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I have a Bible verse propped up on my desk as a great reminder throughout the day. It reads, “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:27). Of course the answer to that is a resounding NO! I would like to share a few encouraging stories that illustrate how nothing is impossible for God.
Let the countdown begin! As of today, it’s officially T-minus (take 25, then subtract today’s date) days until Christmas. Are the stockings hung? Lights up? Christmas cards in the mail? Regardless if you’re prepared or not, the “most wonderful time of the year” is in full swing.
Those of you with a passing knowledge of college basketball may remember the name Bob Knight. He was fired as Indiana University basketball coach in 2000 and took a job at Texas Tech in 2001.
As we approach Thanksgiving, and the weeks that seem to race towards Christmas, there’s plenty to be grateful to God for in our lives. Thanksgiving invites us to take time to consider all of our blessings. While some of us may be thrilled with the material things of life, many of us look around and realize that the most important things in life aren’t things at all. They’re our relationships. That’s our relationship with God in Christ Jesus, as well as our relationships with family, friends, and neighbors. Shortly after Thanksgiving, Christians begin another season of intentional reflection: the season of Advent. Since we’re giving thanks and taking time to celebrate all our relationships, let’s take a closer look at the one relationship that changed the world.
Forty is a significant number in the Bible, and there are many instances of something happening for 40 days or 40 years. To name a few things that lasted for 40 days — during the time of Noah, it rained for 40 days and nights (Genesis 7:12); Moses met with God on the mountain for 40 days twice, first to obtain instructions for building the tabernacle and then to receive the 10 commandments (Exodus 24:18 and 34:28); the spies explored the land of Canaan for 40 days (Numbers 13:25); Goliath taunted the Israelites for 40 days until David put an end to him (1 Samuel 17:16); one meal gave Elijah enough strength to sustain him for 40 days (1 Kings 19:8); the city of Nineveh was given 40 days to repent (Jonah 3:4); Jesus fasted and was tempted by the devil for 40 days (Luke 4:2); after Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared on earth for a period of 40 days before ascending into heaven (Acts 1:3).
Four years ago, I entered into a whole new chapter of my life through my role at Mountain View Lutheran Church. Since then, I’ve reflected many times on my experiences – both the good and the “what was I thinking” moments. Admittedly, I came into my role with a bit of arrogance. You know – the “I don’t have much experience, but I’ve read a few books about it” type of raw talent that doesn’t fool many for long. Little did I know that a humbling four years was knocking on the door.
I am not suggesting for a moment that my extended family is weirder than any one else’s. I am also not suggesting that we are any less weird. Chances are pretty good that we fit under that 68.4 percent normal distribution bulge in the bell curve of weirdness. When it comes to religion, we are all over the place.
When you look at the big picture of life (or as my pastor calls it, “the whole shebang”) you see that there are three main players: God, us, and the devil (which is Satan and all his mini-me’s).
The cooler fall temperatures are here at last. Summer vacation time is lingering in the corners of our minds. Our children and grandchildren are back in school. The winter visitors are beginning to arrive. The traffic volume is heavier. The stores are gearing up for the upcoming fall festivals and winter holidays. Many of us are beginning to feel like we’re stuck in the “I Love Lucy” candy factory episode on a speeding conveyer belt, hurtling along and out of control. There’s so much busy packed into our days that we’re in danger of forgetting that the origin of holiday is holy day. If you’re days are anything like mine, I’m sure you’ve noticed that the business of busy too frequently equates to major stress and anxiety. When I prayed about my own busyness, I found my mind dwelling on two Bible stories.
1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be alert, be on watch! Your enemy, the devil, roams around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”
I once heard pastor and author Andy Stanley say that there are two simple, yet important questions for any organization to answer: “What business are we in?” and “How’s business?” His point: identifying what you’ve set out to do and evaluating the results is a great way to measure how much (or how little) you’re growing.
Last month, two events occurred in the same week that once again had us searching for answers. On Sept. 16, a heavily armed civilian contractor with a history of disorders fatally shot 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard. Later that week, terrorists attacked a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in a three-day rampage that resulted in the deaths of at least 61 civilians and six Kenyan soldiers.
The unnamed woman with the weathered face stands on the corner of the street with her cardboard sign. The sign, like so many others around town reads, “Homeless and hungry. Anything helps. God bless.” Short and to the point the staccato sentences lay out the problem, tell us we have no excuse for not sharing something, and digs into our deepest held values. She doesn’t smile, but periodically salutes the oncoming traffic in a confident parody of Nixon’s classic V sign for victory, and of course, peace. Her gaze is largely fixed on the distance, as if mesmerized by the strip of shimmering pavement, interspersed by the bright shots of color as the vehicles flow by. Discretely hidden somewhere close by is her bicycle, and a few bags with her belongings. She’s not alone. Across the street is the man in whose company she’s often seen riding. They seem to trade off on corners, begging for relief, and preaching the gospel in silence.
I am loved by God and led by the Spirit. I’m a new creation in Christ, an heir to the blessings of Abraham, and I have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. How do I know? It’s all in the Bible. Knowing who I am in Christ should be more than enough to keep me going, yet sometimes I desperately have need of tangible encouragement from someone who has some skin. Know what I mean?
Cancer. It’s not even a pretty word, is it? It’s scary. It stirs up fear and rage and sympathy and disbelief and tears. And once again, that awful word invaded our lives — an unwelcome house guest that showed up unannounced.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 12 years since we last woke up to the horrible events that unfolded that one September morning. That day changed us — both as individuals, and as a nation. It still saddens me to think that it takes such tragic events to bring a country together, but the response of our country to Sept. 11, 2001 will always be remembered as one of unity, pride, and love.
In 1997, then Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), The Rev. H. George Anderson wrote a book called, “A Good Time to be the Church.” His successor, The Rev. Mark Hanson, who will complete 12 years as ELCA Presiding Bishop in November, quipped that he was thinking of writing a book called, “It’s Not All That Great a Time to Be the Church.”
I’ve seen it frequently. You know, the little tagline quotes in our email signature lines. This one is an old Irish proverb, “Work like you don’t need money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. And dance like no one’s watching.” Dance is not just a wonderful metaphor for life, but also for God. Many have described the relationship between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit as a kind of cosmic dance. God’s very nature is relationship: loving, vital, dynamic, and life-giving. You can dance on your own, but it’s so much more fun when you dance with others.
I recently purchased a Messianic roots seal pendant. An artifact with this symbol was discovered in Israel within the past 50 years and dates back nearly 2000 years ago. Supposedly it was created and used in ancient Jerusalem by some of the earliest Jews who believed in Christ as the Messiah.
When did everything become so complicated?