darkness, I couldn't see the effects of my efforts. Aged Zechariah realized that his son was destined to shed light, and to do so, John would have to enter into darkness and the shadow of death. As a light, John would be useless if he chose to stay in the safe and secure company of those who, too, were lights. Apart from entering the darkness and death there would be no way to see the effect and purpose of his life.

For Believers, rather than fear darkness and death, we need to enter it, and with the knowledge of God's mercy and a message, let our lights shine... 

Friday, December 4, 2015

All For One..

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. ~ Luke 1:1-4

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. ~ Acts 1:1-2

Luke is an obscure figure in the New Testament. We know little more than that he companioned the apostle Paul as a co-missionary and personal physician. Were Luke alive today and had access to social media, I feel safe to say he would not have been regularly uploading his latest "selfie" of himself. That's pretty significant when you consider that he penned the longest of the Gospels, and that if you sit down and read his Gospel and the Book of Acts, when finished, you will have read more than twenty-five percent of the New Testament. Nearly half of what Luke recorded in his Gospel goes unmentioned by Matthew's and Mark's Gospels.

But here is one more thing that struck me...

As Luke bent over his parchment with quill in hand to write his Gospel--an account of the life of Christ on earth, and The Book of Acts--his account of Christ's work on earth from heaven, a single individual was on his mind, Theophilus. Theophilus is as obscure as Luke. We know very little about this Gentile--except that Luke (also a Gentile) traipsed all over Palestine to compile "an orderly account" of the eclectic bits and pieces of information Theophilus had gathered about Jesus. Luke trudged the highways and hedges interviewing those who were eye-witnesses to the life of the crucified, risen, and ascended Savior.

Isn't it obvious? Luke cared dearly for this man, Theophilus.

Luke compiled an exhaustive account of the life of Christ. Is it beyond reason to believe Luke interviewed Mary, the mother of Jesus; the other apostles; many who had been healed by Jesus; the 120 who were in the upper room at Pentecost; the seventy, whom Jesus had sent out, and many of the 500 witnesses Paul speaks of in his letter to the Corinthians who had seen the resurrected Christ? I think not.

Exhaustive and exhausting.

So, I leave anyone who is reading with this encouragement: It's worth it. All that you may be investing in the spiritual well-being of just one.

That one you keep praying for
That one who is always on your mind
That one who is wandering, or lost
That one who is struggling
That one who is seeking, but can't seem to find
That one you can't give up on

That's what Luke's commitment to Theophilus does. It inspires me/us to keep giving it all we've got.

All for one...


   

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Giving Attention

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God's mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. Ephesians 6:18-19


We are to give attention to God at all times, and in all situations. In short, that is what prayer is. Without a heart and mind aware of its dependence upon the Spirit to guide it, it is impossible to walk and live in the Spirit. Without the Spirit's help we randomly react to the events that make up our lives. Between the lines, a question hovers, "How dependent upon the Spirit of God are we?" The answer,  "Completely."

Paul couldn't imagine explaining his new life--that definitely demanded and explanation--without the Spirit of God giving him bold and clear and concise words to define the mystery of all mysteries. Without the Spirit's help it could never be conveyed as Good News.

"Pray for me, and pray for each other." Paul pleads. Ask humbly by praying persistently; a paradoxical request, until we come to grips with our absolute dependence on God.

Stay alert, and give attention to God at all times.