Monday, December 28, 2015

The Week Between Christmas And New Year's

It' is the week between Christmas and the New Year. Our bodies are heavier and our bank accounts lighter. The diet and exercise programs are advertising feverishly, and there's a deal at the gym. I've got a plan. No more Country Boy, no more Nothing Bundt Cakes, and a lot more exercise.

While I'm not a resolutions guy, I do like this time of year. I like it because it seems to encourage me  to reflect and at make a renewed effort to change. I even told the church that's what I would be talking about Sunday - where we've been in 2015 and where I hope to lead us in 2016. It's good to reflect, plan and take steps in the right direction.

Life requires vision and planning. This year my daughter graduated college and married, and my son graduated high school and started college. I preached through the "Farewell Narrative" of Jesus before Easter, preached through a series on Revival preparation before revival meetings, and have finished half of Nehemiah (the rebuilder of Jerusalem) as we have been remodeling our worship center. Our Wednesday adult prayer and study group walked through 1 Peter, Jude, and a great review of facing fear with faith. All of that required a plan, a vision.

Yet, much of what happened in 2016 was unplanned, at least by me. I didn't plan to lose one of my best friends in a tragic accident, and another through conflict. I didn't plan for a friend to have a recurrence of cancer. I didn't imagine I would spend the last month visiting multiple hospitals of seriously ill church members. I didn't plan all that, but God had all of that in His plan.

The trials were part of His plan for the perfecting of the saints. The interruption of human plans served as a powerful reminder that He alone is sovereign. In the middle of it all, and through it all, I and most of the people affected by these situations have come more and more to believe that "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to HIs purpose."  (Romans 8:28 - NASB)

So, as you face the new year, take time to reflect on the last one. Seek God's will for the new one. But, above all, seek to deepen your walk and faith in God, since He is the only one who already knows what will happen in 2016. What if, in this new year, the one resolution you kept was to follow Him every day of 2016? What would happen to all the other visions and plans in your head and heart if you carried out the vision of knowing Him more deeply, and loving and following Him more completely?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

How God Showed Up One Day In A Big Way Through A Small Person In A Hospital Waiting Room

Seven elevators emptied a constant stream of humanity into the wide space surrounding four different waiting rooms outside the ICU. Straight-backed metal chairs that were attached to one another were spaced unevenly around the industrial tile floors. Some of us stood alone, some in knots of two or three, and some leaned against the dingy walls. We were blessed to be seated, because my friends were exhausted from days of waiting for doctors' reports and the next visiting hour to arrive.

A young woman, her mother, a baby in a carrier and her two-year-old son entered the room. I moved blankets and a half-eaten bag of cookies from a chair so they could sit. Across the room a family hoped and prayed their family member would survive the head-on collision. They mourned as they hoped, because others had not survived. The family to our right grew in number as they waited for the doctor to come out of surgery. Those are all the stories I knew, but there were dozens more scattered across the waiting area.

"How old is your son?" I asked. "Two," she said with a tired smile. My friend's mom said, "He's a cutie." His grandmother replied, "He's somethin'," and we all laughed, but just a little. He swayed, whimpered, got a cookie for his effort, smiled, made faces, walked, hopped, faked hitting his mom's knee - things two year old boys should do in hospital waiting rooms. I felt sorry for him. Emotions were on edge. Quiet small-talk was the order of the day, because no one wanted to ask the real question or get the real answers. Prayers were muttered and uttered. That waiting room was no place for a child, and yet there he was.

The phone rang. It wasn't bad news, just an irritating call - the business office. You know that papers have to be signed, but all you care about is your loved one in that bed in that room. Asking you to sign a piece of paper about insurance, or make plans to move them to some other unit, or whatever -  asking you to do that feels like one of the most uncaring and insensitive things anyone could ever do.  The call ended, we recovered - and we waited.

One of the women across the room turned around in her chair to face the wall. She started crying. The family to our right continued to increase in number. A man came into our area, and through tears said to his sister, "It's gonna be allright. Got to be." Heads fell. We waited, and those of us in our corner used the little boy as a welcome distraction. We made faces at him. The family next to us offered him another cookie. His mother smiled, and we waited. 

Then something unexpected happened, so unexpected I'm not sure anyone else saw it. Grandmother turned on a children's song and handed her smartphone to the boy. He moved from side-to-side with the music, his head shifting the opposite direction of his body, and then I recognized the song. My children used to sing it. I even knew the hand-motions, and tried to show them to him. He wasn't interested, and that's probably good. Hospital waiting rooms are not good places for hand-motions. I sang quietly with the phone,

My God is so big, so strong and so mighty,
There's nothing my God cannot do, for you.
My God is so big, so strong and so mighty,
There's nothing my God cannot do, for you.

The mountains are His, the rivers are His
The stars are His handiwork too
My God is so big, so strong and so mighty
There's nothing my God cannot do, for you

There He was, and I almost missed Him. I was so preoccupied with myself, all the need around me, so many situations beyond human control. I was desperately searching my brain and soul for an answer for my friends. I had been praying for a divine moment to offer help to the woman curled up against the wall in her tears. No words came. So, I sat, prayed, and wondered how God would intervene, and then a grandmother played My God Is So Big on her phone for her grandson and I got it. I got no direction about how to help anyone with anything. If anything I became even more convinced of my own uselessness to do anything more than pray and be there. In that song I was reminded that God is in control, still big enough, mighty enough, still creator and owner of all. My heart and soul did not flood with joy. I did not stand and pray down fire from heaven, or shout hallelujah. I just sat very still and knew that He was, and is, God.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

It's Anti-Christ Time In The City

I bet you thought I was about to gripe about the lack of traditional decorations on Starbucks cups. Nope!  Starbuck cups were never about "Christ in Christmas," so I don't really have a dog in that fight. This is also not really a "Keep Christ in Christmas" post, either, except to lay a foundation for what I do want to write about.

With a few exceptions, the opposition to Christ in Christmas in the public square has won the battle. The courts have adopted a progressive interpretation of the establishment clause of the constitution and have used it to restrict Christian expression in public. So, there are virtually no municipalities, schools, or corporations that are willing to stand up and fight anymore.

This is not bah-humbug. I think it's just a realistic assessment of our country. I hope I'm a realist like Nehemiah, who God called to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in the face of great opposition. He did not deny the existence of the enemy. He took steps to protect the people, and kept right on trusting God and building the wall. I believe that 'Christmas' has quickly become 'Mas' in America for a very simple reason. I think we are no longer a Christian nation. And, I think we are quickly becoming an anti-Christian one.

Since to live for Christ requires a Christian to live according to the teachings of Christ in all areas of life, forbidding a Christian from living according to their moral principles at work is anti-Christian. Since to live for Christ requires a Christian to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ wherever she goes, it is anti-Christian to forbid her to do so anywhere she goes. Yet, that is exactly what our nation has done. It is forbidden to live according to the moral principles of the Bible, since that requires the expression of those principles in action and in speech, in virtually every workplace in America. Are these prohibitions not quickly becoming the status quo outside of the four walls of the church? Am I alarmist, unsound, or extremist?

Public schools employ and enroll 1/4 of the US population. Add the families of those teachers and students, and the public school system is the dominate influence in the life of over half of Americans. The expression of the true Christian faith of teachers and employees is forbidden at work, and the same expression of Christian students is increasingly restricted. Public school employees must approve of moral standards that conflict with their faith and they must not speak about their own Christian faith under penalty of law, or at the very least loss of employment. Anyone working for the government at any level, is forbidden to practice the true Christian faith at work - again, living it and proclaiming it. Add all government employees and major corporations to public school employees and students, and it is easy to see that the spirit of anti-Christ controls more than one-half of the population's expression for much of every week.

Yes, we enjoy great freedom in this nation, but we are not nearly as free as we were just a decade ago, and this trend toward anti-Christian public policy is snowballing.

Removing Christ from Christmas is no longer about over-commercialization. It is just one more facet of the attack of the spirit of antiChrist. So, what are we to do? Should we politic, protest, or just continue to placate the opposition? God gives us clear guidance for living in a world that has always been dominated by the spirit of anti-Christ since Jesus ascended (1 John 4:3).

Rejoice in the opposition.  They hated Jesus, so they hate us and our faith. Be glad you are opposed by those who oppose Christ. (John 15)

Reject the intimidation.  We must obey God, not man. Trust Him to take care of you in life and in death. (Acts 4)

Refrain from being oppositional.  Jesus told Peter to put up his sword. We wage war with the good news. Be as wise as a serpent, as gentle as a dove, and as persistent and stubborn in your faith and in proclaiming the Gospel as a donkey. (Mathew 10)

Remain faithful to Christ How can we help but talk about our great and gracious Savior. As Peter and John said, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:19-20)