Peace On Earth

On December 25, 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem, “Christmas Bells”, that was eventually put to music and became a popular Christmas carol. There are some stories that say the poem was written following the death of Longfellow’s wife in a house fire, which may be true, but that isn’t the despair of which he writes. The despair is a nation divided by hatred and war. His son had just returned home after being seriously wounded in a Civil War battle. The first part of the poem seems to speak of the “peace on earth, good-will to men” that he believed existed prior to the war. Then, in the middle of the poem, come two verses that were left out when the poem was made into a song — the verses which make it clear that the despair written about in the next-to-last verse comes from seeing a nation divided by hatred. The violence that comes from hatred has a way of drowning out the sounds of peace and good-will today just as it did in the days of Longfellow. The good news comes in the final verse with the realization that even as bad as things seem, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep”. Even in a nation filled with reprehensible hatred and violence, God continues to offer hope through those who promote peace and good-will. Here is the last half of Longfellow’s poem, including the two “left out” verses.

Then from each black, accursed mouth 
The cannon thundered in the South, 
And with the sound 
The carols drowned 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent 
The hearth-stones of a continent, 
And made forlorn 
The households born 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head; 
“There is no peace on earth,” I said; 
“For hate is strong, 
And mocks the song 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; 
The Wrong shall fail, 
The Right prevail, 
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
(Poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, December 25, 1863)

New Wine Church

Finding Joy In Who You Are

What do you want to be when you grow up?  Do you remember that question?  Perhaps you’re still waiting to grow up and figure out the answer to that question.  Or maybe you’ve grown up and you’re living your dream.  But more likely, if you’re like me and many others, when you evaluate who you are today, reality hasn’t fully matched your dreams.  Our answers at six, twelve, eighteen, and even twenty-five and beyond rarely take into account all that life will bring our way.

Unfortunately, most of our answers to the “what do you want to be” question rarely answer the question that ought to be asked.  We hear the question and our answers invariably sound like we heard, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”  I don’t know what your answers have been over the years, but perhaps some of these sound familiar:  I want to be a policeman, a fireman, a nurse, a teacher, a farmer, a doctor, a builder, an astronaut, a mechanic, a business owner, or a whatever else we hope to do.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone answer the question of what they want to be by saying they want to be kind, loving, compassionate, honest, forgiving, joyful, content, fair, generous, peaceful, patient, gentle, or any other attribute that expresses the presence of God’s Spirit dwelling within us.

Yes, what we do can be a gift from God, who has in advance created good works for us to do.  But if our identity is fully formed around what we do, what happens when we can no longer do?  What happens if we can never do what we’ve dreamed of?  To find joy with who we are, we must move beyond what we can do and develop the deeper traits of who we can be.  One of the most difficult things in life, at least for me, is to find joy in being when the world says my doing doesn’t measure up.  Sometimes I think we, as a society, have worked so hard for equality that we’ve failed to see the dark side that often lingers with it.  Treating people without partiality is a good thing — and a God-commanded thing.  But that is not the same as believing everyone should fit into the same mold in order to be equal.  Yes, we should constantly strive to do all the good that we can do and work toward giving everyone the opportunity to do all the good that they can do.  But we should work harder at being content with who we are and helping others find joy in who they are regardless of what any of us are able to do.

So, how do you and I find joy in who we are?  We begin by believing what God says about who we are.  When we wrap our identity around being God’s child and allow our sense of value to come from His love for us, what we can and cannot do becomes less important compared to who we are and and who we can be in Christ.  Remember that list from paragraph two of what many people want to be (do) when they grow up?  My daughter, who is now twenty-seven years old, will never be any of those things — at least not in an official way, short of a miraculous intervention from God.  Yes, she teaches me more than just about anyone else, so you could say she’s a teacher — but not in the sense it is used when answering the question about growing up.  Yet she has great joy in who she is, and I have great joy in who she is, because her life is wrapped around her identity in Christ and is focused on being the things that we all ought to strive for — the things I mentioned earlier that I said I never hear in response to the question of what we want to be.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be like Susan.  I want to be one that finds joy in who I am — a joy that the world can’t take away, a joy that is not dependent on my abilities measuring up to the expectations of others but is solely dependent on being who God created me to be.  I pray that God fills you with His Spirit so that you overflow with joy simply because you are His.

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Joy In Being!

2106: Page 100

Page 100 was a full day which began with a snowy drive from the hotel to Great Lakes Christian College for the second day of the Michigan Christian Convention.  Once at the convention, the day was filled with great conversations about the prayer ministry and the resources God has gifted me to write.  When I packed up to head home, I had two empty boxes so I estimate about 150 books made it into the hands of people who would use them.  I stopped by Lake Michigan on the way home to catch the setting sun on a very cold evening.  The beauty that I was able to see and photograph was worth the cold fingers as the wind came off the lake.

As I worked on the timing to catch both lights on at the same time, I thought about the teaching that Ben Merold shared at the convention today.  In addressing the topic of “Church Relevant”, he addressed a growing trend where churches often sacrifice many important Biblical doctrines, and sometimes even the gospel itself, in order to pursue being relevant to the culture we live in.  He made a series of statements that he termed a paradox.  I’ve been chewing on these statements since I heard them and I believe they are worth your time and energy to chew on them as well.  He said the first century church was never relevant to the culture it existed in — in fact, it generally stood in complete opposition to the current culture of its time.  The second statement on relevance reflects what scripture teaches made the first century church attractive within the culture it operated in.  He said the first century church was always relevant to the needs of the people who lived in the culture it existed in.  

I fear that far too often church leaders have decided the church must look more like the culture so people will feel comfortable, all while neglecting the actual needs that people experience because of the culture of the world they live in.  Jesus said that the world would know we are His disciples, not by how much we look like the world but by how much we look like Him.  While the design and technology behind lighthouses has changed over time, the purpose has always been to make them as effective as possible in meeting the need of guiding ships away from danger and safely into the harbor.  The one thing a ship’s captain needs from a lighthouse is for it to function as it was designed to.  I’ve always appreciated, and been saddened by, the story told of life-saving stations along the coastline becoming clubs of comfort and prestige as they would do away with the tasks of going out on the water and saving lives from storm-tossed ships.  In an attempt to be relevant to the people living on land, they were no longer relevant to the needs of the people caught in the storms out on the water.  

I pray that you and I would constantly seek wisdom and direction from God in living the gospel in a way that is relevant to the needs of the people around us who are caught in the storms of life.  I pray that we would never lose sight of our calling and purpose to make disciples.  I pray that we would be more concerned about directing people away from danger and toward Christ than we are about blending in with the culture in a way that we are no longer noticed.

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2016: Page 87

Page 87 was Resurrection Sunday and it finished off a great Easter weekend.  The morning was spent at the church building in worship and celebration of Jesus.  Our Sunday School class has been examining God’s view of wisdom as we go through the book of Proverbs.  The warnings given about the enticement of evil and the allure of sin is just as applicable today as when it was written thousands of years ago.  It is in the context of seeking God’s goodness and truth that the resurrection of Jesus makes the most sense.  While the resurrection of Jesus was a great work of God, I believe that an even greater work was accomplished through that event as it allows for a resurrection of your life and mine.  The Bible makes it clear that those who have died to sin and have been buried with Christ can have the confidence of being raised with Christ through the power of the resurrection.

Following the church service, we drove down to Subway to see if it was open for lunch.  While it would have been convenient to grab a sandwich (and cookie) for lunch, I was pleased to see it was closed for Easter Sunday.  We had prepared for the likelihood that Sunday dinner would be at home, so I went home and fired up the wood pellet grill to cook some chicken tenderloins.  There is something special about the smoky sweet taste of food prepared on the pellet grill with a maple mesquite seasoning.  After dinner we took advantage of the warm weather to do some hiking and photo taking at Potato Creek State Park again.  With being able to get from our front door to the park in under 15 minutes, it has become our go-t0 waist management walking place.  Susan’s all-terrain wheelchair has been a great blessing in allowing us to enjoy the trails as a family again.  Even though it rolls along the trails very well, it is still an extra workout for me to push it.

As we prepared to begin our hike, one of the eagles glided to a landing in the tree next to where we were standing.  He stayed around long enough for us to get a few photos then took off to have some conversations about air space rights with a few gulls and osprey.  Even thought it had only been a couple of days since we were last out, the changes in the spring growth along the trails was obvious.  More of the spring flower plants have come up through the ground and there was more in bloom to serve as reminders that spring is definitely here.  I love the early spring flowers because they serve as good reminders of living a resurrected life.  So much of the woodland floor is covered with the brown of dead leaves and fallen twigs, yet out of that appearance of no life comes the flowering plants and blossoms of spring!  

So often, we look at our circumstances or the situations that others find themselves in and we conclude that there is no hope.  All we see is dry, lifeless surroundings so we lose sight of the power of God that resides within us through His Spirit.  God wants us to live a resurrected life now, not just when life on earth is over and He calls us home.  We need to allow His spirit to push through the barrenness of our flesh so that His beauty can be seen.

I pray that you and I would celebrate the resurrection of Jesus each day that we live on earth, and then celebrate it with Him throughout eternity.  I pray that we would not miss the reminders of the power of the resurrection that God surrounds us with each day.  I pray that we would live a resurrected life in such a way that Christ is seen in us and through us by all we interact with.

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2016: Page 82

After a late night of cleaning on page 81, I slept in a little bit but still made it to work by 8 AM to meet the crew that started harvesting timber on the property today.  During the day I took care of needs in the building while also working on the monthly Impact Prayer Ministry newsletter and getting it sent out.  As I was getting ready to leave work, our pest control person showed up so I stayed around while he did his work.  

As I took some time to unwind this evening, I started going through some photos that I had taken over the past few days.  There were quite a few pictures of the osprey that have returned to Potato Creek State Park, including one that at first glance appears to be an osprey with two heads.  While it is obviously just an illusion caused by two osprey sitting close together, it still made me think of the phrase “two heads are better than one.”  While this is a true, and even Biblical, statement in the context of seeking advice and mutual encouragement, the phrase falls completely apart when talking about the church.

The thought of an osprey with two heads soaring in the sky, building a nest, plucking fish from the lake, or accomplishing any other useful task seems rather far-fetched.  Yet how often do we expect a multi-headed church to grow and prosper, giving no thought to who it receives its instructions from?  God describes the church as His body with the head being Jesus Christ.  While most churches that I’m familiar with would claim that Jesus is the head of the church, many operate on a day-to-day basis as if a preacher, an elder, a charismatic personality, an influential group, or some other person or entity is really its head.  Jesus is still given the title but is easily relegated to the role of figurehead as others determine all the decisions while spending little or no time listening to God.

Before we come down too harshly on the church, what about you and I?  Jesus is not only set apart by God to be the head of the church which He bought with His own blood, as individuals we are members of that body still accountable to the same head that the body as a whole must submit to.  The Bible teaches that God has not only knit our physical bodies together, He has carefully fashioned the church out of the individual members that make up the body.  For our physical body to be considered responsive to the head, each part must take its direction from the head.  When a part of the body does its own thing without responding to and submitting to the head, we rightly determine something is not right.  When the individual parts that make up the body of Christ do their own thing without responding to or submitting to Christ, the problem should be just as obvious.  The church is only submissive to Christ as the head to the degree that the individuals within the body are submissive.  When I am more concerned about what people might say or think than I am about what God has said, I am acting as if the body has two heads.  When I start doing that, it isn’t long before I simply choose which head I listen to based on what I want to hear.  

I pray that you and I understand, and live under, the headship of Christ in all things.  I pray that we would listen to the head as we live the part of the church body He has created us to be.  I pray that we would reject the temptation to look to ourselves or others as the head of anything we do.  I pray that our focus on Christ as head of all things would keep His body from appearing to be double-headed and keep us from living as double-minded.

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2016: Page 81

The written part of page 81 is being typed from my office before I head home for the day.  The day started early and is ending late, but I did manage a short break in the middle.  After the morning cleaning and prep for the day, I settled into my Monday morning routine and spent time with God putting together the prayer guide for next week.  This week is focused on praying about the need to guard our steps.  Next week will be focused on praying about the life we have in Christ.  It is always fun when I think I have an idea for one of the weekly prayer guides and when I sit down with God and my Bible, something different ends up being written.  Today was one of those days and the funny part is, I don’t even remember now what my idea was before God brought the life in Christ theme into my mind.

Once the prayer guide was written, I needed to pick up some cleaning supplies and some items for a meal I was preparing for our leadership board meeting.  So Susan and I spent some time together and went out to Gordon’s Food Service and Sam’s Club to get what was needed.  By the time we got what was needed and arrived back at the church, I had a discipleship/mentoring lunch appointment with a good friend.  We had lunch and a great discussion about faith and how it should guide our decisions and steps each day.  After lunch I finished up some work at the church building and then, knowing it would be a late night, I headed down to Potato Creek to spend about an hour hiking and taking pictures.  On my way back from there, I stopped by the house and  picked up the crock pot of pulled pork that I had spent Saturday cooking on the wood pellet grill.  Back at the office I caught up on some correspondence regarding the prayer ministry and some potential uses of the writing God has allowed me to publish.  It wasn’t long before it was time to get ready for the board meeting, so I set out the food on the conference table and gathered the needed plates, napkins, and plastic ware.

The meeting went well enough . . . as meetings go.  🙂  This is a great group of guys to work and serve with.  Once the meeting was over, I decided it was late enough that I may as well do my Tuesday morning cleaning tonight so that my arrival time tomorrow isn’t nearly as important.  As I cleaned, I thought about all the work that goes into what happens at 2730 South Ironwood each day.  I thought about our desire to do everything with excellence and considered how often we (I) don’t quite reach that standard.  So often it is “almost perfect”, or “that’s almost what I wanted”.  I see that a lot in my photography as well.  Occasionally I will take a picture that when I view it I say, “That’s exactly what I had in mind when I shot that photo!”  More often than not the reaction leans more toward, “That is almost what I thought it would look like.”  The photo I share on today’s page is an example of that.  I was shooting with two cameras and as I was adjusting one, I looked up and an osprey was coming into the nest with a fish clutched in its claws.  I’m shooting with an extended zoom which is difficult to keep steady but I go ahead and take the shot only to see after the fact that I almost got the shot I wanted, but not quite.  I know it’s a fish in its claws because I was there,  but most of the fish didn’t make it into the photo.  I could have deleted the photo but decided that even though it isn’t perfect, it still captures a great deal of the detail I wanted.

Sometimes it is easy for us to get into a perfectionist mode with not only our self, but with other people as well.  None of us are perfect (I know, big surprise.), but often we act like the people around us ought to be.  Sometimes all we seem to be able to see are the imperfections in people when God wants us to look at the whole person and see the beauty and detail He has created.  When the picture of our life is flawed it doesn’t mean we’ve failed, it only means we’re human.  God is very good at taking flawed lives and using them for incredible good.  

I pray that you and I would consider the excellent nature of God within us the next time we look at ourselves or others and think, “That’s not what I wanted.”  I pray that when our eyes drift toward the imperfections, we would look carefully at the beauty God has put within each person.  I pray that we would be filled with the grace and mercy that comes from God, even as we seek to do all things with excellence.

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2016: Page 79

Aahhh . . . a Saturday!  Today was a good reminder of why I put in such long hours on Fridays.  There are times when events or plans cause me to leave some of the weekend prep undone on Friday and then have to go in Saturday or very early Sunday, but it always feels good to have a day when I can completely disconnect from work and have no plans but to relax and enjoy the day.  I slept in a bit this morning and then put some pork on the pellet grill to slow cook all day.  My plan was for it to be done for a late supper but when 8 PM rolled around and it still wasn’t ready, I shifted to plan B and grilled some hamburgers for tonight and will pull the pork when it is done so it is ready for another time.  I usually figure 10 – 12 hours so I guess putting it on at 9 in the morning wasn’t quite early enough this time.

The day itself was a low-keyed and laid back day of rest.  It was rather cold and cloudy, so rest seemed much more attractive than going out hiking and taking more photos.  After I got the pork started in the morning, I cut my hair as it was getting a little shaggy and then started going through photos from the past few days.  It wasn’t long before it was time for lunch so the family went out and enjoyed lunch together.  The afternoon was a mix of online social media, online browsing and dreaming as I kept up on new camera equipment, continued going through photos and a little Wii gaming just for fun.  Once the “plan B” hamburgers were consumed tonight, I realized it was late enough that I should write page 79 and then get some sleep so I’m rested and awake for the Sunday worship gathering at church.

I wonder how often most of us think about preparing for the time we spend together in worship celebrating what Jesus has done for us.  With tomorrow being known as Palm Sunday, I imagine most of us will spend at least some time being reminded of, and thinking about, the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem just days before the crowds would turn on Him and demand His crucifixion.  It is that thought that makes me think we ought to spend more time preparing for worship than what we do.  It is so easy to be swept along with the crowd.  We worship when the crowds worship and we condemn when the crowds condemn.  If I see my life as worship . . . if I prepare for worship . . . then worship should be what I express regardless of the nature of the crowds around me.  So how do you and I prepare to live a life of worship?  I think at least part of the preparation begins by recognizing that God deserves our worship all the time because He knows what He’s talking about all the time.  Some days I prepare for worship by observing His beauty in nature.  Today I prepared for worship by understanding the rest I needed and experienced today was His idea.  Tomorrow I prepare for a life of worship by gathering with like-minded believer to share in the body and blood of Christ through communion.  When I realize that God’s plans for me, the plans revealed through scripture that He desires for all mankind, are plans that prosper and do good . . . plans to give me hope and a future.  God’s part of this plan was accomplished through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  My part of the plan is to accept God’s part of the plan.

I pray that you and I would find time for, and enjoy, the rest that God desires for us.  I pray that we would see worship as something much bigger and meaningful than just an hour service each week.  I pray that we would constantly prepare for a life of worship that is not swayed by the crowds.  I pray that we would fully accept God’s plan to give us a hope and a future through the work of Jesus in our life.

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