Ode to the Christmas Tree

Ode to the Christmas Tree

And now the page has turned once again.
The calendar’s colors glisten white and gold,
Replacing Thanksgiving’s browns and amber
With December’s barrenness and cold.

Amidst the hoary and ashen landscape
Pointing straightway to the skies,
Draping green its mighty branches,
Alone this ancient cedar decries

Its praise for its own glorious Creator
Who gave it depth and richly glow.
It stands as a noble emerald arbor
Heralding shelter ‘neath its stately bow.

Yet, it bends and falls to dogged teeth
Whose bite parts trunk and earth.
Now this evergreen moves fast-bound and wounded
Unknowingly destined to an end of joy and mirth.

Where once its bristles were lovingly adorned
By glistening raindrop and snow,
Its fragrant bows are now nestled and topped
By garland, ornaments and candles’ glow.

Though bedecked in light of various hues
And draped in spheres and bells,
This mighty cedar of the forest glen still
Perseveres, its core and vital message to tell

Of the Creator to Whom it others steers
Each day and night without reservation,
Whose love was so great for the creature, man,
That He became him to make his propitiation.

As the tree unwittingly gives its life  
For a few weeks an object of holy celebration,
So the Creator’s Son voluntarily became
Mankind’s sacrifice, a gift of Divine reconciliation.

When now we stand before the tree of lights
We carefully erect in living room or hall,
Let its lights remind us of Him who illumines our hearts

And its peak point us to His love which surpasses all.

A New Ministry

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (II Cor. 5:17 NASB)

            Newness: the mark of true change. I remember, some twenty-five years ago or more, when automobiles were actually low enough in cost to purchase one and drive it off the lot without believing that you had left several of one’s own appendages, children, and future generations behind with the salesman! Apart from the ever-increasing price of vehicles, there is nothing like the smell of the inside of a brand new car with the interweaving of the various scents of the components of the interior. Indeed, it is rumored that such a fragrance has been put into a spray form so that your personal mode of transportation can continue to maintain that special aroma. We have a particular appreciation for newness.
            To be new is to be different from the past. The Apostle Paul makes that clear here in the text, “the old things passed away; behold, new things have come”. This is not only true of the biblical marks of the authentic Christian life, to which he is referring specifically, but it is also indicative of a change of ministries whenever a new pastor comes on board and begins his work as God’s appointed shepherd of the flock. By nature, God will endeavor to use the new pastor in a different fashion than He did the one previously. Different does not denote better or worse. It simply means that the Lord, who is the Head of the Church, desires to lead this expression of His Church along the path of His will using a new perspective provided by this shepherd of His choosing.
            To be new, by definition, will bring changes. Paul in this passage stresses that, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature…new things have come”. In other words, the way we used to live, according to the world’s standards, following the culture’s lead, gauging our actions to the pleasure of those around us—these things are no longer to be the norm for us as Christians. Because of the reality of Jesus in our lives, we have changed and, therefore, how we are to live, act, think and behave has changed. We now are to operate by a new paradigm—the teachings of Christ, the Word of God. Thus, things we used to do without thinking because we were lost, now we should no longer do because of the potential negative impact they will have on others and because of my connection to Jesus and His kingdom. My guide for my actions is now whether or not God would truly be glorified by what I am doing since Scripture tells me in “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31 NASB). Change is implicit with such recourse.
            As it with us personally, so it is with God’s Church. In the bringing of a new pastor to lead His people, He intends to stir their hearts to greater growth and action. He does not desire us ever to become stagnant or content with our own spiritual well-being, but to constantly pursue Him toward maturity in our faith. This pursuit requires flexibility on our part and the acceptance of change as He, the master potter, continues to conform us into the image of His Son (rf. Rom. 8:29). He is simply using the new pastor and his ministry as one tool to accomplish that task (see Eph. 4:11-13).

            So, as we begin this new journey together as pastor and flock, know that your pastor has your best interests at heart. It is his desire to follow the Lord’s leadership in serving you so that the direction we go as a church will be under the guidance of His Holy Spirit and in accordance with His Word. He realizes that he will bring to the table differences from the pastors of the past simply because of who he is and how God has made him as a minister. However, no doubt together we will pursue the course God has planned for us, one that, by faith, will be, in His words, “a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11 NASB).

Being Thankful

“I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonders.
I will be glad and exult in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.”
(rf. Ps. 9:1-2)

The falling of the leaves and the colorful palette created during this harvest time of year reminds us that the holiday of Thanksgiving is quickly approaching. Quite unlike the noted event of the previous month which has no redeeming qualities to speak of with its centrality on dark and evil themes, the celebration of Thanksgiving forces us to stop and take inventory of our own blessings. For but a moment, our eyes are moved away from ourselves and on to those around us as we prepare to join with family and friends in feasting and simply enjoying the company of those we love so dear. And if we do know the Lord personally, we are given this special opportunity to give Him thanks for the many ways He has uniquely touched us and shown us His grace throughout the previous year. Indeed, we even have this “open window” to disclose to others who may not have this special relationship with God that He is the One who is the giver of all “good gifts” (rf. Mt. 7:11; Jas. 1:17).
Speaking of gifts for which we are thankful, my family and I praise the Lord for our being joined with the ministry of St. John’s. We know the Lord had this connection in mind all along. Even when He laid it on our hearts to begin preparations to leave our former ministry back in the latter months of 2015, He knew, though we did not, that He would send us here to serve you. Though we believed that our directive to resign my previous pastorate would come as early as January of this year, it did not because the Lord had yet one more mission for me and my family to carry out for Him. On February 24th, an EF-3 tornado struck the Evergreen community outside our front door, damaging or destroying almost 200 homes in a 17-mile swath of Appomattox County, with most of the destruction taking place within walking distance of our parsonage. Our church became “ground-zero” for the federal, state and local emergency governmental response teams as well as the many non-profit organizations that came to assist. We headed up the relief and recovery efforts for our area for the next three months. Only until those ministries came to a close did the Lord come to us with His clear directive that it was our time to depart.
After spending the next month packing up our belongings and saying our “goodbyes” to good friends and to a ministry cultivated over the last fifteen years, we left our stuff in storage and began a three-month pilgrimage to find the next place of service for us in God’s plan. We stayed in cottages provided by friends of ours in Virginia, giving us opportunity to seek the Lord continuously, to minister to family, and for me to supply the pulpit of other churches as needed. Not until we had physically departed from Evergreen were we initially contacted by the search committee at St. John’s. When we met with the committee for an interview, we felt the leadership of God’s Spirit bringing us together. There was no question in our hearts that this was where He was directing us to come. From then, it was just a matter of Him working out all of the details. And, thus, He has accomplished everything to bring us all to the present in making this new ministry His reality. For all of this, the Lord truly is deserving of all the praise and glory. We never could have engineered such an outcome.

As you approach your own celebration of Thanksgiving, take a few moments and look over the past year to find the things in your life for which you can give thanks and praise to God for His blessings. Admittedly, not all things for which we can be thankful are positive. Like Job, if we have the right perspective and God’s heart toward us in mind, we can join with him in saying, “The Lordgave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (rf. Job 1:21). The point is that our God is worthy to be praised at all times, not just at Thanksgiving. But the celebration of Thanksgiving is an excellent opportunity to remind ourselves and others of our need to thank Him!