Christmas Contrasts

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December 20, 2017

Christmas Contrasts

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness on them has light shined. Isaiah 9:2

       Charles Dickens famously began his novel, “A Tale of Two Cities”, contrasting England and France during the French Revolution. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, … it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness”  This quote came to mind listening on C-SPAN to members of both houses of Congress give their one-minute speeches on the tax reform plan.  “It is the best plan, it is the worst plan.” History will judge soon enough.

       What history has already told us is that when Christ appeared in human flesh in Bethlehem it was a “season of Darkness”.  Cynical despair had settled in among the Roman populace. Whatever faith they had in their gods was eroding. The light of hope for the Jews awaiting for the Messiah was growing faint. Their religious leaders had carved out comfortable positions for themselves while oppressing the poor and public sinners. They hated the Roman occupation of their land and longed for deliverance.

        Then Isaiah’s prophecy came true: On those dwelling in a land of deep darkness, a light had shone. The brightness of angels in the night alerting the shepherds and the guiding star over the Magi were merely supporting lights for the Light of the World that had arrived.  No more darkness, no more despair, no more “worst of times”.

         Dickens wrote a novel, based on history.  Our personal history is non-fiction based on our own best of times and worst of times.  The contrast is sharper at Christmas. Families travel far to consume their gifts and feasts while the homeless and hungry endure the coldest month and shortest light. The exuberance of children contrasts with the depression of those who are enduring loneliness and loss.

         It is wise not to expect from the Christmas holiday what it cannot deliver. Family and feasts do not themselves give us the Light that overtakes the darkness of the soul.  Only the Light that outshone the Bethlehem angels and Star can heal the source of all our despair and darkness. Our joy at Christmas is not sourced in our celebration of it, but in the Christ who endured the darkness of the cross and tomb and shone the Light of forgiving grace on Easter morning.

Christmas means we can still have the worst of times, a season of darkness, but ultimately have the best of times, an eternity of Light.

        Blessed Christmas all Year.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

The Gifts of Pain

 

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December 13, 2017

The Gifts of Pain

There are many things in our life that cause us to feel pain. Physical pain and discomfort may result from a broken bone, a muscle strain, a cut, bruise, heart attack, and all kinds of disorders and diseases.  There is also emotional pain felt in broken relationship, personal failure, fear, and the like. In addition, pain can be preventable, short-lived, chronic, or permanent. We prefer to avoid pain, but we would do well also to consider the gifts of pain as it reminds us of the need for care, prayer, and despair.

Care: Pain is a wonderful wake-up call that we need to take care of something in our life, our relationships, habits, or physical condition.  This is the kind of pain that is often preventable and temporary, or at least can be lessened with certain changes.  Proverbs 4:21-22 tells the reader to “keep (God’s Words) within your heart, for they are life to those who find them and healing to all their flesh.”  Much pain is preventable is we take care to mind what brings health. Whatever causes us to make better choices and habits is a gift.

Prayer:  Some pain is neither preventable nor curable.  No medicine will make it go away.  Those who suffer pain because of their faith are said to be “carrying their cross”. Jesus promised persecution, suffering, and tribulation in this life. For some, he prescribed it, as with St. Paul, who suffered a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from becoming proud.  To his request for relief from the pain God said,  “No, you have may grace. That is enough.” Jesus and others tell us to count it all joy when life is painful, for that works Godly qualities in us.  It also demands a life of prayer to be able to live with the pain. Whatever leads us to more faithful prayer is a gift.

Despair: That sounds like nothing positive, but chronic pain, whether of the emotions, mind, or body can remind us that this life is not our final home. We can and should despair of ever finding complete joy in this life, but rather long even more for the life to come. Thus we will not cling to the things of this world, but realize the things of this world are fading and we ought not to make gods of them or pin our security on them. The ultimate spiritual pain was the cry of Paul who despaired that he could not do the good he wanted to do, but rather did the evil he did not want.  He called himself “wretched” beyond all hope of getting it right. But that led him to celebrate Jesus Christ, who rescues sinners from the despair of their helplessness with the all sufficiency of his sacrifice for sin.  Anything that causes us to despair of our own righteousness and by faith cling to the righteousness God gives in Christ is a gift.

May your pains lead you to take better care, to enter deeper prayer, and to despair of all but the righteousness of Christ that will open to you the gates of God’s pain-free paradise.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

The Habitual Life

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December 6, 2017

The Habitual Life

Daniel … got down on his knees three times a day and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. Daniel 6:10 

It seems that I have formed a good habit that I’m not sure I can break, even when I try to.  Catching up on some sleep seemed to be the most reasonable option this morning at 5am, instead of rising to join my wife and others for a 5:30 work-out we do three times weekly. After she left I awakened anyway without an alarm, and since my body and mind were in the habit of exercising during that time, I couldn’t go back to sleep. So, out of habit, I arose and joined the group, just a few minutes late. It turned out to be far more beneficial than what little sleep, if any, I might have added to my morning.

Habits, of course, can be ill-chosen and become addictions that do harm. Inactivity is also a bad habit. However, good habits, like flossing, daily devotions, prayer, exercise, and worship are good for the body and soul. It is good when they become habits, because we don’t need to waste time and mental energy having to decide each time whether we will do them.  If it’s beneficial, why debate with yourself whether or not you will do it. Just do it.

Daniel was in the habit of praying three times a day. When a decree went out that praying to anyone but the king would land a person in a den of lions, he prayed anyway. He knew where his real security could be found. His friends, who previously did not bow to another king, but nevertheless survived a fiery furnace, also testified to the importance of well-placed faith.

It’s not likely that a godly habit will actually cost us our physical life, at least not yet, as it might have for Daniel without the Lord’s protection. But a habitual life that strengthens our faith and encourages others in their faith, which corporate worship does, will keep us secure whether life brings good or evil.

May you be blessed with a wonderfully habitual life.

Pastor Tom Konz

       P. S.  I’m still struggling to make flossing a habit.