In hope he believed against hope,
that he should become the father of many nations,
as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”
He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body,
which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old),
or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.
No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God,
but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,
fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
Romans 4:18-21 ESV
It did not make sense that Abraham would become a father at all, much less "the father of many nations." He was old. His wife was old. They had tried to have children their entire lives and had been disappointed month after month until finally it became biologically impossible. In spite of circumstances which seemed to mock the promise of God, Abraham believed. Where did this perseverance in faith come from? Romans 4:20 gives an important clue. Abraham gave glory go to God and this caused him to grow in the capacity to believe his promises. Worship increases faith.
If we are to walk in Abraham's footsteps we need to forge the spiritual discipline of worship into our lives. Glorifying God means ascribing to him his true value. As we do that each day, we will find our faith in his promises growing stronger. So spend time meditating on the psalms, listen (and sing along!) to a worship playlist, write prayers of love to Jesus, and turn your gaze upon the Triune God. It will slowly but surely increase your "faith muscles."
Almighty Creator and Redeemer, I confess that often I have failed to discipline my heart to worship. Teach me to glorify you moment by moment. May my faith become strong like Abraham's faith. But may I not expect that growth to come without grace-infused effort on my part. I ask that you would draw me to the place of worship over and over again. In Jesus' name. Amen.
A friend of mine has a delightful 10 year-old daughter. She’s smart, funny, and a joy to interact with. Earlier this week she saw the photo of the policeman with his knee on the neck of George Floyd. She instantly burst into tears and cried, “Why does everyone hate people who look like me?”
Read that again, especially if you are Anglo. Because George Floyd doesn’t look like you.
Consider the experience of LZ Granderson. He writes, “I was 12 when an officer placed his gun to the back of my head while his knee rested in the center of my back. I had been sent to the store to buy a gallon of milk. I came home with trauma. As the officer placed me in handcuffs, he said I looked like a burglary suspect he was searching for. I was told something similar in my 20s, a full-time reporter fresh out of graduate school, after I was pulled over and placed in handcuffs. The officer asked what I was doing in the neighborhood. When I told him I lived in it, he asked what I did to be able to afford to live there. In my 30s, shortly after moving in with my now-husband, Steve, in his predominantly white Michigan suburb, I was pulled over and placed in handcuffs. Another officer telling me he thought I ‘looked like someone.’ Six years ago, now in my 40s and on assignment for CNN during the Ferguson uprising outside St. Louis, I was pulled over yet again for looking like someone. And those are just a fraction of the times I’ve been pulled over for ‘looking like someone.’”
As a white man in America, I have never been stopped for “looking like someone.” The closest experience I’ve had happened in France. Early one morning I was taking my friends to the train station. One was from Indonesia and the other from Singapore. After we got into the car, a police car pulled up blocking us in the parking space. He wanted to see papers and asked questions. Although the police were allowed to do this because France was under an emergency order due to recent terrorism, every fiber of my being wanted to scream, “you have no right to do this because we were doing nothing wrong!” I was angry on the inside, but calm on the outside. I cannot imagine how I would react if I was placed in handcuffs multiple times because I “looked like someone” just based on the color of my skin.
We must see the history of our country for what it is. The colonists threw off the authority of the king and set up a representative republic. It was a heady time and many of their ideals are worthwhile. But we are a country with a birth defect. Enshrined in our constitution is the idea that slaves were to be counted as only “three-fifths” of a person. It took almost a hundred years and a civil war to abolish slavery. It took several more years to make sure that race could not be used to keep someone from voting. That doesn’t mean that the blacks were welcomed into the polling places. Threats, violence, and insidious means were often used to keep them away.
Segregation became a way of life. Jim Crow laws made sure that whites were given priority in every facet of life. The “free” descendants of slavery lived as second-class citizens serving or entertaining white society. This troubled some whites, was delighted in by others, and for many was just accepted as the way things were. For the blacks, it was all too apparent that society was set up to keep them down.
Then came the civil rights movement. With leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., the movement awakened the country to the many injustices in the laws of the land. Laws were changed. Jim Crow disappeared. Schools were integrated. “Separate but equal” was rightly destroyed for being the farce that it was. True progress was made in the laws of the land.
The legacy of a society structured in both law and attitude to keep a group of people down leaves a deep and painful wound. Merely changing laws does not heal the trauma of generations of discrimination. The attitudes of people toward those of another race are difficult to change. Furthermore, several centuries of systemic racism have resulted in large swaths of African Americans mired in poverty. The work of healing and reconciliation is far from finished.
This isn’t simply about the actions of some members of the police. Discrimination still exists on many levels. Rev. Timothy Keller writes about a couple of them. He tells about a town in Virginia that was made up of 25-30% blacks, but because the system stipulated that the six council members be elected by a majority vote, there was never a black council member. The area where the whites lived got all of the resources of the town. This seemed “normal and right” to those in charge, but it was a grossly unfair voting system that discriminated against one group.
Rev. Keller also talks about a car dealership. The salesmen had a lot of leeway in negotiating prices. There was a bottom amount, but the top end was open. You dickered until a price was arrived at. That seems fair, doesn’t? When the owner starting thinking about discrimination issues he did some research and discovered that African American women always wound up paying significantly more than white men. He realized that was not fair, even if it was unintentional. He changed his policy so that everyone was offered the same take-it-or-leave-it price.
Or consider the story of Christian Cooper. A man birdwatching in Central Park. A woman is breaking the local law by not having her dog on a leash in an area set aside for birding. He asks her to put her dog on a leash and she refuses. She then calls 911 and says in an affected voice that an African American is threatening her. The implication is clear: the police better come quickly to protect her, a white woman, from one of “those” African Americans. Fortunately he videotaped the incident so her claim was exposed for the lie what it was. While she later apologized, it was a window into the America that African Americans live in every day. The color of their skin can instantly be used against them.
Racism is evil and it needs to be dealt with in our society and in our hearts.
It is often said that social justice issues are “liberal” and as evangelicals we aren’t supposed to be involved with social justice. Many white evangelical congregations have a sense that “we are just supposed to get people saved and everything will work out. Besides, Jesus said things would only get worse, so why work to better society?”
There was a time that conservative white Christians had a different attitude. They ran soup kitchens, many worked to abolish slavery, started schools, and were involved in a myriad of other projects simply to lovingly serve their neighbors.
Then there came a division as the mainline churches drifted away from biblical Christianity. They were left with a vague notion of Christian “love” and focused on issues of social justice to the exclusion of evangelism. It has been called the “social gospel”. The reaction by the conservative white church was to say, “what good is feeding someone if they are still going to wind up in hell?” They moved away from involvement in social justice issues and focused almost solely on evangelism. As a result, in many evangelical churches any talk of dealing with injustice in society is labeled as “being liberal”.
Still, conservative white evangelicals do get involved in social justice issues. This is readily apparent in the pro-life movement. Across the country, evangelical Christians raise awareness, run medical clinics, provide resources, lobby congress, and vote for pro-life candidates. They see the wrong in society and work hard to put an end to the injustice of abortion. This is good and is to be applauded.
It is a also a “safe” issue for white evangelicals. They can do all sorts things to support the pro-life cause with little personal risk. They might get into some disagreements with pro-choice supporters, but that’s about all the personal threat they face.
Dealing with racism is different. It means admitting that there are advantages in being white, even if you yourself are not prejudiced. Perhaps being white improved your chances of getting your job. Or maybe it means that you are more likely to move up the corporate ladder. Or less likely to be pulled over by the police. Confronting racism would create a more level playing field for everyone when it previously had been tilted in your favor. Dealing with racism could affect you and your way of life.
Would you deal with the issue of racism if it could alter your lifestyle? Or would you choose to ignore it? As followers of Christ, we must look to the teachings of Scripture to see how important the issue is and what we are to do.
So let me lay out some things to think about from the Scriptures:
1. We are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
This passage is a great equalizer. Every person on the planet is created in the image of God. As a result, all of them have both enormous and equal value. It doesn’t make any difference where they grew up, what color of skin they have, what gender they are, or what language they speak. They are created in the image of God. It doesn’t take much to see that one of the first steps in racism or discrimination is to say that a particular group of people are of lesser value than another. Think of the blatant expression of this by Hitler regarding the Jews. They were considered sub-human and the resulting logic was the “final solution” and the death of millions. That’s an extreme example that shows us that this issue is not just a white-black issue but involves any attempt to say that one group is less valuable than another.
2. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23).
Like being made in the image of God, this verse is a great equalizer. We are all guilty before God. We simply cannot say that we are better than another person. Nor can we say that one people is better than another. Latinos are not better than Anglos. African Americans are not better than Japanese Americans. You get my point. We are all guilty before a holy God and none of us deserves better treatment because of our ethnicity.
3. Love is our marching order (Mathew 22:37-40).
We are to love others and to treat them the way we would want to be treated. It’s a simple thing. Would we want someone making disparaging remarks about us because we are ____? Then it is wrong for us to make disparaging remarks like that. The command is to love others. Even our enemies. There isn’t an exception and the order has not been rescinded.
4. We are to pursue justice (Micah 6:8)
The Bible is full of commands to work towards a just and fair society. James warns us against the horrible sin of showing partiality (James 2:1-13). Discrimination is partiality and sin. It can become systemic in society and when it does Christians need to speak against it. We have an obligation to help those who are marginalized (James 1:27). We dare not be silent: “Open your mouths for the mute, for the rights of all those who are destitute. Open your mouths, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9).
5. In Christ we are one (Galatians 3:28).
One of the glories of the gospel is that we are all one in Christ. Just as we are made in the image of God and equally sinners, in Christ we are all united. Ephesians 2-3 goes into great detail to say that the dividing wall that separates people from one another on the basis of ethnicity has been destroyed.
6. God’s delight is in all nations (Matthew 28:18-20; Revelation 5:9-10).
The Lord is building a kingdom made of people from every nation and language. This is the heart of God. As participants in that kingdom, we are called to love one another, bear one another’s burdens, and look out for their interests. Racism and discrimination are anathema to kingdom people. And we work to both prevent it and to defend those who suffer from it. It’s what kingdom people do.
Do you see it? Dealing with racism is a gospel issue. It is biblical.
But what can you do?
Here I simply share what Kelvin Walker, the Sr. Vice President of the C&MA wrote on Facebook.
I’ve received a lot of requests from a number of people for me to address these two questions: “What can I do?” “How do I help?” First of all, thank you. That you want to help, speak out, and be a part of bringing an end to this means more than you know.
I’ve given it a lot of thought and prayer over the past couple of days. I realize that everyone has a different view on this. And, I’m sure that not everyone will agree on what I’ve listed. I’m sure there will be questions like, “Why didn’t you say this?” or “Why did you leave that out?” or “Why did you say THAT?” This is not an exhaustive list of suggestions by any means. That being said, here are some thoughts that I offer to you:
1) Sit in the lament with those that are lamenting – without offering suggestions on “Another way to see this…” or “At least, things aren’t as bad as they were.” Lament is not a time to soothe or escape the discomfort of the pain. Neither is it a time to invalidate the realities that Black and Brown people face every day in this world. Lament is designed to openly and honestly express the pain of the situation. You bring hope when you sit in the pain with me without trying to discredit, ease, or escape my pain.
2) Listen to learn, not to refute. They say that experience is the best teacher. While it may not be your experience, listening to the experiences of Black and Brown people in TODAY’S America, and what we’ve been forced to learn and endure just so we can survive, will teach you more than a course on racism and injustice detached from story and experience will ever teach you. Story and experience are POWERFUL.
3) When acts of racism and injustice happen, break the habit of vilifying the victim and putting his/her past on display. And, don’t allow others to do it. There is no justification for any act of racism or injustice. Whether it is caught on camera, or (as in the majority of cases) is hidden from the camera, it is wrong. It is sinful. It is dehumanizing and strips people of their dignity – PERIOD.
4) Use your voice to speak out against it. Do not give in to the fear of the backlash you might possibly receive from your friends, your community, and/or, your colleagues. When we sit silent, we sit complicit. This perpetuates the injustice and allows the racist acts/attitudes/patterns to go unchallenged.
5) If you are a pastor, let this subject make its way into your preaching series before an act of racism or injustice happens. That being said, a statement this weekend that speaks against injustice followed by a prayer that cries out to God for justice is a way to begin to speak out from the pulpit if you’ve not done it before. If you have been one who has spoken out in the past, or you have already spoken out recently, thank you. Don’t stop. Your voice matters and is appreciated.
6) Read and educate yourself on the ongoing issues with racism and injustice in the world. Listen to podcasts. Watch Ted Talks. Further, and this is the hard truth, educate yourself on the ongoing issues with racism and injustice in the Church. Then, with the power of the Holy Spirit, refuse to allow it to continue under your watch.
7) Hope with me that Jesus will return soon and right every unjust and racist action that has taken place in the world. Until then, we lament, we speak out, we challenge unjust systems/actions/attitudes, and we long for the day where life will be here on earth as it is in heaven.
I close with this quote from Nicky Gumbel: “When injustices around the world are screaming ‘your life is of no value,’ the Church cannot remain silent. Apathy makes excuses. Love finds a way.”
We are moving in uncharted waters. Things are emotionally charged. There are many conflicting "expert" opinions about the virus and how we should respond. We all want the churches to start holding public services: it's just a matter of when. The Governor of Minnesota says it is too early. Catholics and the the Missouri Synod Lutherans are planning to ignore his order. A judge will be hearing a case about the issue on Tuesday. President Trump is demanding that churches be opened immediately. It is a fluid situation and you are hearing from many people. I hesitate to add my voice to the din, but think it is important that you know how I am thinking about this situation.
Given my conversations with European friends, I know that this virus has the potential to cause our hospitals to be overrun so I am grateful that our leaders have taken steps to be ready. I sympathize with those who have been harmed economically. While this has been hard on all of us, it has been significantly more difficult for some. I desperately want to get back to normal life, but I am concerned that opening too quickly may cause unnecessary suffering and loss of life if our hospitals cannot handle the surge. I also don't want our church to become a hot-spot. It would be a tragedy to have any of our members become seriously ill or die. Furthermore, it could damage our ability to reach into our community for a long time. We need to move with the wisdom of the Lord.
As the pastor of Word of Life, I have a deeper concern than just when we open: it is how we walk through this time together. Given the strong emotions and diversity of opinions, there is an opportunity for the enemy to sow divisions in our relationships with one another. The broader culture is one that seeks to separate issues into "us" versus "them". It is quick to assign derogatory labels to people with different opinions. This tendency can easily spill over and affect how we regard other people in the church who may think differently than we do. I want us to be an example of being unified in Christ despite having differences of opinion during these emotionally charged days.
Toward that end I am asking each of us to spend extra time in prayer and reading the Word. We need to be careful to hear his voice in the midst of this storm. So let's intentionally turn down the outside voices and seek the one who knows all things. Let's ask him to teach us and to break any sinful thought patterns that have developed in our lives. Let's ask him to purify our thoughts and give us gracious words to speak. He is the one we seek to follow together. May the fruit of the Spirit be remarkably present in our midst.
I would also ask each of you to spend time praying for the leaders over you. Pray for President Trump and his advisors. Pray for Congress. Pray for Governor Walz and local leaders. They are all faced with difficult problems and need wisdom.
Finally, please pray for the leaders of Word of Life. The elders will be meeting on Tuesday evening to pray and discern the way forward for our church. Lift them up in prayer. In fact, I would encourage you to consider fasting at least one meal that day to seek the Lord. It is that important.
May we bring him glory in these days.
Governor Walz is allowing the stay-at-home order to expire at the end of the day on May 17. What does that mean for us as a church? On Tuesday evening, the Governing Board met and anticipated this move and I would like to share with you some of our thoughts.
We are excited that things are beginning to re-open.
Like everyone, we are looking forward to things returning to something approaching normal life. We are grateful for the efforts of many people to make our online services a good time of worship together, but nothing compares to coming together as a church family.
Our leaders are trying to navigate an economic and health crisis.
We have seen in Europe the results of waiting too long to impose social distancing restrictions. We are dealing with a contagious virus that can overrun our medical system causing unnecessary suffering and death. It makes sense to curtail activities to lessen the infection rate. We also realize that our church gatherings, with their hugs, singing, laughter, and extended times together create situations where it is easy for the the virus to spread. As much as we wish we could all be together on Sunday mornings, we are committed to following the Governor's guidelines for churches as we re-open.
The current emergency declaration will allow gatherings of 10 people who keep proper social distances.
The declaration does not give us the ability to meet together as a church family. However, we want to encourage our members to connect with one another. Why not invite some friends over to watch the service together and have dinner afterwards? All of us are craving time together, so let's do what we can within the framework of the emergency declaration!
At this time there will be no meetings in the church building. The office will remain closed except for operating the food shelf on Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 - 12. We check phone messages frequently and are available via email and SMS and will respond as quickly as we can.
We expect that the Governor will gradually allow the opening of churches and other groups over the course of the summer.
We have been discussing a variety of scenarios depending upon the size of groups allowed to gather. Each scenario stresses the need for proper social distancing, lots of hand sanitizer, and extensive cleaning procedures after we meet. We are also working on how to respond should someone who attends a meeting be found to have been infectious while they were there. There are many details to be worked through in the coming weeks.
There will be adaptations in the way we do things in order to comply with the mitigation protocols that are put in place. One possibility is having a group meet in the Sanctuary and another in the Fellowship Hall, watching the service via video feed. We will be altering things like how the offering is received and how we distribute the communion elements, and what types of children's activities we will be having. We'll have more details about that as the Governor makes more information available.
It will probably be several months before things are fully back to the way things were and there may be setbacks along the way. That's okay. We are part of a missions movement, and that means that we are willing to be flexible in the way we do things and make the most of each situation.
We will continue our video streaming of services for the foreseeable future.
Once we begin holding public services again, we will be live streaming them via YouTube. We recognize that there are a number of people in our church family that are in the high risk category and may not be comfortable meeting in large group settings for some time. In addition, anyone who doesn't feel well will be urged to stay home (no more "powering through" a cold!) in case they are actually coming down with COVID-19. We want our online service to be available live for those who cannot come to the building.
I am looking forward to seeing all of you again in the near future. Use this time of relaxed restrictions to build his kingdom. Encourage one another and share the good news about Jesus!
I’ve been working from home this week.
The stores do not have some of the things I want.
Strangers seem distant and suspicious. They are not interested in conversation.
I’m missing family events like birthday parties.
It seems like a different world.
I’ve been here before.
This feels familiar.
When Janet and I moved to France it was like this. No, there wasn’t a deadly pandemic hiding in the shadows, but the life seems strangely the same today as when we arrived in France.
I worked from home because there wasn’t a church office.
The stores didn’t have many of the familiar items I longed for (No cottage cheese, really?).
I couldn’t communicate very well.
As a foreigner, people were naturally suspicious of me.
I was grateful for Skype, but I couldn’t give my granddaughter a hug through the screen.
So, what are some lessons from that time that might apply today?
1. We must deal with vulnerability.
Living in a new world puts us in a scary position of weakness. This forces us to look for security. What are we turning to in those times? It exposes what we are trusting in and what we are afraid of. This can be a good thing! We want to trust in the Lord more fully, don’t we? Being placed in this situation is a training ground for trusting Jesus. Lesson: Spend time focusing on Jesus through Scripture, worship and prayer in order to build faith.
2. There is stress on our relationships.
Adjusting to life in France was difficult at times because of the stress that it put on our marriage. One day I would be up and Janet would be down. The next day it would be reversed. Sometimes I would be crabby because of what I was experiencing and found myself needing to apologize for my behavior. These difficulties were good because they forced us to work on our relationship. You might find yourself spending much more time with family members. Use this stressful time to work on those relationships. But this means working on your part in those relationships, not trying to fix other family members. Lesson: trying times can expose relational cracks that can then be fixed.
3. We want to be independent people.
We love our independence. Standing on our own two feet is something we all aspire to. I know I do. Moving to France made me incompetent in what felt like every area of life. I didn’t know how to mail a letter. I was constantly lost. I felt foolish trying to order something at the bakery. The driving laws were different. During those months I learned the value of relationships in the body of Christ. There will be times when you feel alone. Perhaps you will be quarantined at home and need something. Perhaps you will run out of toilet paper. Perhaps you will lose your job and the money is gone. Lesson: It’s okay to ask for help.
4. There is no such thing as a small act of kindness.
When I was adjusting to life in France every kindness brought tears to my eyes. I remember the clerks in the store who were patient with my poor French. The couple that dropped off chocolates on their way to work still brings a smile to my face. The friend who helped deal with an internet service problem by making a phone call relieved so much stress that I felt like I could fly. Simple gestures made life so much better. Lesson: Be intent on doing little things to help others. It’s not only the right thing to do, but each act is immeasurably valuable.
5. We are adaptable.
It took a while, but the new and awkward became familiar and comfortable. While I hope that this “Covid-19 lifestyle” doesn’t last long, if it does, we will adjust to this new way of doing things. Aspects of this new lifestyle will become increasingly routine. Lesson: New lifestyles are difficult but become easier with time.
6. We’ll dance in the streets again.
There will come a time when this epidemic passes and we will be back “home”. And when we arrive it will feel really good. We’ll feel like the sun has finally come out after a month of clouds. We will see the old things with new eyes…and we will dance!
What have you been praying for lately?
How big are your prayers? Sometimes we forget that the God we serve is the Almighty Creator of the universe. Compared to who he is, the things we ask for are not even pocket change…they are more like pocket lint!
So what is the biggest thing that you could dare ask for?
What is the biggest thing that he could give you?
Your answer is probably too small.
The biggest thing that God could give you is himself. It’s also the best thing that he could give you.
So I challenge you this week to ask him.
Ask him to give him more of himself.
Ask him to make you more aware of his presence.
Ask him to help you see his provision and power in your life.
Ask him to fill you with a greater measure of his Spirit.
Ask him to help you hear his voice.
Ask him to show you his glory.
Not only are these prayers the biggest things you can ask, but they are also prayers that he delights to answer.
Ask him. I dare you!
“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
We recently launched into a study of the book of Acts on Sunday mornings. At the men’s dinner one Tuesday evening, one of the guys asked me why I picked the book of Acts. I told him that it was where I sensed the Lord wanted us to go next. For me, the decision of which book to preach through is an important matter of prayer and that is the main reason we are heading that way on Sunday mornings.
What do I expect? Why do I think the Lord wants us to go through Acts? There are several reasons.
Our study of Ephesians was highly doctrinal. Acts is action-packed with the adventures of God’s people doing what he calls them to do. The change is good for us. It will also challenge us to follow the Lord with the same intensity and passion that they did.
Acts is about church life. God designed his church to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. We are meant to have deep relationships with one another and with the Lord (1 John 1:1-4). But the book of Acts isn’t a glossy advertisement; it shows the messiness of church life. There can be people that are hard to work with and relationships can become frayed. We need to hear that and learn from what happened in those early churches.
Acts demonstrates what the power of the Holy Spirit can do. Churches naturally drift toward being powered by people rather than by the Holy Spirit. This is so common that many have never seen what the power of the Spirit looks like in the church. If they have, it has been the 9-volt battery variety. You know, just enough to say there is power there, but no one is going to get hurt. But the power of the Spirit in the Book of Acts is so awesome that people actually die (Acts 5). It is power that carried the gospel across the Roman Empire and turned the world upside down.
Acts chronicles believers living the Christian life in a hostile environment. Today we live in a country that is turning its back on the gospel. How do you follow Christ when people around you are indifferent to him? What do you do when people reject Jesus? How do you handle it when people reject you because of Jesus? Believers not only get mocked, but imprisoned, tortured, and killed in the book of Acts. We need to learn from them how to follow Christ in difficult places.
Finally, there is a hunger stirring in me to see the Spirit move as in days of old. I’m not talking about hyper-charismania where the emotionally-challenged seek spiritual highs. I mean the types of things you see in the book of Acts. Where the Word is proclaimed and the Spirit presses it home with power, where believers are witnessing to friends and strangers with the anointing of the Spirit, where there is an intense hatred of the sin in our lives and a panting after righteousness, where believers are passionately in love with Jesus, where missionaries are called and sent to the ends of the earth, where Scripture is studied and applied under the guidance of the Spirit, where the shackled are set free and the broken are healed, where the forces of darkness are pushed back, and where the King reigns supreme. That’s what I want to be a part of.
How about you?
- Pastor Karl
It’s that time of year again. In our American culture, it’s time for decorating, buying presents, baking cookies, celebrating with family and friends, singing Christmas carols, and hopefully, also worshipping the Lord Jesus, who truly is “the reason for the season”.
One Christmas tradition that is also a REALLY BIG DEAL to some people is watching Christmas movies. Even if you’re not much of a movie watcher, you’ve probably seen at least a few holiday films in your lifetime. Some are classics from way back, like A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, or Santa Claus is Coming to Town.
We’ve also got some more modern classics, like The Grinch, Elf, and Home Alone. There are horror movies, adventure/drama movies, comedies, and romances, all with a Christmas theme.
But of all the Christmas movies available, movie experts say that one stands out as having actually changed the Christmas movie genre. Even though it was released over 35 years ago, you can still find it playing in theaters at this time of year. On television you will find marathons from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day, where one station plays the film over and over again for 24 hours straight, attracting more than 40 million viewers. I’m speaking of A Christmas Story, the film about nine-year-old Ralphie Parker, who desperately wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, even though everyone keeps telling him that “you’ll shoot your eye out!”
Movie critics say that this movie was the first one to show things the way they really were for most families at Christmastime, and to show it from a kid’s perspective. Not everything was rosy in 1940 in Hammond IN, the setting for the movie. Ralphie had to contend with a bully at school and his grumpy dad at home, as well as the usual sibling rivalry with his brother. He was obsessed with getting his Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, but it didn’t look promising. Mr. and Mrs. Parker seemed at odds with one another, and Ralphie’s mother seemed to be trying to hold the family together.
The thing that makes A Christmas Story’s success so amazing is that it was an incredibly LOW BUDGET film. Think about it…there were no real “special effects”, no fancy sets, the actors weren’t the biggest names around, and it was actually filmed mostly in Cleveland!
When it was released, it wasn’t projected to do very well, and although it was modestly successful, it disappeared in two weeks. Then a funny thing happened. With the advent of VHS players in homes, people were interested in buying movies, and A Christmas Story was in in the right place at the right time. Before you knew it, people were snatching it up and watching it in the comfort of their own living rooms. Over the years, people made it a part of their regular holiday tradition. Some people invented games and activities, contests and even conventions based on the movie. Over the last 35 years, this low-budget, unlikely film has risen to become one of the most popular American Christmas movies of all time.
In the same way, wasn’t Bethlehem an unlikely place for the King of the Universe to show up? Weren’t Mary and Joseph the least likely people to be his parents? Isn’t it kind of strange that a baby who was so poor that he had to sleep with the animals became the most powerful figure in human history? And wasn’t it shocking that lowly shepherds-people on the bottom rung of society-were the first to hear the news that the Messiah had arrived?
God the Father had it planned this way all along. He was doing a new thing. He was doing it His way, not the way that people expected. He was breaking the mold, and bringing news of great joy that was for all the people. He was fulfilling His promises and the prophecies that had been uttered centuries before. He was sending Emmanuel, “God with us”, who would save his people from their sins. That’s the real Christmas Story, no matter what time of year it is.
- Janet Emerson
The Bible is full of heroes that inspire us by their faith-filled exploits. Daniel in the lion’s den, Noah building the ark, and Elijah calling down fire from heaven capture our imaginations and create within us a yearning to follow in their footsteps.
Perhaps no one is a greater example of the life of faith than Abraham. God called him to leave his native country and go to a new land. He and his then-childless wife would eventually have more descendants than there were stars in the sky and all of the nations of the world would be blessed through him. While far from perfect, Abraham’s faithful obedience is held up in the Scriptures as a model for all of us to follow. He is called the father of those who have faith (Galatians 3:7-9).
Romans 4:20 has a great secret that points the way to developing a faith like Abraham’s. “No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.” Abraham was in the habit of giving glory to God before he received the answer to the promise.
Many of us will remember to thank God afterwards for the blessings that he gives us. Our thankfulness may even turn to worship. Abraham glorified God even when it appeared that it would be impossible for God to keep his promise. And the practice of glorifying God caused his faith to grow deeper and more certain.
What does it mean to glorify God? The term “glory” means that something is weighty or honorable. When referring to the Lord, it means that which makes God impressive. Of course, each of his attributes is impressive. We cannot add to the “weight” of them, but by focusing on them and acknowledging them we bring him honor.
By developing the discipline of glorifying God, we change the “weight” which we allow things to have in our lives. We tend to focus on our problems. As we do, we give our problems “glory” and they become heavier in our minds. If we focus on God, he becomes heavier and our problems lighter.
What does this look like? How do we glorify God so that our faith grows stronger?
I find that I need to set aside time to worship. Sunday morning is a good place to start. The music team at Word of Life does a good job of setting the table for us to worship. The music is God-focused and invites us to glorify him. It’s possible to simply sing along or enjoy the quality of music, so I need to intentionally focus on the Lord and the aspect of his character that the music is highlighting. In my mind (or out loud) I say, “Yes, Lord, this is true about you. You are holy. You are powerful. You are faithful.” The music, along with the encouragement of the people around me singing, makes it easy to shift my vision from my problems to God.
But an hour on Sunday isn’t enough. We need to have regular times of private worship as well. Let me give you three tips to developing a habit of glorifying God:
As you spend time focusing on the greatness of God you will discover that your faith in him will grow. As your faith in him grows, you find that obedience to him will become easier. You will pray with more certainty and start to walk in the footsteps of Abraham
“I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.” – Psalm 89:1
In this verse Ethan the Ezrahite (the writer) declares that he will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord forever. Faithful lovingkindness is a fundamental aspect of the character of God and the writer’s heart is overflowing with joy as he thinks about how his life has been sustained and blessed by Lord.
But he goes beyond simply the “God and me” focus of the beginning of the verse. He commits himself to declaring God’s faithfulness to all generations, and that is something that we need to think about. As I look at Word of Life, I see a range of ages. There are children, youth, young singles and couples, young parents, middle-agers, “primetimers”, and those who have been “primetimers” for quite a while. If the psalmist were here, he would be thinking about how he could remind each of these generations about the faithfulness of God. How about you?
Regardless of the stage of life we are in, we need to be reminded of the faithfulness of God. The young mother that is exhausted from chasing toddlers and wondering where she will find strength to do it another day needs to be encouraged. The teenager who is wondering whether following Jesus is worth it needs to be reminded that God will be faithful to bless their obedience. The elderly person who is struggling because of never-ending health problems needs to be reinvigorated with stories of the faithfulness of God. Perhaps even you need to be refreshed with a first-person account of the faithfulness of God.
One of the reasons that we gather together is so that we can encourage one another. We can listen to sermons online and we can sing along with the music on our phones, but we cannot encourage one another well without being together. That’s why the writer to the Hebrews tells us to consider how to stir one another up to love and good deeds. He then tells us not to stop meeting together, but to meet to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25).
Can I challenge you to do something? When you are at church next time, ask the Lord to show you someone from a different generation that needs some encouragement. Then come alongside them and share a story of the faithful loving-kindness of the Lord in your life. Make the faithfulness of the Lord known to that generation. Don’t be scared, everyone likes to be encouraged with stories of the steadfast love of the Lord!
Word of Life Staff
A place for the Word of Life staff and guest writers to share of themselves in writing with the Word of Life family.