Tuesday, December 27, 2011

...and a Happy New Year

Yes, we got the puppy. And, yes, the look on the boys’ faces when they realized he was ours was priceless. There are a couple of pictures on Facebook if you’d like to look me up and see.

And no, when I dashed to the window early Christmas morning to see if there was a Harley Davidson parked in the driveway with a huge orange and black bow tied to it, I was again this year disappointed. I did end up with a blue PORTA hoodie, so I guess I’m an official Blue Jays fan. Can’t wait to see some high school basketball this winter.

I have to admit, the puppy is really cute. A little whiny, but it’s a sweet whine. He just likes to be with people and needs lots of love. Who doesn’t? I think the Hollidays spoiled him and his siblings from the day they were born. Nothing wrong with that at all.

And while I’ve been the one getting up when he needs to go out at night, I also have to admit that our boys have handled much of the responsibility of caring for him. They’ve helped clean up messes, played outside in the cold and loved on him right away. It’s been a great connection for man and dog. And fun for Dad to watch them together.

Toby’s trying to teach him how to dance. Tyler can’t wait for him to learn to catch Frisbees. Amy’s a sucker for his charm, and I’m gathering as many sermon illustrations as possible. In fact I should probably forewarn you that my Sunday morning preaching may contain an abnormally high number of pet references. Which is probably welcome relief from those who think I use too many sports illustrations.

After two days of animated household debate, we finally came up with a name: Nicolas. Being a Christmas gift we made the connection with jolly old St. Nicolas. Toby had long had in mind to name his dog “Max,” but apparently he imagined a brown dog, and since ours is blonde “Max” just didn’t work. My suggestion of “Tebow” didn’t fly, but after he threw four interceptions Sunday it’s probably for the best.

It’s been a good Christmas.

And speaking of good Christmas, I have to say we had a great week of church. Last Wednesday we sent three groups of carolers out in the community to deliver some Christmas joy in song. As usual for such things, I’m not sure whether the greater blessing belonged to those whom we visited or us.

On Saturday we gathered together for a special Christmas Eve candlelight service. Christmas morning brought us back to praise and worship the One without whom there would be no Christmas, no reason for hope of greater things to come, no lasting joy, no perfect peace and no life filled with abundance and assurance of heaven. Jesus is the not the main reason for celebrating Christmas; He’s the only reason.

Let me also say to all the guests who’ve worshipped with us this week – thank you for joining us! It’s always a delight to welcome any and all who want to come. I hope you experienced something of the love of Christ and the joy of Christian fellowship. And I pray that the message of “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” resonates deeply in your heart.

Indeed, Jesus is the Savior of the world who came to save us from our sins and save us to eternal life. And “whosoever will” may come to Him. So come, walk away from everything else and follow Jesus wholeheartedly. Maybe your life’s not a Christmas wonderland postcard, but when you come to Jesus He’ll make you a new creation and give you new life.

It’s always a good Christmas when Christ is your life. Hope to see you New Year’s Day to worship the One who makes all things new!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Greatest Gift Forever

By the time you read this [scheduled to be printed in this week's Petersburg Observer which comes out Wednesday don't say anything about the following if you read this beforehand!!!] my wife and I will have probably picked up a puppy for our two boys for Christmas. It’s going to be their best Christmas present ever! And it may be the end of my world as I know it. I think I’ve finally lost my mind.

They’ve been asking for a long time. I mean years. Up till now I’ve always stood firm against their sugary pleas and shameless begging. Like a certain American Idol judge refusing to be swayed by the sensitive tears of the newest teen sensation wannabe whose story of rising from the projects to the primetime stage melts the hearts of America. Or the middle-aged guy who never really grew up and got a real job because he always dreamed of being a star. Who cares if they can’t even sing? But I digress.

Our youngest, Toby, has these really big puppy-dog eyes. He’s hard to resist. He knows how to turn on the charm. Parents, keep your girls away or he’ll break their hearts.

And Tyler’s so logical and calculated. He has a counter-argument for every reason I’ve said no (and there are many of them). He could probably create a spreadsheet detailing the advantages of why a boy needs a dog.

Of course, they’ve both made all kinds of promises about how they’ll do all the work in taking care of a puppy. This from one who forgot to wear his glasses to school yesterday, and from the other who spilled his Sunny-D all over the breakfast table just this morning!

I have a feeling I know who will end up taking the dog out in the rain, scooping up poop all over the yard and getting yelled at by the neighbors when he barks up a storm. If I may, allow me to apologize in advance for whatever nuisance we’re about to stir up on Sunny Acres Rd. While I’m at it, maybe I should also apologize to Toby’s teacher, Mrs. Hance, and to Tyler’s 6th grade teachers for any lack of attention the boys may display due to thinking about their new puppy.

But it’s Christmas. And while I realize the weight of responsibility (and financial obligation) involved in pet ownership, as a father I want to give this gift to my children. I can’t wait to see the look on their faces when we bring home the puppy!

I’m excited for them about playing with their new friend, growing up together and creating lifelong memories. I’m anxious to watch them running and chasing and jumping around in the yard. I’m looking forward to hearing their laughter and squeals of delight. I’m eager to see the bonds of companionship and friendship dig deep roots.

I know they’re going to absolutely love it. And I’m going to love providing a little extra joy in their lives.

When you think about it, isn’t that something like the gift of God which we celebrate at Christmas? Our heavenly Father loves His children immeasurably more than I love my own boys. His love is perfect, unfailing, undeserved and unending. He delights in delighting His people with the joy and fellowship of experiencing a personal relationship with Him.

To demonstrate such love, God gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life. He didn’t have to do it, but He did. To show us His love, to give us joy, to bring us peace and to save us from our sins. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

A puppy will be a great gift for our family. But the best gift ever is not a furry, four-legged friend. It’s a merciful and gracious Savior whose name is Jesus. Receive the gift of life in Christ Jesus today. It’ll be your best gift forever. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wise Men Still Seek Him

I’ve done some dumb things in my life, from the mildly ill-advised to the really stupid. When the Bible speaks of the “wise men” from the east, it doesn’t list my name.

Last year I hung up the icicle lights on the front of the house (after finally getting them untangled) before I checked to see if they worked. My thinking was that since they all worked just fine last year, they ought to light up nice and pretty this year. Some did, some didn’t. It looks pretty bad when only a few random sections light up. So after much labor and frustration in trying to figure out a fix, I gave up altogether and we had the only house on the block that looked like we boycotted Christmas.

Failing to check the lights before you hang them up falls in the ill-advised range.

Under the really stupid, well I don’t have nearly enough space to describe them. However, a few years ago my wife started keeping a journal of all the really stupid things I’ve done, so when the book comes out you can read it for yourself.

I’ll share one, for fun. Just over a year ago I was out riding bikes with my two boys. For some unknown reason once in a while I get the urge to try to show off. Which is really stupid, because I was never any good at doing bike stunts when I was 12, let alone doing them at 39. Nobody’s impressed anyway with a grown man popping a wheelie or doing a bunny hop on his Wal-Mart special mountain bike.

But on this particular occasion I was pedaling down our gravel driveway with a pretty good head of steam. Maybe I wanted to see how far I could skid when I hit the brakes. That’s pretty cool to a couple of young boys, right? But instead of applying just the rear brake I hit both front and rear together. Not sure what I was thinking on that one.

There wasn’t much skidding when that front brake locked, and I found myself flying over the handlebars and crash landing headfirst in the rocks. Wasn’t exactly what I’d planned. Thankfully I was able to walk away with only minor cuts, scrapes and a bruised ego. But walking into our church association’s annual meeting that night with taped up hands and scratched face while being introduced as the new moderator was a little embarrassing. And to top it off, the kids were not impressed in the least.

That one went in the journal.

We’ve all done some dumb things in life. Some reckless, some foolish, some that didn’t matter much and some that leave us with lifelong regrets. You can’t undo what’s already been done. But you can choose to live from this day forward in the way of wisdom or in the way of foolishness.

The Bible spells out the two paths we can take. Consistently the Scriptures describe the wise man as being one who fears the Lord and walks faithfully in His commands. The fool is the one who says in his heart, “There is no God,” and who does not follow the ways of the Lord.

Jesus makes a statement in Matthew 7 concerning these two ways to live. He says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock…And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand” (Mt. 7:24, 26).

Both endured severe storms, but only the wise survived. When it comes to your life, are you living wisely or foolishly? That is, are you living in obedience to the Word of Christ, or not?

Even the “wise men” from the east followed the star they were given to find Jesus. The light’s shining now for you, dear friend. Follow it! Maybe you’ve done some really stupid things, but Jesus offers you new life. Wise men still seek Him.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas Mysteries Untangled

Seriously, how in the world do Christmas lights get so tangled up? I know for certain that when I took the lights down last year that I did not just jumble and stuff them into the box. I did my best to carefully, neatly coil them in such a way that I should have been able to free each string and easily lift them out.

But what happens in the tote while they hibernate in the attic all year long is a mystery. Somehow they entangle themselves like a, well, like a string of Christmas lights. I can almost hear them laughing as I try in frustration to separate them.

I shared a little of this experience with the church on Sunday. That evening Sally Sutton brought me a comic she clipped from the newspaper that described the situation. There’s a billboard in a family’s front yard that reads: “World’s Largest Knotted Ball of Christmas Lights.” An arrow points to a perfectly tangled, huge mess of lights. A family poses for a photo in front of the ball. Traffic is backed up to see it. A guy, who I assume to be the homeowner, stands perturbed in front of the billboard. He kind of looks like me.

Like I said, it’s a mystery.

Part of the wonder of Christmas is the mystery of it all. How does a virgin conceive a child? How does the angel Gabriel make a visit to Mary? How does Joseph keep getting angelic messages in dreams? How are the wise men guided by the star? How do reindeer really know how to fly? And how is it that any item of clothing I buy for my wife at Christmas never fits right?

And here’s something to think about. How are all of the ancient prophecies concerning the Messiah fulfilled in one birth, in one person?

Some 700 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the prophet Micah foretold the location of the Savior’s birth (Micah 5:2). Isaiah spoke of the virgin birth, and that He would be heir to David’s throne (Isa. 7:14, 9:7). Hosea prophesied that God would call His Son out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1).

Later, Jeremiah foretold of Herod’s murderous rage against the babies in the region of Bethlehem (Jer. 31:15). Going further back, the patriarch Jacob referred to the coming Messiah saying that He would descend from the tribe of Judah. (Gen. 49:10).

All of these things and more were fulfilled when Jesus was born. Coincidence?

In his book, More Than a Carpenter, Josh McDowell observes that the Old Testament records for us over 300 references to the coming of the Messiah. All these prophecies were made at least 400 years before His birth. Using the science of probability, McDowell figures the chances of even just 48 of these prophecies being fulfilled in one person is 10 to the 157th power. That’s an unfathomable number, unless you’re a super math geek, and then it’s even bigger.

The point is that the coming of Jesus as the Messiah is the fulfillment of ancient prophecy and the revelation of divine mystery. What had long been hidden is now made known, “so that all nations might believe and obey Him” (Rom. 16:26).

His life on earth, His sacrificial death on the cross for the forgiveness of sin and His resurrection from the grave all prove Him to be the one and only Savior. And His promise to come again will also be fulfilled without fail.

Friend, you can absolutely trust the Word of God. You can absolutely rely on the promises God makes. Be assured, dear believer, the best is yet to come. But be warned, ye disobedient, that the worst is also yet to come.

I may never figure out why my lights get so tangled. But you can let the truth of Scripture unravel far greater mysteries this Christmas.