Saturday, December 20, 2014

Nibbling on the Cross

A few days ago, I wrote about the nativity set and the babe in the manger's missing hand. Since I never know what I'm writing until after its done, I was very surprised about the hand and the poem. I thought I was writing about Mamie and the cross. 

You may or may not remember this, but Jesus' mother, Mary, had a lot to think about when He was born, so she saved it up and pondered it later. I imagine it took the rest of her life to do that pondering. Since I've always thought Advent is a magnificent time for pondering, that's what I was doing as I looked at the nativity set. Somehow, it seemed incomplete, because the reality of the situation is that Jesus wrapped Himself in flesh and laid in the manger for one reason and only one reason. The Cross. The manger didn't save us. The manger didn't set us free. The manger was just the starting point on His march to the cross. It was that spotless lamb of God sacrificed on the cross that paid the penalty for our sin. The cross and the empty tomb are what set us free and they were the reason for the manger. 

I might be wrong, but it seems like people prefer the baby in the manger to the Christ on the cross or the empty tomb. Maybe it's because babies are so cute and sweet and harmless. Babies change your life in nice ways (except for missing sleep for years). Babies are cuddly and make us want to coo. 

The resurrected Christ, however, is a whole different story. That is a God-man who was not messing around. He stormed the gates of hell, took charge, and defeated Satan. The resurrected Jesus is not just a warrior, He is the commander of the Angel Armies. No one is going to pinch His cheek and say how sweet and cute He is. The appropriate response to the resurrected Jesus is to get down on our faces and worship Him. In fact, in heaven, we will spend quite a bit of time kneeling before Him and singing "Holy! Holy! Holy!"

All that was going through my mind as I pondered the nativity set, and that's how I realized it needed a cross. I have plenty of standing crosses, but it seems that the cross and the manger were sort of intertwined in a way. Finally, I laid the cross down and set the manger on it. It looks very non traditional, but that seems like the way it should be. After all, the cross was, in a way, the foundation and the future of the manger. They are inextricably linked, and the cross casts a shadow on both Mary and Joseph, exactly as it probably did. 

This Christmas, let's do more than celebrate the baby Jesus in the manger. Let's celebrate the God-man, the Savior, that little baby grew up to be. Let's celebrate with thanksgiving that our Redeemer has come, He lives, and He is coming again! Hallelujah! Let's look past the manger to the cross and the empty tomb. Only then will we understand the life-altering importance of the blessed nativity. 
(PS - Check back tomorrow night for Mamie and the nativity set. I didn't write it again but had already posted it as nibbling on the cross before I realized it. Sorry for the confusion)

Sending the Seventy, part 11:

Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace be to this house.' ... Stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house. (Luke 10:5, 7 NASB)

This verse is nearly impossible to understand in our culture of entitlement. For some absolutely crazy reason that makes no sense at all, we have been hoodwinked into believing that is it our "right" to be comfortable and content. It is not. There is nothing in Scripture about our "rights" to comfort at all. Even our beloved forefathers in this country, describing our "inalienable rights" did not list comfort or contentment. Their list is pretty short: life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. Liberty did not mean do whatever you want to do. Liberty meant "not a slave". "Pursuit of happiness" means that pursuit is the part we get to do. Actually achieving happiness is not guaranteed at all! That seems like an unusual way to start a devotional thought, I know, but we have to break free from our sense of entitlement to go where we need to go today. 

Jesus was speaking to men who were not accustomed to handouts. They were not accustomed to depending upon the charity of others. The apostle Paul would write a few years later, "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. (1 Timothy 5:8 KJV)" These "sent ones" understood that they were to provide for their families and themselves. 

With that in mind, look at what Jesus told them to do. They were to go to the villages to which He would be going later and preach and heal. They were not to take any money with them, nor any way to work for a living (no tools). "The laborer is worthy of his wages," He said. What they would be doing would be work, and they could expect at least a subsistence living in payment. Teaching, preaching, and healing may not be manual labor, but they are exhausting work, and all that Jesus expected. 

Can you even imagine what this must have meant to these men? They were accustomed to supporting themselves. For this journey, Jesus was saying, "This time, I will support you." He did not promise elaborate accommodations, but made it clear that they would have food and shelter. With that, they should be content. 

To be sure, there must have been the possibility of discontent, because Jesus repeated Himself. "Do not keep moving from house to house." They were to be still and stay where He placed them, even if they didn't particularly like it. His provision might not be what they had expected, but it was enough and they were to receive it happily. 

This has great application for our lives today. In our society of entitlement, it is difficult to overcome the mistaken idea that we deserve more or better. We need to embrace the truth of Philippians 4:11 and live accordingly: "...for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." (Philippians 4:11 KJV) In whatever state God allows, like the apostle Paul, we are to be content until He moves us. 

At this time of year, there is a cultural impetus to want more, buy more, get more. We would do well to reconsider that flawed philosophy. This year, let's be content with what God provides. This year, let's be content. Instead of seeking more, let's seek less stuff and more Jesus. Be still. Be content. Thank God for whatever He has allowed. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday Night with Friends: Mamie the Apprentice Wonder Puppy CelebratesHer First Birthday

HOORAY! It's my birf'day! I'm one years old yesterday! But I'm still cel'bratin' because I jus' found out about ce'bratin' birf'days and it's so much fun, I'm doin' it again! 

My name is Mamie the Apprentice Wonder Puppy and now I am one whole year old. That may not seem remarkable to you, but there was a time when I di'nt think I would see another month. Life was hard. That was back 'fore I even knew what months was, oops, were. It all started like this. 

Once upon a time (nine and a half months ago) my mama only had two dogs, Ole Lou (who is the greatest and lives outside because he is ginormous!) and my sister, Maggie the Wonder Dog. My mama thought that Maggie might be lonely while her mama was away at work, so she decided to give her a little surprise and get her a sister.  Tha's me! She told Maggie she was going to run errands, and boy hidey did she ever run some errands. She 'dopted me! Can you believe this? I started as an errand, and here I am today, a famous guest blogger. That just goes to show that you don't have to get a good start to turn out well. 

Anyway, my mama picked me because she thought I was so cute and sweet, and that was right! And she snuggled me up and carried me home. We walked in the door and she said, "Maggie, I have brought you a surprise!" Maggie thought our mama had brought her jerky, but she did not. She brought a 'dopted sister instead. Maggie was so mad I couldn't believe it! She was mean, mean, mean, mean, mean to me! It was ter'ble and my mama had to give us some good talkin' to's. Then, we had to talk to Jesus so much! Oh, dear Jesus must'a got really tired of us because Maggie was growlin' and I was cryin' and Mama was cryin' all the time! It was terrible!

'Fore I got 'dopted, I lived with all my brothers and sisters and we would play and tumble until we were so tired we landed in a jumbly pile and took a nap. There was no jumbly pile here and I wanted to go HOME, but my mama kept saying, "Little Mamie, this is your new home now, and it's going to be fine. Jesus will help us!" To tell the truth, it seemed like it took a while for Jesus to help us. He did not do it as fast as I wanted Him to! He did not! Mama said that was because He was teaching me and Maggie some things and we had to learn 'em 'fore we could act better. She said things would get better when we learned what Jesus wanted us to learn.

I had to learn not to jump on Maggie's head all the time, and I learned that I'm not 'posed to hop like a bunny all the time, but I can do it sometimes still. Also, I really like to kiss a lot, but my sister didn't like nonstop kisses. Now, I can kiss sometimes, but you aren't 'posed to kiss if the other person doesn't want kisses. I don't know why anyone wouldn't want kisses, but some people are just strange. Maggie had more to learn, and I am not going to tell her business, except to say she had to learn that little sisters are HERE TO STAY! And she had to learn not to bite her lil' sister, too.

The amazing thing is that Maggie and I have learned a lot. Jesus helped us. Maggie hated me when I came. She called me a guinea pig and a gremlin, and some other names that are not nice and my mama won't let me say them. It hurt my feelings really bad. My mama said I had to forgive, but I did not want to forgive. Then, Jesus said, "Forgive!" in His sweet little voice and I said, "Okay, I will!" so He helped me. Guess what! Jesus was helping Maggie, too, and I didn't even know it. 

Before I could even imagine it, Maggie started being my friend and loving her lil' sister and I started loving Maggie. You know what happened today? Maggie and I played so long we fell in a jumbly pile and took a nap, just like sisters are 'sposed to do! And guess what else! When we were playing, Maggie kissed me all over! Yep! My sister learned to like kissing! Jesus is the best. When he fixes a problem, sometimes it takes Him a while, but He gets it done right. You can be sure of that! 

I am 'posed to give that lesson thing. I can't 'member it. Oh yeah, the Apprentice Wonder Puppy Lesson of the Day. I have learned a lot this year. It's gonna be hard to just give one lesson, but I'm going give you the most important one I learned. It made all the others possible.

Jesus will help you if you ask, but you hafta do what He says.

That's it. He will not let you down. He reminds me of my mama though. What He says goes. You have to mind Him, and He is not kiddin' around 'bout that! It's like mindin' your mama. It's the right thing to do and you'll be glad you did.

So, if you are having some problems, just ask Jesus to help you and He will, but be sure to do what He tells you to, 'cause He's big on minding!

The End.
By Mamie the Apprentice Wonder Puppy
P.S. - My mama wrote a new book this year. You should buy it! Here's how to do that:
The Waiting: When the Answer to Your Prayer is Delayed and Your Hope is Gone, as well as The Clay Papers and The Road to Bethlehem (an advent devotional guide) are now available at Get your copy today.
You can read more stories about Mamie and her adventures with her sister Maggie at

Sending the Seventy, part 10: Staying and Swallowing

Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace be to this house.'...
Stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house. (Luke 10:5, 7 NASB)

We are studying the passage in Luke 10 where Jesus sent the seventy disciples out as forerunner-evangelists. He assigned them villages and places where He would be going. They were to go ahead of Him and preach the gospel as well as heal the sick, carrying nothing with them except the clothes on their backs. (Literally, they were not even to carry an overnight bag with undies and toothbrush!) God Himself had made arrangements for their provision. 

They were to go with one very simple plan. When they arrived in a town, they were to offer a blessing of peace at a house. If there was a man of peace there, he would receive the blessing and they would be welcomed into the home. They were not to look at the house, think "maybe we can find a more comfortable house down the road", and try to move on. That is not how the provision would work. When hospitality was offered, they were to accept it. There was to be no moving around to a bigger or more lavish accommodation later. They were to stay right there, graciously accepting what was offered, sticking it out, no matter how comfortable or how rough the accommodations might be. 

They were to eat and drink what they were given. I've had the responsibility to be involved in the hosting of "celebrities" from the faith community on occasion and, frankly, they would do well to read this passage. On one occasion, the list of requirements for their comfort was so astounding that I strongly considered that  we should cancel the contract. For a one-time concert, I ended up moving the contents of my living room to the venue to provide the required comfort. The list of food they required was equally astounding, and much of it went to waste. By the time they gave the concert, their fine words were utterly meaningless to me because of the demands for comfort that preceded it. This should not be the way we travel in the name of Jesus. 

We live in a society of entitlement and that philosophy has taken something of a hold on all of us. Jesus was very clear. Don't even think about what you are entitled to have. Take what comes and be glad of it. Receive the blessings of God and offer thanks for whatever He sends, whether lavish or simple. Why? Why did this accepting what was offered matter? Their response to what was offered was the first indication of the truth of the gospel. The fine words of the blessing of peace were just words until their actions demonstrated the veracity of those words, and so it is for us. Does our response to our circumstances demonstrate the truth of what we say we believe or not? If we are to be the "sent ones" of Christ (and we are), then our response to the gifts of God and His provision must demonstrate our gratitude for and acceptance of those gifts. 

Years ago, a career missionary in Central America told me there was a secret to serving that I would need to remember:

"Where He leads me I will follow. 
 What He feeds me I will swallow."

That missionary doctor had learned the secret of the "sent ones" and it made all the difference in His ability to obey. It will for us, too, dear ones. Let's be sure our wants and expectations take a back seat to the Hand of God. Stay where He sends. Eat what He gives. Show the world the heart of Christ in all we do. 
The link to last night's post on being the hands of Christ is here
The new book, The Waiting: When the Answer to Your Prayer is Delayed and Your Hope is Gone, as well as The Clay Papers and The Road to Bethlehem (an advent devotional guide) are now available at Get your copy today.  

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Christ Child's Missing Hand

More than a decade ago, I received this lovely nativity set from dear friends and it has been a central part of my Christmas display every year since. Poor baby Jesus somehow lost one of his hands along the way. The damaged Christ child figurine always reminds me of a story that is told of a statue of Christ damaged during a war time bombing raid. Reportedly the statue's hands were broken off and a sign was attached that read, "Christ has no hands but your hands." (It is a lovely, touching story, but I have not been able to confirm its accuracy.) 

What I have learned is that Annie Johnston Flint wrote a poem that spoke of Christ having no hands but ours.  She was a gifted poet (1866-1932) who wrote a poem entitled "The World's Bible". I've included it here because it is just wonderful and well worth remembering.

The World's Bible
by Annie Johnston Flint

Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today;
He has no feet but our feet to lead men in His way;
He has no tongue but our tongues to tell men how He died;
He has no help but our help to bring them to His side.

We are the only Bible the careless world will read;
We are the sinner's gospel, we are the scoffer's creed;
We are the Lord's last message, given in deed and word;
What if the type is crooked? What if the print is blurred?

What if our hands are busy with other work than His?
What if our feet are walking where sin's allurement is?
What if our tongues are speaking of things His lips would spurn"
How can we hope to help Him and hasten His return?

That wonderful poem says a sermon-full in just a few lines, doesn't it? Friends, if we are "the only Bible the careless world will read", and you can be sure we are, then we need to be careful of what message we give to that careless world. If a lost world looks to us to get the story about Jesus and the importance of Christ, we need to be sure we get our story straight. Especially during this Advent season, as we approach Christmas, we need to consider whether or not our celebration of the Birthday of The King is one that helps the world understand Who Jesus is and why He came. 

Tonight, let's ask ourselves, if we are the only Bible the careless world is reading this Christmas, what are they seeing about Jesus in us? Let's be sure they see the truth we meant them to see. 

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Sending the Seventy, part 9: The investment blessing

If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. (Luke 10:6 NASB)

"If you don't want that, I'll take it!" It's one of those comments you sometimes hear among family members at a meal (almost always one of the guys) when one person leaves a portion of food on their plate. We don't usually think of it in relation to blessings, but it is, in essence, what Jesus was suggesting. The sent ones were to offer a blessing of peace when they entered a house. If no one wanted to receive the blessing of Christ's peace, that was fine. The blessing of peace would return to the one who spoke it! That rejected blessing wasn't a wasted effort at all!

When we bless others, we are blessed in return, even when the one to whom we speak a blessing rejects the blessing. If they accept the blessing of peace, we have the joy of introducing someone to Jesus. If they reject the blessing, we have the joy of receiving that blessing back! The peace comes back to us, because we have been obedient in speaking the blessing. 

When Jesus instructed us to pray for our enemies, He did not promise that every enemy would become a friend. What He knew was that, even if the enemy rejects every effort of the Holy Spirit to change his/her heart, the prayers are not wasted. God can bring that blessing right back to us because of our obedience. 

Well, then, should we offer beautiful words of peace in order to gain peace ourselves? Of course not. First, we must obey Christ simply in order to obey Him, and for no other reason. Second, we cannot give what we do not have. Who would want the peace we offer if they can see that we do not have that peace ourselves? No one. This offering of the blessing of peace begins with the peace of God in our own hearts. 

It is when we have the peace of God that the fun truly begins! We who know Christ have an exciting time ahead if we are willing to offer the blessing of peace to all we see. It is guaranteed that we will receive a blessing in return. 100% return on your investment is a pretty nice return, isn't it? In these uncertain times, it's good to know of something with such rich rewards. Fear not. Freely offer the blessing of Christ's peace to all who will hear, and wait with expectant hearts for what God does in return. 

If you need help with a too-busy schedule, the link to last night's post is here:
The new book, The Waiting: When the Answer to Your Prayer is Delayed and Your Hope is Gone, as well as The Clay Papers and The Road to Bethlehem (an advent devotional guide) are now available at Get your copy today.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Jet Fuel Day

The Jet Fuel Day
Ryan had just returned to school after missing two days with strep. throat.
We had gotten all his assignments while he was out, or so we thought. Unfortunately, there was a 118-question language paper that had to be completed and he had started the week way behind. He had so much other homework to complete that he had been up until eleven p.m. finishing. After that, he had a speech to write for the public speaking competition the next night. We finally turned out the lights at midnight.
We were both tired after too little sleep and were rehearsing the day’s “to-do” list as we drove to school. I felt more like 100 years old than a youthful 48. There were clearly more things to do than hours in the day. Every single item on my list was pressing. There were articles to complete, fences to mend, manure to scoop, clothes to wash and iron. Ryan’s list was not much better. Everything had to be completed by 5:15 p.m. so that we could make it to the public speaking competition. I was feeling harried already. 
Ryan started laughing. “You know what we need, Mom?” he said. “Help?” I replied. “No, we need a pair of jet-fuel tanks! It’ll take rocket fuel for us to go fast enough to finish this list.” He laughed again. “Are you sure you have to do all that today?” I assured him I did. It all had to be done, and done right away. Everything on MY list was VERY IMPORTANT. “I don’t know, Mom, that’s an awfully long list.” Ryan was skeptical.
 His words echoed in my heart as I drove back home. I felt awful from the lack of sleep and could see that it was going to be a miserable day. After I finished feeding animals and cleaning the barn, I headed to the house. As I walked upstairs to change my muddy clothes, I remembered what Ryan had said. There was a lot to do, but it didn’t really have to be done today.
I sat down with the list. One article had to be completed then, but not all six. The manure was already scooped, and the fences just needed to be started. I would never be able to finish them in one day anyway. There were some clothes that had to be washed and ironed today, but it wasn’t necessary to do all of them. By the time I finished, the list was achievable.
Finally, I did the only thing that made any sense at all. I took a nap. I slept soundly for an hour and a half and awakened feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day. The new list was completed early and I had time to spare. I wasn’t fussy or in a hurry when Ryan came home from school. I was nearly as peaceful as he was, despite having to move quickly to avoid rushing.
As I made my do-list the next morning, I thought about how much smoother my day had been when I set realistic goals and didn’t try to push my body past what it was reasonable to expect. Life is much more pleasant when we balance our expectations with realistic possibility, especially where our bodies are concerned.
Are you running at the speed of sound and wondering why you never get everything done? Do you feel awful but don’t know why? Are you fussy and overwhelmed? Are you rushing to do what matters most in the Kingdom, or just trying to complete a list? Maybe you are trying to do what is impossible to accomplish. Perhaps you need to pare down and slow down. Take a serious look at your life and your priorities. Treat your body with the same consideration you would an expensive sports car – give it adequate fuel, appropriate maintenance, and a reasonable driving schedule. Put the things that are truly important on the top of your list, and everything else will take their proper place. You’ll be surprised how much fuller your life will become, and how much more enjoyable.
“For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life...
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 5:25,33 NASB 

Sending the Seventy, part 8: The Man of Peace

Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace be to this house.' If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. (Luke 10:5-6 NASB)

Mark the blameless man, and behold the upright; For the man of peace will have a posterity. (Psalms 37:37 NASB)

When the seventy "sent ones" entered a village, they were to look for a "man of peace" and accept his hospitality. That "man of peace" would be the starting point for their evangelistic efforts. They would share the good news of Jesus and offer healing in His name. If it is important to begin with a "man of peace", how do you recognize him? addresses this question and offers the following information. 

"You can identify him or her by three R's, according to Thom Wolf, a leading proponent of the concept who teaches at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. The person of peace (1) is receptive to the Gospel; (2) possesses a reputation to gain attention for the message among family and community; and (3) effectively refers the bearers of good news to that larger group."1

Oddly enough, this "man of peace" type of evangelism has recently been "rediscovered" and has been found to be quite effective in areas previously hostile to the gospel. The method of evangelism Jesus used actually works to bring people to Him! 

The man of peace is a leader in his community, is well-connected, and is receptive to the truth of the gospel. When the man of peace connects the "sent ones" with those in his sphere of influence and those people come to know Jesus, he has an important part in the harvest of souls. What is amazing to me is that the psalmist, writing centuries before Jesus was born, spoke of that very thing. "The man of peace will have a posterity," he wrote, and indeed he does.

The "man of peace" is not just an catchphrase for modern evangelistic efforts, however. We, too, need to be men and women of peace. According to Psalm 37, the man of peace is blameless and upright. Because of the purity of his heart and the depth of his faith, his life is marked by peace. This time of year, more than any other, we speak of the peace Christ came to bring, yet have difficulty keeping our focus on Jesus and His peace rather than the commercialization of the season. Are we men and women of peace? It was what Jesus intended we would be, and He offered His own peace to assure that very thing. 

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. (John 14:27 NASB)

In the midst of a busy season, when the world offers everything except peace, let us turn toward Jesus and embrace the peace that only He can give. May we live in such a way, blameless and upright, that His peace will remain and become a beacon of love and hope in a dark and lonely world.

The new book, The Waiting: When the Answer to Your Prayer is Delayed and Your Hope is Gone, as well as The Clay Papers and The Road to Bethlehem (an advent devotional guide) are now available at Get your copy today.  

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sending the Seventy, Part 7: Speaking Peace

Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace be to this house.' If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house. (Luke 10:5-7 NASB)

As Jesus continued to preach, teach, and do miracles of healing, His ministry moved from the local synagogues, where he was no longer consistently welcome, to private homes and fields. When He sent the seventy, He anticipated that they would begin in private homes, likely telling the good news of Jesus over a meal, perhaps following the meal with prayers for healing (accompanied by that miraculous healing only Christ can bring). When they entered a home, they were to offer a blessing of peace. This was not the formal greeting in common use. Instead, they were to speak a blessing of peace over the home and its inhabitants. If a man of peace was there, a man willing to receive the peace of God, He said, their blessing would rest on him. They could speak the blessing with confidence, knowing that the peace of God would actually rest on the man who was willing to receive it. To make this absolutely clear, they were not just making a pretty speech of words. They were literally offering the peace of God. 

After the giving of a blessing of peace to those in the home was received, the sent ones were to accept the hospitality of this peace-filled home. In the way that only Christ can do, the blessing they gave also blessed them. It was not just that they felt satisfied about being obedient in giving the blessing. They actually also received the blessing they gave away! 

When you think about this, it is truly amazing. With a few words, these sent ones could offer peace, recognize one willing to receive it, and have a peaceful lodging. Even better, if the greeting of peace were not received, they did not have to stay there. Jesus intended that they would dwell in peace and He made arrangements in advance so that they could do so. 

That peace that only God can give is available to all who will receive it, and, as a result, we, too, can live in peace. We, too, can offer peace, knowing the Source of that peace, and be confident that those who are willing can receive greater peace than they ever imagined. It all starts with the peace of God in our own hearts, for we cannot give what we do not have. 

Were I with you today, I would speak a blessing of peace to you. May this written blessing suffice.

Peace be to your home and all who dwell there, in the name of Jesus. 

Receive the peace only our Lord Jesus can give, then speak the peace to all who will receive it. 
Dwell in peace. 
Go in peace. 
The new book, The Waiting: When the Answer to Your Prayer is Delayed and Your Hope is Gone, as well as The Clay Papers and The Road to Bethlehem (an advent devotional guide) are now available at Get your copy today.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Cats at the door, the problem of sin, and the miracle of the manger

You may not remember, but Maggie the Wonder Dog is a recovering chicken-shaker. In fact, she has, on occasion, indulged in terminal shaking. A sturdy latch on the chicken coop and considerable caution in opening the door, coupled with strict scheduling of the chicken's time out (never corresponding with Maggie's) have made Maggie's chicken shaking a thing of the past. Imagine my surprise when I found Max the Biting Cat positioned just outside the chicken coop door, determinedly considering how to get inside. It was apparent that he had a chicken supper on his mind, not merely chasing and shaking. As I approached the door, he made a hasty retreat and pretended to take a nap while facing in the opposite direction. I was not fooled.

Apparently, there are some behaviors that are nearly irresistible to carnivorous animals. Snagging chickens, whether for shaking or for supper, seems to be one of them, and has necessitated considerable effort on my part to keep my chickies safe. The animal nature being what it is, I don't know why I'm surprised. 

It turns out that, human nature being what it is, we humans find wrong-doing nearly irresistible ourselves, and I am often astonished at the foolish choices we make. What is even more shocking to me is the evil in which people choose to indulge. What about wickedness seems like a good idea? How does anyone envision a happy ending to evil? I don't understand it and I'm pretty sure I never will. 

What breaks my heart, though, is my own foolishness. The poor choices, the rushing ahead of God, the misplaced priorities, the hasty and unkind words that cause unnecessary pain may not seem like utter wickedness to me, but sin is sin where God is concerned and He takes it all seriously. In fact, Jesus died for my sin, just as He died for the one who commits the most heinous crime imaginable. I have heard it said many times that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. I don't know about the literal accuracy of that statement, but metaphorically I'm pretty sure it's correct. No one gets a higher position, or a lower one, on the sin meter. It's level ground no matter how minor we view our own sin. 

What is it, then, that can change us? It will take more than a strong latch and caution with the door, that's for sure!  The Apostle Paul wrote that, even when he wanted to do good, he ended up doing wrong. He asked the question we might all ask. Who can set me free from my own bent toward wrongdoing? It turns out that there is only One who can set us free. The Lord Jesus Christ wrapped Himself in flesh, left unimaginable wonders in heaven and came to earth, determined to die as the spotless, sinless lamb of God to set us free. He not only determined to do it, He did it! Once He set us free, He determined to keep us free and He left the Holy Spirit to guide us and constrain us. 

We may find wrong-doing enticing and we may even find it pleasurable for a time, but, because of the Christ Child and His sacrifice, we do not have to find it irresistible. As we go through this season of Advent let us not forget that that the Babe in the Manger came because of our sin and He stayed until He had set us free. We honor Him most when we stay free. 
The new book, The Waiting: When the Answer to Your Prayer is Delayed and Your Hope is Gone, as well as The Clay Papers and The Road to Bethlehem (an advent devotional guide) are now available at Get your copy today.  

Sending the Seventy, Part 6: The Silence of Greeting

Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come.

Carry no money belt, no bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way. (Luke 10:1, 4 NASB)

"Greet no one on the way" seems like an odd command, doesn't it? Here in Mississippi, greetings, especially in public are a big deal. If you see someone you know, you greet them and chat about their families, catch up on their lives. It's considered good manners and is the way life is done here. So it was in Jesus' day. Greetings then could take as long as they do now. I enjoy the greetings that accompany a trip to the grocery or out shopping, and you probably do, too, but if we are honest, those greetings can be time consuming. Those greetings can also be a way to delay a difficult task. Perhaps you've never spent time visiting with someone when a job you dreaded was waiting, but maybe you have. If so, you know how easy it is to procrastinate in the name of good manners.

These seventy disciples were no different. Jesus knew that there would be a temptation to stop and chat along the way. They could easily spend hours greeting the people they knew, telling them about the job Jesus had given them, and discussing their big adventure, all while avoiding the difficult task ahead. Jesus sent them out as sheep, but he did not intend them to stay in a herd of fellow sheep. They needed to be on their way, going to their assigned sites, and preparing the way for Jesus. Theirs was a task that required haste. Just so we are clear, talking to our buddies about how we are going to be serving Jesus is not the same thing as serving Jesus, and that was part of the reason for His admonition. 

Matthew Henry, a 17th and 18th century theologian and commentator, suggests another reason for the instruction to "greet no one on the way." He suggests that this was a call to a kind of silence, that they might be "sober and serious". They had a difficult job ahead and Jesus knew that it could be, quite literally, deadly serious. Eventually, some of these "sent ones" would die for Him. Perhaps He was calling them to spent their traveling time in contemplation of the work ahead. 

Henry suggests that this silence of theirs was much like that described in Job 2:13, when his friends sat with him in mourning for seven days before speaking. If the "sent ones" understood the eternal plight in which the  people to whom they were sent stood, their response would naturally be grief. They were to prepare to minister by mourning the plight of the people, knowing that the good news of Jesus could change death to life, brokenness to wholeness. 

In some faith traditions, a season of silence is a powerful opportunity to focus attention on our Lord. It allows us to take a step away from the clamor of modern life and be still before our Lord. I have several friends, including a group of dedicated Protestant ministers, who enjoy annual retreats of silence. They spend the time studying Scripture and hearing from God rather than each other, and describe it as one of the most powerful times of devotion imaginable. Perhaps, during this busy season when the Advent of the Christ is our intended focus, we would do well to have a season of silence of our own. Consider the Savior who came in flesh to save us, the tasks to which He has assigned us, and those who do not know this One who died for them. As much as we enjoy the festivities, decorations, and gifts of our Americanized Christmas, the focus must be Jesus, and Him glorified. May our challenge be to spend a few minutes each day until Christmas in utter silence, greeting no one but our Lord, listening to no one but that Still Small Voice, worshipping no one but the Child born in a manger in the shadow of the Cross. 

Be still, dear ones, and know that He is God alone. 
The link to last night's post is here:
The new book, The Waiting: When the Answer to Your Prayer is Delayed and Your Hope is Gone, as well as The Clay Papers and The Road to Bethlehem (an advent devotional guide) are now available at Get your copy today.  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Clouds in the Sky

The pre-dawn trip to the barn is one of my favorite parts of the day. The profusion of stars, usually sufficient to light my path to the barn and back, reminds me of the One who set each star in place. Imagine that! Every star was set in its place by God Himself. That just boggles my mind! Equally amazing is the fact that, though I am just a speck in the incredibly vast universe, the Creator and Sustainer of it all knows me by name. Isn't that a profound thought?

I am known by name both in the courts of heaven and by Almighty God.

I hope I never get over the wonder of that amazing truth. 

This morning, however, the sky was so densely overcast that not one star was visible, nor was the moon. The density of the clouds completely obscured my view of those amazing stars, but, no matter how dense, the clouds did not change the fact that the stars were still there. Their existence is not dependent upon my ability to see them. Did you get that? The existence of the handiwork of God is not dependent upon my ability to see it, no matter what the clouds in the sky or in our lives seem to indicate.

You, like me, have probably had some dark times where your faith wavered because your sight was obscured by those pesky clouds. Our inability to recognize God at work didn't change God's handiwork, nor His ongoing involvement in our lives, did it? Of course not! Even when the clouds remain for an intolerable period of time, even when it seems the haze will never clear, the stars are still in place and shining bright. God is still on His throne. He is still at work in our lives. That's good news, but hard to remember in the midst of difficult times. 

The sky was overcast all day today, but as I walked back from the barn tonight, in the distant horizon, I saw a pink glow and remembered something my mama much have said thousands of times when I was growing up. "Red at night, sailor's delight." I laughed out loud at the memory. That red tint to the horizon was a reminder that the clouds do not last forever. Good times do come again. God is still in control. If you are in the midst of one of those dark and difficult times, take heart. The clouds don't last forever. God is still on His throne and His stars still shine. 
The new book, The Waiting: When the Answer to Your Prayer is Delayed and Your Hope is Gone, as well as The Clay Papers and The Road to Bethlehem (an advent devotional guide) are now available at Get your copy today.  

Sending the seventy: part 5

Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no money belt, no bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way. (Luke 10:3-4 NASB)

We are looking again at the sending of the seventy. Jesus had selected seventy disciples to go on an evangelistic tour. He had assigned them specific communities and they were to share the good news of Jesus and perform attesting miracles in such a way that those communities would eagerly receive Jesus when He came. That's a sermon right there, isn't it? Do we present Jesus in such a way that those around us are eager to meet Him? 

This was not the kind of evangelistic tour, complete with elaborate sound systems, tour buses, and music teams that we see today. Jesus explained to the men that it was going to be a hard job. They would be like lambs among wolves. People would be against them. There would be controversy and strife. They were to have a quiet, gentle spirit, as a little lamb, no matter what happened. 

To complicate matters, they were not to carry a money belt, extra pair of shoes, or a bag. No backpack, no suitcase. No extra underwear or clean tunic. No money for a cup of coffee along the way. No picnic lunch. They could not even carry their toothbrush. The were to be completely unencumbered by stuff. 

I read that and think that I might have balked. I have to have my toothbrush! I can't go without clean undies! What will I eat? I can hear my whining and complaining already and, in light of what I know those men experienced, I am ashamed of my need for stuff. Jesus was sending them out on a hard journey, yet it was also an exciting adventure. Unencumbered, they were traveling so light that they were utterly dependent upon God's provision for their daily needs. It took the faith of a mustard seed to do it, and I wonder if my mustard seed of faith would be enough for such leanness of travel. 

Now, realistically, the twelve had already gone on one of these stripped down journeys and returned with enthusiastic stories of the wonders they had seen. Their trip had been hard, but worth every minute of it. "You will love it! It will change your life!" they probably told the seventy, and I suspect their encouragement helped those seventy men make that first step toward the exciting future God had for them. 

The no-stuff journey was not without a point. When they arrived in a community, they would quickly know the heart of that community by the hospitality they received, and allowing the people to provide for them would, in a small way, make them a part of the community. It would give them "traction" and a better opportunity for sharing God's Word. Lest you think the seventy were going as freeloaders, remember that they were not just going to preach. They were going to be performing miracles of healing, as well. A meal and a sleeping mat would be well-repaid by a miracle of healing. As always, that with which Christ had equipped them was all they needed. 

Stop a moment and consider this journey. During this season of advent, there is no better time to remember the journey Christ made in relation to the one He asks of us. He left heaven. He brought nothing but the skin in which He was wrapped, and it was enough. That fragile coat of skin was the "equipment" with which Jesus redeemed the world. It was that with which He redeemed you and me. In the hands of God, the skin that clothes us is more than enough to accomplish His purposes, if we are willing. But are we? That is the question we must answer. Are we willing to allow our Lord to strip us of our addiction to things and serve Him without encumbrance? That's how He served us, and, if we would follow Him, we must be willing to do no less. 

During this advent season, let us open our hands and allow our Lord free access to all the things to which we cling. We may not have to relinquish it all, but we must be willing to do so. Travel lean, dear ones. It's the greatest journey of all. 

The new book, The Waiting: When the Answer to Your Prayer is Delayed and Your Hope is Gone, as well as The Clay Papers and The Road to Bethlehem (an advent devotional guide) are now available at Get your copy today.  
Here's the link to last night's farm story about Fred the Rooster. He's had a little trouble remembering who is boss: