Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It Was A Dark & Foggy Night.....

“If I had known the fog was this bad I would have chosen not to make the trip.” I uttered those words in frustration as I drove through a blinding fog and gale force winds on the journey home from a family gathering. Our pathway was completely obscured at times during the trip because of the dense fog. The adverse conditions made the drive challenging for me, and at times frightening for my family. Fortunately I was able to keep our vehicle in the center of the roadway for the duration of our journey, yet the inability to see the path ahead created such stress that I could not wait for the torturous travel to end.

In the midst of the fog I found myself pondering, how often do we find ourselves travelling through life, frustrated and anxious because of a foggy path? We can easily position ourselves in the middle of God’s will, yet are unable to enjoy the blessings around us because we don’t have clarity regarding the next step. One of the greatest needs of an individual or an organization is clarity.

Clarity of vision and process is invaluable if we are to accomplish our goals, maintain a healthy direction, or keep a proper perspective. A foggy path on an individual level creates a growing sense of uncertainty, but a lack of clear direction on a corporate level will inevitably lead to growing dysfunction and destroy unity. The ability to see the path ahead has to be a priority.
I have discovered that the key factor in providing clarity on a corporate level for the church I am called to pastor or the family that I am responsible to lead is directly affected by the sense of direction I have personally. At the risk of over simplifying, I have to be comfortable in my direction before I can guide others. We live in an increasingly foggy world. Principles and values that were clear just a few years ago are now cluttered and cloudy. So, how do see past the fog?

There is truly no one right answer. However, God has given us several invaluable tools to help us navigate during the fog of life that we will at times encounter. At times the appropriate response is patience, giving time for the clutter to clear. Other situations will require us to step forward in faith, trusting that the Holy Spirit will guide us through the murky moments. Invariably we will discover if we keep our focus on a very clear God, the gifts and fruit of the Spirit will enable us to move forward in the thickest fog.

As my family and I made our way through the mist on traverse through the fog, our challenging journey would have been much more difficult had it not been for clear road markers and strategically positioned reflectors along this otherwise desolate country road. The markings kept us centered and offered direction as made our way home.

We can be confident that God will, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit provide us the road markers and reflectors we need to stay in the center of the path and to make it safely home.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lessons Learned In The History of Economic Crisis

There was a chill in the air on that dreary morning of March 4, 1933. The weather was, in so many ways, a reflection of the state of our nation at the time. A wave of economic difficulty that started with the 1929 stock market crash, known notoriously as “Black Tuesday,” provided a downward spiral that saw our proud nation leave the prosperity of the 1920’s far behind. As our country anticipated the inauguration of its 32nd president, we found ourselves at the lowest point of the Great Depression. Over 13,000,000 were unemployed, few banks remained, and little hope of economic revitalization could be seen.

It was this backdrop that inspired President Roosevelt to offer a depressed nation the following words:

“ I AM certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our Nation impels. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”

Roosevelt’s inaugural words have endured far beyond the economic challenges of the great depression. They echo the timeless truth from God’s Word written centuries prior by the prophet Isaiah, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

In the coming days our nation will witness the inauguration of our 44th president, and once again we find ourselves in a period of economic challenge and uncertainty. While it is certainly true that our current financial crisis is nowhere near the severity of that which our nation faced during the great depression, the pressures and anxiety are very real. A quick look at a dwindling 401K or the very real possibility of corporate “downsizing” bring a very natural response of fear. It is in this context that the words of FDR, and more important the truth of scripture ring true: do not be afraid, because there is nothing to fear.

Without proper context these can seem like mere words. And while the beginning of President Roosevelt’s inaugural address is that which is most quoted, it is the end of his speech that offers the lens through which a clear direction can be clearly seen:

In this dedication of a Nation we humbly ask the blessing of God. May He protect each and every one of us. May He guide me in the days to come.

We can be confident that as we seek the wisdom and blessing of God that He will both guide us and provide for us. History is replete with evidences of God’s continual hand upon those who place their trust in Him. Embracing the very real truth that God both keeps His promises and has promised that, as we trust in Him, He will meet our needs is the perfect prescription for the stress our current economy brings.

For most of us the Great Depression is something we know of only through history books and stories shared by loved ones many years our senior. The truth remains that our nation has endured far greater pain before, and God’s people have walked through much larger difficulties in the past. Yet the words of Isaiah have always been true….. and continue to be true today!

Many economists now predict that our economy should begin to improve during the 2nd quarter of 2009. Some would offer that the journey back to financial strength will require much more time. A few would have us believe that we can never recover. For the child of God there is the confidence that, regardless of the economists prediction, we can stand firm in the timeless truth of God’s enduring promises. We truly have nothing to fear.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

From the Inn Keepers Perspective

The story of Jesus' birth fascinates me. If you take the time to get beyond the familiar and truly consider the wonder of this significant moment in history there are so many truly remarkable aspects to God becoming man.

I'd love the opportunity to get beyond the typical church program images and see the Bethlehem miracle through the eyes of those who witnessed it first hand.  While we don't have an "official eyewitness report," a little investigation and a little imagination gives us a wonderful window into the eternity changing drama of the babe born in a manger.  Let's take a look at the story the inn keeper would share:

Bethlehem was in so many ways the typical small town.  We had our share of people born, but all too often they would move away from our small community in search of better jobs and a better life.  Those of us who remained in Bethlehem would occasionally comment that if everyone who was from here had stayed we could compete with some of the larger cities in Judea.  We honestly didn't realize how true that statement was until a decree was issued in Rome that all of Judea was to return to their city of origin for a "tax census."  Our little town was quickly overwhelmed with family, friends, and former neighbors arriving in anticipation of "counting day."

My family and I manage Bethlehem's one Inn.  I love working in hospitality and take great pride in our inn.  It might not be all that one would find in the larger inns in Jerusalem, but it has been a part of my family for several generations, and offers exceptional lodging for our small town.  I typically look forward to serving our guests.  This particular time was, unfortunately, not typical.  The Roman contingent arrived early in preparation of the census and overwhelmed our quaint little inn.  They were arrogant and demanding, constantly complaining about their assignment in Bethlehem, commenting that they wanted to finish quickly and return to the city.

Joseph & Mary arrived at the inn late in the day.  So many of the travelers were irritable from their journey and frustrated with the lack of accommodations in Bethlehem, but this young couple from Nazareth were gracious in their request for lodging, in spite of the fact that Mary was very much with child.  They had a grace about them that made it easy for me to make the extra effort to assure they had a place to rest.  The inn was filled beyond capacity with unruly Romans, but the stable was available and at least it would provide some shelter and a semisoft straw bed.

I helped the young Nazarenes get settled and returned to the inn to respond to any remaining requests, or demands from the  Romans before settling down for a much deserved rest.  It was not long before news came that the mother to be was about to become the mother and child.  I sent my wife to offer assistance in the stable while I finished up with our other guests.  By the time I arrived beside the manger the baby was already there, wrapped in swaddling clothes and sleeping peacefully in the feed trough.  

News of the birth spread quickly, even the shepherds of the temple flock came to see the baby!  The shepherds told of an angelic host who told them the good news of the child.  As the shepherds told the story, Joseph began to wipe away tears.  He then told us of his conversation with  a messenger from Heaven, confirming the Shepherd's story.

I must confess it was initially difficult to believe that the Son of God could be born in my stable.  Surely the coming of the messiah would be more dramatic, accompanied by a worldwide proclamation.  Why would God choose to have his Son born in a simple stable in a small town sharing the news with commoners?  The more I pondered the more I realized that God chose this time and place for the arrival of the Messiah to share the reality that His love includes all of us.  An uncommon birth in a common place to connect with even the most common of people.  The simplicity of it all spoke of the magnitude of God's wisdom, and filled me with a sense of value, knowing that God thought enough of me to include me in His plan.

Our little stable was transformed that night, through the birth of a baby, named Jesus.  The presence of God, the worship of the shepherds, and the hope that the Messiah brought offered common folks like us a moment with the King.

In fact, the Bethlehem miracle is evidence to us all of God's great love and the  lengths to which our Saviour will go to connect with us.  Jesus birth reminds us of the great privilege that is ours to each day have a moment with the King!

May the miracle of Christmas mark your days this Advent season!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmas Lights

I love Christmas lights~