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Thursday, December 14, 2006

The good news of Christmas

From my house to yours - Merry Christmas! We love you!

Let me share with you the good news of Christmas:

Luke 2:1-20:

1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.

2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)

3And everyone went to his own town to register.

4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.

5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,

7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.

9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[a] the Lord.

12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,

18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

God's work of art

Throughout life, it is inevitable that someone(s) will try to beat you down. Whether it's at work or in the pathway of life itself, we all come across people who either intentionally or unintentionally make it their life mission to show how inferior we are or how stupid we can be.

It's during those times that I love Ephesians 2:10, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (King James Version)

The word "workmanship," comes from the Greek word "Poiema" which means "to make poetry".

The words signifies that which is manufactured, a product, a design produced by an artist.

Who is the master artist but God? And who has created you and I but God?

Before we connect to Christ in relationship, our lives have not rhyme or reason. A relationship with Jesus brings us balance, symmetry, and order. We are God's poem, His work of art!

So, when you come across that "person" who tries to beat you down today, go home knowing that God created you, you are a work of art, and that in Christ, you are somebody!

And who's opinion is more important - God's or that person?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The return of Christ

I was raised with a healthy diet of "Jesus is coming" sermons. We've kind of gotten away from that in the realization that Jesus is coming (and I am looking forward to it) but we also have the responsibility to life in the present, in the now.

However, I am longing for the return of Jesus. I mean that. It's not just something I teach, but it's buried deep within the inner caverns of my spirit.

Paul writes in First Corinthians 15:51,52, "Behold, I tell you a mystery: "We shall not all sleep, but we will all be changed - in a MOMENT, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet."

The word "moment" is the greet word "atomos" from which we get our English word "atomic".

It means, uncut, individual, undissected, infinitely small.

The word is a compound of a, "un," and temnos, "to cut in two." When used of time, it represents an extremely short unit of time, a flash, an instant, a unit of time that cannot be divided. A second can be calibrated to on-tenth, one one-hundredth, and one one-thousandth of a second. But how do you calibrate an atomic second? Christ's return will be in an atomic second.


How do you feel about that? Are you ready?

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Christmas perspective

In his book Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller writes about a Christmas Eve when his view of God was changed, and how that affected his perspective on everything else.

For my mother that year I had purchased a shabby Christmas gift—a book, the contents of which she would never be interested in. I had had a sum of money with which to buy presents, and the majority of it I used to buy fishing equipment….

I drifted in and out of anxious sleep, and this is when it occurred to me that the gift I had purchased for my mother was bought with the petty change left after I had pleased myself. I realized I had set the happiness of my mother beyond my own material desires.

This was a different sort of guilt from anything I had previously experienced. It was a heavy guilt, not the sort of guilt that I could do anything about. It was a haunting feeling, the sort of sensation you get when you wonder whether you are two people, the other of which does things you can't explain, bad and terrible things.

The guilt was so heavy that I fell out of bed onto my knees and begged, not a slot-machine God, but a living, feeling God, to stop the pain. I crawled out of my room and into the hallway by my mother's door and lay on my elbows and face for an hour or so, going sometimes to sleep, before finally the burden lifted and I was able to return to my room.

We opened the rest of our gifts the next morning, and I was pleased to receive what I did, but when my mother opened her silly book, I asked her forgiveness, saying how much I wished I had done more. She, of course, pretended to enjoy the gift, saying how she wanted to know about the subject.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The church - external focus

Found an interesting article. I don't agree with everything he writes but it will stimulate your thoughts.....what do you think?

external focus by Rick Rusaw

Suppose you pulled into the church parking lot and noticed something unusual. The building had disappeared and with it—the church. After you realized that it wasn’t a hallucination brought on by the triple espresso you had just knocked back, you decide to go look for the church. You start driving around town asking people if they had seen a church that morning because you had somehow misplaced one.

What response would you get? Would people notice it was gone? Would they miss your congregation? Would anyone care? Those are the questions that externally-focused churches are asking themselves.

There are plenty of churches in America, but far too often the focus of the church is internal. The emphasis is on getting people out of the community and into the church. Obviously, helping people discover God’s grace (Good News) and connecting them with his kingdom is critical. However, too many churches today measure their effectiveness by the number of people and activities inside. By contrast, externally-focused churches are interested in getting people out of the church and into the community. Externally-focused churches see a strong connection with Good News and Good Deeds. They recognize that good deeds often pave the path for good news. They understand that good deeds can be the bridge over which good news travels.

It isn’t an “either/or” choice for externally-focused churches. It is a case of “both/and.” Seeking the lost AND serving the least was the mark of the early Church and the mandate of Jesus. By nearly every account you read, the headlines say that the church in America doesn’t seem to be gaining ground but rather losing relevance, and with that—losing people. One way to restore credibility, create relationships, and demonstrate grace is to serve outside the walls of your building. Good deeds demonstrate the very heart of the church and enhance the reputation of God. In the same way let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Mt 5:16)

In ways that I imagine we never planned on, the Church in America has found itself increasingly disconnected. In part, the current age of tolerance means tolerance for everything but Christianity. (I find it intriguing that the most intolerant people I meet are the ones screaming for tolerance, but that’s another topic altogether.) Keeping faith out of the schools, out of the marketplace and out of the public arena is the popular position today. It would be a mistake, however, to believe that the primary reason faith is relegated to a back seat in our communities is because of public pressure.

It seems to me that, in many ways, the church in America has found more and more ways to disengage from our communities. It doesn’t seem to be intentional or strategic but it has been effective. According to Gallup, 66% of people in America would make or agree with this statement, “The church has little or no value in helping people discover meaning in life.” Our disengagement has happened bit by bit. It could be described like this: “We didn’t like the stream that was flowing by the front door of the church. The water was murky and muddy and there were chunks of stuff floating in it. So, we created our own streams up behind the church.”

Interestingly enough, although the water is a bit cleaner and we can see the bottom most of the time, the streams run parallel with each other. For example, Christians and non-Christians divorce at the same rate, we get addicted at the same rate, and many have the same issues and struggles (again, another topic for another time). Basically, because we didn’t like the color or direction of the stream, we started our own stream. We didn’t like what was happening in some of the business organizations, so we began our own versions. We didn’t like what was happening in the public schools, so we began our own. Today we have a Christian version of everything from Christian books, Christian TV, even Christian underwear. We’ve got it all, don’t we?

Here’s just one example of how this parallel stream gets started. Much was happening in the public schools that Christians didn’t agree with…and rightly so. So, we started our own schools. We pulled out the Christian students, the Christian parents, the Christian teachers, Christian lunch room staff, Christian coaches and Christian administrators. This may sound harsh, but in essence, we said to the public school, “Go to Hell.” Some might say that’s a bit of an overstatement. But is it? In ways we never intended, we Christians have become increasingly disengaged from our communities and wonder why we have so little influence.

I have some very close friends who might read this article and let me know they don’t agree, or don’t like how I write, or simply tell me how stupid I can be. I have to admit their comments might make me mad. I might disagree, it might hurt, and I may choose to debate them. At the end of the day, though, I have to listen to them. They are my friends and have earned the right to be heard. We have laughed together, cried together and journeyed together. My friends have earned the right to speak into my life. I am afraid that we have lost that right in our communities. We speak and nobody listens. We stand on the banks of the shore and shout at the water. We let them know that they are heading in the wrong direction—that things are getting worse—but I’m afraid that they can’t or won’t listen because we do not have the relational strength to speak into the fabric of our communities.

It’s time to get back in the stream. There are risks—it isn’t easy and the opportunity to connect takes time. But, by getting into the stream, it’s possible that we will have the opportunity to be salt and light in our communities. It seems that the easiest way to get back in the stream is to find ways to serve in our communities—that means that we look for opportunities beyond our four walls and find ways to meet needs. It also means that we help the people we worship with each week to discover grace, grow in grace and learn to live gracefully. We must help them realize that God is writing his story and he plans on that story being written through their story. The people in your church can make a difference in their part of the world as they serve and live with grace.

Remember third grade and Show and Tell? You stand in the front of the room and show the item you brought from home and then you would tell about it. Maybe we need to do more “show and tell” in our communities, earning the right to be heard. Service can help build that relational bridge, allowing Christians to speak into the life of the community.

Good deeds create good will and give us the opportunity to share Good News!

Back to your triple espresso-induced hallucination: As you’re driving around town looking for your missing church, WHAT IF nearly everyone you asked said, “Let me help you find it because we can’t live without the church in this community!” Now THAT’S the church we all want to pastor!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Praying for our children

Last night we had a great time at our annual deacon/staff Christmas dinner. It was a lot of fun.

After our time of praying together as individual tables, I sense a deep burden in my spirit to pray for the children of all of our deacons and staff. Knowing them as well as I do, I know that each individual family has struggles and issues and trials with their kids.

Today at our saints alive (seniors meeting) I am sharing on the subject of how to pray for our children.

Here are some of the thoughts that I am going to share with them. I encourage you to implement them in your own prayer life.

I recently saw a bumper sticker that read, "I have teenagers! Pray for me!"

What applies to teenagers can apply to our adult children and grandchildren as well.

We feel such a burden for them. We want the best for them. We don’t want them to experience hurt and pain.

We want them to make wise choices.

We want them to serve God.

I beginning to learn that many times, in fact most of the time, in this season of our lives, all we can do is pray.

I say that making it sound like it’s the last and only thing we can do. But in reality, it’s the first and most important thing that we can do for our children and grandchildren and for some of you your great grandchildren.

God calls us to pray for our kids and to keep on praying.

For reasons known only to God, God pays attention to our persistence in prayer. There is something about multiple requests that brings answers.

A huge Chicago company is one of the world's largest magazine fulfillment firms. That means they handle subscription mailings by computer. Among other things, they send out renewal and expiration notices.

One day the company's computer malfunctioned. Soon after, a rancher in Powder Bluff, Colorado, got 9,734 separate mailings informing him that his subscription to National Geographic had expired.

This got the rancher's attention. He dropped what he was doing and traveled 10 miles to the nearest post office, where he sent in money for a renewal along with a note that said, "I give up! Send me your magazine!"

We are to be persistent in our prayers.

Today we’re going to talk about how we can pray for our children.

Today’s scripture encourages us to pray for many things.

How many of us today are worried about our children? Their spiritual walk with God. Their physical health. The way they are dealing with problems at work and home. Their relationships.

What are we to do?

The Message Bible puts it this way.

Philippians 4:4-7:

"Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life."

How do you go about shaping your concerns about your children or grandchildren or other children you come into contact with into meaningful prayers that will make a difference?

I don’t think most of us think about the many creative ways we can pray that will make an impact on our families.

Have you ever prayed and you found the same tired, boring words repetitiously coming out of your mouth?

Like saying out of habit, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep..."

Or the blessing over your meals,

"God is great, God is good..."

I believe we can add specific things to these "starter" prayers that will make them fit our particular situation and make them more powerful, effective prayers.

Look back at your own life.

Who prayed for you? How did you think they prayed? What were they asking God to do in your life?

Dad praying for me as a teenager.

In Point Man, Steve Farrar tells the story of George McCluskey.

When McCluskey married and started a family, he decided to invest one hour a day in prayer, because he wanted his kids to follow Christ. After a time, he expanded his prayers to include his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Every day between 11 a.m. and noon, he prayed for the next three generations.

As the years went by, his two daughters committed their lives to Christ and married men who went into full-time ministry. The two couples produced four girls and one boy.

Each of the girls married a minister, and the boy became a pastor. The first two children born to this generation were both boys. Upon graduation from high school, the two cousins chose the same college and became roommates.

During their sophomore year, one boy decided to go into the ministry. The other didn't. He undoubtedly felt some pressure to continue the family legacy, but he chose instead to pursue his interest in psychology.

He earned his doctorate and eventually wrote books for parents that became bestsellers. He started a radio program heard on more than a thousand stations each day. The man's name was James Dobson, the head of “Focus on the Family. Through his prayers, George McCluskey affected far more than one family.

Maybe you’ll never know whose prayers shaped your life, but starting today you can conscientiously pray more effectively for those whom you care about and love so much.

There are four general areas in which we can target our prayers.

We find this in scripture.

Luke 2:52 says that

"Jesus increased in wisdom (academic) and in stature (physical), and in favor with God (spiritual) and man (social)."

Many times we pray that children will be HAPPY and do well in school or their jobs or excel in sports or music or any number of things.

First of all we see in this scripture that Jesus had a balanced life—

He grew strong physically and was in good health.

He increased in wisdom and knowledge--the academic part of his life.

And in favor with God--the spiritual and with man--the social side of his life.

Here are some ideas which will help us to pray more effectively in these four areas:

1. Spiritual:

Pray that they will come to know Christ as their Savior early in life. Pray that they will have a strong relationship with Him.

Psalms 63:1 tells us, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

2 Timothy 3:15 says, “And how from infancy, you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

Pray that they will have a hunger for God. That they will draw closer to God.

Pray that God will place people into their lives who will help them grow in their walk with Him.

Pray that your children and grandchildren will come to know Christ early in life.

Samuel was another person who scripture says,

"Grew in favor with the Lord" (I Samuel 2:26) (Spiritual).

2. Pray that they will be willing to make a TOTAL commitment to the Lord--that He will not only be their SAVIOR but LORD OF THEIR LIFE as well.

If your children make Jesus their number one priority, they will be able to make better choices.

That’s one thing I pray on a consistent daily basis.

Father, help my children make wise choices.

I can always be there to give them the wisdom that they need. But I can pray that God will be there, that the Holy Spirit will lead them and guide them.

Pray that God will guide them into a totally committed life.

There is power in commitment:

It was on Christmas Eve, after a Romanian church had gathered for candlelight service, that the Communist soldiers came to take the pastor.

The people lined up outside the church--10, 15, 20, 30 deep--encircling the church and saying, "If you come after the pastor, you come after us first." The soldiers couldn't get in.

They couldn't move them. The candle lights began to move through the cities. As those candles began to spread, others came out into the street, and courage came. On Christmas Day the people said, "We've had enough of this," and the terrible dictator of Romania, the despot and his wife, were executed on Christmas day, 1989.

Pray that they will have a hatred for sin.

Psalm 97:10 says, "Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and deliver them from the hand of the wicked."

Pray that they will be caught when guilty.

Psalm 119:71 says, "It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees."

The Message Bible says, "My troubles turned out all for the best--they forced me to learn from your textbook" (Psalm 119:71).

It is said that "Bad Behaviors are like Trees. They’re a lot easier to remove when they’re still seedlings."

Pray that bad behavior will be nipped in the bud before it gets so deeply ingrained that it is hard to change.

Allow your children to feel the consequences when they do wrong.

Don’t be the person who bails them out all the time. Allow "troubles to teach good lessons" rather than enabling them to continue in their wrong ways.

Parents say, "I don’t want them to suffer, they won’t take responsibility for their actions, and I have to step in and be the rescuer."

Don’t be the "bail out person" but rather pray that they will learn to totally submit to God and learn how to actively resist Satan in all circumstances.

James 4:7 says, "Submit yourselves to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you."

2. SOCIAL: A second area of concern is in relationships.

Pray that they don’t choose friends who will be detrimental to them and lead them into wrong.

There are several scriptures that show that we don’t have to be led astray.

One is in the prayer we say every week--we say, "and deliver us from evil"—

We live in a world of many temptations and pitfalls but we don’t have to stumble and fall into sin.

Jesus told his disciples, you’re living in a world of temptation but

"my prayer is not that you will be [taken out] of the world but that you will be [protected] from the evil one. John 17:15.

Pray that God will protect them from evil in each area of their life--spiritual, social, academic, and physical.

Pray that they will have a responsible attitude in all their interpersonal relationships.

Throughout life we have many different kinds of friends.

Some will be "good time" friends only staying by our side when we’re having fun.

Then there are "what’s in it for me friends." When benefits run out, they drop you.

A true friend will find something positive to say about your new perm even though it looks like you took a bath with the toaster.

A true friend can see you at your worst and not take pictures.

Pray that they will desire the right kind of friends and be protected from the wrong ones.

Proverbs 1:10, 11 says,

"...if sinners entice you, do not give in to them."

Pray that they won’t go along with the crowd when peer pressure tempts them. Pray that God will lead them to the right mate as well.

Pray that they will be hedged in so they cannot find their way to wrong people and wrong places and that wrong people can’t find their way to them. Job prayed for his family in this way.

3. Academic: School work should be important. Pray that they will strive to excel in the academic part of their lives.

Work--Pray, "teach my children, Lord, to work hard at everything they do ‘as working unto the Lord, not for men" (Colossians 3:23).

Self-discipline--Pray, "Father, I pray that my children may develop self discipline, that they may acquire a ‘disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair" (Proverbs 1:3).

Servant heart--Pray that they will develop a servant heart. Say, "God, please help my children to develop a servant heart that they may SERVE
wholeheartedly rather than BEING SERVED all the time.

4. PHYSICAL: Pray that they will not begin habits that will be detrimental to a strong and healthy body.

I Corinthians 6:19 says,

"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?" Pray that your children will not begin to experiment with drugs, alcohol and tobacco in the first place.

I Timothy 2:11 says "abstain from sinful desires that war against your soul."

There was a newspaper article about a pet boa constrictor that squeezed the life out of its teenage owner.

The boy’s parents were distraught and lamented to the reporter, "we trusted that snake."

How often do we allow something harmful into our lives--bad habits, poor judgments, compromising actions, undesirable friends and refuse to let go until we are caught in sin’s deadly "squeeze."

Pray that they will maintain a life of physical fitness--I Timothy 4:8 says, "for physical training is of some value..."

Studies show that children have more of a problem with obesity, diabetes and other health concerns than at any other time in history.

Pray for your child’s good health.

I would like to conclude with this prayer.

A Parent’s Prayer

Dear Lord,

Help us as parents to be what we want our children to be.

To see Christ in us, especially when we are tired and rushed. Help us never to be too busy to stop and listen to them with all our attention.

Lord, guide us so that we will have no habits that we would not want them to have. Give us the courage to withhold a privilege which we think would not be best for them. Lord, let them see that the Christian life is the greatest life on earth.

Lord, what we want more than anything else is to love them and care for them as you love and care for us. Thank you for being my loving Father.

Help us to be their loving parents.


Monday, December 04, 2006

Why not Michigan?

Living in Michigan, the question of who will play Ohio State in the College Football Championship in January has been a hot topic this past week.

Florida was chosen. I'm glad that they announced it Sunday night and not Saturday. It made my job a lot easier on Sunday morning.

Why was Florida chosen. The BCS "club" has everything so complex that it's hard for the "lay person" to really get a handle on it - what are "style points" exactly?

Let me tell you why I think Michigan was NOT chosen.

It's all about money.

A Michigan - Ohio State game would keep the T.V. demiographics to a limited area (the mid-west) thereby lowering the amount of people who would watch the game.

Forida or USC (before they lost to UCLA) would throw in people from the southeast or the west coast.

I really don't think Michigan had a chance to play Ohio State - besides, didn't they already have their shot?