Archives For December 2009

Family Denial

Allison Stevens —  December 28, 2009 — 5 Comments

Especially during the holidays, we sometimes notice serious issues or problems in our family that we don’t want to admit or acknowledge. It’s painful, so we put our heads in the sand and live in the land of wishful thinking, instead of reality.

headinsand

 

As I was reading in I Samuel today about the story of Saul, Jonathon and David, I was struck by Jonathon’s denial of how badly his father, Saul, wanted David dead. Saul was insanely jealous of David and tried on several occasions to take him out. I recommend that you read this dramatic story (I Samuel chapters 17 through 20.)

Jonathon loved David like a brother. They were so close and Jonathon didn’t want anything bad to happen to David.  But he told David more than once, “My father would have told me if he was going to kill you. He tells me everything, but he hasn’t said a word about it, so I don’t think he’s going to do it. And I would have told you if I heard of any plans of killing you.”  At one point, Saul even vowed not to kill David.  But Saul wasn’t exactly a man of his word.

David wasn’t convinced that Saul didn’t want him dead. Having a spear thrown at him several times told him otherwise, and I’m sure that there were other behaviors that Saul exhibited that made David think twice about Saul. David finally convinced Jonathon that he needed to find out for sure if Saul was going to kill him. It’s at this point that Jonathon’s eyes were opened and he saw how fiercely his father wanted David dead and out of his life.

Thankfully, Jonathon was no longer in denial and giving David bad information. No more excuses for Saul’s behavior. No more believing that Saul had good intentions and that he’d keep his word. Saul had a track record of doing things his own way and being in denial himself (1 Samuel 15:3-15.) Because Jonathon finally saw the truth of the situation, he was able to help his dearly loved friend. He helped save his life.

Who can blame Jonathon for not wanting to believe that his own father wanted his best friend murdered? But his denial was putting his best friend at risk. Once he fought the urge to overlook the seriousness of the situation, and he looked for confirmation of the truth, he saw things as they really were. No more wishful thinking.

We, too, can make a difference in someone’s’ life, if we’re willing to see and accept the truth.   Jesus says that the truth will set us free! (John 8:32.)

Baby Jesus

Allison Stevens —  December 21, 2009 — 3 Comments

adult and baby handshandinhand.jpbChristmas is upon us and so I’m thinking today of baby Jesus.

Last night, we had a candlelight service with a live nativity at our church.  Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus were played by a young couple with their baby boy.  He was absolutely adorable. Right before Mary (mommy) sang, her 7-week old baby became a little fussy so she handed him to Joseph (daddy). On her fist note (she sang like an angel), her little guy stopped fussing and looked at her.  He was calm and at peace the rest of the song. It was a beautiful, sweet moment.baby in hands

God hears our cries, too. Then, like this mother, He sings to us. His songs are as tender and sweet. And we, like little babies, hear His voice, we take a breathe, and we sigh with relief, and it’s like all our troubles are washed away. “In my distress I called to the LORD; I called out to my God. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came to his ears (2 Samuel 22:7.)

Baby Jesus. The man, Jesus. God Jesus. He hears us and is with us. Now. Today. God is with us. Emmanuel. Whatever you face today, remember this: God is with you.

Squirrels

Jeff Olson —  December 17, 2009 — 3 Comments

squirrelsRecently I was captivated by a story of a mother squirrel trying to help her baby squirrel scale a cement wall on the campus of UCLA. Over and over the mother squirrel patiently showed how it was done, but the little rodent couldn’t quite make the leap. The wall was simply too big.

A few college students, who caught the entire incident on video and uploaded it onto YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bc-5FCd7t0U&feature=related), decided to intervene. 

At first, one of them tried to help by placing a backpack up against the part of the wall the little squirrel was attempting to climb. Eventually, the little fella climbed up on the backpack and attempted to jump on top of the wall. But it was still too high, and he fell back down to the ground. At that point, another student replaced the back pack with a couple of sandbags that were taller stacked on top of each other. This time, the mother came down and led the younger squirrel back to the wall for yet again another try. Finally, the littler squirrel climbed on top of the sandbags and scaled the daunting wall, learning a valuable lesson that could one day save his life. 

This cute little drama from the animal Kingdom reminds me of how God sometimes deals with us. One of the reasons He doesn’t instantly resolve our struggles or take away seemly insurmountable obstacles is because they provide valuable learning experiences. In some cases, they may be surfacing a deeper heart issue that He knows we need to face for our own healing and growth. 

Although it can seem like it, God has promised to never leave us alone in whatever we find ourselves in (Hebrews 13:5).  He’s still there to guide us (John 10:1-16). And while He may provide “backpacks” or “sandbags” along the way, He doesn’t intervene and do all the work for us because He knows there are still valuable truths to be learned that can restore us or undo some unholy thing in us.

Aging

Allison Stevens —  December 14, 2009 — 7 Comments

Seriously, I hate getting old. The aches. The eyesight growing dim. The turtle’s pace metabolism. I don’t even mind the wrinkles so much, but come on; do I have to take 5 minutes to get up from a seated position on the floor?

Most of us try hard to hold back the effects of aging. We exercise, we use special creams and lotions, we visit the plastic surgeon. But still, after all we try, we can’t do things as easily (or at all) that we did when we were 20. Cartwheels used to be so easy for me, but now, it’s really hilarious to even watch me try one. The laugh lines still appear (from laughing at my attempts at cartwheels and round-offs) and there’s no cream that will erase them entirely. Plus, I’m very afraid of needles and knives near my skin, and I’m very cheap, so plastic surgery is not a realistic option for me.

I guess this just all reminds me that we’re made for something much better than this world. We are God’s children; we’re loved so much!

The following is what God tells us in Romans 8:16-23.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs– heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

oldagerunningOur present sufferings (aging!) can’t compare to what we have waiting for us.  This is excellent news!  I do what I can to take care of myself now (good nutrition, exercise, sleep – 1 Corinthians 6:20), but I don’t have to be consumed with my age, my looks, my physical body.  I do what I can now, all the while waiting with hope for the second coming of Jesus Christ. We won’t always be in bondage to these bodies. We have so much to look forward to! I’m not even sure what that means entirely, but if it’s from our loving heavenly Father, it’s got to be good!

Snow . . .

Tim Jackson —  December 11, 2009 — 6 Comments

I love a fresh snow. As I’m writing this post,Snow backyard pines I’m looking out my slider door at a fresh coating of powdery white that blankets my backyard.  Ever since I was a kid growing up in central Pennsylvania, snow has been a magical, mystical experience. Whether I’m inside next to the warm glow of the fireplace while the wind howls outside, or I’m outside bundled up and feeling it bite at my face, snow has always been fun for me. I feel like a wide-eyed little kid again.

Okay, I can hear some of you saying you hate it because it reeks havoc on your travel plans . . . like getting back and forth to work or school safely.  And yes, I’ve had my fair share of accidents in the snow . . . like the time I was broadsided in an intersection just 2 months after getting a new car all because of 6″ of wet slushy mush that made starting or stopping treacherous. Okay, that was a bummer. I get that.

But it’s so BEAUTIFUL!snow on apple trees

I don’t think there’s anything whiter than fresh snow. And that always takes me back to the words of Isaiah, the prophet, who wrote: “Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isa. 1:18).

It’s amazing to consider that the worst of my sins–no matter how dark, grotesque or ugly they may be–can be washed and cleansed to be whiter than snow. Amazing!

Snow on pine coneThink about the worst thing you’ve ever done. Lie? Cheat? Steal? Unfaithful? Betrayal? Immoral? Murderous? You name it. God’s grace can extend whiter than snow cleansing power to deal with our sin.

King David knew that firsthand. He lied, cheated, stole, was unfaithful, betrayed the trust of those closest to him, was immoral, and in the end he murdered in his attempt to cover up everything else. After a year of anguish over his “hidden” sin (that really wasn’t all that hidden because he was such a public figure in Israel), his confession to God after the prophet Nathan confronted him about his sin is recorded in Psalm 51.  David writes:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. (Ps. 51:1-3)

David openly admitted the ugliness of his wrongs, calling it his sin, his transgressions, his iniquity. In other words, there was no where for David to hide from the ugliness not only of what he’d done but of the man he had become. But it didn’t end there.

There was still whiter than snow hope. Because of God’s unfailing love, David had hope that he wasn’t forever stained by the ugliness of his sin. His request from God was simple:

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow (PS. 51:7). Whiter than snow means one thing: pure again. And that’s what God offers to us–a renewed sense of purity that is the result of the forgiveness of our sins that are washed whiter than snow because of the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, on our behalf.

So the next time you see that fresh layer of snow on pine needlesnew fallen snow that magically transforms all the clutter,  imperfections, and even ugliness of the surrounding landscape with a glittering robe of white, remember that it’s God’s way of reminding you of what His Son has offered to you–though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.

Snow . . . it really is beautiful. Isn’t it?

Feel free to share your comments and reflections on snow. We’d love to hear from you.

Mistletoe

Allison Stevens —  December 10, 2009 — 2 Comments

mistletoeMy daughter and her friend are upstairs baking Christmas cookies. Special treats during the holidays are a tradition for us and we look forward to the delicious taste of buttery, sugary delights.

This caused me to wonder about other Christmas traditions. Mistletoe, for instance. Standing under the mistletoe can get you a kiss on the lips or a peck on the cheek. This tradition can be either sweet and romantic with the one you love, or an awkward moment when you deeply regret choosing that particular area to stand. I read a little about the history of mistletoe and I found it a bit more interesting than our modern interpretation of its use.

Apparently, beginning with the Druids and then to the Celtics and Romans, people thought mistletoe had special properties from healing powers, to keeping evil spirits away. This rootless green plant became a symbol of peace. In Rome, if enemies stood under the mistletoe, they would lay down their weapons and embrace. 

What a good time, Christmas, for us to put aside our petty arguments and seek peace with one another. Our disagreements pale in comparison to the love that God has for us. Our differences of opinion mean nothing next to Jesus. Let’s all pretend that the world is standing under huge mistletoe . . . let’s lay down our weapons and embrace!

Jesus brings us together in unity and peace. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14.)

No Kill Shelters

Jeff Olson —  December 8, 2009 — 2 Comments

Sad dog-flickrIf you’re an animal lover, you gotta love the television show Dogtown. Aired on the National Geographic Channel, it’s about a dog shelter that is part of a massive 33,000 acre animal sanctuary in southern Utah. Dogtown is a “no kill shelter” where dogs, “who might otherwise be euthanized—find hope.”

No matter how sick or unruly, a devoted staff of trainers, veterinarians, and volunteers take in abandoned and damaged dogs with the goal of transforming each one into loving pets. Many of the canines who end up at the shelter exhibit unwanted or aggressive behavior because they are wounded and scared. The folks at Dogtown believe a dog whose has not experienced good things in life can be turned around for a greater good.

Wouldn’t it be great if our churches and Christian communities were more like Dogtown? Instead of shooting our wounded, the community of faith is meant to be like “no kill shelters” where scared, damaged, and messed up people can come and find God’s love and the hope for wholeness and purpose. Now that’s the gospel!

When the religious leaders of His day (who acted as if they were better than everyone else) bad mouthed Jesus for hanging out with sinners, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do” (Matthew 9:11, 13). His statement was bold and to the point. It reflected his primary mission to heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free (Luke 4:18-19).

Though Jesus wasn’t light on moral failure (John 8:11), he didn’t try to fix people before getting them into the Kingdom. He met people where they were with the intention of graciously speaking truth that can transform people lives.

When people are struggling with a personal issue, one of the best places to be is among God’s people (at least that is how Jesus meant it to be).

Sex Talk

Tim Jackson —  December 2, 2009 — 14 Comments

Do you remember the “sex talk”? You know, the talk? Some of you do. It was that awkward moment when your father or mother sat down and did the “birds and the bees” thing. Now, for the life of me I never have been able to figure out how birds and bees would ever fit into that conversation, but, nevertheless, you know what I mean. Remember?

I don’t remember the talk. Why? Because it never happened. And I know a bunch of you reading this post are in the same boat as me.

I grew up in a Christian home where sex was never mentioned. Not once. Not ever. So, as I grew up and matured, sex was a very awkward subject. And no body was talking about it, especially Christians, and especially in church.

Couple holding hands--smallSo, here are some things that I find amazing about sex. Now before you get concerned about reading further, let me reassure you that there will not be explicit of talk about everything that I find amazing about sex. This is a selective list of observations intended to raise a healthy dialog about sexually in an honorable way.

Okay, so here’s my short list:

1. It never ceases to amaze me how sexually saturated our world has become. I mean, sex is everywhere. I can’t turn to any form of media without hearing or seeing a barrage of both explicit and implied sexual images, innuendos, and conversations that drag sex into the public arena for all to witness. And I’m not talking about the pornography industry here. (That’s another whole issue in itself that we’ll have to reserve for a later discussion). I’m talking about what we see, hear, read and are otherwise exposed to through the mainstream media–like radio, TV, magazines, advertisements, and the internet.

2. What’s equally amazing is that–for the most part–the majority of people around me (and that includes many Christians) seem to be completely immune to the impact this assault is having on them sexuality. The message seems to be getting through that there are no significant consequences or enduring fallout for unleashing unbridled sexual expression in any form and any where.

3. What’s also amazing is that for all the sexual indulgence in our culture, Christian couples rarely if ever talk about their sex relationship. I’ve spent the last 23 years working with couples in marital and premarital counseling, and my experience has been that the vast majority of couples never talk about sex. They don’t share their sexual histories prior to marriage. Nor do they talk much about their expectations of sexuality within marriage. Most couples who have been married for any amount of time, 3-5 years, say they feel “awkward” talking about sex and usually avoid it. What’s amazing is that these same couples will watch sexuality portrayed on TV and in movies and don’t think twice about it. In spite of that exposure, there is still minimal meaningful conversation about what is or isn’t going on between them in the bedroom.

4. When I speak at men’s conferences and men’s retreats, it’s amazing how many men admit that they have never had a meaningful conversation about sex with their fathers. Often, it’s only a paltry 1-2% of the men whose fathers took time to share with their sons about this crucial area. And then we wander why men struggle so deeply with their sexuality.

5. What is amazing to me is how we as Christians have allowed the forces of darkness to hijack and exploit the whole beautiful and mysterious gift of our God-designed sexuality. Rarely–in my more than 50 years of church attendance–have I ever heard a positive sermon about sex. Plenty of negative press about what not to do, but rarely a passionate presentation of the celebration that sexual intimacy offers to a married couple. Sex is an exquisite and exclusive celebration in the bedroom of the love that a couple has made outside of the bedroom. Sex isn’t the main event. It’s the delightful dessert that is to be savored after the nourishment of a hearty meal of meaningful relationship.

So, that’s my short list of what I find amazing about sex. How about you? I know it’s awkward, but lets be honest. No graphic or lewd comments, please. Just honest dialog about whether or not you can identify with some of what I’ve shared. Feel free to disagree as well. That makes for a good discussion.