WPC: It’s Not that Time of Year Without… (Remembering Dennis)

As Advent begins tomorrow, I was setting up my personal crèche to use as an object lesson with the children during the worship service. Starting out with only the animals and an empty manger, I plan to add figurines each week until the Christ child is added on Christmas morning.

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As I unpacked the nativity set, I thought of Dennis. He was a youth in my first church, who gave us the nativity set nearly 30 years ago. I think of him every Christmas as I break the crèche out of the box.

Dennis had experienced a hard life by the time he came to our church at the invitation of classmates. Both of his parents had died, and he was being raised by an older sister. Short, ruddy, quiet but quick witted, Dennis quickly endeared himself to us.  After a summer youth trip to Branson in which he stabbed another youth in the leg (the truth dennisof how that happened never came out), we had a “come to Jesus talk” and he actually did come to Jesus, that is.

Along with the other youth, Dennis spent a lot of time in our home. He was included in a number of our celebrations, with him supplying the giant cookie from the Great American Cookies store where he worked in the mall. One Christmas he gave us the Fontanini nativity set and he added other figurines over the next few years.dennis-2

I moved to another church staff position in Memphis and then to Iowa, and we lost touch. I tried tracking him down through the internet and eventually found a newspaper article, touting his success in producing organic vegetables and selling them at farmers markets in Memphis. I actually emailed the business he operated, but never heard from him.

Today, my thoughts about this youth, who by now would be about 50, caused me to do a Facebook search again, and I found him. However, I quickly discovered the posts were not by him but about him. Shortly, I reached a post that expressed sorrow for his sudden death on February 15, 2012. The news was like a punch in the gut. I quickly messaged another of the “youth” from that church, who coincidentally just “friended” me on Facebook. He shared that Dennis had a heart attack and died…and “sorry, thought someone told you.”  I know that I could not have prevented his death by staying in touch, but I wish that Dennis had known how I remembered his kindness every time I’ve unpacked the nativity set he gave us so long ago.

nativity-setTomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent. We will be lighting the Hope candle, as it represents the hope the people of God had for the long awaited Messiah. Foreshadowed through the curse of the serpent in Genesis 3, promised in the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 15), and prophesied in many other Old Testament passages (Micah 5:2-3, Numbers 24:17, Isaiah 9:6), God’s people were hopeful. They longed for good news to the afflicted, comfort for the brokenhearted, the proclamation of liberty to the captives, and freedom for the imprisoned (Isaiah 61:1). And they were certain that God would fulfill His promises as He had time and time, again.

With every Advent season and every communion we are reminded of the hope that we have in Christ Jesus. The Messiah came to fulfill all that God had promised and there are still promises to be fulfilled. As a lamb led to slaughter, who did not protest (Isaiah 53:7), Jesus willingly took upon Himself my sin and suffered my death, enabling me to have eternal life with Him. He continues to give hope to all who know Him as He is coming again to receive us unto Himself. And for that, I am eternally grateful for the light of hope shines upon me.

And so, it’s not that time of the year without remembering Dennis. But knowing that Dennis and I had that “come to Jesus” talk gives me the hope that I will see him again one day…the very HOPE that causes us to celebrate the first Sunday of Advent tomorrow.

We are Weeping

My daughter, Anna, writes in light of the recent police-involved shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota and the ambush of police in Dallas last night. This violence strikes a particular grief and concern to our family’s heart since we have a black son-in-law and family and friends in law enforcement. Believers, pray for the peace and love of God to overcome this evil through our attitudes, words and actions. Here are her thoughts:

 

Cousins at play

“Did you hear?” my friend asked yesterday morning, “Yes, not another one.” I said helping my kids out of my car. Both shaking our heads, both weary. I grew up in Memphis in …

Source: We are Weeping

How we win. How we fight. — Anna Spindler Writes

My daughter, Anna, is a WordPress blogger, too. Her focus is on writing, and I HAVE TO share her latest post. I am always proud of her insightful take on life and in the midst of this most recent tragedy – the Pulse shooting – she rightfully warns that we should fight the “evil,” not each other. She observes: “The real enemy is EVIL. But evil likes it when we fight…when we forget about him and focus on each other. We’re like a dysfunctional family fighting at a funeral.”

By the way, her blog is worth following…you may not agree with her but you will be challenged! (shameless parent plug).

 

This week has been heavy, friends. It started with my NPR app sending me horrifying texts in the middle of the night Sunday and grew as the death toll rose and our sense of safety was again rocked. It continued with immediate culture wars. Fingers pointing. Angry words. Emotions preyed upon for political gains (all […]

via How we win. How we fight. — Anna Spindler Writes

Facebook Fast

A week Facebook_iconago, I announced to my Facebook friends that I was taking a fast from that social media platform. This was partly the result of a discussion, which a group of men I meet with had the preceding evening as we discussed Chip Ingram’s book, Good to Great in the Eyes of God. As we talked about the implications of the final chapter on “Great Habits,” it was suggested that we take a media fast for one day. This  might be a spiritually healthy way to focus on God and others in a personal way rather than the impersonal manner associated with sitting at keyboard  and typing away. There was another reason that precipitated an abrupt break from Facebook that following morning, but that will  be discussed at the end of this post.
Well, today I broke the fast intentionally, having had a few accidental logins. However, I do have a few observations:
1. I didn’t miss it…much. Sorry if I failed to give you a celebratory greeting if you had a birthday over the past week. That is one of the reminders I do like on FB.
2. I had to log on a few times just to get event information (graduation open houses, wedding invites) that wasn’t transferred to my calendar. Due to one of those quick inquiries, one astute friend observed that FB was showing that I had been active and questioned if I really was fasting. Another time I opened up Safari on my phone and it opened up to the last site which was FB. So, if you choose to fast and don’t want to be accused of cheating update calendars and log out from all devices before taking a break.
3. I have found my best method of limiting time of FB is to take the app off my phone. That will remain off.
4. Most of the pictures of my grandchildren (the reason I joined FB) are showing up on Instagram now. I don’t need to be distracted by what’s trending (ex. hashtag* NationalSendANudeDay) *spelled out to avoid hyperlink!
5. And the preceding trending promo highlights the unwholesomeness of social media. Too many temptations are just a click away. The day I took a break, I received a “friend request” from an individual that had no mutual friend connections. I am careful about accepting friend requests but investigated to see if there might have been some connection through my blogging that has a wide audience. When I clicked on the request, I beheld a pornographic sex scene. I quickly retreated and deleted the friend request. But I was shaken by how quickly my life was invaded by an unwelcome visual that is still etched in my mind even after a momentary view.

“I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.” Job 31:1 (NIV)

6. While I glean a lot of ministry related information from social media (church members/families: please call me when you’re in the hospital before it’s posted as a prayer request on FB), I will start limiting my access to a couple of times a day rather than have it up as an active tab.

We all deal with time wasters in our lives. You may not have a problem with social media, but almost all of us could eliminate something from our lives that would help facilitate better relationships with God and others. What is it for you?

I could go on, but don’t want to take you away from some important personal encounter you should be having right now. Plus, I need to spend some personal time with my wife, who I’ve not seen all day!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Circle

Flying over Kansas on Wednesday, I caught an optical phenomenon that I had never seen before: a glory. glory-Edit

From Wikipedia: The glory consists of one or more concentric, successively dimmer rings, each of which is red on the outside and bluish towards the center. The effect is believed to happen due to classical wave tunneling, when light nearby a droplet tunnels through air inside the droplet and, in the case of a glory, is emitted backwards due to resonance effects.

Though the “glory” effect may have a scientific basis, I believe that all creation bears the mark of THE Creator, thus helping us see glimpses of His glory.

11 Be exalted above the heavens, O God; Let Your glory be above all the earth. Psalm 57:11 (NASB)

May your New Year be truly glorious!

Click HERE for other examples of this week’s challenge: “circle.”

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Symbol

When my wife and I were married almost 38 years ago, we had a jeweler place diamonds from her grandmother’s ring in both of our wedding bands. Believing that Christ was to be the central part of our relationship as husband and wife, we chose to have the symbol of his sacrificial love – the cross – as a constant reminder of the type of love we should have for one another.

Wedding Rings

Because I lost my band about 25 years into our marriage, I wear what we felt was a suitable replacement; a band that has three crosses and diamond chips. Though we now wear different styles of bands, the common symbol of the cross serves as a reminder of God’s significant role in our lives as individuals and as a couple.

“Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female,” and He also said: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one fleshSo they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”    Matthew 19:4-6 (HCSB)

This post is in response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Symbol.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Serenity

I have found myself at my 94 year old mother’s hospital bed for the past week and have been through the gamut of emotions as we have had differing opinions on her prognosis. While not yet out of the woods, I’m glad to report she has improved.

Hospitals are not generally spots of serenity. With the constant flow of health care professionals in and out of the room and the monitors with their incessant beepings, it seems to be at best organized chaos. But this hospital, being of the Methodist tradition, has a chapel that offers some moments of solitude and serenity.

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Jeanne Hoff Goodwin Chapel, Iowa Methodist Hospital (Des Moines, IA)

I had been in the chapel once before, exactly eight years ago, as I offered up prayers for a young woman from our church. A wife and mother of two young boys, she lost her courageous battle against leukemia that day. As I entered the chapel today, I was reminded of the roller coaster of emotions of that day and the difficulty the family had in making the inevitable decision to end lifesaving measures and saying goodbye. I know, especially after this week, that it is never an easy decision to make, no matter what the age of the loved one.

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Today, a painting on the west wall of the chapel caught my eye. I immediately knew it was a depiction of Jesus’ healing of the paralytic, whose friends lowered him through the roof due to the crowds preventing access to “The Great Physician.” The painting, by that same name, is the work of Warner Sallman. His paintings, Head of Christ and Christ at Heart’s Door are modern, iconic images of the Savior.

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While the painting is especially appropriate in a hospital setting as it acknowledges the role of God’s power over disease, the biblical account reminds one of Christ’s power over our most deadly spiritual malady: SIN. As the man was laid in front of him, Jesus forgave his sins. Receiving criticism from the religious leaders about his audacious and divinely presumptuous statement, he discerned their thoughts. Responding to their challenge, Jesus said that while saying one’s sins are forgiven might not be discernible from their perspective, making a lame man walk would give proof of his divine power to pardon sin.

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Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk’? 10 But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” He told the paralytic, 11 “I tell you: get up, pick up your mat, and go home.”

12 Immediately he got up, picked up the mat, and went out in front of everyone. As a result, they were all astounded and gave glory to God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” Mark 2:9-12*

The knowledge of Christ’s ultimate authority over the power of sin gives the follower of Jesus a serenity to face life with a peace in turmoil and the afterlife without fear.

Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.  Amen
(Reinhold Niebuhr – 1892-1971)

wpid-img_20150117_114104.jpgSee more examples of serenity HERE.

My good friend and neighboring pastor, William Richardson, wrote about Warner Sallman’s life and art. You can find his blog HERE.

*Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville Tennessee. All rights reserved.

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.