Friday, December 25, 2009

Be like a child

There is something about a child.




I sit here on this Christmas morning in one of my favorite seats in the house.  Mine is the only chair that gets to look the other five members of my family in the eye as we dine at this bar – my wife and four kids.

I also have a beautiful view out of the front and back windows of our home at the winter storm that rages on this Christmas that has us holed up in our own home – just our family and no one else.  The beauty of the snow is breathtaking, but as I sit here with a little background music, my wife running around doing this or that, all kids are tucked in the basement watching a movie.

And so, for a few minutes, I have quiet in one of my favorite seats – and I can see each face as I look at their respective chairs around this island.  The beauty of the snow is one thing, the images I see as I imagine them sitting here with me is quite another.

Those images evoke feelings that only a parent can understand.  Love, laughter, irritation, pride, thankfulness – and those are just a few.

God knew the power of the child, too, didn’t he?

“Today, in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord,” it reads in Luke 2:11.

This child was conceived of the Holy Spirit, to a child, who would raise the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  From the beginning of time, this Jesus we celebrate today was innocent, dependent and reliant.  So was his mother, the teenager whom God chose to carry and give birth to our Savior.

As Jesus grew and grew, he remained innocent all the way to the point of death on a cross, fulfilling his purpose for living.  He was dependent on his Father and reliant upon that same Father to teach, live a life that is an example for us to live by, and to complete his mission.

Children were important to Jesus, too.

In the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke these words were recorded:  “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

Let the little children come to me.  But why?  What was so special to Jesus about these children?

It is that innocence, dependence and reliance that enables a child to hear the message and to receive the gift – the GIFT – that is Jesus and all that he affords us.

Children don’t have the weight of the world on their shoulders.  They haven’t lived long enough to see the world at its ugliest.  In most cases, they are still innocent.

It is that mentality in which Jesus hopes the Gift to be received.  He requires, it in fact.

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 18:3-4

As I went through the photos that were shot while we opened our gifts night before last, several pictures jumped off the computer at me and I wanted to share them with you.  These words from Matthew jumped out at me, as did some of the words from Luke 2.

The amazement, excitement and wonder expressed in the eyes and expression of a child while opening a gift is a sight to behold.

As the angel of the Lord appeared to them and and was later joined by the choir of angels who sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests,” I see our four year old Anna looking in wonder.

(Anna as if to say "What?")

After hurrying to Bethlehem to find Mary, Joseph and Jesus lying in the manger, I can see her looking in amazement that what the angel and prophets had foretold had actually came true.

(Anna surprised at her gift)

And this last image, this is the image that I love the most.  It is this picture that I pray sticks with you – it is this image of child-like innocence, dependence, reliance and excitement that will allow us to live life to the full, as Jesus declared in John 10:10.

(Anna opening one of her presents)

Each day as we unwrap the Gift that is a new day, may we open it with the excitement of a child.  May we live each day with that child-like faith – relying and depending on Father, Son and Holy Spirit in all we do. 

I fall woefully short of this mark, but it is the mark I aspire to.  May we become like children this Christmas and accept anew the Gift each day we are allowed to walk the face of this earth.

Merry Christmas!  (Alex opening the new Bible we gave him)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

And yet...

There is a snowstorm of epic proportions en route to the Midwest, with 12-20 inches of snow predicted beginning Dec. 23 and ending Dec. 26...

And yet Christmas is coming!

The world prepares for the impending struggles that come with travel troubles and all that comes with snowstorms...

And yet Christmas is coming!

The storm rages on in the south, making its way north...

And yet, Christmas is coming!

This isn't the only storm that is raging, however, as it would seem that an inordinate amount of "storms" have left a lot of people around me in a position of mourning rather than celebration this Christmas.

My friend Billy Coffey over at What I Learned Today referred to what I am talking about like this:  "What did I do that was so bad, Daddy?" when talking about his sone having to open one of the gifts he had wrapped.    Billy apparently doesn't wrap well, and so uses a lot of paper and even more tape.

Those ugly packages, he writes, sometime look like some of the "gifts" in our lives, those things that look ugly but wind up blessing us.

In my world today, I know a lot of people who are grieving some poorly wrapped packages, if you will, this Christmas.

There is the family mourning the loss of a beautiful daughter and sister in her early 20s...a young lady who died unexpectedly from complications to a seizure...

And yet they have hope in the Gift that is Christmas!

There is the family from our church who lost a father and a grandfather in the past week after a battle with illness...

And yet there is hope that comes in the form of a babe in the manger!

There are marriages that are on the rocks.  One I know of where the husband has moved out in this week and one that I know of where  the husband wants to walk out...

And yet, Christmas is coming!

In one conversation I had while on the road this morning, despite everything that is going, this individual has hope.

"Good morning," I said as the gentelman answered the phone.  "How are you doing today?"

"Good, you too?" he asked.

"Yeah, I am doing really well," I told him.  "Just wanted to call to tell you we are praying for you in all that you are dealing with."

"Thanks," he said.  "This is even tougher than when we lost our son."

"I am sorry," I said.  "Try to have a Merry Christmas" I weakly conclude the conversation.

"We still remember the reason," he said!

"We still remember the reason!"


Satan would do everything he could to disrupt Christmas - to disrupt Christ's coming - and yet he came.

"Sorry, Joseph there is no room for you here!"

And yet he came!

He was a perfect man - he never did anything wrong - EVER...

And yet he died for you and for me!

Snowstorms come, travel becomes impossible, lives are full of pain and suffering...

And yet we have hope that comes in the form of a baby, born in the most humble of settings some 2000 years ago.

Things for many can look bleak and dark this Christmas.  For some there packages appear to be poorly wrapped.  For others people are moving away and leaving a void behind.  For still others there isn't going to be much of a Christmas this year because of financial struggles.  For still others, Christmas is going to be really hard because it is spent in a hospital waiting room while their patient recovers.  And for more, someone will be missing from the celebration.

And yet, Christmas is coming. 

He always comes - this Jesus we celebrate - he always comes to meet us when we call on him.  When we have cause to rejoice and celebrate in good news, he comes!  When the despair is too much to handle and we cry out, he comes!  When the storm rages on, that star - His star - still shines!

The Prince of Peace was born to bring just that, peace, in the midst of the storms, the poorly wrapped packages and all that this world offers. 

Jesus told us himself in John's gospel:  John 14:27: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives."

I don't know where you are this Christmas.  Perhaps you are eager to celebrate our dear Savior's birth.  Perhaps things are tough this Christmas - I don't know - but I do know in this world we will have troubles...

And yet, Christmas is coming!  Praise God!

Click the ling to read more about Christmas Coming from Jennifer's perspective, or on this one to see what Ann has to say this Christmas.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A baby changes everything

A baby changes everything!

Can't you see the headlines of the Bethlehem Herald

A baby, who is to be the Messiah, was born last night in a dirty, grungy manger out back of the hotel because there was no room for him.  No one was willing to give up their room for the teenager ready to give birth to a baby, so the hotel manager sent them out to the stables.

For Mary and Joseph, that baby changed everything.

For the next 33 years, that baby changed everything around him as he grew and ministered to the people of his day.

That baby still changes everything - this Jesus we worship and celebrate!  He has changed everything for me and has done the same thing for a lot of people in my world.

A few examples for you this Christmas:

This morning, in my inbox, I find a message from one of my dear friends with a link to a Youtube file that simply reads "Thinking and praying" for an individual who is close to me.  Legions of people in my Christian community are praying for this person - the number of prayers would certainly bring him to his knees if he had any idea how many people were petitioning our Savior on his behalf.

The Youtube link is a video of a song by Faith Hill called: A Baby Changes Everything.

The life of my friend who, in the midst of everything he has going on in his world is thinking and praying for someone in mine, is a shining example of someone whose life - whose heart - this baby has changed.

•  Another example, from just this morning, is one I will share with you.  My wife and I own small businesses.  One of the ventures we publish is in a community 45 minutes from here.  Two employees were out of town, one works from home most days and the main receptionist called at 6:30 a.m. to tell me she was sick and unable to make it in.

After swinging and missing at a couple of solutions, God led me to a call someone from my Christian community.  Explaining the situation and how I wondered if I could hire her to answer the phone for a day, she said, "I will do it.  Absolutely, but you are not paying me for it.  If I can't do a favor for you without you paying me, I won't do it."

"I love you," I simply said.

"Don't think anything of it, I am happy to help."

Trying to argue over the whole money thing, she interrupts...

"Love you...have a good day!"

Another life that has been changed by this baby.  We have known each other for years, but this baby whose birth we celebrate this week, has united us and grown a love for one another and His kingdom that can only be explained in Jesus.

And how about when Jesus shows up in a ballcap?  Another individual who would testify that this baby changes everything dropped by Saturday with a $25 gift card to Applebee's that he wanted me to deliver to someone in Rock Valley - someone that God laid on our hearts moments after he left.  You can read more about this at the link above, or read what Jennifer has posted over at Getting Down With Jesus.

This Jesus in a ballcap is someone of modest means, but "this baby" changed everything in his life, so much so that he followed the Spirit's prompting and scratched out 28 names of willing elves in some 30 seconds who God would use to spread $700 of Christmas cheer this week.

A baby changes everything!

He has for a mother whose son is in prison.  He has for a group of guys who were willing to spend a weekend behind bars because His plans for their lives are not what their plans are.

A baby changes everything, indeed.

As I sit here this afternoon, I am overwhelmed by the number of people I know whose lives have been turned around by this baby.  I am overwhelmed by the depths and degree to which this baby has changed everything in my life.  What matters, what I think about, what I desire.  This baby has changed EVERYTHING!

My prayer during this Christmas week is that a baby changes everything for you.  My prayer is that if you are struggling, that this baby would change everything.  My prayer is that if you are in a good place, that you still might let this baby change everything, that he might lead you in directions and ways you never imagined.

The last verse of this Faith Hill song says: 
"My whole life has turned around,
  I was lost but now I'm found,
  A baby changes everything,
  A baby changes everything!"

May it be true for me, may it be true for you!

"An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you:  You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'  - "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
Luke 2:9-12, 15

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Jesus in a ballcap

I laid awake last night - and again this morning - wondering what it was that this would-be visitor wanted.  Why would he drive all the way over here?  What did he have for me?

I got a message a day or two ago telling me he wanted to drop by Saturday morning.

"Will you be around Saturday morning?," he asked via that wonderful social networking tool, Facebook.

"I should be," I said.  "I don't have much going on," I replied.

"Good, I will drop by around 9:30," he told me.

And so I wondered what this might be about, but I really was clueless.  I didn't give it much serious thought even, until last night.

Wednesday I began to catch wind of a phenenom sweeping through northwest Iowa that began with the Spirit's prompting of this person while he was at work.  As the prompting persisted, he told me it became clear that it was time to begin writing this down.

And so he did.

Some 28 names were penned on a sheet of 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 yellow note paper - with instructions on how to bless others - names that came to him in about 30 seconds Tuesday, he told me at 9:35 this morning.

People from various walks of life, but all people within this man's "community."

Most of the names had already been crossed off, mine was one of the last to be delivered.

His instructions were pretty simple:  give this to someone in Rock Valley that God lays on your heart, tell them "God cares for you and so do I," and then let me know that it has been delivered.

Tears filled my eyes and a warmth invaded my heart as I realized that I was one of the 28 called to be blessed by being a blessing for someone else this Christmas.

We talked for a couple of minutes about God's prompting; some of the stories and comments that he has experienced through the past few days; the act of obedience to part with the $700 he has spent on $25 Applebee's gift cards to fulfill this blessing; and then exchanged a Spirit-filled hug and wished one another a Merry Christmas.

The words to a simple, yet prophetic hymn filled my heart as he drove away - one we have both experienced in the past couple of years as the Gift has been received and become a part of who we are.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me!
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me!
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me!
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me!

Jesus came knocking this morning in a ballcap and jeans!  This man has certainly had the Spirit of the living God fall afresh on him - and I am here to testify that it is a beautiful thing! To see Jesus at work in one's life to the point of obedient sacrifice is a testament to God's greatness and this persons devotion to the Gift.

God's gift to us was a baby, born in a manger - a dirty, grungy stable - the most humble of settings.  Today, God sent his Spirit to my doorstep to do his bidding in the most humble of servants.

Pretty cool, our God!

I willingly accepted the call to deliver this gift card and will be doing so later this afternoon.  The perfect recipient was laid on my wife Kathy's heart, and we will humbly pass on to this person the words "God cares for you and so do we," just as Jesus in the ballcap asked that we do.

Another way that I am able to experience grace and peace in this lifetime.

If you would like to read more about this piece of yellow paper and the blessings it is bring about, I encourage you to check out Getting Down With Jesus .

Another way to see some rich blessings this Christmas is to click to the Ten Dollar Blessing at What I Learned Today!

Grace and Peace this Christmas!

Thursday, December 17, 2009


"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you; to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call on me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you." 
Jeremiah 29:11-14

One of my favorite verses!

One of my wife's favorite passages, as well.  Each time I get into the vehicle she drives, there it sits near the gas gauge to be read by whoever is sitting behind the wheel.

The verse is imprinted on my heart and really not one I have to read anymore, as I know it.  And when I say I know it, I mean I KNOW it!

It is a meaty piece of scripture.  It gives God's promise that he has plans for us - that when we go to him he will listen to us (that still just blows me away!) - and that he will be found by us when we seek after him.

Simply astonishing, isn't it?  I don't understand why, other than to attribute it to the greatness of my Savior!

I spent last weekend with some members of my Christian community inside the walls of the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility, a medium security prison affectionately know as "Gladiator Camp," helping conduct a spiritual retreat for the inmates of this facility.

To say that they Spirit is alive and well would be an understatement.  And to say that He performed miraculous signs and wonders inside the walls of this prison would be, too.  Lives were forever changed inside those walls last weekend - the lives of the inmates as well as the volunteers from the outside who ventured in to be God's hands and feet.

Prison is a dark, cold place where even the meekest of young men is forced to put on this rugged, tough persona that only God can tear down and rebuild.  There is so much pain, suffering and torment in the lives of these guys that it really breaks my heart.  To see guys having to live in a 6x9x7 cell with two or three other men - that's right - two or three other men - and to endure all that comes along with being on the inside simply rips my heart out.

My wife and I have four children, the oldest of whom is now pushing 16.  She isn't too much younger than some of the offenders I spent last weekend with.  The men with whom I shared a table have been on my heart all week long, as has another young man with whom a connection was sparked almost immediately.

Growing up not too far from the community in which I reside, we hit it off.  We talked a lot about life, Jesus, and how he hopes to function when he gets out and is back to life on the streets.  I hope to be able to be part of his life on the streets.

He brought pictures of his family one day, pictures of his younger brother and his little sister.  He spoke of his mother and even gave me her name.

We all said our goodbyes on Sunday evening and we ventured home.  My table guys on my heart, and this young man, too.  Throughout the day Monday I had this feeling that I needed to follow through on, so around 5:30 I did it.

Remember our oldest child is not too much younger than some of these guys.  The parenting instinct me just aches for parents on the outside whose children are doing time!  The feelings of guilt, the pain of carrying around the fact that your son is locked up and having to exist in prison, and everything else a normal person would think of is unbearable.

I felt all day long like I needed to reach for the phone and let this mother know that I had spent the weekend with her son, that he had a great weekend, and that he had someone on the outside both praying for him and hoping to be part of his life when he reenters society.

And so I did it?

The phone rings and I have a sense of peace as it is answered.

"Hi, my name is Chris Godfredsen and I live in Rock Valley."

"Okay," says the mother.  "Hi."

"The reason I am calling tonight is to tell you that I spent the weekend with your son in Fort Dodge and we had a great weekend."

Sobbing is what I heard on the other end of the line.  Crying like you rarely hear.

"My wife and I have four kids of our own and I can only imagine what it must be like for you, so I wanted to let you know that he has someone out here, other than his family, who loves him and will be here for him when he gets out."


We got disconnected, but the line rang immediately.

"I am sorry," she said.  "I am sorry for crying and for hanging up."

We talked for a while longer and I was blessed tremendously through our conversation.  We talked a bit about the weekend, who each other is and discovered that we even do a little business with one another.

We said goodbye, wished each other a Merry Christmas and hung up.

I shared the conversation with my wife and we both prayed for this family, I know.

Tuesday morning upon arriving at my office I had two blank emails from this mother, so I typed her a note to tell her how good it was to visit and that I remain in prayer for her son and all of those guys who touched my heart last weekend.

This is her reply.  I share it not as not to prop myself up, cuz there is nothing worth propping, if you know what I mean.  I share it as a testament to God's amazing grace and desire to use his people:

"I feel badly for losing control of my emotions last night so instantly after you called.  (My son) had been on my heart so much yesterday and I was yearning to know how everything went. Your first words to me 'I spent the weekend with your son' felt like they were not only coming from you but also directly from God, telling me He was there with (my son), too. It was the most powerful statement I think I have ever heard, Chris. I feel and carry the loneliness (my son) lives in every day and I know I can't even feel it as deeply as he does and then to hear that you spent the weekend with my son - spent time with him - gave of your time, was an overwhelming emotion to know and realize he wasn't alone last weekend.

(My son) has such a beautiful heart. I feel I have let him down in so many ways and I wish there was a rewind button to push to see if something different would have made a bigger impact on his life and his decisions. I love him more than he will ever know and want to see him thrive. I know and believe God has wonderful things planned for him! He just needs to believe it as well.  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD.

Thank you seems so inadequate.  What a blessing your ministry is to inmates and also their families!  I would love to know more about your ministry and how we can help support you.

Merry Christmas to you and your family! You gave us the most precious gift last night with your call!"

I sometimes I have no clue what it is that I am doing - okay, confession time:  Most of the time I don't have a clue what it is that I am doing, but I do know that increasingly I am trying to following God's leading in my life."


I know that his plans for me are to experience increasing measures of his grace and peace and that I need to live the words of the prophet Isaiah, spoken in Isaiah 6:8:  Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

What does all of this mean from here on out, with these inmates and this one particular family?  God knows, and I trust him fully, because I know - KNOW - the plans he has for me are plans to prosper me and not to harm me - to give me hope and a future.  I simply pray that I can be obedient when opportunities are presented me like this one was - to be His voice to a mother who is carrying the burden of a son doing time, to be the arms hugging an inmate who simply needs the love of Jesus in his life.

How about you?  Does someone need to hear from you today?  Does someone need to be touched by God through you today?

Grace and Peace!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Of Tiger's, Wolves and Vipers

I am a newspaper publisher in a small Northwest Iowa community who is here to confess that I rarely read, watch or listen to the national news anymore.  The entire scene rather sickens me and tends to be a sad commentary on who we are as a people.

Early this week the news broke of Tiger Woods having a car accident near his palatial mansion in Windemere, FL.  As the details of the story continue to unfold it would appear that Woods has a number of issues going on in his life that are rather unfortunate and a cause of a great deal of pain in his inner circle.

I haven't paid any attention to this situation because I seem to have enough issues in my life to contend with to not feel the need to enter into his.  I know there was a time in my life when I did and I found it somehow beneficial for me to discuss with other people who know absolutely nothing about the situation. 

Having steered clear of this mess, intentionally, I was rather bothered yesterday afternoon when the emails began popping up of the supposed "Woods Family Christmas" card depicting a beaten up Tiger standing next to his golf club-wielding wife.

Ugghhh!  I suspect that the late night talk show hosts, who are hardly exempt for issues in their own lives, are having a field day with this as well.

As I continue in my quest to experience grace and peace in this life I am left beaten up by this news and the worlds reaction to it.  I am also bothered by the fight I learned of that took place in our school this week.

Two young men got into a rumble.  The one comes from an incredibly dysfunctional home.  The other is Hispanic.  They fight because the Hispanic calls the other boy "Stinky," the other boy calls the Hispanic boy "Beaner" and a fist-fight later the boys are on three-day out of school suspension.

Then there is the ex-con who has been arrested for a string of burglaries in the area and appears headed back inside, leaving his wife and family behind. 

There is so much negativity and so much evil at work all around us, and so often those seemingly unaffected seem to find it appropriate to talk about or comment on these situations like a bunch of wolves.

Jesus Christ came into this world so that we might have life and have it to the full - that everyone might have it to the full.  Even people like Tiger, my friend the ex-con and these fighting youngsters.

John 10:7-12 reads:  Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.  He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.

In all of these earthly situations, the thief has come to steal and kill and destroy.  The wolf prowls around waiting for someone to destroy but Jesus came that we may have life and have it to the full!

As a follower of Christ, it is the desire of my heart to be more and more like Jesus so that I might have life to the full.  I know that I fail miserably in so many ways every day, but I pray that I am not a wolf in these situations.

I pray also that I am not a viper.

Matthew 12:34 says:  "You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." 

Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks!  If telling jokes about Tiger, mocking individuals of different ethnic and/or social standing, or gossiping about any thing similar is the overflow of our hearts - well, that is why I don't watch the news, I guess!

This is rampant in the world, and in the church, too!  This need to make light of someone else's issues and transgressions to somehow prop ourselves up to look better is everywhere and is not what Jesus wants for his people. 

Perhaps I don't have a sense of what is funny and what isn't any more?  Perhaps I have seen enough pain, suffering and agony to last a lifetime?  I don't know, but I don't think people desiring to follow Jesus ought to enter in this territory.

"All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time."  I Peter 5: 5-6

Readers of this blog know that I love music.  Jason Upton's prophetic music is some that really speaks to me.    His song "Glory Come Down" hits me between the eyes on this point.

"The church is sick, in need of God alone" it says.  "People, we must seek his face.  If we'll turn from our unrighteousness, he'll forgive our evil ways."

Check out the video here.

It is time that we seek His face, isn't it?  There is so much hurt and pain in this world.  I pray for eyes to see those who are hurting.  I ask you, Jesus, for ears to hear their pain and anguish; and I pray for hearts to be open to your leading in this area.  I pray, Jesus, that we humble ourselves before you, and one another, as we walk through this life together.

"The church is sick and in need of God alone!"  The world is sick and in need of God alone, friends, that is why he sent His son - to save the Tiger's and to fend off the wolves and vipers.

Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.  Jude 2:2

Grace and Peace


Thursday, November 5, 2009


I got up this morning the same way I do everyday.  The routine was much the same, putting my pants on one leg at a time, etc., etc.

On Sunday we heard a message preaching Ephesians 6, putting on the armor of God to defend ourselves from the devil’s evil schemes. 

On two separate occasions on Monday, I had conversations with individuals who used that piece of scripture in conversation with me, sharing how as followers of Christ we must put on the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth and to wield the sword – the Word – in battle.

Now I am a slow learner, but as it was preached on Sunday I was moved to an increasing sense of the need to put on my armor and to make use of it.  Then to hear it used on Monday afternoon and again Monday night, well, let’s just say I believe that perhaps it is time to devour the scriptures once again in an attempt to ward off the devil’s evil schemes.

So I find myself in the scriptures, eating the Word, pondering the Word and began to study the book of Colossians in the last couple of evenings.

Having completely gone through the book each of the past two evenings, it is foremost on my mind today…particularly this piece of scripture from Paul’s letter to the church of Colosse.

Hear these words from Colossians 3:12-14 (The Message): “So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.”


Seems to me that God is concerned with what I am “wearing.”  It is interesting that I have been on a mission to rid myself of much excess baggage.  It is no secret to anyone who has read this blog before that I am not a tiny person, and I often use self-deprecating comments to the effect that I am 6-5 and 475 pounds.

This is a fact that I have not been proud of, the act of gluttony that led to the mass of a man that I have become.  Seeing a neighbor who had lost a pile of weight inspired me, and so did the phone call that I received one morning several weeks ago.

“Hi, where are you?,” my wife asked on the other end.

“I am at the store,” I said.

“What are you doing?,” she asked.

“Getting a roll and some pop.”

“A roll?,” she asked.

“Well, two rolls,” I said.

If you are married, you will understand what I am talking about when sometimes your spouse doesn’t really have to say anything to express their level of displeasure with you.

I hung up busted, dejected and motivated.  I ate the rolls and drank my final Coke.

To date, I have shed 55 pounds and am nearing the weight I listed on my driver’s license more than 17 years ago…one of the first times I have been able to say so during that span of time.

The clothes I have been wearing are now hanging off my much smaller body and I have been forced to order and re-order garments.  I love it!  It has been a very satisfying reward for sticking to my diet while my family continues to eat my wife’s amazing cooking. 

As I was folding some of my now way-to-big-to-wear pants last evening, I felt pretty good seeing the two pairs of dress pants and two pairs of jeans that I can now wear.  More are on the way, and I hope now that I am able to live at this weight.

I guess that is what I find interesting.  While the diet has reduced my physical stature by some 25 inches around the chest, midsection, beltline, bicep and thigh; and physically I feel great; and I have these nice new clothes, God is concerned with what I am clothing myself with.

First, the full armor of God to fight against the devil’s evil schemes, and now he give me Colossians 3:12-14.

“So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.”

A couple of situations that are of concern to Kathy and I include teenagers (not ours, far as we know) drinking, and a family who has had their girls placed in foster care. 

What do we do with this stuff?  What is our responsibility?  How do we pray?  What do we do, God?  These are questions that I continue to run through my mind and contemplate.

Perhaps it has to do with my attire?  What do you think?  Perhaps we need to put on compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength and discipline?  Perhaps we need to put on the armor of God and wield the sword?

What do you think?  What are you wearing?

Father, God, as I walk around in new clothes that you have blessed me with, I pray, Father, that what really matters is that I am wearing your armor; that I am dressed in the wardrobe that you picked out for me: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength and discipline.  I pray that while physical health matters in my desire to serve you, that my attire, God, would be yours!  Amen

Grace and Peace

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Beware of those dogs!

Chris Gardner spent much of his adult life in search of all the world promises in the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness.”  He was a door-to-door salesman before he finally convinced someone in the world of finance to give him a chance.

The day of his interview, he has to run from the police station in those duds and then try to make an impression to land a job.  While he looked horrible, he was convincing enough to get an opportunity at what he believed would lead to happiness.  Gardner wound up being highly successful and achieved more worldly success than most of us could ever dream of in this movie, which was actually a true story.

Many of us understand his pursuit and can relate to it at least on some level, can’t we?  As 21st century Americans one of our greatest desires is to be happy, isn’t it?  A big part of my life’s story involves that pursuit. First it was athletic success, then it became working my tail off to achieve this or to have that – to be, well, happy!

For some, the cost for this quote-unquote happiness is very high!  As defined by the world, happiness means slaving away to amass a fortune, or to be able to buy the boat, the nice car, or to dine in fancy restaurants.  In Rock Valley, it is even defined by a sign that gets stuck up nearly every winter that has Charlie Brown and Snoopy on it.  The sign reads:  “Happiness is a trip to State.” 

What does happiness look like for you? 

Merriam-Webster defines happiness like this:  “enjoying or characterized by well-being and contentment.”

That sounds nice, doesn’t it? But do you know anyone who lives in the pursuit of happiness who is truly content?  Doesn’t the pursuit continue because we are not content, or because we don’t take time to be content with what we have…or where we are…or to be content with what we are doing?

As I ponder this pursuit it makes we wonder a number of things, including: where do we – if we are people pursuing happiness – turn when we are not well, our circumstances are terrible and/or we can’t seem to find contentment?  What then?  Where do we turn then?
You see, happiness as defined by the world is characterized by well-being, which often translates into having.  What happens when the economy turns sour as it has? Where have you turned?  Do we turn to the government to bail us out?  Do we turn to things that make us feel better in the short term – thinks like overeating, drinking, laying around being lazy?

What happens when hope is lost and we get that cancer diagnosis?  It would be pretty tough to be happy in those circumstances, wouldn’t it? I would think so, given the fact that living with cancer is hardly characterized by well-being and contentment!

What would happen if we lost an athletic event that we believe could define us?  If happiness and our lives are wrapped up in a game, and we lose?  What then?

In a search through the concordance in the back of my NIV Study Bible, I found 32 instances of the word happy or happiness mentioned in the scriptures.  Not bad, huh?  Nearly three dozen instances where the notion of being happy or happiness is mentioned?

No, not bad - until you consider that scripture references the word joy or joyful 234 times!!!!!  With the definition of the word happiness being so atypical of “the world,” wouldn’t it make sense that God has a greater desire for our lives?

Hear these words from Philippians 3:1-8 – “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord!  It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 
“Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.  For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh – though I myself have reasons for such confidence. 
“If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more; circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church, as for legalistic, righteousness, faultless.
“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”

I love Paul!  He cuts right to it in his letter to the Philippians.

First, Paul exhorts the readers of this letter to “rejoice in the Lord.”  I would think that would always be a good idea.

Then he says, “Beware of them dawgs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.”  Them’s fighting words in those days because many provided aggressive opposition to the gospel Paul preached, so he takes them head on here with regard to the seriousness of their errors and their destructive, ‘devouring’ behaviors.

Them dawgs might be people who lead us astray, who are leading us away from Jesus.  Them dawgs might be things that lead us astray, too like alcohol, television, shopping, eating, gossiping, athletic achievement, or whatever else  “mutilates the flesh” and pulls us away from a posture of rejoicing in the Lord.

Paul understands these things and that is why he warns the church in Philippi to watch out.  He has been there and done that, he tells them.  Once a Hebrew of Hebrews, once a Pharisee with regard to the law, once a preeminent persecutor of the church and murderer, he was also about the world and what satisfied his own desires – what made him happy.

Not that I have already attained all this, but I can say the same thing.  Been there and done that.  Them dawgs controlled much of my life, they were where I ran when things weren’t going my way – when I wasn’t happy.  Anything to relieve the pain, frustration, irritation, lowly feelings – them dawgs were constantly nipping at my heels.

But in verses seven and eight, Paul explains life after an encounter with Jesus – his encounter with Jesus.

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”

Those things that used to make Paul happy he considers rubbish – garbage – compared to the joy found in knowing Jesus Christ!  Compared to the joy that accompanies the saving grace of Jesus.

Several passages in the gospel of John connect this thought.

Hear these words from John 15:11 – “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

John 16:22 says – “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

The word joy, in the original Greek, was Chara:  the joy received from you; or the cause or occasion of joy.

Webster defines joy as a “source or cause of delight.”

The verses from the gospel are Jesus’ words to his disciples.  They are intended to help us understand that the way of Jesus is never dreary or bland – that knowing him more and more will complete their joy – it’s a joy that cannot be removed by the assaults of this world – by them dawgs!

Tom shared with us the thought of living in two worlds last week, giving us great examples of what that looked like in the lives of the two couples he shared with us, particularly the two men – Harold and Michael. 

If you are like me, maybe you find yourself living in two worlds.  Perhaps it’s all the time, a continual wrestling match with trying to be happy in the world while also going to church.  Perhaps this issue of happiness – and the burden that accompanies that pursuit – is becoming more fleeting for you and you are beginning to understand joy and to seek it more and more.

I don’t know where you are today, and I don’t know where your heart is, either.  The fact of the matter is that there are two worlds in which we live and move and breathe.  One is of this world, the other is not.

One is the pursuit of happiness, the other the pursuit of Jesus and the joy that comes from an increasing understanding of who he is, how much he loves us and just exactly what it is that he did for us, and wants for us.

One world consists of all of them dawgs nipping away with nowhere to turn.  The other exists with hope and a place to turn that will never leave us nor forsake us, even when them dawgs are nipping at our heels.

Paul was forever encouraging the churches whom he wrote to be joyful.  In Romans 12:12 we read:  “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer.”  I Thessalonians 5:16 says:  “Be joyful always.”

How do we do that, we ask?  These two worlds we live in are different worlds, and their focus is different.  The pursuit of happyness is about who, usually?  Me!

The pursuit of Jesus and being like him is focused on JOY – Jesus first, Others next and Yourself last!  The greatest way to live a life of joy is to try to live like this, I would imagine.  “Wouldn’t you?

Jesus first, others next and yourselves last!

But, how do we do that?

1.)  Open the Word and learn about Jesus.  Discover who he is, what he lived for and everything that he encompasses.
2.)  Pray.  Talk to God regularly, ask him to take away your desires for happiness, to help you rid yourself of them dawgs, to give you a desire to read the Bible, and so on.
3.)  Serve others and do things for others just as He did.

I trust that if we live a life of JOY, that we might be able to take some of the bite out of them dawgs and that our joy may be made complete!

 “May the god of hope fill you with joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  - Romans 15:13