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Songs of Worship

Today we had our choir program for the church. It has been good to see the growth in the choir. We have some very nice voices and the folks both singing and directing have Christ in their lives so it is a joy to sing with them. Worshiping through song is one of the greatest gifts we have from our Creator. I know that other creatures in nature sing but humans have unlimited creative capacity to put tones and words and instruments together.

I am struck by how simple a song can be and yet no one has ever had exactly the same song....that is amazing. God is the source of this. Just look outside at the variety of plants, animals, insect life and humans. He loves to create unique things. Each has its place in the ecosystem and certainly for humans each has a design best suited to serve and praise Him.

This Christmas season just enjoy the diversity of music that we have been given. Find one that means something special and make it your meditation. Rejoice in the creative God that is the originator of music and song. It is fitting that Christ's birth was heralded by angels SINGING His praise. To Him be the glory and honor of the season.
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Is Christmas Special?

Christmas in America (starting now in mid-November) is the over-the-top celebration of.....consumerism. All around us advertising and messages tell us of the things our loved ones need to feel our love. A new car, a new bauble, electronics, appliances. The more expensive the better and don't worry about the payments as we can delay them for months. In our area robberies are up around this time with folks coveting or desiring money to buy something to fulfill themselves or others. Even churches and the industry around Christianity gets into the act. Donations go up, elaborate festivals and plays are produced. Everything we do sees to scream "LOOK", "BUY" "WATCH" "WORSHIP WITH US".

The birth of Christ did none of those things. It was humble, quiet, impoverished and very ordinary. The only drama was played out in the hills near the town where a bunch of boys and men were waiting for ewes to lamb in the early morning (as they tend to do), sharing watches for predators who also awaited lambing season in the hills. To those uneducated, poor, common folks a sudden presence of first one and then myriad of angelic beings announced the birth of the Messiah long awaited.

I don't know what the visitation was like. Was it brief and dramatic? Did they feel they had shared a dream. Did they all hear the same words in the same way or as at Pentecost were there multiple ways the song was heard?

I don't know but we have no record of others seeing or hearing the announcement. Why shepherds? The link with David is obvious the town being Bethlehem and all. And the great psalm of David about shepherds (I bet they all knew that one!). Why not come to the rabbi in the area? To the lead elder in the town? Why not even a businessman or merchant? We have no record they were notified, just tired working people at their job site. Why not bigger fanfare?

One thought that I have is that as remarkable as the incarnation of God as a fully human/fully divine being was, God visiting earth and simple people was nothing new. The entire history of the old testament is dotted with God reaching down to man tangibly and directly. To think He would appear even as a flesh and blood person may not have been a major step beyond what He had done for centuries.

No, what was remarkable was the reason for his incarnation...to live fully human and fully sinless in order to repair the rift between the sinful souls of men and the sinless Creator. Ignoring sin could not work...they payment was demanded (the soul that sins shall surely die). Forgiving was not possible or He would be inconsistent with His law. No, payment was demanded with no "work around" UNLESS a sinless man died for all and that sacrifice proved acceptable. That great mystery could not be known until decades later. Christmas never brings up the result only the initial event leading to the sacrifice.

Other than Luke (who does it beautifully) there is little hype about the birth of Jesus in the gospels....Paul and others discuss it only as the needed initial step. The resurrection was the apex followed closely by the cross. Without the empty tomb and the stamp of approval that Easter represents we would not know the sacrifice was acceptable and complete. Christmas long has been more celebration than worship. The time was set to try to aid pagan cultures in their transition to state religion of Rome. Easter is not so manipulated. We know the day, we know who ruled, we know the actors. Easter changed the world forever and without it Christmas would not even be in our culture as it is today.

So I think on Tuesday I will thank God for the gift that became acceptable sacrifice....the one that Easter proclaims.
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Joining to Others

Christmas is a time to reflect on gifts that God has given. The greatest was the gift of life to us through the life and death of the God/man Jesus Christ. This unexplainable act of grace and mercy was rooted in love and desire to have relationship. I cannot understand why He humbled himself to come as a man, as a child, as a commoner. I can believe and be grateful that His act was the only way that my soul could hope to live eternally in the presence of the Creator. If I can embody that belief then daily all other issues of life become easier. If the God of the universe loved me enough to come humbly and die for me then how can I doubt His love an protection and guidance every day I live here on earth?

The desire to have relationship, to love and be loved, to know and be known is a fundamental need etched into our human nature. We drift if we are unloved. We can leap tall buildings if we feel loved and supported. He desires that our relationships here on earth teach us about what His love and His relationship with us is at its most basic level. Think of this life and relationship version 1.0. In heaven He will have version 9.0 and we will be able to fully feel His love and presence. While here, however the closest we can get is in our church family and to a degree in our earthly family. It is in these relationships that we will experience the love, disappointment, support, rejection, sadness and joy that help us understand more fully our relationship to Him.

I joined my church today. I had been attending and becoming more involved over the past 3 months. I have been supported, included and loved. I feel that the men's group has helped me in miraculous ways to begin healing from a long season of hurt and sin. It was time to commit. I met with Brian earlier in the month and then "walked the aisle" today. I walked it alone knowing that I come broken with my family broken. I came knowing that only in committed relationship with other believers can I hope to heal an begin to serve and find my mission for this time in my life. The sadness of coming alone was overwhelmed by the joy of the welcome the church family gave. I am so grateful for this.

Often deep inside where we keep our secret and true self I have a feeling that I am not worth the notice of others I meet. My face daily of the "doctor" makes me act with confidence but that is hiding insecurity about my worth to others. The church family just loved today and I felt it. Brian had spoken about times when we may give or receive God's touch through the touch of other humans. Today was such a day for me and I am grateful to the church for that gift.

Now the hard work of trying to use my gifts and time to give back to Christ. It is exciting to have a new family who will be helping me find the path that is ready for me. God has been so good through this desert time in affirming me and moving me closer to Him while causing me to search for my role. In the end that is really the great gift we have been given. By freeing our soul from the slavery of sin and the inevitable eternal damnation that awaited us, God has allowed us to use our life and gifts to serve and praise Him without regard to the world and its standards. We are free not only in the next life but in this one to serve Him with an unfettered heart.

Merry Christmas.
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Sports

Over the past week I have attended about 5 basketball games. I am now a spectator. I used to not pay much attention to the folks in the stands because the game was everything. The joy of the competition is something many of you can understand. Sure, winning was great but often just the joy of feeling your body move and act in ways you wanted was...well, a joy.

I have 2 sons now playing ball and I do get some nerves for them as I want them to enjoy and savor the time. The pride I feel has been real when I watch them. Several things recently made me proud. One son showed great sportsmanship recently and great capacity to help the others on the team feel good and achieve. This is a gift and is not often seen during competition. I am glad that he has learned that not all the lessons of the game are the points you score or the accolades you receive. It makes me proud to know that he has internalized some ideals of sport that I hold very dear.

The other son is younger and right now is learning in practice and watching from the bench more than on the court. What I have seen from him is the joy of being a good teammate. He actually seems more glad when a friend of his excels than when he does himself. He has praised kids less talented than him and is a loud cheerleader from the bench. I am proud that he understands that everyone on the team is important.

In healthcare we so often focus on the flash and the achievement and the stars. The surgeon who saves a life is praised but the scrub-nurse that caught the fact that he left a sponge in the patient just as they were ready to close the wound gets hardly a notice. Sports can really help you as you think of healthcare. Teams are needed and all the skills are essential to the health of the patient. The team leader IS the patient and they must feel that they are part of the process of healing or they will not achieve the goals they desire in their personal health.

Church is like this too. Today my pastor was talking about evangelism and about the skills we all bring to the table. All the members are important, all have gifts to bring to the team. No one is the center of the church save Jesus. I am glad that in my and now in my boys' lives that sports teaches us so much about how our lives should be lived.
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What, How and Who

I cannot know the future. I cannot control events. I am sinful and disobedient and stand in need of grace and mercy. These facts seem to face me daily. In my personal life I am willful and selfish when I think I am being open and honest. I sin and sin and find no good in me on a regular basis. What to do?

One approach is to become more theologically sound. To learn the what of the Bible and to then trust that knowledge will deliver me. This appeals to my rational self. Just study, master, learn. I have done this. I did biochemistry and anatomy. I will just read and learn and the answer would be there. I can better myself and then I will do good and receive peace in my soul. The problem is that knowledge may not change my heart. Knowledge does not have the power in itself to change my character and to make me new in a moral sense. Ultimately knowledge would also depend on what I read and where I seek my answers and that may lead me astray or imbed non-truth.

Another approach is to try to feel my way and worship my way to grace. If I could just find the right song or worship experience or body of believers then I would feel close to God and ultimately would feel delivered. I could look to dynamic leaders who structure the worship experience to focus on my needs and how I feel. I could raise my hands or say "amen" or cry at the alter again and again. The problem with this is shown by David's attempt to bring the ark back to Jerusalem. He did so with what he felt was the right method but he was wrong. In the end people died and he was forced into a period of introspection until he did God's will and worshiped as God desired. Worship focused on the how actually worships the creature not the creator. Unfortunately many modern churches take this approach and grow like crazy.

The final way to try to deal with my sin nature and need for grace is to look at the object of my worship, my knowledge and my faith. Who is more important than what and how. I must have faith in God and my faith does not make Him who He is. My lack of knowledge does not change His will or character in the least. My worship follies do not change His eternal might and power. Certainly knowing God involves learning of Him but the demons know these things. The essence of what I think He wants is me and a relationship with me. He has made me for His praise and His purpose. Only in relationship with Him can I come to do the first and find the second. He is the object of the worship. Knowing Him and His will should drive my study. Since He is the source of my power and of my redemption, it is "Who" that I must focus upon each day.
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Joy and Hope

This is a long weekend. I have been challenged to feel God's leadership and to focus on His loving control of my life. There is nothing brought into my life without His consent: no tests, no temptations, nothing. He considers, and scripture says, allows these things AND makes ways for me to both escape the temptation or conquer the test. My head knows this but my heart, my emotions have quite another take on the subject. Part of me wants to rebel and tell Him to leave me alone to my own choices. Part of me wants to complain about the fact that his omniscience causes me to be more like a puppet than a person.

Both those parts reflect old patterns and areas of my life that are not yet sanctified. The fact remains that He knows my limits, my skills and my fears. He also loves me enough to allow me to be tested and tempted. When it happens He knows I can overcome and that He is right there with me. The psalmist says that He is "near to the brokenhearted" and I have had to rely on that one quite a bit lately.

I have such strong emotions at times that I don't know that I can understand or control them. I have had to come to grips with the fact that He has made me this way. That He has emotions somehow and that as the Christ on earth He felt and now fully understands the ones that I have. I still cannot fathom why, after calling and saving me, He allows pain and sorrow in my life. I can feel so small and so lonely here on earth yet He knows and intends for me to come through these emotional upheavals with stronger hope in His salvation.

This then is the joy to which we are called. To have a deep and abiding understanding of the God who is our Lord and the sure Hope of our eternal security. The passions of this world and the sorrow, pain and loneliness that sometimes come into our lives should not shake joy. This weekend I need to focus on this thought and to cling to Him. He is near to my broken heart.
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