Sunday, December 29, 2013

Staying On Course

One of the greatest inventions known to man is that of the satellite and GPS system.  How awesome it is to drive and have someone tell you every turn to make.  “Take a right in one half mile. Stay on Highway 66 until you reach interstate 75.”  I still don’t know how the thing works but I enjoy using mine. However, one does not have to use their gadget very long to find out it is not infallible. While most of the time they are great at giving directions, occasionally I find myself asking, “Where in the world is this thing taking me?  Although periodically deceptive, the convenience of having one far exceeds the alternative because they do help keep us on course, which I’m finding can be a challenge. This is especially true in the spiritual realm. If we are relying on the wrong instrument for guidance we can so easily be led astray. This is why we do not yield to public opinion or faulty emotional pressure. So where does one get the proper compass that will lead to the right course?  I read recently that during World War II American planes flew from British airbases to missions over Germany. Finding their way home to base was often difficult because of horrible weather conditions. Churches with tall, stately spires dotted the English landscape. On overcast days the American pilots used the churches to guide them home. As planes descended through a gray sky the churches told the pilots if they were on the right course.  When Jesus laid the foundation for the church He included those relics that would assure ongoing spiritual equilibrium; the Word of life, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the fellowship of the saints. These elements when given priority will serve as stabilizers that keep us on tract.  As we close out 2013 we are reminded of governmental disappointment, economic instability and spiritual diversion.  It is my prayer that 2014 will be a year of the return—a return to God, to the church, and to a morally strong nation.  Success will only be achieved as each individual joins in the search for Divine leadership and the quest of staying on course.    

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Braking For Christmas

Have you ever been in a hurry to get somewhere?  You broke the speed limit passed the slow poke in front of you, most likely said a thing or two that you should not have and then you arrive at your destination.  You look in your rear view mirror and guess who is right behind you?  Oh slow poke.  He didn’t speed, wasn’t in a hurry, didn’t embarrass himself with unnecessary language but yet arrived at the same time you did.  Who do you think enjoyed the journey to most?  We often get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas Season while missing out on the joy of the journey. During this time of year we should ease up on the accelerator release our frowns and idle our inner motors with questions like, “Why the hurry? What is the rush? Why rush in and out of the season?”   Could our fast paced lives be the reason we are unable to enjoy the spirit of the season?  Several years ago my daughter, her husband and our only granddaughter came to our house for Christmas. We were overjoyed to see them.  As a matter of fact, we were so caught up in the visit that we completely failed to read the message on the shirt Kaylin was wearing. It said “I’m going to be a big sister.”  We bragged on the shirt but missed the message. Amidst all the packages purchased and boxes bundled, we cannot overlook the gift and His glory. It’s not about neckties, toys, and technology, but about God’s incredible gift. But again we can get caught up in the gusto.  For example my wife decided that she wanted a bigger tree a couple of years ago.  So after Christmas she found one at Sam’s, bargained and got a good price.  It was so big we had to bring it home in the church van. It stands 13 feet tall. It was a pain to carry. So the next Christmas arrived and we brought it out of the basement.  It was heavy just to carry.  It went up in sections. The first one or two wasn’t so bad, but the last two were another story. I had to stand on a ladder to put the final two sections up.  They were extremely heavy.   I strained and complained a bit and needless to say before it was over I was unhappy and so was she.  I told her I thought the tree was too big. I was going out of town so she said, I will have the guys to come and take it down while you are gone.  I said “the tree is staying; if they take that tree down they won’t have a job when I get back.”  Well the end of the story is that she repented, Ha Ha, and the tree stayed and it was so beautiful.  I like it but almost got divorced and almost missed the beauty of it by getting frustrated. The same was the case when Christ was born. It’s so easy to become mesmerized by food, banquets, and programs. However, the memories of Christmas are most enjoyable when we slow down, put on the brakes, and savor the reason for the season.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Is it About Us?

This past week as a part of my sermon I delivered a monologue on the biblical character, Simeon.  Preparation required hours of getting costume material and working out the final details for the presentation. In doing so, I found myself calling upon my wife often.  The last call came Saturday evening after she had retired for the night.  I walked into the bedroom woke her up and proceeded to ask, “Where did you place the gray hairspray for the wig?” Needless to say she was not at all thrilled that I had interrupted her sleep.” However, she graciously crawled out of bed and helped me find the misplaced item. It was underneath the driver’s seat in the car. How it got there only God knows. Heading to church Sunday morning we discussed the subject of my disturbing her sleep. She has never been one to mince with words, so I braced myself for the lecture. “When you do something special like this at church it becomes all about you.  It doesn’t matter that you inconvenience others in the process.” I laughed while all the time knowing she had nailed me. There was no use arguing with the truth; the only thing that seemed appropriate was my apology.  As I thought about the situation it caused me to ask, “Is Christmas, the birthday of Christ about us?”  I read about one little boy celebrating his birthday. Among his presents was the gift of a dollar bill. He immediately began to make plans to invest in an ice cream sundae with all the trimmings. The party guests were a somewhat pious group, and someone suggested that he give part of the dollar to the poor. “I thought of that,” admitted the birthday boy, “but I think I’ll give it to the ice cream man instead and let him give it to the poor.” I read of another who wrote, “Dear Santa, I’m not going to ask for a lot.  Here’s my list: The Etch-A-Sketch animator, 2 packs of #2 pencils, Crayola fat markers and the big gift…my own color TV! Well, maybe you could drop the pencils; I don’t want to be really selfish.”  While many tend to focus inwardly upon themselves, it could be said that Christmas by definition is an oxymoron.  In one sense of the word this highly celebrated event is and should be all about Christ—His coming to earth in human flesh. On the other hand when we read the writings of Isaiah we learn Christmas is also about us.  “Unto you a child is born, a son is given… Behold a virgin shall conceive and shall bring forth a newborn son and shall call His name Immanuel—(meaning God with us).  In essence we are to worship the Messiah who has come to give us abundant life. Yet in doing so we cannot forget that had it not been for sinful needy humanity, He would never have come.  I guess that means Christmas is really about us!  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Living Beyond Our Fears

Ann Landers, the newspaper columnist who received over 10,000 pieces of mail a month was asked, “What do people write about the most?”  Her answer was fear. “The thing people ask about the most is fear.” They are afraid of the past and afraid of the future.  They’re afraid of losing their health, wealth and relationships. Bruce Larson in his book “Living Beyond our Fears”  remarks, fear is universal and all of us experience it, from the tribesman in the remote jungle to the sophisticated urbanite—people who are afraid of God and each other. It has been described as our oldest and deadliest enemy.  Thousands of years ago, the philosopher Seneca said, “If we let things terrify us; life will not be worth living.” In 1840 Thomas Carlyle wrote, “The first duty of man is still that of subduing fear.”   The humorist, Mark Twain said, “The human race is a race of cowards, and I am not only marching in that procession, but I am carrying a banner.”   Indeed all of humanity at some point has been gripped by this captivating emotion.  As a result the word fear, fearful or its root usage is mentioned 529 times in the bible.  In those occasions when mentioned we find that it disrupts families, stifles creativity, and prevents love.  Larson continues by adding, “Even greater is the fact that our fears are a psychological and spiritual barometer of who we are and our personalities are shaped by how we deal with them.”  This emotional culprit is powerful and often irrational. It shows itself in a healthy way, such as our fear of poisonous snakes.  On the other hand it shows up in the form of the neurotic producing the hypochondriac. There is fear based on truth, such as the fear that poor eating habits and the lack of exercise can be hazardous to your health. However there is fear based on lies, taught by misinformation, gossip, or tradition.  Our fears can be internal or external, natural or unnatural, focused or unfocused. But yet they remain a powerful emotion to be reckoned with, so much so that medical science now recognizes that between sixty and ninety per cent of our sicknesses are caused by such an emotion as fear.  Because of this it comes as no great surprise the dominate message during the birth of Christ was “Fear not.” Zacharias, Mary, Joseph, and the Shepherds all heard the same repose. God was sending a special “Gift” to help dispel fear and establish hope within the human heart.  It was not a “Gift” promising the absence of fear but one giving assurance that we can live beyond our fears. That’s why we need the Savior and we celebrate the season!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Getting Our Attention

During my teenage years I lived in Jellico, a small town next to the Kentucky line. In that town they had a special way of alerting people to a crisis.  It was a loud siren blast that could be heard throughout the city.  As a matter of fact I checked and they still use it today. If I remember correctly the long blast rallied the fire department and the shorter one was for the rescue squad. That shorter blast was something that especially got my attention because at that time I served as a volunteer. There were many nights when I would hear that familiar sound and would crawl out of bed get dressed and head to the Squad building to see what crisis we were responding to.  The point is, that sound got my attention. This leads me to ask, “If you were trying to get someone’s focus, how would you do it?” More importantly, “How does God get our attention?”  When we walk in the Spirit it’s easy to detect his voice.  However, the problem is, we do not always walk accordingly. Sometimes we lean to the flesh and when that happens it is much more difficult.  The good thing is God has ways of gaining our undivided attention. At times He uses a restless spirit or unusual circumstances. During other seasons of life He may use people, financial struggles or unanswered prayer.  Regardless of the way He does it, He never gives up until He has accomplished His purpose. Is it possible that you have encountered strange events in your life that sound similar to that of a siren’s blast? If so you may want to stop, stand still and listen.  Ironically there were those occasions in my younger years when we experienced false alarms meaning we were not needed. However, with God this is not the case. Whenever, He sounds the alarm everyone is to stand in preparation to receive orders. The sound of the siren definitely means He wants our attention.