And I'm so excited to gather for worship this evening. This is traditionally one of my favorite times of year to gather for worship. And a Christmas Eve gathering is for me always one of the best of all gatherings.
I read a survey that said 82% of people without a church are receptive to attend church if invited and escorted by a friend. That’s good news, isn’t it? Here’s the bad news. Only 21% of church-going Christians invited someone to church during 2009.
Maybe it's time to invite someone to church this Christmas. Maybe it's time to help them hear the message of God's incarnation in the fellowship of believers, and to experience it in friendship with a singular believer: you, me, us.
Here are some thoughts from Irma Bombeck. If you are not familiar with her work, she was a satirist and blue collar philosopher who published many books and brought many significant issues to the masses in America. She writes these thoughts in the empty nest season of her life and strangely I find them poignant to mile life though I am certainly NOT in an empty nest. Maybe they will be poignant to you too.
But the chimes hadn’t rung for a long time, even though kings & potentates had come to give gifts of gold & silver & precious gems. The chimes had not rung for a long, long time.
But one Christmas Eve a little peasant boy came down the aisle & knelt before the altar. As he thought about the Christ-child lying in a manger, he took off his tattered coat & laid it on the altar. When he did, the chimes rang loud & joyously.
Erma Bombeck wrote, "I’ve heard the chimes ring, too. I remember a Christmas when one of my sons brought me a piece of tattered construction paper on which he had tried to draw a picture of praying hands, & underneath the picture he had written, ’O Come, Holy Spit.’"
"When I saw that," she said, "I heard the chimes ring & I knew that a very special gift had been given."
"On another Christmas I received a shoebox all clumsily wrapped. When I opened it, I found two baseball cards & a piece of gum. Again I heard the chimes ring."
"And I heard the chimes ring the time when the kids got together & cleaned the garage & gave that as their Christmas present to me."
"Those days are long gone," she remembered, "days when we fashioned lace doilies into snow flakes, & pipe cleaners into Christmas trees. When we took empty spools & used them for candleholders. Those days are long gone."
"I remember little feet coming down the stairs with a hand-made gift all wrapped up in $2.00 worth of wrapping paper to put underneath the Christmas tree. Those little feet now wear panty hose & fashion boots."
"Little hands that used to break the piggy bank to get 59 cents to buy a Christmas gift, now hold credit cards that are good in any store in town."
"We’ll have a good Christmas this year," she said. "We’ll eat too much. We’ll mess up the living room & throw the warranties in the fire by mistake. We’ll put bows on the dog’s tail. We’ll take bites out of cookies & put them back in the plate. We’ll listen to Christmas songs, & have a good Christmas."
"But, Lord, what I wouldn’t give to bend over just one more time & receive some toothpicks held together by library paste & to hear the chimes ring - just one more time."
I love gardening. It's creative. It's solitary. It's tangible and measurable (I can tell immediately if I have been successful). I also love discipleship. It's relational. It's eternal. It's world-changing.
So lately I have been watching Dreamgirls (the movie made from the original Tony award winning Broadway show). I have watched it over and over again. The music continues to ring in my head. When I don't have the energy to sit through the whole movie, I'll often skip through to just the musical scenes.
Since our message yesterday, I have had a couple of you share with me ways that you think we can "elevate the renown of our personal God Yaweah in a worthless manner" (or as the NIV says - misuse the name of the Lord our God). I thought I would start a list here and see what you out there can add to it.
As Rhonda and I read today's reading from Through the Bible Through the Year, we embarked an an interesting conversation about faith and where Abram and Sarai succeeded and failed. At one point in the conversation I noted that I didn't think Sarai to be a very good wife. I believe that God-following couples should encourage one another toward deeper faith by the life they live out together.
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25
I'm cleaning up my message for tomorrow morning's worship gathering and have been considering holiness for a few moments. Here is a thought that will not make it into this message and might be worth sharing.
Failure is an event, not a person.
I love this thought. It clearly reminds me that although I will surely experience failure, I am not one. Maybe you too!
God does not look at us through the lens of our greatest failure, but through the lens of our greatest potential.
I think God likes it when we fail some. We learn so much that way. Faith grows that way. I think there is a way to fail forward. To fail for trying instead of failing for lack of effort. In the parable of the talents its the guy who feared failure that received the master's reproof.
So, go on. Try it. Try it real big and just call it an experiment so that if you fail, everyone around you will just be looking for what you learn instead of what you produce. And if the experiment is a success, God gets all the credit!
As I read through and meditated on today's quiet time in our guide for this week, I reflected even more on the idea of God's will.
OK, I read a post on an old friend's blog that bothered me. It bothered me because it was so mean spirited. It bothered me because it never came around to offer hope to anyone. It never came around to offer anyone something practical to use to grow closer to God or more like Him. But most of all, it bothered me because this friend used bad theology.
I'm still thinking about marriage from our message on Sunday and our daily devotional readings as well. I'm struck by how the idea of a man leaving his mother and father is so all-encompassing. I mean it was to leave all of the options behind. If your marriage was "not working out" there would be no where else for you to turn. The only other option WAS the household of your parents.
I'm preparing to begin my week of devotions on Creation with all of epic and with some of you, my blog companions. I don't have any comments on an entry yet because I have diligently resisted my desire to read ahead. I have researched a few additional scriptures for myself that I intend to add to my devoted time regimen this coming week. I thought I'd share them. I hope this helps you get started.
Job 38; Psalms 104, 148; and Isaiah 40
As you know by now, I'm really excited about "Through the Bible Through the Year." I have been resisting the urge to get started... so I have read some random entries far ahead in the schedule, hoping that they will be fresh again when I get to them. LOVE IT! I also really want to share the experience with all of epic. I am as excited about the sharing of the experience as I am about the book itself.
There are some experiences in life that bring tangible understanding to lofty ideas. I had plenty of those experiences in Uganda. On experience in particular taught me something about humility.
This is Charles -
Charles is connected to the missionary team through one of the churches they have established in Uganda. The missionary team uses Charles as a professional painter for various projects they may be connected with.
Charles was raised in typical Ugandan poverty. He is now married with 3 children of his own, including a set of twins. He is in his early-twenties and the eldest of 3 sons (that I know of from our conversations), and his parents are dead. He and his wife now are raising his younger brothers along with their own children. And regardless of their financial limitations, this is not at all a burden to them. Charles seems to consider it a privilege. It was my experience that Charles has a pervasively generous spirit, gracious, kind, and humble. His faith is unencumbered by the complications of worry or overly ambitious personal aspiration.
Well, I'm getting too philosophical too soon. I haven't even begun the story that I want to share.
On our days of working around the missionary compound. I was on the painting team. This put me in close contact with Charles. And I had the privilege of working closely with him. His english is fairly weak. But we managed to do more than communicate. We were able to connect. And we were able to build one another up in faith toward the fullness of Christ. I know that sounds just like a preacher talking. But I really felt the dynamic of our exchange was fundamentally spiritual and a direct expression of Ephesians 5.
Well after a full day of painting with oil based paint (and of adapting to a very different approach to applying paint than I am used to - which did not seem at all wise to me) it was time to clean up. I began to work at cleaning up my tools. Charles tried to stop me. I persisted and then began to clean up trash and other items. Charles again began to resist my assistance and I eventually realized that he was trying to communicate to me that he wanted things done a certain way and that I was not understanding how he wanted those things done. I acquiesced and went in to clean myself up.
I washed my hands and resigned myself to the idea that I would just have to wait for the oil-based paint on my skin to just be sloughed off in a week or so. I wasn't bothered by that at all. I was just so glad to have had a great day of work. I went inside to change my clothes for dinner, putting my shower on hold since there was not going to be time. When I came out of my room, Charles - still in his blue coveralls, was looking for me. He grabbed my wrists and guided me outside.
Everything was put away except for a can of diesel and a rag. Charles, still gripping my wrist squatted to the ground and pulled me along with him. He picked up the rag, wet it with diesel and began to silently clean the oil-based paint from by hands and fore arms. Slowly, caringly, generously, he found each splotch and scrubbed them away.
My initial instinct was to resist. My personal space was being invaded. My sensitivity to having another man hold onto my hand as he washed me up was raging. But I knew that to resist his offer of service would be a rejection and I adopted a receptive attitude. And I realized how humble he was to serve me this way. And I realized how proud I was. I realized it because although I was surrounded by only Ugandans and missionaries, I was practically embarrassed by my situation. Eventually I got that emotion under control and I could just appreciate Charles' gift of service.
I have been in foot-washing services on multiple occasions in my life. I have had my feet washed and I have washed feet all in the name of practicing humility and faith. Each of those experiences was challenging and moving. Each was led by God's Spirit and significant to my spiritual growth. But none was so significant as my hand-washing experience with Charles. It was not a planned event. It was a generous offer of service in a real life circumstance and God altered me much more significantly than my previous experiences.
Thank you Charles. While you washed away visible marks on my hands and arms, you imprinted indelible marks on my soul.
While in Uganda, on our first day of medical ministry, I had a powerful experience of God on the fringe. ("God on the fringe" is a phrase from a book by a similar title to describe and evaluate how God works powerfully among the people who live life on the fringes of middle class society.) In Uganda, we engulfed ourselves in the fringes.
While we were in Uganda, we had the privilege of ministering in a church at a worship gathering. Tim shared his personal testimony, as did Debra. (Tim has a gift for speaking - there's some preaching in his future. Shhhhhhh - Don't tell him that I'm giving him up.) Debra's testimony is moving in any setting and the Ugandan congregation responded powerfully to her story of God's faithful grace. Amanda shared a song. And I was able to speak from God's word.
While in Uganda, we met and ministered with a man named Justice. To get right to the point, I'll shorten the story significantly.
Justice is in training to become a Dr. He is employed by the mission and his education is being paid for by an American sponsor so that his services can be directed specifically toward the medical wing of the ministry in Uganda. Because we were a part of 3 1-day HIV/medical clinics during our time there, we got to know Justice fairly well.
In one discussion with Justice, one of our team members asked him, "Justice, how did you get out of the poverty of your village and break that cycle?" Justice took a deep breath, and knowing some of his story from the missionaries, I was expecting him to describe how he came to work with the missionaries as a cook, how he met his wife, how he was inspired by the missionaries to pray about medicine, and on and on as any American Christian would do to answer that question.
O was to be left hanging in that expectation. Justice exhaled and said with profound humility, "it was by the hand of God." And he was done. He didn't say anything else. No elaboration. No explanation. No story. No background. That was it.
Now if your experiences in life are anything like mine, you have had some Christian somewhere give you an answer somewhat like that with supercilious pronouncements of faith. To which I always respond with an internal rolling of my eyes. (I do this on the inside so that no one will see how spiritually immature I am.) I do this because I know that this person has just decided to brag about their spirituality to cover up their pride in the physical accomplishment they are describing.
With Justice there was none of that. It was obvious to all of us in the conversation that he genuinely had no other explanation of the events that had led him to the situation he was in than that it had to be the hand of God.
Well, if I can be so humble as to remove my own pride in earthly accomplishment, I might actually see the hand of God more. And if I see the hand of God more, I might actually be humble enough to actually give God that kind of credit without either using the word supercilious or by being supercilious.
By the hand of God!
haughtily disdainful, as a person or a facial expression.
Well, I've been back for several days now and have been meaning to post a few stories here ever since my return. I'm sorry I haven't gotten to it until now. Jet lag + 24-hour flu = slow blogging.
We were able to see the final installation of the well that so many of you helped to pay for. On the day we were there, the installers put in the pump mechanism after testing the depth and volume of the well. (There will be a strong supply of water for a long, long time.)
This location is just outside of the main settlement of the village of Makoomi. As part of our ministry here on this day, we also provided an HIV and health clinic. We were also guided to the current source of water for the village. We went for a 10 minute walk, further away from the village and found a capped off artisian spring with a cistern. While we were there the water was flowing steadily.
There were 2 boys filling their jerry cans with water for their home. They stepped into the murky cistern and let the water from the pipe flow into their cans. (I should say the little one did, while the older one looked on.) We followed the boys part way back to their house and carried their filled cans for them (right on Rico and Jordan). It was on this journey that our missionary revealed the full benefit of this well installation to me.
We were there at the beginning of the dry season. The pastor of the church at Makoomi shared that as the dry season goes on, the spring will get continually less productive. Eventually the water will trickle out of the pipe and a couple of things will happen. 1 can will take up to 30 minutes to fill. The villagers will line up to fill their cans. In their society, the older people will get preference over the younger and so children sent by their parents may spend several hours waiting to fill water for their home. Many children and adults alike will give up on this process and journey down to the marsh to fill their cans with swamp water (another 15 minute walk beyond the point of the spring). It is during this time that many families go without necessary water. They use less and less to drink, reserving their precious water for food preparation. dehydration leads to illness and further complications.
It is from this spring that the school operated at the church receives its water. And with just the spring to supply water to the village, church, and school, one ministry vision for the area had been put on hold. An orphanage: Homes of Hope.
This village is near a handful of other villages and the school and orphanage here would rescue many children from death, illness, and a hopeless future. Not only has the provision of a constant clean water source on the campus of this ministry provided a village of a few thousand with reliable drinking water and better health, it has opened the door for the orphan home to be built, rescuing children from death, neglect, and abuse.
In Uganda, water changes things. I think Jesus knew that when He talked about himself as living water. Jesus changes things... Well, He mostly changes people.
Thanks to so many of you who are the missionaries who provided this well through prayer, financial support, encouragement, help, and in 1000 other ways. God did it through you. And His name is honored.
At our HIV/AIDS clinic yesterday (Monday in Uganda), a little girl came to the clinic late in the afternoon. She was with her jahjah (grandmother). She was obviously unwell. We rushed her to the front of the line with a fever of 104. Her ears, for the brief moment that she would let them be seen looked terribly inflamed. She seemed to have a soar throat.
The head nurse gave her ibuprofen and put her in a basin with water. Her fever came down a couple of degrees and she calmed down. But she was still not out of the danger zone. As we were finishing up with the last 20 patients, the girl went into convulsions from the fever and the missionaries immediately took her with a nurse to a nearby clinic. Her bills were paid and the grandmother eventually agreed to take her. Amazingly the grandmother was resistant even though she had seen the convulsions.
Our missionary explained that the girl was in the care of the clan and treated as a servant because her parents were dead. Since the clan (primarily the jahjah) was caring for her, she was considered indebted to them. These children are often worse off than those in orphanages.
Later that evening we got word from the clinic that the child was on IV antibiotics, sleeping well and would be there for three days. Her diagnosis was complicated Malaria and the physician reported that without the strong antibiotics the girl would not have lived another 24 hours.
If that clinic had not been paid for by so many donors... If 7 comfortable Americans had not left their creature comforts to see the clinic provided... If a group of missionaries did not have the long-term commitment to serve this country, and having on-going relationships with local medical professionals... If not for all that and your prayers... Uganda would be minus 1 very beautiful little girl, who could one day make all the difference for this country.
This is just 1 story. Just 1. When I am home, I will give you some more.