A Baby and His Family

We are just past mid-November as I write this, but we’re already anticipating Christmas.  The season is filled with so much isn’t it?  We are blessed to have the luxury of celebrating the generosity of God in giving His one and only Son for us!

This year we get to experience the wonder of a new baby in our family -  Finlee who was born in August.  She will be just over 4 months old when Christmas arrives.  She won’t remember a thing, but we will.  I wonder if it was like that for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.  Babies have an amazing ability to make us focus on them without them doing a thing.  We sit and stare.  We talk.  We coo.  We hold them, change them, feed them, and then we sit and stare some more.  I can’t believe that Lexi, our older granddaughter is almost 8.  I still remember her as a baby and the connection that I had the privilege to experience.  I got to hold her soon after she entered this world.  I don’t hold babies as a rule, but I couldn’t wait to hold her.  She was, and is, special just like her new little sister Finlee.  And though neither one will remember their Papa holding them, I always will.  It’s a precious privilege that God has given us!

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How's Your Stress Level?

Recently we’ve been going through a series with the students in our youth group about stress.  You may not remember the stress of middle and high school, or you may not know the stress that this current generation feels, but it is real and it is having an impact on them.  Honestly, the reasons for stress haven’t changed much over the years.  They may be self-inflicted or come from other sources, but they can still get a person to the point of anxiety and worry.

The struggle lies in where we find our worth, our identity and our contentment.  Teens are often searching for an identity that sets them apart.  I recently heard of a survey that showed teens have a desire to be famous.  Perhaps that is why they are so in to social media, since that can give them instant gratification in knowing that someone is interested in their post, tweet, youtube video or snapchat.  The danger arises when there isn’t enough instant feedback to give them what they feel they need.  Then they begin to worry that they have little or no worth.  But let’s be honest.  We are no different than they are.  Adults are just as self-centered and struggle with needing the same things as teens.  We all want to be known and valued.  When we seek to be known more for what we do, or what we have, or who we’re with, or who we are more than Whose we are, then things get out of balance.

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The World's Going to Heck in a Handbasket

Does it seem like the world is going to heck in a handbasket?  Then it may be time for a reality check.  It’s been a summer of rough news for America.  Racism, riots, and political violence.  Communities on the Gulf Coast continue wading through the devastation of hurricane Harvey, and now another storm is bearing down on Florida.  We have plenty of reasons to be praying and doing all we can to alleviate suffering.  There’s cause for grief about the news but not for pessimism. 

Writing at The Guardian, Olivier Burkeman suggests that despite a dragging civil war in Syria, heart-rending photos of drowned refugees, North Korea’s nuclear saber-rattling, disasters, terrorist attacks, and racial violence, the world is objectively better now than its ever been.  Hard to believe?  Well, here are the facts: Swedish historian Mark Norberg breaks down global indicators of human flourishing into nine categories: food, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, the state of the environment, literacy, freedom, equality, and the conditions of childhood.  And in nearly all of these categories, we’ve seen vast improvement in my lifetime.  Despite the fact that nine out of ten Americans say worldwide poverty is holding steady or worsening, the percentage of people on this planet who live on less than two dollars a day—what the United Nation’s defines as “extreme poverty” - has fallen below ten percent, which is the lowest it’s ever been.  The scourge of child mortality is also at a record low.  Fifty percent fewer children under five die today than did thirty years ago.  Worldwide, 300,000 more people gain access to electricity every day.  In 1900, global life expectancy was just 31 years.  Today, it’s an impressive 71 years.  And violent crime rates in the United States are the lowest they’ve been in half a century.  Nicholas Kristof wasn’t too far afield when he called 2016 “the best year in the history of humanity.”  This year may see even more progress.

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I’m able to write this post after the solar eclipse because I am way past deadline.  Wow!  Was that amazing or what?!  That was one of the coolest experiences - physically, emotionally and spiritually.  That we could exist in a time and place to see this and be in the path of totality is a blessing that I hope we haven’t taken for granted.  Some folks I talked to prior to the event didn’t seem too excited about it.  Like, what’s the big deal?  It's only 1 minute and 40 seconds of the moon being in front of the sun.  I wish it had lasted longer because it was a surreal moment unlike any I have ever experienced.  Even better was the joy that came from experiencing it with the love of my life, Denise!  We were like kids - laughing, cheering, and just really in awe of the spectacle.  It was so much to take in that you didn’t want it to end so quickly.  But it did and that’s okay.  To have experienced it all is so much better than to have never seen it.

God has blessed us with an amazing planet on which to live.  He put the perfect amount of oxygen here for us to breathe. He put us at the perfect distance from the sun for us to experience warmth and growth without being too warm or too cold.  He put us on the perfect rotation and in the perfect tilt to have everything we have.  If the earth was just a little off either way, there would be chaos and life could not be sustained.  But our God is an amazing creator, sustainer, redeemer, and friend.  He has given us so much to be in awe of and a solar eclipse is just one more reminder of just how big, awesome, and powerful our God is.  “The Lord merely spoke, and the heavens were created.  He breathed the word, and all the stars were born.”  Psalms 33:6

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What Matters Most

"For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ.  It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes - the Jew first and also the Gentile."  Romans 1:16

I would like to pass along my thoughts on what matters most, not just to me, or to our church, or to our community, or even to our country, but to every living person on this planet.  The most important thing that everyone can know is that God has created each one of us in His own image.  He has gifted each one of us for a specific calling and purpose that only we can accomplish.  God gave an ancient people instruction to shine on those around them, and to share that their God is the one true Lord, and that all are to love Him and Him alone with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength.  To know Him is to know how much He loves us and wants us.  Even though we are a fallen people living in a broken world, He still calls us to reflect His image as we trust in Him and allow the indwelling Holy Spirit to counsel and guide us.  He went to the extreme of sending His Son, our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ, into our brokenness to redeem us and to repair our relationship with Him so that nothing could ever separate us from His love.  That true love is shown to us in the person, fully man and fully God, Jesus Christ.  We did not earn grace and we don’t deserve grace, but it was, and is, freely given.  It is not dependent on you to create this relationship, but only to receive it as your true compass for your purpose here.  We were created to worship and adore God, and unless we do this we will never be content.  So I pray that as we approach life each day, we will know what matters most - God loves us unconditionally and He has raised us to a new and everlasting life.

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United We Stand

The events that we have seen recently in our country influence this article.  The shooting of congressmen and others at a baseball practice in Virginia has reminded those elected officials that there is more to unite us than to divide us.  It is unfortunate that it takes a tragic event to remind us of that, but we are people of strong opinions and those who oppose us can be seen as enemies.  The rhetoric following this year’s election of a new president and the main stream media’s attempt to elevate everything that is divisive have fueled the fire of hate and division, in my opinion.  We live in a society where it has become acceptable to accuse, berate, and belittle others who are not in agreement with our opinions, and I guess I'm not much different.  There are those who will disagree with my comment on the "main stream media," and that’s okay.  It’s just an opinion.  The problem arises, though, when we use our opinions to justify attacks - verbal, emotional or physical -  on those who have differing opinions.

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Mission Opportunities

Where do you find your mission?  Is it in the people closest to you?  Does your immediate family know the truth of Jesus love?  Has a spouse, a child, a sibling, or a parent been your mission for years?  Don’t quit and don’t allow them to ever get away from you without showing them the goodness of God revealed to us in His Son, our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ who dwells in you!

Maybe your mission field is at your work.  Do you enter your work place with an attitude that you’re grateful to have the job you have and everyone can see that?  Are you working for your employer as though you are working for God?  Do you show those around you that everything you have is not your own but a blessing from God?  Are you generous with your speech and time toward your coworkers?  Do they know that God has given us the responsibility to manage everything He has created for us here?

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