Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas...Where Shepherds and Wisemen meet.

I enjoy Christmas. The older I get the more I enjoy watching others, especially the youngsters, enjoy it. For me, Christmas pleasure comes from being with my family and friends. Oh, and...I really love to eat the sweets too! Togetherness is the essence of Christmas.

The story of Christmas, it occurred to me, has much to do with bringing people together. No where is that more evident than the two groups who attended the nativity...wisemen and shepherds. Just their differences of culture could have been a major distraction. Think of it!

Historians say the wisemen traveled as much as two years to find the babe. They were obviously studied men. They knew the signs in the heavens...astronomers we call them today. Wisemen were called such because they were indeed wise. Without a doubt they knew the prophecies of the Old Bible. Dare I say any who will become a student of the Word can be classified as wise.
These were also men of means. It must have taken much money and provision to sustain them on their journey. Their gifts bore witness to their financial standing. To have gold, frankensince and myrr for gifts is more impressive than a tennis bracelet and a rolex watch!

Juxtaposed against the contrast of wealth is the humble shepherd. Shepherds were outdoorsmen, men who drifted from pasture to pasture, slept in tents and cooked over a campfire. Their skin was weathered, their whiskers were no doubt long and wooly. They smelled of smoke and had rough hands and breath. Their call to find baby Jesus was an instantaneous thing, much different than the pre-arranged trip of wisemen.

This brings me to a couple of points for your consideration. It doesn't matter how you get to Christ, just so you get there. Some have come from afar. They heard the Word, felt the pull, studied, took time, planned, calculated and finally arrived. Others had a sudden flash from the heavens and suddenly they were on their planning, no nothing except desire to find the King.

Once these two sharply different cast of characters made it to Bethlehem and to the manger out behind the Inn with a "No Vacancy" sign, there was something else important. Both groups refused to be distracted by the differences of those who knelt beside them. Let me ask you a question here. Wouldn't it be great if we could get our churches to do the same? I mean, once your church becomes known by a particular classification, you suddenly eliminate others from your midst. If you are an 'uppity' church, the country folk will likely look elsewhere for worship. Or, if you are the 'Cowboy Church' the business men in your area will not have the truck and boots to fit your mold. It is my belief that the church should be the one place where business man and cowboy, high society and poor, beautiful and not so beautiful, wise and unwise, cultured and uncultured can assemble together and kneel for worship. This can be done if our focus is on the babe in the manger and not on those who may dress differently than we do.

That is what Christmas is all about! Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hunting...More Than Shooting Animals

As a young boy I developed a love for hunting. My childhood friend and I were stalking birds with BB Guns when we were but 8 years old. Into my teen years I looked for opportunities to hunt. Often I found myself riding in vehicles full of grown men who were willing to take me, either because they recognized my love of the sport, or because I simply drove them crazy wanting to go along. Either way, I savored the moments then as I do now.

I think that is one of the best parts of hunting. The memories remain long after the shots are fired and the warm camp fires die away. Hunting entails so much more than the taking of game. While this is the ultimate goal, the other parts are equally gratifying. As the spouse of any hunter can tell you, hunting requires a lot of equipment. The various seasons and their accompanying opportunities means the avid hunter must be outfitted with gun, bow, muzzle-loader,, and whatever else they sell. Clothing, binocs, camping gear, etc are the tools that go along with the menagerie of hunting.

When I look at the trophies on my wall, I recall the way the hunt went and how the shots were made. More than that I remember the times spent eating camp food, which incidentally is the best, and the times laughing and even weeping as hearts are shared. Im must tell you that my trophies are not trophies when compared with many of the true "Boone and Crockett" type trophies that exist. Nonetheless, they are trophies to me.

Recently I went back to the Hill Country of Texas with a new friend God blessed me with. His name is Shawn, a pastor from Oklahoma. We had such a great time! We met other pastors and hunted with them, then spent the evening hours around the fire, talking, 'preaching', and singing along with a flat-top guitar played by Joel Hemphill. It was a memorable time to say the least. It was great to be hunting again after taking a couple of years away. It is so inspiring to watch the sun rise and set from a deer blind. This is an experience all people should know at least once in their lives. It is amazing to watch the world awaken, the birds begin to sing and search for their 'breakfast', and to watch the most graceful animal on the planet, the whitetail deer, move like a shadow among the brush. God speaks clearly at daybreak.

Our hunt concluded with both my friend and I taking a buck and a doe apiece. Neither bucks were 'wall-hangers', mine especially had serious ground shrinkage. But, we had a great time, I have a new lifelong friend, and I also have a cupboard full of excellent deer jerky. I was blessed to also take a nice, young hog on the trip. It will spend some time on the grill!

I thank God for the opportunity to enjoy the wild once again with my hunting friends. Memories were made that will be with me the rest of my life. That is really what hunting is all about. Good luck, Happy Hunting, and God bless.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Tight-line of Grace

I've never walked on a tight rope, but I have marveled at the pictures and images of those who have. There are several things I know about it, although I have never done it. A person has to have much fortitude to get up there and walk on such minimal footing. The next thing is there has to be a huge degree of balance for a person to make it across a tightrope. Finally, the rope has to be held taught between two fixed positions that will not give when pulled upon. These points of tension allow the walker to have a better chance at a successful trek.

You know many of the doctrines of the Bible are the same. Folks get off balance and have little or no footing when they attach themselves to one polarized position. There is no place where this is more pronounced and obvious than when it comes to the area of grace.

On one hand, the church has to hold a firm line against sin. This means when we deal with sin we do so in love, but with the firmest resolve possible. We handle sin like a physician handles a systemic infection in a body. Or, as a demolition expert handles 100 pounds of dynamite. Sin is the culprit which will keep men from eternal life with God. Sin is the great divide, separating man from his Creator. The church must speak against sin...calling it by name. We need ministers with conviction who lovingly steer their congregations away from the wolves.

On the other hand, balance of grace and mercy is needed...yea necessary if we are to be effective. This sin issue, if you have forgotten, affects everyone. "If anyone says they haven't sinned, the truth is not in them." We have all sinned. Therefore, the first person you will need to deal with is the one you see in the mirror each day. Be sure you stop the sin without killing the person. This is that all too oft overlooked balance.

Notice in Ephesians 4. Paul instructs the hearer to be humble and gentle, longsuffering, forbearing one another, etc. (v.2) Then he spends a good deal of time not mincing words about those who walk in unrighteousness, lasciviousness, and immoral behavior. The line is pulled tight! In v.25-30 he says, in essence, whatever you are doing in sin...stop doing it! But before the chapter has ended he reverts back to reminding the reader of mercy and forgiveness. (v.32)

I have found that 'religious' folks have a real appetite for the "preaching against" stuff. "Hold the line" I have heard them say. Well, unless you have some mercy to hold the line on the other end, you have no clue about walking the line. The Tightline of Grace requires a pull from each side.

All that to say, we never endorse sin! But when a sinner turns for home, we immediately embrace them, love them and nurse them back to health. It is not Gods will to shoot wounded Christians. Galatians 6:1 must ring in our hearts.

I hope you are equipped to walk the line. You will need strong positions on either side and a good deal of balance. I wish you well.