Friday, November 29, 2013

Christmas Time Is Here!

I love this time of year!  Well, at least for the most part.  I must admit there are things about this season that get under my skin, but still it is my favorite time of year.  How could I not get excited about the time of year we celebrate the birth of our Savior.  Now, for those of you who understand that Jesus was not born on December 25th and find it necessary to let me know, I already know that.  I am less concerned about the when and more concerned about the "Who." In my house we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  We have a Christmas tree, we exchange gifts, we watch Christmas movies, we're thankful for what we have, and Jesus is the center of it all.  

I know we live in a culture that seems to forget the true meaning of this season every year.  Perhaps I have an idealistic memory of the past, but I seem to remember a time when this time of year was not so crazy.  A time when Christmas wasn't about standing in line waiting for a store to open so we could save a buck.  A time when Christmas wasn't about fitting all the parties I must attend into my schedule.  A time when a baby in a manger didn't offend somebody.  A time when the word "Christmas" didn't incite a political debate.  Sometimes I'm left scratching my head and wondering how in the world we ever got here.

Looking back at that first Christmas, it seems that we are not that much different than those who lived during that time.  No, they didn't hit the malls late on Thanksgiving Day, but they were clueless to the fact that they were right smack dab in the middle of the greatest event in the history of the world.  Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of his day for not being able to discern the season they were in.  While that was some 30 years after his birth, that truth holds true for the season of His birth as well.  God was up to something.  Something absolutely incredible and most of the world was so caught up doing life that they completely missed what was going on.

Santa, Rudolph, Frosty, retailers, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and everything else can help us lose track of what this season is all about if we aren't careful. While Jesus came as the Prince of Peace, we'll find ourselves stressed out and burned out during this time if we fall into the pit our culture digs for us. 

Nine months prior to His arrival, Gabriel came to announce His birth to the virgin Mary.  From that moment on she had a constant reminder that Christmas was on its way.  While the rest of the world failed to recognize the season they were in, because she was pregnant with this Christ Child, she never lost sight of it.  Christ was in her and everyday she was reminded that Christmas time was here. 

The world will always miss it.  They'll always find something else to center this season around.  Because Christ is not the center of their world, how could we ever expect Him to be the center of this season for them.  But as Believers we have Christ in us.  Like Mary, we have Him living in us reminding us that Christmas time is here.  Reminding us of a special day when God came to earth in the form of a little baby.  A baby who would change our destiny.  A baby who would save our lives. The date on the calendar is irrelevant.  What's important is that He came and that we celebrate His coming.

This season, I'll venture out a time or two to shop for those I love.  That's a huge sacrifice for me because I don't like to shop during the non-Christmas season.  I'll put up our Christmas tree.  I'll put lights on the house. I'll watch Christmas movies with my family.  I'll go to Christmas parties.  I'll sit in front of the fire with my wife, Lori.  I'll spend time with family and friends.  And all the while I'll try desperately to make sure that Jesus is the center of it all. But that's not something unique to this time of year.  While Christmas is a holy time for me, so is January thru November.  If I could I'd leave up my Christmas lights year round.  But I'm the light of the world.  What's more important is that I keep my light on year round. That includes this season. 

Christmas time is here.  Yes, a Child was born.  A Savior, a King was given.  God has come to us.  In the middle of all the hoopla, that's what I'll be focused on this season!      

Sunday, November 24, 2013

I'm Thankful For...

I’m thankful for a God who’s real
I’m thankful for a God who always has been and always will be
I’m thankful for a God who is my refuge and my hiding place
I’m thankful for a God who is my defender
I’m thankful for a God who is my deliverer
I’m thankful for a God who rescued me
I’m thankful for a God who didn’t allow my sin to dictate my destiny
I’m thankful for a God who redeemed me
I’m thankful for a God who didn’t allow my sin to eternally separate me from Him
I’m thankful for a God who saw my fallen state and refused to leave me there.
I’m thankful for a God who didn’t ignore my sin or sweep it under a rug
I’m thankful for a God who dealt with my sin once and for all
I’m thankful for a God who chose an old rugged cross to purchase my salvation
I’m thankful for a God who chose to pour out His judgment, for my sin, on His Son
I’m thankful for a God who paid the ultimate price to save me
I’m thankful for a God who was willing to send His Son, His only Son, to die in my place
I’m thankful for a Savior who was beaten and bruised for me
I’m thankful for a Savior who was wounded for my transgressions and bruised for my iniquities
I’m thankful for a Savior by who’s stripes I’m healed
I’m thankful for a Savior whose blood doesn’t put a Band-Aid on my sin
I’m thankful for a Savior whose blood washes away my sin and cleanses me from all unrighteousness
I’m thankful for a Savior who insisted on becoming my sin
I’m thankful for a Savior who not only carried all my sin to the cross but He nailed them there
I’m thankful for a God who extended mercy to me…someone who didn’t deserve it or earn it
I’m thankful for a God who refused to give me what I deserved
I’m thankful for a God who insisted on giving me what I did not deserve and could not earn on my own.
I’m thankful for His amazing gift of grace
I’m thankful for a God who raised my Savior from the dead
I’m thankful that I’ve been resurrected with Him into new life
I’m thankful that His victory over death has granted me that very same victory
I’m thankful for a God who has given me absolute and complete victory over sin and death
I’m thankful for a God who refused to reject me
I’m thankful for a God who has chosen me to be a Son
I’m thankful for a God who has chosen to adopt me into His family
I’m thankful for a God, the Creator of the Universe, who has chosen to be my daddy
I’m thankful for a God who wants to be in relationship with me forever
I’m thankful for a God who’s not far away on some distant planet
I’m thankful for a God who’s right here with me
I’m thankful for a God who never leaves me nor forsakes me
I’m thankful for a God who loves me without condition
I’m thankful for a God who knows me best, yet loves me most
I’m thankful for a God who loved me at my worst and accepts me just as I am
I’m thankful for a God who loves me so much He refuses to leave me just as I am   
I’m thankful for a God who won’t leave me alone and won’t facilitate my flesh’s desire to be coddled
I’m thankful for a God who has clothed me in His righteousness
I’m thankful for a God who is my Provider
I’m thankful for a God who supplies all of my needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus
I’m thankful for a God who has made me more than a conqueror
I’m thankful for a God who always causes me to triumph
I’m thankful for a God who has made available to me all things that pertain to life and godliness
I’m thankful for a God who is my Comforter, my Counselor, and my Advocate
I’m thankful for a God who leads me, guides me, and instructs me
I’m thankful for a God who is concerned with every little detail of my life
I’m thankful for a God who has a plan and purpose for my life
I’m thankful for a God who is my source of peace and joy.
I’m thankful for a God who empowers me to live righteously
I’m thankful for a God whose faithful
I’m thankful for a God who is unshakable and unchanging
I’m thankful for a King whose kingdom knows no end
I’m thankful for a King who sits on the throne forever
I’m thankful for a King who rules with justice and integrity
I’m thankful for a King who has all authority and all power
I’m thankful for a King who has gone to prepare a place for me
And I'm thankful that one day very soon, this King, my King, will split the eastern sky and return as King of kings, and Lord of lords!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Lesson Learned

tim stone - fly fishing
Finally, I got it right.  Not every time but at least a few times.  I had waded out into the river with my fly rod.  I was less interested in catching a fish and more interested in just casting this thing right.  From 10 to 15 feet, I had it down pretty good.  But whenever I tried beyond that it was truly an adventure.  In the past, I had hooked my hat, hit my sunglasses with the fly hook, and tangled the line many times.  So, here I was determined to get this thing right finally.  Just like every time before, I struggled.  I just couldn't cast my line further than a few feet without making a mess of the line.  Then, I looked down river to see two veteran fly fishermen.

One was an elderly man who started on the shore line, casting with absolute perfection.  It wasn't long and like me he was knee deep in the water casting like I only wished I could.  I watched him.  I studied his form. He was like a conductor, directing a symphony.  Back and forth he waved his fly rod and his line flowed through the air in a flawless rhythm. I began to mimic his moves, trying to reproduce his perfect form.  I would mess up, then watch him again, then give it another shot.  Over and over I repeated this process until finally my 15 foot cast turned into 25 feet,  then to 30 then to  40.  It wasn't perfect every time, but by the time I was done, I was doing it right more times than I was doing it wrong. I went from being frustrated to having a blast.  Time and time again I cast that line out there without ever even considering catching a fish. 

After an hour and half, I made my way back to the shore.  I collected my gear and as I walked to my car I glanced several more times at my "mentor" and his flawless form.  I didn't get his name. I didn't even officially meet him.  There was too great a distance between us to carry on a conversation.  He's probably even completely unaware that he played the role of teacher and mentor that day.  Yet, he did. He taught this beginner fly fisherman how to cast a fly line.

After that experience, I'm left thinking how many times in life have I missed those opportunities to learn from those around me?  In my younger years I was convinced I was so smart and just didn't value many opportunities to learn.  As I grew older, I just failed to recognize the opportunities I had around me to learn. As I read the gospels, I think the disciples were much like that.  They missed so many opportunities to learn.  Jesus, was constantly in teaching mode.  Unlike my "mentor" that day, Jesus was aware there was a group constantly watching Him.  Often He would present a truth to them orally, then follow that up with a hands-on lesson.  Many times they missed both learning opportunities.  For instance, Jesus miraculously fed the multitude.  He pulled off what seemed to be absolutely impossible.  The disciples were wowed by it, but didn't really learn much from it.  Again, Jesus miraculously feeds the multitude.  Again, the disciples are wowed by the miracle but didn't learn much.  Later on, they were in the boat with Jesus and concerned that they had forgotten to bring enough food for themselves to eat.  Do you see the humor in that?  Jesus, has pulled off an incredible miracle twice, by feeding thousands of people with an amount of food that was incapable of feeding even the 12 disciples.  Yet, the disciples are worried that on this occasion that they don't have enough food to eat.  Needless to say, they struggled to learn the lesson that feeding our bellies was no problem for Jesus.

I laugh when I read that story, but I often see myself just like them.  I've missed so many lessons along the way that are right there in front of my nose. The disciples walked with Jesus.  Along that journey they were constantly blown away by all the things He did.  Jesus was indeed a miracle worker.  But, beyond that, He was a teacher, mentor, and guide.  His intent was not just to "wow" the disciples, it was also to teach them.  It was to help change the way they thought, the way they lived, and how they viewed God.  Jesus made a practice of putting the truth right in front of their noses for the purpose of teaching them something. He was less interested in "wowing" them and more interested in changing them.    

I was "wowed" by this veteran fly fisherman.  But, that alone did little for me.  I could have left that afternoon with this complete since of awe over this man's ability to command a fly line.  However, I would still be a frustrated fly fisherman with a complete inability to cast a line further than a few feet.  The disciples were blown away when Jesus fed the multitudes, but were somehow worried that their cupboard was bare.  Wowed but unchanged?  That's not God's idea. God indeed wants us to be in awe of Him, but He also wants to grow us, stretch us, and teach us right smack dab in the middle of those moments of awe. I'm no longer a frustrated fly fisherman poser.  I can cast that fly line with my Wooly Bugger on the end of it and put it where I want to put it.  I loved being wowed by that veteran fly fisherman but I'm more excited with the fact that I've been changed.  Now, time to catch some fish!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Hey Solomon, I Found Her

I'm an extremely rich man. Now, if you saw my bank account, you might try to argue that statement. I seldom have much left at the end of each month.  So if wealth is only determined by dollars and cents then using the term "rich" to describe me would be a huge statement of faith or a complete lie.  But wealth is determined by much more than bank accounts and monetary assets.

"Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies." I'm rich because I've found that virtuous woman.  I've found that woman whose price is far above any of this earth's riches.  No, that's not hopeful thinking.  It's not a declaration of faith.  It's a statement of fact.  As I read the rest of this description of a virtuous woman laid out in Proverbs 31, I can't help but think it was written with my wife, Lori, in mind.

I'm not sure how she does all she does. On any given day she gets more done than most do in a week.  She wakes early in the morning and has coffee with Jesus before anyone else is awake.  She teaches our two boys at Stone Life Academy. She makes sure the clothes are washed, dishes are clean, pantry is full, and everyone is fed.  Somehow she finds the time to be my partner in ministry and run our home business, Lone Star Soap Barn. I'm exhausted just listing some of the things she does.

She's an incredible mother. She celebrates her boys victories big and small.  She believes in them, encourages them, and inspires them.  She doesn't spend her time trying to make them who she wants them to be but strives to discover who God has made them and partners with Him in helping them become who they are.  She cuddles without coddling and loves without condition.  Her boys think the world of her and if asked they'll tell you she's the best mom in the world.

As a wife she has no equal.  She knows me best yet somehow manages to love me most. That alone is an amazing fete.  She's my biggest fan, my closest confidant, and my best friend.  She honors me in every possible way.  She encourages me when I'm down, tells me the truth when I need to hear it, and gives me grace when I fail. She makes me feel as if I can do just about anything.  She sacrifices constantly for me and never complains about it.  She listens when I need to talk and gives me space when I need it most.  She understands me better than anyone else yet wants to know me more.  She actually likes hanging out with me.  Who I am today is largely because of her.  I think her name must mean "grace" because I definitely don't deserve her yet God has blessed me with her anyway.  Like her boys I think the world of her and I'll let you know straight up, she's the best wife in the world.  

This week we'll celebrate 13 years since we made our lifelong commitment to one another.  I remember that day so well.  When I saw her walking down that aisle she took my breath away.  Now, 13 years later she still takes my breath away. 

King Solomon's mom knew what she was talking about when she declared that this "virtuous woman" was worth more than rubies.  He spent a lifetime in search of her.  Hey, Solomon I found her! Indeed she's worth more than all this world's riches.  Is it any wonder why I feel as if I'm the richest man in town. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Maybe Jesus Would Be In Favor Of Obamacare

I know, I know, you think I've fallen off my rocker.  But before you start making death threats, just hear me out.  First, I'm not real sure just how much the Great Physician concerns Himself with a socialistic healthcare program, but I'm certain He gives it less attention than we do.  That being said, I've been thinking along the lines of WWJD.  What would Jesus do?  What would He think about this whole debate.

Several years ago, I was watching television with my dad when this commercial came on television that was advertising a specialty tool.  It was the kind of commercial that claims an item is worth $500 but if you act today you can get 2 for only $19.95.  Not sure exactly what the cost was, but you get the picture.  This particular tool came with a free cordless drill.  Because I was not a cordless drill owner at the time, I told my dad that was a great offer.  Not only would I get the one of a kind tool, but I would get a cordless drill as well.  I remember his response well. "Son, its a piece of junk."  We continued to dialogue about it with me claiming how great this deal was and him repeating how it was nothing but a piece of junk.  I'm not sure if it was for my birthday or Christmas, but during one of those events I opened my present from him and there it was.  This one of a kind tool and the free cordless drill.  He was laughing and still claiming, "Its a piece of junk."

He was right.  Both the tool and the drill are completely worthless.  I actually still have both of them to remind me that sometimes the things we want aren't at all what we think they'll be when we get them.  My dad was pretty good at communicating lessons like that.  Like the time he let me shoot his .30-06 for the first time when I was a kid.  After warning me of how much it was going to kick and trying to talk me out of it, he gave me what I asked for.  Had he not caught me, I would have been flat on my back on the ground.  I handed him back his rifle and asked for the .22.  Lesson learned!

Thousands of years ago, Israel wanted a king.  It was not in their best interest, but they insisted.  So, God gave them a king.  A lying, insecure, people pleasing, prideful, cowardice king.  A king who refused to honor God.  This was only the beginning of spiral downward for them.  While they did have some good kings in the mix, this idea of a king that they insisted on was their way of rejecting God. Some of their kings sacrificed children to idols, ruled harshly, killed innocent people, and persecuted God's prophets.  If you'll follow their history, this led them down a road of destruction and bondage.

Prior to giving them a king, God warned them of the dangers to come.  He was extremely detailed in what the future held for them if they chose to go down this road.  He even told them that there would come a day when they would cry out to God to save them from this king and He would not listen.  In other words, He was letting them know that once they start down this road there is no turning back.  They were so head strong on this, however, and insisted on having a king.  So, they got what they wanted. I think its interesting that while the majority of the people wanted a king, there were some who opposed the idea.  Unfortunately for them, the majority got what they wanted.

In 2012, the majority of our nation voted for an administration that introduced this socialistic program of "affordable healthcare."  The negatives of this program have been carefully laid out for anyone wanting to understand them.  Still, the majority of Americans voted for an administration that is headstrong regarding the implementation of this program.  I'm just wondering if, like He was with Israel concerning their desire for a king, God is okay with giving the American people what they want.

I don't know, perhaps I'm completely in left field on this one.  I know we have a healthcare system that's broken.  When we had our first child we were cash payers.  We prepaid the cost of having our baby at the hospital but my wife, Lori, had to stay an extra night in the hospital.  Just before leaving the hospital we were hit with a bill of a little over $500 that had to be paid prior to leaving the hospital.  When I went downstairs to take care of it I was told that since we were cash payers this had to be paid before we left or we would receive a bill in the mail in excess of $8,000.  I looked at the lady in disbelief and asked if they took American Express.  Yes, its a broken system when as a cash payer I pay $500.00 but if I had insurance, my insurance company would be billed $8,000.  That being said, fixing our broken system with another broken system is ludicrous.  That's like spraying Febreze in a pig pin.  It doesn't fix the stink!  

I used my cordless drill once because it doesn't work.  With a fully charged battery it will not screw a single screw into a piece of wood.  It was free, but it's a complete piece of junk.  I've discovered through the years that a lot of times, things I want, when I get them, I wish I never had them. I'm wondering if the affordable healthcare program will be one of those things to the masses.  I also wonder if this whole healthcare thing would be a complete non-issue if the church was healing the sick like we were told to do by the very One we claim to follow? Perhaps, Jesus would answer the healthcare debate by laying hands on the sick. Perhaps, that's how we should answer it.  Of course its a lot easier to stand on a soap box than walk through a hospital ministering healing to those who need it.