Darkness–Our Foe!

Cursing the darkness
As I sat this morning in the small glow from our Christmas village, it would soon to be taken down for another year.  The balance of our apartment was dark and the pictures of our daughter were covered by this heavy darkness. The light from my laptop screen seemed brighter because the darkness was so complete.  As it has happened every day since creation, God brought forth the sun for light to our eyes and warmth to our day.  As a child, I ran through the darkened halls of my parent’s house to get dressed for bed. Forgetting to say good night, I would race through the dark tunneled hallway to the living room and light.  I could have turned on the switch by my bedroom, but the fear of the darkness removed reason from a six year old.
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.  
(John 3:19-20 NIV)
Man loves the darkness
Has anyone ever seen a bar at nighttime with the lights turned up?  The answer is no.  Many of us remember Studio 54 as the famous New York disco of the 70’s and 80’s where the “beautiful” people entered into the world of drugs, drink, and debauchery.  Within the walls of Studio 54 the creators of the venue walked in darkness stealing millions of dollars and eventually spending time in prison for their crime.  Man loves the darkness because he thinks he can hide his deeds.  As children of God we need to act like children and run from the darkness and into the light.  In the light there is my heavenly DAD no darkness.  Not a bad place to be for a child afraid of the dark.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.

(1 John 1:5-6 NIV)

The Defeat Of Fear!

Learning to Reverence God
In Isaiah 6 he records a vision of the heavenly court and the praise and adoration being given to God. This soon turns to a personal fear because of two things: his speech and the speech of his people.
Look. This coal has touched your lips. Gone your guilt, your sins wiped out.”And then I heard the voice of the Master: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”I spoke up, “I’ll go.
(The Message Isaiah 6)
Godly-fear brings His redemption
In this passage we can see what a godly-fear does and what it produces in man. When faced with the high holiness of God we recognize the deficit in our lives. We were born into sin and continue in the life of sin with all of its destructive behaviors. Recognizing the fact like Isaiah that every word and deed we have ever done is blasphemous (The Message Isaiah 6:1-8) brings redemption and justification. The payment of Christ’s righteousness bring a new status as children of God and a different awe of what God has done to us and for us. With this awe we become willing for service.
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.
(Luke 12:4-5 NIV)

There is another type of fear which reveals itself in such things as fear of success or failure and these types of fear immobilizes us. In my past I had such a fear of failure I either choose to do nothing or to strive so hard to cover all the bases so failure was not an option. At times, I feared what others might say if so I did not try. How did I overcome this? I chose to accept the awe of God and not fear what others might say. This is not an arrogant thought but giving more credibility to God than man. I know I am his son by adoption and his outlook for me is eternal.

I Resolve …

How long did your New Year’s resolutions last?

It would seem odd for a blog relating to New Year’s Eve resolutions to come out three days later but a majority of those resolutions so resolutely made may now be on life-support.  Companies like Weight-Watchers, Jenny Craig, and gyms advertise around this time to gain business from those who resolved to lose weight.  Why is it most people wait to the beginning of a new year to make such resolutions?  Could it be the significance of beginning anew each January 1st gives people the motivation to make such resolutions?

“When we heard that, we and everyone there that day begged Paul not to be stubborn and persist in going to Jerusalem. But Paul wouldn’t budge: “Why all this hysteria? Why do you insist on making a scene and making it even harder for me? You’re looking at this backward. The issue in Jerusalem is not what they do to me, whether arrest or murder, but what the Master Jesus does through my obedience. Can’t you see that?” We saw that we weren’t making even a dent in his resolve, and gave up. “It’s in God’s hands now,” we said. “Master, you handle it.”

(Acts 21:12-14 The Messsage) 

God’s faithful servants are great counsels.

Sometimes as Christians we face opposition from those we thought would be our greatest advocates.  They may not have the divine inkling you received from prayer, counsel, and more prayer.  I try to find those who have labored hard in their walks and it shows on their faces–not wrinkles or lines but of joy and peace.  They have faithfully followed the Lord’s leading and these warriors make great counselors.  They may be a pastor or a tried and true lay-servant and praying and listen to their advice helps to keep my plans from failing.

Paul was not concerned by the consequence of his resolve but of the Lord and how he would be glorified by Paul’s response. At times, Christians believe God has called them to a certain task and take the attitude of “charging Hell with a water pistol”.  Even Jesus tells us to count the cost of discipleship.  Perhaps, this year, we will weigh the costs, seek prayer and counsel and determine it is not about me but HIM.  Then our resolutions will be like Paul’s–wondering how Jesus is glorified because of our obedience.

Pictures of the Past; Visions of the Future

Pictures of the past

If your home is like mine, your walls are adorned with pictures of your family members.  Some of them are of family who died before I was born, like my mom’s mom, Fanny Stevenson. She was from Winnsboro, SC, and my father loved her as the mom he never had.  There are pictures of my parents after their marriage during World War II, reflecting a younger couple filled with hope, love and a future together.  There are wedding pictures of Steve and Vicki Mentzer and the joy of our marriage–Stefani.  These pictures represent the actions, intentions, and lives of God’s creation.
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
(Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV)
Believers often wonder why we cannot forgive and forget and instead we need to see is the forgetting refers to releasing others, including ourselves from punishment.

An image for today.

Why is it my sins are always before my face as David said in Psalm 51? (Psalm 51:3 NIV) I have a vivid memory of my past sins and their overwhelming weight until I remember they are gone from my back and laid upon Christ.  Now, these memories have a new purpose as they function like blinking caution lights of danger. These pictures stand as a memorial of the salvation power of Christ in my life and the leadership of the Holy Spirit down a new  path.  Isaiah says I should not dwell on the past because God is doing a new thing in me.  He is changing the desolate wilderness of my heart and the wasteland of my life.

Changing the pictures of the past into visions of my future

  • Daily renewing of my mind to forget my past
  • See God’s evidence by my resistance to the Flesh
  • Allow my changes as an influence to others for the Kingdom of God
  • Remember Jesus said he is coming back for me to be with him–what a promise.

Now that is a picture I can’t wait till it is fully developed.

Hands

Walking side by side

Last night as Stefani and I were at the Ohio Valley Mall finishing up our shopping for mommy, suddenly her hand slipped into mine.  I looked down at this beautiful gift from God and told her the story of how we taught her to hold mommy and daddy’s hands when she was just a toddler.  I would at first say the word, “hands”, and placed her hand into mine.  When this had been done for a while, it became normal to put my hand down beside me and soon find a tiny hand in mine.  So, as we walked in the mall, daddy and daughter walked hand in hand as if it was the most natural thing in our life.

I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands

Psalm 63:4

My hand safely in His

As an ordained baptist pastor attending a non-denominational church I was not accustomed to the raising of hands in public worship.  I have learned God desires his children to raise their hands toward him in prayer AND worship.  As a small child raises his/her hands to be picked up God desires his children to assume the same posture.  I want to place my hands purposefully into his as a sign of submission and obedience which is neither a harsh submission nor a mandatory obedience.  My desire to be in submission and obedience to him is from the love I have for him because of the greater love he has for me.

Examining the hands of Jesus

Jesus told his disciples to follow him and at times called them teknia, or little children.  I like the image of being a teknia of Jesus.  It is not the word used for a baby or newborn, but the word for a child under training and  I like the thought of placing my hand into his.  Stefani would at times take my hand to examine it.  She looked at my rings (wedding band and seminary class ring), my fingernails, or the hair on the back of them.  Why not?  She was placing hers in mine.  Likewise if I had the chance to see the hands of Jesus, like Thomas, I would stare at the hole in the center.  I would be amazed at the rough, calloused hands of the son of a carpenter.  Why not?  I was placing my life into his.

As I showed this post to one of the hospice nurses, she told me when her daughter Ashley had been born they needed a sign for her name because the dad’s side of the family was totally deaf.  Ashley’s deaf sign was a closed hand (letter A) in the palm of the hand (as it was placed in her mom’s soon after birth).  It is amazing what lessons newborns and toddlers can teach their grown-up parents.

Things Lost Amid the Packages and Paper

Five years ago our daughter Stefani came down the stairs to a beautiful tree, presents, and family and the look was priceless as her eyes glimmered in the cascade of the white lights on the tree.  The living room was filled with toys and clothes for an only child/grandchild, and dressed in her Christmas footie pajamas was accompanied by her favorite pillow, Po.  He had for five years taken up residence in her crib and big girl’s bed and had the Lord’s Prayer on his face.  It was a long term member of the family having been Nan-Nan’s mom’s pillow.  As has been our tradition since she was born, we read the Christmas story from scriptures, lit a birthday candle for Jesus,  and sang Happy Birthday.  At the end of the day, five bags of trash were taken to the curb for the trash truck to pick-up the next day.  Suddenly, we discoverd Po was MIA (Missing In Arms) of a sobbing five year old little girl.  Daddy walks outside in bare feet and a cold drizzling rain to nearly empty the bags looking for a beloved friend and companion.  After long minutes, a dad had to walk in and hold Stefani informing her he could not be found.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:16-17 NIV)

This past week my wife met face-to-face with a former student who lost everything in a house fire.  She and the children were safe but when Vicki offered prayer she said Vicki could pray but wasn’t sure she believed anymore.  She once went to church but then bad things started happening, and so…  However, we took the opportunity to seek aid for the woman in clothes and goods to give us the chance to remind her all things work to the good to those who love him.  Standing with her the other day with tears streaming down her face I could see why she might feel so lost.  The house two doors down the street was smoldering as two fire departments watered down the gutted home.

But there are others who may be facing major health, financial, or relational loses this season and they may be lost among the paper just like Po.  They might not be able to see the light of Christ from the darkness of their circumstances and it may need a light bearer to come into their life and their hearts.  Several years ago I did a sermon on the difference between a lighthouse keeper and a lamplighter.  The keeper lived and worked in the lighthouse and risked safety and comfort to charge into raging seas to rescue those who might be perishing.  Eventually the Coast Guard would reduce the job to a lamplighter who walked from town to make sure the lamp was lit without thought to those who might drown. We need to ask ourselves which we are: One who is willing to risk to bring the light or one who just keeps the light burning?

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 NIV)

Is Christmas A Humbug?

Bah! Humbug!

In Dicken’s Christmas Carol, the principle character, Ebenezer Scrooge, is famous for the phrase, Bah, Humbug! The word is also immortalized in the Wizard of Oz as the Scarecrow calls the revealed fake wizard a humbug.  The term means fake, false, deceptive or a hoax.  Ebenezer is rejected by his father after the death of his wife’s giving birth to him.  He fills his life with money that is powerless to reject him.  Like his father, he rejects all forms of love, companionship, and family; rejecting them before they can do it to him.  In one of the staves or segments of the book, the husband of Belle, Ebenezer’s former fiancee says he saw him in his counting house “all alone in the world.”  It is said of Dickens , “His view of life was later to be described or dismissed as “Christmas philosophy,” and he himself spoke of “ Carol philosophy” as the basis of a projected work. His “philosophy,” never very elaborated, involved more than wanting the Christmas spirit to prevail throughout the year, but his great attachment to Christmas (in his family life as well as his writings) is indeed significant and has contributed to his popularity.” (biography.com)  Christmas was a theme through many of Dickens stories and while his father was imprisoned for debt in England, Charles was forced out of school to work in a factory to help with the family and gained an understanding of the working class in England.  These events would find themselves as a basis for many of his characters and backdrops.
Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?  (Mark 8:35-37 The Message)

Scrooge tried to save himself into prosperity and rejected mankind, even the least of man–the poor and destitute.  Scrooge is a picture of anyone who believes that self is more important than others.  Scrooge lost his way, perhaps because of his upbringing.  In contrast to the harshness of his father he was introduced to Fezziwig, who showed a young man the joy of fellowship and Christmas.  So who was the real fake–Fred, the nephew who continually welcomed his uncle to his home or Scrooge who saw everyone and everything Christmas related as a fraud?

Miniature Minstrels and the Message of Christmas

My first grade Christmas show

As the school year gets ready for Christmas break (yes, Christmas break and not holiday break or Winter solstice) children seem to sense with hopeful expectation the time off from school and the coming of the red-suited Mr. Claus.  School music teachers had worked hard for weeks to put together a choral event for the parents and a first grader at Pinelock Elementary. I remember attending in a red sweater vest knitted by my Aunt Frances and while I can’t remember I am sure it was  a mixture of religious and secular Christmas songs. Some children squirmed while others were so shy they mouthed the words hoping to blend in with the others. It made no difference to the parents because they loved watching their prodigy from the auditorium. 

Children no longer sing of Christ

I am sure over the decades since I sang in my red sweater vest the programs have shifted. From Christian to secular with the motivation of not offending anyone, secularists have changed the focus away from Christmas as the birth of Jesus. They would never think of tinkering with other religious holidays like Ramadan, Chanukah, Yom Kippur, or Rosh Hashanah but have targeted the celebration of the birth of Christ to ridicule and derision. In 1965, A Charlie Brown’s Christmas debuted on CBS and amidst the activities of the other children, Charlie Brown yells out, and “Can anyone tell me the real meaning of Christmas?”  Linus tells Charlie Brown from Scriptures:           

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their  flock by  night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about  them:   and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you  good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a   multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
 (Luke  2:8-14 KJV)

One of the many secular songs which children sing is We Wish You A Merry Christmas.  This old song of Victorian England wishes good tidings from carolers who would receive a payment of figgy pudding  according to one source (ehow.com) much like American children get a treat on Halloween.  The angels pronounced a good tiding of great joy to the shepherds as well as to all of mankind. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see moms and dads hear these miniature minstrels sing the Message of Christ?

Are You Dead From No Faith or No Works?

Dealing with death

Years ago I was in the kitchen making dinner for my family thinking about a question Stefani had asked me. “Which do you prefer, being a pastor or a chaplain?”  I replied, “A chaplain.”  She said, “But you work with death!”  I had thought about that for a few days and then realized all pastors, counselors, chaplains, or missionaries work with death.

David said he was conceived into sin by his mother ( Psalm 51: 5) and the Bible says the wages of sin is death.  The sentence of death does not wait till a child is born. Going through training at Virginia Baptist Hospital, I learned to relate to parents of stillbirth, ectopic, and neonatal death and help families who lost a child grieve the loss.

Mankind is destined to die

Man begins to die from conception and whether we live a few hours or many years, the final verdict is death.  In hospice patients and their families, they know from the doctor the prognosis is grim but the rest of mankind rejects in their minds their future deaths.  However, for twenty-six years in pastoral ministry the other form of death was from those in the pews.  This may sound strange until we see what James says:

 “If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”
(James 2: 16-18 NIV)
and
“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” 
(James 2:26 NIV)

Pastors deal with Death

Often times the role of a pastor is to encourage believers to put into practice what they confess.  Many times they are incapacitated by fear or immobilized by prejudice.   Fear makes us worry we may fail God and he may be angry or disappointed.  They forget God knew what would happen before your conception and he still chose to call you to faith.  In fear, seek him out for the strength to serve.
I am not talking about racial prejudice but the kind Paul reminds about being high-minded. They may have forgotten their pasts and that unless God had relented they might be in the same positions because none of us were born special.  We were born into sin with all of its trappings, pleasantries, and pains.  Some sins we practice and not others but this does not make us better than those not sitting in the pew with you.  Of the two of these, I think prejudice is the worst because it comes from an attitude of superiority.  Even Jesus came in the form of a servant and he is FAR SUPERIOR TO US!
The pierogi was delicious—I made hot sausage for me and spinach and ricotta cheese for Vicki.  A pierogi i a dough shaped like ravioli with potato and cheese, potato and kraut and many other fillings.   Depending upon which part of eastern Europe you come from some are boiled while others are fried.  Pierogis Plus has won the award for the “Best in Pittsburgh” (I did not receive any advertising revenue from this) but when I picked up the order the music in the store was on K-Love, a Christian station in Pittsburgh.  I remarked to the Slavic-lady who had been in this country for about forty years that I liked the music.  She immediately said, “I love the Lord!”  I told her I was a born-again believer and then she saw my chaplain’s badge.  She went back into the store and brought me a dozen more pierogis.
FAITH WITH WORKS IS A BLESSING—AND DELICIOUS.

Our Own Worst Enemy

Do people read my blog?

When I envisioned doing a daily blog taking daily events and combining scriptural teaching, I thought it would be rather easy.  Often times though I find myself stuck with writer’s block. Many events happen but I find myself glued to my keyboard and unable to write.  I begin to wonder if people really read or enjoy my blog or if the things I write really help others as they help me in my Christian walk.  I at times can be my own worst enemy.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
(Romans 8:1-2 NIV)
Sometimes as believers we find ourselves debasing, depreciating or destroying ourselves because of things in the past or fears of today and fail to live as if Christ set us free. It’s a set of tapes playing in our minds how bad we are.  I have a friend who for years had an older answering machine with a tape of George Burns reprising his role of God in the movie, “Oh God!”.  His wife worked for a Bell Company and I know could have them had their electronic voicemail, but for over twenty years since graduation it answered the phone’s thousands of calls until it finally broke.  The last time I called I commended him for FINALLY changing that tape.
We fail to fully understand the completeness of the Christ’s sacrifice.  The Law, which we once slaughtered by our rebellion against God, has a requirement of righteousness we could never fulfill.  His death pardoned us!  A presidential pardon can be arranged which removes the legal records of crime or crimes committed, but the person pardoned will remember it for the rest of their life.  For those who have been pardoned by Christ, we need to learn to renew our minds with the very words of Paul which states,
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  
                                                           (Romans 7:24-25a NIV)

No longer can my mind remind me of my past! Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” No longer can it tell me I am unworthy!  No longer do I need to worry about what others might remember of me or my deeds! Finally I have no right to depreciate, debase, or destroy that which Christ suffered and died!  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

I may never be a writer like Frost or Hemingway and it’s O.K.  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”