A Perfect Day?

A quote that I’ll use out of context:

“We aren’t here to make things perfect.

The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect.

Not us.”

snowflake
Snowflakes are perfect

That means God is perfect since he designed the perfect stars and snowflakes. I’m not perfect, nobody I know is perfect and there isn’t anyone who to know who would be perfect if I knew them. Perfection isn’t our thing.

But every now and then we get close, we touch the hem of the garment, scratch the surface and catch a glimpse of perfect.

Such was Sunday morning. 

WHAT HAPPENED?

A new birth happened. At the start of 2nd service I baptized a man who was as excited, grateful, and humble as anyone I’ve ever immersed into Jesus. He came up from the water, raised his arms in victory and shouted enthusiastically. It was a great moment for the Kingdom of God and a wonderful start to our service. Wow!

Man-at-cross
There is such victory in Jesus, such hope through calvary.

Later, I had the honor of leading a Baby Blessing for a young family and their newest addition, an infant son.They came with their family and grandparents and our shepherds surrounded them for a prayer of thanksgiving and affirmation. We prayed he would be raised in the love and will of God and that their home would always be a haven of the Holy Spirit. It moved me deeply. 

Then I introduced the Development Director of Hope For Haiti’s Children who was there to support the sponsorship drive. He built us up with words of appreciation for helping the Cite Soleil school over the past 12 years. He was so encouraging!

Then I got to share some of my Haiti experiences and the Holy Spirit stirred the hearts of many. When the day started we were sponsoring 232 kids in the Cite Soleil school and by the close of 2nd service sponsorship swelled to 301, an increase of 69, and many left their names to sponsor children when they are available. There was so much love and compassion and such a desire to serve the least of His flock.

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Such a beautiful thing, watching so many chose to sponsor a Haitian child!

TO CLOSE

I’m still glowing and still so very thankful to the Shepherd of our souls. It was so exciting to be there and richly fulfilling to be part of it. It was a glorious Sunday and an almost perfect day.

Or maybe it was perfect! 

Shalom

A Sunday to Remember!

I don’t often blog on Saturday mornings but today is different. It’s about what’s happening tomorrow morning. It’s Sunday and it will be especially good. 

BABY BLESSING

 Like many churches, we value new life and love blessing new babies. In 2nd service tomorrow will be a Baby Blessing. The family will come on stage, be surrounded by our elders, and then I’ll share words of love, meaning and a scripture with the parents. Then one of the elders will say a prayer of blessing. It’s a beautiful thing.

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Not me or the baby blessing of tomorrow morning, but its celebrating New Life at SE!

SPEAKING OF NEW BIRTH

Also in 2nd service will be the baptism of a young man who has realized that his infant baptism was something others decided for him and not through his faith but the faith of others. So, tomorrow morning he will born again. It’s a beautiful thing.

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Celebrating New Life With Those Who Are Born Again

SPONSORSHIP DRIVE

For 12 years our church has been heavily invested in Haiti. We parter with a faith based non-profit called Hope For Haiti’s Children, a ministry doing Christian Education, Orphan Care, Health Care and other services in Haiti for 25 years. Families and individuals in our congregation sponsor some 240 children in the Cite Soleil school in Port-au-Prince. Tomorrow morning we aim to sponsor seventy more. It’s a beautiful thing. 

NEW LEADERSHIP

We are in the process of appointing additional leaders for Southeast. Tomorrow morning, in both services, will be a video of the candidates. We will see and hear the husbands and wives speak of their experience at SE and share what it means to be an Elder. It’s a beautiful thing.

TOMORROW MORNING

  • A NEW BIRTH
  • A NEW LIFE IN CHRIST
  • NEW SPONSORED HAITIAN CHILDREN
  • NEW ELDER CANDIDATES

It’s going to be a wonderful day at Southeast, you don’t want to miss it and may God be praised for his providential blessings. Thank you Lord!

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Home of the Southeast Church. It’s Going To Be a Great Day Tomorrow!

Day Twelve: The Last Day

The Final Blog of the Twelve Days of Christmas

DAY TWELVE

It’s the day after Christmas, a day for doing other things. Will there be shopping? Probably, but for different reasons. I’ll reflect on the season and think about the time spent with family and friends, I’ll think about the cards, gifts, and events.

I’ll think about our Candlelight service. The carols were beautiful, the Spirit was generous, and the hundreds of candles lifted up for the infant king moved me deeply.  

I’ll remember Christmas morning, with the fireplace crackling and all the fabulously wrapped presents. But, mostly I’ll think about the people who gathered around the tree.

I love Christmas.

REGARDING HIS PARENTS

Joseph and Mary had a hard trip to Bethlehem, but they made it, for the child could only be born in Bethlehem. I’ve imagined them out in the cold stable with the animals. The stable wasn’t where they wanted to be, but it was where they were.

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It was a night divine, a silent night, a holy night.

I’ve considered Herod trying to eliminate the infant king. Mary and Jospeh escaped to Egypt, but other people’s sons were murdered in Herod’s death sweep. Did Mary know them, did she experience overwhelming sorrow, grief, and guilt? 

Mary and Jospeh, you were such good parents. Thank you for protecting him.

It’s largely because of you that we have a Christmas to celebrate!

TO CLOSE

Christmas means different things. For some, it’s a holiday with a few days off work. For others, it’s the most wonderful time of the year with lights, decorations and events. Maybe the magic of Christmas is the time with family and friends. It’s all good.

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But, in the beginning, Christmas was about God coming near to help us. So, when I say, “Merry Christmas” what I’m really saying is: 

“May the God of grace fill your hearts in the celebration of his Son’s birth.

Until Next Year,”The Twelve Days of Christmas” are finished.

TheNativity (600 x 300)

May the peace of the Prince of Peace be upon you.

It’s Christmas Morning!

Day Eleven: The Twelve Days of Christmas

 

A TRADITION

It’s early Christmas morning and I’m the first one up. I’m always the first one up.

  • I make the coffee
  • light the candles
  • turn on the tree lights
  • get a fire going
  • start some Christmas music 

Then I wake my daughter and we sit on the sofa to watch the fire and sip our coffee and listen to the music. Since she was a little girl we have welcomed the first blessings of  Christmas. 

The rest of the family will wake up a little later. But for now, it’s just the two of us. It’s how we do Christmas. 

AND FOR MARY AND JOSEPH? 

They had arrived in Bethlehem weary and needing a warm room with a good bed. But it didn’t happen. 

Imagine the Conversation

Joseph: “We need a room please.”

Inn Keeper: “Sorry folks, but we’re all full.”

Joseph: “You don’t understand, we’ve traveled for days and my wife is expecting”

Inn Keeper: “Look, I’m sorry, but we’re booked solid and there isn’t a bed to be found.”

Joseph: “You must have something, we’ll take anything.”

Inn Keeper: “Well, it isn’t much and it isn’t clean, but you can stay in the stable.”

Joseph: Looking at his exhausted and very pregnant wife said, “We’ll take it.”

Like the journey itself, they would be back in the cold. 

IT WAS TIME

Mary was in labor. Did she have a midwife? Did she have any help at all? Was Joseph tending a fire for a little warmth? Were the sheep, donkeys and camels all looking on? We don’t know.

However it went, our savior was born. I imagine Joseph cutting the cord and placing his son in his mother’s arms. But in that moment of divine new life, did all of heaven erupt in rapturous praise? Did the universe shudder in awe watching the creator come as an infant child? 

It was a silent night, a holy night, as our God came near.

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TO CLOSE

It’s early Christmas morning. The fire is crackling, the coffee is fresh, and the carols are softly playing. In a minute I’ll wake my daughter, but in a minute. This is my moment to remember. 

I’m guessing the experience was different for Mary and Joseph. But however it was, it was God forever changing our world. It was good news of great joy for all the people:

“A savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.”

It’s Christmas Morning

Merry Christmas!

A Journey South

Day Ten: The Twelve Days of Christmas

 AN INTRODUCTION

I measure trips as good or bad based on the following criteria:

  1. on time departures
  2. on time arrivals
  3. rudeness/kindness of passengers
  4. professionalism of the flight crew
  5. the freshness of the pretzels 

All I’m saying is that I shouldn’t have to pay a lot of money to be treated badly, alive late, and then discover that my suitcase didn’t arrive at all!

Modern day traveling can really be hard.

TRAVELING TOGETHER

Caesar Augustus declared a census be taken for the entire Roman world and everyone under his rule had to comply. That included Joseph who would have to travel to his ancestral home to register. 

But he didn’t go alone, he took Mary, his betrothed wife. From Nazareth in Galilee they traveled south to Bethlehem in Judea, just a short distance from Jerusalem.

It was about an eighty-mile trip and Mary was about eight months pregnant.

Although the bible doesn’t mention it, artists often depict her riding on a donkey with Joseph by her side. It seems unlikely that Mary would have walked. Even so, would an eighty-mile donkey ride be an easy thing for a woman in her final stage of pregnancy? 

Mary Joseph 2

If in December, temperatures would be in the low 40’s at night, and could drop to freezing. Their journey would take several days if they averaged 10 to 15 miles a day, and in Mary’s condition, maybe longer. I wonder, when they stopped for the night, were there places to stay, or did they pitch a tent, cook on a fire and sleep on the ground? 

It would be tough for Joseph and miserable for Mary.

They knew they were having a son and that he would be named Jesus. They would have known Micah’s Bethlehem prophecy regarding the Messiah’s birth. Did Joseph realize the time was at hand to get Mary to Bethlehem? 

A JOURNEY SOUTH

For us, eighty miles is a short and easy trip. For Joseph and Mary it was difficult and dangerous, and so very necessary. There’s was a determined effort, not just for the census, but for Emanuel’s birth, for he could be born no place else. 

Mary Joseph

His birth was announced by angels, witnessed by shepherds and honored by wise men. The infant Messiah survived King Herod, hid in Egypt, and was later raised in the safety of Galilee. And after all that, when the time came, he would die outside of Jerusalem, just a few miles from his birth place. 

TO CLOSE

They were so young. They were having their first baby and not in their Nazareth home but in a Bethlehem stable. I don’t know what their standard for a successful trip was, but by my standards, it would have been unthinkable. They were brave, strong, and deeply rooted within God’s will. 

Nativity

In this holiday season we owe a debt of gratitude to Mary and Joseph.

We love your son.

Merry Christmas 

The Messiah’s Mom

Day Nine: The Twelve Days of Christmas

 

AN INTRODUCTION

I was thinking about God’s “search” for the Messiah’s mother. What qualities was He looking for? An upwardly mobile professional woman? Someone highly motivated? A woman of exceptional intelligence? I respect those, but I wonder, did they impress the Lord or was he looking for something else? For sure he searched for someone who:

  •  was a virgin
  • came from Nazareth
  • had unimpeachable character
  • possessed amazing fortitude

Consider: God was searching for someone unique: an unmarried virgin from the village of Nazareth who had strong faith and inner strength. How many young single women in Nazareth were there? How many could qualify? 

He needed to find just one, and he did, her name was Mary.

A DEEPER THING

Gabriel told her that she was favored by God. That she would have a son by a virgin birth, and that her son would be of the Holy Spirit.

Can you imagine? How did she respond?

Did Mary faint? Did she offer excuses or objections? Did she raise concerns about how Jospeh would accept it? Did she suggest to Gabriel that he look for someone else? No, she did none of those.

Was that the deeper thing God was searching for, that quiet and submissive spirit?

Mary’s response to Gabriel:

 “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said.”

INNER STRENGTH 

God knew that the Messiah’s Mom would need incredible strength. That her faith would need to be unshakable. Remember the temple dedication:

      “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

A sword in her soul? Mary would hear the ugly words, the demeaning comments and feel the hate towards her son. She probably watched the scourging. At calvary, did she wince at the hammer strokes upon the spikes? How could she be there and watch her son get nailed to the old rugged cross?  

Only a mother could do it, and not any mother, but one who was heaven’s choice. 

“And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

IN CLOSING

I think of her as being lovely and beautiful, and perhaps she was. But God’s criteria had little to do with appearance. No, what God needed was a woman with phenomenal inner qualities: a deep faith, an abiding spirit, and indomitable strength. 

The Bible

In this season of Emanuel, I am thankful for Mary.

She gave birth to her son and then raised him to die.

Merry Christmas

Facing An Unfair Future

Day Eight: The Twelve Days of Christmas

AN INTRODUCTION

Imagine this: Your fiancé is pregnant and for sure you know the baby isn’t yours. How do you feel about it? What are you going to do? You were promised to each other since childhood and purposed to spend your lives together. Now, your hopes for that life are over.

Devastated, you ask yourself,

“How could she?”

EVEN WORSE

 In tears, she promises that she hasn’t been with anyone. In disbelief you ask,

“Then how can you be pregnant?

 She says,

“The baby is from God, of the Holy Spirit, the angel told me.”

In anguish you respond,

“Really, that’s what you’re saying? You’ve lied and betrayed me, we’re finished”

THE RIGHT THING?

Knowing what’s right is easy, it’s choosing what’s right that’s hard. How about this as a possible scenario:

“Joseph, instead of being angry and hateful, how about being kind and righteous? Don’t disgrace Mary with a public termination of the betrothal?”

Could you have made that choice? Could I? Believe it or not, that’s exactly what Joseph did. Then an angel said to him in a dream,

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Can you imagine Joseph going to Mary, of how that conversation would go:

“Hey Mary, you’re never going to believe what happened to me last night?”  

Actually, it wasn’t hard at all

We celebrate the story of the infant king’s virgin birth. But 2,000 years ago, in a  little Galilean village, there was a moment when the story might never have happened. Joseph was facing what he thought of as an unfair future. But it wasn’t. 

A lesser man would have walked away. But Joseph wasn’t a lesser man.

IN CLOSING

Like his Dad, Jesus chose righteousness over vengeance. He forgave and through his forgiveness brought salvation to our world. For the name “Jesus” means,

“The Lord saves.”

Nativity

 In this season of Christ’s birth, I am grateful for Joseph.

Merry Christmas

Were You Born In a Barn?

Day Six: The Twelve Days of Christmas

 INTRODUCTION

My school had a milk program. Each day a student from each class was selected to be milk monitor and occasionally, they chose me. It was an honor because I would bring in a box of milk cartons so the kids would have milk with their peanut butter sandwiches.

DIVINE MESSENGERS

Heaven had a program too. When God his messengers when he wanted to send important messages we know them as angels. One day God sent a messenger to some shepherds to announce the Messiah’s birth. Luke 2:8-11:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone all around them, and they were much afraid. 

 The angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today, in the town of David, a Savior’s been born, he is Christ the Lord.”

cole-angel-shepherds

RECEIVING THE MESSAGE

 Most likely, they were just poor, ordinary men. Or they may have been priests, or shepherds who served the priests, by caring for the sheep used in the temple sacrifices. Either way, when the angel appeared they were frightened but the angels wasn’t sent to frighten them, but to tell them that they had been chosen to see the infant king. Think about it. An angel bathed in heavenly light brought the message to men reeking of sheep. The Lord chose keepers of flocks to visit the Lamb of God.

SHEPHERDS SEARCHING

Where did they find the baby Jesus? In a warm house, a five star hotel or in a royal palace? No, they found him in a stall used for keeping animals.

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Were they chosen because the new born King had the smell of the barn?  

In our home, whenever I left the door open my dad would say, “Rick, were you born in a barn, shut the door, I’m not heating all of Texas.” I wonder if Joseph ever said to Jesus, “Hey Jesus, were you born in a barn, shut the door, I’m not trying to heat all of Galilee.”

Well, back to the Shepherds.

SHEPHERDS BECOMING MESSENGERS

 Luke 2:17-18:

“When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”

TO CLOSE

I loved being milk monitor, it was an honor and I did my best. The shepherds did a pretty good job too. They were monitors to a message of hope for the world. It was the message of angels, that good news of great joy had come for all the people.

A Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.

Merry Christmas

All Alone On Christmas?

Day Four: The Twelve Days of Christmas

AN INTRODUCTION

All Alone?

In 1992, a relatively unknown singer named Darlene Love recorded a Christmas song that went on to be one of her all time greatest hits. It’s called,

“All Alone on Christmas”

It’s more popular today than it was 25 years ago, as is the artist. The song isn’t known as well as, “The First Noel” or as nostalgic as “White Christmas.” It lacks the Jesus centric  message of, “Away In A Manger.”

However, it is a song about love, family and the heartache of being alone on the biggest day of the year. It’s a rock and roll song and one of my holiday favorites.  

“All Alone on Christmas”

ESPECIALLY GRANDPARENTS

I’m told that the entire grandparent world revolves around their grandkids, and perhaps never more so than at Christmas. I remember one when grandma visited. I remember because she gave me my first skateboard, a present I treasured for years. Nope, no socks from grandma. 

Grandparents and grandaughter

AND JESUS?

Well, did Jesus have grandparents? It’s hard to say. But we know that he had a grandfather, his name was Jacob. From Matthew 1:16:

“Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus”

Jesus had a grandfather, and although I’m just speculating, it’s reasonable that he had a grandmother, and perhaps grandparents on his mother’s side as well. I like to think that Jesus grew up with grandparents who were connected with him and a big part of his life. 

AND CHRISTMAS DAY?

Well, his grandparents didn’t celebrate Christmas. There wasn’t a beautifully decorated tree, or candles, or a little wooden box with a little wooden baby. There weren’t any stockings hanging from the fire place and there wasn’t any eggnog. 

grandfather and grandson at Christmas

Obviously, the celebration of “Christmas” was way off in the future. His birth would be globally observed, but not then. On his birthday, Jesus’ parents weren’t celebrating with brightly wrapped gifts and the grandparents may not have been able to visit. Why? Because Mary and Joseph were not in their Nazareth home to be surrounded by adoring family. They were hiding in Egypt and striving mightily to keep him alive.

From Mathew 1:13

“Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him”

TO CLOSE

Is there anything better than a house full of family on Christmas? Anything more enriching than a house full of love and holiday warmth? But for the first few years our little messianic family were probably separated from their family.

Can you imagine them huddled together; loving, caring and alone. 

I think Darlene was right, nobody wants to be alone on Christmas.

Merry Christmas

There’s No Place Like Home!

Day Three: The Twelve Days of Christmas

INTRODUCTION

The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite movies. I’m guessing you’ve either seen or heard of it. The film has an iconic phrase that Dorothy, the main character, repeated three times so she could get back to her family in Kansas: 

“There’s No Place Like Home”

OFF TO SEE THE QUEEN

In 1958 my Air Force father received orders for England, so off we went. I was just a toddler and don’t remember much. But what I do remember is how excited we were when it was time to go back. Why? Because:

“There’s no place like home.”

AND FOR JESUS?

Nazareth was Mary and Joseph’s ancestral home and it would be home for Jesus too, but not in the beginning. It would take a couple of years to get there. We know that he wasn’t born there, but in the small village of Bethlehem. Not long after his birth they escaped to Egypt to flee from King Herod’s intent to murder their infant son, the new King of Kings. 

flight_egypt

BUT EGYPT?

The strategy was to get out of Palestine and away from Herod’s clutches. But Egypt? I wonder how Joseph made a living? Did he speak Egyptian? Did they live off the treasures presented by the Magi? Was there a Jewish community, or a Synagogue? Could the grandparents visit? Hiding in Egypt must have been scary, difficult and lonely. But when it was safe, they returned to their family home in Nazareth, and so Jesus would be known as, “The Nazarene.”

THE GREATER GOOD

The world needed him to die, to be sacrificed, but not as an infant and not in Egypt, Bethlehem, or Nazareth. At the right time it would happen in Jerusalem. But until then, Jesus was protected by two courageous people of faith who loved and cared for him.

Thank you Mary and Joseph.

TO CLOSE

At the right time Jesus died for us. He died because he came to die, he was born to die. In this holiday season we give thanks and praise for Emmanuel, our God who came near. For like Jesus in Egypt, this world is not our home.

Dorothy was right, “There’s no place like home.”

Merry Christmas