Speaking into the Tragedy

Opinions abound about WHY the horrific tragedy in South FL occurred. We are bombarded on social media with explanations on how to fix the problem. More gun control laws, armed security in every school, bringing back moral instruction, allowing Bible reading in schools…some folks blame it on the media, others on the culture, video games, or parents…Citizens blame the government. Parents blame the schools. Schools blame the parents. Young people blame the older generation. Older people blame uncontrollable, undisciplined teenagers. The left blames the right. The right blames the left. Communities blame the culture…And Christians blame the world.

People seem to use these tragedies to promote their own agendas. And it’s not just the media or those with different political views! It’s Christians, too. One post, written by a prominent Christian leader, blames society, bringing in the topic of national sins including abortion and the abandonment of Bible reading in public schools. But Scripture speaks toward a different reason.

II Chronicles 7:14 states, “If…My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Recently I attended a conference for pastors and wives. Dr. Jim Jeffrey, former president of Clark Summit University, and a pastor, said this. “We need to allow the world to judge the church.” Maybe the root of the problem is not the media, the culture, video games, or the government.

Maybe the problem is us! Maybe the first solution toward change is the church.

The book of Proverbs offers this truth: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34) This righteousness must begin with God’s people. Peter writes, “It is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner?” (I Peter 4:17-18)

God has not promised healing for our land. The promise of II Chronicles 7:14 was for Israel, but the principle remains. We, as the church of God, the bride of Christ, need to humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from our wicked ways. Israel’s predicament was a result of their sin. Could it be that our predicament is a result of our sin as the people of God?

Isaiah recognized this principle later in Israel’s history as he beheld God’s glory in Isaiah 6. Isaiah had not rejected God’s commandments, but his people had. Isaiah wasn’t worshipping false gods, but the people were. Yet he includes himself in this prayer of repentance, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” We cannot expect godless people to recognize God’s glory.

A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (I Corinthians 2:14) In the book of Romans, Paul further explains, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God…, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful…” (Romans 1:28-31)

Remember, Jesus never promised peace in this world! Instead He told his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Paul told Timothy not to be surprised by the wickedness of the culture. “Evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (II Timothy 3:13)

So why are we so surprised by these tragedies? Why do we believe that human solutions will solve spiritual issues?

Jesus taught us how to respond to tragedies such as the Florida school massacre. He didn’t blog about the evils of society.  He didn’t preach vengeance on the Roman government. He didn’t use his time to engage in politics as the means to make His world a safer place. Instead, we read, “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)

We speak into the tragedy, not with our own words, but through our lives. We speak into the tragedy, not with our own opinions or judgments, but with the good news of the Gospel – that Jesus loves the world and gave His life that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. Through Him there is HOPE. Through Him we have peace. Through Him we have life.

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul… (Hebrews 6:19)

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. (John 14:27)

For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:40)

 

 

 

“NO” New Year’s Resolutions in 2018


Changing Improving …Letting God Change My Life ME in 2018

New Year’s Resolutions rarely work because we can’t ever really do everything we plan to do, or be all we hope to be. We are human, prone to failure. The things we want to do we don’t do, and things we don’t want to do, we tend to do anyway. That’s nothing new. (Rom. 7:14-15)  I’m fifty-seven years old. You would think I would have learned this by now.

I always strive (there’s a phrase I need to re-evaluate) to be the best at whatever I do, which is not always a bad thing. The Bible says that whatever we do we are to do it “heartily” – whole-heartedly, enthusiastically, energetically according to my thesaurus …(Col. 3:23). But I realize I’m kind-of a perfectionist.  Since I was just a little girl, I always envisioned myself accomplishing great things for God in my life.

So, I continually planned, worked, sacrificed to do whatever it took to succeed. Maybe it was because I thought God wouldn’t accept me. This was never a conscious idea. I knew from Scripture that God loves me unconditionally no matter what. But maybe ingrained deeply in my sub-conscious I believe that God doesn’t really accept me as I am. Maybe because of rejection and abandonment as a child. Who knows?  It really doesn’t matter WHY I have spent my life striving. It matters that I need to stop striving and let God change in me whatever needs to be changed, instead of trying to change myself. This doesn’t mean I should be lazy and do nothing. Whatever I do I should do heartily, but not for acceptance by God or others. Not for my own personal satisfaction. Not out of pride…I am to do whatever I do in Jesus name, for Him and for the glory of God. (Col. 3:17, 23: I Cor. 10:31)

Lord, this past year has been challenging with much change, many uncertainties, and some disappointments. I don’t feel like I have lived up to my own expectations. I certainly don’t think I have walked as close to You as I should. But You have blessed me abundantly, provided my needs, and given me opportunities to serve You above and beyond what I could ever have hoped for.

However, there are some areas in my life that I truly want to change in 2018, but I can’t change myself or make myself better. You have been teaching me how little control I really have apart from You. Your Word tells me that You are faithful (I Thes. 5:24), and You will accomplish Your purpose in my life. You began a good work in me when I was just a little girl, and You promise that You will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil. 1:6) You will do this, not me, because I can’t do anything to make myself better. Help me to let go of my striving and let You change not just my life, but me.

Make me more JOYFUL (Phil 4:4)

Help me LAUGH more often (Psalm 126:2, Proverbs 17:22)

Show me how to be more BALANCED (Eccl. 2:17-23)

Help me learn to live more SIMPLY! (Luke 12:22-24)

Prompt me to PRAY more fervently about everything (James 5:16)

Give me patience to WAIT on You expectantly (Psalm 27:13-14; 37:5-7))

Help me to LOVE others better (John 13:34-35)

I’m sure there are many other things that need to change in my life! But for today as the year of 2017 ends, will You take these areas of my life (and others that I may not even be aware of) and will You change me? In 2018, I have no resolutions except to let You do Your good work in me.

 

CHRISTMAS: THE MYSTERY SOLVED!

When I hear celebrities on TV, and even many in the church, people who know Jesus, as they attempt to define Christmas, I wonder where this definition comes from, and I think to myself,

“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

Most definitions go something like this, “Christmas isn’t about the gifts and decorations and food, I think it’s about family…about being together, spending time with those we love and care for.” Sounds sweet and good and right, doesn’t it?

But what about people who are alone this Christmas? What about the family whose little one came way too early and died in his mother’s arms just hours after his birth? What about the family whose son and brother died suddenly the weekend before Christmas? Instead of travelling for a family Christmas celebration, they are traveling across the country to attend a funeral. What about the parents who are alone this holiday season because it’s the year that their kids are spending with the family of their spouses? What about the widow or widower who is grieving and missing the love of their lives, those who will spend the day alone?

What about the family of the church leader in South America who took his own life because of the deep pain of rejection and failure he experienced after decades of faithful ministry? What about those dear people whose families aren’t kind or loving or good? What if being with family is painful and hurtful? What if that person has been completely rejected by a parent or spouse or child and faces the holiday dejected and without hope? What about the dad who lost his job and wonders how he will tell his wife or make the mortgage payment or cover the electric bill or buy Christmas gifts for his children?

What about the soldier alone and in danger in Syria or Afghanistan or Iraq? Or the church members in Pakistan who are stunned by last Sunday’s terrorist attack that left at least five of their friends and loved ones’ dead? What about the orphan living on the street in India or Honduras or NYC? What about the prisoner alone in a dark, dank prison cell in China or North Korea? What about the child who was stolen from her parents and sold as a sex slave with no hope of seeing her family again?

How does this sweet, feel-good, message about Christmas – spending time with family – resonate with these dear people?

I have a secret: IT DOESN’T!

If the “real meaning” of Christmas is not true for just one person on this earth, then the truth of the matter is that this sweet, good, “right-sounding” definition of Christmas is a lie.

And if it’s a lie, it is NOT from God. If it’s not from God, it is from the ultimate liar and deceiver, Satan, the devil, the evil one.

The one who wants us to believe a lie…The wicked one, who does everything to distract us from the TRUTH…The enemy of God who turns the truth into a lie.

I know a secret, which is no secret at all.

When I was teaching at Baptist High School in Haddon Heights, NJ, there was one tradition at the school that some thought a little cheesy, but it became a favorite of mine because it was a simple reminder of the true meaning of Christmas. Every year on the last day of the school year before the Christmas holiday begins, the entire student body gathers for the Christmas Chapel service, and every year the morning concludes with the 1965 movie A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Linus had it right – he knew the secret – when he responded to Charlie Brown’s question,

“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

Linus answered with the best answer that could ever be given – the truth

 “For behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord…”

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Before Christmas came, the truth of Christmas was kept a secret…a mystery…

Then Jesus came, but people did not listen to His message, and they asked Him,

“How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24)

The real meaning of Christmas is not really a secret, if folks would just take the time to listen.

Jesus was the secret revealed. Messiah (the Christ) was the mystery solved.

He is the “mystery” described by the apostle Paul in Colossians 1:26-27:

“the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles…

which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

I received a Christmas card from EMM (Eastern Mennonite Missions) this past week. On the card was a quote by the 15th century church reformer Jan Hus, from his 1413 Christmas sermon. The real meaning of Christmas is no longer a secret since the Savior came over 2000 years ago. The truth of Christmas continues to this day, even as it was spoken by the angels in the book of Luke and preached over 1,400 years later by Jan Hus. It remains the reason for Christmas, the solution of the mystery, the revealing of the secret, 600 years after this sermon was preached. And the message resonates for all people, everywhere, at all times.

Let’s not keep the secret of these “good tidings of great joy…for ALL PEOPLE!” The Savior has been born for ALL people in ALL situations EVERYWHERE. The mystery of Christmas is solved, and we can be joyful because we know the secret…we know what Christmas is all about!

Be joyful that today God has become bread for the hungry and refreshment for the weary, that there may be peace on earth…

Be joyful that the rich Lord of the universe lies in a manger as a poor person in order that he may make all needy people rich…

Be joyful that today is born one who can free us from all misery.”

 

 

HOPE for Him!

Disappointed? Let down? Shattered expectations? Brokenhearted? 

There is HOPE! 

Messiah didn’t come the first time as His people expected…

Israel wanted a King. They expected deliverance.

But it didn’t happen that way – and the people were disappointed, because they missed this part of the prophecy.

“With a rod they will smite the judge of Israel on the cheek.” (Micah 5:1)

THEN, Micah tells the people of the promise regarding the least of the villages of Israel, “From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel…” (5:2)

The first time the Promised One came, the Jewish people expected the RULER, but instead got a poor little Baby in a manger with a few shepherds who came to welcome Him into the world

But a time is coming when “He will arise and shepherd His flock…in the majesty of the name of the Lord…” (5:4)

Thomas Kinkade writes in his Advent devotional, Christ the Light of the World, “Because you live in a fallen world…you can more or less expect that things will go wrong…

And yet we serve a God who is in the business of setting things right…

We can expected that God will keep His promises – though not necessarily in the way we have in mind. That’s where faith comes in.

…If we keep our eyes and hearts open, we really can expect to meet Christ in the unfolding of the Advent and Christmas season. Not necessarily as we expected…but as He is…Immanuel…’God with us.'” (p. 27)

There is HOPE!

WAIT FOR IT!

The older I get, the more I realize that Christmas is not a day, but the culmination of a month of anticipation and reflection. Growing up in “independent” churches, that had moved away from mainstream denominations, my churches also became “independent” from many of the traditions of the historic early church. In doing so, I think we lost something of the wonder of Christmas by separating ourselves from the season of Advent, possibly fearing we might be focusing on tradition rather than truth, of symbolism rather than the person of Christ.

With the void that often comes when something is removed from our lives, we may have unknowingly replaced the “tradition” with something else that now becomes the tradition. And it may not be the best replacement! It’s possible that we have merged our “spiritual” activities with “secular” culture, including all it’s busy-ness and glitzy-ness and commercialism – all the while claiming that Christmas is not about the gifts, but about Jesus. Sometimes we might even use “Jesus” as a reason to do all the things that we do.

We religiously read the Christmas story on Christmas morning (or Christmas Eve – or both), attend a special candlelight Christmas Eve service, participate in a Christmas concert or walk through a live Nativity display.  All the while, almost every waking moment, we spend shopping, decorating, cleaning, cooking, wrapping presents, sending out Christmas cards, watching Christmas movies, buying festive clothing, going about trying to do all that the culture demands with a little “Jesus” thrown in to spiritualize things. Little, if any time, is actually left over for the Savior Himself. By the time Christmas Day arrives, we are just exhausted. It’s almost like we believe that if we say “Christmas is all about Jesus” enough times, then it must be about Jesus, even though our calendars and daily scurrying about to accomplish it all prove otherwise.

“Mary Jane Pierce Norton, Discipleship Ministries (states):

‘Advent done well helps us center ourselves and counterbalances that consumerism, that drive, that frantic nature of activity that is all around us in the culture. and one of the primary symbols is light overcoming darkness, dispelling the things that, that tear us down and welcoming in the light of God.’”[i]

I was reflecting on the word, “ADVENT” and these thoughts came to my mind:

Anticipation

Dawn of the Light

Visit from Heaven

Embracing the Spiritual

Night of Salvation

Time to Reflect

Last year I purchased an Advent Candle centerpiece as a reminder to focus on the coming of the Savior throughout the month of December. For several years, I read and re-read Thomas Kincade’s little Advent Devotional, Christ, The Light of the World, which I highly recommend!

Kinkade writes, “observing Advent…offers a welcome alternative to the fenzy of December’s demands. Advent is a season, not an event; a spiritual discipline, not a calendar date. Historically a time o frich tradition and meaningful reflection within the Church…an experience of anticipation, an invitation to prepare for the coming of the light of Christ into our world.”[ii]

Last year, I downloaded a series of daily Advent Scripture readings to use for my morning time with the Lord. This year, I am continuing these new “traditions”, with a different Advent Scripture reading list, because these practices help me to stay grounded, centered, focused on Jesus. The Written Word fills my heart and mind with the Living Word.

Advent officially begins today! I hope that you will join me in embracing the season of Advent this year. Take a deep breath. Slow down. Prioritize. Simplify. Reflect. Rejoice. Pray. Wait for it. Wait for Him.

Oh, God…help me learn how to welcome Advent and prepare for the coming of Christmas…Bring me into the stillness, into Your presence, that I may learn what it means to ‘wait on the Lord,’ to welcome Your coming in this holy season.[iii]

Share:

What are some ways you celebrate the season of Advent?

What spiritual discipline will you “practice” this Advent season?

 

[i] Walsh, Fran. Advent Reflection: Waiting for the Light. November 25, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/advent-reflection-waiting-on-the-light on November 29, 2017.

 

[ii] Kinkade, Thomas. Christ, The Light of the World. (page 6). 1999. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.

 

[iii] Kinkade, Thomas. Christ, The Light of the World. (page 7) 1999. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.