Saturday, November 28, 2009


I've started to see Christmas trees. In fact, Black Friday is not the only noticeable event (or maybe we should say "madness") that is tied to Thanksgiving Weekend. A whole of people try to take advantage or the time and yet mild weather to at least get those outdoor Christmas decorations in place.

In the Christian church, Christmas is preceded by a less flashy and certainly less materialistic time called Advent. Advent can be translated as "coming" or "arrival."
It begins four Sundays before Christmas (this Sunday being the First Sunday in Advent) and is a time of preparing the birth of Jesus, but also to prepare people for the second coming or arrival of Jesus. The first time He comes is as an infant king born into humble circumstances. The first time is the Incarnation, "God becoming flesh and living among us." The first coming leads ultimately to the Cross on Good Friday where Christ takes the sins of the world into his grace and the resurrection where by we are giving a second chance to truly be the people of God.

The second coming is when he comes to put an end to the world as we know it and to establish a new heaven and a new earth where no one can deny that He is God and that we are under his authority. It is also the time when we once again live unashamedly and joyously in His presence, eternally.

NOTE: Tuesday we begin a set of blogs called "The Purpose of Christmas."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Many of us grew up with Judy Garland's hopeful ballad from the Wizard of Oz, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Dorothy, on the run in the not-so-merry old Land of Oz and on the run from the Wicked Witch of the West, comforts her uncomfortable present with a vision of a better time and a better place -- somewhere over the rainbow.

People, in the midst of trials or in the final stages of a deadly disease, sing of a better place, where there are no more tears, no more sickness, no more pain. For many of us that is God's promise of heaven and eternal life. We are thankful that our present circumstances will not have the last word, nor that they define us.

This is not to equate heaven with "somewhere over the rainbow." Heaven is a real place prepared for God's people. It is an eternal dwelling. "Over the rainbow is another temporary earthly dwelling, better than one address; but still earthbound and time limited.

CS Lewis once said that "because people are heavenly minded, they are more earthly good." For Christians who are confident in their final destination can take the risk and embrace even the hardships of the present with purpose and power. They have nothing to lose on this earth that they would need in heaven. Therefore they can invest all they have now in doing the work of God.

And in so doing, they can bring a little heaven to earth. They can look after AIDS babies, and feed the poor. They can rehabilitate the prison and sacrifice their lives for freedom. They can seek forgiveness and extend forgiveness. They can be thankful for the small things instead of pursuing material ones. They can humble themselves to serve and confront the proud.

True thanksgiving is thanksliving. It is living now in gratitude to God for the gift of eternal life by doing the work of God in this life.

PHOTO CREDIT:Michelle Houts

Sunday, November 22, 2009


The Bible tells me to give thanks in everything. That's not always easy. There are some things I am more thankful than others - like good health, a caring church, a loving wife. I certainly am more thankful for those things than asparagus or income taxes or the Pittsburgh Steelers.

On a very human level thankfulness is not always a prerequisite to necessity. My mother used to try guilting me into eating food that I found distasteful. "Think of all the starving children in Bangladesh." Initially, I tried not thinking of them at all, "Name one!" I'd declare defiantly. Then when she got a missionary visitng our home to actually name several dozens Bangladeshis, I resorted to "Then let's send it to them."

The fact of the matter is that I needed to eat--and to eat healthily. Being thankful that I COULD so did not impress my unregenerate little heart. There were some things that I refused to be thankful for. I still had to eat them.

But the ability to be thankful for all things is actually the mark of a person who has a new heart and new mind because of their encounter with Jesus Christ. When we realize that God's gift comes to us even when we do not deserve it, we begin to think that thankfulness comes because we have a life at all--and because we are blessed even before we understand the necessity of the blessing. When someone loves even before we love ourselves, and cares for us even when we care only about ourselves--we have been given a reason for thankfulness that is inescapable.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


What is a faith?

A lot of what is passed off as faith is really foolishness. Some faith is merely wishful thinking, rooted in our momentary desires rather than in God-focused reality.
It is foolishness for a kid to pray that God gets him an A on the test when he hasn't bothered to crack a book. It is foolishness to sleep around expecting God to protect you from unwanted pregnancy or an STD (sexually transmitted disease). It is foolishness to put God to the test, expecting Him to ignore persistent sin that you acknowledge (perhaps)and still not repent of it (turn from it).

Yet many people resist faith as impractical or unrealistic. Faith is for "spiritual people". Realistic people always have a Plan B--or so the logic goes. Or we exercise faith until we get an unexpected or undesired outcome, and then we take back the reins of our life.

Faith is recognition that God is at work for the good of those who love him and are called to His purposes (Romans 8.28). Faith is the trust placed in God that His way is not only the best way--but the only way to live. Faith is not blind. It is informed by His promises and reliant upon God's proven character. Faith is letting God give you new eyes and a new mind and a new heart. Eyes to see the world as God sees it. A mind to embrace and comprehend God's truth. A heart that is passionate to please God.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews describes it this way: "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1) Or as it is explained in The Message translation: "The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worthy living."

The same writer reminds us, "Without faith, we cannot please God." (Hebrews 11.6)

And one more, "The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love." (Galatians 5:6)



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Friday, November 13, 2009


Almost everywhere I have gone these past few days, people have been talking about the massacre at Fort Hood. That persons who had put themselves in harm's way for their nation and the cause of liberty were the victims of this malicious assault only magnifies the outrage.

But now there are those inevitable news reports that the "authorities" were aware of the threat posed by the man now charged with 13 counts of murder and attempted murder. These were not merely rumors, but in some cases highly public statements made by the accused.

I strongly suspect that this outrage and the tragedy it created could have been avoided if someone in responsiblity (this time in the military) had actually taken responsibility. Taking, responsibility, however, is something people are reluctant to do. For that means being accountable.

Or on the other hand, too many people want to be responsible for themselves only. They do not want to be accountable to others, and therefore resist someone else's discipline, boundaries, or intervention.

A nation where no one takes responsibility becomes leaderless, rudderless, and chaotic (to say the least). A nation where those who are responsible, dodge that responsbility or hope that someone will do the hard work of accountability--is a nation where tragedies come unnecessarily at the hands of irresponsible people.

As one who must lead, it is sometimes frustrating that more people would choose followership than shared leadership. As one who deals with people who do not want to accept boundaries and consequences for their unrestrained self-centeredness, it is an uphill battle to keep us all safe, secure and sane.



"In order that men may have knowledge of God, free from doubt and uncertainty, it is necessary for divine truth to be delivered to them by faith; being told to them, as it were, by God who cannot lie." - Thomas Aquinas

"Blessed are you who give yourselves over to God;
turn your backs on the world's 'sure things,'
ignore what the world worships;
The world's a huge stockpile
of God-wonders and God-thoughts.
Nothing and no one
comes close to you!
I start talking about you, telling what I know,
and quickly run out of words.
Neither numbers nor words
account for you."
- Psalm 40:4-6 The Message

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


This weekend I opened my email to discover a message from Facebook. Natalie Dunn wanted to be my friend. Natalie is my 13 year old granddaughter, who lives in Michigan. For all you grandparent types, that's more than 650 miles from Landisville PA and so I don't get many opportunities to get involved in her life. (Now I know she likes pancakes and wants to be a park ranger.) Facebook has its limitations and even its hazards, but I am grateful for the technology that allows me to have a stronger relationship with my granddaughter.

I am reminded of how computers and email revolutionized overseas mission work. Instead of being isolated and dependent on mail that often took weeks, missionaries were able to communicate back home in real time. Supporters and mission boards could now respond to needs with greater promptness and pray for real and specific issues at the exact time those prayer were needed most.

Cliff Lee was not as sharp last night but Chase Utley was devastating and the Phillies stepped back from the brink with a win over the Yankees. Chase is the new "Mr. October" (sorry Reggie). Four of my friends were at the game (one Yankees fan in the bunch)and each had his take on what made the game special (this time the Yankee fan saying "what it"?) So back to the Bronx. Can the Phillies win two more?

Election Day. Get out and vote.

Reminder - A Good Question meets tomorrow night from 7-9 upstairs at the Black Knight in Landisville. Join us.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Back in the 1980's, church researcher and consultant, Lyle Schaller coined the phrase "The Seven Day a Week Church." Schaller was reporting a trend moving from churches that basically defined themselves by their Sunday morning services and the work of a pastor to congregations seeing themselves as a church (meaning the people) engaged in ministry throughout the week--a church whose ministry was more than a pastor assisted by people to a people equipped by a pastor. In this new identity churches moved into a 24/7 mode.

As churches evolved into a more intentional and continual program of ministry, the ministry of the laity took on greater significance and the congregation's impact in its local community multiplied. Once the province of megachurches or large mainline congregations, "seven day a week" became the definition of middle size churches (churches of 200-400 members). Such churches are now open more often than closed. Parking lots can be as busy on a Tuesday as a Sunday. Like-minded civic and volunteer organizations call the church facility their home. The core leaders and staffs of these churches joke about "first shift, second shift" and sometimes "night shift."

Seven day a week churches, especially if they are committed to providing support for the community in which they reside make themselves welcome and even essential neighbors. Although some people complain about the increased traffic flow caused by any facility expansion, most of the population find seven day a week churches a comfortable reminder of the better side of society.

"Only on Sunday and Wednesday Night" kinds of churches, once the norm, are now largely ignored.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


The Phillies have the Phanatic.

Do the Yankees have a mascot, or are the fans themselves fanatic enough?

Joe Blanton vs CC Sabathia. Charlie Manuel is a man of great faith, apparently. Maybe Blanton will make believers out of us all.

Well, it ain't over until it's over (I think Yogi Berra said that, or Casey Stengel ...oh rats, Yankees.)

All of you who have tickets for tonight and tomorrow--enjoy!