Joy, Pain and Christmas

The season of Christmas has such interesting dynamics to it.  On the one hand, it is really fun.  I mean who doesn’t love seeing their kids dressed like sheep and angels?  It can be fun to have time to catch up with family or friends. My daughter was giving me the details on how many sleeps it is until Christmas and the order of events.  To say she is excited about this Christmas is an understatement.  But in all of my preparation this week for two services,  and time with my family I have been thinking about the amount of suffering that people are going through.  Does that seem strange?  Well, keep in mind I am a Pastor of a church and an EMT in the local community.  I have seen some suffering.  I know we sing songs about how wonderful this time of year is and declare “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come.”  But what about those who are not experiencing so much joy

tree
Christ is the hope of Christmas.

this year?  You can’t just sing it and make the pain go away.  Some people have experienced more loss this year than at any point in their life.  Suicide.  Depression.  Alcoholism.  Abuse of all kinds.  Stress.  Anger. Anxiety. Financial Challenges. Illness. I mean, can we just be honest and say that for some people this season does not make pain get better, it just amplifies the issues.

So what difference does this baby make for those who are hurting this Christmas?  Micah 5:5 says that this ruler who was to come out of Bethlehem would be our peace.  Peace is something we talk about and strive for, but can’t seem to achieve.  But if Jesus is our peace, maybe we can experience it.  Maybe this one we celebrate can actually enter into my mess and help me.   And of course the answer is emphatically “yes!”  You are why He came!  You are why He left the comforts of His heavenly home and entered our world in an insignificant town surrounded by insignificant people on some insignificant day in a very insignificant way.  In doing so, however, He did provide for us something we were so desperate for: hope.  Hope says that while right now things are a mess; one day things will no longer be that way.  Why?  Because Jesus has come and is coming again.

Do you have some questions?  Yes.  Do you have some things you are hoping to see resolved?  Yes.  But there is comfort in knowing God was not content just telling us how to live; He needed to send His son to demonstrate His love for us.

So if you are in a good place right now and you know someone who isn’t, it could be a real good idea to encourage them in some way.  In fact, I think it is exactly what Christ demonstrates for us in His birth.  He showed up in our mess in order to save us from it.  I  have showed up many times just to visit with someone who was really having a tough time.  Those kinds of things mean the world to people.   It reminds them that God has not forgotten them — the very heart of the Christmas story.

Oh, and get to it because there are only 3 more sleeps until Christmas.

 


Want to hear more about what Jesus Christ has offered to us?   Check out my Christmas Sermon Series on our Church Website.

God’s Glory and Grace on National Display

The eyes of the nation are on the state of Oklahoma today because we all can relate to the brokenness on display there.  These events break our hearts because we know how quickly things can change for any of us.  Storms make us recognize how little control we actually have in life and this life is valuable because we are made in God’s image.  So, these events bring out that camaraderie we have with other people whether we know them or not.    We mourn because lives were lost and weep with those who weep.

We also take comfort in these tragedies because while we have no control over things, God has ultimate control.  In the midst of pain He displays His glory and grace in ways He might not have otherwise.  It is hard to understand, but we are called to have faith in our unfailing God.  We don’t have to see how it all ends; we just need to trust our God who does.   C.S. Lewis said it like this in the book “The Problem of Pain”, We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

If we are left to our own understanding and ways we will reject God every time   In fact, when things are going really well is when we see people take larger steps away from God.  Yet, it is in those times of weakness that we learn to lean a little more.  It is in those times of pain that we see the hopeless state we are in and how we do need a Savior.  It is there when we throw up our hands in surrender and praise knowing that we serve a mighty God that is never surprised by anything that happens.  We serve a God who understands that in is the ultimate problem with this world and  has given us a way out of it through Jesus Christ.

What is a proper response in this?  We pray and look for ways to help.  We also praise God because He sees all, knows all, and redeems circumstances like this for His glory.  As Jesus ministers to people, they know that there is a God who loves them and has a plan in their lives.

Interestingly enough, in the wake of all that went on in Oklahoma last night, God was using a show on NBC to display His glory and grace.   It really could not have been planned better because of the statement it made to people watching.  Here is a clip from the television show “The Voice.”  Yes, this was broadcast on network TV last night.  Praise God!

Life Through Eyes of Faith

Surprise!  If only they were all such nice surprises!
Surprise! If only they were all such nice surprises!

As expected, unexpected things happen.  Sometimes they are a lot of fun like all of those videos of parents surprising their children with trips to Disney World.  Other times they are heartbreaking like a child getting diagnosed with cancer.   Still others shake the very core of who we are.  Why would they hurt innocent children?  Why would the person that loved you all those years leave it all for a stranger?  Words fail to make sense of it at times.

Truthfully with life’s unexpected circumstances come many challenges to our faith.  Events have a way of clarifying what it is that we believe in.  God meets us in the midst of these things not to make it all go away, but rather to help us see through eyes of faith.  Eyes of faith remind us that there is hope in a future beyond any circumstances that disrupt our lives now.   Eyes of faith see this place as only a temporary home where our longing only increases for our home for eternity and being with our Savior.   Faith recognizes that God is fulfilling His plan and it is a plan that will be accomplished.  We know that for a fact.  What we don’t know is when it will be completed.  In other words, the work God is doing might not be completed until after you are out of the picture.   That does not mean God is not at work.

My 5-year-old son randomly brought up the shooting in Connecticut the other day.  He said, “I am just sad that someone shot kids.  Why would he do that?”  Great question!  It is a question that pundits have tried to figure out for the last month.  He goes on to say, “what if I was in that classroom and I was too young to die?”  It is a sad testimony to our world that I must have these discussions with my 5-year-old.  But does that mean God is not at work in it all?  Absolutely not!    God will perfectly weave it all together as it fits into His redemptive plan for His people.  Will we see it all completed?  I don’t know.   My faith is in the eternal God not the temporary circumstances.

“All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.  And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on the earth.” – Hebrews 11: 13

A Bible pulled from the rubble of our church-- reminds us of God's faithfulness
A Bible pulled from the rubble of our church– reminds us of God’s faithfulness

We live by faith in a God who always keeps His promises.  We live that way despite the circumstances before us knowing that our days are numbered and our residency is not here but in heaven.  Don’t let circumstances define how you view God, but let your God speak into your circumstances with words of hope and purpose.  When you do that you will be able to face all of life trough eyes of faith.

Run To The Cross Today

There is no limit to what God can do because God has no limits.  He is God.  I find that to be encouraging when I see such depravity in our world.   It is encouraging to note that things have always been that way.  Take John 5, as an example of that.   It was a scene of despair, hopelessness and loneliness.   It was a scene around a pool of water where all those who were physically disabled gathered.  It would likely have been a place most people avoided. Yet, Jesus goes and meets a man who is in a place of despair and ministers to him physically and spiritually.

That is incredibly encouraging to think about.  God does not wait for us to come to Him; He comes to us.  That is the message of the cross.  This is what we celebrate every day of our lives.

I thought today might be a day to encourage people when all we see is violence in the world.  And while you might not be in as rough of shape as the man who was an invalid for 38 years in John 5, you might still be in a tough spot.  Without Jesus Christ we are all spiritually dead and without hope.  The only way we are made alive is through a relationship with Jesus Christ.  He is more than just the giver of gifts, He is the gift Himself.

Today I simply want to encourage anyone who might stop by to run daily to the cross, including today.  That is the only way any of the chaos makes sense and the only way we are able to overcome sin.

Riding for a Good Cause

They are the words that change lives.  The doctor looks over the data and sits down with your family only to tell you that you have cancer.  This cancer is an aggressive cancer and will need to be treated with drugs that will kill the cancer, but also seriously damage your body.  This is devastating news to people.  It is news that is hard to swallow and process.  It changes perspectives and directions of lives.  My life was without too many interactions with cancer.  In fact, to me cancer was a strange life force that did some bad things to a body.  I had no idea what it looked like up close.

Last year, I started to have my eyes opened to it.  A boy in my youth group was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and I was thrust into a front row seat for his treatment.  It is hard enough trying to help other students understand cancer, much less my own children who were also trying to understand what this cancer was in his body.  Of course, once I walked into the Jimmy Fund Clinic and saw the countless children who are suffering with some form of cancer, I was overcome with sadness.  I remember one of my first times at the clinic I saw a young boy walking around with his chemo drugs being wheeled behind him.  This boy reminded me of my young son.  It was during that time that we also had our 4th child and I went to another appointment and saw an infant being treated for cancer.  With so much suffering, it is hard to know what to think.  I know it did make me appreciate my healthy children and also broke my heart for the people who suffer.

My kids have been praying and doing whatever they can to wrap their minds around the severity of cancer.  We have done all we can to help them see that while we can’t control the outcome of it, we can petition the God who can.  We also can be an advocate and involved in the process to help people who are going through these horrific treatments know that they are not alone.

So, when the school sent home information about a Pan Mass Challenge for kids I knew my two older boys would want to do it.  They solicited some donations for the ride and rode last Saturday at the elementary school.  They rode for people who are fighting for their lives.  As I watched, I was so proud of them for their willingness and desire to be a part of this.  We did not make them do this.  They wanted to because they want to see cancer disappear.  It makes me emotional to think about.

Riding for a cure

This illustrates exactly what I mean when I talk about “No Throw Aways.”  We give, we serve, we love other people because we have been given a life to live.  There are no wasted days.  There are no wasted times. We are not to view days as throw aways, we are to be a blessing to other people and bring God glory.  These sorts of events go on all over the place.  Perhaps you can find a way to get involved.  I know that I went through many years without even thinking about it, never realizing the sheer magnitude of people who are going through treatments.  My eyes have been opened, my kids’ eyes have been opened and I pray that many more people will be able to see the broken lives around them.  This is what Jesus calls us to do and when we serve He is magnified.

It is not too late to get involved in this fundraiser.  You can follow the link and support them. (here)  But, even that is not the point of this post. I just hope that you take a few minutes to look at the needy people in your community and look for a way to bless them.  It might not be cancer, it might be loneliness.  But, when we stop to see the people around us, God blesses and people are touched.  We can make a difference!

What have you been involved in for people who are hurting?  Are there any organizations that you have worked with that really do a great job at this?  I would love to hear your story!  Below is a short video from the event.  I hope you are blessed by it.

No bargaining needed because it is finished!

All the talk going on about the recall election in Wisconsin and collective bargaining has made me look up what it actually is about.  I do not live in Wisconsin, but I grew up there and at least am mildly interested in this.  It concerns me to see so much time, effort and money going into an event like this one.  The way the rhetoric is flying you would think this actually was important. Well, at some level I suppose the conversation is important. But, at the normal, everyday, people are in pain and need help level, it does no good at all.  In fact, it makes no difference who is elected to office because the King of the World is not elected, He reigns.

While people rally and complained over a governor they didn’t like, I spent yet another day at the Jimmy Fund Clinic in Boston with a teenage boy who has cancer.    It has been over a year now since he was diagnosed with cancer and it has taken its toll on him.  It is hard enough to watch him go through it, but when you add all the others who are there it becomes somewhat unbearable.  While people go about their daily life and take issue with things that ultimately don’t matter, these people suffer through intense treatments with no guarantee that they will survive.  In my time going to the clinic, I have heard of a handful of children who have lost their lives to cancer. It is heart breaking to watch so many people suffer.   In the light of that sort of suffering, does it really matter if your union has collective bargaining rights or not?

But, I understand the objections to that comment.  Many will say I am being closed-minded, or short-sighted.  Maybe I am just not sympathizing with those who are working those jobs.  Let me assure you that my angle here is not political, it is spiritual. To me it makes no difference what job you do, what money you are making or how powerful your bargaining rights are.  At the end of the day, we are all in need of salvation because we all will face death and will stand before God.  Some people are up against the reality of death in a much more vivid way right now as they struggle with serious illnesses, while others forget about their mortality and make big issues out of things that really aren’t. When we get too caught up in politics it is easy to lose track of what matters.   When God sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins, there was no collective bargaining involved. The price was set.  The deal was made and it was either to be accomplished or abandoned.  Thankfully in the midst of the suffering Jesus allowed the will of God to be accomplished and not His desire to be free from pain. In an instant, it was finished and the grip that sin had on our lives was removed.

You see, if we had it our way we would try to earn our way to God.  If we took the same approach these politicians want to take we would tell God that we will live this way and do these things if He does these things in return.  But, God has done it all for us already.  We just need to accept it.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

When it comes to the most important thing, salvation, no bargaining is needed.  It is finished.  It is offered to all and God is still the true King.  He is who we need and He is the one we ought to be desparate for.  The song below is a song that expresses that.  If you have time, listen to it prayerfully.  I know you will be encouraged to live your life in Christ with the things that matter at the front.

Going Against the Flow

I find it to be quite remarkable how God uses things within His creation to teach us things.  There are so many pictures right out in the open that give us an amazing handle on the truth of God’s Word.

On Tuesday, we went to the Herring Run in town.  Every year the Herring make their way upstream, literally jumping up stairs, in order to end up in a pond to spawn.  It is a heroic journey, as they can become easy prey for Seagulls that are opportunists when it comes to food.  Yet, they work hard, swimming against the current, in order to reach their destination.

This was a vivid illustration for me as to the way the world is and the way those who follow Christ are to live in it.  Think about it.  The journey is exhausting, uphill and treacherous, yet the prize at the end is worth it all.  As I watched this water push at these fish, it was interesting to me that some will spend time waiting to move on and get killed.  Some will get lulled to sleep and then fall back downstream. Some will press on and we were able to go to the end and see those fish that made it.  You just know they have earned it when they get there.   I also consider the fact that they start on this journey without knowing how long it actually is.  This is like our lives as well.  Whether it is suffering or just normal daily life, we just never really know what the big picture is.  We just know what the ultimate destination is.

One of the steps upstream
Fish resting for the next jump
Where it goes under the road
The last passage way

I think about my own life as a believer and I know that I can relate.  As I talk with teenagers, I see their struggle with all the world has to offer.  It feels like the current is getting stronger, but we are called to perseverance.  We are called to finish the race! Let’s not grow weary because there is an end and all we go through will be instantly vindicated in that place.

If we ever lose heart, we just need to look at Jesus Christ who finished the race for us!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2