National Redundancy Week, Re-Renewed Again!

absolutely essential
a cappella without music
aid and abet
ATM machine
attach together
autobiography of my life
cease and desist
completely annihilated
free gift
freezing cold
null and void
pair of twins 
past experience
polar opposites
safe sanctuary 
sudden impulse
unexpected emergency
     These are just a few examples of redundancy- “characterized by unnecessary repetition in expressing ideas”. The world is a redundant place. Advertisers do it all the time…don’t you just LOVE the Pizza Hut sign? If you remember, Raid “kills bugs dead”! Is there any other kind? Yogi Berra said, “It’s deja vu…all over again!” 
      I think redundancy…along with being superfluous AND unnecessary…is a tool many people use to slow down their spiritual development. Let me explain. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say, “I’m going to get serious about my faith!” or “I’m  going to start coming to church EVERY Sunday!” or some other similar promise when things are not going well for them. You know what I mean- job loss, illness, divorce, death in the family…some sort of catastrophic event…and people are drawn to church. In fact, statistics show that the majority of people who attend church started attending as a result of some major life event, although not all of them are catastrophic. Marriage, new baby, new job/move, etc. can be POSITIVE reasons people start attending church. But with the more catastrophic ones, folks usually accompany them with “I am going to make a clean start and commit myself to God!” And, for the most part, they genuinely believe that at the moment they say it. But then, however, reality sets in. The power that event had over them starts to wane, and as it does, so does their commitment to their faith often. Until finally, they are no longer actively involved in faith at all. 
     That is…until the next catastrophic event happens. And that’s when the redundancy factor kicks into high gear. They show back up at church and say…ready?… “I’m  going to start coming to church EVERY Sunday!” And the cycle starts all over again. The response to 9-11 is a prime example of that. For a few months after that event, church attendance rose dramatically across the country. But within a few months, it had dropped back to pre-9-11 numbers.
     It seems to me that the fact that people run to God/church when something bad happens should be some kind of indicator to them. If we are drawn to spiritual things when we are in crisis, then perhaps that is God’s way of telling us that a firm foundation of faith will help us overcome life’s difficulties. Statistics show that people who regularly attend church have lower blood pressure, fewer deaths from cardiovascular disease, less depression, and a decrease in earler death from all causes. So…let me get this straight- going to church can help you live longer AND be healthier and happier? Then why wouldn’t people do it? Golly, even if you didn’t have any belief at all, it would seem to make sense to do something that is shown to extend your life. And yet…the redundancy continues!
     Here’s my encouragement to you: if you don’t go to church regularly, if you aren’t a contributing member of a body of faith…start! Take the plunge, get involved, find a church home. And once you find one…stick with it. Commit to it. Make it a regular priority in your life. You will be pleased with the results if you actually commit to it. If you ARE already a member of a church family, make a concerted effort to bring others into that family. Take serious the Great Commandment- go and make disciples. Encourage others to experience the positive things you’ve experienced in your faith journey. Oh, and keep the redundancy to a minimum!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A Life Well Lived

     We all know how we SHOULD act. We all know what the “right way” is…we just don’t always DO it! Oh, we have he best of intentions. We try to do the right thing…we really do…but then something happens…or we are just having a bad day…and it all goes out the window. No matter how hard we try, we just can’t be “that person” all the time. Which is why…when those people come along, they stand out all the more. Let me tell you about one of them now.

     She was one of the nicest people I have ever met…we’ll call her Margaret. And I performed her funeral on Saturday. She had been ill for some time, and after 87 years of setting a good example for others- it was time for her to go. She was generous to a fault. She gave so much to so many people- I couldn’t even begin to tell it all here. She was a teacher…by both trade and temperament. She always wanted to help other people learn something. She LOVED to read…and worked hard to pass that love on to everyone possible. 
     But perhaps her single greatest trait was that she loved people…ALL people. And when I say that…I mean it. She cared not a whit what you age was, or your gender, your race, your color, your heritage, your religious affiliation, your orientation, your political affiliation or your shoe size! None of that made any difference to her. When she looked at someone, she didn’t see black or white, young or old, Jew or Gentile, rich or poor. Instead, she saw everyone as a child of God…plain and simple. I’m not sure I have known anybody who was less prejudiced that Margaret. 
     When we first moved to town, my older son, then a junior in high school, had a pony tail halfway down his back. many looked at him suspiciously, assuming certain things about him based solely on his appearance. (Store clerks would follow him around, certain he was going to try and shoplift something!) But she welcomed him with open arms, encouraging him in school and always calling to tell us about some theater group that was holding auditions that she thought he should pursue. She regularly saved books for my younger son. Based on appearance and heritage, she should have been set in her ways and judgmental…but she wasn’t! She was open-minded, fair, kind. She was a marvelous embodiment of what Jesus modeled in the Gospels. She was…a good woman! 
     Today I celebrate Margaret’s life, I remember her accomplishments, I admire her commitment to her faith, and I mourn her passing….confident in where she has gone! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A Life-Giving Christmas: Week 1- Hope

     Larry and Elmer were on
a hunting trip…and they got lost in the woods! Trying to offer some hope to his
friend, Larry said to Elmer, “Don’t worry. All we have to do is shoot into
the air 3 times, stay where we are, and someone will find us.” So they
shot into the air 3 times and waited…but no one came. After a while, they tried
again. Still no response. With hope dwindling, they decided to try once more
time. As they prepared to shoot, Elmer said, “I sure hope it works this
time…we’re down to our last 3 arrows!” 

     Hope is a word that is often tied to Christmas. We say that Christmas is the
season of hope. We say things like, “It’s been a tough year, but with the hope
of Christmas on my side, next year…things will be different! And that sounds
great…but for many, Christmas doesn’t actually offer much hope. It’s just
another season of not enough money, too many presents to buy, too much stress
and pressure…and not enough time. That’s a life-draining Christmas…one with
little hope. But today we’re going to look at a life-GIVING Christmas, one that
offers hope.
     Today we focus on an
eternal hope, on carrying that hope to others, knowing 
that no matter what we go through, we are never alone. We all want a deeper
hope, a clearer focus…but often we don’t know how to achieve it. If we truly
want a life-giving Christmas, drawing closer to God needs to take priority over
anything else on this year’s wish list.
      Many people celebrate Christmas…but not everybody celebrates Christ. The deep
living that comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ is what differentiates
a Christian Christmas from a secular Christmas. What is your deepest hope this
Christmas? At Christmas, God came to earth wrapped in a human body. He came to
live among us so that we might know what He’s truly like. He came to open the
doors of heaven. He came to restore hope. Hope is vital – in fact it’s critical
– to our everyday survival. And because Jesus came, we experience forgiveness
for our sins, the transformation of our hearts and minds, the promise of heaven
and eternal life. What better gifts could we ask for? I went to the Bible, seeking
an answer to that question. And I ended up in a surprising place- The Message…a
translation of the Bible written by Eugene Peterson. I rarely use it to preach
from…it has…unusual ways to say things! But I found that, for this Advent
series, it works great! So let me share these words from The Message version of
 Romans 13:11-14– 
     But make sure that
you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day
obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The
night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is
doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when
we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these
precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and
dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and
get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress
yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!
     A man called his neighbor to help him move a couch that had become stuck in the
doorway. They pushed and pulled until they were exhausted, but the couch
wouldn’t budge. “Forget it,” the man finally said. “We’ll never
get this in.” The neighbor looked at him quizzically and said, “In?
Often, our lives work counter to the true understanding of hope. Albert
Einstein said, “learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow”.
      Let’s look at this passage. Even though Paul wrote it 2,000 years ago, it
describes the challenge we face this Christmas. Day-to-day obligations increase
as Christmas nears- we tend to focus on entertaining, shopping, decorating and
all the other chores that we think are supposed to define a “perfect”
Christmas.  But Paul says that we need to
make sure not to get so absorbed and exhausted
in taking care of all our day-by-day obligations that we become oblivious to
God. He encourages us to be awake to what God is doing! He says we need to get
out of bed and get dressed! Her says don’t loiter and linger, but dress ourselves
in Christ, and be up and about! In other words…have hope! But what IS hope? 
      Dictionary.com defines hope as “desire accompanied by expectation of
fulfillment; desire with the expectation of obtaining; expect with confidence.”
Hope is an attitude of confidence, expectation, and trust- it’s faith holding
out its hand in the dark. A man approached a little league baseball game one
afternoon. He asked a boy in the dugout what the score was. The boy responded,
“Eighteen to nothing–we’re behind.” “Boy,” said the
spectator, “I’ll bet you’re discouraged.” “Why should I be
discouraged?” replied the little boy. “We haven’t even gotten up to
bat yet!” That’s hope!
     We’ve all heard it before- “There’s always hope!” But sometimes we find it hard
to believe. Hope can be elusive – hard to get a hold of. Here are four things that
try to loosen our hold on hope:
1. Fatigue – Vince Lombardi once said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” When
energy runs short, so does courage and hope. If we push too hard for too long,
we tend to see diminishing returns- discouragement begins to set in…and hope
begin to wane. 
2. Frustration – Have you ever given something everything you had…then stepped
back and wondered if you’ve made any difference? And when your efforts seem
worthless and ineffective, you get burned out. Burnout comes when we’re working
too hard at the wrong thing, or when we’re doing the right thing the wrong way.
In that circumstance, hope takes a nosedive.
3. Failure – Fatigue and frustration are two main ingredients in the recipe for
failure. “I’m tired…fed up…I can’t do it anymore.” The difference is how we
deal with failure. When things go wrong, we’re prone to pay attention to the devil,
the great de-motivational speaker, and we end up thinking “I’m a failure.” And
hope dwindles.
4. Fear – Sometimes we get fearful about possible adversity. If we think people
aren’t happy with us, or don’t like us, we get fearful. Criticism is toxic,
poisonous. And when it comes at a time of fatigue and frustration, when we already
feel like a failure, it can destroy our hope.
     But God has an answer for those things- He says, “Come to Me…you who are weary,
and I will give you rest.” He says, “Be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding
in the work of the Lord, for you know your labor is not in vain.” He says,
“Fear not, don’t be afraid, let not your hearts be troubled.” He says…have
hope! God will break in to time and space…and through our circumstances…to shed
new light…a light of hope.
     What we REALLY celebrate during Advent is the fact that God intercedes in human
affairs to provide something life-giving, real, lasting. We celebrate God’s
incredible love dwelling among us. We celebrate a gift beyond anything we could
possibly conceive or market on store shelves. We celebrate hope! 
Here are two ways that hope for the future can change our present.
1. hope keeps us from settling for the things of this world. We live in a society that has bought into the lie that “stuff” equals
happiness. In 21st century United States, we live in unprecedented prosperity.
And we tend to think that if we can just collect enough stuff…power,
prestige, possessions, relationships…we’ll be fulfilled. But all you have to
do is look around at the people that have those things and you’ll notice…they
aren’t fulfilled! Never in history have so many had so much for so long and
been so depressed about it. 
When we put our hope in God, we no longer try to satisfy our longings with
“stuff”. When we hope, we trust that God will satisfy us in ways that “stuff”
can’t.
2. hope turns our focus away from our problems and toward God’s glory. In Christ, we live in a constant state of hope. And it’s not just a “Pie
in the sky in the sweet by and by” kind of hope. It’s a hope that infuses
us with the ability to turn our eyes to God. The good news for those who are in
Christ Jesus is that we always have hope. Our hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus Christ. 
Think for a moment about how often the word “hopeless” arises in the details of
situation we see unfold on TV. If you take away our hope, our world falls into
a rut somewhere between depression and despair- hopelessness. But when life
hurts and dreams fade, nothing helps like hope. Hope isn’t just a pleasant
option that helps us temporarily clear a hurdle. It’s essential. It’s as
important to us as water is to a fish, electricity to a light bulb – hope is
that basic to life. We can’t stay on the road God calls us to without it, at
least not for very long. Many have tried, but none succeeded. We desperately
need hope in our lives! Hope is a wonderful gift from God, a source of strength
and courage in the face of life’s hardest trials. But true hope is only found
in God. And a lot of people aren’t  looking there. 
     When life seems to be closing in, hope points to the light at the end of the
tunnel. When we’re overworked and underappreciated, hope gives us fresh energy. 
When we’re discouraged, hope lifts our spirits. When we’re tempted to quit,
hope keeps us going. When we lose our way, hope acts as our compass. When we
feel rejected and abandoned, hope reminds us we’re not alone. 
     Advent…a
time of waiting…waiting for the coming Messiah…Emmanuel…God with us…Jesus the
Christ. It’s a time anticipation, a time of hope! 
As you prepare for
Christmas, I encourage you to identify three things you’ll do differently this
Advent season. Replace things that deplete your energy AND your bank account
with things that bring renewed faith…and hope. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and comer back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Advent

     Tomorrow is an important day in the
Christian year- the beginning of Advent. 
Advent (from the Latin words advenire– “to come to” and adventus
“to arrive”) is the period of hopeful waiting and preparation for the
celebration of the birth of Jesus.
It begins on the 4th
Sunday before Christmas (the Sunday nearest November 30), and ends on Christmas
Eve. The primary color of Advent is purple the color of repentance
and fasting as well as the color of royalty. Advent is an opportunity for
Christians everywhere to consider the wonder and awe of our Creator choosing to
come into the world as a helpless child- a child who would save us.

     What will Christmas be for you this year?
I pray that you are able to make positive, lasting memories with loved ones. I
pray that you are filled with the joy of the season. But most of all, I pray
that you will encounter Jesus Christ in a way you have yet to experience. We
read the Hallmark greeting cards that say “Jesus is the reason for the season”,
and we nod, smile, and go on about our day. But, despite their knack for syrupy
language, the greeting card industry got this one right. Jesus IS the reason
for the season.

     Rampant consumerism doesn’t bring us any
closer to God; focusing on the coming of the Messiah in Bethlehem does. The reason Jesus came into
the world (“Word made flesh”) was to reveal God’s grace. Have you
experienced that grace this season? This month, go to church- Sunday morning,
Wednesday evening, Christmas Eve, whenever- and experience the reason for Christmas. May
God bless you and those dear to you this Advent season!

Black Friday

     Today is (cue the ominous music)…Black Friday! Some people think this is the BEST day of the year! Others (i.e. ME) would rather have a pointy stick jabbed at them than to have to go shopping the day after Thanksgiving. (Although, if I’m honest, I don’t REALLY like to shop the other 364 days of the year either!) Here are some interesting tidbits about this phenomenon known as Black Friday:


     It’s called “Black Friday” because it traditionally marked the day retailers move into profitability for the year — from “in the red” to “in the black.” (It’s also used derisively by many retailers to mark a very long day of impatient shoppers, boorish behavior and adults elbowing one another to get a cheap video-game system!)

     Everyone thinks that Black Friday is the biggest money-making shopping day of the year…but that’s not necessarily the case. It is almost always the biggest shopping traffic day of the year, but it doesn’t always generate the most sales. Often, the most sales are generated on the last Saturday before Christmas. 

66% of Black Friday shoppers say they are actually shopping for themselves the day after Thanksgiving, according to Consumer Reports.

45% of ALL consumers will shop on Black Friday.

The five most popular products of LAST Black Friday were:
1. Wii console
2. Garmin Nuvi 265WT GPS system
3. Apple iPod Touch 8GB
4. D90 SLR Digital Camera Kit
5. Digital Rebel XSi 12MP Black Digital SLR Camera w/Kit

35% of American adults start their Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving.

Last year, a whopping $595 MILLION was spent on Black Friday alone, not to mention the $318 million spent the day before.

Roughly 172 million people will visit retail stores and websites over this weekend. 

Shoppers will spend an average of $372.57 this weekend.

More and more shoppers will forgo the lines today and do their shopping in cyberspace.

7 people actually lost their lives in Black Friday-related stampedes last year.

     Are you going out to shop today? Perhaps you’ve already BEEN out. If you ARE going, please be safe. If you already went- glad you made it back safely! I pray you have a healthy and happy Thanksgiving weekend!

Thankfulness

     Things I’m thankful for:


my God
The amazing sacrifice of Jesus Christ
my wife
my sons
my dog
my extended family
my church
music
laughter
love
my health
the Rocky Mountains
the ocean
good pizza
coffee (decaf…please!)
food to eat
clothes to wear
a warm, dry place to sleep
a job that not only satisfies physical needs but spiritual ones as well
the sunset
the whole of God’s creation
and you- for reading my blog!

     What are YOU thankful for this year? Send me and email or comment on this blog and let me know. I pray you get to spend time with people you love over the next few days. Please be sure and say a prayer of thanksgiving to God for He has done, is doing, and has yet to do in your life! Happy Thanksgiving!

How Do They Get Those Mashed Potatoes in There?

     Kids are great. They have the most imaginative minds and think of the greatest things. When my oldest son was little…probably about 4 years old…we were sitting at McDonald’s one day. He had the obligatory Happy Meal, and we were sitting in our obligatory plastic chairs, eating our meal. I looked over and noticed that he seemed to be…inspecting…a french fry. He had bit the top of it off and was scrutinizing the inside. I asked him what he was doing, and he asked the best question- “I’m looking at the inside of this french fry and I’m wondering…how did they get those mashed potatoes inside this fry?” And if you bite a french fry in half and look in the middle…it LOOKS like mashed potatoes! I envision these incredibly dedicated chefs with those big tubes that they use to pipe icing on to cakes. The tubes are full of mashed potatoes (of course) and they have each individual  hollow “fry shell”, and they pipe those mashed potatoes right in! THAT would make french fries VERY expensive!

     We get things wrong all the time, don’t we? We think one thing…and it turns out that it is entirely a different thing! I experience that a great deal when it comes to faith. I have folks, many of them not “church affiliated” talk to me about how they aren’t Christians because there are too many rules. And while I understand their position, I try to gently explain the difference between religion and faith. You might be thinking right now, “Differences? I thought those were two ways to say the same thing?!” I would argue that there is (at least potentially) a BIG difference between the two.
     Religion, historically, IS about rules. It’s about which hoops you have to jump through to get to the next level. It’s about saying the right prayers, doing the right things, giving to the right causes…to ensure a seat on the shuttle to heaven. Faith, on quite the other hand is about…ready?…relationship. That’s it…thanks for reading! No, seriously, that IS it! Faith is about a relationship with our Creator, and Christian faith is also about a relationship with His only begotten Son…Jesus. And through that relationship, we WANT to have healthy  relationships with those around us. So faith IS about relationship. Which is why, when Jesus is asked in the New testament which is the greatest of the commandments (the Pharisees are trying to trip Him up), he says, “Love the Lord you God with all you heart, soul and mind…and love your neighbor as yourself.” Period. End of sentence. In other words, be in relationship with God and others. 
     So, how DO they get those mashed potatoes inside those french fries? I have no earthly idea…but they’re good! But how DO you tell the difference between adherence to religion and commitment to faith? Look for the relationship! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and strop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!