December 2012

Follow His Star!

Astronomers tell us there are millions and millions of stars in the sky. Isn’t it fascinating to consider that the wise men from the East identified the one and only star, “His star” the one that was able to lead them to the Christ child? How did they do it? One would think that for an ordinary person to pick such a star would be even greater odds than picking a winner in a national lottery. And yet, throughout the centuries to this very day, countless numbers of ordinary people continue to see His star all the time and as they follow it, eventually it leads to Jesus. How does God do that?

We dare not get hung up on a star as the instrumentation of God’s guidance. A star is merely a sign that God uses to show us the way to Jesus. Stars come in all forms and shapes. More often than not they look more like unusual circumstances or the special and/or ordinary people God places in our lives. They can also be things we see or things we hear. Or even things we feel or merely sense. But when God initiates them, and we notice them and decide to follow them, good things happen.

For instance, several months ago on a Saturday, a young woman struggling with depression and despair was driving her car on the 35W freeway that leads into Minneapolis.

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Stuck? Let it go!

“There is a time for everything . . . A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.” Ecclesiastes 3:6

Everything in life has an expiration date and hazardous warnings do apply. Expiration dates are not just for food. Typically holding on to something beyond its expiration date can be hazardous to a person’s health. That even applies to beloved possessions, houses, jobs, relationships, activities, attitudes and life itself.

Just read the first eight verses of Ecclesiastes chapter three or listen to the old 1965 Byrds hit song Turn! Turn! Turn! The message is loud and clear, eventually there comes a time when everything, both good and bad, has its proper time to end. Wise King Solomon who wrote Ecclesiastes does not mince words when he says there is a time to die, uproot, kill, tear down, weep, mourn scatter, give up, throw away and tear. That sounds harsh and death-sentence like, particularly to things we love.

Endings in general are much less appealing than beginnings. But the offsetting truth is that endings are actually necessary for new beginnings.

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Joseph’s Journey

“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” Matthew 11:24 NIV

Like everybody who says “yes” to God, Joseph could not begin to comprehend the implications of such a divinely inspired decision. Unknowingly he was signing up to embark on a sacred journey of trust into uncharted territory. Not unlike Bilbo Baggins answering Gandolf’s invitation in The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey, it would take Joseph places he could never have imagined going, both in the natural and more importantly within his own soul. Had he or Bilbo known what the journey held in store, they would probably have stuck with their initial “No.”

Joseph’s acquiescence must have led to great anticipation as he and Mary settled into life together in his home and prepared for the birth of the child. Undoubtedly he was breathing a sigh of relief thinking the “big” decision was now behind him. He was surely enjoying the new found sense of peace and freedom from the recriminations of initially feeling betrayed by Mary.

Answering God’s call ultimately bids us to venture beyond the comforts and predictability of home. And unlike Lot’s wife we had best accept that eventuality right now; as there is no profit in lingering or looking back. Unbeknownst to Joseph, nearly 1500 miles away in Rome, a decree was being issued that would subsequently make its way by courier to his little village of Nazareth at the far eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea.

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Beer with Jesus!

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and people say, ‘Look at him! He’s a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ “Yet, wisdom is proved right by its actions.” Matthew 11:19 Gods Word Translation
This verse is the quintessential picture of the unplugged Jesus. We see here no pews, no stained glass, no sound or projection systems, not even any worship sets or sermons. There are people, but they are not dressed in their Sunday best, and they are not quiet and reverent. And yet here, in what appears to be the most non-religious of settings if not even irreligious, Jesus is not only present, but He is an active participant in engaging relationships. In the process He is listening, being moved with compassion and dispensing as only He can, His mercy, wisdom and healing grace.
There is a country music song out right now that has hit the charts entitled “If I Could Have a Beer with Jesus.” I fell in love with the song the first time I heard it. Some people might be surprised to hear that, knowing I am a believer in Jesus and a pastor besides. But I did and here’s is why. And it is related directly with this verse out of Matthew 11:19. For me the lyrics capture in a disarming way the genuine heart cry resonating deeply within the soul of both believer and unbeliever, to relate to a Jesus free from religious and judgmental stereotypes.
I was not surprised to hear Thomas Rhett, who wrote and performs the song, quoted as saying “Every time I play that song live, a lot of people will cry.” And listen to what Rhett reveals next. “I’ve had a preacher come up to me saying, ‘Man, I would love to get you up to Wisconsin and sing that song at our church service.’” My sentiments exactly! Except Thomas, why not just skip the Cheesehead state and come directly to Viking Land?
Why are people crying when they hear a song about a guy wishing he could sit down with Jesus in a quiet corner of a bar, “order up a couple of tall ones,” ask Him about some of life’s persistent questions and “be sure to let Him do the talkin”?

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Count It All Joy!

”Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” James 1:2 ESV
This is one of those verses that for most people is easier said than done. For one thing trials are not normally things we associate with joy, or with delight and gladness – all of which the Greek word “charan” in the original text can be translated. After the fact we may have occasion to laugh about our trials, but when we are in them it is not a laughing matter. Why should a person consider trials an opportunity for joy? And how can we possibly do it with any consistency?
The writer who assumes we can do this has impeccable credentials. He is James, the surviving brother of Jesus and the leader of the early Christian church. If anyone knew something about trials he did, both personally and as a first hand observer of the various kinds of trials suffered by all believers in the first century.
The main thing James says as an explanation for his “count it all joy” challenge is “for you know (emphasis mine) that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” (vs. 3) His claim is a reasonable one. In essence he is saying that trials test our faith and a tested faith produces in us steadfastness or endurance. Since in the long run having endurance is a good thing, that puts its cause, which is trials, in a positive and redemptive light and therefore something worth counting as joy. Knowing all that should make a difference.
While it sounds logical, more often than I would like to admit, knowing the noble purpose of trials, at least in my personal experience and in my attempts to give others that perspective in their trials, hasn’t been enough to turn the joy switch on. What then is the key to counting it all joy?

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