Sunday, December 31, 2006

What Will We Experience in 2007?

I’m not in to New Year’s resolutions. Nor do I pay much attention to New Year’s predictions. However, I do like to consider how prepared my life may or may not be to face the unknown of the coming 12 months.

An Associated Press/AOL poll revealed that 60% of Americans believe that the U.S. will be the victim of a terrorist attack in 2007. The same percentage believes that a nuclear or biological weapon will be unleashed somewhere in the world. Forty percent believe the U.S. will enter a war with Iran. Twenty-five percent believe that Jesus Christ will return and usher in the end of the world.

What if?

What if one of the above predictions did take place? What if a loved one died? What if you were diagnosed with cancer or some incurable disease? What if you were disabled and no longer able to work?

What if you got involved with a group of some of the greatest people you’ve ever met? What if you suddenly and unexpectedly came into a significant amount of money? What if a spiritual awakening broke out all around you?

I don’t know the future but I do know who holds the future. I assure you that is not a cliché to me. I’m not suggesting that we turn to God like a crystal ball and try to get a peek into the future. I’m suggesting that we walk closely with God.

As children we learn to watch our parents and take cues from them. If they were agitated or unhappy about something then we learned to be invisible around them. If they were happy or seemed to be having fun then we would want to draw near and share in the joy.

Literally I have had God prepare my heart for someone’s death, for a crisis that was about to befall me or for blessings that were about to come my way. I don’t mean that I suddenly knew the future. I simply had a sense in my “heart” (thinking/feelings) that something was about to happen.

And, even in those times where I didn’t have a clue that something was about to take place, I found great comfort and strength in the fact that God knew what was happening in or around my life. God is never surprised by what happens and He is always pleased to give us wisdom, courage and grace in such times because He likes blessing us. But God is also pleased to give us things we need in times of challenge or prosperity because His working in us brings glory to Him.

There is so much more to say about the importance of walking with God through all the highs and lows of life but allow me to simply present this invitation. Make a commitment and establish a plan to do life with God better in 2007 than ever before. A good church and pastor can help you with that. If you don’t have one I’d be glad to help.

God bless you as you launch into the next chapter of your life.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

President Gerald Ford & The Glory of Jesus

Former President Gerald Ford died Tuesday, December 26 at age 93. Ford was the nation’s 38th president and the only person not elected to the office of president or vice president.

As you know, he was appointed by President Richard Nixon to be vice president after Spiro Agnew resigned. Later Nixon also resigned in the midst of the Watergate scandal and Ford ascended to the presidency.

We will hear and read many words of praise and affirmation for Ford over these next few days. I think Ford was an honorable man and served the country well during his brief time in office.

Many have commented through the years that the person who holds the office of president is arguably the most “powerful man in the world.” Yet, most Americans born after 1980 know little if anything of Ford. His glory and power have come and gone and is mostly forgotten.

In contrast, we have just celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ. Secularized, commercialized Christmas misses the point that hundreds of millions of people around the world still follow, serve, worship and extol Jesus Christ. His glory is no less today than it was at the time of His birth.

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as the teachers of the law.” Matthew 7:28-29 Many of us are still amazed at His teachings.

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Philippians 2:9-11 And of course many of us have already bowed the knee and confessed that Jesus is Lord and someday all will.

When our world loses a fine man like Gerald Ford, at one point the most powerful man in the world, and the faded glory is so apparent, I’m freshly reminded that there is not one person living whose glory will ever come close to that of Jesus Christ. All praise and glory are due Jesus, now and forevermore.

Friday, December 22, 2006

How Do You Spell "Christmas"?

According to a BBC poll published on Tuesday just 44% of British children between the ages of seven and eleven are aware that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Apparently the name of “Christ” was not connected in their thinking to the significance of Christmas.

To what extent is Christ connected to your thinking and observing of Christmas?

No “guilt trip” intended here so don’t even get on that road. Allow me to give a couple of friendly suggestions about keeping Christ in Christmas.

1. Either alone or with your family, this weekend take ten minutes and read the biblical story of the birth of Christ. See Luke 1:26-38 and 2:1-20 and also Matthew 2:1-12.

2. Attend a church service and worship Christ. For those of you that live in the Seattle area, if you need help in finding a place of worship post a comment and I’ll be glad to make a suggestion of a church near your home. For those outside of Puget Sound, just Google “churches, your city” and you’ll have dozens of web sites pop up that you can check out. You can find a church in ten minutes.

Yesterday I spoke with someone who had seen the movie, “The Nativity”. Though he had been involved in church for many years he commented, “Seeing the story of Christ’s birth on the big screen really impressed me that this was the most remarkable and miraculous event ever.” Sometimes we need a little help in breaking free from the familiar to see the extraordinary.

Blessings on you and your connection with Christ this Christmas.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Windstorms & Life Perspective

I haven’t been able to post in a few days because of the windstorm that struck the Puget Sound last Thursday. If you didn’t hear, after several days of rain a windstorm with gusts over 70 mph hit our area, blew over thousands of trees and disrupted electric service to over 1.5 million households. I just got my electricity back yesterday after about 3 days in the dark and cold. Many of my friends still don’t have power.

The sudden loss of electricity meant that there was no heat in the house, no grocery stores open, no gas stations operating, no restaurants available for a quick hot meal and no church open for worship. The first 24 hours were kind of refreshing as my wife and I enjoyed being at home together in front of a crackling fireplace and having an unexpected day off. The novelty wore off quickly.

All we lost was one tree and suffered damage to a fence gate. However, when we took a walk around the block and saw large trees that had crashed through the homes of neighbors and crushed their cars we began to feel grief over the losses others were experiencing. At this writing over 100 people have been hospitalized from carbon monoxide poisoning from using charcoal grills and gas generators inside their homes in the attempt to stay warm or to cook. Over a dozen people have died in storm related incidents.

Of course it has only been since 1880 that we have lived with the capabilities and subsequent dependencies related to electricity. For the centuries before 1880, a windstorm like we just experienced in the Northwest would have meant virtually nothing. Our use and enjoyment of electricity made its absence stark and difficult.

And so it is for many of us with respect to our relationship with God. Like electric current in our homes, the Presence of God’s Spirit in our lives brings light and power and capabilities that are unimaginable without His Presence. Because many of us have so embraced our relationship with God, His absence would be our greatest loss and would bring on a far-reaching personal crisis.

Our forefathers would have a hard time comprehending why a relatively brief windstorm would prove to be so disruptive to every day life precisely because they would never have experienced the power associated with having electricity. According to recent polls over 90% of those living in Puget Sound would also have a hard time comprehending why living without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is such a “big deal” because they have yet to experience His power associated with having a relationship with the “electrifying” God of the universe.
This is what Christmas is all about. A loving Creator personally came into a dark, cold and powerless world to bring light, love and redemption to all. I’m praying that you receive the Christmas “Presence” you most need this season.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

World's Oldest Living Person Dies

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bolden, recognized by the Guinness World Records as the oldest living person at age 116 years, died December 11. She was born in Somerville, Tennessee in 1890 to freed slaves. The picture is of Lizzie at 114, being visited by her grandson, 74-year-old Jack Bolden.

Lizzie had 40 grandchildren, 75 great-grandchildren, 150 great-great-grandchildren, 220 3rd-great-grandchildren, and 75 4th-great-grandchildren. That’s hard to imagine.

How old are you? How old do you want to be before you die? Most people that I’ve spoken with through the years say that they don’t want to live to be 100. They fear broken health, nursing homes and being a burden to loved ones. I understand.

But, what if you could live well and continue to make a difference in this world at 100 years of age? I can remember when I was 21 reading in the Bible about the death of Moses at age 120. I remember thinking, “Wow, there’s a man that lived significantly and greatly impacted three generations (if you think about 40 years as a generation).” While reflecting on that scripture I felt impressed to pray, “God, would you give me 120 years like Moses. I’d like to serve you and make a difference in this world through three generations.”

Don’t misunderstand. I don’t think that I have a promise from God that I’ll live to 120 and have good heath and mental capacities, etc. In fact, I have such a peace in my relationship with God I would be very happy if I died tomorrow. But, I did feel impressed to pray that God give me a long life of serving Him and others.

That prayer and that vision have everything to do with how I pace my life and plan for my future. In my mind, reaching the age of 60 is not the time to “get serious” about retirement but rather it is mid-life!
For years I’ve prayed Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” That prayer is not about knowing how to count your days, but how to make your days count.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Baby Jesus Stolen, Replaced With Beer Can

Nearly 30 years ago Bob Chooljain engaged in a special project with his small children. They made a Nativity scene with their own hands. Through all of these years the Chooljain family has placed their Nativity scene in their front yard during the month of December as a lighted Christmas display in the hopes of spreading some inspiration and cheer.

Yesterday someone came to the Plaistow, NH home and stole the baby Jesus. We’ve heard that story dozens of times through the years. In fact, eight years ago the Chooljains had one of the three wise men stolen. Pranks like that have been around for a long time. What was so disturbing to this family was that an empty beer can was placed in the manger where the baby Jesus lay. Bob’s comment was, “You just wonder, what was in the person’s mind that actually did that? Why leave the beer can?”

The small town story struck me at a deeper level. The Bible teaches that God creates us with a hole in our heart that can only be legitimately filled with a relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s like we are each a “Nativity scene” with an empty manger at the center of our being. The question then is, “Will I exercise faith and place Jesus at the center of my being or will I place a ‘beer can’ there?”

The picture of a beer can perfectly depicts the inadequate, empty and even profane nature of anything else we would place at the center of our lives. A stellar career or stunning achievements or an intoxicating relationship are all “beer cans”. Good deeds, morality and even orthodoxy are “beer cans” when they are replacements for Christ.

The Christmas story is about God loving us so much that He came to us for relationship. Your story is either about responding to God’s pursuit with life engagement, or your story is the oft repeated sad “beer can” tale of godless existence.

I pray that Jesus is found and that Jesus is at the center of your “Nativity scene” this season.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Child Arrested For Unwrapping Christmas Gift Early

“A mother convinced the police to arrest her 12-year-old son after he unwrapped a Christmas present early.” This opening sentence grabbed my attention.

The boy’s great-grandmother bought, wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree a Nintendo Game Boy Advance with the strict instruction that he was not to open it until Christmas. But, on Sunday morning the great-grandmother found the box opened and emptied. She called the 27-year-old mother and reported what her son had done.

The mother and great-grandmother then confronted the boy and asked where the Game Boy was. He said he didn’t know. When the mother threatened to call the police the boy went into his room and brought out the Game Boy. The mother called the police anyway.

When two police officers arrived the mother insisted that they arrest her 12-year-old son so they did and booked him for petty larceny.

The mother later explained that when she confronted her son about his behavior he showed no remorse. Though only 12, the boy already has a history of bad behavior including shoplifting, stealing money, school expulsion and punching a police officer during a prior incident.

I don’t know what will become of this child. What I do know is that he possesses the most dangerous kind of heart disease: a hard heart. A hard heart is a condition where a person no longer cares about right and wrong, good and bad, God or evil. He or she just lives for self and loses the capacity for compassion, generosity, love and most of all, experiencing God.

The reason the ancient Pharaoh suffered the 10 plagues in Egypt is because of a hard heart. The reason the entire nation of Israel was not allowed to enter the promised land was hard heartedness. Charles Dickens tale about Ebenezer Scrooge was illustrative of the plight of a hard heart and how miraculous it is if one recovers from it.

Hard heartedness generally comes on subtly and gradually. Usually there are significant life disappointments that nurse the hardening. Scrooge was aided by ghosts from the past to snap him out of the deadly state. Truly only the Holy Ghost, God’s Spirit can touch, soften, heal and enliven the heart.

THAT is what Christmas is about.