What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Being a pastor, I am often blessed to hear others tell wonderful stories of faith that have impacted their lives.  One such faith story comes from the time when I served the Weeden Heights congregation.  Jimmy and Elaine Springer were such faithful servants of God, and I considered myself to have received an extra blessing by becoming more than their pastor, but also their friend.  One day Elaine shared with me a simple but powerful image of why we all need a child-like faith.

It was during the Christmas season.  She and Jimmy had decorated their home to match the festive holiday season.  Among their many decorations was a Nativity Set, complete with all the characters and animals.  Elaine said she carefully arranged the scene so that each figurine’s face was looking outward.  This way, each person who looked at the scene could see the faces of Mary and Joseph, the Shepherds, and the Wise Men.  During a visit from their grandchildren, Elaine said she walked past the Nativity Scene and all the characters had been moved.  They formed a circle around the manger, and the baby, Jesus.

 Well, she carefully rearranged them back to their original state, only to discover sometime later to find them in a circle again—all in a circle around the manger and the baby, Jesus.  When she asked her granddaughter why she had rearranged them in a circle, the child’s reply is a classic and full of faith:  “So they can all see the baby Jesus.”  Needless to say, the words spoke to Elaine’s heart, and the truth was ever so clear.  The Nativity Scene was indeed correct—each person, each animal facing and focused on the Christ child.  Needless to say—the Nativity Scene remained that way, all characters in a circle that focused on Jesus.

 I had not thought much about that faith story until several years ago when Elaine called me with some sad news—her husband Jimmy, had suddenly and unexpected passed away.  She and the family wanted me to come and share a word of comfort and hope at Jimmy’s funeral.  When my own personal sense of shock and grief had subsided, I sat at my desk wondering what word could I share with this precious family and my good friends, that God could use to help bring comfort and begin the process of healing in their hearts.  I must confess, I struggled to find words that could be a means of grace for the Springer Family.  Then the Holy Spirit (probably exasperated with me that I wasn’t listening close enough) hit me like a 2 x 4—that special Christmas when a child reminded everyone, that this Christmas Season is really about one thing—Jesus.  And I remembered the words of Paul in Hebrews chapter 12—“Keep your eyes on Jesus!”  And as we all remembered that faith story at the funeral home chapel during that service, God’s Spirit moved in a wonderful way and that story became a means of grace for us all.

This time of year is truly a busy and sometimes stressful time.  Crowded streets and highways, parking lots that are full, huge shopping crowds, long lines, finding the perfect Christmas gifts; all this and more sometimes makes us forget what the Season is really all about.  So, if you are all stressed out, I have a word for you; that word is—STOP!  Take your eyes off the crowds and lines and sales, and circle up around Jesus and focus on Him!  Right now, or when you get home, go to that Nativity Scene in your family room, then move all those figurines into a circle around the hope and love that can only be found in Jesus.  And if someone asks, “Why are these figurines in a circle?  I can’t see their faces.”  Tell them, for God’s sake, tell them, “Look where they are looking—see the face of Jesus.”

When we hear the words of Paul to the early church: “And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” we will then be able to say:    “Good, Lord!  It’s Monday!  What shall we do together this week?”

Let us pray:  Father, thank you for children, who remind us of what faith is really all about!  Wherever we are, whatever we do in this Holy Season, Holy Spirit, remind us about how the manger scene really looked—everyone focused on Jesus.  Help me keep my focus and when I see others who have lost their focus, use me in the gentleness of a child, as an example to them, just as Jesus is my example to run the race!  Amen!

Looking For. . .

Tell me. Tell me the honest truth. More importantly, tell yourself the honest truth. What exactly am I asking you to be honest about? What are you looking for? You see, we are all looking for something–every day–every hour–every minute–every second. Granted, we may forget what we are looking for at a particular moment (I do this more frequently than I like!), nonetheless, we humans are always looking for something.

It may be the keys to our car; an ink pen; the scissors; a tool; and the worst one of all–OUR CELL PHONE! We not only look for things that someone else moved from where we put it–by our nature–we are inquisitive beings. From our birth–our eyes are probing the environment around us. Not only our eyes–but our minds are inquisitorial. And it’s a good thing our eyes are inquisitive–otherwise, we can’t find what someone else moved from where we put it down. But the mind–that’s where we can get into a whole heap of trouble, as we say down here in the South.

And it’s that inquisitorial mind that I am speaking into today. Have you ever heard the expression, “Your mind can play tricks on you!”? It’s true. But sometimes…sometimes we see exactly what we are looking for! If you are looking for something to complain about–you will find it! If you are looking for something to be angry about–you’ll find it! If you are looking for something to be sad about–you’ll find it! If you are looking for something that will offend you–guess what? YOU WILL FIND IT! It’s become a contagion in our culture and an infestation to the mind–looking for things that disrupt–disrupts our peace, our relationships, our attitudes, and our spirit.

When are looking for the wrong things it takes away the joy of this inquisitive nature that God placed within us. It’s a deplorable misuse of a very good gift. The inquisitive mind has done great things–eliminated some diseases–created treatments for others–solved engineering problems–and so much more. But the misuse of our inquisitive nature has also made us suspicious–doubtful–resentful–and bitter. It causes us to say hurtful things. And even worse–it makes us see things that just aren’t there. You do know the classical definition of insanity, don’t you? It’s doing the same things over and over and over and over while expecting different results!

May I suggest looking for something different? Let’s go back–back to the beginning when we were first created in the image of God. Let’s once again become inquisitive about the wonders and beauty of creation–and the mysteries of God. Let’s start looking for God in places, situations, and people–even the most unlikely of people and places you might expect to see Him. After all–He was found in a feed trough just outside of Bethlehem. And a few years later, He was found just outside Jerusalem–dying on a cruel Roman Cross. And He freely did this just so we would begin looking for Him! So I ask you again: What Are You Looking For?

Did You Just See That?

Oh, wow! Did you see that? Oh, my–there’s another one. Wait! Another one! Goodness, gracious–there’s another one! And another! There’s another one! And Another! Another One! Man, they just keep coming–one right after the other! I’m telling you! There’s more of them than you can shake a stick at! What? I just had a vision that some of you are shaking your head at me, wondering if I need some special medication; wondering if I’ve gone off the deep end. Well, I haven’t–because in the time it took me to write these words, I saw many more. What is it I’m seeing so many of this morning? Actually, I’m only seeing one at a time. Let’s call them MOMENTS!

During my habitual time of listening to Christian Music to start my morning, I confess I was distracted–again. Instead of simply praising God in worship–I was thinking. Thinking about what to write this morning. Sometimes my words just flow out–most times I have to seek and seek hard on what to write. This morning was one of those latter times. As the music was playing in my earbuds, I was trying to find an idea for this morning. It was then, above my own thoughts, I heard the Spirit say, “Listen to that song, please!” Truthfully? He had been trying to get my attention the whole time–but I was lost in my thoughts.

Well, I listened and the song was “Keep Me In The Moment” by Jeremy Camp. And it was at the line in the refrain I heard ever so clear which said: “Keep me in the moment, I don’t want to miss what You have for me.” I knew what I was missing, so I sat my thoughts down, put them in the corner and told them not to move until I was ready for them to move. And as I lost myself in that Moment of worship, it was then I saw them–one at a time. Moments where God is present and offering me so much–much more than I deserve. He’s offering me His Presence. And with that presence, I find everything I need for anything!

Whatever you are facing in This Moment–remember that God is also present. Whatever the battle you face in This Moment, God is there waiting for you to put Him in the game. He will fight for you–and He’s a great fighter. He’s never lost a battle. Don’t let another Moment pass you by where you fail to see The Faithful Presence of your Heavenly Father. Every Moment He is with you. Remember these words of David who at first thought he found a Moment where God was not with him:

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
    to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
    If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
    to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
    you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
    At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
    night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.

Psalm 139:7-12 (The Message)

And to help you see This Moment, here’s the song from Jeremy Camp:

Did You See That?

When I was the Spiritual Director for the New Covenant Emmaus Community, it was easy for me to write weekly devotions for the community. A lot of my stories came from our grandchildren, our smart and wonderful grandchildren–they are quite an inspiration to me. I could write from viewing scenes in God’s glorious creation, or a sign going down the road. It was really quite easy for me to write a weekly devotion.

Then I started this blog. And it seemed, at least for a season, there was a never ending supply of materials from which to write about; to share insights, to challenge, and hopefully to inspire others. But then I quite writing (to my followers, I guess you noticed that!). I could blame the pandemic, the Democrats, the Republicans–but the fault lies all on me! And why? That’s what I’m going to write about. I couldn’t really decide on a topic today–so the topic chose me: Why I Quit Writing!

I was looking in the wrong places. Ha! Ha! Forget that thought–I wasn’t looking at all. My focus had been taken off where God is always present and always at work. So today, amidst all the news reports and the bickering and fighting, let me challenge you, inspire you to realize what I finally realized: That I choose what I focus on! And so does everyone else.

You see, even if you don’t focus on anything, you are focusing; on a vast void. And that void is, what I would call–thanks to my good friend Andy Andrews–the lack of wisdom. God is still on the Throne, Jesus is still present–and He is still speaking to us through the Holy Spirit. And I close out with this.

One day I was walking around the yard, as I frequently do, I made the full “lap” around our place. As I was coming up from the back, I looked and there was deer–in our yard! Being an ardent and zealous hunter, that deer grabbed my attention. I did not have my rifle–and it wasn’t hunting season. She was watching me and I was watching her. Just then a second deer slowly walked across our front yard and also stopped. They were looking at me, and I was looking at them.

And what I saw wasn’t meat in the freezer–I saw 2 beautiful creatures of God. Besides, both needed to get a little bigger to shoot. (Sorry PETA, I am not a vegetarian.) But I was simply amazed at the beauty and wonder of God’s glorious creation. So, today Be Amazed! Be Amazed at everything God has for you; the things God has put in creation for you, and I, to enjoy–or to do what I did. Just to stop and marvel at the beauty that God has for us.

If all you want to see is ugliness–dear Lord almighty and Heaven help us–there is an abundance of things that will lead us to despair. But remember, you choose where you are looking. I think I am going to watch God a little more closer.

Love God with all your heart. Love others the He loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!