Goodbye 2015

Well, it’s the last day of 2015. As I sit here in the office and sip from the first of what is sure to be MANY cups of coffee, I can’t help but think back over the last 365 days and take inventory. I quit making resolutions some time ago because I never seriously followed up on them. That doesn’t mean I have no plans or goals, but I don’t like putting unnecessary pressure on myself. I also don’t like the guilt that comes when I inevitably break my resolutions.

I had goals for this blog and I met most of them. I didn’t post every single day and I don’t know that I will ever reach that one, but I am still striving for it. I think my longest stretch without missing a post was 157 days. That’s pretty good for someone just starting to consider regular blogging. I think most of my posts really did have something to say but I do know that there were some that I threw up here just so I wouldn’t miss a day. I plan to work on that for 2016.

I still plan to review books, music, and films in 2106 but I also hope to incorporate more devotional thoughts and hopefully some biblical insight. I haven’t gotten to the point where I write because I think people need to hear what I have to say. I’m still writing for myself and I still enjoy it. I have considered ways to boost my audience and I may attempt some of those in the near future but for the time being I am still writing primarily for myself and the handful of people who I know read this. I would like this to become an extension of my ministry in the local congregation so I am thinking about things I can do to merge the two. We’ll see what happens.

This is my plan for blog posts next year. I am going to attempt to stick to this schedule for at least a month before I decide if I need to make any changes.

Sunday – Sermon Thought For The Day

Monday – What I’m Reading

Tuesday – What I’m Listening To

Wednesday – Bible Study Thought For The Day

Thursday – What I’m Watching

Friday – Flashback Friday (Nostalgic post)

Saturday – The Week In Review (news, sports, whatever)

I am probably going to change up the layout of this in the next day or so. I’m not really happy with the current one but it is functional. It isn’t totally unpleasant so I’ve pretty much left it alone. Truthfully, I don’t like it and I’m looking for something else. I just wanted to throw that out there so you don’t show up one day and wonder if you got the wrong blog.

I’ll close this final post of 2015 by thanking all of you who did take the time to read, even if it was only one post. I appreciate it. I will also leave you with my ten favorite albums that were released in 2015.

1. Jeff Lynne’s ELO – Alone In The Universe
2. Def Leppard – Def Leppard
3. Bryan Adams – Get Up!
4. Stryper – Fallen
5. Coheed And Cambria – The Color Before The Sun
6. Colin Hay – Next Year People
7. Jerry Gaskill – Love And Scars
8. Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls
9. W.A.S.P. – Golgotha
10. Kevin Max – Broken Temples

 

Grace and peace.

Merry Christmas

I don’t have much to say this evening. I have enjoyed spending time with Robin and the kids today. We had wonderful food and even had a couple of naps thrown in for good measure. Chris is enjoying his PS4 (it was also part of his birthday) and Jamie has been enjoying her Kindle Fire. She is currently baking a cake with the pans and cooking utensils that she got. She had wanted another Easy Bake Oven (she’s had two) but after seeing “real” cooking stuff she was super excited. She make cupcakes last night.

That’s about it for today. I don’t want to go too many days without posting but I still have plans to reboot this thing on January 1st with a new format. Have a wonderful Christmas.

Grace and peace.

Tuesday Morning Thoughts

You may have noticed, I am not posting every single day. There are two reasons for this. First of all, I have been busy with other things and some days have just slipped by without me taking the time to stop and write. Second, I am trying to gear up for 2016 with a renewed sense of purpose for this thing. I’m trying to come up with a weekly post schedule where I will have dedicated topics for every day. We’ll see how that goes.

We (Robin, Chris, Jamie, and me) went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens last night. I could sit here and point out everything that I liked (or didn’t like) about it but I’m still processing it. It is not a great movie but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I liked that we experienced it as a family. It would have been cool to have all three of my kids there with me, but life moves on.

I can honestly say that I felt like a little kid when the title flashed up on the screen and that famous Star Wars crawl began. Any criticisms I had for previous movies in the series immediately disappeared and I was back in that galaxy far, far away. As much as I enjoyed the movie, I enjoyed watching my children respond to it. It reminded me just how magical movies can be. Now we just have to wait another year and a half to see what happens next.

Grace and peace.

A Joyful Noise

I learned a valuable lesson last night. I attended my daughter’s very first band concert. She’s in fifth grade and is learning to play the flute. The fifth grade beginning band played three selections from their lesson book last night. To anyone with minimal musical knowledge, it sounded rough, to say the least. There were multiple tempos being played at the same time. Wrong notes were played by nearly all. Many of the instruments didn’t sound like they were properly tuned. There were squeaks and squeals. Had you walked in off the street not knowing what you were attending, you might have been shocked. There was no way this was music. However, those of us sitting in the auditorium watching our children up on the stage would vehemently disagree with you.

It’s not that I don’t know music. I play guitar and piano. I was in band back in junior high and high school. My wife can play piano and still plays the flute. It wasn’t beautiful to us because we are ignorant of music. It was beautiful to us because it was our daughter playing it. I would guess that every parent sitting in that room felt the same way. We knew it wasn’t a great musical performance. We heard the wrong notes and the squeaks and squeals. We heard it all. However, we also saw our children up there giving it everything they had. These kids have only been playing for about two months. They barely know how to put their instruments together and tune them by themselves. They know that it wasn’t a perfect performance but they got on stage and did their best. And it was beautiful.

That lesson really came into focus when the chorus sang. I admit, they were a little more polished than the band but that is to be expected. It is easier (somewhat) to sing than it is to play an instrument. They were more together and there were less rough spots. If I am honest, it was much easier to listen to. There was one thing that jumped out at me though. The sixth grade chorus has a girl who I assume is developmentally challenged. That became apparent as they sang. She was loud. She was often off key. She didn’t know all the words. To some, she may have been a distraction. However, I was immediately drawn to her.

I watched her as she sang and my eyes filled with tears. She had a look of intense joy on her face. She was singing with everything she had and I was touched. I couldn’t stop watching her. She swayed to the music, she smiled, she sang with all her heart. I believed that she meant every single word that came out her mouth. There were some kids in the group with very good voices. You could hear them. Some of them are really good singers but none of them held my attention like that little girl. She was the most beautiful person on stage that moment and I don’t know if I can truly explain why I felt that way.

I’m still smiling as I think about it. The highlight was watching Jamie up there, giving that flute everything she had. That is a milestone in my life. It brought tears to Robin’s eyes. I will never forget it. I’ll never forget the smile on that little girl’s face either. If ever there was joyful noise, I heard it last night.

Grace and peace

 

Light Of The World

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

John 3:16-21 (NKJV)

Back in the first chapter of John we are told that Jesus is the Word (Logos) of God. He was in the beginning with God and, in fact, was/is God. We are also told that He became flesh (“pitched a tent” is my personal favorite rendering) and lived here with us for a little while. John also says that He is the light that came into this dark world to point us back to God the Father. Here, in a conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus reiterates that point.

Jesus clearly states that His purpose in coming to earth was to provide salvation. All we have to do is believe Him. When we do that, there is no condemnation and we are moved out of the darkness and into the light. Condemnation occurs when people reject the Word and choose to live in darkness. Jesus tells Nicodemus that men loved the darkness more than they loved God. I think that is still true today. So many people don’t even recognize Jesus for who He is. They reject Him. They choose darkness over the Light.

I think one of the reasons so many people reject Him is because we (the Church) aren’t reflecting His light the way He wants us to. During the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:14-16) Jesus tells us that WE are to be light in the world. He says that we are supposed to shine our light (which is a reflection of Him) for all the world to see. Perhaps more people would believe if we would let our light shine a little brighter.

Grace and peace.

Did Mary Know?

There is a fairly popular song that was written years ago by Buddy Greene and Mark Lowry. It has been recorded by numerous artists ranging from the Gaither Vocal Band to Cee Lo Green. Here one version of the song with the lyrics, on the outside chance that you may have never heard it.

Those of you who know me know that I have an active imagination and I like to speculate about such things. You do have to wonder how much Mary and Joseph understood at the time. I mean, they both received messages from angels and were told that Jesus was going to be the Son of the Most High and that he would save his people from their sins. They had to know he was special. Look at Mary’s words recorded in Luke 1:46-55 (NASB).

46 And Mary said:

“My soul exalts the Lord,
47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name.
50 And His mercy is upon generation after generation
Toward those who fear Him.
51 “He has done mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things;
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
54 “He has given help to Israel His servant,
In remembrance of His mercy,
55 As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and his descendants forever.”

Luke shares an interesting tidbit concerning the visit from the shepherds who saw the angels announcing Jesus’ birth.

16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back,glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

Luke 2:16-20 (NASB)

He says that Mary treasured all these things and pondered them. She knew something. Granted, there was no way she could know everything that Jesus was going to say and do. Still, I have to believe she was aware that Jesus was more than a normal child. Luke shares more.

33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Luke 2:33-35 (NASB)

When Jesus was presented in the temple Joseph and Mary met Simeon and Anna. They heard the wonderful things being said about their baby and they had to have known he was something special. Simeon even prophesies that people would oppose him and that Mary herself would suffer because of it. They had to have know something.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a nice song. And yes, Joseph and Mary did seem to forget along the way. By the time Jesus is twelve and hanging around the temple, they drag him back home. We later see Mary and her other children trying to take Jesus home because they think he just might be crazy.  So yes, she did not know it all. The song makes a nice statement and reminds us all of the reason Jesus had to come in the first place.

Grace and peace.

Before The Foundation Of The World

17 If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth;18 knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 20 For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

1 Peter 1:17-21 (NASB)

 

As Christmas approaches I continually thinking about the reasons why Christmas (the Incarnation) had to happen. This passage says that the plan of salvation was already in the mind of God before He ever created the earth. I confess that I don’t quite understand how that works. I believe that God is omniscient as has always known everything. The Lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the world, was always the plan God the Father had in mind. This passage says that he appeared in “these last times” for our sake. He was born to die so that we might live. No matter how many times I think about that, it still blows my mind.

Grace and peace.

From The Cradle To The Grave

36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and *said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed.38 Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”

39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying,“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” 40 And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 41 Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42 He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” 43 Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. 45 Then He came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!”

Matthew 26:39-46 (NASB)

This may seem like an odd passage to be meditating on during this time of the year. After all, it’s Christmas season and our thoughts are supposed to be on the little baby born in Bethlehem. We’re supposed to be thinking about the angels singing to the shepherds out in the fields. We’re supposed to be pondering the wise men and their gifts. How in the world does Jesus agonizing in the garden turn our thoughts towards Christmas?

I sometimes forget that baby Jesus is the same Jesus who walked up the hill to be crucified. We often forget that one of the three gifts presented to him by the magi (myrrh) was used to embalm corpses. It doesn’t seem like such a strange gift when you remember that the baby would eventually be crucified.

I think that the birth of Jesus and this scene in the garden are two of the times when his humanity is most visible. Think about, a new born baby is totally helpless. He depends upon his parents to survive. God was willing to do that. The One who spoke all of creation into existence had to be nursed and have soiled clothes changed. Likewise, he fell to his face in the garden and agonized over what he was about to experience. He was deeply hurt that those closest to him had left him alone to suffer. He begged the Father for another way. His humanity was on display for all to see.

I don’t think we should celebrate Christmas without looking at the Cross. The two are inseparable. The only reason for the baby in the manger was to make it possible to have a Savior on the cross.

Grace and peace.

The Word Became Flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life,and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

John 1:1-5, 14-18 (ESV)

 

This is one of my favorite sections out of the Gospels. I know it’s not the traditional passage we display at Christmas but it really does give us the true meaning of the season. This song, from Michael Card, is one of my favorite songs to listen to during this time of year. Like the passage from John, it’s not something most people would associate with Christmas.

The video has the lyrics but I want to share this one part.

And so the Light became alive
And manna became Man.
Eternity stepped into time
So we could understand.

He spoke the Incarnation and then so was born the Son.
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one.
Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way Divine.
And so was born the baby who would die to make it mine.

To me, that is the reason for Christmas. Our world was broken and in darkness. That little baby had to be born in Bethlehem so that we could be free. Merry Christmas indeed.

Grace and peace.

Immanuel

I didn’t feel like writing yesterday. I was struggling with a pretty bad head cold and I ended up taking a long nap after I got home from the office. News came out yesterday that Scott Weiland was found dead on his tour bus. He was only 48. I do my best to not idolize these guys but I have to be honest when I say that it does depress me to hear about folks with such amazing talent just throw it away. Weiland had a very long (and public) bout with drug addiction so it really isn’t surprising. That doesn’t make it any less sad. I also want to point out that he isn’t any more precious or special than any of the other 46,000 + people who die every year from drugs (legal and illegal). Weiland comes from the same generation that already said goodbye to Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley (to name just two) and you would think that eventually people would come to their senses.

You may wonder what that has to do with the Immanuel in my title. Immanuel is one of the names given to Jesus. It means “God with us” and reminds us that Jesus did come here and live among us. He knows what we all go through. John 1 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible because it talks about the logos (word) of God taking on flesh and walking here among us. Eugene paraphrases it by saying that he became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. I have been told that the original language there is about erecting a tabernacle among us. Yes, he pitched his tent here with us. I like that. He know that we were lost and broken people and the only we could be saved was if he came down here and got dirty with us.

In Luke 4, Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah by saying that he came to bring the good news to the poor. He came to give sight to the blind, to release the captive, and to free the oppressed. Isaiah had been prophesying about the Messiah. Jesus read the passage and told those listening that he was the one being spoke of. There are still people who are poor and need good news. There are still people who are blind and need sight. There are still people who are captive and need release. There are still people who are oppressed and need to be set free. Jesus is still the one who can do all those things. He is still Immanuel. He is still God with us. It is true that he has “packed up the tent” and gone home, his Spirit is still with us and still proclaims the good news.

Every time I see another news story about the death and destruction in this world, it reminds me that it is because of such things that Jesus came to the earth in the first place. We need God among us. We need Immanuel.

Grace and peace.