Sunday, December 25, 2016

Long-awaited, Unexpected

Long-awaited, unexpected.

They had waited so long for the Messiah, but they did not expect a child. Mary and Joseph did not expect a pregnancy. The shepherds did not expect a sky full of angels. Herod did not expect the Magi.

The wedding guests did not expect the best wine at the end of the reception. The fishermen did not expect their nets to break. The blind did not expect to see, the lame did not expect to dance.

The woman caught in adultery did not expect forgiveness. Zacchaeus did not expect a dinner guest. The five thousand did not expect a meal. 

Peter, James, & John did not expect to see Moses & Elijah. The mourners did not expect to see Lazarus. Pilate did not expect the Truth. The disciples did not expect the cross. 

The thief did not expect Paradise. The soldiers did not expect the earthquake. Peter & John did not expect an empty tomb. Mary did not expect to hear her name. Thomas did not expect to see the scars. Peter did not expect restoration. 

They did not expect the way that He left. 

He is the God of unexpected surprises. 

We await His return, but we are unable to even imagine the unexpected ways he will appear in our daily lives. 

Expect the unexpected - that's who He is. 

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Fifteen years and counting ...

Fifteen years ago I was in a Coordinating Council meeting at church. It was a Monday night. I can't remember what we were discussing, but at the time it seemed very important. Little did we know that tomorrow morning our part of the world would change forever. 

Tuesday morning four planes altered their original course for new destinations. Three found their targets, one fell short in a field in Pennsylvania. 

Within minutes all of the contrails disappeared from the sky. Questions erupted like spring dandelions. Who did it? Why did they do it? Were there more to come? 

On that Monday there was no TSA. There was no national police force called Homeland Security. There was no Patriot Act. We are more secure now, but we've bought that security by selling some of our freedom.

On Monday we were mostly focused on our own lives and our own interests. After Tuesday we looked at strangers on the street or in the grocery store more closely - not in suspicion but to give an encouraging smile or nod. We held the door for others more frequently. The pews in churches were more full, as were the military recruiting centers.

A lot has happened in 15 years. A lot happened between Monday night and Tuesday morning. What does our tomorrow hold? We won't know till we get there. The world could look very different. 

So say what you need to say to the people you love. Look strangers in the eye and give them an encouraging nod and a smile. Hold the door for others. Look at the sky and enjoy creation. Look at your life and enjoy your freedom. Pray for your nation and those protecting it. Pray for first responders - those who run toward danger, those who open the doors without knowing what's behind them. Hug your family and friends. 

Life is unpredictable. Live intentionally. 
God is good. Love unconditionally.
The choice is yours ... choose well.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

What's In A Name? ... For the Third Time

This post is from December 7, 2015 where I reposted an earlier post. I am reposting because Mr. Trump has again criticized the President for using the term ISIL. Regardless of how you feel about Trump or the President, do your own research - don't be ignorant...

December 7, 2015: I first posted the following on June 30, 2014. Last night, Donald Trump criticized the president for using the term "ISIL". I believe NOT calling this enemy ISIL reveals an ignorance of the nature of this radical group. I continue to stand by these words and believe the term "ISIS" masks the true purpose of the Islamic State:

June 30, 2014: What's in a name? A lot, and we need to pay attention.

We've recently seen a very violent jihadist form of Islam emerge in the chaos of Syria and Iraq. Many news organizations are calling it ISIS - the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. But up until Sunday, June 29th [2014] that's not what they called themselves. Now they just call themselves the Islamic State, but the shortened name is because of growing ambitions.

Beginning in April of last year [2013] , this group called themselves the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham. The Arabic word Sham translates to the word Levant. Our State Department calls them the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

Most Americans don't know what the word Levant means. It is actually a very old term that originated when the economic world centered around the Mediterranean Sea. 

Levant literally means "rising" referring to the place where the sun rises - or the eastern Mediterranean coastline. It refers to all of the territory of the following countries: Cyprus, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, part of southern Turkey, and Israel. It is used frequently by individuals, countries, and nations that refuse to recognize the State of Israel.

So, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant - (ISIL) reveals, by the name they chose, that they intend to expand into these other nations. Cyprus, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, part of southern Turkey, and Israel will all be replaced by ISIL if they have their way.

The name change on Sunday indicates even greater ambitions. When they changed their name to the Islamic State, they declared that they [intend to be] one nation-state, or caliphate, for every true Muslim. The idea is to unify all Muslims around the world and control as much territory as possible.

ISIS is a "cute" sounding name, reminding many from my generation of Saturday Morning live-action shows with Shazam!, Captain Marvel, and Isis. And the initials that ISIS represents makes telling the news easy; most people know where Iraq and Syria are - or at least know that they are countries in the Middle East. But it masks the true intentions of ISIL and now the Islamic State.

We are living at a time when people want to be entertained and the news media is lazy and ignorant. Just be aware that this group, if not addressed, will impact our future headlines with "unforeseen" horrors. Wake up. We are not fighting a war on terror, we are in a battle with a ruthless ideology and we need to realize what’s going. If we remain asleep while this evil grows, what happens in the future will make 9/11 look like a common traffic accident.

Don’t be afraid, be aware. Pay attention. 

"The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt." - 1790 speech by Irish orator John Philpot Curran.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

My Heart Is Heavy ...

My heart is heavy tonight. I pray for Justice Scalia's wife and family. May they find peace during these days and weeks. 

The halls of the building I stood in front of in 2014 will echo emptier because of the events of today. 

But the heaviness I feel is for the nation and the integrity of the U. S. Constitution. The fundamental transformation of the nation may, in fact, be sealed. God is still on the throne, and our future is, and has always been, in His hands. But the nation my future grandchildren inherit will be very different from the one I grew up in. 

Our selection of Presidential and Senatorial candidates will have great consequence. The choice is yours ... choose well. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

30 Questions To Help You Choose Leaders

Our process of electing leaders has devolved into voting against the person we can tolerate the least. The next nine months we will be inundated with reasons NOT to vote for the 'other guy' (or gal). Fortunately, scripture gives us another option. 

Most people assume we live in a democracy - and they would be wrong. We live in a republic. But few know that the idea of a republic is rooted in scripture. The founders used Scripture to argue for a republic and write it into the Constitution.

“Select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.” - Ex. 18:21

This passage reveals three questions we should ask about our prospective leaders:
Is this person capable of holding this office?
Is this person seeking and following God?
Does this person hate dishonest gain (Do they play fair)?

When the disciples needed to staff a food pantry/visitation ministry, they said to choose leaders “who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” - Acts 6:3

If those are requirements for individuals who serve food to widows, our leaders should have those same qualities. But how can we tell if someone is "full of the Spirit"?

Paul wrote, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” - Galatians 5:22-23

That gives us 12 additional questions:
Does this person display wisdom? Do they make wise decisions?
Is this person full of the Spirit?
Is this person loving?
Are they joyful?
Are they at peace?
Do they have patient endurance?
Is this person kind?
Can you describe this person as a good person?
Are they faithful?
Are they gentle?
Does this person display self-control?

In our overly sensualized culture, we need to unpack what it means to be loving. The church in Corinth needed help defining love, so Paul wrote them a letter. 

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” - 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

This gives us 15 more questions:
Is this candidate patient?
Are they kind?
Are they envious?
Is this person boastful and proud?
Do they dishonor others?
Are they self-seeking?
Is this person easily angered?
Do they hold grudges?
Do they find joy in hurtful or evil things?
Are they concerned about seeking truth?
Can you say that they ALWAYS protect, always trust, always hope, and always persevere?
Does this person follow through?

Sometimes as we choose leaders we try to compensate for our weaknesses. 

We've lost our voice in this culture, so we choose the loudest candidate. We feel we've lost almost everything that makes us great, so we choose someone who promises to make us great again. We feel that we are part of the 90%, so we choose someone who will give us everything the 10% take for granted. We feel we've been lied to and we hate "nuanced" answers, so we find someone who "shoots straight" and says the first thing that pops into their head.

I Samuel reveals what happens when people reject God's wisdom and choose a king using their own set of qualifications. It was disastrous. But their fate doesn't have to be our fate. We have a choice.

Word of caution: no one is perfect. Don't be discouraged if you can't find a candidate who successfully navigates all of these questions. But you should be able to find someone who comes very close. 

And don't reject a candidate who made one decision you disagree with. Those who crave political power often use one controversial decision to divide and conquer. Even if all the power-seekers accomplish is to convince you to stay home and not vote, they've won.

You probably don't agree with every opinion your spouse has. You don't agree with every decision your pastor makes, or every choice your boss makes. But would you walk away from any of them, if you agree on every other choice or opinion?

In a republic we elect people to make decisions on our behalf. You and I choose who makes those decisions. The pundits, and polls, and talking heads, can not force us into predetermined conclusions. The choice is ours not theirs.

Face your fears. Reject choosing the popular candidate simply because they are popular. Hold your favorite candidates up to these 30 questions. If they fare well, you can be sure that they will represent you well.

If your candidate does not line up with biblical guidance, maybe you should reconsider. If they aren't qualified to even serve food to widows, why would you trust them to make decisions on weightier issues?

The choice is yours ... choose well. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Think About Such Things

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” - Philippians 4:8 NIV

Just wondering ... why is this even a command, and why is it so hard to do? When we think of excellent things, and lovely things, we feel good. When we we focus on what is true, and pure, and admirable, it gives us joy and peace. 

It seems that our tendency to indulge in pleasurable things would make this a normal state. We should be addicted to the way we feel when we put Philippians 4:8 into practice. 

Instead, we focus on fear, and doubt, and the "what-ifs" in life. Our news diet is almost exclusively about what went wrong, or what we should be afraid of. We never experience "good" gossip. 

Why are there no 12-step plans for people who focus on the good, beautiful, and praiseworthy? To turn a phrase, if it feels good, why aren't we doing it?

Is it possible that "the fall" in the Garden really is the best explanation? In Genesis 1 we read of seven "days" of good - "and it was good!" All that was known was good. But when Adam & Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, suddenly they knew both good AND evil. Good AND bad. Good AND heartbreaking. 

Thoughts? What do you think?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

National Day of Prayer - Thursday, May 7

We are really no different from them.  We are no different from the children of Israel with their backs to the sea and facing certain annihilation at the hand of Egyptian charioteers. Fear grips us. There is no way to avoid devastation. We cry out to God and He replies, “The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:13-18)
We are no different from God’s people who had rediscovered the Word of God and experienced the weight of guilt. We mourn the years our nation has lost to hate, anger, and disobedience. We cry out to God in grief over how things could have been and He says, “Be still and understand my boundless grace.” (Nehemiah 8:9-12)
We are no different from the song writer who sees evil advancing and righteousness melting away. Anger overwhelms us. The headlines paint a picture that says drugs, and terror, and murder, and corruption are invincible. We cry out to God and He says, “Be still and wait patiently for me. Know that I am God, and I will be exalted.” (Psalm 37:7 and 46:10)
We are no different from those who felt like God had abandoned them. We wonder if God cares about what’s happening in our lives and our community. We wonder if He thinks about us at all, or if He even exists. We cry out, hoping He is there and that He hears us. And He answers, “Be still. I am coming, and I will live among you.” (Zechariah 2:10-13)
We are no different from those having a mountain top experience with Jesus. We want to camp out and build permanent ecstasy into our lives. We want to avoid the pain in the valleys of life. We try to ignore the call to sacrifice our plans and desires so that others can find new life. We cry out to God and He gently answers “Be still. This is my Son. Listen to Him.” (Matthew 17:1-5)
From the founding of this nation, our leaders, both political and spiritual, have called us to a time of prayer.  Sometimes a call to humiliation and repentance. Other times a call to prayer and thanksgiving. John Hancock, Samuel Adams, James Madison, John Adams, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and even the Continental Congress all called for days of prayer.
The National Day of Prayer belongs to all Americans and is not sponsored by any one group. Every American, regardless of religion, is encouraged to celebrate his or her faith through prayer. On Thursday, May 7, 2015 at 6:30 p.m.Christians from all denominations are encouraged to gather at First Baptist Family Life Center in New Castle for a time of prayer and worship. 
We are really no different from people of faith through history. We cry out to God on behalf of our families, our schools, our communities, our neighbors, our state, and our nation. And God will answer, “Be still … hear what I am saying.”