A New Year Is Upon Us

I didn’t originally intend to take over a week off for Christmas…but it was good to be able travel back to North Carolina to spend time with our families. We had safe travel both ways and were blessed to see all of our immediate families. That was a task all in itself but we made it possible.

We have our New Years Eve service tonight and I am very excited to spending that time with my new church family. I hope and pray that it is the first of many such events for 2014.

You all have a good night and I look forward to being back up here in full force next year…or tomorrow…which ever comes first

This Isn’t About Duck Dynasty Either

Over the next couple of weeks there will be a lot of folks looking back and taking inventory of the past year. I (most likely) will be one of those people. It’s not unusual to stop and examine your life at various junctures. The end of the year is one of those moments and I think it is a good time to stop and think about where you’ve been and where you are going. 2013 has been a monumental year for me and my family and I can’t help but be in awe of how God has taken care of us and brought us to where we are now.

I began 2013 extremely frustrated. I was thankful to have a job but it was not where I wanted to be and it was not what I wanted to be doing. I did try to keep a positive attitude and give it my best but the truth is that I was not very happy. Robin finished her degree back in May of 2011 and we had assumed that she would find a job and things would begin to look up. That didn’t happen. we continued to struggle to make ends meet and I continued to be confused by my situation. I believed that God was using me where I was but deep inside I also believed that I was meant for something else.

I remained plugged in at Stoneybrook (my home church). I was asked to be an elder and I agreed. I figured that if God wasn’t going to put me in a congregation as the minister…then I needed to accept where He did put me. It wasn’t easy though. I still struggled with doubts about what I thought my purpose in life was supposed to be. The folks at Stoneybrook were incredible. I received more support and encouragement from them that I even thought possible. It shouldn’t have surprised me though…they had been with me at every step up to that point. They celebrated with me on the mountain tops and they carried me when I was deep in the valleys. They helped me surrender and accept my life for what it was. They helped me understand that I still had a purpose and a mission…regardless of what my occupation was.

That was a huge step for me. 2013 is the year that I finally gave up and trusted God to lead me wherever He decided. I don’t think it is a coincidence that He opened the door for me to come here after I told Him that I would do anything He asked. Honestly…I would not have chosen Pennsylvania on my own. It would not have even been on my radar…but…2013 was the year that I did my best to remove “me” from the equation. He was always faithful and He always had a plan. 2013 was the year that I finally sat still long enough to see it.

This Isn’t About Duck Dynasty

So…Phil Robertson has unleashed the wrath of A&E. I am not a regular watcher of Duck Dynasty and I don’t feel the need to come to their defense or to join in on the assault. It’s not that I don’t have an opinion…I just don’t think one more knucklehead (that would be me) giving an armchair dissertation is going to advance the conversation. That being said, I would like to address something FAR more insidious that has been assaulting my senses lately.

I don’t know when it became popular and I’m not really sure how much of thing it really is…but I have seen countless people (many of whom I consider friends) posting photos and cute anecdotes. A quick Google search tells me that it began back in 2005 but I can honestly say that I have only seen it in my circle of friends for the last four or five years. It seems to be gaining popularity though and that disturbs me because this thing is creepy. You may have already guessed what I’m talking about…the Elf on the Shelf.
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Yep…there it is. Is it just me or is it not the freakiest thing…ever? My wife (who absolutely adores cute Christmas decorations) even thinks it’s creepy. If I was a kid and that thing kept moving around my house…I’d never get another night of sleep. Seriously…you might as well out this up on the shelf.

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There was a TV movie years ago called Trilogy of Terror and one of the segments was about this killer doll that stalked a woman around her apartment. It was one of the scariest things I have ever seen. He wouldn’t be as creepy as the Elf.

Creepy Shelf Elf

I know some will think I’m being a humbug…but really…think about it. What would YOU think if you were a kid and a stuffed doll magically moved around the house every night? It’s like the confrontation scene between the mangled toys and Sid in the first Toy Storydawn-of-the-toys

Don’t get me wrong…I’m all for people decorating the house and getting into the Christmas spirit…but did that thing have to be so freaky?

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words: Redux

I didn’t post yesterday. Sorry. Robin had a short day at work and we had a nice date day over in Towanda. I’m at home with the kids today. They have a snow day and are out of school. Unlike the snow days back in North Carolina…there is actual snow involved. We got between eight and nine inches Saturday night. It started snowing again this morning but I don’t think we’ll get much more than an inch or two. It is cold outside so the snow isn’t going anywhere.

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Gimme Some Truth

 

All I want is the truth

Just gimme some truth

– John Lennon

 

Jesus says that he is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. So many people just want to be told what they want to hear. They want to feel good. They don’t want to be bothered by something as pesky as the truth. The problem is that there are a LOT of folks out there passing off opinions and misinformation as the truth. There are folks on the liberal left and folks on the conservative right and folks everywhere in between…and all of them are giving their version of the truth. The funny thing is that they are all saying something different.

Even in Christianity (you know…the religion that supposedly follows that guy who claims to be THE truth) you have different people claiming different things in the name of Jesus. They all claim to be sharing the truth of Jesus Christ yet they all seem to be proclaiming totally different messages. Where in the world is the truth?

One of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies takes place between Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. Nicholson’s character is on the witness stand being questioned by Cruise and during a heated exchange screams out, “You can’t handle the truth!” It is the pivotal moment in that scene and makes for great drama. I think that applies to most of us. We can’t handle the truth…the REAL truth.

The truth is that we are all lost without Jesus. It doesn’t matter what good deeds we do or how righteous we think we’re being. We are sinners and we are lost without the grace and mercy that comes through the blood of Christ. The truth is that we are the reason he was mocked, tortured, and brutally executed. The truth is that without him…we are spiritually dead and doomed to hell. That is the truth and many people do not want to hear it.

We live in a world where politicians lie to us without remorse. Consumers are coerced into going into debt to own things they really don’t need. Most of the time…those things are sold using deceptive and manipulative practices. Satan is the Father of Lies and this is his domain that we lie in. We are bombarded by lies and half-truths at every turn. Only one person has ever been completely honest with us. He was Jesus. He came so that we could know the truth.

Breaking Bad

I didn’t make it online yesterday. I met with some other ministers down in Williamsport in the morning. That was nice. I then did some cleaning around the house. It was a busy and productive day.

I don’t have much time this afternoon but there is something that has been on my mind. The ridiculously popular TV show Breaking Bad ended recently. For those who don’t know anything about it; it chronicled a high school chemistry teacher named Walter White. The show begins with the extremely meek and mild-mannered Walt receiving a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer. Walt eventually decides to pay for his treatment by cooking crystal meth with a former student named Jesse Pinkman. I won’t get into the details but I will tell you that the show examines Walt as he descends into darkness over several episodes. He falls deeper and deeper into the world of drugs and becomes a cold-blooded killer by the time the show ends. I believe part of the fascination with the show was that it followed Walt (perceived to be a good man) as he became a very bad man.

Walt’s mantra through the entire series is: “I’m doing this for my family.” He is able to justify and excuse his actions (even when advances to murder) by telling himself that he is a good person and that he has no other choice. For most of the show you feel as if he actually believes this. Without giving away the ending (for those who may care and have NOT seen it), Walt eventually comes to the place where he is honest and confesses why he does what he does. During his final conversation with his wife he tells her that he did it all for himself. He enjoyed it and he was good at it. That was probably the most honest moment of the entire show.

The book of Romans tells us that none of us are good. We may not be the murderous head of a methamphetamine empire…but we’re still bad. We’re still burdened by a sinful nature and we still sin. We may tell ourselves (much like Walt) that we are good and that we are doing what we have to do because we have no options. The truth is that we often sin because we enjoy it. We are giving in to our base nature and surrendering to our lusts. We are doing for ourselves. Until we come to the place where we can confess that and surrender our lives to Christ…we remain bad. We remain separated from the God who loves us.

I won’t defend the TV show or suggest that you go out and watch it. Much like it’s protagonist, it is crude and violent. I do believe that it paints a very interesting picture of someone totally giving into the self and eventually being destroyed by his own desires. That’s an accurate portrayal of what will happen to all of us if we continue to pursue those things. Walt never found redemption (at least…I don’t think he did) because he never let go. He was perfectly happy to be Breaking Bad. It’s my prayer that we will not follow his example.

Monday Morning Rewind 12.9.13

Christopher turned 13 yesterday. What that means (ladies and gentlemen) is that I am now the parent of TWO teenagers. As scary as that is…I am more weirded out by the fact that in May I will be the parent of an adult. Yes…I know…18 is still a teenager but legally…it is the beginning of adulthood. He’ll start college next year..that’s close enough for me

I am not sad (not really) or depressed by these things…but they do cause me to stop and think about how quickly time has passed. As we continue to unpack things from the move I keep finding photos that remind me just how much time has flown by. I found pictures of me holding Geo and Chris right after they were born. Those really threw me for a loop.

I preached my fourth sermon here at GCCoC yesterday. It was the second one in my Christmas series. We went through Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies and showed how God prepared the people for Jesus’ birth. I think it went well. This coming Sunday we’re looking at the angel visits to Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph. I have enjoyed studying for and writing this series. It has helped me to stop and focus on what Christmas is really about. I hope that it does the same thing for those listening.

Robin began her new job this morning. That is an answer to many prayers and is further confirmation that God wants us right here…right now. I really do believe that.

I have enjoyed the snow thus far. We haven’t had enough to hinder travel or cause any significant problems. I think the most we’ve gotten at one time is about two inches. We’ve dodged a couple of storms that could have given us a lot more…and for that…I am thankful. I am sure we’ll have plenty of that in the future. These small snowfalls are breaking us in slowly. Perhaps we’ll be ready when it really hits us.

I saw a rainbow this morning. It was kind of neat. I was looking out at one of the smaller hills surrounding Troy and the clouds broke briefly. There was a bright rainbow with snow behind it. Cool.

Not much more going on.

Sometimes I Wonder (Baby Jesus, Virgin Birth, and Joseph)

         I don’t really consider myself a theologian and I haven’t put in the years of intense study required to be a scholar or expert. I am a believer and follower of Jesus and I do read and study the Bible. I say all that to say this: sometimes I wonder about things. I know that the Holy Spirit will assist us when we seek the truth in God’s word. I know that He reveals that truth to us. I believe He inspired those who wrote the Bible and that I am confident that God’s message to us is trust-worthy. My problem (well…it’s more of an issue) is that there are things I would like to know that have not been recorded for us. There are things I’d like to have more information on. I have a pretty good imagination and I don’t mind a bit of speculation but I know that my fanciful guesses are not the truth. In fact…they may be far from it. That is why I am careful. That is why I wonder.

          Christmas is approaching and my thoughts are on Jesus…baby Jesus to be more specific. I have been working on sermons with the intention of showing how Jesus was always God’s plan for us. Even before Adam was created…Jesus was in God’s mind. So…how did this all come to fruition in a little baby born in a stable (which was probably in a cave)?

          First of all, the virgin birth really blows my mind. I am a father. I have three children. I understand how they were conceived. Procreation isn’t some great mystery. In simple terms you need a man, a woman, and some really romantic music. 80’s power ballads are my choice but I seriously doubt that Chicago’s You’re The Inspiration is necessary. In the case of Jesus…the MAN wasn’t even necessary.

          Think about that for a minute. We’re not talking about test-tube babies or in vitro fertilization. While those are amazing medical procedures…they still require a man…well…they require a “donation” from a man. Even in the most advanced medical facilities with the best doctors…you cannot make a baby without an egg from the woman and sperm from the man. It cannot be done. Yet…God did just that. A baby…without a man involved. I don’t presume to understand how that happened (remember…I wonder) and when I think about it…I wonder even more. It’s not that I think I need to understand it. If God had needed us to know I am sure He would have told us. But all we have is a visit from an angel and then POOF…she is pregnant.

          Do you think she knew the exact moment when it happened? Do you think she could tell? Some women claim to know they are pregnant very early on, before they have medical confirmation. I have heard them say that they “just know” and that they can’t explain it. Did Mary “just know” when Jesus was formed?

          We know from reading Luke’s gospel that Gabriel (the angel) told her that this baby was going to be special. He would be called Son of the Most High and he would inherit the throne of David and reign over the house of Jacob forever. Mary even sings a song of praise (Luke 1:46-55) that indicates that she understands what is happening. How much did she really understand though?  In Luke 2:19, after the shepherds have visited and worshipped the baby Jesus, we see that Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  When Jesus is taken to the Temple to be consecrated according to Jewish law, both Mary and Joseph are amazed by both Simeon and Anna as they worship their little boy. The very next event mentioned happens when Jesus is twelve.

          I know that there are apocryphal gospels that supposedly record childhood details of Jesus but many of them are bizarre and (for various reasons) none of them are trust-worthy. So…I am left wondering. What DID happen during his childhood? I have to assume that all of the normal baby things happened just like they do with every one of us. At some point Jesus had his first teeth come in and he most like cried. He got sick. His mama comforted him. He took his first step and probably fell down just like we all do. I wonder…because in Luke 2:41-53 we see Mary and Joseph scolding twelve year old Jesus because he had stayed behind in Jerusalem, asking questions in the Temple. Had they forgotten? Had twelve years of normal little boy stuff dulled the memories of his birth?

          I can imagine Mary and Joseph in the first few months of his life…staring in wonder. I did that with all three of my children and none of them were announced by angels or worshipped by strangers. I was simply amazed by their existence. I have to think that Mary and Joseph felt some of that. I especially wonder about Joseph. Think of the faith he must have had. I think we can assume he believed. In Matthew 1:18-25 we see that he had a dream in which an angel explained what was taking place. This is AFTER Mary is already pregnant so he has to be struggling with what to do. But he obeyed. Do you think there were ever moments when Joseph looked around, trying to see if any of the men in town shared distinguishing features with the little boy that he was raising as his own? Was there ever any doubt? I wonder.

          I especially wonder about Jesus. Exactly how much did he realize? He was God. Did he know? How difficult was it for him to let go of who he really was so that he could come here and save us all? Third Day has a song called Born In Bethlehem and one of the lyrics sums it up perfectly.

Baby Jesus do you know you’ll die for all our sins?

Don’t be afraid, ‘cause in three days you will rise again.

Hallelujah, the king is here, given for all men.

For today the holy Son of God, is born in Bethlehem.

          Like I said…there are so many things I wonder about. I used to let those things breed doubt and skepticism. It was so easy to see the question marks, throw up my hands and just quit. But…the more I study and the more I listen to what the Spirit has to say to me…the more I am filled with awe. Those moments when I don’t have a definitive answer and I wonder…I let the Spirit wow me with the fact that God does miraculous things that will sometimes defy all logic and reason.  It’s enough to make me wonder even more. I have discovered that it is in those times that God speaks to me the clearest. I wonder…what else does He have in store?

Killing My Old Man

Every time that I think he’s gone and I’ve finally won.

He just keeps coming back and puts me on the run. 

I think I better do it now, get my hammer and a nail.

I pray to God that I won’t fail.

Or else he’ll keep me in the jail. 

Killing my old man, you may not understand.

He’s a terrible man.

Got to make a stand and kill the old man.

 – Bob Hartman

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Colossians 3:5-10 (ESV)

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

Galatians 5:16-26(ESV)

It’s a battle…it really is. I have to assume that we all struggle with this on some level. I know that for me the battle is real. It keeps me awake at night. It troubles me when I am alone. In yesterday’s post I talked about needing help to make it through this world. I said that when I get up close to God…I am often speechless. I think this is why.

At least I know that I don’t have to do this alone. If it was left up to me to kill the old self…he would never leave. He would be right here with me. Although the analogy isn’t perfect, it reminds me of the old cartoons where there would be a little angel on one shoulder and a little devil on the other. They usually take turns trying to persuade the person to do either good…or bad. It is most often played for laughs but there really is nothing funny about it.

I know that I can’t change who I am…regardless of what the world tells me. Only the Holy Spirit can get deep down inside of me and rewire things. Only the blood of Jesus can wash away all the stuff that separates me from God. I have got to be willing to let the Spirit guide me. I have got to take my old self and nail it up there on the cross with Jesus. It is the only way.

But I can’t do it myself. Like I said yesterday…I don’t have to. For that…I am eternally thankful.