Jesus Behind the Boxes

We preachers are guilty. Male or female, black or white, regardless of denomination or education, whether we wear a robe or a shirt, we’re all guilty.
Of what? you ask. Glad you asked.
We’re guilty of filling boxes and blocking the door with them.
I’ll explain (by picking on my wife, a little). She collects holiday decorations. Not a little. A lot. Half of my garage is crates and boxes of décor. As we enter the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, those boxes will rotate with Easter, Valentines, Halloween, birthday, July 4th, and other assorted, labeled boxes.
There are so many that occasionally I complain that I can’t find the door into the house. I have to maneuver around them, squeeze between her car and the current holiday, to get in. When I punch the garage door button in my truck, I groan at the sight.
Jesus called Himself the door. “No man comes to the Father but by me,” He said. If you would know God, the one, true, magnificent, unknowable, incredible God, you must know Him through Jesus Christ. He is the door.
The church is not the door. Doctrine is not the door. Preachers aren’t the door. Sunday School isn’t the door. Your denomination isn’t the door. Your theology isn’t the door. Your wisdom isn’t the door. Your tradition is not the door. Only Jesus is the door.
But we preachers… oh, we preach. We preach about antichrists, and bad habits, and “Five Ways to Succeed.”
We preach our dogma. We preach our party line. We make sure our listeners know why our church is the best, or the only one that’s really right. We’re subtle, but we’re clear.
We encourage, and sometimes demand, that our members bring a guest. Build the church! Build it big. We pray to expand! We select colors. We form committees. We decorate for the holidays. We argue and debate the right bread, or wine, or clothes, or props, or liturgy, or advertisements. What makes our church look good? What’s the best way to get attention?
Boxes. Boxes. Boxes. And more boxes. We preach boxes full. We design and decorate, and each design must reflect our doctrines properly. Boxes. We pile them up. Boxes upon boxes.
In one of his books, Jim Cymbala told a story of a particular service at his church. A guest had spoken of Jesus, and the transformation He had made in her life. At the conclusion, several people wanted prayer, and he prayed with each of them. He prayed till he was tired. It had been a long day. He was ready to wrap up and go home when he saw a homeless man shuffling down the aisle toward the stage.
He intuitively reached in his pocket for his money clip because he knew the man was coming to ask for a few dollars. But instead, the man pushed his offered money away. “I don’t want money,” he told the preacher. “I want to know that Jesus that woman just told about.”
How long has it been since you told someone about Jesus? How long has it been since you suggested that someone open that Door, and let Him in?
We are quick to offer boxes. We will give money. We will invite to church. We will promote a speaker, or a series, or even a book.
But what everyone needs is to find the Door.
Do we even remember where it is?
Is the Door so hidden by our boxes that it’s difficult for anyone to find?
Have we convinced ourselves that our boxes are more important than the Door?
Please, Lord, help us de-clutter.
Help us find Jesus behind the boxes.

What’s Up With All These Doors?

When the Bible repeats a theme, it’s worth taking a look. Doors are a repeated theme.
Here are 5 doors of decision. Each presents us with a choice, a pictorial understanding that, with God, there is a right side and a wrong side. A choice to be made.
1. NOAH’S DOOR.
The Lord told Noah to build one door in the ark. Just one. If it is true that Noah worked on the ark for 120 years, then that means his generation had 120 years to decide which side of that door they would be on if, indeed, it did start to rain. None chose the right side. Only Noah and his family members were on the inside when “the Lord shut” the door. Noah and his family might have become weary with the task. But when God sealed that door, they were safe! Everyone else was lost.
2. LOT’S DOOR.
A couple of angels were inside the door with Lot. He stepped “outside the door” to try to reason with the homosexual activists when demanded that he “share” his guests. They knew he wasn’t “one of them,” and might have killed him if the angels had not reached out and pulled him back to the right side of the door. To prevent the mob from breaking down the door, the angels blinded them. They didn’t convert them. They were beyond conversion. The angels simply protected Lot until it was time to rescue him permanently from Sodom and Gomorrah.
3. MOSES’ DOOR.
In his final attempt to persuade Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free, Moses commanded his people to kill a lamb, and then paint the door frame (the doorpost and lintels) with the blood. When Death came to Egypt in the night, if the blood was on the door, he would “pass over” that house and spare the firstborn. If there was no blood, he would kill the firstborn of that house.
The blood of a lamb. On the door. When judgment came, the death angel would not peek inside the door to qualify what kind of person lived inside. He would not hold a debate with the dweller about his theology. He would not examine his fatherhood (or motherhood). He would simply pass on. Judgment was completed… at the door… by the blood of a lamb.
4. CHRIST’S DOOR.
Jesus (the Lamb of God) said, “I am the door.” Not one of many. Just “the door.” No one can approach God – the invisible, unknowable, mysterious God – unless they approach Him through Jesus Christ. That’s what He said. No one. If anyone tries, he is a thief and robber. No prophet puts us in God’s realm. No man. No angel. No other deity. No theology. No Bible. Only Jesus. Simply Jesus. The Way. The Truth. The Life. The Door.
5. YOUR DOOR.
Perhaps my favorite verse in the Bible, Rev. 3:20 simplifies salvation to the relationship it was meant to be. Salvation is not a theological persuasion. Salvation is Jesus Christ. “Look, I stand at the door and knock,” Jesus said. “If anyone hears my voice, and opens to Me, I will come into him and dwell with him, and he with Me.”
Holman Hunt painted a classic picture of Christ knocking at a door. Careful inspection shows that he neglected to paint a door handle. It was intentional. Christ won’t open the door to your heart. He just knocks. It must be opened from within, by you.
But if it is… if you do open your heart to Jesus Christ, your life will be transformed by His presence! Church does not transform your heart. Preachers cannot transform you. Doctrine and knowledge? No. Nothing else is presented in this way. He knocks. If you hear Him, you can open.
He doesn’t knock on Sunday’s only, at the end of a sermon. He doesn’t work a couple of hours a week. He is always knocking. Even this moment, He is knocking.
Open the door today.
You’ll be glad you did.

Portrait of a Saint

What do saints look like? Would you be surprised to know they look a lot like you? Saints are not carved in stone in Rome. Those are merely statues. The apostles called the church members of their day “saints.” People like you and me. The word simply means “set apart for God’s service.” “Venerated.”
Saint Billy walked into a church service where I was the pastor. He sat down on the back row after I had already begun preaching, and almost instantly he was crying. As soon as I dismissed, he slipped out and was gone! Ushers had missed him.
I was a young, new pastor building a new church. I needed people! We didn’t get his name or contact info. It bugged me that we had no way of contacting him.
The next Sunday, after I had begun my sermon, he slipped in again, and, as before, he began to cry quietly. And we missed him again! I told my ushers if he ever came back to tackle him. The third Sunday in a row he came, and we were prepared. Needlessly, it turned out, because this time he stayed. He wanted to speak to the pastor, and he invited me to breakfast the next morning.
We met, and after brief introductions, he told me a story. He was a truck driver. Khaki-wearing, calloused-hands truck driver. He drove a regular route, knew his customers along the way. A few months ago he and a waitress had carried their usual flirting to the next step. They decided that they would hook up on his return trip and spend the night together in a hotel down the street.
He was excited as he pulled out of the parking lot to start his run, but he was also nervous. He had never cheated on his wife. He wondered what his kids would think if they ever found out. By the time he reached the ramp to the interstate, he was already regretting his hasty, lustful decision. Aloud in his truck, he groaned and said something like, “Lord, what have I done?”
Almost immediately a bright light blinded him. The light filled the cab of his truck. And then, he told me, he knew it was Jesus! This blinding light Jesus told him he was forgiven, told him to simply not stop at the truck stop on his way home, and told him to bless his family, take them to church, and He would bless Billy. Wow, I thought, glancing at my watch. Then, the punch. “When the light vanished, I was gripping the wheel, and an exit sign was coming up. I knew my route. I had driven 45 miles and never knew it. Jesus was in control.”
I was polite. I glanced at my watch again. I was ready to move on. He must be a wacko. “I started visiting churches when I got home,” he continued. “But… He… wasn’t there. Each week I would visit a different church, but I knew what He felt like, and He wasn’t there. Until I visited your church three weeks ago. I slipped in and sat down, and the minute I sat down, He sat down beside me.”
Well, now I’m starting to like this guy. After all, if Jesus is promoting my church, who am I to argue? He came three weeks in a row to be sure. Now he wanted to know if he could bring his family to my church. So he and his family began attending my church.
A few months later, I received a phone call from a local hospital. Billy’s son was in a life-or-death battle. He had gone to school with a headache. A fellow student offered him an aspirin. In second period, his headache persisted, so the friend gave him 3 or 4 aspirin. Only they weren’t aspirin. The boy had taken some Valium from his mother’s medicine cabinet. He let another friend in on the prank, as they called it. By the time auto shop class came around, Billy’s boy had swallowed a dozen or more Valium, and he was barely standing.
The kids hid him from the teacher, treating him like he was drunk. Someone had a vial of acid used on some battery experiments, and he grabbed it like orange juice and chugged it before anyone could react. He collapsed instantly, bleeding, and unconscious. An ambulance sped him to the hospital.
The boys confessed. Billy’s son was in a precarious state. They needed to pump his stomach, but they could not risk anything in his esophagus because the acid had eroded his throat and esophagus. Basically, they were siphoning off blood and waiting to see if he would wake up.
At some point a doctor mentioned 12 hours, and Billy noted that as if it was gospel. Twelve hours later, with no change, he begged the doctor for any kind of hope. The doctor just told him they had to wait for him to overcome the drugs. Twelve more hours. They were just stalling, but Billy was counting the hours.
Somewhere between 24 and 36 hours, after a doctor had already warned that even if he pulls through he may not be able to speak, Billy asked me to come back to the hospital. He knelt on one side of the boy’s bed, and asked me to kneel on the other. He reached his arms across the boy’s body and asked me to reach over and interlock our arms across the boy’s chest. I did. The nurses were awkward. Everyone was awkward. This was the most desperate father ever! He wailed. He cried. He prayed. He reminded God of His goodness. He begged.
Finally, he released his grip on me, and we stood and embraced. No change in the boy. Long after I had left, a nurse was checking the monitors, and a voice behind her said, “I’m thirsty!” She turned to see who it was, and it was the high school boy himself, sitting up, staring at her. He wondered where he was, then repeated, “I’m thirsty.”
She ran out in the hallway and yelled for the doctor whom she knew was just a few rooms down. He came running, probably assuming the boy had died. When he walked into the room, he said he couldn’t believe it. He didn’t know anything to do at the moment but put a tongue depressor in his mouth and look at the throat that wasn’t supposed to be speaking. He turned around amazed. “The boy says he’s hungry,” he exclaimed, wiping a tear. “Somebody run across the street and get this boy a hamburger.”
And they did. And he ate all of it, and drank the coke they brought with it. No evidence of acid. No death. No funeral. Just a truck-driver dad laying his arms across his boy, reminding God of His goodness, and begging a little.
A saint, if you please. A saint in khakis.
An ordinary man. Like you.

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ON THE HATING SIDE OF GOD

If you’re a wimpy blow-hard posing as a Christian, stop reading now and go back to your television show. There’s no point in continuing. You won’t understand it, you won’t like it, and you’ll probably have to call someone after you read this to comfort you and calm you down. So I’m saving you the trouble. Just stop reading and go back to your TV.
The rest of you who are still reading might want to grab a Bible and double check some of the stuff I’m about to tell you. We Christians in America have watered down God until He is barely a reflection of us. He certainly isn’t God. He’s an image, a figment of our daydreams of utopia, a picture on a wall, a statue on a dashboard, or a piece of jewelry around our neck, but He’s not God. No sir! He’s a slogan. He’s a sound-bite.
But really, a god is something to be in awe of. A god is something you fear. A god is something you obey. You tremble when a god walks into the room. “The devils also believe, and they tremble,” wrote James. But not us. Because our god is a sweetheart. He knows that we’ve had a hard day, and He just wants us to feel good in the evening, to go to bed with a smile. Our god sympathizes with us when someone is rude to us. We can just feel his warm embrace. Why, some Sunday nights our god knows that we’ve had such a rough week he just shows up at our church to slobber all over us and gush with delight over his little children with their little pouty lips.
I don’t know who to blame. I could start with us preachers in America. God, we’re a pathetic mess! Captains of the ship Wimpy. Cowards. Hirelings. We need the income, we need the little bit of importance we feel on Sunday when a handful of people come to hear us speak, and we’ll trade our consciences to keep the applause and the salary.
So we carefully skirt around tough issues. We do our best not to take a side.
We say stuff like, “I try not to judge.”
Or, “You know, there’s no point in turning people away from Christ by being mean.”
Or, “I’m just trying to love everybody.”
Or, “I’m not a theologian, I’m just a student of the Bible just like you.”
Or, “Jesus loves us all, black, white, Muslim, Christian, Jew, gay, straight… He just loves us all.”
Really? Does God simply not hate anybody? Even mass murderers? Child kidnappers?
This generation of American Christians doesn’t have the same understanding of God that the forefathers had. Try getting this bunch to read Proverbs 6:16 and watch how they explain it away. Those verses say: “There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: 17   haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, 19  a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who a sows discord among brothers.”
Pardon me if my eyes aren’t as keen as yours, but it seems to me that the Bible just said “God hates.” And not only is He capable of hating, He doesn’t do that American thing of “hating the sin but loving the sinner.” He hates the sinner. Did you see it. It didn’t say that He merely “hates discord.” It said He hates the “one who sows discord.” The one. The person. Gasp! Did you just see that God is capable of hating a person who schemes and lies and sows discord?
Think that’s an isolated verse? Think again. Here’s what David had to say: Psalm 5:4 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. 5 The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. 6 You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.
Wow! This God of love is doing some serious hating. He hates “all evildoers.” He “abhors (hates) the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”
“What would Jesus do?” some little sophomoric sound-bite Christian intones with a smug smile. I’ll tell you what He might do. He might start screaming, pick up a few moneychangers’ tables and flip them upside down, scattering their money and their caged sacrifices all over the floor, and then grab someone’s whip and start popping it in their ears until He drives everyone out of the temple!
In Luke 12:49 we see Jesus in action. I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.
We Christians in the once-free America just couldn’t learn to hate, so we condoned the sin and the sinner. We opened our arms and our hearts to show everyone how loving we could be. We wanted the whole world to know that we don’t judge anyone, and we don’t judge their sins, er, practices.
We ran to their side when they stumbled, void of the grace of God, smeared with the stench of sinfully deliberate choices, and we told them that God still loved them, just the way they are. And then we forgot to tell them to repent. Why, that might have sounded judgmental. So we just loved on them, and although we didn’t get the bile of sin washed away, since we can’t do that, and only God can when we repent, we just sprayed so much Christian cologne on them we masked the smell of sin. For a while. But now, the stench is coming back, and we’re running out of cologne.
The scripture has a description of us in 2 Peter 2: “17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm.  For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. 18 For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them  freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”
What’s that? That doesn’t fit your image of God? Why are you still reading this? I told you to go back to your TV in the first paragraph.
The “gloom of utter darkness has been reserved” for empty souls who promise freedom, but are bound to sin themselves. I wonder who “reserved” the place for them? Some bigoted Christians from a previous millennium? Or a God, who will be a judge, who hates sin, and hates the sinful, and hates those who lie to them and promise them God’s favor without the need to repent and quit sinning.
Even the woman caught “in the act” understood that the grace of a loving Savior did not end with a sweet hug and a “go do whatever you want to do.” It ended with a kind Savior saying, “Go, and sin no more.” Don’t do it anymore. Repent. Change. Stop. Sin marks you for judgment. Sin puts you on the wrong side of God. On the hating side.
We are reaping what we have sowed in America. We have bred a generation of sinners who think they’re saved because God just can’t hate anyone, and He surely can’t send anyone to hell.
The last hour of the Gentile age is described in 2 Thess. 2:9 The coming of the lawless one [antichrist] is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Those who “refused to love the truth,” and “had pleasure in unrighteousness…” will be blinded by God, judged by God, banished to an eternity of hell by God. You have to wonder how much blood will be on our hands because we played church and religion games instead of preaching the timeless message, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!”
Sin is a stench. Sinners who continue to sin, who choose to ignore the truth, who love the pleasure of their unrighteousness, are on the wrong side on God. They’re on the hating side of God. Somebody ought to tell them.

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THE CHURCH WAS ROBBED

The church was robbed.  It’s the third time in a couple of years or so.  It wasn’t bad this time.  They just stole underground copper wiring, about $3,800 worth.  We lost the use of our youth building for a week.  We’ll replace it this week, and move on.

It gives you pause, wondering what kind of person steals from a church.  I guess it shouldn’t be any different than stealing from an individual, but it seems worse, somehow.  Churches aren’t rich. They spend everything they bring in.  Our small church has only around 200 people coming to it, and we gave over $23,000 last year in benevolent gifts.  Throw in another $10,000 for missions and volunteer staff food and gifts, and we look pretty generous.  We give. It’s the heart of a church.

So to be robbed seems such an unnecessary violation.  The thieves would have to take the copper to a reclamation site, and that business would know that they didn’t come by that copper wire honestly, so they would only offer them pennies on the dollar.  They might have made $300!  Who knows?  I guess for 20 minutes’ work, that’s not bad.  But if they had just come to the church and told us they were destitute, they might have gotten more than that, and they wouldn’t have had to steal it.

I mused about such things last week, and then chuckled to God about the nature of a thief.  I sensed God whispering back to me, with a smile, “Nothing to do but forgive and move on.  I do it all the time.”

“You do?”  I was genuinely incredulous.

“Sure.  Folks rob me every week.”

I should have seen that one coming.  But I bit. “Seriously?”

And then I turned the pages and read the account again.  “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions.  You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.”  It’s in the Old Testament book of Malachi, 3rd chapter, verses 8 and 9.

Well, some folks were pretty high and mighty about what they’d do to those thieves if they caught them. “Low-life punks!” snarled one.  “I’d like to get my hands on them,” growled another.  I sure hope they’re contributing to their church.  It would seem pretty hypocritical if they’re not.

But then I thought, wait! We’re not under the Old Testament Mosaic law.  So is anyone really robbing God that way these days?  And, of course, Paul’s words came ringing:  ” The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).  And there it is, plain as day!  God loves a giver.  Oh, yes, it says “cheerful” giver.  But you can’t miss the “giver” part of it.  Makes you wonder what He thinks about non-givers, doesn’t it?

At any rate, the church was robbed this week.  I hope it was only copper wire that was stolen.  But you never know.  There’s all kinds of thieves.

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Christmas, I Hate to See You Go

I never thought I’d say this, but I was a little sorry to see the Christmas tree come down.  That single act seems to signify that Christmas is officially over.  It’s time to get back to work, move on.  But this Christmas was warm and comfortable, and I hate to see it go.

For the last four years or so, my family has opted out of the exchanging of presents.  That’s harder than you might think, especially when you have grandkids. We have chosen instead to take a trip, to do something that hopefully creates a memory that might last a lifetime.

We’ve been skiing a few times in New Mexico, and, indeed, still talk about the awesome snow storms, the dog that we thought was a wolf, the frozen water pipes that forced us to change rooms in the middle of the night, and every other unique event.  And we’ve loved every memory.

This year we took a trip to Grapevine, a little town which bills itself as “the Christmas Capital of Texas.”  It was a good trip. The town has a great light show around a gazebo right in town, and a great little historic cabin and courtyard all decorated in a way that provides hundreds of photo ops.

Then we spent a day at the Gaylord Texan’s Ice show.  It, too, gave us some great photo spots, and it is quite a spectacular achievement.  Thank goodness they provide you with parkas to wear in the 12 degree rooms.  The final scene,  lifesize ice sculptures of the nativity scene, is unbelievably beautiful!

The third day we packed up and drove to east Texas to another hotel.  We uncrated a PA system and rehearsed a little “show” of Christmas carols and other songs which we were going to perform at the nursing home where my mom resides.  This would be our first “working” Christmas Eve.  No cozy gathering at home. No sitting around the Christmas tree and enjoying family games.  Just singing to a bunch of people who may or may not know you’re there.

My mother has Alzheimers.  Her memory lasts about a minute, and sometimes not that long.  I have to remind her who I am, and in that moment her face brightens and she is excited.  Then, a minute later she will ask me who I am.  So we put on our little show knowing that my mother would not even remember we were there by the time we drove out of the parking lot.

I was a little reluctant to even suggest this kind of Christmas to my family.  I don’t know why.  They jumped on the idea so quickly, I was caught without a real plan.   We mentioned it to a few people, and got some ideas.  Judy Kingan made us a pile of cookies, and the staff who had to work on Christmas Eve had wolfed down half of them before we left.  The grandkids made a card for all 102 residents in the home, and handed one to each resident who came to our little show.

My granddaughter plays guitar and sings in our church youth band, but my grandson doesn’t put himself behind a microphone.  Yet at the nursing home, he grabbed a mike and stepped out front and sang every song!   My mother sat near us, and I was doubtful that she actually remembered who we were.  But during one song she motioned one of my sons-in-law over to her, and he leaned down and heard her say proudly, “That’s my son up there.” Amazing that she remembered.

After our little show, everyone had to be wheeled back to their rooms.  It was 6:50, past bedtime for most of them.  Mom stayed and visited with us for another 30 minutes.   Of course, we had to keep introducing ourselves.  But she was in fine form, and funny as ever.  I was glad my grandkids got to see just a glimpse of the woman she used to be.

“How long have you had that cough?” I asked after a spasm of coughing hit her.   “Well,” she grinned, “at least for two or three minutes.”   Well said from a woman who apparently knows she has a memory problem.

It’s funny how the memory works in someone who has lost it.  She still remembers clearly that she has four children, and can remember all our names.  Yet doesn’t realize that the one sitting beside her is one of those kids.  And yet, when she speaks of them, she says, “I had four children, you know.  And they loved me.  They were always so good to me.”   I am grateful that her memory recalls us that way.

She said to my daughter, “There are days that I just want to quit.  I don’t know why I’m still here.  And then, someone will come by and visit, or just say the right thing to me, and I want to live again. I want to go on.  You know, I just think God puts some people here just for that, just to keep us going.”   Maybe that’s why she’s still here.  She gives me inspiration.

Late Christmas Eve we’re trying to find anything open in a small Texas town, and we find a not-so-clean fried chicken joint.  And a convenience store for those who didn’t want fried chicken.  And we carried our treasure back to our tiny hotel room and feasted and played games and talked and cried.  And expressed our thanks to each other and to God.

I don’t even have words to express my personal thanks and love to my kids and grandkids for being the troupers that they are, and for genuinely giving up Christmas as usual.  We found Christmas extraordinaire!  And I hate to see it go.

Got Anyone to Forgive? Can you see through the mists?

I watched my former pastor’s daughter at her son’s funeral 24 years ago, and I wondered how she would ever be “normal” again.  Her only son, a senior at UT, shot down by a 17-year-old who had bummed a ride from him.  A beautiful life ended in a moment of evil.  How would she ever smile again?  What would she dream about?

Her story is remarkable, and a brief glimpse of it is in December’s issue of Good Housekeeping, page 174.  She took a long time to lose her hatred of the young man who killed her son, but she did.  She found forgiveness.  She was able to forgive him.  Not that he asked for it.  She just gave it.  In her words, she “started seeing him as a human being and not just a murderer.”

I read a piece somewhere once that went like this:   A man saw a monster approaching through the mists, and he raised his gun to fire.  But as he drew nearer, he saw that it was a man, not a monster, and lowered his gun. But then he thought, What kind of man would be out here in this mist, so he raised his gun again. But as he drew close enough that the mists no longer obscured the face, he saw that it was his brother, and lowered his gun to embrace him.

You get the idea behind it.  I wonder how many people we have hated, or judged cruelly, because we saw them as monsters instead of as brothers?  If we could just get closer… dispel the mists… perhaps we’d have more brothers than enemies.

Thomas Ann Hines stopped seeing a monster, and saw a boy.  And forgave him.  And in doing so, she grew immensely into the image of the One who taught us, “If you forgive men, your heavenly Father will forgive you.”  The same One who looked down from a cross and said of those who put Him there, “Father, forgive them.”

Thanks to Thomas Ann, and others like her who have found the sweet release that only forgiveness can bring, we are challenged to let go of our grudges and end our quests for revenge.  Their message is simple: Get close enough to your enemy, and you may find a friend.  Your act of forgiveness will open heaven’s door for you.   Lay down the gun.  Open your arms.  Forgiveness heals everyone.

Danny Carpenter, Grace Christian Family Center

What’s All the Fuss About Christmas?

Christmas may be called "Holiday" these days, but it doesn’t change the fact that Christians know what this time of year is really all about. We may stand in lines and buy the latest product for our kids, but we never forget that this season is a special time to remember the birth of a Savior.

While some Christian groups advocate boycotting stores which don’t use the word Christmas, and some simply advocate not shopping at all, you find yourself walking a tightrope sometimes trying to please your family, your church, yourself, your God, and your radical friends. As if you didn’t already have enough stress at Christmas.

But whether you buy or don’t buy, or whether you shop certain stores or shun them, is really not going to change the world. How we share Christ, not just at Christmas, but as a part of our daily routine, is of much greater importance.

So enjoy Christmas however you choose.  Buy, or don’t.  Put up a tree, or don’t.  Turn on lights, or enjoy the dark. Light a candle. Or not. But whatever you do, remember WHO this season is all about. He’s the One you live for the other 11 months of the year, too.

HE is not likely to be glorified by any of our doctrinal or seasonal debates over the holiday. HE is not likely to gain any foothold in the world because we do or don’t have a nativity scene. But He WILL be affected and glorified by our worship of Him, and by our willingness to share Him with others.

I went into a store the other day that’s on the "hit list" as a store to be avoided because it isn’t using the word "Christmas" in its advertising. I made a small purchase, and to the clerk who rang up my sale, I whispered, "Merry Christmas. May the Lord bless you today." She laughed because she understood the implication of my exaggerated whisper. "Merry Christmas to you," she called back merrily. "You don’t have to whisper it in this store. The corporate powers can take the word out of our advertising, but we still know what it’s about."

Good for her. And good for all the other employees out there who know, in spite of how their companies choose to advertise. The whole world knows what this season is all about.

So light another light at Christmas. BE one of His lights.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Danny Carpenter,  Grace Christian Family Center

As Silly as a Goose

Silly as a gooseThis is the time of year they are flying.  We were standing on a tee box last Sunday afternoon, and could hear them honking, high in the sky, their erratic V-formation painted on a blue autumn sky.  When you contemplate their magnificence, you wonder why anyone ever came up with the phrase “as silly as a goose.”

For one, the V formation is critical to their migration.  Instinctively they fly this way.  Like some inner voice lines them up. They cannot know that flying in such a way enables them to fly 71% farther and longer than if they flew solo. Each bird creates an uplift that buoys the birds behind.  I wonder how many of us recognize the value of belonging to a church?  I wonder how many people have hung on a little longer, flown a little further than they might have, simply because they were buoyed on by the faith, love, and strength of those friends at their church?

Secondly, there is that honking.  Do you know why they honk?  We may never know for sure, since we can’t talk to the geese, but the best experts seem to believe that it is simply a means of letting the ones in front know that they are still back there.  It’s like they’re encouraging them on.  Think about it. The front goose could fly a hundred miles alone, no one behind him.  But when he hears the honking, he knows he’s not alone.  And in some way, he may be encouraged to fly on.   A well-placed “Amen!” means a lot to a preacher.  And a well-placed “Attaboy!” means a lot to anyone!  We get that at church, don’t we?  “Hang in there!”  “Keep the faith.”  “We love you.”  “We’re praying.”

Thirdly, the leader is not the only leader.  Remember, the point goose doesn’t have the benefit of the uplift from another. He’s in the front.  So he tires much sooner than others.  And when he does, he simply slides out and relocates back down the line, and another slides up to the lead.   There are no “big I’s” and “little you’s” in church.  Look around at how many “leaders” simply step up and do what needs to be done.  No one leader is so critical to the direction of the flock that when he is tired, another cannot step up and lead for a while.  This constant support and encouragement is what makes the Christian church unique.

And finally, when one goose falls out of the flock because he is sick or wounded, he never goes down alone. Two other geese will peel out of the flock and go down with him. And they’ll stay with him until he is well enough to fly on, or until he dies.  And then they’ll either join another flock until they can break off and reach their own migratory route, or they’ll be a flock of three until they arrive at their destination. I think it was Madeleine Murray O’Hair who said the Christian army is the only army in the world which kills off its wounded.  What did she know?  The Christian “army” doesn’t kill its wounded. Much like the geese, it surrounds its wounded with love, forgiveness, and hope.  Oh, there are those on the fringe who are hateful or spiteful, as in any group.  But by and large, Christians stay beside those who are suffering and hurting in life. Like our Lord who promised He would never leave us or forsake us.  We restore. We heal. Because we are surrounded by His love revealed through the love of others.

I love being part of the Christian community.  And the next time someone accuses me of being as silly as a goose, I’m going to take it as a compliment.

Watch this sermon online

A Resemblance to God

What does God look like?“You don’t look like your dad!”  I’ve heard that at a family reunion many years ago.  I never knew if they were suggesting something.

But I’d hate to hear this: “He doesn’t look like his Father.”  Notice the capital “F.”  I mean the “heavenly Father.”

Did you know that all of us, regardless of our race, size, age, sex, hair, skills, etc., are “made in the image and likeness of God”?    Look at yourself in mirror, and whisper: “I bear a strong resemblance to God!”

You do.  You are made in His image.  You reflect His glory, just as the moon reflects the glory of the sun. It has no light in itself, but how gorgeous it is when when it is bathed in the light of the sun!

You will live forever, just like God.  And you have the power to give life, and to take it away.

You’re awesome.   But with awesome power comes awesome responsibility.

Some of you have been on naval vessels, and some have been on beautiful cruise ships.  Those magnificent, huge pieces of floating steel are turned by a comparatively small blade called the rudder.  That small thing can be turned too quickly, or too far, and instead of the massive ship sliding smoothly up to the edge of a pier, it can crash broadside and destroy itself or its mooring.

And the Bible compares the tongue to the rudder of a ship.  Translation:  that small tongue can destroy a beautiful life, or it can steer a life over a successful voyage.

What power we god-like creatures have!  With our tongues we can discourage, dishonor, lie, undermine, publish filth, mock, ridicule, exagerate error… literally destroy a beautiful person who was made in the image of God.

Or, with the same tongue, we can praise, encourage, forgive, set free, let off the hook, admire, compliment, embrace, love… and guide a person made in the image of God into the greatness he/she is capable of.

We have that much power!  Because we, too, are made in God’s image and likeness.

The best way to resemble your Father is to show the same kind of forgiveness and love toward others that He has shown toward you.  Were you forgiven much? Then forgive much.  Do you have secrets He helped you hide?  Then help others hide theirs.

Be like God.

You were made to be. Don’t waste His great plan.