A Real Christmas

This Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against. — Luke 2:34

A quotation in our church’s Advent devotional guide caused me to rethink my approach to Christmas:

“Let us at all costs avoid the temptation to make our Christmas worship a withdrawal from the stress and sorrow of life into a realm of unreal beauty. It was into the real world that Christ came, into the city where there was no room for Him, and into a country where Herod, the murderer of innocents, was king.

“He comes to us, not to shield us from the harshness of the world but to give us the courage and strength to bear it; not to snatch us away by some miracle from the conflict of life, but to give us peace—His peace—in our hearts, by which we may be calmly steadfast while the conflict rages, and be able to bring to the torn world the healing that is peace.”

When Mary and Joseph presented the infant Jesus to the Lord, Simeon said to them: “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).

Christmas is not a retreat from reality but an advance into it alongside the Prince of Peace.

— from Our Daily Bread

What Christmas Came to Destroy

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” 1 John 3:8

The coming of the eternal Son of God into the world as the God-man, Jesus Christ, is a fact of history. Yet thousands of people say they believe this fact but then live just like everybody else. They have the same anxieties that good things will be lost and the same frustrations that crummy things can’t be changed. Evidently, there is not much power in giving right answers on religious surveys about historical facts.

That’s because the coming of the Son of God into the world is so much more than a historical fact. It was a message of hope sent by God to teenagers and single parents and crabby husbands and sullen wives and overweight women and impotent men and disabled neighbors and people with same-sex attraction and preachers and lovers — and you.

And since the Son of God lived, died, rose, reigns, and is coming again, God’s message through him is more than a historical fact. It is a Christmas gift to you from the voice of a living God.

Thus says the Lord: the meaning of Christmas is that what is good and precious in your life need never be lost, and what is evil and undesirable in your life can be changed. The fears that the few good things that make you happy are slipping through your fingers, and the frustrations that the bad things you hate about yourself or your situation can’t be changed — these fears and these frustrations are what Christmas came to destroy.

It is God’s message of HOPE this Advent that what is good need never be lost and what is bad can be changed. The Devil works to take the good and bring the bad. And Jesus came to destroy the works of the Devil.

–from John Piper’s The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent

Certain Thanks in an Uncertain Year

2020 has been quite the year.  Political strife, natural disasters, and a worldwide pandemic have been just a few of the headlines over this year.  “Social distancing” and “unprecedented” are terms we would probably love to throw out the window, along with the sadness and hardship they’ve caused for so many. 

We’re entering the holiday season with a great deal of uncertainty, another term we’ve been using a great deal lately, with many questioning how large to cap their usual family gatherings, or whether to even gather at all.  Advent follows closely on the heels of Thanksgiving, a holiday that gets more overlooked each year in the rush to Christmas buying.  But perhaps it is Thanksgiving that we need most of all this year.  Perhaps 2020 can be the year when our forced slower pace of life and loss of many norms allows us to view more clearly that for which we have to be grateful.  And perhaps our sorrows can help us to press in to God and realize what a great gift we have in the Incarnation of Christ.  He came to reverse the curse.  To make “everything sad. . .untrue.”

Mary and Eve, by Sister Grace Remington, OCSO, from Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa.
Copyright to Sister Grace Remington

As we gather together, and even if we cannot, let’s remember to invite God into our celebrations, large or small, and thank Him that throughout all of the sadness, confusion, and disappointments, He is with us.  With Job, who truly suffered unprecedented disaster, may we say, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last, He will stand upon the earth.”

REACH OUT

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him. –Romans 12:1,NLT

Our biblical act of worship is not what we do on Sunday mornings in coats and ties, but our act of worship is a lifelong, seven-days-a-week process of placing ourselves upon an altar of sacrifice. Worship is living the principles of Christ in everything we do. You’re worshiping God by what you do all week long.

A Christian who’s reaching out realizes the urgency and remembers what it was like before he knew about Jesus…he realizes that when people need help, they need Jesus above all else.

When you take food to the poor, that’s an act of worship. When you give a word of kindness to someone who needs it, that’s an act of worship. When you write someone a letter to encourage them or sit down and open your Bible with someone to teach them, that’s an act of worship.

We’re in a fast-moving, fast-paced society. We need to build bridges between our hearts and those of people we see who need a friend — and allow Jesus to cross that bridge of friendship and walk into their hearts.

Your handshake, your warmth, your walk, your friendliness could make the difference in someone’s life.

— From The Inspirational Study Bible edited by Max Lucado

Troubled Times

In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. — John 16:33

If you’ve never heard of Murphy’s Law, you’ve probably experienced it: “If anything can go wrong, it will.”

Murphy’s maxim reminds me of the principle Jesus shared with His disciples when He told them, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33 NIV). In other words, we can count on it—sooner or later we will hit troubled times. It’s not the way God originally intended life to be, but when the human race first succumbed to Satan’s seduction in the garden, everything on this planet fell into the grip of sin. And the result has been disorder and dysfunction ever since.

The reality of trouble in life is obvious. It’s the reality of peace that often eludes us. Interestingly, when Jesus warned His followers about trouble, in the same breath He also promised peace. He even told them to “be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (v.33). The word overcome indicates a past event that has a continuing effect. Not only did Jesus conquer the fallen world through His death and resurrection, but He continues to provide victory, no matter how much trouble we may face.

So, although we can expect some trouble in this fallen world, the good news is that we can count on Jesus for peace in troubled times.

Photo by Samuel Silitonga on Pexels.com

— from Our Daily Bread

From the Pastor’s Pen: Thy Kingdom Come

In the novel,One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the main character endures all the horrors of a Soviet prison camp. One morning he is praying with his eyes closed when a fellow prisoner notices him and says with ridicule, “Prayers won’t help you get out of here any faster.” Opening his eyes, Ivan says, “I do not pray to get out of prison but to do the will of God.”

The attitude of Ivan is the same resolve that we, as God’s followers, need to embody when we prayerfully attempt to persevere through our difficult moments. Basically, God never promised us that it was going to be easy as we accept the Lord’s example. Even as their teacher sent the disciples out (Luke 10:3), he reminded them: “Go!  I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.”

Jesus was telling them that it was not going to be easy. That is, they would more often be received in a negative manner than by lovingly open arms. The Lord was telling them to expect this response and continue to grasp a perspective that was much deeper than just them.

“He who listens to you listens to Me; he who rejects you rejects Me; but he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”  Luke 10:16    

In the following chapter (Luke 11), Jesus is found in a familiar spot doing something He did on a regular basis. For it is evident early on from Luke’sgospel (3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18 and 9:28) that our Savior was in constant contact with His Heavenly Father.

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When He finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’…”

His disciples had no doubt noticed His prayerfulness and thus asked Him to teach them how to pray.  And even though Jesus had already given them these instructions (Matthew 6), He again reiterates many of the same words that we now call The Lord’s Prayer. Within these phrases, we find the title of this article. I believe that Erik Raymond does an eloquent job describing the anticipation of what Jesus means when He says, “Thy Kingdom Come:”

“…through our prayers, it’s as if the Holy Spirit lifts our chins above our earthly horizon to see the fleet of God’s coming kingdom advancing on the open sea.  And we cry, ‘Make haste!Come, O King and Kingdom!’’’

So, as we continue to Smile at the Storm that is all around us, let us also enact Paul’s instructions to the Church of Thessalonica:

“Rejoice at all times. PRAY WITHOUT CEASING. Give thanks in every circumstance,for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 

(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

A Slice of Presidential Scripture Cake

During its two-plus centuries of existence, the United States has had 45 different Presidents, all unique and interesting in their own way. The oldest to serve, Ronald Reagan (77 yrs); the youngest, Theodore  Roosevelt (42 yrs); the tallest, Abe Lincoln (6’4”); the biggest, William Howard Taft (350lbs); the smallest, James Madison (5’4” 100lbs), and the most-times elected, Franklin D. Roosevelt (4 times). 

Even more trivia reveals that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1826. James Monroe was wounded during the American Revolution. And Barack Obama collected Spiderman comic books. Yet one of the more interesting and lesser remembered presidents is described below:

“Under this President, the federal debt fell, the top income tax rate was reduced in half and the federal budget was always in surplus. Additionally, Americans wired their homes for electricity and bought their first cars and household appliances on credit. The economy also grew stronger, even as the federal government shrank and the rates of patent applications and patents granted increased dramatically. Also, under this Commander-in-Chief, a manfrom a town without a railroad station, Americans moved from the road and into the air.”  

Calvin Coolidge, our 30th President, served from 1923 (after Warren Harding’s death) until 1929, when he declined to seek re-election for a second term. Not only did Coolidge attain all of the above, he also managed to leave office with a better reputation than he had upon his arrival. (Wouldn’t we all love to see the same happen today?)  According to Amity Shlaes, Coolidge’s faith was the secret to his success.

“Calvin Coolidge wasn’t as vocal as some presidents about his religious belief. But that faith was real: strong enough to help him surmount personal setbacks, to make unpopular decisions, and to restrain his own vanity and so govern better.” 

His witness might have been quietly presented, but it was evident in his presidency because of his childhood upbringing.  Although John Calvin was named after his Father, from an early age he was called by his middle name. The name Calvin was chosen in honor of John Calvin, the  founder of the congregations in which Coolidge was raised. The first book he read was the  Gospel of John from a Bible that was given to him by his grandfather. His initial Sunday School lessons were prepared and taught to him by his grandmother. But my favorite Bible instruction can be found in the Vermont State Archive. It is Scripture Cake:

1 C butter (Judg 5:25)

3.5 C flour (1 K 4:22)

2 C sugar (Jer 6:20)

2 C raisins (1 Sam 30:12)

1 C water (Ge 24:17), 2 C figs (1 Sam 30:12)

2 C almonds (Gen 43:11)

6 eggs (Is 10:14)

1 tbsp honey (Ex 16:31)

pinch of salt (Lev 2:13)

Spices to taste (1 K 10:2)

2 tbsp baking powder (1 Co 5:6)

Follow Solomon’s advice for making good boys (Pr 23:14), bake in a loaf pan, and you have a good cake.

From the Pastor’s Pen: The Father of….the Father of our country

As we approach Father’s Day and the Fourth of July, it marks the perfect time to talk about our country’s first President and our above title’s namesake, George Washington.

In a book entitled The Bulletproof George Washington, author David Barton speaks of God’s providential care in and around the early life and exploits of America’s foundational Commander-in-Chief. At the age of just 21 years old, the young Washington accepted an assignment to deliver a final diplomatic attempt to avoid war between the British and the French.  After travelling for more than 500 miles, Washington met with Tanacharison, who was the chief of the Southern Hurons. A few days later, he met with and delivered the letter to French General St. Pierre before returning home. 

After commanding an initial battle that ended in a heroicdefeat at Fort Necessity, Washington eventually travelled with British General Braddock to engage the French and American Indian forces just outside of Fort Duquesne. The larger British army was ambushed by the hidden enemy, as they fought from behind the bushes and trees. Braddock refused to change his customary open-field tactics and as a result, the secluded warfare continued with his troops being picked-off as if they were in a carnival shooting gallery. Washington fought valiantly, but to no avail, as most of the officers were killed or wounded. Even the Native Americans noticed:

“They testified that they had singled him out and repeatedly shot at him, but without effect. They were convinced that he was protected by an Invisible Power and that no bullet could harm him.” 

After presiding over the funeral of General Braddock, Washington led the defeated army back to Fort Cumberland. Immediately upon their arrival, Washington, knowing the terrible anxiety that would have been around his family, wrote his brother the following letter regarding his physical condition and his spiritual understanding:

“As I have heard…a circumstantial account of my death and dying speech, I take this early opportunity of contradicting the first, and of assuring you, that I have not as yet composed the latter. But, by all-powerful dispensations of PROVIDENCE, I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had 4 bullets through my coat, and 2 horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on every side of me!”

It is encouraging, during our nation’s current upheaval and unrest, to remember that God has NEVER moved from His Throne!  He was there more than 250 years ago, and He is still in control today.  And more importantly, our FATHER… Still LOVES You and Me!

From the Pastor’s Pen: The Shoe Was on the Other Foot

(This summer will be the first that will not include an LFCC mission trip since 2011. Below is a previous article that talks about the past, but also reflects the future as we continue to “Smile at the Storm.”)

The idiom “the shoe was on the other foot” basically means that a circumstance or situation has been reversed, allowing a person to experience another person’s point of view. This was never as obvious to me as it was during the summer of ‘81, as this college student made his first trip to Jamaica on a short-term mission adventure. (The same type of trip that 60+ people from LFCC have experienced over the past decade when they have left for the Appalachian area. It also seems relevant to the recent upheaval of racial tension in our country).

As a young adult, my attitude was definitely not what it should have been when we left for that Caribbean island nearly 40 years ago!  The goal, in my mind, was not building a camp dormitory or even encouraging others in their walk with the Lord.  Instead, it was more in line with having fun, exploring something new, AND…returning home with an absolutely gorgeous tan. (I wish this last one was a joke).

My attitude towards the Jamaicans lacked somewhat (ok, A LOT) to be desired. The junior high campers seemed to be annoying and sometimes a burden to deal with while we were working or resting. I remember thinking/praying one evening in my tent, as another day had come to a close, “These poverty-stricken campers sure are lucky that I am here to help them make things better!”  Little did I know that God was going to help ME see who was really in control.

After nearly two weeks of unrelenting labor, we finished the work on the dorm and now could experience a couple of days of being typical tourists. But first we had some unfinished business in the form of a volleyball match.  A group of Canadians, who were also serving at the camp, had challenged the Americans to a friendly competition for a little NBR. (National Bragging Rights)!  Early into this “Jamaican Olympic” showdown, this stalwart of the team jumped up to spike the ball and upon my return to the ground, quickly and effectively broke a bone in my foot.  The match ended before it had hardly started as this writer hobbled and limped from the field of play.

That night in my sleeping bag I was not a happy camper as most of the time was spent in pain and anger.  I was certainly, above everything else, not happy with God because HE had allowed my injury just at the point when I was about to have some fun!  However, the SHOE was about to change.

From that moment on, those “poverty-stricken campers” were figuratively fighting over who received the honor of helping the American who had injured himself. They took turns bringing me food, drinks, towels, etc.  They even brought me special treats that I think were intended for themselves.  It surely marked a moment in my life as true humility was understood at its finest.  The shoe was figuratively AND literally on the other foot!  Basically, God had exposed the REAL “poverty-stricken” individual at that camp. 

It would prove to be the catalyst that helped change my life.  A few months later, the person with the healed foot and heart, left the business school at Indiana University and enrolled at Kentucky Christian College.

Today, as the continual effects of the coronavirus and the ongoing social unrest of our society permeate our daily lives with sadness and disappointment, it is even more important to remind one another of two items.

#1 – This is not the worst pandemic we face and

#2 – Our real enemy is not found in our fellow brother or sister.

#1 – “For all have SINNED and fall short of the glory of God” – Romans 3:23

#2 – “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the DEVIL prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:8

This is why these mission trips are so important to me. They take us away from our own comfort zones and force us to look to the only ONE who can cure our problems. Even without our trip, may God still help us continually grow within His Service as we attempt to always Put the Shoe on the other Foot with an open mind and continue to Smile at the Storm.

From the Pastor’s Pen: God Will Work Out All the Details

Although the temperatures seem to already indicate its presence, the first official day of summer will actually not arrive until June 21st.  More precisely, according to almanac.com, the 2020 summer solstice begins on June 20th at 11:32 p.m. EDT.

Okay…that is enough, and the extent of, my scientific endeavor for this writing, but it is important to note that our God is definitively a Being of order and precision… AND, our Creator is also very much into the details of His creation. The idea of these particulars is what we will talk about in the remainder of this correspondence as we are reminded of how much God cares for those of us who think we are somewhat insignificant. We will begin with these words from the psalmist.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Psalm 139:13

Basically, God knows every detail of ALL of us!  Just like the seasons come and go with the help of God’s hand, our “seasons” (and sometimes storms) are also monitored by His providential guidance.  Often, we may think that our situations are not important enough to warrant divine intervention, but on the contrary, our Lord very much desires to be seen in the details of our lives.  One such individual is described in 2 Kings 6:4b-7.

“They went to the Jordan and began to cut down trees. As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron ax-head fell into the water. ‘Oh, my lord,’ he cried out, ‘it was borrowed!’  The man of God asked, ‘Where did it fall?’  When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float. ‘Lift it out,’ he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it.”

floating ax

This story takes place after Elisha heals Naaman and before Israel’s army is delivered from the Arameans (an important man & an important event). The man who lost the ax-head was obviously not very important in the eyes of the world.  His name is not even mentioned, and he did not even own his own ax, but he was doing what God had called him to do.

Most people focus on the fact that the iron floated; certainly a miracle.  However, we also need to notice that the prophet, through God’s power, focused on meeting the man’s seemingly trivial need.  This is how God operates within His servants’ lives, including mine and yours. That is, He wants us to continuously “work in His vineyard” while we willingly leave the details to His discretion.

By the way, what was this axman called by God to do? He was helping build a new home for the prophets so that God’s Word and Work could be increased. What are we called by God to do? The following should adequately sum-up our response as we continue to Smile at the Storm: 

We need to do our BEST, and let God ‘DETAIL’ the rest!