Wednesday, November 25, 2009

GIFTS & GIVERS: Taken for Granted

GIFTS AND GIVERS CAN BE TAKEN FOR GRANTED. For instance, take my mom. I could always count on her to provide new packages of underwear every Christmas morning. There was one year that she forgot, and I remember almost going into shock. Now that she's gone to heaven, well, I have to buy my own!

We can get so used to the ways things are, that when they change we are left standing with our mouths wide-open in disbelief. I guess we don't miss things until they're no longer given. It becomes increasingly easier to take for granted that both giver and gift will always be around. And when that happens we move from gratefulness to grumpiness in a heart-beat.

My key sermon text for this coming first Sunday of Advent is taken from Isaiah 9:2,
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
Light, now there is another thing I take for granted, until it;s longer available. Living here in the Redwood forest we loose our electricity numerous times throughout the winter months. The rains descend, the winds blow, the trees fall, the power goes out. That's the way it goes around here. But no matter how often it happens I never fail to flip the light switch up to turn the light on. I just take for granted that the light will go on, even if I know that the power is off.

The interesting thing is that after a day or so with no power, when it does come on we are sometimes saddened. The truth is living in the dark has its benefits; no TV, more time with the family huddled around a candle, earlier to bed, all benefits we do not avail ourselves of when the power is on.

Yet, truth be known, I enjoy living in the light. It has great benefits, not least of all safety and security. When God spoke through the prophet Isaiah He was declaring to the people of Israel that light was coming. He spoke to a people who had been living in darkness (being away from God) for so long that they were taking the darkness for granted. Sadly in fact, when the light came they were not even able to recognize it, as the Gospel writer John wrote,
The true light the gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world could not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who did receive Him, tho those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become the children of God. (John 1:9-12)
This Advent season my prayer is that I will not take the Giver and the Gift for granted. That I will not be so comfortable in the dark that I would refuse to turn on the light. That I would desire the light, welcome the light, and live in the light. This is my Christmas prayer.

I pray it for you, as well.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

The Journey Toward Contentment

Last week I began a little series on contentment, (The Journey Toward Contentment) seeing how we were entering the seasons of Thanks-giving and Gift-giving, I thought it would be an appropriate topic. My texts last week were taken from the Psalms of Ascent, (Psalms 120-134) and we talked about having the correct priorities, the correct people, and the correct places aligned as we took this journey toward contentment. I am not sure how the sermon went over, but a group of us did have a good discussion in my study afterwards as we sought to discuss the practical implications of the journey.

As we continue on the journey this week I am focusing upon the giving of thanks, and the Apostle Paul's directive to "give thanks in all circumstances." (1 Thessalonians 5:18) This directive, along with those that surround it (1 Thessalonians 5:12-28) are easily read but difficult to apply. I mean really, give thanks in all circumstances?!

Well, being one who believes in the triune God, and who believes that His Word is true, I guess I must believe these declarations are true as well, even if I find them hard to apply. What I have discovered is that thanks-giving in all circumstances is more Whom you are thanking, and what you are thanking Him for, rather than the present circumstance in which you find yourself.

One thing that I have personally discovered is that as I place my focus upon God and upon others, my thankfulness in all circumstances increases.

This past week my family and I went to watch Disney's newest installment of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" (You must see it in 3D to really appreciate it!) Therein I was once again reminded of the importance of contentment and difference wrought in old Ebenezer Scrooge once he got his priorities, people and places in correct order. He learned that contentment was not to be found in hoarding, but in handing out, not in getting but in giving. And that is why once again this Christmas season I am promoting the ministry of the Advent Conspiracy, who are asking the question, "Can Christmas still change the world?" (Nice follow-up t my recent sermon series on "Changing Our World for Good.") I believe we can!

That is why I am encouraging my family, friends, blog-readers(?), to give a gift to the least of these. (Matthew 25:31-46) Rather than spending time and wrapping paper for a gift for _____________ (fill in the blank), give a gift in their name to a ministry of compassion like, Living Water or Food for the Hungry or __________________. Give a gift that blesses God, blesses those who receive the gift, those in whose honor it is given and blesses the giver. Now, there's a way to spend Christmas that will increase our thanks-giving in all circumstances and move us toward contentment.
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Language of Sanctity

OVER FIFTY YEARS AGO Thomas Merton wrote a description of America which could have been written today. In the words of Merton, describing the beliefs of his friend, Lax, we read,
Lax's picture of America -- before which he has stood for twelve years with his hands hanging in helplessness at his side -- is the picture of a country full of people who want to be kind and pleasant and happy and love good things and serve God, but who do not know how. And they do not know where to turn to find out. They are surrounded by all kinds of sources of information which only conspire to bewilder them more and more. And Lax's vision is a vision of the day when they will turn on the radio and somebody will start telling them of the love of God in language that will no longer sound hackneyed or crazy, but with authority and conviction: the conviction born of sanctity. (The Seven Storey Mountain)
Today, America is still looking for someone to tell them of God in a language that cuts through the facade and speaks to the heart. I believe that this language must be the language of holiness. Though, when I speak of a language of holiness, I am not referring to some rarefied tongue which utters words which demand a theological dictionary to understand. I am referring to a holiness that is born in the heart surrendered to God's ownership and lived out through the hands moved by the His Spirit.

This is a language that speaks through acts of compassion and mercy. It is a life that lives out the life of Christ in the world. It is not only a life that speaks the truth of God, but also lives out the truth of God. It is a holiness that is lived on the streets.

God spoke through the prophet Isaiah concerning this type of life:
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness£ will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. (Isaiah 58:6-12)
I believe when we learn to speak and live this language then our light will shine, more importantly Christ's light will shine in and through us and this bring light to the world. (Matthew 5:14-16) Then the world hear, and believe.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

GONE FISHING?

OK, SO MANY MIGHT THINK I HAVE BEEN "GONE FISHING" sine I have not posted here for quite awhile, but the truth is a man has to have his priorities! Right? Of course, right!

Though I have not been "gone-fishing" this week's sermon text from the Gospel of John deals with the issue of fishing, and seeing that this sermon should be the last in my sermon series, "Changing Our World for Good," I thought it good to open the Pastor's Study back up.

Our text for this week is John 21:1-25 where we find the risen Lord Jesus fixing breakfast on the shore of Galilee while the disciples struggle to bring in another miraculous catch of fish. (Luke 5:4-8) Another time where a second lesson is needed to teach the disciples the deeper truth.

Early in Jesus' ministry He called to Himself this group of men and told them He would make them "fishers of men." (Luke 5:10-11) And yet, how quickly after the glorious resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah, did these same men return to the lesser work of fishing for fish, which by the way, was not proving too profitable for them. I believe there is a lesson to be learned that once Jesus gets a hold of our lives the old ways of life will no longer profit us as we thought they did in the past.

There are lots of lessons in this passage, but the one that grabs me is the strong call from Jesus to Peter, "Then He said to him, 'Follow Me.'" (John 21:19) The reality is, the resurrection of Jesus changes everything. It changes our work, our home, our relationships, our past, our present, and most definitely, our future. To respondto God's grance and love poured out to us in and through the Person of Jesus Christ, and then return to "life as normal," is just wrong. We are not given the place to hang out a sign that says, "Gone Fishing," unless we are out fishing for souls with Jesus in the boat.

It is this fishing the Lord desires to find us doing as we follow Him awaiting His return. (Matthew 24:46)
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