New Life

It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, and I'm writing this for the December newsletter.  It reminds me of the rush to Christmas.  Advertisers and marketing companies are quick to start the push to prepare for Christmas even before Halloween.  It appears that Thanksgiving is being shoved to the side as a holiday by those who deem things worthy of our attention.  Thanksgiving and Christmas used to complement one another, and Thanksgiving ushered in the season of packing on the pounds for winter.  Celebrating with family and friends is usually fun, unless we allow it to become stressful.

The life we’ve been given, I believe, is to be lived with as little stress as possible.  Yes, I know that we have stressful times in our lives and many can’t be avoided.  But aren’t we told to trust and know that we have received new life in our Savior and Lord?  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”  2 Corinthians 5:17.

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Mess of Indecision

As I sit at my desk I'm surrounded by a huge mess.  Those of you who have been in my office will know what I’m talking about.  I have a very bad habit of allowing things to gather.  I may even have some hoarding tendencies.  If it runs in the family, then it may very well be hereditary for me.  I have an uncle who has had more than one vehicle collapse under the weight of stuff he’s collected.  There are even shows that deal with this condition.  I’m not that bad and don’t intend to get that bad with help from family and friends, but it does make me think, “Why do folks hold onto things that need to be filed away or thrown away?”

Indecision may be part of the reason.  Maybe, I’m just not sure.  Being unable to "pull the trigger," "make the leap," "climb the hill," or whatever clichés there are for not being able to move or make a decision can cause small piles to become large heaps of trash.  Sometimes I think it’s because I really think “I need that” or “I could use that”.  Occasionally I do end up using it, but more often than not whatever it is sits there until I decide to throw it away or it grows legs and walks away on its own.

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As we near the much-anticipated cooler weather of fall, I am reminded that this is the time of year that farmers have worked toward since the end of harvest last fall.  My Daddy’s family were farmers and there is still a bit of farming that goes on near the homeplace of his birth.  It’s hard work and the work that is put forth is not always rewarded as you would hope or expect.  Weather, pests, and disease as well as current crop demand have huge impacts on the bottom line, even with all that effort.  But if you talk to those who are passionate about farming, they will tell you that there is nothing they would rather do than farm.  It’s in their blood you might say.  For all of creation began in a garden and all of humanity play a role in how we care for what God has entrusted to us.

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Worship - Offering Ourselves as Living Sacrifices

The term worship is one that most of us have heard, and a word that should have significant meaning for us.  Wikipedia describes it as “the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity.”  Most of us probably say that we spend time in worship, usually one day each week on Sunday for a about an hour to an hour and a half.  That may be true, but is there more to it than that?

As I prepared for an upcoming sermon I did a little research on the topic.  Using the Logos software I found that early Christian worship was very similar in format to Jewish worship and early Greco-Roman worship. There would be reading of scripture, possibly from the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible, or another scripture.  There would be some teaching on that scripture, prayers, and singing of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  There would also be observance of the eucharist, or Lord’s supper, and possibly baptism.  The difference in the early Christian church’s worship is that they no longer saw the need for animal sacrifice because Jesus had made the ultimate sacrifice.  His sacrifice paid the full price for all sins.  The early church also chose to worship on the day of Jesus' resurrection, the first day of the week, which was also the first day of creation.  The Logos notes state, “The early church did not develop its worship practices in a vacuum; early Christians were influenced by traditional Jewish practices, and to a much lesser extent, by Greco-Roman practices.  Nonetheless, Christian worship possessed, and still possesses, characteristics that differ significantly from Jewish or Greco-Roman worship - specifically, the worship of Jesus.”  (Benjamin Espinoza)

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A Good Attitude

“You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.  Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.  Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.  When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.  Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."  Philippians 2:5-11 

To have a humble attitude is difficult for most of us.  Sometimes we have a sense of false humility that doesn’t really reflect true humility but rather an attitude of low self-esteem.  However, we see a world full of headlines just the opposite of that.  Pride has become the mantle worn by those who have elevated themselves and their agendas at the expense of others who would defy them or get in their way.  Protests are what our world has slid into, and not the kind that are for the better as they were when Martin Luther King, Jr. led folks to stand for the downtrodden and the oppressed.  Today it seems that people just want to protest and picket at the drop of a hat.  Are things really that bad?  I’m not leaning left or right here.  I’m just asking, "What if we all valued one another as much as God values us?"  If we want to see our world changed for the better, the only way it will ever happen is when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  When, with a humble attitude, we reflect Jesus to those around us, God not only changes us, but also hopefully speaks to those we love and serve.

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As we come to the end of another Great Banquet season, I am reminded of a fairly common question, “Have you heard his or her testimony?”  It’s usually a reference to someone who has overcome some major obstacle in his or her life, and come to faith in Christ despite seemingly impossible odds.  Maybe it's an addiction, or an abusive relationship, or an illness, or a rebellious lifestyle.  You name it.  There’s something about these stories that grabs our attention, likely because we all are exiles who have wandered away from our Lord in some form or fashion.  None of us has been spared from a natural rebellion towards God.

Testimony is defined as "a formal written or spoken statement, a declaration or claim, as given in a court of law."  In the life of a follower of Christ, it is the act of one sharing his transformation story, the story of his life before Jesus, to the point when he recognizes God's plan of salvation and accepts Jesus as his Lord and Savior, to where he stands now in his walk with Jesus.  The issue that arises, though, is that sometimes the transformation story loses it’s focus.  We seem to pay more attention to those who have had movie scripted stories than to those who have just followed a simple path to their Savior and Lord with only a few detours to the Way of Christ.  As I was pondering this, it was as if an epiphany happened.  You just know when a thought or idea is divinely inspired.  It was as if I was having a conversation with Jesus and He said, “It’s not a testimony to Me unless the listener is drawn closer to Me.”  Convicting isn’t it?  Or maybe it’s just the truth, and the truth can convict those of us who seek the story over the Savior.  The truth is that no one can make the claim that Jesus has made, and no story trumps His story.

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The Best 25!

I’m writing this prior to leaving on and my annual anniversary trip to the beach with Denise.  For several years, we have been blessed to head south to a beach that we love to spend time on.  It’s supposed to be Florida’s best kept secret, but I’m afraid the secret has gotten out.  The beach for us is a place of calm renewal, rest, and relaxation.  If you’re a beach person you understand that, and if you’re not, then you may have another place where you like to go to experience the same rest.  Our beach time is also a time to celebrate our anniversary - when we consider God’s blessings to us in sand, salt water and salt air.

This year, though, it’s even more special because it's our 25th anniversary.  It’s been the best 28 years of my life!  Why 28?  Because Denise and I dated for 3 years prior to getting married May 14th, 1993.  Family is God’s best gift to us though, even better than the beach.  He began with a husband and wife and said, “Here’s what I have given you.  Take good care of it,” (paraphrased with my emphasis).  He was not just talking about the earth and its care, He was also talking about the relationship between husband and wife, and then children.  I’ve heard that to be the best mother or father you can be requires that you be the best wife or husband for your spouse.  Family is at the core of what shapes our society.  As the family goes, so goes the culture.

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