Meanderings of a Minister


How Do You Prepare for Christmas?

prepare_heart_christmas

As Thanksgiving has passed, I have noticed people in various stages of hanging Christmas lights and decorating for Christmas.  As I have watched people climb onto the roofs of their houses to hang lights, haul boxes from their storage sheds, or buying decorations at the store, it has led me to ask myself if I am also preparing for Christmas.  No, I don’t mean have I hung my lights, which I haven’t.  I also don’t mean have we gotten out our Christmas tree, which we haven’t.  What I have been reflecting about is, “How do I prepare for Christmas?”.

I know that some people will not think of lights and trees in response to this question.  Others will respond with Christmas shopping, making lists of gifts for various relatives and friends.  Still yet others will respond with baking for preparing food for various parties and get togethers throughout the Christmas season.  Others will respond with stories of rehearsing for Christmas Cantatas at church, concerts at school, or sales at their businesses.  These are legitimate preparations as well, but still not what I am talking about.

How do I get my heart in a place where I am ready to think deeply about the miracle that the King of the Universe left glory to become a man?  Actually, to become an unborn baby?  How do I prepare my mind to absorb and concentrate on the real reason for the season so that Christmas is a time of renewing my commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior as my gift to Jesus on His birthday?  How do I prepare my soul to be still and content with what God has provided?  How do I prepare my senses to notice the things of God amongst all of the glitter and glamour?

I don’t know what others will do to prepare for this, but one way I can do so is to get an Advent Devotional and spend some time, at the beginning of each day, reflecting on some aspect of the Christmas story.  Our church has produced one such devotional, but any devotional will do as long as it encourages you to spend time in the word and time in prayer.

Another way to prepare my heart for the Christmas holiday coming is to spend some time going through all of the stuff in my home and picking out some of the good stuff that I don’t use that often anymore and donating it to Stepping Stones Shelter, Center for Domestic Violence, or some other worthy charity.  It makes room in my home, but also makes room in my heart.

After thinning the overwhelming flood of things I own, another way to prepare my heart for the Christmas season is to pull out a book that I have bought, but haven’t read and actually read it.  Maybe it is a CD of music for you, or a DVD movie you bought but haven’t watched.  Perhaps it is a massager that you haven’t used or another gift that you deemed important enough not to donate, but haven’t use it.  Get it out and use it.

Another way that my family prepares our hearts for Christmas is to buy gifts for Angel Tree kids, provide shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, donate money to the Christian Motorcycle group from Trinity Faith, give toys to Toys for Tots, or some other means of giving to others so that I am reminded that Christmas isn’t my birthday, it is Jesus’ birthday.

While none of these suggestions may work for you, do something to ensure that we don’t fall into the trap that Christmas is merely a holiday from work, it is a Holy Day to worship our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  I need to get ready for that even more than I would to see the president, queen of England, or some Hollywood star.  He is the Bright and Morning Star.  He does not have 15 minutes of fame.  He is eternally famous.  Let’s prepare to meet Him and meet with others about Him at Christmas time.

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Battle of the Heavyweights
December 5, 2017, 1:52 pm
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crown-the-loser

When I was little, my Grandfather used to love to watch boxing.  We would sit in the living room and he would explain to us why this boxer or that boxer wasn’t as likely to win as the other one.  He would go into lengthy explanations about why one had the advantage and was a sure win.  Most of the time, he was right, but once in a while, a boxer would surprise him.

In Nahum 2:1-3:19, we see God speaking to the people of Israel and telling them that, although they were convinced that the strongest government on earth could not be defeated, they would be.  Although Assyria controlled the entire known world of their day, they would not stand forever.  God was trying to tell Israel to hold on to their faith in Him and He would stand triumphant.  They had to decide if they would be on His side of if they would continue to rebel and trust in their earthly masters.

This choice is the same choice that faced the Jews in the days when the announcement came that John the Baptist would be born.  They were under the tyranny of the Romans and wanted out badly.  The temple worship had been reduced to mere religious exercise and they were badly in need of a national reform and revival, but they thought that their situation was controlled by their captors.  They considered Rome stronger than any force on earth.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The people thought they needed someone to throw out the Romans before they could worship God.  What they needed more than anything was for them to turn to and trust in God and stay right there and wait on Him to move.  He was moving anyway, but they needed to focus on Him to find that out.  They needed to see the power of God for what it is…invincible!

This is the same choice you and I have every day.  Do we believe God is all-powerful, or do we need to take things into our own hands?  Do we believe God is all-knowing or do we need to help Him out?  Do we believe God loves us or do we need to earn it?  From this passage, we should see that God is sufficient for all of our needs.  No matter how big the problem, mountain or situation, God is bigger.  If we will trust Him, we will be victorious in the end.



How Is Your Phone Changing You? Part 9
September 18, 2017, 1:06 pm
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I recently came across a book by Tony Reinke entitled, “12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You”.  The title intrigued me because I have suspected some of this has been going on for years.  In the book, Tony is not anti-phone, but encourages the reader to be mindful of changes that are happening in us because of our use of our cell phones.

So far, we have considered that our phones are encouraging us to become addicted to distraction, have encouraged us to ignore flesh and blood relationships that require effort and risk on our part, and that they have encouraged us to crave immediate approval.  We have also seen that our phones are changing us is that they are robbing us of literacy and causing us to feed on the produced images others want us to see as well as changing us to become what we spend time with online.  Our phones are also making more connected when alone and more alone when we are with others.  They also give us the ability to engage in secret vices with virtually no one near us knowing what we are up to.  These are examples of how our phones are changing us.

Another way that our phones are changing us is in the way that our phones encourage us to lose context crucial to meaning.  People post information on social media at an alarming rate.  It is amazing that there is just over 7.5 billion people in the world.  2.5 billion of these have social media accounts.  That is 1/3 of the earth’s population.  On just Facebook alone, there are 2.4 million status updates every minute.  That is 144 million an hour. 3.5 billion per day, and 1.3 trillion per year.  Yes, trillion.  And that is only Facebook!  Twitter sees 6000 tweets per second.  That is 360 thousand per minute, 21.6 million per hour, 518 million per day, nearly 190 billion per year.  Add the rest of the social media platforms, and there is a deluge of information like no other time in history.

What does this deluge of information produce in the hearts and minds of consumers?  First, it contributes to a desensitizing of our hearts.  We talked about this in a previous article, but it causes us to lose our ability to empathize because we simply don’t have the time.  We have to move on to the next article, post, tweet, snap chat, or pin.

Additionally, sense most of what we read on social media is not mentally nutritional, it affects our desire for deeper, more complex, or mentally stretching information.  When given the choice between reading about what celebrities of our day look like now and reading about the newest technology for more efficient delivery of clean drinking water to East Africa, most consumers follow the stars.  While this is not an absolute statement, the statistics show us that this is the behavioral choice for most in this situation.

A corollary to this is the fact that most information is accept at face value with no thought of context, truthfulness, or even applicability.  When the consumer consumes hours of product commercials, kid videos, cat videos, or other such input, there is no thought as to if this is a true representation of a product, life, or pet behavior.  There is also no thought as to how God might call one to act to help in a situation.  For instance, you read a post about girls being sold into sexual slavery right here in Liberal, Kansas.  You read the article, shake your head for a moment and then move on to the next post about the football team, weather, or something else unrelated.  Rather than contemplating what God might be saying about the establishment of a new ministry, or your personal involvement in a new issue, we move on without feeling what we should.

News outlets realize this and capitalize on it for their own profitability.  For instance, a story is run with some unverified aspects of the story because we have to get the information out there.  In years gone by, there would have been people on the ground.  They would have been verifying facts, getting names, dates, and other pertinent data before presenting the story.  If there were facts that we errant, they would have come back at a later date and apologized for the mistake.  Now, the information is broadcast immediately because it has to be.  There is no checking of facts, or very little.  When there is a mistake, there is no mention or it is blamed on some other issue.  Combine this with the hapless consumer and you have a dangerous situation that teaches us to either not trust or not care.

The only counterbalance I know to this effect is to follow Proverbs 1 and seek for wisdom and treasure wisdom and choose to be selective on what and when we read.  We need to pray and ask God for discernment and wisdom and submit our ways to Him.



Where Is God?
September 7, 2017, 11:58 am
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This last week, I have been saddened, horrified, and greatly disturbed and drawn to prayer for the state of Texas and the Houston area as Hurricane Harvey has devastated the area.  Over 300,000 homes without power.  Over a trillion gallons of water have fallen.  People have had to be rescued from their houses with air mattresses floating down rivers where streets once were walked.  The devastation from the storm is perhaps even greater than Hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans and its surrounding area in recent history.

As I have thought about this storm and its terror, I have been drawn to scripture to consider God’s perspective.  I certainly don’t want to be flippant or trite in my approach to this question, but I was drawn to another storm in scripture to find comfort.

In Acts 27, Paul had been arrested, jailed, threatened, and had to appeal to Caesar to keep from being turned over to an angry mob that wanted him dead because he was telling people Jesus is the only way to Heaven.  As he was traveling to Rome, he advised not to try to travel by ship because of the weather, but was ignored.

As they were traveling, they ran into a storm.  The ship couldn’t possibly make it to their intended port.  They were battered for over 14 days and went without food out of desperation.  They finally found land and headed for it only to run aground on a sandbar.  The storm was so ferocious that the stern of the ship was literally being torn apart by the force of the waves.  The soldiers were going to kill the prisoners, but were prevented by the office in charge.  The entire group of 276 jumped over the side of the ship and swan or floated ashore.  When they got there, it started to rain and the temperature dropped.  The natives built a fire to make them warm.  As Paul gathered sticks for the fire, a snake crawled out and bit him.  The people assumed he was a murderer and that fate was getting even.  When nothing happened to him, they changed their minds and thought he was a god.  Eventually, Paul traveled on to Rome where he was imprisoned until his execution.

As I thought about this story, I realized a few things that apply to the current situation in Texas and in many of our lives.  First, Christians are not immune to the storms of life.  Contrary to prosperity doctrine, suffering does not only come to those who do not have sufficient faith.  Storms come on everyone.  Some of them are more severe than others, but we are not immune.

When storms come, we also realize that God is with us.  It might not feel like it.  It might not seem like it.  We might not see Him.  We might not hear Him.  We might not feel Him, but He is there.  He sent an angel to comfort Paul.  He told Paul they shouldn’t take the trip.  He sent an angel to tell Paul they would survive.  He was there when Paul was bit by the snake and protected him from losing his life.

God was there for Paul and God is there in your storm as well.  I know that the future will display stories of God at work rescuing people, protecting people, and providing for people in Houston.  Sometimes it is hard to see God until the dark skies of the storm adjust our eyes to be able to see His glory.

If God is in the storm, then there is always hope.  When God told Paul they would survive, Paul was able to pass this along to the others.  They ate food, were encouraged, and were able to go on.  Why?  Because of hope.  Because they could believe that there was a better future ahead of them.

For those who are in Christ, the future is bright.  No, we might not be delivered in this life.  We might not be promised to survive the storms we face, but when we close our eyes in this life, we open them to see Jesus.  That is a bright future.  This isn’t home, but heaven will be forever.  Sometimes we need to be reminded of this.  Especially in the storms of life that hurt the most.

Lastly, we see that God had a plan.  God had a purpose in what He allowed.  This is the hard part with storms like Hurricane Harvey.  I can’t imagine any scenario that would allow God to have a plan in the devastation that He is allowing.  For those who have lost every, I can’t imagine any feeling but loss and frustration, fear and anger, hopelessness and gloom.  But that does not change the fact that God is good, sovereign, and still saves.  Did God bring the storm?  Some will say that.  I am not sure.  But what I do know is that no storm, however big, can overcome God’s position on the throne.

If you are facing a storm right now, cling to the reality that you are not being punished for not having enough faith.  If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you still face storms.  God is there.  There is hope.  God has a plan to get you out.  It might not be realized this side of heaven, but you will not stay in the storm forever.  It might not seem like it, but you won’t.  Look up to God and hold on to Him for He is certainly holding on to you.



How Has God Changed Your Life?
June 15, 2017, 3:11 pm
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Yes, that might seem like a strange question.  Let me explain where this question comes from so that you will be able to answer the question adequately.

I run into people all the time that tell me they are Christians.  They will tell me stories about how they went to church as a child.  They will tell me about praying a prayer with a preacher, Sunday School teacher, or some other significant adult in their life.  They might even tell me about how much they used to go to church or all the ministry they did when they were teens, young adults, adults, or some other period of life.  They might even tell me that they used to be a Christian, but are doing their own thing right now, but they will get back to being a Christian later.

Sadly, most people, when asked this question, do not even understand the question, let alone how to answer it.  When I ask this question, I want to know how your relationship with Jesus is changing your life right now?  Matthew was a tax collector who collected no more taxes.  Peter was a fisherman who Jesus turned into a fisher of men.  Saul was a Rabbi who was so zealous for the Law that he killed Christians for claiming Jesus to be God.  He became a believer, missionary, writer, and church leader.  All these men took seriously Jesus’ call to, “Come, follow me!”

I used to be a drunken sailor with a foul mouth.  I had stolen, committed adultery, and constantly used people to prop me up because I did not believe I was ever enough.  I no longer drink.  I have not touched a drop of alcohol since 1992 (okay, so I gargle with Listerene©).  I no longer even think curse words.  I have not stolen anything in many years (again, maybe a pen from the bank, but I just forgot to put it back).  I am deeply committed to and appreciative of my wife.  We have been married for 30 years this October.  Those are the conquered sins.

I still struggle with feeling adequate for life.  I am not the father, husband, pastor, man, or Christian I want to be.  When I get down about any or all of these, God confirms me and encourages me by reminding me that I am not who I am going to be, but I also am not who I used to be.  God is at work in me.  (Phil 1:6)

So, have you placed your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?  Have you repented of yours sins and placed your faith in what Jesus Christ did for you when He died on the cross?  Have you made that decision public through baptism?  Are you striving to know God and His Word so that it transforms your daily life, speech, spending, speeding, and spelunking for meaning?  How so?

How has God changed your life?  How is God changing your life?  Many people think of following Jesus as the finish line.  They think, “Good.  Now that I am a Christian, I am holy and forgiven and there is nothing left to do or accomplish.”  That could not be further from the truth.  While the decision to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior is paramount, there is much else that must be decided and it must be decided faithfully each day.  How is God changing your life right now?

Can you point to a way that others would say is proof that you are less focused on yourself and more focused on others?

Does the way you spend your money tell others that Jesus is your Lord?  Do you give 10% of your gross income to your church?  Do you give offerings above that?  Do you also help people when you see legitimate needs?

Do you hunger for the Word of God?  Do you feel incomplete on those days when you can’t spend time reading, studying, meditating upon, and memorizing God’s Word?

Do you pray?  When was the last time you fasted and prayed?

Do you tell others about Jesus?

Or are you just everyone else?

How has God changed your life?

How do you want Him to?



Where Do God’s Blessings Come From?

blessing

Chances are good that, if you turn on the television and tune into a religious channel, you will hear a lot about God’s blessings.  You will hear that God wants to bless you beyond your wildest imagination.  You will hear that God’s main concern is that you be happy, fulfilled, wealthy and blessed.  Actually, they are right!  But, many times, they are just as wrong.  Allow me to explain.

First, we need to understand what blessing means from God’s perspective.  The word for blessing in the Old Testament actually comes from a root word that means to prepare.  It is a word that, properly translated, means much more than just stuff.  So many times we think blessing means that we get a new car, new home, lots of money, etc.  Sometimes this is the case because God gives us those things in preparation for what He wants us to do and do with them.  This is not always the case.  God equally blesses the person that has nothing as He works in his or her life to prepare them for the ministry He has ahead of them.  Sometimes God even uses difficulty to prepare us to be useful for His Kingdom!

Consider the story of the widow in 2 Kings 4:1-7.  Her husband has died, the food is gone, and the creditors are going to take her two sons away as payment for her husband’s debts.  She is at the absolute end of her rope.  She has nowhere to turn; however, she does have one last desperate choice.  She goes to Elisha, the prophet, and asks for his help.  With the desperation that we can only see in a mother that trying to keep her family together and her home intact, she cries out to God through His prophet.  Much to her chagrin, the prophet asks what she wants him to do?  She has no answer.  He asks what she has left in her house.  She replies that she only has a little bit of oil and that is it.

This is the chance where she has a choice to make.  She has presented her request to God and He has responded by asking her to give up the little she has.  That would probably not make for a successful television ministry, but it was what God wanted.  Faced with this call to action, the widow had a chance to obey or not obey.  By not obeying, she could protect the little she had and continue to find a way out that was more appealing or popular.  If she obeyed, she would have to trust that God knew what He was doing and would take care of her.  She chose to obey even though it made no sense from a human standpoint.  What did she receive?  God’s blessing.  In this case it was stuff, but it was not the stuff that mattered.  It was her obedience that taught her to trust God and provided her example for us that mattered and still does.  Her difficult circumstance was the blessing!

What are you facing right now that is tempting you to question the goodness of God?  What are you going through right now that is not what you wish it would be?  What difficulty is threatening to crush you?  Perhaps, just perhaps, this might be God blessing you, not with stuff, but with the opportunity to obey and learn about Him, grow closer to Him and be used more by and for Him.  Maybe instead of searching the television channels for a person to make you feel guilty and inferior because of what you are going through, you should spend that time talking to the One in charge of your circumstances and ask for Him to guide you through it.



Saying Goodbye
April 30, 2015, 11:12 am
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Goodbye

Early this morning, we lost a great example.  Let me explain.  Virgil E. McWilliams, Jr., known to most of us as “Mac” passed away this morning.  No, this is not his obituary.  That will be coming later from the family.  As I have reflected on Mac’s life, I realized that I have just witnessed a man who died well.

First, Mac was diagnosed with a form of cancer that usually leads to a very painful and debilitating death.  This was the path that Mac went down and that makes the way he endured all the more amazing and inspirational.  He was in tremendous pain and endured not being able to eat and all of the unpleasantness that comes with it.  Even with the pain and suffering, Mac and I visited last Friday for a few hours and he said something that is very rare to hear in our day.  He said, “I have no complaints.  I have had a good life.  I have a good wife.  I have an amazing family.  I have traveled and experienced much of this world and all it has to offer.  But most of all, I have the Lord on my side and that is more than I could have hoped for.”  In spite of all he was going through, he was thankful to God.

Next, Mac was appreciative of everything and everyone.  Even the day I visited with him, it took a toll on him, but he wanted me to stay and visit.  As we sat on his back porch, he talked about how thankful he was to God for all of the things I listed above.  He talked about how thankful he was for his Sunday School class and the fellowship they share.  He talked about how thankful he was for his wife.  He did not think he would ever find anyone like Margaret and vastly enjoyed being married to her.  Even she said there was not a day that went by without Mac telling her how much he appreciated her, how lovely she is, or how much he loved her.  He was thankful for his kids, grandkids, and great grandkids.  He was thankful for his house.  He was thankful because the doctor had said he had three months to live and it had been something like fourteen months ago!  Even in pain and suffering, Mac was appreciative of others and all he had.

Mac was also selfless.  Every time I visited with Mac, at church, in the car, or at home, he was always offering me something.  He wanted to make sure people were taken care of.  If it was not offering me his famous peanut brittle, it was produce from his amazing and bountiful garden, books from his library, or any other manner of things he thought would benefit me.  This last Friday, he even offered to get up and go into the house and get me a Diet Coke.  Here he was less than a week from death and in great pain and he was concerned because it was a little warm and I did not have a cold drink.  That was Mac.  He was that way with the granddaughters.  He wanted to make sure they were safe and that they got an education, but also that they had what they needed.  He would fix wind chimes, lawn mowers, bicycles, toys, or anything else they needed because he wanted to make sure they were taken care of.

Lastly, Mac was positive, but also realistic.  Over the last year or so, after being diagnosed, Mac would always say that he was thankful for the time he had, but that it was somewhat borrowed time.  He would say that the doctors had given him three months, but that the doctors are not God.  God knew the plans He had for Mac and for Mac’s life.  Early on, Mac would say he felt okay, but that he knew it was going to get worse.  Mac would even say that he looked forward to heaven, but that he wanted to make sure those left behind did not have to hurt.  He talked about his faith in God and how he knew he was forgiven, but that he knew that he had much to be forgiven for.  We even talked about some family relationships that Mac wished were different, but knew that people have to do things their own way.

While there is more that can and will be said about Mac McWilliams, about his life, travels, career as a Veterinarian, military service, oil field work, etc., I guess I am most thankful in this moment that Mac has shown me what it is to die well.  That may sound strange, but Mac has shown me how to die well.  To die with dignity, thankfulness, hope, realism, compassion, appreciation, but most of all with the confidence that comes from a rock-solid faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  When I die, I hope I can face death with that same understanding, hope, and dignity.  Thanks, Mac for showing me,

Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places. For the choir director, on my stringed instruments.” (Habakkuk 3:17–19, NASB95).

We could all learn from him.