Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Business/Sales luncheon.

Read Proverbs 23:1-3

This power lunch that the writer indicates is one in which a powerful person (the spider) is inviting an unsuspecting innocent (the fly) into his web to advance his self serving agenda. The host is generally a master in the art of manipulation.

I have been to many of these coffees/buffets/brunches/teas/dinners/lunches/dinners.

They usually end with declarations like: "Welcome to the wonderful world of Amway." Sometimes, "Here's the paperwork for you to sign." Or, more commonly, "How much can we put you down for?"

The writer assumes that these meals are sometimes unavoidable, so he gives instructions how to make it through the meal unscathed.

1. Be mindful that he who pays the check will have an agenda. There are no free lunches. Use wisdom and descretion at this meal. Be watchful for for their angle.  "Consider diligently."vs 1

2. He expects that you will be beholden to him.  If you don't buy in, there will be $24.95 worth of guilt, and he knows that normal people feel this pressure. Imagine, you stand to give up $$$thousands to pay off the guilt of this one meal! It is a great investment for his business. "For they are deceitful meat." vs 3

3. Use self-control! He figures the more you eat, the more control he will have over you. You have heard the term, "eating yourself stupid?" This applies. "Put a knife to your throat." vs 2. This seems extreme, but if you have ever bought a time share, you will chuckle in agreement, "I should have cut my throat than to get into this!"

Consider that this meal is going to cost you more than it costs him, otherwise there would have been no invite. The successful and powerful got where they are by conniving, convincing and cajoling. Stand firm, thank them for their kindness and let them know your service is to the Lord, through the local church and that your hard-earned money is going to support your family and the Lord's work. And, NO! your organization is not the Lord's work. Pyramid! I mean, Period.

The menu will most likely consist of:
Smooth tongue
Twisted arm
Bent ear
Squeezed heart
Punched kidney
Pulled leg
Seared conscience

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


LOSS – I am struck that Christmas, to many people, is underscored by an intense sense of loss.

More people than you can imagine are emotionally distraught during the holidays, because the festivities remind them that someone is missing. They realize that this is the first Christmas without their loved one. Or the anniversary of the loss of a spouse, or a parent or a child.

Christmas joy and celebration in the lives of others, emphasized by the music in the restaurants and stores and malls, by the decorations, by the wall-to-wall commercials and TV and movie specials, by the church programs and carols and sermons, is the turn of the knife in the wound for many.

Kudos to those who have this immense sense of loss during the holiday season, yet smile through the tears. They give to others, even though something was taken from them. They say “Merry Christmas” though their heart says “Bah Humbug!”

It is my guess that, for those over the age of 40, at least 80% of people can strongly relate to this malady. (I made that statistic up, but I challenge you to disprove it.) Christmas season holds a certain amount of sadness for them because of loss.

I know, I can relate. I am not a fan of Christmas. Out of duty to the church and a sense of responsibility to my family and my people, I promote the programs, deck the halls, dawn the gay apparel, preach the advent messages, sing the carols, exchange the gifts, and….accept a Christmas bonus.J  I do it with a somewhat genuine smile, and really, really try to mean it.

But something worth everything was taken from me at Christmas time three decades ago. The apple of my eye has never truly been returned to me. My pearl was cast to the swine and trampled underfoot. I have never recovered. I just function. Sometimes at a surprisingly high level, to my dismay.  I suffered loss as much as most anyone I know. Christmas is a Bowie knife sized dagger in my tender section.

But, you know what I found out a long time ago? God’s got this!!! Though He has no obligation to any of us, He will never be a debtor to any person. 

You see, the world had lost its way. God had lost His creation. It was stolen by a slithering serpent, whispering sadistic lies, impugning His sterling character. 

All of His children were lost. They were lost to lust, lost to lasciviousness, lost to lies and lying.

So, for the very first Christmas, 2000 years ago (but planned many millennia prior) God turned Christmas into a time of gain – to more than offset the loss.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Here it is, my holiday challenged friend. For your loss, God has given you:

*His Son! I lost my son 30 years ago at Christmas. But God gave me His own…at Christmas.

*Everlasting life! I effectively lost my life, that is, my living, my ministry. He gave true, abundant, eternal life, by virtue of a virgin born Son.

*Grace!!! What we all need, to overcome all loss, is grace. Abounding grace. Sustaining grace. Manifold grace. True grace. It is grace that carries us through what we cannot do…things like Christmastime.

Here’s what the apostle John (1:14) says in this fantastic Christmas verse: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Bah Humbug! Should We Celebrate the Nativity?

“Humbug” is “language or behavior that is false or meant to deceive people.” 

That may give you a whole new perspective on Ebenezer Scrooge’s pooh-poohing of Christmas. He thought Christmas celebration was contrived to deceive people. 

Considering all the trappings that have evolved around Christmas, he might have been onto something.

Semi-related side note for the fun of it:  Here’s a thing of intrigue… Question - what do the following songs have in common? Winter Wonderland, The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasing…), Sleigh Ride, Let it Snow, White Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, Silver Bells, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, and, There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays? (Answer at the end)

There are a lot of Christians who oppose Christmas celebration because of its pagan and commercial connotations. (i.e., The Dec. 25th birth of Tammuz, the Baal tree of Jeremiah 10:10, Santa Clause, with his Godlike qualities of omniscience and omnipresence, the extreme accompanying commercialism, etc.) Even the name “Christmas” is somewhat dubious. People say, “Keep Christ in Christmas,” I say, take “mas” out of Christmas!

These are usually the same people who don’t like Easter. They aren’t just the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Armstrongites (WWCOG). In colonial America, for example, the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in certain places. There are believers whom you know in your churches that are clenching their teeth throughout the holidays because they don’t subscribe to the celebration of Christ’s birth, especially in late December.

But, the question remains, should the nativity of Christ be celebrated? There are those who would argue that the emphasis in the Bible is not on His birth, but on His death and resurrection. Yes, the Passion of our Lord is the foundation of the Gospel, but is the nativity celebration forbidden in Scripture? Is it encouraged by word or example in the Bible?

1.     The Prophets were excited about the birth of the Messiah. They foretold it with great expectation. Isa 7:14, 9:6 and Micah 5:2 are classic examples. 

2.     Simeon lived to see the baby Jesus. Once he celebrated the newborn King’s arrival, his life’s desire was complete and he had no more reason to live on this earth. Luke 2:25, etc. 

3.     Anna prayed and served God in the temple – longing only for the arrival of God on earth. Luke 2:36-38 

4.     The Angels were pretty pumped about the incarnation. You will have a hard time finding as much angelic hubbub as you witness in the Christmas story. They announced, they instructed, they protected, they gathered, they proclaimed and then they warned. No, they didn’t sing, as far as we know. 

5.     The Shepherds were anything but disinterested concerning God’s Gift of a Savior. Just try getting a shepherd to forsake his flock to attend a birth! They did. Luke 2:8-20 

6.     Wise Men from hundreds of miles away had been studying this possibility for generations and convened a caravan to traverse entire nations to celebrate Christmas by the giving of costly gifts. 

7.     Christmas was so special to Mary that she wrote a song! (it wasn’t “Mary did you Know?”) Luke 1:46-55 

8.     Herod, the original Christmas Grinch, was also moved by this heaven-sent, earth-changing episode, but not in a good way. He was not at all enthralled by the prospect of a Bethlehem Manger scene on the courthouse lawn. Christmas literally drove him mad! 

9.     Paul was not one to discount the birth of Christ. Galatians 4:4 

10.  God Himself gifted us with the world’s favorite Bible verse…and it is a Christmas verse. John 3:16   (be sure to read verse 17 also)

No, the Lord was not born on December 25th. Go ahead and have your celebration in September or October, when He was probably born…but people will think you are crazy and it will not help your testimony when you try witnessing to them.

No, the evergreen tree was not part of the décor in the original manger scene. It could be argued that it is a pagan symbol, or that Martin Luther introduced the lighted tree as an object lesson about Christ being the Light of the world. Do what you want with that.

Yes, gift giving regarding the nativity does have biblical roots per the wise men!

Yes, celebration of the coming of the Lord to be born of a virgin, live an exemplary and spotless life, die a substitutionary death and victoriously rise from the dead is honorable and not to be discouraged.

If He had not been born as prophesied, we would not have the opportunity to believe in Him and have everlasting life.

So, yule logs, Kris Kringle, mistletoe, holly, sleigh bells, credit card debt, honey-cured spiral hams and all the other trappings aside, by all means, celebrate the birth of Christ and knock off the “bah humbug!”

Answer to our earlier question: The composers or lyricists of these songs were Jewish! 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Jews, Christians, Muslims

Jews, Christians, Muslims. Long, hopefully worth it.
I was genuinely touched today. Just for old time's sake, I walked into a little old grocery store on the corner of 27th and Holdrege Street in Lincoln. When I was a child, this was our grocery store, Diamond's Market. Mr. Diamond was an elderly Jewish man who was always so kind to our family.  Whether we had coupons for food or not  he always pretended we did and gave us deep discounts .  Maybe it was because my dear mother had 5 children with her.  As he was tallying us up at the register, he would always say that we forgot our ice cream, and I would get to go back to the freezer case and pick out a half a gallon of ice cream, free! It is now an African/Arabic/Muslim grocery store. Isaac, a Sudanese man, is one of the proprietors. We struck up a beautiful conversation about the store, about family, and about religion. As I got ready to leave, he urged to me to take a drink out of the refrigerated case. I was going to pick up a Snapple tea, but he suggested I take a bottle of this. Well, I thought exactly what you're thinking, that looks like beer! It is a middle eastern lemon flavored malt beverage and is non-alcoholic. It's actually pretty good. But here's the thing, this Muslim man, who knows I am a Christian Pastor, insisted out of the kindness of his heart that I take something as a gift from his store, 45 years after a Jewish man did the same thing for a Lutheran family. Made my day.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Christmas Thought: The Security Blanket

I have watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” several times. You probably have also.

And there is a subtle statement in the movie you may have never noticed before, but it is powerful.

Linus (who is never without his security blanket) drops his blanket when He quotes from the Bible, Luke 2:10.

“Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

Charles Schulz was a believer, and this scene (the dropping of the "Security" blanket) was "on purpose."

Fear not friend, Jesus has come to deliver you from your fears. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

God’s Attention to the Details of My Life – Psalm 139

A person, like myself can get a little excited to consider the richness of this Psalm. That God knows me so intimately, my thoughts, my actions, my words, even the elements that I am made of, and He knows them past, present and future. And yet, He cares deeply for me and will never leave me. Notice His attention to detail: 

He has searched me, He has known me.1
He knows when I sit, when I stand and when I sleep.  2
He not only knows me, but He understands me. Each thought is known to Him. 2
He is acquainted with everything I do. 3
He surrounds me whether I am engaged or asleep. 3
He knows every word I say. 4
He is in front of me and behind me and His hand is upon me. 5
How is this even possible? It boggles my mind. 6
There is nowhere I can go where He is not already there. 7-9
Wherever I am, I am upheld by His right hand.  10
He can see me in the dark!  12
He knew me before I was born, while I was being formed and what I am made of. 13-16
He already had a plan for me back then, every part of me was already accounted for in His book of life. 16
Yet, as imperfect as I am, He deigns to think of me, and His thoughts toward me are precious and many. 17-18
I am secure in Him at all times. 18
Therefore, I will love what He loves and hate what He hates. 19-22
So , I ask that He continue His scan of my heart, my thoughts, my life. 23
I pray that He alerts me when I am in the wrong. 24 
I plead for Him to lead me to do right. 24 

Friend, we matter to God! I told Him this morning that the ratio of His care for me and my care for Him must be 1 billion to 1. And yet, His watch care over me remains forever unchanged. 

Psa 139:1  To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me.
Psa 139:2  Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.
Psa 139:3  Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
Psa 139:4  For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.
Psa 139:5  Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.
Psa 139:6  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.
Psa 139:7  Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
Psa 139:8  If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
Psa 139:9  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Psa 139:10  Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
Psa 139:11  If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
Psa 139:12  Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.
Psa 139:13  For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb.
Psa 139:14  I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.
Psa 139:15  My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Psa 139:16  Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
Psa 139:17  How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!
Psa 139:18  If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.
Psa 139:19  Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men.
Psa 139:20  For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain.
Psa 139:21  Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?
Psa 139:22  I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.
Psa 139:23  Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
Psa 139:24  And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Merry Christmas from the Angels!

Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. 20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. 21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

See also: Luke 1:26-33 and 2:9-13

Our culture’s most common advent greeting is “Merry Christmas.” A furor has arisen over the last several years about our holiday greetings. Political correctness has forced many in the workplace and in schools to offer the “Happy Holidays” wishes so as to not offend people of other faiths, or no faith.

Tonight, my daughter’s public school’s winter concert will include the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel’s Messiah, in which hundreds of attendees will rise, honoring the long-standing tradition started by England’s queen its first performance. I will raise my hands in humble adoration to Him Who reigneth forever and ever as I yearn for the coronation day when the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.

I can only imagine the consternation of the atheists and agnostics present and the bewilderment of the Muslims in attendance who will be befuddled by the overwhelming corporate reverence shown to a Figure over which they thought their tolerance and inclusion law suits had relegated to the church services in houses of Christian worship. Truly, we wish no offense to man, but all honor to God!

I digress. I actually personally prefer ‘Happy Holidays” over “Merry Christmas” having a choice between the two, though I am careful not to make a big deal out of it.

(Christ·mas – Origin - Old English Crīstes mæsse or, Christ Mass.)

Surely you see the problem. Many of those who spend Facebook space trying to keep Christ in Christmas by requesting “likes” and “Shares” for one greeting over another in advertising and personal interactions, probably don’t care much for what the Mass represents.

Holidays, on the other hand, comes from Holy Days, which I find much more palatable considering my own religious sensitivities.

Now, if we were Spanish speakers, the greeting “Feliz Navidad” is a wonderful expression used by the faithful. It means happy or merry nativity. Or, to the French, “Joyeux Noel” does no theological harm. It means joyous birth. Noël comes to us from the Latin verb nasci, meaning “to be born.” These terms succinctly express our holy day wishes without reference to the mass, which technically is simply the prayer or song for the dismissal of the liturgy, but what we commonly consider the sacrament of the re-crucifixion of the Lord, wherein wine literally turns to Christ’s blood and the wafer to His body, ingested by participants in order to receive grace.

But in the long ago and far away, none of these greetings held a candle (sorry for the allusion) to the simple repetitious greeting of the angels, “Fear Not!”

Heaven had been pretty much silent for 400 years. Jews went about their days hoping for a deliverer but feeling forsaken by heaven because of their backslidden ancestors. A few miracles transpired during those silent centuries: Chanukah and the Maccabees; troubled waters at the pool of Bethesda… but no real continuing works of God as seen in the olden days. Angelic visitations were not welcome in those times. The appearance of an angel usually meant death or disaster for a lot of people.

But now, as Heaven speaks and angels visit, as shepherds quake and virgins give birth, as wise men journey and espoused husbands fret, miracles occur once again. But there is only good news. Mary would be the first one to (literally) carry the Gospel, the Good News that Christ was to appear on earth. It was in the fullness of time that God would send His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. Galatians 4:4-5.

The holiday greeting of the day was Fear Not! Fear not Mary, that which is born of you is holy. Fear not Joseph, your wife is of child by the Holy Ghost. Fear not shepherds, unto you is born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. Fear not people of the earth, the peace Child is born, goodwill to men.

So, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Feliz Navidad and Fear Not!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Message to Self: Seek God's Approval, Not Man's

Psa 119:45  And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts.

For many years as a believer and a Christian leader, my walk was in bondage, not at liberty. Mine was a life of failure, unmet expectations and even guilt.

I was in bondage to legalistic dogma which dictated that my dress, my speech, my music, my entertainment, my comportment and so much more, line up with ecclesiastical pontiffs' dictums.

Then, through a series of eye-opening incidents, most of which resulted in great failure of the legalistic system, I began to learn, and still am trying to absorb, what are the clear precepts of the Lord.

His commands, word, law, precepts, testimonies, judgments and statutes are not located in the student manual of a Bible college or in the notes of a high-powered evangelist or in the philosophy of tyrannical mega-church pastors. They are delineated in the 66 books of the Bible, and taught by the Holy Spirit to those who love God, who are committed to His ways and who immerse themselves in His teachings.

I am not at all against rules. A life, a family, a school, a society must have guidelines to function and secure safety. Those rules should reflect scriptural precepts. But when the black and white of a student handbook or a preacher’s sermon notes implies that those rules carry the weight of Scripture and must follow you throughout life, or when some preacher indicates not that you should follow him as he follows Christ, but that you should submit to him as he submits to Christ, you have ventured outside of abundant life Christianity and into Taliban oriented religion.

God never meant for your faith to be a list of regulations, but a lift of relationship with Him. Your walk is not meant to focus on do’s and don’t’s but on the Author and Finisher of our faith. You are not meant to live in guilt and fear but to walk at liberty.

When it comes down to it, miserable and failed Christianity will result from people-pleasing. Abundant, joy-filled living comes from seeking His precepts and His person. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Of Saints and Aints

Psa 106:16  They envied Moses also in the camp, and Aaron the saint of the LORD.

Aaron, the saint of the Lord?

He is the one that had his arm twisted by those impatient ingrates to fashion a calf god for Israel to dance around and worship. Eeeyeew!

This goes to show, it is the Lord, and not us who determines who is and who isn't qualified for saintliness. If it depended on us failed saints, we would be "aints."

Thank God for His forgiveness, for His understanding that we are but dust and are at best, reclaimed sinners, covered buy the blood of the Savior.

I wonder that we've never seen a church called, St. Aaron's? After all, I have seen a St. Dimas Church. In fact, I lived in San Dimas, CA for a while. He was the one who forsook Paul in favor of loving the world.

Just some thoughts for the day.

Blessings saints!