Archive for the ‘Love of God’ Category

Overflow Leadership   Leave a comment

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I grew up at the end of the age of full-service service stations. My Dad and his brother co-owned one and I could not wait to be old enough to work there. When I turned 13, I was finally given my opportunity. With training on the cash register and gas pumps, checking tires and oil levels, I was placed in charge of the gas customers. There was one rule I had to live by in front of all others–when the bell rang to indicate a vehicle had pulled in to get gas I was never to walk to provide their services.

Principle: Whenever you serve others, RUN!

That principle guided much of my work life for several years, especially whenever customer service was involved. Anyone who had a need was served as quickly as possible because they were the most highly valued person on earth at that moment. While that is a wonderful principle for service, the methodology needs some tweaking for those serving in ministry.

Much of the service of a ministerial leader is built upon the spiritual health of the leader. The better their connection with the Divine, the more authentic the service they provide. This is true for more than professional clergy; it applies to all those who serve others in God’s name and is easily applied to all who serve in caring capacities.

The key to offering relevant service is in how we serve, not necessarily how fast. Pastors can tell you that if they “run” every time someone in their congregation needs some form of pastoral care, they will burn out sooner than later. Yes, there are times when running is appropriate, but to do so as a regular practice often comes from an unhealthy sense of duty, as if you are being graded by your speed. When this occurs, it’s as if you are serving God because of a debt.

You do not owe God anything.

The best way to serve one another is not to see how quickly you can react, but how authentically you can respond. If leaders are to be true vessels for the Lord, then we must do what it takes to ensure we are being filled. Cars don’t get far on empty tanks (or batteries, tipping the cap to electric tech here). Leaders do not serve effectively when drained.

Lead from your strong connection with God. Do everything it takes to tap into the strength God gives you because of how you relate with God. Your connection is uniquely yours, so do whatever practices work best for you, be it meditation, prayer, Scripture/Lectio, silence, etc. Whatever it is that best fills you with the Presence, allow God’s love to flow through you. This is done with great joy because you know that what you are sharing is God’s gift of love for everyone in your path.

The best service you can offer to others comes from overflow and not obligation.

No Sad Songs Allowed   Leave a comment

Birds greet each morning with a song. Even if the weather is less than admirable, their song remains the same. More importantly, their song does not change in tone, mood, or volume, not that I have noticed anyway.

I wager that this is a glimpse of the heavenly. I know that Scriptures talk about no need for a sun since God provides the light, but I often imagine life in God’s presence to still have a lot in common with the life we experience now. I hope there are mornings and afternoons and nights. I hope there are temperatures that fluctuate and that it rains and gets windy and snows. I can almost imagine living in perfect simplicity as if in a country cabin complete with fireplace (and, please, central air).

My imagination can take me to what I’ll call heaven while still having no real clue what it is like. That’s ok with me. I don’t need to know because my soul understands the most important part of all—eternity with God and those who have gone before me. What else do I really need to know? Of course I want to play golf, but in addition to the fun of the game, I can’t wait to see my divots grow back in an instant and have the trees toss my errant shots back onto the fairway. It’ll be fun to laugh with the sand as I whack away fruitlessly to get my ball onto the green.

I won’t need a caddy either because I’ll have something I’ve never really had, knees that are intact and functional. That would be new. It won’t bother me either if I will have lost all of this weight that I can’t seem to dispose of here on earth. I try. Ok, not really. I wonder if I’ll have hair, and this time on the top of my head like I used to have instead of my back and arms and chest. Will my teeth be white (think pearly)?

I try to live my life basking in the joy of God’s presence. Life to the full means life that is joy-driven. It is a happy life in spite of all this crazy old world can throw at me. Sometimes I do really well with this while other times it is work just to muster a smile. My moods change like the wind occasionally just like it is with every other human. My song is not always filled with joy.

But the birds remind me—every morning—that a time is coming when I will greet the new day with laughter, smiles, and the loving glow that comes from an overflow of God’s incredible grace. Even on a cloudy, rainy and cold morning, how can I help but sing?

Burned Out Christmas Lights   Leave a comment

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The Christmas lights I grew up with were so much easier to work with. If a bulb burned out somewhere in the string, it was because the first non-burning light bulb was no longer working. All you had to do was replace that first bulb and the rest of the lights would come back on.

As time would have it, Christmas lights have evolved like everything else. Now when a section of lights goes out, it is not nearly so simple a solution. In fact, it could be any one of those bulbs that might have burned out. It could also be that somewhere in that section one of the tiny wires has broken and the bulbs themselves are actually fine.

Pre-lit trees have been even less friendly to me. Heaven help you if one of those bulbs burn out or you have a broken wire somewhere in the tree. The last time we encountered this, we ended up cutting all of the lights out of our formerly convenient tree and replacing them with strings of loose lights. When replacing problem A with problem C, sometimes it seems best to revert to problem B. It’s a trap!

When I hear the story of the shepherds in Luke 2:8-20, I hear a lot of narratives. One that stands out in my mind today is how the glory of the Lord shone about the whole scene when the angels were delivering the Good News about the birth of Jesus. Biblical interpreters refer to this as a radiant light. It’s the kind of light that would cause you to hold up your hand or arm to protect your eyes. Today, we would put on our sunglasses or hope our transition lenses would soon catch up to the display before us. Think Griswold’s house, you’ll understand.

But this light wasn’t blinding. As soon as the angels left and took the light with them, the shepherds huddled together and decided they needed to go find this child. I love how the text refers to their actions as hurried from there. They excitedly went into the village wondering where the child was, found him and worshipped, and then told everyone they saw the whole story about God’s presence and angels and a Savior. They had all become little lights who received their energy from the big light.

Isn’t that the job of all believers even after all this time? We are the little lights that still have the responsibility of shining on everyone we encounter. The light within us is the light of Christ. Scriptures offer plenty of examples of how we should never allow our lights to be covered or burned out.

Life happens, and this year’s events have certainly made it more challenging to shine. How does one live as a radiant beam when only seeing people in 2-dimensional Zoom meetings or over the phone? Everything is different, and what would be challenges any other time have been magnified many times over. Think of all those who have lost loved ones but have been unable to have formal services to declare that love. Think of all those situations where entire households have been wiped out. This of all those who have been out of work for nearly a year now and face life in the streets if something doesn’t happen soon. Think of all those healthcare workers who are worn to a frazzle. Think of all those who have seen injustice upon injustice because of the color of their skin. What happens when so many lights either go out or are turned off?

Your responsibility as a believer is simple and not designed to solve all the world’s problems. Shine where you are! That’s it. If you shine the light of Christ in the small piece of this world where you reside, then it is hoped that those encountering you will be encouraged to shine their lights. Do the math. If you shine and inspire the next guy or gal to do so, then they’ll inspire the next, and so on and so on. The next thing you know, the whole tree of your community is well lit for all to see.

This Christmas, shine. Sing about that little light of yours. Make it your Christmas song. You know the tune.

Christmas Trips   Leave a comment

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Everywhere I have served as Pastor I have tormented adults and youth with a Christmas IQ quiz. The test is designed to help people differentiate between what Scriptures actually say about the Nativity scene and what traditions we have added to it. Let’s face it, we are professionals at filling in the blanks because we don’t always enjoy stories with missing details.

One of the quiz questions has to do with how Mary traveled when she and Joseph went from Nazareth to Bethlehem. This trip could have taken a couple of days and she was about to pop with baby Jesus. Pardon my uncaring choice of words there. The multiple choice options are that she:
a) rode a donkey while Joseph walked beside her
b) took Amtrak
c) walked just like everyone else
d) the Bible doesn’t say.

Most people select “a” because it just makes too much sense. A donkey has a smoother back than a camel, I’m fairly certain Amtrak wasn’t around yet, and it seems mighty mean of Joseph to make her walk that far being that pregnant.

The correct answer, if you’re curious, is d), the Bible doesn’t say.

The point? Well, there is none, unless you’re trying to score higher on the quiz than everybody else in the room.

We do not know how they traveled although I’m quite certain you can eliminate Amtrak from your guesses. They traveled from Nazareth, crossed the Jordan to go down it’s east side to avoid Samaria like most good Jews did at that time, crossed back over at Jericho, then trekked up the rocky path to Jerusalem, then a few short miles more to Bethlehem.

Do you remember traveling as a child?

I recall a particular journey when I was a child when my Dad took my sister and I to Florida so we could go to Disneyworld. We were in a Volkswagen van that died on us on the way down. All I know is that it took most of the trip money to get it back on the road, so we didn’t get to do a lot upon arrival but did manage to get into Disney. Along the way, Bonnie, my sister and I did a lot of goofy singing, mostly the jingle to Country Corn Flakes. I never really found out if they didn’t wilt when you poured them on milk.

We were kids, and kids on adventures to places where they know there is going to be great fun are usually pretty happy children. So we sang and laughed and had a ball on the way down. I am not sure what it means, but I have zero recollection of the ride home. Actually, I’m positive I know what it means—that part was not nearly as important to me.

The trek that Joseph and Mary were on was certainly nothing fun. They had to go because it was census time and they needed to report to Joseph’s family’s town, Bethlehem. You can imagine the extra burden of not only Mary’s pregnancy, but then upon arrival the highly serious situation of actually delivering the baby! This journey, of course, ended quite well with Jesus, but it was a very tough trip!

How do you approach life these days? The year 2020 has been anything but a picnic or a fun ride to an amusement park. With all of its pitfalls and unexpected twists and devastation, this has been one heck of a ride that nobody has enjoyed. Yet Christians have this one thing in common that keeps us going. It is something that drives us to continue taking the next step we need to keep moving forward.

It is simply this: we know that at the end of our journey, no matter how or when that happens….is Jesus. The Lord is with us every day as the Holy Spirit never leaves our side. That is how we survive the adventure of life. But at the end of that journey, we get to meet Jesus.

And that, my friends, is what the JOY of Christmas is all about for you and me today.

Unwanted Gifts   Leave a comment

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Have you ever received a gift for Christmas that you did not want? Apparently my dad did…on more than one occasion. There were a couple of times my sister and I had opportunities to go through dad’s things, especially after he passed away several years ago. What we discovered were some gifts we had given him some time ago that he evidently never wanted. They were still in their original packaging, brand new. We found this to be a combination of sad, heartbreaking, and oddly hilarious all at once. We didn’t enjoy the discovery yet it didn’t completely surprise us either. Dad was never someone easy to shop for, so I’d imagine after a few years of socks, underwear, and t-shirts that I would have set them off to the side after a while too. After all, what does one do with unwanted gifts?

The story of Jesus’ birth also had an unwanted gift included.

Poor Joseph. He was pleasantly betrothed to that wonderful girl, Mary. We can only speculate how he felt about her because they likely knew one another somehow. We can make some assumptions, but knowing they were on the poor side makes one imagine if they were from families who lived in the same village who wanted to see these two get married. Speculations can be fun, but are pretty irrelevant.

The betrothal period lasted a year and couples were not permitted to have any hanky panky until after the wedding ceremony and feast. After that the normal activities of married couples could commence.

Sometime prior to Joseph’s angelic encounter we read about in Matthew 1, the worst kind of news possible happened to Joseph. Mary was pregnant, and he knew he had not been involved with the process. Now THERE’s a present nobody would want to receive – the one you love has apparently not been faithful. It is the epitome of an unwanted gift. He probably wished he had received extra underwear instead.

Thankfully, this story includes more than an unwanted gift. Joseph was, among other things, caring. He did not seek to have her disgraced (he could have had her killed) but instead opted to end their relationship without fanfare. This is a story of Joesph’s grace.

All of that happened before we get to the Biblical text where the angel appeared to Joseph, shared the news that he was about to become stepdad to the Messiah, and everything moved gloriously forward from there. Joseph showed remarkable kindness to Mary, and God showed even better kindness to them both. They would usher in the greatest gift of all–God’s love personified in Jesus Christ.

My hope for you this Christmas is that you have received the gift of God’s love too. It lasts much longer than socks.