Author Archives: Carol

It’s a Wonderful Life – Dec. 9, 2018

In 1943 Philip Van Doren Stern wrote a short story called “The Greatest Gift”. Unable to find a publisher, he sent 200 copies he had printed, as a 21-page booklet, to friends as Christmas presents in December 1943.

A producer at RKO Film Studios was sent a copy of the story. In the end, the short book sold to RKO for $10,000 – that would be like $150,000 today!

The book would end up in the hands of Frank Capra, one of the most popular directors of his day. ‘The Greatest Gift’ went on to become the plot line for ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. Frank Capra believed it would go on to become the greatest movie he ever directed. But when ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ premiered in December of 1946, it was a box office bust. It lost $525,000. While a few critics enjoyed it, the public ‘went to see’ another movie called ‘The Best Years of our Lives’. It overshadowed ‘It’s a Wonderful Life and took home ‘most of the Academy awards in 1947. 

Also, the FBI wanted the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ banned and they called it subversive. They said it discredited bankers and made people with money look like mean and despicable people. They labeled it un-American and said it was part of a Communist plot to damage our Capitalist society. (seriously!)

Embarrassed by the response to the movie and damaged by all the money it lost, the studio shelved ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and it almost slipped off into obscurity. Due to a licensing restrictions lapse, the film found a second life. Major studio executives, who loved it as children, brought it back as a Christmas special in 1976 and since then, it has never gone off the air!

Also, since that time, the movie has become the most beloved holiday movie ever made. It is currently #11 on the American Film Institutes top 100 greatest movies of all time.

 “It’s the darnedest ( not his exact word) thing I’ve ever seen”, Capra told The Wall Street Journal in 1984. “The film has a life of its own now…I’m like a parent, whose kid grows up to be president.” He said he wanted to make the film ‘to combat atheism’ which seemed to be taking over after the war. He also admitted it was always his favorite out of all the movies he directed.

I imagine almost everyone has seen it, so I will give just a short synopsis. It’s a Wonderful life is the story of George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart. On Christmas Eve 1945, in Bedford Falls, New YorkGeorge Bailey contemplates suicide. Prayers for him reach heaven, where  Clarence Odbody, Angel 2nd Class, is assigned to help George. If he does, in return, he will earn his wings in heaven.

George Bailey is a good man who puts the needs of others before himself – but his life has taken an awful turn. A chain of events has taken place to make him believe that everyone would be better off if he was dead. As he stands on a bridge getting up the nerve to jump off, Clarence, the angel, jumps in the river and calls out for help. George jumps in to save him.

While they are drying off, George explains how badly his life is going and he has concluded, “Everyone would have been better if I was never born.”

Then Clarence decides to grant George’s wish and show him how the world would have looked, if George was never born. What he comes to find out is that,

– George’s brother, Harry, who George saved from drowning still dies and so do all the soldiers Harry would have saved in the war.

– The Pharmacist, Who George stopped from making a tragic mistake, still makes it and he became the town drunk. He lost everything.

– The town which George worked so hard to help – became an awful place to live.

– George’s Uncle Billy was eventually institutionalized.

– And Mary, George’s wife never married and ended up lonely and sad.

In the end, George begs for his life back and finally realizes that despite the tough times, he really has led ‘a wonderful life’. What makes the story so compelling, I think, is that it mirrors our lives and many of the people we read about in the Bible. There are good times and tough times – yet God is with us through it all.

Take the story of Mary, a young woman engaged to be married to a carpenter named Joseph. She grew up in a faithful family and she was raised with a strong faith. She was on the cusp of being married and raising a family. She was hopeful and humble.

To her, God sent his angel, Gabriel, to the town of Nazareth in Galilee. People in her day believed that if you saw an angel, it was often because God was sending you a warning. Some even believed that you could die from the shock of seeing one.

Scripture does not say that Gabriel appeared suddenly, but that he simply went to see her. As he approached her he said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.” It was unusual for strange men to talk to women in such a way and so Mary was perplexed by his words and wondered just what he wanted.

Then Gabriel said, “Do not be frightened Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have never been with a man?”

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born of you ‘will be holy’; he will be called ‘Son of God’. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her – who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” 

Then Mary said, “Here am I, a servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Did Mary believe this had been an angel or more likely a prophet? We don’t know.

Yet she believed and it is credited to her that she had an amazing faith. But how was she to explain this to Joseph?

Mary made some excuse to go and visit her cousin Elizabeth ‘in a town in the Judean hills’ and she left quickly. Mary stayed with her about 3 months until Elizabeth’s child was to be born. (Luke 1:39-40, 56) It is likely, that when she headed back home she knew she had to tell Joseph.

Matthew’s Gospel of course tells us how he responded; he was clearly hurt and upset. And then, how God sent an angel to Joseph in a dream to explain things. (Matthew 1:18-25)

But imagine, for a second, how Mary must have felt about all this. This stranger, the angel Gabriel, had told Mary that she had found favor in God’s eyes. And then, her life was turned upside down! What kind of blessing would this be?

Then, after the birth of Jesus, in an animal shelter, they were warned by God, in a dream to flee for their lives to Egypt. Imagine how hard that had to be for Mary and Joseph, traveling with a small child. (Matthew 2:13-15)

Later, when they took their son to be presented at the Temple, the priest, Simeon said to Mary, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign ‘that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed’. And a sword will pierce your own soul also.” (Luke 2:21,34-35)

All of these things were to be ‘made true’ when Jesus was arrested and placed on a cross. Mary stood at the foot of it weeping and being comforted by the apostle John. (John 19:26-27)

I cannot think of a worse fate, than a mother watching her son die on a cross as he was being crucified. After seeing a soldier pierce Jesus’ side, I imagine she felt like a sword had also pierced her own soul too. Like George Bailey, I imagine she wanted to die there and then. How much can one person take?

The Bible holds nothing back. We see the highs and the lows. There is joy and there is suffering. We do not have answers but we must keep our eyes on the Lord. He is always with us. That is what Immanuel means “God with us” through the triumph and pain. He knows what we cannot see.

Like me, I am sure you have also ridden the wild roller coaster of life. There were times I wondered why I was born. I wondered if the world was better off without me. I wondered if anyone would miss me when I was gone. And I wondered why God was allowing me to endure suffering.

King Solomon was the wisest man to ever live. In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 he wrote,

  There is a time for everything,
  and a season for every activity under the heavens:

  a time to be born and a time to die,
  a time to plant and a time to uproot,
  a time to kill and a time to heal,
  a time to tear down and a time to build,

  a time to weep and a time to laugh,
  a time to mourn and a time to dance,
  a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
  a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

  a time to search and a time to give up,
  a time to keep and a time to throw away,
  a time to tear and a time to mend,
  a time to be silent and a time to speak,

  a time to love and a time to hate,
  a time for war and a time for peace.

Later in Ecclesiastes chapter 7:14 he writes, “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one – as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future.”

In the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” George Bailey had a gift that he wasn’t sure he wanted. His gift was the gift of life. That was “The Greatest Gift”. It took awhile for him to realize what a gift it really was. But you may have noticed, his heart and mind changed before everyone came to his rescue.

 After the resurrection of Jesus, I imagine Mary had a very different feeling about her life. Everything came full circle. You see, the Christmas story is our story. Jesus came to love us, to help us and to be with us in the darkest parts of our life and through him we are given a way of light and hope through any storm.

So if you are experiencing the darkness of despair today, God not only wants you to know that He has made a way for you to make it through but that he wants you to know that in your darkest moments, He is with you always. He sees what we cannot see and there is more than meets the eye.

The Christmas story reminds us that all life matters. We have purpose. Our life matters so much to God that he came down in the person of Jesus. We hear this in John 3:16 which says… ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’

The darkness will not last, the dawn is coming and Jesus is the son, the bearer of light and love.   Always look at the big picture, don’t get lost in the moments – but like Mary, keep holding on to your faith. It is easy to focus on all the things that go wrong – but never forget all the things that went right. We may not always get the life we want – but don’t forget to see the miracles and be glad. Because, you see, in the end, it really is a wonderful life.

Your assignment is…to watch the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ again with fresh eyes. Watch for the people praying. Listen for the truth ‘that life is worth living’. Finally, re-read Mary’s story in Luke. There are many similarities. Then be prepared to hear the Word of God this season, to witness again the birth in Bethlehem, and to rejoice in the celebration of Christ our King. All praise to Jesus,

Amen

‘Arise, shine, your Light has Come’ – Dec 2, 2018

In the movie ‘Home Alone’, the McCallister family are embarking on a vacation to Paris, for Christmas. The trip also includes several members of their extended family. They all gather, eat, sleep and plan on leaving early the next morning.

Kevin is one of the youngest children and he is feeling picked on and unappreciated. After a fight with his older brother, he is sent to bed early, alone to the attic. While he is there, he makes a wish that his family would ‘disappear’ so he could be all alone at Christmas.

During the night, a power outage resets the alarm clocks and causes the family to oversleep. In the confusion and frantic rush to reach their flight on time, Kevin is left behind and the family is unaware, until they’re already airborne.

When Kevin wakes up and finds everyone gone, – he believes his wish has been granted. He is delighted that he is ‘alone’ and can do whatever he pleases. 

Kevin eats junk food, watches scary movies and sleeps where-ever he wants, he doesn’t have to answer to anyone. But when burglars threaten to break into his home, he finally realizes what it means to be ‘alone and vulnerable’. Of course, Kevin outwits the burglars – but loneliness creeps in.

By the end of the movie, Kevin is overjoyed to have his family back; even his annoying brother. Families give us security, love and peace. Kevin learns that making a few sacrifices for others is ultimately better than being ‘home alone’.

When I reflect on that movie, it reminds me of mankind’s relationship with God. You see, while Adam and Eve lived ‘in the garden’ with God, they were content. But eventually, they wondered, if they would be better off not having to rely on him. They thought they might be happier not having to answer to God, because then, – they could do whatever they pleased.

So they took matters into their own hands.

At first, they were surprised and enjoyed their new found freedom. But then, they began to experience the emptiness and loneliness that comes from feeling isolated, separated and at odds with God. They were exposed and afraid.

That is how the Israelites were feeling before the birth of Jesus. The people had rebelled – and God had stopped speaking because no one was listening and obeying. For over 400 years, the Israelites went without a sign, miracle or ‘word of hope’ from God. They felt alone, afraid and hopeless. They cried out and God heard them. At just the right time, he sent his Son into the world ‘to save them and us’ and give us hope again.

John 1:14 reads, “The Word became Incarnate and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, – the glory of the ‘only begotten Son’, – who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

And Hebrews 1:3 reads, “The Son is ‘the radiance of God’s Glory’ and the exact representation of his being, ‘sustaining all things’ by his powerful word.”

This Advent season’, I want us to begin thinking about God’s Glory. What does it mean to say that Jesus is ‘God’s Glory revealed’? The whole concept of ‘the glory of the Lord’ surrounds the Christmas story. Isaiah 40:5 proclaims, “And the Glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.”

Luke 2:9 reads, “An angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds, and ‘the glory of the Lord’ shone around them, and they were terrified.”

Finally, Luke 2:32 reads, “You have sent a light for revelation to the Gentiles – and ‘for glory’ to your people Israel.”

At first glance, ‘God’s glory’ seems to be most evident in light. The Gospel of John calls Jesus ‘the light of the world’. The Star of Bethlehem shone light on the manger where Jesus was born. Many artists’ renditions show Jesus standing ‘in a heavenly light’. All of these are meant to represent ‘the Glory of the Lord’.

So light is certainly one part of the equation – but that is just the start. The word Glory can be defined in many ways. In Greek, the word Glory is meant to convey brilliance or radiance. In Hebrew, Glory means; something has weight, heaviness or great worth. Finally in Latin, Glory means honor, majesty or fame.

When we worship and say ‘we give God the glory’, we are using the Latin term. We honor God’s majesty, He is the famous one. Other times, we talk of ‘God’s light shinning all around’. At that point, we are using the Greek understanding of radiance or brilliance.

And when we talk about the depth, mystery or importance of God, we are expressing the Hebrew term. Yet the New Testament, Aramaic definition is a combination of all of these and more. That is because ‘all of these’ are brought together in Jesus the Christ.

The ‘Glory of the Lord’ is ‘a manifestation of God’s attributes’ expressed ‘in the person of Jesus’. It is God’s revelation of his true nature – put into a package that we can finally understand. Let me put it another way, the Bible says everything reveals the Glory of God. All of nature, the stars in the sky and life itself are an expression of God’s glory – they point to Him. Yet they never tell us God’s inner drive. We can see what God did, – but we fail to understand why God did it.

Jesus reveals God’s inner motives. The reason God creates, and redeems – are seen in Jesus – he is God’s truth, – Jesus came to share God’s peace, joy, and hope. But love is the defining character trait.

One of the most difficult parts of the holiday season, for many people, is the reality that, culturally, it has become a family celebration. For those with broken families or fractured relationships, Christmas, – with all its get-togethers, parties and dinners’ only accentuates their loneliness, frustrations and longings. 

But God came to remind us, that we don’t have to be alone and that we should include everyone just as he has embraced us. We are called to be reflectors of God’s light, love and peace. Each of us is ‘a sparkle’, or a sliver of a mirror – that is called to reflect the glory of God.

Thus, Christians are called to ‘let your light shine before mankind, so they may see ‘your good works’, and glorify the Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16) Our lives then, are to illuminate or direct others to God. Our hope, peace, passion, love and forgiveness are just an outreach of all that God has already promised.

The great Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in one of his Christmas sermons, “We are no longer alone. God is with us and we are no longer homeless. A piece of the eternal home is grafted into each of us. For that reason, we ‘grown-ups’ can rejoice with all our heart around the Christmas tree perhaps even more so than the children. We can ‘already’ see the abundance of God’s gifts.

“Just remember ‘all the good things He has given us in the past year’ and, looking at our wondrous tree, feel secure in the promise of “safe lodging” he has prepared for us.”   

What a great insight!

You see, the glory of God is about our enlightenment. It is about God’s love breaking forth in our lives – and into the world. The Word made flesh, than, – is ‘the Word finally making sense to us’. Sometimes we call that the ‘aha moment’ or the ‘hallelujah moment’. That is what Christmas is; it is a reminder of what God did for us in the life of Jesus. God’s glory is seen in the riches, power and majesty of an infinite, eternal God becoming mortal – for our sake.

Put another way, Jesus is the face of God. He is ‘Glory packaged’ as a presentable gift. 

2 Corinthians 4:6 reads, in part, “God made his light shine in our hearts to give us ‘the light of the knowledge of God’s Glory’ displayed in the face of Christ.”

To understand this fully, we must go back to Exodus 33. Here, God is speaking to Moses. The Lord said, “My presence, will go with you, and I will give you rest.”  Then Moses said, “If your presence does not go with us, don’t send us out. We will not be distinguished from ‘all others’ without you.”

God agreed to go with Moses, then Moses asked, “Please, show me your Glory.” (Exodus 33:18) Moses was asking to see the face of God but he also wanted to see everything that God represented. To which God replied, in so many words, “It is more than any one person can handle.”

So Jesus is ‘God’s Glory packaged’ in just the right amount, as to not overwhelm us. And Jesus, like love, is the gift that keeps on giving. Advent then, is truly the season of anticipation and hope. We are seeing the beginning of God’s revelation – in and through Jesus.

His story continues through the miracles, healings and teachings. It is on full display at the crucifixion, – at his death – and made complete in his resurrection. ‘The story of who our God is’, is the Glory of God revealed in Christ Jesus.

Advent is the season for Christians to ‘Arise shine, for your light has come.’ It is a call to arms; a call to share the good news with the lost, the lonely, the afraid, the weak and the crushed in spirit.

For those who already know the Truth, and who have a relationship with Jesus, this is your time to shine. Advent is ‘love come to life’ through a baby, through innocents and through Christ.

Johann Sebastian Bach was born into a musical family in 1685. By the age of ten, both of his parents were dead. Early in his ‘friction-filled life’, the young Bach decided he would write music, but not just any music, …music specifically designed ‘for the glory of God’ and he did.
Most of Bach’s works are explicitly Biblical.

Albert Schweitzer referred to him as the 5th Evangelist or Apostle, – thus comparing him to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  At age 17, Bach became the organist at his church; soon thereafter, he was given charge of the entire music ministry.

During Bach’s ministry in Weimar, Germany he wrote a new cantata every month! And during one, 3 year period, he wrote, conducted, orchestrated, and performed (with his choir and orchestra) a new cantata every week! And he continued to write beautiful music even after he went deaf!

No one had any idea what a mark Bach would leave and his legacy still lives on strong over 300 years later. Many say that his music transcends time and space; not because of who he was – but because of the God he pointed to.

At the beginning of every authentic manuscript he wrote, you will find the letters “J.J.” This stands for Jesu Juva (Jesus help me).At the end of each original manuscript you will find the letters “S.D.G.” This stands for Soli Deo Gratia (to God alone the glory or the praise).

Bach’s music is said to lift the heart and bring peace to the soul’. His hope was that people would draw near to God when they heard it.  If each of us is an instrument of God’s glory, how is ‘our music’, our lives drawing in the least and the lost so they can hear the good news?

Our world is filled with people who are home alone. They often have no hope, peace or comfort. The Glory of God, revealed through Jesus is, the good news that changes everything. The question is, are we an honest reflection of His light?

Your assignment is…to invite 2 people to come to church during this Advent season. Connect with someone who is lost or alone and help bring them into the warmth and light of God’s love. God’s light has come, hope is available, So, Arise shine and share ‘the Glory of God’ with others.

Our God is no longer a mystery, — he has a name, it’s Jesus.

Amen.

10 to 1 – Nov. 18, 2018

In the early hours of September 8, 1860, two boats would collide on Lake Michigan and become the greatest loss of life in the history of the Great Lakes. At approximately 2:30am, the Lady Elgin, a wooden-hulled side-wheel steamship was rammed by the schooner Augusta during a storm.

On board the Lady Elgin were over 400 people. Immediately, Captain Wilson ordered all the cargo tossed overboard and then lowered a lifeboat to inspect the damage. Inside, they worked to stuff mattresses in the hole in the side of the ship. Life preservers were never handed out and within 20 minutes, the ship broke apart and sank within minutes. Many of the passengers and crew went under and never stood a chance of survival. Others who went into the water grabbed anything they could to stay afloat.

Students from Northwestern University and Garrett Biblical Institute hear the news and swam out to look for survivors. One of the students, Edward Spencer, is credited with rescuing 17 passengers over the course of six hours. He continued to swim out and help until he finally collapsed from exhaustion and passed out. He ultimately sustained injuries that left him incapable of earning his degree and he became an invalid for the rest of his life.

While the passenger manifest was lost in the shipwreck, the final tally suggested over 300 lives were lost and just 98 survived. Edward Spencer was interviewed many years later. His final words spoke volumes when he said, “Not one of those 17 he rescued ever came back to meet him or even said thank you.”

In our scriptural passage today, we find a similar pattern of behavior. We begin in the 17th chapter of Luke, verses 11-19. Jesus had been on the road, teaching and healing the sick. He was headed towards Jerusalem, traveling on the boarder between Samaria and Galilee. Most Jewish travelers avoided going through Samaria because the two communities were enemies. As Jesus and his disciples approached an unnamed village, 10 men with leprosy saw him and they cried out to him.

Leprosy often begins with a small white patch on the skin, often on the face or hands, and then it spreads. It attacks the skin and the nerves and does extensive damage to the extremities. The disease can take as long as 30-years to run its course but it untimely leaves the person completely disfigured. It has been described as leaving the person with scaly or alligator type skin. Leprosy can also destroy the vocal cords.

Beth Moore, in her book ‘Jesus The One And Only’, tells of an occasion she was near a modern-day leper colony. While she wanted to minister to them, she said she walked by the entrance to the colony three times but couldn’t bring herself to go in. She saw those who were suffering. She longed to go inside but she could not. The reason? The smell overwhelmed her. The trip passed, she wrote, but she was not able to get past the smell and go inside.

Leviticus 13 gives the regulations about how to deal with skin diseases.

It was ultimately the job of the priest to inspect those with possible infections.

Verse 45-46 reads: “The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” As long as they have the infection they remain unclean. They must live alone; and they must live outside the camp.”

If those with leprosy lost their voice, they were required to wear a bell around their necks – and they were told to stand anywhere from 100 to 300 feet away from others. Their only contact was with others who also had leprosy. Touching someone with leprosy was akin to touching a dead body.

The word Leprosy in Hebrew means ‘to strike, to be smitten or to receive a blow’. The Jews believed that leprosy was caused by God afflicting the person because of past sins. It was, they believed, justified punishment and could only be cured by God alone.

The other thing I want you to notice is, that word of Jesus’ miracles and healings spread quickly, even to isolated groups like lepers. As these 10 men saw Jesus coming, somehow they knew who he was. They stood at a distance and called out in a collective loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

The disciples called Jesus Master or Teacher but what did it mean to these lepers? Master in Greek also refers to an important leader or official. Maybe they were expecting food or water – but they were most likely hoping for a miracle because they called him by name.

Notice, Jesus had not yet seen them but when he heard them he turned in their direction.  I imagine his face softened and there was compassion in his eyes when he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” In other words, get re-evaluated.

But as they looked at themselves and each other, the disease was clearly still present. Maybe they thought this miracle of healing would take some time. Yet, they believed him and they left to do exactly as he said. It should be credited to them that they expected a miracle. Then as they were heading off to go to the Temple, they found that they were miraculously healed.

What must have been going through their minds as they noticed this? Joy? Relief? Excitement that they would see their families again? I imagine one of them saying, “Come on, let’s hurry and go see the priests so we can be pronounced clean!”  At that point, they were no longer thinking about Jesus – but instead on what was ahead of them.

Have you ever noticed when something bad is happening we are often praying like crazy. But later on, more often then not, we forget to thank God for answered prayer.

It isn’t that we aren’t thankful; it’s just that we are so relived we kind of forget where our help really came from. Our attention has turned to something else.

As the ten men celebrate that they are now clean, 9 run off to go see the priests but one turned back to go see Jesus. He was oddly enough, a Samaritan, an outsider, the others were most likely Jews. Normally they would never be caught together – but disease, like sin, levels the playing field.

Albert Schweitzer calls that ‘The Fellowship of the Suffering”. It is a time when no barriers of race, religion, gender or nationality matter. All barriers are lowered.

The Samaritan who was healed wouldn’t need the declaration of being clean by the Jewish priest at the Temple. In fact, Samaritans were not allowed in the Temple, they were considered half-breeds since they were intermarried with gentiles. But surely, someone must have need to declare him clean. Still, this man did not run back home, instead, he ran towards Jesus. What did he know that the others missed?

While the Jews believed God alone heals, maybe this Samaritan really saw God at work in Jesus. I have to believe that is true – because of what happened next…This healed man comes back praising ‘God’ in a loud voice. Then, he threw himself humbly on his face at Jesus’ feet. And I imagine he was weeping as he thanked Jesus over and over again. Much like the woman who poured perfume over the feet of Jesus – and wiped it with her hair and tears, she was beside herself.

Then Jesus asked, “Were not all ten healed?” Clearly he knew the answer. “Where are the other nine? Has no one else retuned to give God praise but this foreigner?”

John’s Gospel begins with this sad observation, it reads, “He came to his own people and they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11-12).

Then Jesus looked down at the man at his feet and said, “Rise and go, your faith his saved you.” Some translations say, your faith has made you well but in this context it really refers to a deeper spiritual healing. This Samaritan had not only been healed in body, he also found saving grace and peace in Jesus Christ.

Evangelist Jack Hinton tells of how he was transformed ‘on one short-term mission trip’ to a leper colony. After he finished preaching he said, “I believe we have time for one more song, does anyone have a request?”

He said a woman ‘who had been facing away from the pulpit’ turned around and that is when he saw her face. He said, “It was the most hideous face I had ever seen. The woman’s nose and ears were entirely gone. The disease had destroyed her lips as well. She lifted a fingerless hand in the air and asked, ‘Can we sing, Count Your Many Blessings?'”

Overcome with emotion, Hinton left the service. He was followed by a team member who said,  “Jack, I guess you’ll never be able to sing that song again.”

Jack replied, “Yes I will, – but I’ll never sing it the same way”.

We have so much to be thankful for. God never discriminates when he offers us his mercy, love and grace. It doesn’t matter what we have done, what we look like or how far we have strayed, he always welcomes us back home. How could we not offer him ‘real heart-felt praise’?

In our modern day world, we ‘too often give credit for healing to doctors, pills and treatments’ (not that they are bad) but fail to recognize the one who really heals. We tend to focus on what we can see and we miss the one who works behind the scenes. Everything we have comes from God.

William Ashley Sunday was an American athlete who, after being a popular outfielder in baseball’s National League during the 1880s, became the most celebrated and influential American evangelist in the early 1900’s. Most know him as Billy Sunday; he had a home here in Indiana and he often traveled to Chicago to preach. They say this is a true story about him…

In the early 1900s, a policeman was walking his beat in Chicago when he observed a man standing before a little mission. The man had removed his hat, and the officer thought he was acting rather strangely. Thinking the man might be drunk or ill, the policeman approached him.

 He noticed that his eyes were closed, so he nudged him and said, “What’s the matter, Mac? Are you sick?” The man looked up and smiled. “No, sir. My name is Billy Sunday — I was converted right here in this mission. I never pass this way without taking the opportunity, if possible, to stand quietly for a moment and whisper a prayer of thanksgiving.”

Let me ask you this morning, “What are you thankful for?”

Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. once said, his mother told him to thank God in all circumstances and to especially thank God for ‘what he had left’. A friend later recounted that he want to Dr. King’s church after he lost his 2 sons (one was Martin Luther King Jr.) and his wife. He said that the Sr. Pastor King was preaching with tears in his eyes proclaiming, “Thank God for what’s left”.

I just wonder, Could you and I be thankful in those circumstances?

Your assignment is…. this Thanksgiving Season, thank God for what he has given you. Then, thank God for all of the things you have never had to endure. Next, thank God for all the future gifts ‘you have yet to receive’. And finally, thank God for everything you have left. (1Thess. 5:18)

Let’s be careful to thank God in Every season, for he is worthy of all our praise.

Happy Thanksgiving,    Amen.

You are My Lamp – Nov. 11, 2018

Moore is the 7th largest city in Oklahoma and it sits ‘in about the middle of the state’. It is located in an area called Tornado Alley. On Monday, May 20, 2013, a large and very powerful EF5 tornado ravaged Moore and nearby cities. An EF5 tornado is one of the strongest storms with winds estimated at 210 mph.

The tornado touched down at 2:56p.m and stayed on the ground for 37 minutes – over a 17-mile path, crossing through a heavily populated section of Moore. The tornado was 2.25 miles wide at its peak. In its direct path were many homes, two elementary schools and a junior high school.

The tornado struck both Briarwood Elementary School and Plaza Towers Elementary School directly, and destroyed Highland East Junior High School’s gym. Briarwood and Plaza Towers sustained enough damage to be considered a total loss. When it was all said and done, 24 people were killed and 212 others were injured in Moore.

While news of the disastrous tornadoes in Oklahoma made the national news, the real story was what happened inside the schools. News reporters later uncovered these stories…

Second-grade teacher Tammy Glasgow got her children into bathrooms and a closet before taking shelter for herself. Wayne Mayes, a first-grade teacher, distracted his students with songs and games as he moved them to safety. Suzanne Haley was ‘impaled by the leg of a desk’ while protecting her students.

Another, pregnant teacher, Cindy Lowe, positioned herself between her students and a falling wall. She suffered a concussion -but because she took the hit, it saved the lives of the children in her care. These brave teachers demonstrated sacrificial love, risking their own lives ‘to protect the lives of the students under their care’.

Mr. Rogers, from his show ‘Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood’ is quoted to have said concerning tragedies: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. Do not focus on the devastation, but focus on those who are working or sacrificing themselves in order to help.”

Ever since September 11, 2001, there is an image I just cannot get out of my mind. While people inside were fleeing to get out, police and fireman were rushing in, to help. Many victims said it gave them great peace to see those brave men and women coming to their rescue.

Let me just ask you, who do you look to when disaster strikes? Who is your refuge in the midst of the storm? Many of the greatest leaders in the Bible turned to God; Abraham, Moses, Deborah, and especially King David.

David is considered by many to be ‘the greatest king to ever live’. He was a shepherd, a giant killer, a faithful follower, a strong soldier, a lover, a singer and a musician, a sovereign king, and…a terrible sinner. Yet, when faced with the truth, he was always humble and repentant. He always returned to God.

David wrote in Psalm 121:1-4, “I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. 

“He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

As King David was nearing the end of his life, he took account of all the things that had happened to him. He was a strong leader ruling a great nation. His kingdom was often at peace because God had given him victory over his enemies. I imagine David ‘with tears in his eyes’ as he took his writing tool in his hand to record one last song of praise and thanksgiving. This would be his opus, his hallelujah chorus to the King of kings.

If you compare Psalm 18 – to 2 Samuel 22, you will find that they are almost identical. Only a few words are changed. Both are songs of joy, victory and praise. Some scholars believe that Psalm 18 came directly from David’s last song. Others believe that this simply was the arc of David’s life and he just loved to ‘tell the story’. Either way, it gives us insight into David’s mindset.

While David is still considered ‘a man after God’s own heart’, his final years took a less than fulfilling turn. It is the hope of every king to leave a great legacy – and children that ascend to the throne. In King David’s case, things were beginning to fall apart. What we find with King David is a good example of ‘what we sow, we eventually reap’. David was a distant father, always at war or traveling. He took very little time for family. He grew distant from his wife and sons. Then, instead of going off to battle one last time as he grew older, he stayed home and embraced temptation.

David’s affair with Bathsheba ended up destroying many of his strong relationships and it alienated his sons from him. As David grew old, his son Absalom killed his half-brother Amnon and later conspired to take the kingdom from David. One thing lead to another until Absalom was tragically killed. Finally, David’s old enemies the Philistines returned to battle against his kingdom. In the end, King David’s men triumphed but it took its toll on him. It was at this time, that David sat down to write this final song of praise to God.

It is easy to celebrate when things are going well. But life isn’t always easy or pretty. King David had his faults and regrets. Like him, we all fall short of God’s purposes for our lives. Yet David had a way of being humble, picking up the pieces and still moving forward towards God. David had experienced the highs and the lows – but refused to become bitter, he truly believed in God’s mercy and grace. I think that puts this song in a particularly special light.

I grew up listening to Casey Karem’s Sunday night top 40 hits and I never missed his year-end top 100 most popular songs in the nation. Like those who sat near the radio to listen to The Shadow, Little Orphan Annie or Mystery Theater; I sat mesmerized and wrote down the most popular songs that I liked.

It was the words that most often captured me. Some songs were funny; others serious – and still others captured the mood of the nation. Maybe you know what I mean; have you ever said, “Listen sweetheart, they are playing OUR song!”

If we listen carefully we can get insights into David’s song and I believe, in many ways it is our song as well. It pours out from his heart and it reveals his character, one that just keeps returning to God.

Listen,…         (Read 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18) I will hit the highlights!

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—from violent people, you save me.

“I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and have been saved from my enemies.
The waves of death swirled about me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.

“In my distress I called to the Lord; I called out to my God. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came to his ears. The earth trembled and quaked, the foundations of the heavens shook;

“He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his canopy around him the dark rain-clouds of the sky. Out of the brightness of his presence bolts of lightning blazed forth.

“The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded.
He shot arrows and scattered the enemy, with great bolts of lightning – he routed them.
The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at the rebuke of the Lord,

“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.
They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support.    

He brought me out ‘into a spacious place’; he rescued me because he delighted in me.

“The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord; I am not guilty of turning from my God. All his laws are before me; I have not turned away from them.

“I have been blameless before him and have kept myself from sin. The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in his sight.

“To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless,
To the pure you show yourself pure, But to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.

You save the humble, but your eyes are ‘on the haughty – to bring them low’.

“You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light.
With your help, I can advance against an army; with my God I can scale a wall.

As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God?
 
“It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can ‘bend a bow of bronze’. You give me your shield of victory; your help has made me great.
You provide a broad path for my feet, so that my ankles do not turn and give way.

“You have delivered me from the attacks of the peoples; you have preserved me as the head of nations. The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be my God, the Rock, my Savior!
“He is the God who avenges me, who puts the nations under me, who sets me free from my enemies. You exalted me above my foes; from a violent man you rescued me.

“Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing the praises of your name.

He gives his king great victories; he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed, to David and his descendants, forever.”

What can we learn from this? Here are 4 lessons we should reflect on…

1) When our future is uncertain, – the Lord is our only hope.

2) When days are dark, – the Lord is our only light.

3) When our walk is weak, – the Lord is our only strength. And…

4) When times are tough, – God is our only comfort and security.

Earlier I asked, “Who do you look to when disaster strikes? Who is your refuge in the midst of the storm?”

Mr. Rogers aptly said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find someone who is helping. Do not focus on the devastation, – but focus on those who are working or sacrificing themselves in order to help.”

The Lord is our helper and it was Jesus who made the ultimate sacrifice. Out of compassion, mercy and love, God came to our rescue. In the midst of the storms of life, ‘look to the calm center and focus on Jesus’. There is no greater love than this.

As David sang, “Your word is a lamp to my feet – and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105) Let Jesus turn your darkness into light.

Your assignment is,…to journal this week on your life – write down all the times that God has rescued and redeemed you when you fell. Notice how God never gives up on you – and, in fact, he is still calling to you!

He ‘is’ your Guide, your Savior and your Hope.   

Amen

Wrestling with Addiction – Nov. 4, 2018

Back in the 14th century, there lived a Duke in what is now known as Belgium by the name of Raynald III. Grossly overweight, Raynald was commonly called by his Latin nickname, Crassus, which means fat. True story!

After his father and mother passed away, Raynald and his younger brother Edward got into a fiery quarrel over who should be the heir to the family dynasty. 11 years later, Edward led a revolt that captured the castle and imprisoned his brother Raynald. Instead of taking his life, Edward had a far more devious plan in mind.

Edward decided to have a room / house constructed with ‘slightly smaller than normal’ doors and windows that would be left unlocked. Then, Edward promised his brother – that he could enjoy his freedom whenever he could leave the room.

The problem was, Raynald enjoyed eating and his brother had the best foods and deserts delivered several times a day. So, instead of dieting his way out of the room, – he just grew heavier. Raynald remained a prisoner in that room for 10 years, until his brother was killed in battle.

According to the legend, the walls had to be cut away so he could leave the room. By then, Raynald was so obese and his health so bad that he only lived an additional year before he died.  Raynald, they say, was the only man known to be held prisoner by his own appetite.

Today, we would likely call what Raynald had ‘an eating addiction’. Experts would point to his lack of control and say that he was eating his way into an unhealthy state and that he had no recourse. In other words, he was powerless over his ability to stop eating. In fact, many today would call that a disease.

Not so long ago, those in the church frequently called over-eating a sin. And the Bible clearly warns us not to be gluttons. There are many passages that caution against over-indulgence and at least seven that deal directly with being a glutton.

For instance, Philippians 3:19 reads, “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their minds are set on earthly things.”

And Proverbs 23:20-21 warns us, “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, ‘and drowsiness clothes them’ in rags.”

The truth is, to buy into answers that are too simple, too black and white is to dismiss the severity of the problem. Addictions are real and usually very complicated. To downplay addiction makes us less likely to be compassionate and to offer real help to those in need. And some who see others with addiction demean them by calling them weak, overly-sinful, stupid, cursed or lazy.

People will say they want to understand and listen when addicts or their families tell their stories, but the listeners often judge them or get defensive.

There is a difference between being sympathetic and empathetic and trying to understand and feel someone’s pain verses making it your own.  Just listen.

Gabor Mate’ is a Hungarian-born physician who moved to Canada to study and treat people with a wide variety of illnesses, including all kinds of Addictions. He is a popular speaker on TV and radio (due to several books) – and also has a very popular TED talk with over 1 million views called “The Power of Addiction and the Addiction of Power”.

Mate’ is a distinguished person in the field of addiction because of his humanitarian work with inner city drug addicts in Vancouver. He deals with addiction in his book, “In the Realms of Hungry Ghosts”. In it he writes, “Addiction is an attempt to solve a life problem. Only secondary does it begin to act like a disease.”

Mate’ asks questions like, “What is the addict getting from it that makes his addiction worth the price he pays? And if addicts can find peace and control ‘only when they’re using’, what agonizing discomfort must they feel when they’re not?”

A member of Alcoholics Anonymous once sent columnist Ann Landers this confession:

I drank for happiness – and became unhappy.

I drank for joy – and became miserable.

I drank for sociability – and became argumentative.

I drank for sophistication – and became obnoxious.

I drank for friendship – and made enemies.

I drank for sleep – and awakened without rest.

I drank for strength – and felt weak.

I drank “medicinally” – and acquired health problems.

I drank for relaxation – and got the shakes.

I drank for bravery – and became afraid.

I drank for confidence – and became doubtful.

I drank to make conversation easier – and slurred my speech.

I drank to feel heavenly – and ended up feeling like hell.

I drank to forget – and I’m forever haunted.

I drank for freedom – and became a slave.

I drank to erase problems – and saw them multiply.

I drank to cope with life – and invited death.

Mate’ is reviving the notion that addiction goes far deeper than ‘the drug’ people abuse. Addiction works on many levels; physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual. Then, he digs deeper into the idea of what addiction is really all about – in fact, he reflects on what many in the church have been saying for years.

The modern definition of addiction is a “persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.” And research has shown that addiction is a disease that chemically alters your brain, making you “a slave” to a substance – or an activity.

In Greek, addicted means “to wholly give yourself to something, devote yourself to something or ‘turn to something.” In the early Biblical translations, that can be either good or bad.

1 Corinthians 16:15 in the NIV Bible reads, “You know, that ‘the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Acha-ia’, and they devoted themselves to the service of the saints.” The KJV reads, instead of devoted, that they addicted themselves to the service of the saints. In this instance, it is positive.

It is from the Latin translation of ‘addict’ that we get our modern interpretation. In Latin, an addict is one who gives up his or her rights, and becomes ‘like a slave’.

To say that addictions have overcome Americans would be an understatement. One Government study reports, that today, there are all types of addictions and many people who have them: they report,

1 in 3 Americans are addicted to prescription medications.

1 in 4 Americans are addicted to alcohol.

1 in 6 Americans are shopping addicts.

1 of every 7 Americans is addicted to nicotine.

1 of every 8 Americans has a significant addiction to drugs.

1 in 9 Americans are addicted to porn, although it’s probably higher and…

1 in every 10 Americans is addicted to gaming or gambling.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2014 — 21.5 million to as high as 40 million people battled substance addictions; including but not limited to; cocaine, heroin, crack, alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs and caffeine.

Some types of addiction can be handed-down in our genes but many ‘are simply the outcome of poor choices’. And prevention is always better than a cure.

Some experts tell us as that as many as 61% of all Americans are addicted to something, at any given time, which includes; work-a-holism, food addiction, over-exercise, shopping, reading romance novels, abusing or miss-using cell-phones, risky or promiscuous behavior (think kleptomania or sex addiction), while others are addicted to fame or drama – and the list goes on.

Many experts today are concerned with ‘allowing the so-called-list of addictions to grow so large’, because it runs the risk of trivializing real deadly addictions. You see, a true addiction is not just another bad habit, – some can kill.

1 Peter 5:8-9 reads, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion ‘looking for someone to devour’. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.”

Our addictions often come about when we try to numb, escape or control life situations we want to avoid. They are a coping mechanism, although a very destructive one.

Ephesians 5:18 reads, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

And Galatians 5:16 reads, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

The root of addiction is sin and our world is filled with it. No one comes out unscathed. We all fall and we all need others to get back up. So we shouldn’t treat others ‘with this sickness’ any different than others who are hurting.

Mark 2:16-17 reads, “When the scribes, who were Pharisees, saw Jesus eating with these people, they asked His disciples, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus told them,   “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the  sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

In a study that came out ‘on drug abuse in Indiana’ on May 20, 2017, Indiana is listed as the 14th worst state out of all 50 for addiction. And we are listed 17th in states for overdose deaths. And only 11% of those can afford treatment.     We must do better!

We cannot continue to see addiction as someone-else’s problem. It is a battle for the heart, mind, soul and body. It takes all of us working together to find a solution. And it takes a community of faithful believers to surround these folks with love.

2 Peter 2:17-19 reads, “These (evil) men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping  ‘from those who live in error’. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”

We have to be the alternative to the negative influence around others. We have to embrace the hurting, just as Jesus embraced us. No one is ‘ever so far gone’ that the love of God cannot reach them and change them. Only Jesus can bind the broken-hearted and heal the soul-wounds we face.

Once people understand and feel the love of Jesus that forgives and saves, only then can they work to overcome their inner and outer addictions and find real hope and peace.

May it be so.

Your assignment is,…to write a letter to someone who is struggling with addiction. Give them encouragement and listen when they speak. Maybe God can use you to break through their pain so they may find recovery.

Amen!