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Step Boldly

I’ve been doing some research about the German pastor/author Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a courageous man who lived during a very dark time in history. His resistance to the Nazi party in Germany during WWII eventually led to his execution just weeks before the war ended. As I leafed through his writings, I found this quote,

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“Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin, than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.”

Those words got me thinking. The Old Testament is all about following the rules. God lays out the Ten Commandments and tells his people to obey. Today, I think most Christians will tell you (myself included) that we are grateful that the Lord spelled it out so completely for us in Exodus 20. It’s a much needed roadmap to help us avoid all the pitfalls of this world. By the time that Jesus shows up in the New Testament, mankind is ready for the next step.

Jesus replied: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:37-40

matthew 22.39

This is really the same as the first commandment in Exodus 20:3. Jesus is quoting directly from both Deuteronomy and Leviticus but his words reach beyond telling us what not to do and tell us how to “do”. He tells us to love. That verb “love” resonates through all of Jesus’ teachings.

“Love one another”

“love your neighbor”

“love as I do”

It takes us from how to avoid sin and jumps into how to live lovingly. It shows us the steps from “do not” to “do”.

Anyone who has experienced love can tell you it is not easy. It can be messy, painful, exasperating, joyous, uplifting and turn your world upside down crazy. It is the most difficult command to follow because it encompasses all the other commands. But Dietrich Bonhoeffer was able to cut right through that and instead of cautioning us to watch our steps, he is encouraging us to step boldly.

In both the Old and New Testament we find that God never stopped at just listing the things that we shouldn’t do. God has always instructed, admonished and often has to push us into action. Following Christ has always been more about what you do than the things that you don’t do.

 

 

I’ll just leave you with this favorite verse of mine:

He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

Micah 6 8

 

 

 

 

 


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To Be Led by You

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It’s a simple prayer really

I’m not asking for power or wealth

Not even asking for wisdom or health

Just asking to be led by You

 

Of all the things that I think I need

I just need to ask for eyes that can see

And hands and feet to follow faithfully

And just let me by led by You

 

I wish I could live in a world at peace

But I can’t even find peace in my heart

Feeling in need of a little head start

In just being led by You

 

Maybe I just take a single stepp1010195

then someone else comes along

We’re walking your path and humming your song

Just learning to be led by You

 

There are those days when I dare to think bigger

I ask that the guns be laid down

I ask that a cure for pain be found

I just want to be led by You

 

Those are the days that I realizep1010205

War will not stop because of a president’s hand

An executive order won’t heal the land

But only when we let ourselves by led by You

 

So, today here’s what I’ll pray

Lord, take my anger and pride and fear

those things that get in the way and hold me here

And I cannot be led by You

 

Take me from valleys shadowed by doubts

And take me to a shining hilltop place

Where I can run through rivers of grace

And only then be led by You

 

Just let me be led by You.

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a fair question

5096_1197313732195_1677986_nO LORD, what is man that you care for him,

The son of man that you think of him?

Psalm 144:3

A fair question.

Why does God care about us? I know that theologians can (and have) gone on and on about this but the answer is simply that He loves us. I wish I could state it more eloquently. I wish I had the beautifully poetic words that would make the notion of such a love come to life for you. But, honestly, there is no need to complicate things. God is love and He loves his creation.

That’s it – a pure simple truth.

Man is like a breath

His days are like a fleeting shadow

Psalm 144:4

Compared to God’s greatness, we are nothing

He loves us anyway

Our time on earth is momentary

He notices us anyway

Our foolish waywardness has to be frustrating

He shows us a true Way

Our speeches and written words (like this) must be entertaining

He listens anyway

And responds by pointing us to the Word – His Son

Why does He care?

He simply does.

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Anchored in a Foreign Land

How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? Psalm 137:4

 

I hear it all the time these days. People are asking how our country could have fallen into this quagmire of conflicting ideologies that have triggered such hate and fear. Whether you are on the right or left of the political fence, confusion reigns as finger pointing spreads the blame and shame.

So how do Christians respond?

Maybe we shouldn’t be so worried about responding to the world. Truth is, we need only respond to our God who is in control of this upside down world. If we can do that, I think we would find that our actions and words would spring from love and compassion rather than knee-jerk reactionary confrontations with the world we live in.

We may feel that we live in a foreign land, one that does not recognize Christian tenets but that would be short-sighted of us. God’s fingerprints are all over this world and its inhabitants. We sometimes miss what is right in front of us because we are so overwhelmed by the anger on social media feeds fueled by often biased news reporting. No wonder the land seems so foreign to us.

So here’s the best advice I can think of; take it or leave it.

anchorAnchor your life in both heavenly and earthly realms. Your faith must be built and daily
nourished by prayer and the Scriptures. This provides that all- important “hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb. 6:19) that gives you an open avenue of two-way communication with God. Secondly, do not neglect the earthly anchors God has placed in your life to keep you grounded. Work to protect the relationships you have with your family and friends who love you, will pray for you, will trust you and allow you to trust them. Jesus said it all when he said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

Finally, and this may seem contradictory, but remember that this is not your home. On the deepest level this is a foreign land; for we are spiritual creatures who will only come into our fullness when we enter into that next realm. In the meantime we have the Holy Spirit who indwells us and keeps us tethered to each world. We may at times feel adrift but we are never really drifting. We are always within reach of eternity even while grappling with a fallen world.

Go ahead and sing the songs of the LORD! Sing them with words of love, joy and peace. Sing them with actions that display the patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22,23) that comes from the Spirit within, the Father above and a Savior who bridges that gap for us.

The land may feel foreign but it’s only temporary and even the temporary can be very beautiful in its fragility.blue-sky-w-rainbow


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No Room in the Inn

pig-pen-innkeeperOne of the most famous characters in the whole Christmas story is one who doesn’t exist, other than in the reader’s imagination. The innkeeper, who turns away Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, isn’t recorded in the Scriptures at all. We are simply told that there was no room in the inn.

Looking throughout Jesus’ earthly life, we notice that the world he was born into does not find or make room for him. He never really fits in anywhere. His teachings are always surprising people. His actions are always being questioned by the authorities of the day. Even when those same authorities finally had him under their control, they had no idea of what to do with him. Caiaphas sends him to Pilate. Pilate asks the crowd what they would like to do.  After his death, his followers continued to have a hard time finding places to stay and ears to listen.  As a prisoner, Paul spoke out about Christ whenever he could but was told by his captor, “When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” (Acts 24:25b) No room in that inn either.story-of-christmasnativity

The only place he seemed to fit was as a child in the temple. He was perfectly at home but no one else, from the teachers there to his parents, understood. They were scratching their heads at his behavior while Jesus himself said, “Why were you searching for me?” He asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) He knew where he belonged even if no one else got it.
nativityJesus stirred things up from the time that he was born. The local tyrant reacted to his birth by ordering a mass infanticide. Shepherds and Magi reacted in worship. Jesus’ life would continue to cause people to rethink philosophies long held dear. He never seemed to fit in. He flipped lives around just as easily as he would flip tables in the temple. Some would say that he left havoc in his wake. Yet, those who stopped to listen, those who did find room for him in their hearts would disagree. They would say that he left them changed in ways that they hadn’t even imagined before and made their lives immeasurably better. Maybe not easier, but better.

 

Let’s make room this Christmas to hear his words and to live them out in our actions. If your heart is too crowded with the worries of the day, toss some out and make room for faith. Faith in the one who loves the whole world without reservations. Faith that a tiny baby born two thousand years ago will change this world one heart at a time.

 

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Find some room in your inn.

 

 

 


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Just Believe

santa-2I worked in a restaurant in a local mall for many years. As you can imagine, I have lots of great stories from that job, but my favorite story happened one Christmas about 25 years ago. One of the waitresses was a local college student who had started with us over the summer. In September, her father was transferred to Colorado and the whole family moved with him. All except for Marianne. She was enrolled in a local college and working at the restaurant so she moved in with a family friend and waved her parents, brother and sisters good-bye as they boarded a plane for Denver. She worked hard both at school and at her job. She always had a melancholy air about her and talked constantly of taking a plane to visit her family over Christmas break. As the holidays approached, she tried to book a flight home. She could only leave on either the 23rd or 24th as she had exams and then wanted to work as many shifts as possible while the restaurant was still busy and people were in a generous tipping mood. Mare (as we called her) knew that by January, customers would not tip as well as they would before Christmas and she would still have books to buy for the spring semester. Unfortunately, all the flights were booked and she was put on stand-by. She was not given much hope since flights to Denver can fill up a year in advance with all those Christmas ski vacation packages that are offered.

When she came to work that evening after calling the airlines, she looked so sad. Mare continued to the back of the restaurant to hang up her coat and check in. It was only 5pm, but mall employees would be coming in for their dinner break.  Our first customer was the santa-3mall Santa. He just wanted a quick sandwich (nothing that would make a mess in his beard as he wasn’t allowed to be out of costume as long as he was inside the mall). The hostess led him to a table in Mare’s station. “Santa should bring a smile to her face”, she said as she winked at me. As Mare tied her apron on, the hostess told her she had a special customer waiting for her. Within a few minutes, Mare returned to the serving area with an incredulous look on her face. “The guy is nuts!” she whispered to me. “He really thinks he is Santa. He told me that I would get home for Christmas if I just believe. I hope she doesn’t seat him in my station again, he’s kinda creepy.”

Santa came in a few times a week for dinner right up until Christmas Eve. If Mare was working, he would smile at her and ask if a flight had opened up yet. She would shake her head but Santa would only smile and say, “you’ll be home for Christmas, I promise.” Talk about staying in character!

Each time I saw Mare I would ask her if she had gotten a ticket home. Each time she would answer, “no”, with tears close to her eyes. We all invited her to our family gatherings to let her know that she wouldn’t be alone, but it was no use. The kid just wanted to be with her family for Christmas.

plane

December 23rd – Mare bounded through the restaurant doors with a huge smile on her face gave everyone a hug. It turns out that there had been one cancellation and a ticket was available for the next afternoon! She would be sipping eggnog with her parents within 24 hours. As she turned around, there was Santa standing in the doorway, waiting for a table to eat his early dinner. When he saw her smiling, he laughed a big Santa laugh and said, “Just like I promised! Always believe!” I’ve never looked at a mall Santa the same again even after all these years.

It was easy to believe in Santa as a kid. It’s such a great story of a kind old gentleman who brings presents and Christmas joy. Yet, so many don’t want to believe in the original Christmas story of a kind God who brings us the present of His own Son and the joy of salvation. Why is one story harder to swallow than the other? Is childlike faith something that is reserved for childhood only?

jesus_mary_joseph

I think of Mary, who was given an impossible job by an impossible visitor – and she
believed with a childlike faith

I think of Joseph, who was told to marry the girl and raise a child who was not his own – and he believed with a childlike faith.

shepherdsImagine the shepherds blinded by the glory of God, a sight that must have terrified them – and they believed with a childlike faith.

The Magi who found the signs that they had sought for generations – and they believed with a childlike faith.magi

Churches all around the world will this month be celebrating the incredible story of a baby who would pave a way that all may choose to follow. If you listen, you will hear the story of a God who reached down through eternity to lift us up in His hands.

“We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved.”

Acts 15:11

I remember peeking out my bedroom window on Christmas eve to see if any reindeer had landed in my front yard. I fully expected to see them! I also remember scanning the night sky hoping to see a star brighter than any other. I believed then. As I look back, I can see that to believe in the impossible is not just a Christmas story but a Christian story and sometimes it can be understandably hard to accept it all. Yet, just today I spoke with a friend who has been fighting with God all his life. I have been praying for him, praying that he would experience the peace that comes with surrender to God. Today he told me that he had surrendered his life to God and has never been happier. It has been a hard battle for him but it is not over. We all fight some degree of this battle every day.

“I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!”

Mark 9:24b

It is not an uncommon thing to struggle with belief. This Christmas, as we struggle with the difficult circumstances in our lives that make the road ahead look impossible, think of Mary’s faith, Joseph’s obedience and the awe of shepherds and magi. They made a choice to believe and let that choice steer their lives from that day forth.

 believe…santa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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After the Election (or how to run a race with grace and mercy)

 

joggerFor months now, I have seen a man jogging past my home around 7am each morning. He carries a plastic bag with him which flaps in the breeze as he runs by. It was the bag that caught my eye. He uses it to pick up trash along the way. This gentleman will bend and pick up the stray coffee cup or fast food wrapper and can do it while barely breaking his stride. He will even cross back and forth to either side of the road if he notices a piece of paper on the opposite side on his morning run.

I live on a main road in my town so there is much traffic, both cars, joggers and people walking and that means a lot of garbage can get tossed aside. I regularly pick up papers and sometimes bottles and cans along the front of my property. This guy is the only person I have seen in 20 plus years of living here who not just joins me in cleaning up my property but he does this for every property he passes through. He is my hero.

As I was sipping my morning tea and gazing out the window, I saw him jog by. He bent over three times in front of my house and another two times at my neighbor’s home. In the background, I had the TV tuned to the morning news and the reporter was shouting about the “Race to the Finish” and what the presidential candidates would be spending their days doing.

As with so many others, I have felt great stress and anxiety over this election. I am afraid images (4)for my country and its citizens.  But this man and his simple act of community service have helped me refocus. This jogger has found a way to focus his end results, yet never so much that he misses what is right in front of him. He has made a decision to leave a better world in his wake, one piece of garbage at a time. He runs with an attitude of mercy for those who made the mess and displays grace when he pitches in to help clean up. Imagine what kind of world we would have if we all adopted this attitude. Rather than an inward focus which causes us to either ignore or complain about problems, what if we lived life with merciful and grace-filled eyes that would compel us to do more than just see the injustices that occur every day. Rather than shaking our fist at the car speeding by and throwing a McDonald’s wrapper out the window, maybe we simply picked up the wrapper, slipped it in our bag and carried on with our race barely breaking stride.

…live a life a love…

Ephesians 5:2

I am trying to adopt this attitude. While I have my own race to run, I don’t want to continue to miss what is right around me because I am so focused on end results. It’s a classic “stop and smell the roses” scenario. But this time, rather than just appreciate the beauty around me, take a minute to reach down and do my part in beautifying the spot that I find myself in.

il_570xn-729678921_t7xrAfter the election tomorrow, our country will refocus on the issues that face our nation. But we as individuals still have a job to do. Commit with me to leave this world a better place by rooting our actions in mercy and grace each day. Rather than looking for someone to blame for leaving garbage in my path, take a moment to bend down and dispose of the trash. Then continue on your way knowing that what you left behind is a bit cleaner, maybe even a bit better than it had been.

He has shown you, O Man, what is good, and what does the LORD require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. 

Micah 6:8