We wept

Mourning a friend’s passing

A church friend died last week. Part of pastor Doug’s message at her memorial service touched on Jesus’ response when confronted with the death of his friend Lazarus.

“Jesus wept,” (John 11:35, NIV).

Weeping over a friend’s death is natural for us mere humans but Jesus weeping?  Apostle John recounted how observers of Jesus’ weeping waded in.

“Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’

But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:36-37, NIV)

That second comment seemed particularly pointed given what Jesus did next – raise Lazarus from the dead.  Furthermore, we revisit this story knowing what Jesus accomplished by his own death and resurrection, restoring God’s original plan for humanity – relationship and eternity with the Father.

Eternity with the Father means no death, right?  So, why do we still die?

“There are only two things certain in life – death and taxes” is an expression generally attributed to Ben Franklin.  Death has been with humanity for so long that if not for God’s word claiming otherwise, we would assume death is indeed a certainty.

Apparently, God’s original blueprint for humanity didn’t include death.  The word  “die” surfaces first in the Bible as a penalty for Adam or Eve eating from the forbidden tree in the garden of Eden. (Genesis 2: 16-17] Perhaps because they were naively clueless about this death penalty of God’s is why they so easily went along with the serpent deceitfully questioning whether God really meant “die” when he said they would “die” if they sampled the fruit.

We all know the rest of the story – sample, sin, then blame as all hell broke loose, including death. (Genesis 3:6, 12-23)

Paradise was lost but God had an elaborate rescue strategy all ready to go just in case, as if he knew they would falter. Fast forward six thousand (or million) years to Jesus, the linchpin of God’s strategy that no one saw coming, despite all kinds of clues and signs.  Everything is lined up exactly according to plan and ……Jesus WEPT?

So again, why did Jesus weep? Why weep over someone he was about to raise from the dead?  Why weep when he knew his self-sacrifice and resurrection would soon overcome death and reconnect people with God?

“He wept over sin,” Doug offered.

“Dah,” I thought immediately. Shame on me for being even a little surprised that Doug would repeat what he’s been saying ever since arriving at Grace Chapel twelve years ago – that sin is the underlying cause behind everything that is wrong with the world and people and life.

Sin, the culprit behind our friend’s death, is also why  is why God sent Jesus to rescue humanity. In our friend’s case, not her sin in particular but sin in general.

Self reliance vs. God reliance is at the heart of sin. Jesus restored to all hearers of his gospel the decision Adam and Eve made on behalf of all of us, to choose between the rule of God or the rule of sin. Until God is satisfied that all people have sufficient opportunity to also choose, death is permitted. (Matthew 24:14)

So we still weep about death but that’s not where everything ends.  The other half of Doug’s message that sin is behind all that’s wrong is that the gospel is behind all that’s right.  The gospel changes everything.

Believers also weep but we weep with a sure hope that those who do not believe lack. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, 1 Peter 3:15).

In God’s due time, sin’s grip will finally fail and death will be no more.  (Revelations 21:4) Meanwhile, the nearer we draw to the heart of our Lord, the more our weeping will be like his – more about sin than death.

“As he (Jesus) approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42)

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Messianic Merchandiser

Section 4 of 16 at Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, MI.

Even though we generally take Christmas down on New Year’s day, I am often reluctant to leave the  Christmas mode.  This year, we decided to extend Christmas with an outing to Bronner’s Christmas store in Frankenmuth, Michigan during the week between Christmas and New Years.

Established by Wally Bronner in 1945, Bronner’s is a year-round Christmas store.  An American success story, Bronner started modestly than steadily grew to a mega-successful enterprise touted as the world’s largest Christmas store, drawing over 2 million visitors annually to the Frankenmuth area.

Bronner’s opened its current 320,000 square foot store in 1977.

Our primary intent was to enjoy a Christmas outing together but I was also on the lookout for an angel figurine for our outside Christmas decorations.  My inspiration is two grapevine angel figures that are part of our church’s Christmas display.  My idea is to buy or make a similar angel and wrap it with lights to herald the Savior both day and night.

Angels like this (Grace Chapel Church)

Not only does Bronner’s offer an extensive array of Christmas merchandise, it also designs and manufactures Christmas materials, displays and ornaments. As a Christmas ornament-hobbyist, I am particularly drawn to Christmas ornaments in general and gospel-themed ornaments in particular.

Notably, Wally Bronner, a devout believer in Christ, pulled off a merchandising miracle to achieve mega commercial success with Bronner’s while also keeping Christ front and center in his prolific advertising and throughout the store itself.  Look no further than the Bronner’s brand and motto. Greeting visitors near each store entrance is a huge wall sign picturing Santa kneeling at Jesus’ manger captioned with the “at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow” Philippians 2:10.

Wall sign near Bronner’s entrance, Philippians 2:10

While Bronner’s commitment to the Lord inspires, his commercial success is more likely due to keying on customer’s desires for celebrating Christmas.  Christmas today is most about what each celebrating family decides to make Christmas most about.  

Credit Bronner for zeroing so effectively to all those “most abouts” of his vast customer base. Shoppers with no interest whatsoever in the messianic “back story” of Christmas can find everything they need at Bronner’s.  Truly, the business of Christmas can flourish apart from the greater mission its namesake came to planet earth to share and do.

While for Wally Bronner, Christmas is most about his Savior, he fashioned a Christmas business that also catered to people preferring a Christmas without Christ.  Not only did he seem O.K. with doing that but he achieved significant commercial success with that strategy.  While Bronner’s both/and approach may seem like a watering down of his faith, I would tend to tout him as an exemplary “Messianic merchandiser.”

Bronner’s brand and motto since 1977.

I never met the man but I would bet he viewed Christmas and Christ as inseparable.  To promote Christmas in any way is to also promote Christ.  Note the company’s signage and motto since 1977, “BRONNER’S CHRISTmas WONDERLAND.”

All he did was capitalize on “Christ” comprising the first six letters of the word, “Christmas.” A coincidence or something else?

After 63 years at the helm during which he became fondly known as “Mr. Christmas,” Wally Bronner handed the company reigns to his son Wayne in 1998.  He remained chairman of the company’s board of directors until his death in 2008 at age 81.

I found a few angel candidates at Bronner’s but the ones I liked most were a bit over my budget. I was only mildly surprised to also not find much merchandise with what I would call a “gospel-theme” regarding Jesus’ underlying mission to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).  While my own ornaments reflect that angle, “religious-themed” decorations at Bronner’s were generally creche scenes, angels, some bulbs with Bible verses, and a sprinkling of crosses and country church figures.

I did however find something valuable at Bronner’s – inspiration for living out the gospel in any manner that can draw unbelieving people near to me and other believers.  While we, like Christmas itself, may not always act or seem Christlike, we and our Savior are in fact inseparable (See Romans 8:38-39).  By virtue of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, others in our vicinity are susceptible to being exposed to Christ and the gospel.

I am no Wally Bronner but his Christlikeness can be an example for me in this new year as I give myself over to the Spirit at work in me in the hope that someone near me may “catch” some of God’s goodness from me.


Notes

  1. History of Bronner’s
  2. Bronner’s store directory

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Permission to speak

Christmas lights remind me of a God who speaks into my life

During Christmastime, we and our neighbors decorate our homes with Christmas lights. Christmas lights give me a sense of peace and well-being vaguely rooted in the idea that the society I live in is sharing in the celebration of Christmas.

Try this thought on that I’ve been mulling over – Christmas as a both a unifying and a dividing force for life on earth 2000-plus years after Jesus’ birth. By celebrating Christmas in any way, we permit the God behind Christmas to speak into our lives; even if just a tiny, little bit.

I followed an Advent study this year introduced by our pastor.  Produced by a ministry called “He Reads Truth,” day 4 regarded how biblical prophets before Christ spoke God’s Word to people who would be lost without it. A main theme of those messages pointed to a coming Messiah.

The study notes that all through our lives, people like these prophets are speaking their truths to us. When we are young, the speakers are our parents, teachers, bus drivers, crossing guards. But as we get older, fewer people have such a voice in our lives unless we grant permission.

Like most adults, the number of people I allow to speak into my life is pretty small; only people I respect and trust. The study topic got me thinking about who I allow to speak into my life. I would say, the lists separate into two classifications: One regarding general living matters and the other that focuses on my spiritual well-being.

The longer list regards matters like family, work, relationships and to understand or do certain things. That list includes several proven people but also non-personal resources like books, internet sites, etc.

The list of those I grant permission to speak into my spiritual list is shorter. I only allow a few people I personally know whose lives I can observe and whose spiritual acuity jives with such an austere resource as the Bible to speak into my life and call me out about how I am living out my relationship with the Lord.

I realize I formed a conviction a while ago about having lists like this and giving people on it permission to speak into me, to advise and guide me. Like prophets spoke God’s word authoritatively to people who permitted them to do so, we need to invite people who know and respect God’s Word to speak to us.

Do you have people like that in your life?

Our 2016 Christmas Letter

Some Blessings we Celebrate this Christmas

  • FOR Christ — with and for whom we begin, end, and live the moments of each day. We love Jesus and marvel that he made us the reason for this season.*
  • FOR Daily Bread –- God’s love and nurture never ceases to surprise, support and inspire us. Lord God, you sustain us.
  • FOR People who love and support us – our Grace Chapel family, our children, extended family, and friends. To a person, each of you is so very special.
    • Honorable mentions to (1) Grace Chapel small group, still together and vibrant for 18 fabulous years; (2) Mike, Ron and Jeff who I (Glenn) meet to pray with each Saturday; and, (3) Todd Waller who continues to host this Road Report blog on his server.
  • FOR Songs that inspire and anchor so many of our moments. Kudos to Christian singer/songwriters for your wonderful musical messaging; To the Grace Chapel Praise Band lead by Heather Yanke, with Cindy as a frequent participant, for ushering our little church into God’s throne room every Sunday.
    • Listed in “Notes” below are some of our favorite Christmas CDs by these superb Christian artists
  • FOR Getaways – such as trips this year to Frenchburg, Kentucky with Appalachia Impact; a vacation in Hocking Hills, Ohio; a getaway at KBN in Central Lake, MI , and visits with Laura and Michael in Zeeland, MI. Also for impromptu walks, drives and outings –  in our neighborhood, nearby parks, or out on rural, “blacktopped” roads – just us or, now and then, Glenn and “The Alfonso women” (Cindy, Norma and Judy)

Merry Christmas from Glenn and Cindy Trevisan (2016)

Our Christmas wish for you this year: Believe and Be Known. “to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given…” (Isaiah 9:6)

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Notes

∗ To receive via email my weekly observations about God showing up to let us know we matter to him, subscribe above – top right of this page.  (Warning – my perspective is pretty common man ordinary so if you are looking for qualified and scholarly insight, look elsewhere.)

Favorite Christmas Albums by Christian Artists:

  1. The Christmas Sessions by Mercy Me (2005)
  2. Peace on Earth by Casting Crowns (2008)
  3. O Holy Night by Sara Groves (2008)
  4. Glory in the Highest by Chris Tomlin (2009)
  5. A Christmas Album by Amy Grant (1983)
  6. Michael W. Smith Christmas (1989)
  7. All I Really Want for Christmas by Steven Curtis Chapman (2005)

 

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Reason for the Season (2016 Ornament by FarmingtonGlenn)

2016 Reason for the Season….Ornament


God’s love for me, for us, human beings is a key inspiration in my faith in Jesus Christ.  God is love and Jesus is the incarnation of God’s love.

I pray that comes through in this blog and in my life, if you know me personally.  That God loves the likes of me not only never ceases to amaze me, it keeps me going in life that I’m not often very good  thriving at. In fact, that I thrive at all is entirely due to the Lord – merciful, forgiving, loving..

God’s “love” for me, for us, is a major theme of my writing and in these ornaments.  Christmas is sometimes expressed as “Love came down” in the person of Jesus, the season’s reason, right? 

Than last December, one of our pastor’s Advent messages suggested that Jesus is NOT the reason for the season after all!

Alarmed? Intrigued? Well read on and (hopefully) enjoy this 17th annual ornament from me, “Reason for the Season.”

Merry Christmas,

Glenn Trevisan (“FarmingtonGlenn” – Christmas 2016)


On December 13, 2015 Grace Chapel pastor Doug Walker opened his third, “Simply Advent” sermon with the story of the Christmas shepherds.  He noted they were not waiting or looking for a Messiah at all that night, just going about their work shepherding sheep.

Their night and lives changed when an angel appeared to them to announce a “joyous” birth of a Savior, their Savior.  No mention next of them wondering why the angel said this baby was their Messiah, only that they hurried off to Bethlehem and, well, the rest is history.  Jesus is the reason for the season, right?

Doug recalled when ‘Jesus is the reason…’ messages surfaced 10 or so years earlier,  “perhaps to counter the sense that commercialism stole Christmas and to fight back against secularism. However,” he continued, “what if Jesus ISN’T really the reason for the season? What if WE are?”

The Gospel explains Doug’s rationale. Sin broke humanity’s connection with God so badly that only a perfectly acceptable sacrifice could repair the breach. Jesus was that perfectly acceptable sacrifice, sent by God for us.

Wow! If we are the reason for the season, doesn’t that change the premise of Christmas gift giving?  No longer is it about commemorating the gifts given to baby Jesus. Rather, gifting extends the gift of Jesus that God gave to us!.

“However,” cautioned Doug, “An item that is offered as a gift only becomes a gift when received by the intended recipient. Likewise, Jesus’ salvation only applies for those who receive Him as their Savior and Lord.

Like the shepherds were not looking for a Savior that night and were unaware of their need for one until after they “met” Him, most of us are like that too.  We go about our lives with hopefully few needs but many wants.  How high is Savior/Messiah on our gift list?

Doug’s message brought to mind when I received Jesus as my Savior. Before I gave into belief, I had no sense of needing a Messiah/Savior either.  Only afterwards did my need to be saved dawn on me.

Christmastime brings out our gift lists, our wants. However, wants only stoke desires while needs starve well-being.  Desires are rarely satisfied but met needs sustain us for today and beyond – perfect description of salvation, a need met for today and beyond.

Consider that God was much more concerned about the breach in His relationship with us than we are or were.  He knows we need Him, that He is the key to our lives, so He stepped in to repair the breach caused by our sin by sending His Son, Jesus to become the only sacrifice that would be acceptable to Him, the one and only God.

God made us the reason for the season in the hope that we would receive His gift and would, in turn, make Him the focal points of our lives. Those of us who receive the gift of Jesus may now share Him and His salvation with others.

That’s what I am doing with this little ornament, sharing the good news of Christ’s salvation with people I care about.  Once I was a grateful recipient, now I am a Gift giver.

What an amazing reason for a season!


Notes:

1. COMMENTS: Are  WELCOME and ENCOURAGED here at FarmingtonGlenn.net about how the ornament and/or message struck you ESPECIALLY from ornament recipients. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO RECEIVE a 2016 “Reason for the Season” ornament, simply request one by emailing me at GlennTrevisan@gmail.com.  Limited supply of extras so no guarantees but if I can get one to you, I will.  If shipping is required, I will ask you to cover those costs.

2. Acknowledgements:

a) To Doug Walker, Pastor of Grace Chapel Church in Farmington Hills, MI whose message on 12/13/2015 inspired this and several other of my ornaments over the years.  Doug, I cherish your faithfulness to the Gospel and friendship and support of  me.

b) Honorable mention to fellow Grace Chapel member, Rick Neal who read his poem “My Christmas Want” at that 12/13/2015 service, the theme of which also bolsters this ornament’s “Reason for the season” idea.

c) Thanks also to Grace Chapel Office Administrator, Karol Gee for help with printing my ornament labels and card.

3) Ornament “hardware” components:

i) While the idea for this ornament came early, it wasn’t a go until I found the nifty little mirrors at Consumer Crafts.  With those in hand, all systems were go.

ii) Finding the just-right-sized ornament body (“unfinished wood sign cutout”) at Factory Direct Craft was also a huge time saver.

iii) The “Blooming Pepper Berry Garland” from JoAnn Fabrics was a nice “framing touch” suggested by my wife, Cindy.

4) Ornament Scriptures:

The anchor scriptures printed as a label on the back of the ornament are:a) Isaiah 9:6 (NIV): For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, … And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.; b) Luke 2:11 (NIV) Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

5. Making the 2016 “Reason for the Season” ornament:

 

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Our “Remember Tree”

Our Remember Tree 2016

Our Remember Tree 2016

Christmas decorating involves a lot of effort and I can sympathize with some older friends and family who don’t have the energy or will to put a full Christmas tree up anymore. Foregoing a tree, they instead go with garlands and other decorations instead.

Perhaps we will eventually get to that point as well but if we do, we’ll have to find a place to display all the ornaments now adorning our six-and-a-half-foot tree.

What is a tree decorated entirely with different handmade, memorabilia and gifted ornaments called?  How about a Remember Tree?

Remembering has taken on increased meaning as we get on in life.  While life is truly lived only in the present, memory markers represent qualities we want to hold onto, and build on, to draw richness, wisdom and meaning into new days that dawn.

I don’t know if my wife and I would call ourselves strict “Traditionalists” but we certainly do have a lot of traditions and daily routines that help us stay on track with who we want to be. Christmas-wise, tradition starts with our Christmas tree itself.

New ornaments this year

New this year – ornaments from three trips to Kentucky, Ohio and Northern Michigan; Elder Wives bulb, hand-blown by a friend, and my 2015 “Trust” ornament (2016 version arrives soon!)

Due to living in an apartment complex when we first married that didn’t allow real trees, we’ve always had artificial trees. The first one was cheap and plastic-looking but cleaned up well enough to share 13 Christmas’s with us.

The Hudson Valley Tree we now have is just the second Christmas tree in our 37 years of marriage.  We purchased it on sale in November 1993. This year, it stands front and center for its 24th Christmas, still looking great.

Of course, our tree ornaments are where the real remembering comes when we set up the Christmas tree each year and enjoy its beauty during the season.  The remembering is then renewed when we take ornaments down after the holidays and box them up until next year.

Our ornaments seem to fall into several categories like life milestones, faith/church, family/friends and vacations. New in 2016 is the shape of Michigan in copper from our June trip up north, an Americana star from on Appalachia Impact trip in July, a beautiful hand-blown glass drop from Cindy’s Elder wives Christmas brunch, and a wood cutting from our Hocking Hills trip in August.  To be added soon is my 17th annual Glenn” ornament marking another faith lesson from the Lord this year..

We have ornaments marking each child’s birth year, handmade ornaments from my now-deceased Grandmother, and a little bottle of wine and a tiny guitar from a family member I share the love of both with. A silver bell with a pink ribbon celebrates completion of treatment and Santa sitting in a outhouse recalls a particularly challenging vacation and year.

I’m a sentimentalist through and through so these remembering markers helps to foil my natural tendencies to worry and be anxious.  Our home features other such adornments to remind me year-round that while life inevitably includes plenty of ringers to upset the harmony I  desire, the lessons and themes of these mementos are really what matters most – relationships and God who reigns over all.

I stole a quiet moment near our tree one evening last week to consciously invite the sentiments of our ornaments to cleanse me from a long, challenging day.  I drifted into a mood of worship and prayed my thankfulness for these memory markers that re-center me to what is most important.

The Bible offers many memory markers from God Himself to remind His people of His essential role in their lives.  Two that are top of mind for me are 12 stones for Israel’s 12 tribes to remember God parting the Red Sea waters to rescue Israel from Egypt’s pursuing army (see Joshua 4:6-7).

The other favorite memory memory marker is the most cherished of all believers.  Established by Jesus at His last supper, it is reenacted regularly by Christians in all ages and places:

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22: 19-20, ESV)

Of course our Remember Tree is most precious for also reminding us to celebrate and worship the Savior who came and whose title is the first six letters of the holiday established in His honor – CHRISTmas!

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Not just going, Being!

"Hanging the greens" - Grace Chapel people decorating for the holidays, 2013

“Hanging the greens” – Grace Chapel people decorating for the holidays, 2013

I recently landed a part-time job at a hardware store.  Like most retail businesses, sales volume is heaviest when customers are off work, on weekends and holidays .

Due to low wages and part-time shifts offering no benefits, most retail workers have other part-time jobs.  That’s the case with me.  My searching for a suitable full-time job came up empty so I pursued a couple of part-time opportunities that surfaced along the way.

In case you are wondering, the income math doesn’t add up but I’m relying on God’s formulas instead of my own. Along that line, I made clear before being hired that I would not work on Sunday until after our church services conclude.  By way of explanation to my new boss, I simply said, “I go to church” but I wish I’d said, “I am the church,”

If saying “I am the church” sounds boastfully audacious if not borderline heretical to you, bear with me a minute.  Going to church, as in a place is NOT, as far as I can tell, even close to what Jesus had in mind when we declared to Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church.”  (Matthew 16:18).

All through the biblical record, church is a people. God’s people don’t go to church, they are the church.

If your experience of church is going to a service attended by hundreds if not thousands of people, grasping the concept of being the church may not come easily.

I grew up in such a large church, not only featuring lots of people but part of a worldwide network of like churches where even the Sunday service format is identical everywhere.

"We" did it!

All decorated.  “We” did it!

Not exactly New Testament as in Paul’s Epistles, letters to various groups of believers, or “churches” in that time.  Not only were churches people but each group was quite unique even though they had in common similar practices like sharing and teaching the gospel, baptizing new believers, re-enacting the Lord’s bread and wine, body and blood offering at his last supper, and serving each other and their communities.

In the little church our family belongs to, being church is easier to grasp because less than 100 people attend our Sunday services and our total 5-person staff adds up to just over 2 full-time equivalents. Whatever is going on with our church is pretty much us the church doing with our beings and our money.

Not too long ago, one of our members, Dave, died unexpectedly.  Even though Dave was a quiet man, not well-known by many of us, Dave was the equivalent of five or six people in terms of the what he was involved with among us.  Likewise with people who leave our church to attend other churches, often much larger ones. If they don’t reconnect in their new, larger church they essentially moved from being the church to merely going to church.

Being the church is a privilege that many people consider too much of a burden to fit into their already over-busy lives.  While that’s understandable, we all have the same 24 hour days to work with so how our time plays out is a direct factor of our choices.

Also consider that declining to be the church is contrary to what Jesus calls us into when we accept his invitation to join his rank of believers. Reflect on what Paul is saying in this part of his letter to the Philippian believers.  Regarding Jesus,

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Do everything without grumbling or arguing,(Philippians 2:9-14, NIV)

“Work it out together…with fear and trembling, without grumbling or arguing….”

Paul is onto them and us about what’s involved but also extends the promise God offered his people down through the ages – When we are the church, His people, and work life out together that way, He (God) wills and acts to fulfill “His good” purposes.

That’s why I am dedicated to protecting the day and time that “my” people convene each week – to be the church alongside my faith family, a tiny little group of people known as Grace Chapel.

I don’t just “go” to church, I “AM” the church.

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Prosperity: Enjoy responsibly

The good life!

The Good Life!

(My apologies in advance for this longer than usual post but I pray you will be as blessed to  read this lesson as I was to learn and write it for you.)

I am blessed to live among prosperous people. Many of my dearest friends and family have  beautiful homes, newer vehicles, second homes, travel, investments, etc.  indicative of attaining success. I especially marvel at younger, twenty/thirty-somethings whose in-demand professions offer earnings more typical of fifty-somethings.

While I’ve enjoyed a modicum of career success, my years of higher earnings came along later and then were cut short unexpectedly.  Unable despite considerable effort to secure a new position that allowed me to restore my earnings momentum, I’ve dialed-down considerably.  Perhaps due to my experience, I marvel at those able to prosper at the level that most others only dream about.

TV commercials suggest that prosperity is readily attainable in our country but the $55,000 median household income in the U.S. only spells prosperity when compared on a worldwide scale – five times the worldwide median and 50 times that of the world’s poorest countries.

Even so, should not prosperity on the level of nice homes, cars, best schools, travel, investments, travel, etc. be appreciated and enjoyed?  Yes, definitely.  In fact, even the writer of Ecclesiastes acknowledges that prosperity is the best that mortal life offers while also cautioning that prosperity be enjoyed responsibly. (See Ecclesiastes 8:15; and Ecclesiastes 5:10-17)

However you define prosperity, handle it carefully because it tends to lull its beneficiaries into a dangerous, dulling state of being.  Better to accept prosperity in stride and recognize it for what it is – from God’s bounty for us to receive with grace, be blessed by, express thankfulness for, look for lessons in, and to bless others with.

God is good and the source of goodness.  (James 1:17). God is also always purposeful in all that he does. Nothing that goes out from him returns void and unproductive.  (See Isaiah 55:10-11)

By entrusting us with prosperity, God expects we handle it responsibly such as not to hoard or be tempted to think we earned it, are entitled to it and deserve to use it only for us and ours.

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:10, ESV; Also see Matthew 6:24 and Proverbs 11:4)

Unguarded prosperity can morph from blessing to curse.  Christians in particular are vulnerable to this danger because we should know better.  Jesus himself warned that to attach in any way to prosperity jeopardizes the joy in life intended for all who are “in Him. (See Matthew 6: 19-34)

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (v. 21)

While succumbing to the complacency of well-being and prosperity will not jeopardize a believer’s salvation, Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians cautions how such dullness will catch many believers unaware when the wrath accompanying Christ’s return occurs.

While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, (1 Thessalonians 5: 3a)

The Bible emphatically and often counsels that believers who stay in the Word and diligently pursue relationship with God will be in tune with the Lord and joyfully prepared when Christ returns even though no one knows when that will be.  However, many in the church will be caught off-guard to suffer collateral damage not intended for them.

So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober….For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5: 6, 9)

As I consider this lesson, I confess I covet prosperity and miss being able to do some of what our higher earnings once afforded us.  However, the Lord has provided and I am learning to be content with what I have and where I am.  My new, dialed-down life is growing on me, allowing me to spend more time in the Word that, in turn, works in and on me in unseen ways.  I find myself looking forward to Christ’s return and to when…

“ at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2: 10-11, NLT)

A new, somewhat alarming revelation for me is that unbelievers will not be the only ones remorseful about confessing Christ’s Lordship with “bended knee.”  While those who refused to believe in Christ will regretfully realize their error and the gravity of their situation the most remorseful may well be believers who are caught up in the wrath because they are needlessly caught unaware.

Any of us believers caught up in the wrath will realize, too late, that we allowed our passion for Christ to lapse. Even worse will be to regret having missed out living the Kingdom life as mortals because we were too caught up in the world that is passing away like the vapor that it is.

So do appreciate prosperity but enjoy it responsibly.

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Media household incomes: http://www.gallup.com/poll/166211/worldwide-median-household-income-000.aspx

Image source: https://dealdashblog.com/2016/10/15/living-the-good-life-with-dealdash/

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Thanksgiving as both privilege and duty

holiday_thanksgiving_dinner-image-2012-hd-wallpaperA Thanksgiving Day “Road Report” message….

Some thoughts about Thanksgiving and thankfulness as both a privilege and a duty.

As recounted in Acts 14 after Paul healed a lame man in Lystra, the people there wanted to sacrifice to him as a god.  Protesting this, Paul insisted they he and Barnabas who was with him were mere men like them. We come, we said, in the name and power of Christ. Explaining further, he explained,

In the past, he (God) let all nations go their own way.  Yet he has not left himself without testimony; He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (Acts 14: 16-17, NIV)

God’s provision is also his testimony to us about himself as THE provider of all that we have.  Paul later explains in his second letter to the Corinthians,

“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause the thanksgiving for overflow to the glory of God,” (2 Corinthians 4:15, NIV)

and…

You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:11, NIV)

As many gather for Thanksgiving today, many others in our world are in desperate need.  What gives? Paul suggests one intent for such disproportion as both opportunity and duty for those who have to share with those who do not have. And while we are sharing from our bounty, we “testify” WHO we are thankful TO for the blessings we have to share!

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48, NIV)

Some think it’s crazy that God’s blessing is not presently conditioned on  acknowledgement of him as the giver of blessing or even tied to our subsequent generosity. Nevertheless, in these words of blessing is a thinly veiled warning of a day when God’s unconditional blessing will require a condition.

“It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.'” (Romans 14:11, NIV)

On that day, all will acknowledge and bend their knee in honor of the one and only true God but those who failed to do so before that day will not feel very happy or thankful to be doing so then.

God’s desire is that no one praises him reluctantly or regretfully.  Rather, he desires to lavish blessing on us and to revel in our thanksgiving!!! So today, let us be thankful to the Creator (vs. the creation) for our blessings and also share the bounty with others so that they may join with us in thanking our God!

Fear as a symptom

 

See notes for image source

See notes for image source

Is it just me or are people in our country expressing more concern and fear than is customary after a presidential election?

While  people whose preferred candidates lost do generally express discontent and occasionally cry foul, what’s going on now seems more significant than any other time in my 43 year voting memory. While I don’t think human nature has changed much, our ability to express ourselves has changed a lot thanks to the worldwide internet and the plethora and affordability of connectivity devices at our disposal.  We can say whatever we want and, true to our nature, we certainly do just that.

I am particularly interested in how fellow Christ followers reflect about concerns that may give rise to fear.  More importantly, how do Christ-followers engage with fears expressed by others?

Are Christ-followers participating in fear-mongering or are we a voice of reassurance? Is it obvious that Christ-followers trust that God is in control no matter what?

What’s the opposite of fear for a Christ-follower?*  From many definitions I found for “fear,” the one I selected for the post-election variety I have observed is: “an uneasy state of mind usually over the possibility of an anticipated misfortune or trouble.” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/fear )

It seems that those expressing fear are afraid about what they believe may occur under the new administration.  A popular line of comment is to charge that some of Trump’s campaign statements inspire incidents of protest, hate crimes and discrimination reported in the media or personally observed by people expressing these fears..

Please note that I am not excusing any of Trump’s controversial statements NOR am I saying any of these unsettling or retaliatory actions did not occur NOR am I saying that perpetrators would not cite Trump’s statements as motivating their behavior.  Even if all that is true, each person is still responsible for their own actions as well as for the rationale they cite for their actions.  Furthermore, every person is responsible for any actions they take to influence others to believe or act in a certain way.

Think of fear as a symptom rather than a disease. I challenge fellow Christ-followers who find themselves slipping into fear to revisit the premise of our faith. Our Lord emphatically teaches and encourages that we resist and rebuke fear, trust in him and encourage and be an example for others to do the same.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, ESV)

“…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7, ESV)

When Christ-followers fail to trust in the Lord, we join into the fear and end up promoting  and contributing to the world’s decline when we are supposed to be agents of the Lord’s redemption.

May I suggest Christ-followers dial up “trust” whenever we are tempted to “fear?”

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.” (Psalm 56:3-4a).

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

The Lord assures that if we trust in ourselves and rely on the reasoning of our own minds, we WILL fear AND influence others to do likewise.  Trust God instead and invite others along to do the same.

Want to take me up on this challenge?

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Notes:

*  I use the term “Christ-follower” vs. Christian to get a so-called “Christian” to understand that what that word really means is “a believer in and follower of Christ.”   Get it? Focus on what following Christ means for each of us who profess to base our faith on him.)

Image source: http://www.cjpwisdomandlife.com/fear-not/

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