Friends, Thank you to all who prayed for and contributed to my upcoming trip to Russia (February 23 – March 9, 2015). The trip is now fully funded. Last week I was able to purchase airfare, reserve hotels, and apply for the visa. Please continue to pray as I prepare my lessons. Thanks, I’m in your debt.
Monthly Archives: December 2014
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 50,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 19 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
Taza Chocolate in Somerville, MA (Boston metro area) offers one of the more informative and entertaining tours we’ve been on. This afternoon, Carol, Jon, Manda & Phillip, and I toured their factory. The company specializes in stone ground, organic chocolate. We had a very informative, energetic, and entertaining guide during the hour-long tour .. and we had all the samples of chocolate we could eat. As you can see, everyone styled the latest in hairnet fashions except for me, since I have no hair to cover. 🙂 Great afternoon.
Can you have a God-neutral faith? Can you have religion without God? Can you have the benefits of church and yet have a hesitant or non-existent faith?
Author T. M. Luhrman, a professor of anthropology at Stanford University, answers all of these questions with “Yes” in her article, “Religion without God.”
She concludes the article with these thoughts,
Religion is fundamentally a practice that helps people to look at the world as it is and yet to experience it — to some extent, in some way — as it should be. Much of what people actually do in church — finding fellowship, celebrating birth and marriage, remembering those we have lost, affirming the values we cherish — can be accomplished with a sense of God as metaphor, as story, or even without any mention of God at all.
Yet religion without God may be more poignant. Atheists trust in human relations, not supernatural ones, and humans are not so good at delivering the world as it should be. Perhaps that is why we are moved by Christmas carols, which conjure up the world as it can be and not the world we know.
May the spirit of Christmas be with you, however you understand what that means.
Ms. Luhrman’s conclusions reminded me of what the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 regarding what will take place in the last days.
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be … having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:1, 2, 5)
People try to find meaning in religion and rituals. Yet they completely miss the point that salvation, forgiveness, purpose, significance are only possible through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Last night, Carol, Jonathan, Amanda & Phillip, and I journeyed to the Salem Cross Inn at West Brookfield, MA. There we enjoyed the Fireplace Feast, a 1700’s style feast of prime rib, potatoes, butternut squash, spinach pie, rolls, seafood chowder, and apple pie with whipped cream. We started the evening with a wagon ride around the property, followed by mulled cider or mulled wine as we watched the chef make the apple pie and the prime rib roasting in the fireplace. Both Jon & I took a turn at the cauldron stirring the chowder. The demonstrations were interesting, the ambiance enticing, and the food was tasty. We all agreed the chowder, rolls, and apple pie were the best part, along with ambiance and atmosphere. It was a great, fun, and filling evening.
Christmas gifts are part of our celebration of the season.
We often wrap packages creatively to add to the festivity. Sometimes we add some misdirection to add a sense of fun and mystery. One year we gave our daughter a hamster for Christmas. But first we gave her the ball the hamster runs around in to confuse her, before we gave her the rodent. Sometimes, we take the Matryoshka doll approach. We wrap small packages in successively larger boxes. Sometimes we act like a light package is extremely heavy. Maybe you wrap a globe to look like a basketball. You camouflage an educational gift to look like a toy.
How do you wrap the best gift of all?
Luke 2:6 describes the delivery of God’s gift.
And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.
In 2 Corinthians 9:15, the apostle Paul referred to Jesus as an indescribable gift from God.
Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
If you were God, how would you wrap an indescribable gift?
Jesus came wrapped in prophecy.
Isaiah 7:14 tells us that Jesus would be born of a virgin.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Isaiah 9:6 said that this child would have a significant future.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
He would come from the family of King David, according to Isaiah 11:1.
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
Micah 5:2 identifies his birthplace, the city of Bethlehem.
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
God wrapped Jesus in prophecy. He also wrapped Jesus in history.
According to Galatians 4:4, Jesus was born at a certain point of history, when everything was ready.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,
God wrapped Jesus in prophecy and in history. Jesus also came wrapped in mystery.
Luke 2:9 explains that Jesus’ birth was accompanied by angelic messengers
And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.
Luke 2:14–17 gives more clues about this mystery. This is the incarnation—the glory of God in human form.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.
Imagine that your parents or spouse or a friend spend all year long looking for the perfect gift for you. They pick out something they know you will love. It is something you will exclaim, “It’s what I always wanted. They wrap the gift creatively. It has shiny paper and beautiful bow. It has a tag with your name on it. They place the gift prominently in front of the Christmas tree where you can’t miss it. But rather than open the package and enjoy the gift, you leave it sitting under the tree. You push it to the side. You ignore it.
God has given the best gift of all to you and me. The gift came wrapped in prophecy, history, and mystery. To enjoy the gift, we have to receive it.
In John 1:12, we read,
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,
God offers each one of us the gift of salvation, the gift of forgiveness. He offers us the gift of becoming part of his family. This Christmas, let me encourage you to receive his gift.
This is the synopsis of a message at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2014.
Plan B is second best. Plan B is a fallback option. Plan B is what we settle for when Plan A doesn’t work out. Plan B is necessitated by Murphy’s Law.
When we pray for …
- acceptance to our preferred university … and the school turns down our application
- the perfect job … and our preferred employer chooses a different candidate than us
- Mr./Mrs. Right to ask us out on a date or propose marriage … and we sit home alone on Saturday night
- a winning lottery ticket … and we barely make ends meet
- good health … and we are diagnosed with cancer
- good weather for our dream vacation … and it rains every day
- a close parking spot at the mall … and we wind up as far from the entrance as possible
… we respond by saying, “Well, God must have plan B in mind.”
In our mind, Plan A is perfect. Plan A will satisfy our desires and meet our needs. Plan B is less than ideal. Plan B will leave us unsatisfied and will not address our needs let alone our wants.
The problem with this line of reasoning is that Plan B thinking does not square with what Scripture teaches.
In the midst of exile, God said to his people. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
In the midst of lingering pain, God said to the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul responded by saying, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
James said that God only gives perfect gifts. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17)
The psalmist said that God does not keep good things from people of integrity. “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11)
Paul said that God’s work in our lives is good and that he is not stymied from completing it. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
If God’s plans are always for my welfare … if his plans give me a hopeful future … if God’s power is best seen in weakness … if God only gives good gifts … if God doesn’t hold back his blessings … if God always completes his work … doesn’t it follow that God’s plan is always Plan A? Doesn’t it stand to reason that his plans are always best?
Perhaps the problem is not with God’s answer but with my request. Maybe the difficulty is that I am asking for Plan B and God wants to give me Plan A.