It’s bittersweet that I’ve just finished visiting 62 churches in the area and publishing articles about my worship experience. While my visits only lasted an hour or two, I have a better understanding of Paul’s strong desire to return to the churches he’d visited. “Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing” (Acts 15:36 NIV).
December 30, 2015
I have a friend who I seldom see, but recently we ran into one another and she said, “Every time I drive by your house I think of you.” Her comment gave me pause. The Holy Spirit resides in every believer, but yet when I encounter people of like faith it’s only on the rare occasion that I think about the Spirit living within them. Paul said, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Ro 8:11 NIV).
December 29, 2015
A man of meager means is a dishwasher in a neighboring town. When he found an envelope of cash he turned it over to his boss, who returned it to its rightful owner. The story of his honesty has spread not only across the community, but around the nation and to other countries. People are rewarding the man’s honesty with financial gifts and now, rather than couch surfing, he may be able to buy a home of his own. Beyond his honesty the local paper reported that the man qualifies for food stamps and other assistance, but refuses to accept government help insisting, “…he will work for his money.” Seldom do we hear of someone forfeiting something they are entitled to. Paul wrote that our attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8 NIV)!
December 28, 2015
Our local newspaper recently ran an editorial chastising leaders and citizens for keeping a current controversy alive. The underlying theme of the editorial was there is nothing that can be done, let it go and move on. This is the same newspaper that goes through their archives looking for propaganda to republish about people and events in the community so they can keep stories alive that happened one to 10 years ago. The words of Jesus can just as easily be applied to businesses and organizations, as to individuals, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matt 7:3-5 NIV).
December 25, 2015
Many of us lament that the true meaning of Christmas is lost in commercialism. We are particularly critical that the marketing of Christmas starts immediately after Thanksgiving…and in some cases holiday displays can even be seen right after Halloween. It occurs to me that in times past proclaiming the name of Christ was confined to the month of December. However today, even though it is not the intention of marketers, the name of Christ is publically proclaimed throughout November and December. “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, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11 NIV).
December 24, 2015
Every once in a while we’ll hear about mothers going into labor so quickly that they are unable to get to the hospital in time. A baby being delivered on the side of the road in the back seat of a car by a policeman is a much more compelling drama than the birth of a baby born in a sterile hospital surrounded by medical personnel. So vivid and memorable is the birth of Jesus that even young children know and repeat the story. While Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem, “...the time came for the baby to be born, and 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” (Luke 2:6-7 NIV).
December 23, 2015
Last week the Denver metro area was hit with a snowstorm that dumped over eight inches of snow in some places. A few days after the storm we visited my daughter and when I took her dog for a walk I was surprised that so many homeowners either didn’t shovel their walks, or simply made a narrow swipe through the snow. In and out of shaded areas the walks were treacherous and I found myself praying with every step as I went from snow pack, to sheets of ice, to gullies of slush. Spiritually speaking I’m now wondering if there are times when I’ve not maintained the sidewalks in and around my life leaving obstacles for others to traverse. The writer of Hebrews said, “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed” (Heb 2:13 NIV).
December 22, 2015
An older man in our church suffers from Alzheimer’s and although names of people are difficult for him to remember, he is cheerful and faithful in attendance. Jim’s progressive disease has not stopped him from serving communion. I marvel that even in infirmity not only is there a desire to serve, but God has a place for us to serve. Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus to the temple where Simeon, a righteous and devout man, blessed the Child. There was also a prophetess, Anna who was widowed after seven years of marriage and was now very old at age eighty–four. “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:37b-38 NIV).
December 21, 2015
When my sister passed away I inherited her jewelry and one of the pieces is an ostentatious gold ring. I felt self-conscious wearing the ring even on special occasions, so I decided to get comfortable with the flamboyance by wearing it all the time. Consequently it now no longer bothers me that the ring may sometimes look out of place even when I’m dressed in casual attire. I think something similar happens to people when they first accept Christ. We tend to wear Christianity to church and on special occasions, but feel self-conscious about being a new creation out into the world. Paul said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17 NIV).
December 18, 2015
My daughter, Leslie, lives in an older subdivision in the metro area and directly cross the street from her house are two neighbors who compete with each other in decorating their houses for Christmas. Every inch of both properties, from rooftops, to shrubs and trees, to backyard privacy fencing is aglow with lights, garland and larger than life Christmas characters. As soon as it’s dark a steady flow of buses and cars tour the neighborhood. Even if Leslie and Tim tried to decorate their house it would be paltry compared the extravaganza across the street. I’m now wondering if it’s possible for a believer to let their light shine to excess. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:14-16 NIV).
December 17, 2015
A pastor whose denomination advocates for prophesy, speaking in tongues and faith healing told the audience that although believers major in one spiritual gift, everyone is equipped with all of the spiritual gifts. He said, “If I only have the gift of prophesy, what happens if someone comes to me who needs healing? Do I send him to the house down the road [to someone who has the gift of healing]?” I don’t completely agree with the preacher’s interpretation on gifts today, however, I was reminded of the disciples who were unable to drive a demon out of a young boy. Jesus then drove the demon out and later the disciples came to Him privately and ask why their attempts were unsuccessful. Jesus replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matt 17:20-21 NIV).
December 16, 2015
Speaking about adoption a pastor said, “Did you know that by law when you write a will you can disinherit your children…but that you can’t disinherit an adopted child? God choose us. We are adopted and we cannot be disinherited.” Paul wrote in Ephesians, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (Eph 1:4-6 NIV).
December 15, 2015
I’ve encountered too many churches that have their names in a public directory as though they are open for business, but their phones are disconnected, they’ve shuttered their doors, or moved and left no forwarding address. Recently I received the following reply from an email I’d sent: "Gail, Sorry it took so long to respond. We are not doing the prayer center at this time. I'm sorry. Mark" It's not unusual to hear people say that the Lord has moved them on to a different ministry. However, to say, “We are not doing the prayer center at this time,” sounds like something you’d hear from the owner of a kiosk when he wanted to close up shop for the winter. Jesus said to the self-deluded members of the church in Laodicea, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20 NIV).
December 14, 2015
In my last two church visits the congregations went to the effort to find out about my visits and then classified them as a ministry. At the close of both services these congregations took time to pray over me and pray for the outreach of the stories. I was both honored and humbled by their blessing. It’s not unusual for churches to set apart people for works of service, but we usually think in terms of someone going on the mission field, or taking a position in church ministry. I’m wondering if we underestimate the need to set people apart for any ministry into which they have been called. The disciples in the church at Antioch experienced such direction, “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2 NIV).
December 11, 2015
Writing is a sedentary lifestyle and my exercise and nutritional consultant wants me to move more. She suggested that at a minimum I get up from the computer at least once every hour and that I should fidget. Immediately I could hear a chorus of mom’s voices saying, “Sit still. Stop fidgeting.” Sometimes mothers are God’s messengers, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10 NIV).
December 10, 2015
The young woman felt she was stimulating a spiritual conversation when she ask a man what he thought about a particular passage of Scripture. He responded, “Why are you asking me what I think? It’s in the book [Bible].” The man made a point that all too often we let thoughts and opinions trump the Word of God. James speaks to the same issue, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely” (James 4:4-5 NIV)?
December 09, 2015
Speaking on a secular level, if I want to avoid someone I don’t make eye contact with them. Unfortunately we do something similar in the church when we don’t want to engage, or we’re uncomfortable reaching out to others. Jesus could have sent his disciples to fetch Zacchaeus out of the tree, or he could have come to the base of the tree and spoke generically to those standing around and told them about his intentions. However, “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5 NIV). As believers we often underestimate and undervalue the importance of eye contact.
December 08, 2015
More and more I see speakers, both secular and religious, trying to be interactive with their audience. They say, “Can I hear an Amen to that?” “Thank you Jesus…right?” “Jenny, you had similar experience do you want to share anything with us?” I’m not sure if this type of inclusion is intended to build a rapport, to let people have a feeling of participation, or if it’s a prop. During the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) Jesus drew the audience into the message without making them active participants. “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 their teachers of the law” (Matt 7:28-29 NIV).
December 07, 2015
I attended a church that began with the pastor inviting people to come forward to give testimonies about what God has been doing in their lives. One man had only a few words out of his mouth before he switched from giving a testimony to preaching. His mini-sermon wasn’t bad, but it lacked the power found in a testimony. Using John the Baptist as an example, “Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:32-34 NIV).
December 04, 2015
I’m working on an article about emergency preparedness and many state and federal organizations suggest the importance of having an emergency supply kit on hand in case of a natural disaster. Generally speaking they all recommend that you should have enough food and water to last each person 72 hours. Certainly the Lord wants believers to be prudent, but not to the point of worry. Jesus said, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt 6:31-34 NIV).
December 03, 2015
Our city imposed a 25 cent per month surcharge on each resident’s sewer bill to help citizens cover the cost of cleanup if they have a sewer backup. On the surface some people bought into the reasoning put forth. However, in six months the fund has accumulated almost $13,000 and to date no money has been paid out, even though there are a couple of claims pending. I’m reminded of Judas Iscariot objecting to Mary pouring expensive perfume on the feet of Jesus. Judas suggested the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor. “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6 NIV).
December 02, 2015
I was forced to change my email address when my service program glitched and would only allow me to receive, but not send. Unable to send my address book to the new email system I’ve jumped through all kinds of hoops, including manually inserting some of the contacts. As I’ve scrutinized the names in the list I’m surprised by some of the contacts listed that I have no idea who they are, much less how the wound up in my address book. I now have a different understanding of how the Apostle Paul could so easily dismiss the names of all the people he’d baptized. Knowing his priorities, Paul said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Cor 1:17 NIV).
December 01, 2015
Many of us may feel uncomfortable with the direction taken by elected officials and government administrators, but when we question their decisions they always have a plausible explanation. They can easily justify their actions because constituents don’t have all the facts needed to counter their statements. I’m reminded of the parable of the Great Banquet and the invited guests who made excuses and justifications for not attending. One had to inspect his newly purchased property, another had to try out his new oxen and a third was a newlywed. On the surface, and without knowing each situation, I would probably have accepted their explanation. Spiritually speaking however, plausible excuses don’t work. Jesus said, “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet’” (Luke 14:23-24 NIV).