Category Archives: Newsletter Excerpts

“Along the Journey” column for @wieuca newsletter

The first miracle

Frederick Dale Bruner wrote: “I like to consider this Jesus’ first miracle: the miracle of His humility. The first thing Jesus does for us is go down with us. His whole life is like this, It is well known that Jesus ended His career on a cross between two thieves; it deserves to be as well known that He began His ministry in a river among penitent sinners.”

The writer of Hebrews emphasized the humanity and humility of Jesus: “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for He faced all of the same testings we do, yet He did not sin” (Hebrews 4:14). Jesus didn’t sympathize with humans; He empathized.

Someone once described the difference between sympathy and empathy this way: You’re walking along a road and notice a man who has fallen into a ditch. Sympathy says that you feel sorry for the man’s predicament. Empathy says that you get down in the ditch and help the man out. Jesus did not observe our predicament; He entered it.

The mystery of the Incarnation that He was capable of experiencing the human condition without being tainted by it. Tempted but without yielding, He lived among us as one of us. It was crucial to His mission. The manger, the cross, the tomb were not symbolic gestures; they were demonstrations of His commitment to dwell among us and then pay a price no other could pay.

Paul captured the humility of Jesus perfectly in his letter to the Philippians. Reciting what had to be one of Christianity’s earliest hymns, the apostle called upon believers to follow the example Jesus set: “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:5).

What does that attitude look like? From the Christian Bible Reference: “Humility as a virtue is a major theme of both the Old and New Testaments. Why do qualities such as courtesy, patience and deference have such a prominent place in the Bible? It is because a demeanor of humility is exactly what is needed to live in peace and harmony with all persons. Humility dissipates anger and heals old wounds. Humility allows us to see the dignity and worth of all God’s people. Humility distinguishes the wise leader from the arrogant power-seeker.”

Jesus provided the leadership through His example. What kind of followers will we be? I still believe in miracles.

Reflections on Christmas

Some of my favorite stories/thoughts on the season:

  • The carol reads: “O come let us adore Him” not “O come let us ignore Him.”
  • The pastor and his wife had bundled their kids into the car for the trip to church for the annual Christmas Eve candlelight service. The youngest of the bunch piped up from the back seat: “Hey, Dad, are you going to let us enjoy this Christmas or are you going to try to explain it to everybody?”
  • From a song recorded by Point of Grace: “We’re alive, we can breathe, but do we really care for this world in need? So close your eyes and share the dream. Let everyone on earth believe. The Child was born, the stars shone bright, and love came down at Christmas time. So let your voices fill the air. Everyone, watch and pray that the sun will shine on a brighter day. Join your hands, lift them high for this gift of life; for love came down at Christmas time.”
  • Willa Cather’s “The Burglar’s Christmas” is a story about a young man who left home much like the prodigal son in Luke 15. Leaving his family behind back east, he winds up in Chicago without a job or friends. Things go from bad to worse as he finally resorts to breaking into a house to find some food on Christmas Eve. He is caught in the act by the home owners, his parents. They had moved to Chicago when they lost all trace of him. His mother weeps as he begins to confess the mess he has made of his life. Turning to flee the house, his parents beg him to stay so he can start over. He pauses and looks at them, “I wonder if you know how much you have to pardon.” His mother responds, “O son, much or little, what does it matter? Have you wandered so far and paid such a bitter price for knowledge and not yet learned that love has nothing to do with pardon and forgiveness, that it only loves, and loves, and loves?”
  • December seems to be the busiest month for plastic surgeons. A report in plasticsurgeryportal.com mentions December as the busiest month for many plastic surgeons, with some of them performing almost double the number of procedures on any given day during December. Some suggest that plastic surgery makes the perfect Christmas gift. Try that out on a loved one: “You need to get a lift or a tuck. Merry Christmas!”

Your night may not be silent. Hoping for calm may be a pipe dream. But I hope you will experience the joy and wonder of God’s gift. Open your Bible and find a quiet place, if but just for a few minutes. Read Luke or Matthew or John or Isaiah and give thanks for your Savior.

Merry Christ-mas!

Another Christmas

After 43 years in ministry, what more can I say about Christmas than I’ve already said … some would say more than once. Has it become too formulaic? Do you resort to the same themes and talk about the same characters which with people are so familiar? Can anyone come up with an original thought, a fresh word?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached a sermon in Barcelona during Advent 1928 in which he spoke about how casual we can be in the observance of the Incarnation: “It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming so calmly, whereas previously people trembled at the day of God. We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse us, We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us.”

If the news that our default condition of separation from the Righteous God because of our sin has been cancelled by the grace and mercy shown in Christ doesn’t shatter us, then we should check our pulse. “When we were utterly helpless, Christ died for us,” Paul wrote to the Romans. Destined for and deserving death, we were giving a status we couldn’t earn: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life” (Romans 3:23); “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God” (Ephesians 2:8); “You are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s own family” (Ephesians 2:19).

Prisoners set free? Slaves liberated? The guilty forgiven? Adopted as joint heirs with Christ?

Stop me when this gets boring. A baby, wrapped in love, hope, and peace, came into this world to state forever that God was willing to do anything required to reclaim the lost. His Son would say, “I came as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

If Christmas becomes ho-hum for any of us, we should be ashamed. The first Christmas present was also the best Christmas present. Joy to the world! The Lord has come!

 

Give Thanks

Two days before Thanksgiving, I sit down to write words of gratitude. In the rush of the season, it is difficult to hit ‘pause’ – to think, to reflect, to contemplate, to pray, and to give thanks. It really should not be so hard to consider and count blessings. I have tried to begin with things and people I too often take for granted. I think of people for whom Thanksgiving will be different this year – some with joy, some with grief.

Some have added to their families. Some face an empty chair this year at their table. Some have experienced success in business, sports, academics, and relationships. Some who have had a tough year of disappointment and discouragement.

Regardless, it seems so right to offer gratitude. I know you cannot force it or pretend, but somewhere in our souls we know we are loved by the infinite God. He created us out of that love. He sustains us with that love. He redeemed us because of that love.

In our broken world, we need to remember to say thanks. On September 28, 1863, Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote a letter to President Abraham Lincoln to request that a day be set aside for a national day of thanksgiving. Lincoln honored that request in establishing the last Thursday of November as a national observance. Seventy-four years (October 3, 1789) to the day when George Washington declared a day of thanksgiving, Lincoln’s proclamation directed that the nation pause for this recognition.

Fall of 1863. The still-young United States was suffering through the divisive and destructive Civil War. It did not seem like an appropriate time to express gratitude, but life rarely provides an easy path forward.

A part of the proclamation reads: “I therefore invite my fellow citizens … to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions just due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience … implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation …”

In our broken world, we also need to pray and work for peace for the sake of the Prince of Peace. Our many blessings afford us opportunity and inspiration to impact our world for Him. I am grateful that He would count us worthy to labor for Him.

 

 

 

 

A Walk in the Dark

“Let’s go for a walk.” I need to stretch my legs. It’s a beautiful day. It’s time for some exercise.

There are a number of reasons why we take a walk. Most often, it is not out of necessity. We have cars, bikes, and public transportation so we don’t have to walk … far.

If we get thirsty, we can walk to the refrigerator or the water fountain. We can just turn on the tap or reach for a bottle.

What if we had to walk, not a few feet, but a number of miles to find water? In too many places around the world, water is not so easy to obtain. Clean water is even more difficult to find.

Sometimes people will begin their walk to the water before the sun comes up. The two-way trip can take most of a day.

We need water to survive. When we say “I’m thirsty” we don’t normally mean we have reached a crisis point. We just want something to drink.

We partner with World Vision on several fronts. This week has been the Matthew 25 Challenge. I hope it has been eye and heart-opening for those who have participated. Much of the work of World Vision is to provide clean water for people in many parts of the world. Last year 4.6 million new people were able to have clean water. Many of them were children.

From their website: “We believe in children. Water changes the lives of children. They have better health, improved nutrition, and can go to school instead of spending the day fetching water.”

The next time you go for a walk, remember those who walk to survive. The next time you sit down to enjoy a meal, remember those near and far who may go hungry today. The next time you put on a warm coat, remember those who shiver in the cold. We can make a difference.

 

The Empty Chair

Sunday dinner used to be a big deal. I don’t mean going out to a nice place to eat. Dinner followed church and usually involved the family and perhaps a friend or two. Traditions might have included a roast or fried chicken, plenty of vegetables, and a favorite dessert. It was a lot of work but it might be one of the few times when the entire family sat down together.

In some parts of the country, another tradition was observed. There was always an empty chair. There was always room for one more. The tradition has a long history. We are concluding our study in Mark soon. We find ourselves in the midst of the passion of Christ. In Jewish heritage, there was always an empty chair during the observance of Passover. Symbolically, it was a sign of expectation and hope that this year Elijah would come, announcing the arrival of the Messiah.

We are fast approaching another tradition-rich occasion – Thanksgiving. Will there be an empty chair at your table? Perhaps a loved one or dear friend is no longer alive. Perhaps someone couldn’t make it home this year. Perhaps there is someone who has nowhere to go. Perhaps we could fill that empty chair with someone who needs to be included.

Sunday begins our Matthew 25 Challenge week. As a church family, we will gather around tables to enjoy worship, fellowship, and food. We will focus our attention on our blessings and learn how to bless others. We don’t want any empty chairs this Sunday, so please come.

There are three opportunities for each of us to get involved:

  • Matthew 25 Challenge – a week-long interactive experience sponsored by World Vision that kicks off with our Thanksgiving worship and lunch on November 12
  • Love Beyond Walls – Taylor Mason is recruiting help for Saturday, November 18 to pack Thanksgiving boxes for people in our community
  • Global Mission Offering – one of our significant ways to partner with other Christians in spreading the Gospel in word and deed. Our goal for Wieuca is $10,000.

Information about each of these ministry opportunities is available in our newsletter and worship guide. Let’s make a difference together.

 

 

 

Gotcha!

We live in a day when vulnerability is a fact of life. With cell phone cameras catching awkward, embarrassing moments, “journalists” looking for dirt, politicians who play loose with the truth, exposés of sexual abuse and oppression lighting up the news, our society is painfully open to “gotcha” sound bites and video clips.

We might think this is a product of our 24-7, nothing is off limits age, but Jesus was often confronted with the “gotcha” crowd. In our study of Mark’s gospel, we have encountered numerous confrontations when His critics and opponents tried to trap and discredit Him. Finding their efforts futile, they finally conspired to kill Him.

One of those attempts is found in all of the synoptic gospels. Frustrated because they had such difficulty cornering Jesus on theological and cultural issues, they decided to go political. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

“Teacher, we know how honest You are. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us – is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

You would think Jesus was subjected to a modern-day press conference with loaded questions and not-so-subtle insinuations. Surely they had Him this time. He would be walking another fine line of insulting His Jewish brethren or promoting civil disobedience.

As usual, they had underestimated their man. Jesus deftly called for a Roman coin. “Whose picture is on this?” In response to the obvious answer, Jesus said, “Give Caesar what belongs to him and give God what belongs to God.”

 

This really wasn’t about taxation; it was about truth. Instead of trying to trap Jesus, I wished they would have tried trusting Jesus. They would keep on trying to trap Jesus until they thought they had won. How sad. The Truth stood before them and they couldn’t see. They were the victims of their own “gotcha” moment.