A Sunday Snow Day…in EL PASO?

When I turned 56 years old just a few days ago I thought wrongly my snow days were all behind me—obviously I made a big mistake thanks to a big warm band of ocean water way out in the Pacific affectionately named “El Nino” interestingly enough after the “Christ Child” which brought us our first white Christmas in years, just a day late (but you have to remember we live in El Paso—so it was right on time).

According to forecasters of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) those of us who live in the southern states can expect a much colder and wetter winter than normal due to the powerful effects of El Nino—translation you might want to go buy a windshield scrapper and a snow shovel! When I moved to the “Sun City” some nearly six years ago I never dreamed I would sit through snow flurries at the Sun Bowl and then on the same weekend have to make the call to cancel church services on Sunday. I believe God enjoys making life an adventure for the young and old alike out in far West Texas.

Since Jesus extended our Christmas celebration of His birth with a snow day for the whole family, I decided to pass on the Sunday sermon just a couple days late. I had intended to share with you the story behind the name “Ebenezer.” For many of us during the Christmas holidays, we review the great classics and one of the great villains turned heroes has to be the famous Ebenezer Scrooge created in the mind of Charles Dickens in 1843. As you may remember Ebenezer Scrooge’s attitude toward Christmas could be summed up in two words “bah humbug” until one fate night he was haunted by three ghosts who pulled back the veil of how his cold heart robbed others of the joys of Christmas and life itself. Thankfully like the prodigal son of the story of Jesus he came to his senses and brought Christmas joy with all its glory to the home of Bob Cratchit and his crippled son “Tiny Tim.”

I wonder if Dickens understood the back story to the name Ebenezer. I suspect he did. The name “Ebenzer” is a Hebrew compound name literally meaning “Stone of Help” It dates back to the early dark days of the ministry of Samuel, who served as a judge over the nation of Israel. After twenty dark years of rebellion, the Israeli people turned back to the Lord and asked Samuel for guidance. He called on them to “direct” their hearts toward the Lord and to serve Him only by putting away all their false gods.

Samuel called the nation to gather at Mizpah to affirm their covenant of repentance with the Lord. As they gathered their arch enemies the Philistines saw an opportunity to once again take advantage to them. Surrounded and in peril the people pleaded with Samuel to call on the Lord for help. As he offered a sacrifice of worship the Lord thundered from heaven throwing the Philistines into disarray and confusion fleeing from the field of battle while the God of Israel once again won the day to the joy and amazement of His people.

To commemorate this historic moment, Samuel placed a large stone in the midst of the people and named it “Ebenezer” saying “Till now the Lord has help us” (I Samuel 7:12 ESV). This stone stood through the ages as a vivid reminder that we stand and live in total dependence upon the Lord. So as you look back over 2015, can see you see the foot prints of God upon your path…I can? As we enter 2016 I pray we too will join in the poetic words of Robert Robinson and say “Here I raise my Ebenezer–Hither by thy help I’m come” These words rang true when he wrote them in 1757 and ring even truer today!

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Color Outside the Lines

As an oldest child I learned and loved to color inside the lines. Following the rules always made perfectly good sense to me, let’s face it you do what mom and dad say and you will not spend much time with the “board of education” if you know what I mean. For the younger generation, the “board of education” would be the equivalent of “time out” on steroids, plus it hurt.

Following the rules has its place, especially if you are in charge of a preschool class, but I have also learned that at times coloring outside the lines makes for a much more vivid and beautiful world.

Let me introduce you to a very unlikely hero. When she was in school she told her friends that the D. in her name stood for “devil” and some of them believed. She would often attend church services to poke fun at the preacher and his sermon while her friends giggled. While attending a Christian school she skipped chapel twenty-six times (at least) and as a child would often sneak out of church and go home to read Shakespeare instead of Psalms. Let’s face it at Christmas time, good old Saint Nick would put her name on the “naughty not nice” list. So who is the young lady who loved to color outside the lines? You will probably be surprised? This little “devil” grew up to become one of the great names of the Christian faith. You know her as Lottie Moon, her parents named her Charlotte Diggs Moon. Yes, little Lottie Moon who only stood 4’3’’ tall casts a shadow that still shapes the world today.

The fact that even after Lottie Moon put her faith and trust in Jesus as her Lord she continued to color outside the lines inspires me to this day. She followed hard after Christ with a passion and abandonment that rocked the world she sought to change. Her passion for adventure and her courageous spirit changed the face of China and has a lasting influence today some two hundred years after she died aboard a ship in the harbor of Kobe, Japan on her way home on Christmas Eve 1912.

So how did this little missionary cast such a big shadow? I suspect she took to heart the admonition of Jesus which states:

“Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17 ESV)

Yes, even Jesus our Lord recognized the value of coloring outside the lines.

Let me share with you a couple revolutionary changes little Lottie inspired and pursued. First, she believed the daughters of God could change the world. She believed girls could make a big difference in the world and not just in the kitchen. Lottie Moon was born into a world where too often women were seen but not heard, but God had given her a voice and she used that voice to glorify God and to preach His gospel. Yes, I used the word preach, but I have to be honest, one of the reasons Lottie loved China revolved around the freedom she found there to preach and share Jesus. From baking cookies to start conversations to going door to door talking about Jesus, Lottie could not be kept silent. I hope my girls grow up like her!

Second, Lottie realized that to enter the Kingdom of God you did not have to become an American, or take on the styles and customs of Western civilization but rather one must follow Jesus. Upon arriving in China, she began to dress like the Chinese, eat like the Chinese, and live like her friends and neighbors so they would soon come to realize Jesus came for all the nations of the world. Her methods were controversial, revolutionary, and powerful. It is little wonder after her death, the Woman’s Missionary Union named its Christmas Offering for International Missions after her.

This year when you give to the Lottie Moon offering realize you make it possible for another generation of missionaries to color outside the lines for the glory of God.

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Daily Affirmation: Psalm 37:4

Teenagers enjoy such an interesting and at times inspiring perception of life. Of course, they are just old enough to think they get it, and too young to realize they know far less than they think. During my teenage years I began my spiritual quest in earnest. I longed to silence the secret struggles of my soul with passions that seemed to be strong than my will, and to find a peace that could sustain me in the relentless pressure to mold myself into the image designed for me by others so I could fit in and be “happy” like everyone appeared to be.

One day in my devotional time or “quiet time” as Larry Sims, my youth minister called it, I stumbled across a verse in Psalm that appeared at first glance to like finding a credit card with an unlimited balance to be used to satisfy my wants and whims.

The Psalmist wrote:

Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4 ESV)

At first glance through the depth of the eyes of a teenager, it appears the LORD had just promised me anything I wanted if I long to delight in Him. Immediately I had visions of a new car to replace my 1967 American Rambler that did not even have a radio, and a beautiful girlfriend on my arm who laughed at my jokes and thought I was truly amazing as she hung on my every word with a glow on her face. I could already see her beautiful long hair blowing in the wind as we drove to school in my bright red Mustang convertible. I even looked good in my new preppy clothes like the guys in the magazines besides my voice lowered and I actually had stubble on my baby face. At least for a few minutes I enjoyed the fantasy, but down deep inside it seems to be a bit shallow and out of step with the Jesus I had come to know who called me saying, “Deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me.” Where was I going to put my cross in my new convertible?

At this point, I suspect the Holy Spirit nudged me back to reality and I look a bit closer at the text, and found treasure beneath the surface. If I delight in the LORD with all my heart and soul how in the world would I be satisfied with play things when I could have the real deal a close, personal intimate relationship with my creator and God–my Savior and LORD. Yes, it dawned on me that those who delight in the more receive more and more of His presence, power, and glory in their lives. They see His fingers prints all around them, and the long for His voice and the guiding touch of His Spirit.

Even as a doubt teenager enslaved by hormones I decided I wanted more than the toys, and I wanted the treasure hidden in the field. I wanted more and more of Jesus in my life. This desire though often distracted by the glitter has not wavered. I still long to experience life as it was meant to be by delighting in the LORD.

So today, choose to delight in the LORD and open your heart and eyes to witness Him filling you with more and more of His presence and power. Don’t settle for the toys when you can enjoy the lasting treasure of His smile.

 

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Daily Affirmation: Ephesians 2:8-9

 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV)

Grace has to be one of the greatest words in the English language especially for those of us who needed to be saved, which frankly includes all of us. The Apostle Paul, master teacher of the Jewish law and traditions, came to the realization that the salvation he longed for could only be found by faith in Jesus Christ. This salvation came by grace and grace only.

Of course, this is counter intuitive since most of believe in some deep dark place that we must earn our way into the grace of God. Heaven and the good life awaits the true and faithful–those who work hard to earn their way in. Countless religious movements prey on this false notion of earned salvation and pile on the guilt and shame in hopes of controlling and manipulating the masses to follow “their rules and rituals” to experience the good life, which sadly leaves a bitter aftertaste.

This morning, I awoke to the news that I have been saved. Boy, did I need saving. Left alone I can make an absolute mess out of my life and can contaminate the lives of those closest to me like someone with a contagious deathly disease. I knew I was a sinner, especially in secret though outwardly I had learned how to play the part of a  good boy.

Jesus saved me from myself and my sin. He accomplished it at the cross and by stepping out of the grave alive and well to offer me and others like me the opportunity to return to the garden and once again walking in the cool of the day with our heavenly Father as His sons and daughters created in His image. I believed. Jesus saved.

However, before you accuse me of being a preacher of “cheap grace” I also embrace that I am now His workmanship “created in Christ for good works.” Yes, the children of God work for the advance of the Kingdom of God and for good in the world. We work not to earn love and grace, but rather because we are deeply loved fully forgiven. Love inspires, motivates, empowers and moves us to do good day in and day out not to be noticed but rather to make a difference in the world, especially for the least of these who cross our paths. Grace without transformation is not grace it is a theological lie blinding the eyes of those who prefer “acting” saved rather than being saved.

So today embrace grace. Enjoy being saved, and live like the sons and daughters of God–do something good for others.

 

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New Wine: Failure of Nerve

Edwin Friedman, the renowned leadership guru, counselor and rabbi, slaved over a draft of a new book right up to the day of his death. After his untimely death his wife and a group of friends and colleagues sought to share his insights to a waiting audience who needed the light from his soul to navigate these uncertain times.

The entitled the book, “Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of Quick Fix.” In this insightful book based on years of conversations and insights into system’s theory, Friedman calls on leaders to be daring and courageous in an age when fear and anxiety rule. In an age colored by terrorism, the masses long for safety and security, when the age calls for bold bravery in the face of evil.

Jesus speaking to his critics about his tendency to color outside the lines declared:

 “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17 ESV)

Friedman joined Jesus in the chorus calling on leaders to be imaginative and courageous. I loved his quote that opened chapter one which read:

“The safest place for ships is in the harbor….but that’s not why ships were built”–Anonymous

I would have loved to have met the sailor or explorer who penned those words, better yet I would love to possess his or her spirit of adventure.

Speaking of a spirit of adventure Friedman pointed out that adventure in the “Old World” or “Old Wineskins” suggested that “imagination was cerebral” or in other words, creativity and imagination start in the mind, but he argued that real imagination in the “New World” or “New Wineskins” was “emotional”. He used the world “emotional” to speak of the winds of anxiety and fear that tend to grip the heart and the soul. He believed imaginative courageous leaders like say Columbus who set sail searching a new passage to India to amazingly stumble upon a new world are men and women who stare down their fears, silence their worries, and lay aside their anxieties because of their spirit of adventure.

Franklin D. Roosevelt knew something about this fearless spirit of adventure when in his first inaugural address he declared:

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself…

In a world filled with leaders playing it safe and coloring inside the lines and playing behind white picket fences, could it be Jesus is calling out a generation of leaders who dream big dreams, and use their imaginations to envision a whole new world of possibilities. Don’t let fear define you. Don’t allow your anxiety to have the final word. Be strong and courageous and set out on the seas seeking the adventure known only by those willing to risk and live.

 

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Daily Affirmation: 1 Peter 5:7

Your theological understanding or perspective on if there is a God and who he is makes all the difference in the world. If you believe a creator exists but he set the universe in motion as the ultimate reality television program to set back and watch it unfold for his own devilish entertainment, you would feel like victim on the floor of the Roman coliseum fighting for your meaningless life for the entertainment of the fickle crowds.

Strangely enough the spectator god has a great deal in common with a universe without a creator which came into existence with a bang and evolves based on the odds of Las Vegas. One’s life bounces along like the little black ball on the roulette table waiting to finally come to rest in a black or red square to the celebration or dismay of those watching while it all is meaningless to the victim. No god or the spectator god makes life nothing but a spectacle to be endured.

Of course the modern world with twenty-four hour news cycles has vividly revealed the bloody vengeful good of the extremist who should “God is great” as they slaughter innocent people and end their own lives with an explosion of sacred hatred and hope of paradise for the martyr. To those in the decadent in the West, these jihadist seem to be out of their minds, but likewise they see people living in sensual sin under the watchful eye of a judgmental god just as crazy if not blind. Through the centuries blood has often been spilled to satisfy and appease the gods of judgment, and even modern advances in technology and philosophy can subdue and silence this primordial urge to seek the favor of the blood gods with scales in their hands.

Interestingly enough Christianity has a touch of the blood god because it holds to the reality of the fallen nature of the human race, and actually takes sin not a entertainment for the gods, but rather the plight of the human existence and that which separates the human race from its creator and the lover of its soul.

There is no Christianity without the issue too of blood, but not the shedding of the blood of innocent men and women, boys and girls at the edge of a sword or cowering under a blast of bullets from an AK47. No, the blood of the cross makes life and hope possible. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ on a dark Friday outside of Jerusalem as he downed the cup of the wrath of God against all sin, wickedness and evil revealed the heart and holiness of God in once transforming act. The sinless Son of God dying for his creation to open the way back to the garden for those created in his image. His resurrection from the dead sealed the victory over darkness and opened a new way to God and introduced God to his creation in a whole new way as he reached out with nail-scarred hands.

Yes, Christianity offers the world a vision of a God who cares and loves, who “so loves the world.” Peter, one of Jesus’s closest friends, spoke of this vision of God in the closing words of a letter he sent to some of his closest friends. He wrote:

“…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7 ESV)

I choose to believe and trust in my creator who has a name and a plan and purpose for my life and existence. I believe his name is YAHWEH–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I live under the banner of Jesus my LORD.

I have not outgrown the words of my childhood, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so, little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong…yes, Jesus loves me…yes, Jesus loves me…yes, Jesus loves me–the Bible tells me so.”

When I worry and fret, I step out of the light of his love and grace and return to the shadows of gods who do not exist. God really cares about you and me. Believe this theological truth and it changes everything. It adds power to your prayers. It gives meaning and purpose even to the senseless twists and turns of life knowing the circumstances of life are not random but measured.

We give thanks to God because we know he cares, and have experienced his goodness among the living. So choose this day to “cast all your cares upon him because he cares for you….”

 

 

 

 

 

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Thanksgiving by the Numbers

The Psalmist handed us the keys to the throne room when he penned the following words:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise!
    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

 For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:4-5 ESV)

Since thanksgiving and praise usher us into the very presence of our creator and LORD, I thought I would begin this Thanksgiving morn by praising God by the numbers!

1–One God and King, One Savior and LORD, one grandson named George and one wife I call “Rai” because since 1980 she has been my “Raibo–like rainbow” my personal reminder of the promises of God

2–Two parents who have loved me from the first breath of my life and who continue to show me the way by the love and devotion to God and to each other, of course I cannot forget to mention my two eyes, two ears, two hands and two feet. Oh I almost forgot Philip and Jordan, my two son-in-laws who now make football on Thanksgiving day possible!

3–Three brothers who got into my stuff, messed up my room, clutter my childhood home, and who to this day hold an incredible place in my hearts, there may be a friend who sticks closer to a brother, but brothers make life fun and worth living

4–Four daughters, from Kalie’s first cry to Madison’s latest cuddle, Kalie, Lorin, Jamie and Madison have filled my life only with joy. Words are inadequate to tell the treasures possessed only by a father of beautiful young women

15– My team at First Baptist El Paso (Bob, Dan, Elvin, Edgardo, Martha, Rick, Erick, Josh, Nataly, Gayle, Julia, Juan, Nikki, Leslie, Maria) All I can say is I am humbled to serve with them

33–Thirty-three years and counting of love amazing with Robyn

55–Fifty-five years of life and learning to enjoy every breath as a gift from God

 

 

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