Monday, December 29, 2014

December 28, 2014 Being Honest About Ourselves

What is the most common criticism leveled at churches?  That churches are full of hypocrites.  Who hasn’t heard this criticism? And who are these hypocrites, I want to ask.  It’s such a generic criticism that I would like to ask can the accusers provide a list of names?  Calling someone a hypocrite is a very harsh judgment to make of another person, so shouldn’t the accuser be required to back up their claim with some proof?  It also seems to me that people ought to be consistent with that criticism and stay away from everywhere hypocrites might be found, but then we could never leave the house. 

The real problem, I think, in calling another person a hypocrite is that we can’t see inside the mind and heart of another person.  None of us consistently live up to our ideals and principles, but that doesn’t mean we are hypocrites; it merely means we are human.

But there are times when we see hypocritical behavior on the part of others, those times when we see an obvious gap between who a person claims to be and who they really are.

This morning, we are studying a passage from the book of Acts that tell us about the first two church hypocrites on record – a husband and wife by the names of Ananias and Sapphira.

1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,
and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet.
But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?
While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it.
The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him.
Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.
And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.”
Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.”
10 And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
11 And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.

This passage of Scripture is one that is often overlooked.  It’s overlooked, I think, because there are some very uncomfortable truths contained in this passage, and we’ll study a few of those truths this morning, all of which fall under the theme of Being Honest About Ourselves.

This passage cannot be separated from the final verses of chapter four.  It helps to understand that the earliest versions of Scripture were not divided into chapters and verses.  The beginning of chapter five separates the story of Ananias and Sapphira from the end of chapter four, but this is all one story; you cannot separate this great vision of the church in chapter four from the sin and the fate of Ananias and Sapphira in chapter five.

The end of chapter four provides us with a utopian description of the early church.  In those verses we see that people were giving freely of their possessions and there were no needs among them, there was great power in the church, the church was of one heart and soul, and the church was growing.  It’s a beautiful, idyllic picture of the early church, perhaps the greatest portrait of the church in all the New Testament. 

The first word of chapter five is the connecting word – but. Some translations use the word now, but I prefer translations that use but.  Have you had someone say something positive to you and then added, but... That conjunction takes all the air out of the positive words, doesn’t it?  Perhaps a teacher said you did well at the beginning of the semester, but…  Your boss called you in for your annual review and said you did okay in this area of your work, but…  Or maybe your spouse opened your Christmas gift, looked at it and said I appreciate your thoughtfulness, but…

The conjunction but looms large in this story.  Things are going along great in the church but...; there is great power in the church ...but.  The people are of one heart and soul...but.  That one word gives us this great sense of foreboding.

It’s an interesting question to wonder why this story is connected with this beautiful description of the early church.  After reading of this idyllic church situation, we immediately read this unpleasant episode involving Ananias and Sapphira. 

The similarities between this event and the fall in the Garden of Eden are really striking.  This is, really, a New Testament version of the Garden, complete with the Fall.  The picture of the church at the end of chapter 4 is about as close to a restoration of the Garden of Eden as was possible.  But just as in the Garden, it was not to last. Everything is wonderful and beautiful, and then it starts to go downhill.  It did not last for the same reason it did not last the first time – because of our sin. 

This is the Bible in its total, unflinching honesty. The incredible honesty of the Bible is, I believe, one of the reasons why the Bible resonates with us so powerfully.  If you are simply manufacturing a story you don’t include all the bad parts about the people in the story, but the Bible is absolutely unflinching in its presentation of people; even the people of God.  As one author says, in that perfect church there were some imperfect people (Wind and Fire:  Living Out the Book of Acts, Waco, Texas:  Word Books, 1984, p. 65).  Some imperfect people?  More correctly – all were imperfect people.

The Bible never seeks to hide the sins and the failures of people – especially, interestingly, God’s people.  The Bible is not at all afraid to describe the reality of people’s lives – that we are frail, that we are prideful, and that we are sinful, and the Bible presents us with this mirror because we are not to forget this. 

The Bible, we could say, is the original reality show.  I’m not a fan of reality TV, not because it shows the failures of people, but because they seem to enjoy the dysfunctions of people and turn it into entertainment.  There is nothing entertaining about the reality of broken and struggling lives.  There is nothing entertaining about using the failures and struggles and conflicts of people entertainment and in doing so raising the brokenness of humanity rather than raising the hope for humanity. 

The Bible is a different reality.  The Bible is very plain about who we are as people, but it presents that reality as something for which we were not created and as something from which God desires to lift us beyond.

For everyone who suffers under the illusion that churches aren’t full of difficulty we can say those people haven’t read the New Testament very closely.  Read through the letters of Paul and you will find great conflict and dysfunction.  Read through the book of Acts and you will find the same.  Read through almost every book of the New Testament and you will find the gory details of the difficulties, failures, and sins of people – especially God’s people – on full display.  The honesty of the Bible is a very big, very sharp needle that punctures any illusion we may have of being perfect.

So, follow along with me now in chapter five as we go through the story of Ananias and Sapphira.  As we begin, Luke has just written of Barnabas, who sold a piece of property and gave the money to the church.  Ananias and Sapphira also sell a piece of land but do so with an attitude very different from that of Barnabas.

Luke says that Ananias and Sapphira sell their property but kept back some of the price for themselves.  Ananias brings the money to the apostles and Peter immediately confronts Ananias and accuses him of lying to the Holy Spirit, because they kept some of the money back for themselves.

Ananias and Sapphira were not wrong because they kept some of the money for themselves; Peter even says this in verse 4 – While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own?  And after it was sold, was it not under your control?  It wasn’t a question of how much they were giving; it was that Ananias and Sapphira had conspired together to present themselves as being something they were not.  That is the textbook definition of a hypocrite – presenting yourself as being what you are not.  Ananias and Sapphira wanted people to believe they were giving all of the money from the sale of their land.  Ananias and Sapphira were pretending to be generous; they sought to deceive people into thinking they were something they were not; they were pretending to be as generous and committed as the others, but they were not.

People today – as always – desire authenticity, and this passage cuts to the heart of being authentic. Our culture can be very tough on those who are discovered to be less than authentic, and it’s because we have been disappointed too many times.  Too many times we’ve witnessed public figures – politicians, ministers, or others in the public eye – who serve as examples to us and we find out they were living a lie.  The disappointment causes us to turn against them. 

Ananias and Sapphira came before the church and sought to deceive the church; they broke their covenant with the body of Christ and God takes that very seriously.  We cannot take lightly what it means to live together as the body of Christ.  But we often do take that very lightly.  We too easily break that sense of one heart and soul that is spoken of in 4:32, we too easily forget that we have responsibility to and for one another, and when we do forget we bring dishonor to the name of Jesus and disappointment for those who were looking for role models.

John Claypool makes an interesting point about this passage.  He says, if they had just said: "Here is where we would like to be – with Barnabas' kind of trust and generosity. But we find we are not there yet.... All we can do now is give part of the proceeds.  Would you help us grow toward what we would like to become?"

Peter called out the sin in the lives of Ananias and Sapphira, not because they were sinful, but because they were dishonest about who they were.  Phony spirituality is a deadly disease that can spread throughout the church.

In 1963 Edward Lorenz gave a presentation to the New York Academy of Sciences about his theory called the butterfly effect.  His theory postulated that when a butterfly flapped its wings it would set into motion air molecules that, in turn, would cause other air molecules to move, and could eventually influence weather patterns on the other side of the planet.  As you can imagine, this was viewed as little more than myth for many years.  How could something as insignificant as the movement of a butterfly’s wings affect something as great as a weather pattern?  By the mid 1990s, though, physics professors from several universities found that the butterfly effect was indeed a reality.

All of us have the capacity of deception and hypocrisy; all of us have the potential to influence others, either for good or ill, and if we deny this we have already started down the road of self-deception.

And in an ironic twist, don’t we sometimes practice these very same traits in the most unlikely of places – the church?  Maybe in a small way such as when someone asks how are you doing and we say I’m doing great because we wouldn’t dare allow our carefully constructed facade to crumble under the truth that we’re really not doing great?  Are we tempted to let someone think we have been more sacrificial or more holy than we really are?  How often have we “stretched the truth” to cover up something we have done?  How often do we point out the sins of others as a way of diverting attention from our own failures and sins?

So we should ask ourselves three questions, which serve as a check on our own level of honesty with ourselves –

1.  How often, when asked how we are doing, do we answer with an expression such as I’m doing great, when the reality is very different?
2.  How often do we “stretch the truth” in order to hide something we wouldn’t want others to know about us?
3.  How often do we point out the shortcomings or failures of others in order to keep the focus off of ourselves and our own shortcomings and failures?

What really matters – the appearance of spirituality or the reality of spirituality?  Ananias and Sapphira chose the appearance, rather than the reality, of spirituality.  They wanted to look as good as Barnabas without paying the price as did Barnabas.

The Bible doesn’t use the brokenness and difficult realities of life as entertainment but as a tool to bring us to an honest assessment of who we are. 

Is it perfect here?  Far from it.  Has it ever been perfect here?  No.  Will it ever be perfect here?  No.  Let us never suffer under the illusion that things are perfect or that we are perfect.  Instead, let us confess our imperfections and subsequent need of the grace of God to heal our imperfect and sinful lives.  The early church was clearly not perfect, and neither are we.

But we can, at least, be honest.

FCC Shelbyville | Christmas Eve Service

Monday, December 22, 2014

December 22, 2014 The Gift of Hope

If I asked you to name the essentials of life, what would they be?  What is absolutely necessary for people to live?  We would probably begin with a list of the tangibles things that we need, such as food, water, shelter, and clothing.  As much as we are dependent upon those tangible items there are some intangibles as well that are necessary to life, and one of the most important of those is hope.

Having hope is not easy these days.  Political campaigns promise hope but fewer and fewer people seem to have hope.  In 1999, 85% of Americans said they were hopeful about their own future and 68% said they were hopeful for the future of the world.  A few years ago only 69% were hopeful for their own future and only 51% were hopeful about the future of the world (from a CNN opinion poll).  It’s probably dropped even more since then.

There is a trinity of values in the Christian faith, as Paul describes them in I Corinthians 13, and they are faith, hope, and love, none of which we can live without.  Everyone – even the greatest skeptic, has faith in something.  Everyone, without a doubt, needs love.  But we must not forget the importance of hope, which is absolutely necessary to life. 

Hope, we must note, is much more than wishful thinking.  We might say that we hope to have a good week.  I might say that I hope the Steelers win the Super Bowl this year.  You might say you hope UK wins the NCAA this year.  Some might say they hope UofL doesn’t win anything this year.

This morning, on this final Sunday of Advent, let us consider The Gift of Hope.  Our Scripture text is Luke 1:67-79 –

67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people,
69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of David His servant—
70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old—
71 Salvation from our enemies,
and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 To show mercy toward our fathers,
and to remember His holy covenant,
73 The oath which He swore to Abraham our father,
74 To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies,
might serve Him without fear,
75 In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.
76 “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways;
77 To give to His people the knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins,
78 Because of the tender mercy of our God,
with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
79 To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

1.  Hope is an affirmation of belief in God’s promise of the future. 
It is the belief in that promise that compels people to continue to move forward.  The Hebrew people had the hope of the Promised Land.  For centuries they endured slavery in Egypt, but they had hope in the promise of the future that one day they would not only have freedom but a home as well.  That hope is what enabled them to endure through the many years of struggle and despair.  

Job, a towering figure when it comes to hope – perhaps the greatest example of hope – clung to the hope that God was with him and had not turned against him.  I read several passages daily and one of them is Job 13:15, which says though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.  Nothing could cause Job to lose hope, not even his friends who came to him and encouraged him to give up.  They saw no reason for hope, but Job did.

The early church had hope for a future free of persecution.  As the mighty Roman Empire put many to death in horrific ways – as fodder for the animals and the gladiators in the Coliseum, as human torches lighting Nero’s gardens at night, and in countless other types of persecution – instead of losing hope their hope grew and with it grew the church.

When Paul writes of hope he is writing from very deep experience.  It’s not an academic treatise; it’s real life.  Paul suffered in so many ways – he was arrested and beaten (II Corinthians 11:13-29), people sought to kill him, and he was eventually executed – this was a guy who really understood hope.  In the midst of his greatest trial – awaiting execution – he writes the letter to the Philippians and they are beautiful words; they are words of hope.

2. Hope is what allows one to look at the terrible circumstances of the world and say things can be better. 
Hope is what allows us to face our struggles, to look them straight in the eye, and say I can do this; this is possible; the Spirit of God will provide the strength to endure and His promise of a better future is true.

Victor Fankel learned that hope.  He was a prisoner in a concentration camp, and at the entrance a sign bore the words abandon all hope ye who enter here, which is Dante’s inscription on the entrance of Hell.  He lost everything.  Every possession was taken from him, and he suffered from cold, hunger, brutality, and the constant fear of death.  While in the camp he lost his father, mother, brother, and his wife. 

He later wrote of one of his darkest moments.  He was digging in a cold, icy trench, and at that moment felt the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom.  I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious “yes” in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose.

At that moment a light was lit in a distant farmhouse, and upon seeing that light, hope was kindled in him, and his words at that moment were et lux in tenebris lucentand the light shineth in the darkness.  John 1:5 says the light shines in the darkness.

Hope is the light that shines in the darkness of life.  It is a light that illumines this life.

Christians have been accused over the years of concentrating so much on eternal life that the problems of this life are overlooked.  But genuine hope never forgets this world.  In fact, C. S. Lewis says that it is when Christians have most thought of the next world that they have worked to improve this world.
(Mere Christianity, p. 118)

3. Proper hope, then, becomes something that moves us to make a difference in this world and in this life. 
Hope changes things in this life.  Proper hope does not ask people to simply endure this life while they are awaiting the next.  A hope that sees something beyond this life sees how things should be, and when we see how things should be we work to make them that way.  That’s why most of the great social movements in history have come out of the church; because the church saw how things could be and should be, and they worked to make it so.

Hope, then, makes all the difference.  One of my favorite stories of hope is the story behind the great hymn It Is Well With My Soul.  The hymn was written by Horatio Spafford, who was a lawyer in Chicago in the mid 1860s.  He had a very successful career, but in 1870 a series of tragedies befell the family, beginning with the death of their four-year-old son from Scarlet Fever.  A year later almost all of the Spafford’s real estate holdings were destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire, causing Spafford to lose his life savings.

In 1873 his family planned a trip to England, but at the last minute Spafford was called back to Chicago on business.  He sent his wife and four daughters on to England, anxious to see them enjoy a trip to take their mind off their tragedies.  But tragedy struck on the trip, as their ship collided with another, and sunk in only twelve minutes.  Spafford’s wife survived but their four daughters perished.

Spafford took the first ship out of New York to meet his wife, and during the voyage the ship’s captain called Spafford to the bridge.  The captain explained they were passing the spot where his daughters had perished.  Spafford returned to his cabin and wrote the hymn, which included these words – when peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll.  Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.

When hope exists, people can survive even the most desperate of circumstances.  As Emily Dickinson writes in her poem Hope,

Hope is the thing with feathers,
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune – without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

May hope live in us always.

FCC Shelbyville | December 14, 2014 Sermon

FCC Shelbyville | December 7, 2014 Sermon

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

December 14, 2014 A Spiritual Road Trip

After speaking about the same old, same old last week I felt compelled to report that when I stopped at a couple of restaurants I did, unfortunately, order the same old, old (Monday morning report – I am pleased to add that after church I did order something new.  Maybe there is hope for me!  But I was disappointed that no one seemed to notice.)

How many of you like to take a road trip?  Even though many of us spend a great deal of time in our cars, there’s still nothing quite like taking to the open road, embarking on the great American tradition of a road trip.  My first great road trip came when I was in college, when two of my friends and I set out for Florida for spring break.  It was my first visit to the beach and I was very excited.  We left after class and planned to drive through the night, with a goal of arriving in Sarasota soon after sunrise.  Three of us set out in a Chevrolet Nova, with a big sunroof that had been added.  This wasn’t a small sunroof that we find in today’s cars; this was a big, wide-open hole in the roof that had space for two people to stand up in (which, I’ll add as a safety note, is not what anyone should do, even though we often did.  But it was the 70s, and we weren’t very safety conscious back then).

We crossed the Florida state line in the middle of the night, and when we passed the Welcome to Florida sign we had to celebrate.  We put in a Beach Boys tape – 8 track, of course – and two of us stuck our heads out of the sunroof and began to sing along with the tape.  Which was, actually, a rather bad idea.  Riding along with you head sticking out of a sunroof, in the middle of the night, on a warm spring evening in Florida meant we were bombarded with all manner of bugs and flying creatures.  But it was a road trip, and a great one.

I love the idea of the road as a metaphor for life, and this morning I want us to think about that famous road trip of Mary and Joseph as they traveled to Bethlehem. 

1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.
This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.
Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,
in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.
While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Interestingly, many of the Biblical stories take place “on the road.”  Much of the teaching Jesus offered to his disciples came about as he traveled with his disciples.  Many of the stories of the life of Jesus come from his travels, such as the powerful story of Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-10).  As Jesus traveled through Jericho, Zaccheus had a life-changing experience.  One of the most well-known of Jesus’ parables is a story of people walking along a road – the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25 – 37).  Beyond the gospels, we find other great stories from the road.  Saul, in the most famous conversion in history, encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-8), where he was transformed into the great pastor/evangelist Paul.  In the Old Testament we have one of the greatest road stories – the wilderness wandering of the Hebrew people in Exodus.  It was not at all a long journey, in terms of distance, but certainly was in terms of time.  But it was on this journey that the Hebrews were forged into the people of God and became the great nation of Israel.

I want you to think about your life this morning as the ultimate road trip.  Where is God leading you?  Where has he led you?  What have you learned on the road of life?

Beyond these questions, which I hope you will consider in the days ahead, I want to offer three lessons we learn from the story of Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem. 

1.  Don’t Expect An Easy Road.
I’ve driven a lot of broken down, clunky cars throughout my life, and traveling was not easy in those vehicles.  My early cars had no air conditioning, no FM radio (certainly not satellite), and were prone to breaking down on regular occasions.  I was very excited, though, when I added an FM converter to my car, except I soon discovered I had to be within twenty miles of a station for it to work.

For those of us who grew up driving old, broken-down cars, traveling has certainly improved.  My car has far more options than I need, but I have to say, I like them.  I like cruise control, satellite radio, air conditioning, and heated seats.  I really like having GPS in my phone and no more old, paper maps to try and fold up to put back in the glove compartment.

Does all the comfort take some of the adventure out of traveling?  I don’t know, but it is certainly easier and more comfortable.  It is worth noting, I think, that we want to take all the difficulty out of travel and minimize every possible challenge, which is much like our attitude towards life.  We want to make life as easy as possible, reducing all possible difficulties and challenges.  Such a carefree life would be nice, but we don’t learn much that way, do we?  The point of life is not to take the safest, easiest route from Point A to Point B, but to follow faithfully where God leads us, which is inevitably through some adventurous times.

The distance, as the crow flies, from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 70 miles, but the path almost always taken was about 92 miles.  It was not an easy journey for Mary and Joseph.  Walking about three miles an hour they could cover, perhaps, fifteen to twenty miles a day, which would take them four or five days at the least and most likely it took them seven or eight.  It was a difficult, treacherous path, which is a great analogy for life, because life can be a difficult, uncertain, perilous journey, and somehow, we have convinced ourselves that because we live in the modern age life is supposed to be simpler and easier because of all the advantages of the modern age, such as technology and advanced medical care.  And make no doubt about it, we enjoy some great advantages over previous generations of humanity.

But people still get sick and die.  People still lose their jobs and struggle financially.  Relationships still disintegrate and fracture.  People are still afraid and anxious about life.  Some things are easier, but we still face the same difficulties that our ancestors faced generations, and centuries, and millennia ago, because life is a difficult journey.

Life is a winding, twisting, up and down journey, filled with highs and lows, some of which can be quite extreme.

But maybe those bumps in the road have a deeper meaning than we generally realize.  Maybe a detour will lead us to a greater opportunity.  Maybe some of those bumps will bring a tenderness to our hearts that cause us to reach out to someone else in their time of suffering.

2.  We Don’t Travel Alone.
I think one of the things Mary and Joseph had going for them was the presence of family and friends.  They were going home.  Bethlehem was the city of David, and Joseph was in the line of David.  I’m certain they traveled with other family members.  As they made their way to Bethlehem, I’m certain their caravan grew to include other family members and friends.  When they arrived in Bethlehem there were other family members and friends already gathered there. 

I’m not saying that made everything better, but I’m sure it lightened the stress of travel, being surrounded by people they loved and people who loved them.

Life is always better with other people, isn’t it?  I know that other people can be a challenge – although it’s never us who are the challenge, is it?  It’s always someone else.

But as challenging as others might be at times, aren’t you grateful for the people God has placed in your life?  We are not solitary creatures.  God has created us for relationships, and what a gift those relationships are to us.  Think about that fact when you face a challenge, think about that promise when you struggle, think about that gift when you wonder how you will make it through a tough stretch of life.

3.  Help Someone Along the Way.
This was not a vacation trip for Mary and Joseph.  This was a Roman-mandated trip to return to their ancestral home to be counted in a census so the Romans could levy taxes and in so doing, make their difficult lives even more difficult.  Along the way, there would be plenty of talk about the injustices placed upon the people by the Romans, and the talk would certainly have contained a great deal of bitterness and anger.  The already difficult lives of people would be made much more difficult as they had to take time out from their struggle to make a living in order to make what was, for many, a difficult, expensive, and perilous journey.

Life is very difficult for many, many people.  There are so many people who suffer from grief.  There are so many people who are lonely.  There are so many people who are sick.  There are so many people who suffer from injustice and unfairness.  There are so many people who need someone to reach out to them a helping hand in the name of Christ.

I have been helped along the way by so very many people.  I can’t begin to imagine what my life would be like were it not for others, whose paths crossed mine, and the help they offered.

Christmas is a difficult time for many people, and we often provide a helping hand to others, as we should.  But there are people who struggle every day of the year, and we must remember our calling by God to reach out a hand of love and care to them.

Think about your spiritual road trip in the coming days.  Where is God leading you?  To what ministries might he be calling you?  Through what challenges has he led you?  What have you learned from the twists and turns, and the bumps and detours?  Remember, always, that God is leading you through this great adventure called life, and while it is not always an easy journey, it is one in which he always travels with you.