Weekly Photo Challenge: Twinkle

IMGP1083As we celebrate Advent, our church’s 12-foot Christmas tree stands on the platform beside the Cross. The tree that celebrates the birth of the Christ-child, its twinkling lights representing the Light of the World, is in stark contrast to the representation of the instrument of death upon which the Savior surrendered His life in the work of salvation.

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IMGP1084While not going into the explicit details of the Gospel writers, Matthew and Luke, the Apostle Paul, nevertheless, speaks of the humble birth of Jesus Christ, His selfless life, His sacrificial death and His ascension on high:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:5-11 (NASB)

Speaking of the glory of eternity, the Apostle John recorded his revelation from God – a preview of the Second Advent and beyond. The glory of eternity will be such that there will be no night and the light of God’s presence will be the only illumination that will be needed for believers.

There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:3-5 (NASB)

Thus, every twinkle of a Christmas light serves as a reminder of not only the first Advent but of the one yet to come.

Check out more examples of “twinkle” HERE.

The Church “Stand and Greet” Time

members_6997cnIn my church tradition (Southern Baptist Convention), the welcome time has always been incorporated into the worship service. It varies from church to church, but it is typically a time when members and guests stand and offer and hand-shake and a word of welcome.

In a recent post, Thom Rainer, a denominational leader, reported the results of an informal Twitter poll of first-time church guests and what factors made them decide not to return. Surprisingly, the “stand and greet” time was the number one reason. He found:

1. Many guests are introverts. “I would rather have a root canal than be subjected to a stand and greet time.”

2. Some guests perceive the members are not sincere during the time of greeting. “In most of the churches it should be called a stand and fake it time. The members weren’t friendly at all except for ninety seconds.”

3. Many guests don’t like the lack of hygiene that takes place during this time. “Look, I’m not a germaphobe, but that guy wiped his nose right before he shook my hand.”

4. Many times the members only greet other members. “I went to one church where no one spoke to me the entire time of greeting. I could tell they were speaking to people they already knew.”

5. Both members and guests at some churches perceive the entire exercise as awkward. “Nowhere except churches do we have times that are so awkward and artificial. If members are going to be friendly, they would be friendly at other times as well. They’re not.”

6. In some churches, the people in the congregation are told to say something silly to one another. “So the pastor told us to tell someone near us that they are good looking. I couldn’t find anyone who fit that description, so I left and didn’t go back.”

7. Not only do some guests dread the stand and greet time, so do some members. “I visited the church and went through the ritual of standing and greeting, but many of the members looked just as uncomfortable as I was. We were all doing a required activity that none of us liked.”

Rainer admits that there were strong feelings on both sides of the question about the practice’s helpfulness in reaching guests. He summed it up by saying churches must considering its place in their local context.

I decided to do my own informal poll on Facebook and found a similar mix of responses. From germaphobes to introverts, a few tried to avoid it. It saddened me to hear from one that said it was partly the reason she stopped coming to church. Curiously, those who most vehemently objected to the exercise came from outside our region of the country. Those associated with our church who are not members left comments like:

I like to meet and greet and sure it can be a little intimidating at first but it helps you to get out there and get to know those around you. Otherwise we’d all be caught in our own little shells.

I like it! When your new to the church, people notice and make you feel welcome.

My thoughts:

  1. The church is all about creating healthy relationships – with God and others. When people see a church that has genuine care and concern for others, it is appealing. I have had multiple conversations with people who were considering coming to our church and I’ve stepped them through the “what to expect” list. When I mention the greeting time, they’ve not been put off and have even mentioned that their own church was so cold that no one spoke to them AT ALL! I would much rather err on the side of a friendly greeting time.
  2. We must be considerate of those who are uncomfortable and not expect everyone to fit our mold. We have several in our body who don’t like hugs. I respect that and don’t force myself on them.
  3. I shake hands with more people than anyone else on Sunday…I am germ conscious and have probably gotten a few colds through this practice. But, we encourage “fist bumps” in flu season and keep a large jug of sanitizer at the welcome center.
  4. A forced and contrived greeting time (except on Easter – “He has risen…He has risen, indeed”) has never been our practice. I object to being told to repeat something and insincere greetings are obvious.
  5. It saddens me to hear that people would not come because of the “howdy-do” time. However, as one respondent related, it may be the most affirming moment some have during their week. As Christians, we are called to move beyond our own wants and needs and consider the needs of others (Philippians 2:4 – Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.). A widow in my last church said the thing she missed most after the death of her husband was no longer having hugs. We made sure she got those hugs after hearing that. Even if you don’t like the “stand and greet” time, someone around you may need that greeting, hand shake, hug, fist bump…think about what someone else may need in the moment.

I believe churches must always evaluate their methods of conveying the love of God in their context. In rural Iowa, despite some who are uncomfortable with the practice, it still seems to work.

Vote for Your 3 Favorite Charles Gabriel Songs

A local colleague in ministry and prayer partner, William Richardson, also blogs on WordPress, highlighting the lives of past followers of the Christian faith. If you love Gospel songs, like “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” and “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” then you know Charles Gabriel. Take a moment to cast your vote for your top three Gabriel favorites. Click this link: Vote for Your 3 Favorite Charles Gabriel Songs.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Between

Music has been an important part of my family’s life. Just as I remember sitting on the piano bench with my mother, it’s pleasing to see my granddaughter’s hand between my daughter’s as they “tickle the ivories.”

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Find more examples of “between” HERE.

As I processed this picture, I thought how beautifully it represents the process of discipleship. As my mother passed on a love for music to me, I passed that down to my daughter, who is now sharing that passion with her own daughters. When we recently visited their home, the two-year old sang “let it go” (just that phrase) repeatedly for about 30 minutes. I know that my mother is blessed to see her grands and greats follow her example.

In a similar fashion, the Apostle Paul shared with his spiritual son, Timothy, a pattern for discipleship; the passing down of spiritual truth to future generations. He said:

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.  2 Timothy 2:2 (NASB)

Much as a parent imparts truth/skills to a child, every follower of Christ should embrace the role of being a spiritual parent to the point that they are able to see at least spiritual great-grandchildren – four generations (Paul – Timothy – Faithful Men – Others) – following them as imitators of Christ Jesus.

For some more thoughts and suggested resources on this topic, check out a previous post “Me, Disciple Someone.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Extra, Extra

The “Honey Moon” was visible in the Northern Hemisphere on Friday the 13th.The name comes not from the traditional wedding month, but from the moon’s yellow tone as it seen through more atmosphere, traveling a path closer to the horizon in opposition to the sun’s higher path as the summer solstice approaches. Because my amateur photography is characterized by a lot of trial and error, I was searching for moon photography tips online. I discovered this site and app, The Photographer’s Ephemeris. It allowed me to add the extra, extra for which I was looking. While the full moon was beautiful in its own right (extra), I was wanting the moon’s reflection in water (EXTRA, EXTRA).

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The app gives the times of sun/moon rises and settings, as well as the coordinates of each with a compass feature. Knowing the angle of the moonrise, the app enabled me to do a map search on my phone of various lakes in my area to find a place to set up for the shot with the most water in the foreground.

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The TPE app will prove to be very valuable in calculating sunrise/set pictures, as well. Check out the video to see some of the additional features.

There are few things in the visible, celestial realm as enthralling as a full moon. To think that it has no light of its own but is just a reflection of the sun brings to mind so many spiritual applications. The example that I like the most has to do with Jesus’ words to His followers that we are to let our lights shine.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:14-16 (HCSB)

As followers of Christ, we have no natural spiritual light but only a reflective light of the glory of God in our lives. When we are living fully in His grace and under the control of the Holy Spirit, we are motivated to show His loving kindness to others. They see our good works and begin to get a picture of God’s love for them as we radiate a bright reflection of Him.

However, just as the earth begins to cast its shadow on the moon, eclipsing and even blocking out the sun’s reflective light on the moon, worldliness in the life of a Christian diminishes the reflected glory of God in our lives. The less of Christ the world sees in His followers, the more unlikely they are to grasp the glory of God.

May the full moon be a reminder to you, follower of the way, to shine brightly the way for others!

Click HERE for more examples of “Extra, Extra.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Spring

Spring is something to be celebrated, especially for those who live in the Mid-west. After a long Winter, it’s time to plant and start the labor that leads to the fruit of the harvest. One Iowa town’s Spring festival highlights its Dutch heritage. In the first weekend of May, Pella, Iowa, hosts the Tulip Time Festival. It was a perfect fit for this week’s challenge!

With the unpredictability of Iowa weather, the tulips are not always in full bloom by the first of May, and last year’s event saw snow! So, we were grateful to enjoy a the beautiful blooms of Tulip Time.

While we enjoy the beauty of Spring and it’s blossoms, I am reminded how quickly it passes. And, so do our lives. However, there is one thing that never fades…God’s word! The first century disciple of Christ and apostle, Peter, wrote that having heard and believed in Jesus, His followers lives would be transformed by obedience to the truth the imperishable word of God:

23 since you have been born again—not of perishable seed but of imperishable—through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like a flower of the grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the word that was preached as the gospel to you. – 1 Peter 1:23-25

To say that the word of the Lord endures forever means that its message continues to be relevant to every generation and every culture. Other descriptions in the Bible speak of the living and active nature of God’s word, so that it has a dynamic nature to radically transform people that no other written material has (Hebrews 4:12). It is inspired (literally, God-breathed) and brings about teaching, rebuke, correction and training in right-living (2 Timothy 3:16-17). One anonymous writing found in the flyleaf of a Bible sums up the importance of God’s word, the Bible:

  • THIS BOOK contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners and the happiness of believers.
  • Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable.
  • Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe and practice it to be holy.
  • It contains light to direct you, food to support you and comfort to cheer you.
  • It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword and the Christian’s character.
  • Here paradise is restored, heaven opened and the gates of hell disclosed.
  • Christ is its grand object, our good is its design and the glory of God its end.
  • It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet.
  • Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully.
  • It is given you in life and will be opened in the judgment and will be remembered forever.
  • It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labour, and will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents.”

May you enjoy the beauty of this Spring, but seek after that which truly and eternally endures: the word of the Lord. Its words can transform you life!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned

For this week’s photo challenge, show us abandoned. You can go literal, as I have, and share a photo of ruins, a desolate place, or your idea of a wasteland. - Cheri

“Forsaken”

Abandoned farmhouse

Cries out in silent complaint

“Why did you leave me?”

Perhaps the most distressing words in the crucifixion of Christ were “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 37:46, KJV). This cry of anguish by the Savior, the same words of the David in Psalm 22:1, have caused theological debate over the type of abandonment Jesus suffered on the Cross. To me, John MacArthur sums it up well:

There is no way to explain it. Maybe we’re helped a little bit to understand that even in His incarnation there was a separation. Did you know that? Because in John 17:5 He says, “Father, Father, return Me to the glory I had with You before the world began.” So there was some kind of relationship that He had before his incarnation that He wanted back. So in the incarnation there was some degree of separation and now in his sin-bearing death there is another degree of separation. He is separated from God. [1]

Whatever it meant for Jesus to be forsaken, His death on the cross secured salvation for those who believe in Him and who abandon themselves to His lordship, so that mankind no longer has to feel separated and alienated from God. In Jesus’ final “marching orders” to the disciples, He promised, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20, KJV), never to be abandoned again!

1. From John MacArthur’s sermon “A Closer Look at the Cross.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Let There Be Light!

I missed a week of participation in the photo challenge (11.29.13), but still wanted to contribute something to that theme. I live on a corner and for a while the sodium-vapor street lamp, emitting its yellow hue, cycled on and off through the night. Recently, the city installed an LED light that is much more intense over the intersection, but creates less overall light pollution. However, it is positioned to illuminate my front yard quite well. With our first measurable snow occurring this past Sunday, the new light caused my bare maple tree to cast some long shadows, nicely contrasting the fresh, white ground cover.

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Of course, this is the Season of Light as Christians observe Advent, preparing for the celebration of Christ’s first coming. In one of the seven “I Am’s”* of Jesus in the Gospel of John, very clearly asserting His claim of deity, He spoke of His illuminating nature:

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

May this be a time in which many people discover the true Light of the World!

*Here is a short but thorough article on The “I Am’s” of Christ by Henry Morris.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Good Morning!

My wife and I have a regular morning practice of rising early to have a spiritual devotional time together. The tools we use are the Bible, a devotional guide or book (my favorite is Daily with the King – W. Glyn Evans) and a cup of coffee. After reading, we spend some time in prayer for our church, family and ourselves. Because we believe Christianity is relational, this is always a special time with the Lord, Jesus Christ and each other as we seek to hear from God and spend time talking to Him through prayer. It is our way of having a “Good Morning!”

Good morning, Son!

Good morning, Son!

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.                                Mark 1:35 (NIV)

Just for fun, here is another “Good Morning” picture to amend a comment I made about Vladimir Brezina’s post Travel Theme: Relaxing. His first photo showed Johna having a cup of coffee on a sandbar. Occasionally, a few brave souls join us for sunrise on the beach during our vacation time. Since the end of October is a little chilly even on the Gulf Coast, daughter #2 has her feet raised off the cold sand. Daughter #1, holding sleeping baby, gives me the “don’t you dare take this picture” glare! Oh, well…there it is.

Good morning, Sun!

For more examples of “Good Morning!”, go to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge.

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: An Unusual POV

Challenge: Go out and take photos and share a shot that reveals a new and different POV.

I have made mention of our family’s afternoon gatherings for sunsets when we are at the beach. However, sunrises are a different story! My wife loves being the first one out to see the sunrise and find shells that might have washed up overnight, but she is often solitary in that venture. Occasionally, I tag along with camera. On one such morning, I found this coconut that had washed up…not a normal sight on the section of beach we frequent.

IMG_0054As I lay on the ground, an early morning jogger came by, took a quick glance, and continued on his way. While not necessarily trying to capture his passing, these three photos in the slide show do:

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As this jogger ran by what I thought was an unusual, “stop and smell the roses” moment, it reminded be that our personal POV drives us: mine – wanting to find something that was photo worthy; his – staying in shape. Our “point of view” means everything to us and often directs the focus of our day. For example, if our point of view is that we must be physically fit, it will motivate us to get up early and pound the pavement (or beach) and watch what we eat. If we have a passion for a political ideology, we will immerse ourselves in the latest news, attend Town Hall meetings and voice our opinions on everything political. Unfortunately, our POV often causes us to give passing glances at the really important things of life.

However, God calls us to have a balanced and overarching spiritual perspective on life, seeing it through a “God lens.” This POV is often seen as “unusual” in our day and time, just as it was in Jesus’ day. In fact, when asked why he spoke in parables (spiritual truths wrapped in everyday life stories), Jesus said it was to help his listeners to have a perspectives that were unique in comparison to the ones taught by their religious leaders. However, even their lack of spiritual insight into his parables was foretold in Old Testament prophecy:

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ [Isaiah 6:9-10]

16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. (Matthew 13:14-16, NIV)

The disciples’ eyes and ears, however, were blessed as they began to perceive the message of Christ. Because they were “all in” with Jesus, having made the decision to follow him, they began to see the world through the “God lens.” As a result their POV shifted from selfish to selfless, from temporal to eternal, from religion to relationship. Having this new, and unusual (to the world) POV, transforms everything we see!