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

2016: Bonus Page (9/11)

Today I add a bonus page to my 2016 page-and-photo-a-day adventure as I remember the World Trade Center and the events that took place on 9/11/01.  The photo was taken by my friend, Scott, when we visited New York City and the top of the World Trade Center in either the fall of 2000 or the spring of 2001 — I’ve forgotten which.  As I consider the enormity of the towers and the events of 9/11/01, I share today memories of both the day I stood atop one of the towers of the World Trade Center and the day they were brought down.

My memories of the first day is of how impressive the towers were and how much their presence loomed over the entire area. We had taken the subway from Brooklyn into central New York City to visit Central Park. As we finished up at Central Park, the towers were so visible that we decided it would be an easy walk from Central Park to the World Trade Center — boy were we wrong! We kept walking and walking and for the longest time didn’t seem to be getting any closer. When we finally got there, we joked that since we had walked so far already why don’t we just take the stairs to the top. 🙂 Instead, we took the elevator tour and enjoyed the view . . . and the rest. Having been in the towers, and on top of the one, led to an even greater shock at the images of 9/11/01 of the towers being hit and coming down.

My most vivid memory of 9/11/01, beyond the actual destruction and collapse, is of our nation’s leaders standing on the steps of the Capitol Building singing “God Bless America”. For many, it was a sign of hope and unity in the midst of a very dark day. But also like many Americans, I was skeptical that a momentary turning to God in a time of great need would translate into a lasting change in the way business is done in our nation’s capitol. The 15 years since that day would tend to say that we’re much like the Israelites of the Old Testament who would cry out to God in their time of need and after God would show mercy and rescue them, it would just be a matter of time before they abandoned their relationship with God only to find themselves in need once again. But before we point fingers too far, it wasn’t only our nation’s leaders that had a short-lived resurgence in a felt need to call out to God for His blessing. And how often since have we called out to God in our times of need only to ignore Him once He has carried us through? How often do we find ourselves in trouble, even trouble of our own making, and and call out to God for help while making no effort to change our ways? We plot and we scheme and we come up with out best laid plans only to run into great difficulty accomplishing what we want. So, we turn to God and ask for His help. Yet when He says, “Follow Me, I have a better plan”, we say, “No thanks. I have too much invested in my own plan.”

I pray that as we remember the events of 9/11/01, that we not only remember the lives lost and the heroes who served, but that we would also remember a God who desires and deserves to be our God not only in the times of our greatest need but in all of our times.

In prayer,
Tom

 

tom-wtc

2016: Page 28

Page 28 in my life story of the year 2016 was a long one which is why I’m writing this the next day.  🙂  It was the final day of the camp conference that I was representing Impact Prayer Ministry at and it began with light fog in the valleys and the sun climbing its way over the far side of the mountains.  The more the sun worked its way over the mountain range, the more the fog tried to fill in the valley.  Within 15 minutes, the fog had spread all the way up to, and beyond, my 14th floor balcony.  As I packed up and left the room, the only view remaining was the hazy outlines of some of the nearer hills.

It was a great conference and I believe it was a good conference for me and the prayer ministry.  I went with a total of 4 boxes of books and when I packed up the display, all of the remaining books on the table fit in 1 box.  It is my prayer that as people go home, they will find the resources they picked up to be useful in their walk with Christ and perhaps even in their camp ministry.  As the closing session began, the conference did their final giveaways for the week.  I had been asked to “introduce” my contribution for these door prize drawings and considered it a privilege to do so.  My cameras have become incredible tools in the time I spend in personal worship of God.  I had taken with me a 20″ x 30″ high-gloss mounted photo that was a close up of a day lily.  My title for this photo art is “Consider the Lilies” and on the back was a label  with the tile and the passage from Luke where Jesus instructs us to consider the lilies and how God clothes and provides for them with great beauty.  As we consider that, He reminds us that we are of much greater value to Him so we should be confident in His care for us.  Having experience as a camp staff member, I was able to relate that I understood the financial pressures that often can seem overwhelming and even of greatest importance to others.  I encouraged this group of camp leaders that during those times, they should consider the lilies and take all of their needs and concerns to God first.

It was going to be a long drive home, so I headed out and began the journey.  About an hour and a half into the trip, I encounter road construction on the interstate that had it down to one lane and a back-up that led to a six mile stretch of highway taking 45 minutes to get through.  Instead of being frustrated, I pulled out a Dr Pepper and the rest of the package of sliced turkey (the same package, that I hadn’t planned on getting, from the first day of the trip) and used the slow crawl down the highway as an opportunity to have lunch and listen to some worship music.  I had my iPod connected to the truck’s radio and found a folder on it labeled “camp”.  It seemed like a fitting assortment to listen to as I headed home from a camp conference.  It was all of the music I had used for worship times, meal times, wake-up times, recreation times, and all other times the last time I had been dean for the 5th & 6th grade camp week.  The music ranged from “I’m so Happy” to “The Water Buffalo Song” to “This is the Air I Breathe” and everything in between.

After a quick stop south of Louisville to pick up my father-in-law, the trip home resumed.  This time my GPS warned me of a 45 minute delay ahead and re-routed me around it.  We reached the backed up traffic just as I exited to go around and it was still six miles away from where the signs said the construction was taking place.  I even thought about this being a lot like life — sometimes we are able to hear the warnings and avoid the hardships and troubles that would occur if we kept on our current path.  Other times we either get no warning or we don’t notice or pay attention to the warnings that come and we simply have to live through the difficulties, seeking God’s help to make the best of whatever circumstance we find our self in.  This takes us back to my photo and our need to always “Consider the Lilies” and trust God to care for us when things go as we planned and when things don’t go as we planned.

Consider the Lilies

Refugees Among Us

I’ve avoided writing this post because I know I don’t understand all of the complexities of the specific refugee crisis currently fueling much public debate and I seriously doubt that many of those debating it online have much greater understanding than I do.  I’m not writing to take sides because you really don’t need to know my opinion on Syrian refugees any more than I need to know yours.  In my opinion, the bigger question, regardless of which side of the current debate you want to claim, is what are you doing to be Christ to the refugees that are often conveniently ignored?  I think of the refugees who are trying to escape a life of addiction. The refugees trying to be free from a life filled with domestic violence.  The refugees who have served time and need help to keep them from returning to a life of crime.  The refugees of poverty, homelessness, fear, disease, loss, rejection, and/or a mind that’s not functioning as perhaps it once did.  Yes, there are many within our midst who are living as refugees from some traumatic event in their life . . and no, I’m not trying to diminish the trouble and horror faced by refugees from war-torn countries . . . I guess what I’m trying to say is that I believe the actions that you and I take toward the “hidden” refugees in our own cities probably have a lot more to say about our real heart toward refugees than any of our shouting ever will.

So, if you’ve made it this far in the post without deleting it, blocking me, or writing an angry response, here is a list taken from the Hope Ministries website of items that they have need of as they minister to people of my community who are seeking refuge from situations that I haven’t experienced.  I’m guessing most organizations serving in similar ways have a similar list of needs.  I know where God is calling me to start. As you pray, what is He calling you to do?

List from Hope Ministries – South Bend of items needed:

Tampons and pads
Baby wipes
Shaving cream
Men’s t-shirts (Med, LG, XL)
Umbrellas
Band-Aid
Toothpaste
Denture adhesive
Panty Liners
Household cleaning supplies (dish soap, antibacterial cleaners, mops, brooms, etc)
Toilet paper
Ibuprofen and pain relievers
Kleenex
Ear plugs
Transpo Bus 2-Ride Passes
Bath towels
Clean pillows
Bike locks
Adult bikes in good condition
Shampoo and conditioner
Large sizes of diapers and pull-ups (size 4 and up)
Paper towels
Alarm clocks
Body wash
Unscented lotion
New socks for adults
Large sizes of women’s bras
New underwear for men (Med-Large)
Maxi pads
African American haircare products
Boxes of cereal
Sugar
#10 cans of pudding, fruit and chilli beans
Walmart gift cards (for prescription co-pays)
Coffee
Deodorant
Powdered laundry detergent
Shaving razors

In prayer,
Tom

A Voice in the Crowd

“The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.  The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.  But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”  
John 10:2-5 (NIV)

How often have you witnessed or experienced someone saying, “I would recognize that voice anywhere!”  Most of us have people in our lives that could be talking in the midst of a crowd and not even knowing they were there, we would immediately recognize their voice and know who is talking.  That type of recognition doesn’t happen overnight.  It requires much time spent conversing and listening so that we not only know the sound of the voice, we also know the character of the content of what will be spoken.

It is fairly easy to find people who want to hear from God.  Hold a class or teaching series on knowing God’s will and people are quick to sign up.  Change one word in the title and focus the class or teaching series on doing God’s will and all of a sudden participants are nowhere to be found.  Is it possible that many within our modern Christian culture have such a difficult time hearing God’s voice because we have consistently failed to listen to the things we know He has said?

Rarely a day goes by but what I hear or read the statement, “My God would never ____________” with the blank being filled in by something that even a casual reading of scripture would show God has in fact done or said.  I find it interesting that these statements are always “My God would never” and not simply “God would never”.  We have indeed created God in our own image and often define Him in ways that make us feel comfortable and safe.  In the midst of such a culture, it is no wonder we struggle with hearing and knowing the voice of our Shepherd.

It is in our quiet times with God and His Word that we become familiar with His voice and begin to recognize the things that He would say by understanding the things that He has already said.  The quiet times are necessary so that we are prepared to hear our Shepherd’s voice even in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  Scripture teaches us that Jesus would often withdraw to “lonely places” to spend time with His Father, but as you read about the life of Jesus it should be clear that He recognized and obeyed the voice of His Father even in the midst of the crowds.  God expects and wants us to listen, to recognize His voice and to follow it, each moment that we live — whether in quiet times or in times surrounded by the crowds of this world.

Jesus says that His sheep will know His voice and they will follow Him.  When you and I struggle with questions about hearing God, perhaps we need to seriously examine if the problem is really in the hearing or in the following.  I pray that you and I are not only hearers of the Word, but doers of the Word as well.

In prayer,
Tom

The TRUTH that Leads to Freedom

 “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. . . . So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.'”
John 8:31-32, 36 (NIV)

I had the privilege of sharing a sermon this morning from John 8:31-59 as I chose to address the topic of freedom on this Fourth of July holiday weekend.  I opened by reading a poem, Freedom, that God had put in my mind to write yesterday morning.  Then, as my custom is, I used a word of the sermon title as an acrostic to outline my sermon.  God calls His followers to know, live, and share a freedom that can only be found in the truth of Jesus who claims, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

As we unwrapped “The TRUTH that Leads to Freedom”, we first looked at the Teaching that leads to freedom.  Jesus stated that by holding fast to His teachings we show that we are His disciples and will be set free by the truth of them.  Jesus made it clear in the story of the wise and foolish builders, that there is a difference between knowing the teachings of Jesus and actually putting them into practice.  It is by being a “doer of the word and not a hearer only” that we find the Teaching that leads to freedom.

The second point of the message addressed our need to practice a Repentance that leads to freedom.  Repentance is a word, and practice, that most of us tend to avoid because it requires an admittance that there is something not right in our life.  Often lost in a culture that loves to quote “judge not”, is the clear message of Jesus that He came not to call the righteous but to call sinners to repentance.  The real excitement in that last sentence ought to be the realization that Jesus came to call you and I to a Repentance that leads to freedom!

Through Jesus, we also gain an Understanding that leads to freedom.  Some of my favorite passages in the Bible are when Jesus addresses His disciples and refers to them as “dull” or asks them, “do you not understand?”.  I love these because it shows that Jesus knows that my understanding of who He is and the freedom He offers is a growing process.  In one of those passages there is an expressed concern about the keeping of some Jewish ceremonial practices to be considered clean.  Jesus explains that it is what is inside of a person that makes them clean or unclean  It is knowing, and trusting, the promises of Jesus to wash away my sins that gives me an Understanding that leads to freedom.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the message was this fourth point as I addressed the Traditions that lead to freedom.  I must make it very clear, it is not the traditions themselves that lead to freedom rather an examination and understanding of why I practice them.  Jesus made it clear to those accusing Him of forsaking the Law of God, as found in the Old Testament, that His intention was not to abolish the law, but rather to fulfill it.  He was keeping and fulfilling the law not for the sake of tradition but because he understood and believed the purpose behind it.  When we seek the old paths, paths founded in the truth of God’s Word, and walk intentionally in them as part of our relationship with God, we discover Traditions that lead to freedom.

Finally, we considered the Honor that leads to freedom.  Jesus could do and say the things He did while on earth because He wasn’t concerned about bringing honor and glory to Himself.  He was despised, ridiculed, rejected, and crucified all while living in complete freedom.  His stated goal was to not bring glory to Himself but to honor His Father.  It is so easy to get caught in the trap of compromise as we become afraid of what people will think of us.  Most of us want people to speak well of us and to honor us for our accomplishments and for who we are.  The problem is not so much in honoring people or being honored by people — God tells us to give honor to whom honor is due.  What keeps us from experiencing freedom is our desire to bring honor to ourselves.  It is when we make the focus of our life all about bringing glory to God that we can experience the Honor that leads to freedom.

Like the Jewish listeners in the days of Jesus, I think many people are disgusted with the idea that someone would set them free.  That original audience believed they were already free and had never been enslaved to anyone or anything — sounds rather familiar and contemporary to today’s culture, at least to me.  As much as we like to fight for our freedoms and shout to be heard, it doesn’t appear to be working all that well.  Perhaps it is time we turn to The TRUTH that Leads to Freedom!

In prayer,
Tom

Seeking the LOST!

Seeking the LOST!

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
Luke 19:10 (NIV)

I’ve been preaching a sermon series through the book of Luke with a focus of looking at the life and teachings of Christ to see how we ought to live as Christians.  Tonight we reached chapter 15 which contains the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost (prodigal) son.  As I looked at this chapter, I was reminded of the importance that seeking and saving the lost is to Jesus.  

I’m guessing that most, if not all, of those reading this would agree about the importance of the lost to Jesus.  The bigger question for those of us wearing the name Christian is if the lost are that important to us.  I’m afraid far too often we are more concerned with seeking people just like us than we are about seeking the lost — if we even think about seeking anyone!  

So, what do the lost look like that Jesus would be seeking . . . and because of that, we ought to be seeking as well?  I share the following outline as a starting point in our work of seeking the LOST!

  • Seek the Lonely

  • Seek the Objectified

  • Seek the Sinner

  • Seek the Tired

I am confident that no one would have to look very far to find a person that is in each of those categories . . . we may just need to look in the mirror!  As we realize that these describe people who Jesus came to seek, we must make it a priority of our life to seek them as well.  To live like Christ means we must also seek like Christ.  To seek like Christ means that we must seek the LOST that are all around us with the message of hope through the good news of Jesus.

In prayer,
Tom