Christmas lives again!

Have you ever noticed that what’s the same year after year is not always the same year after year? Have you noticed how fresh & new something so old and familiar as Christmas can feel?

Get your fire backThink about the way God paints beauty into His magnificent creations.  He will often repeat a theme or a subject (that daffodil, that cloud, that sunrise, that snowflake, that wave), but each time we experience it, it’s unique in some way.   Isn’t it in the moment of revelation and awakening of those things that the blaze of beauty catches our breath?  Seeing a photo of a blue-green wave cresting is wonderful, but it’s not the same as seeing the wave. God’s extravagant displays of love and glory are meant to be tasted in real time, today, in this moment we breathe by His grace.

We may try to immortalize those moments, but we really can’t. The beauty is not a thing we can set in stone, but something that disappears as quickly as we look away.  We turn to look again, and it’s gone.  Those flowers we marvel at wilt away, the cloud drifts or changes into some other fantastic shape, the sunrise warms to noonday, the snowflake melts, and the wave crashes.  We’re not meant to immortalize beauty in photos or recordings, but be reminded by the photo to  look for it again, now, in the growing, ever-changing world we live in today.

And so we come to times like Christmas.

The same artists sing the same tunes over and over again on the radio or TV. In those repetitions, they’re like the photos we take, trying to catch the essence or beauty and grace we see and frame in a picture forever.  But after a week or two, we start to get bored by it all – and maybe we should.

What makes Christmas come alive again, as ours did this year?  Somebody said they had been challenged to concentrate on giving presence, not presents to their friends and family.  I believe the clue to enjoying every long-held, cherished tradition lies hidden in that encouragement.

  • This Christmas morning I realize that although most of our Christmas décor is out of a trunk, it is never put on display in the same way.  My wife Julia, in her zeal to put herself into the holiday reflects her Creator in this.  She changes the old décor into something new by fitting it to our present space and tastes.  The main tree has a different theme. The furniture and the candles are arranged in different spots.  And so everywhere I look, I see her – her touch, her grace, her enthusiasm for bringing the traditions forward into this moment once again.
  • 2018 christmas business card frontYesterday, we enjoyed such an awesome Christmas Eve together – in all three services and a reception, from the morning worship hour until midnight candlelight Communion! What struck me is how fresh & new something so old and familiar can feel. Last night when our church pianist played old carols, they seemed new, and then I realized they were! They were new to THAT moment, just as the precious awareness of Christ’s love was again new to THAT moment, and this moment, and the next…

How does Christmas live again? 

Christmas is as fresh and unique as the people who give it to the world today.  The only way for Christmas to live again is to make it a living, in-the-moment experience, with all the love and energy  and faith we can pour into it. We don’t just look at the nativity set on the mantle.  We go out into the cold night to gaze in wonder at the “Living” Nativity.  We don’t just listen to the carols played and sung again and again on the radio, we go to church and hear them FIRST HAND sung by newly assembled choirs and older, more humble church musicians.  We don’t pretend to enjoy gift-giving like we always have, we today mold our gifts to the way our loved ones are today  – those grandsons that are now a year older, those shut-ins that can no longer get out to see the Living Nativity.

2014318_StudioJRU_AllThingsNewPrintableI love the vision of an eternity with the Lord that rests on the foundation of beauty – beauty that’s always new.  In the introduction to the eternal kingdom of Christ we’re told God makes all things new, in that moment, forever.  We can’t be bored then, when God displays His beauty in eternal glory because it will be a living, breathing forever new thing!

And surely we don’t have to be bored today. Christmas can be a thing of beauty again, if only we’ll stop settling for simply repeating and begin reliving, today.

For further inspiration along these lines, check out Pastor Dirk Gieser’s Christmas Eve message at http://www.ercrca.org/sermons.

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“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ 5 He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ 6 He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.'” Revelation 21:4-6 (NIV)

“Remember” in the Bible:  God instructed His people to remember days like the Sabbath and annual events like the Passover – as though they were living it for the first time.  “The Hebrew word for remembering is zakhor, meaning “you shall call to mind.”  It means more than merely recalling something in the past, but suggests actively focusing the mind upon something in the present.” (www.hebrew4christians.com)

Pauline

img20171217_04552268-003This early morning after Pauline’s quiet death yesterday afternoon has been such a mixture of anger and concern over the incredible load of suffering she carried because of MS, and the immense relief I feel that she is free of all of that now. My soul is burdened with weariness and sadness, but in the midst of it there is peace that God has her and life willl go on for all of us until it’s our time also.

My flesh wants to complain to God and ask what’s the point of it all – the suffering, the struggle, the death, the grief, but my spirit must yield to his good and perfect and acceptable will. What Kerri-Sue quoted on Facebook for me from Romans 8:18 comforts me: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Over the years, so many beautiful things how come into my life because of my amazing sister Pauline. She is the “happy music” in my long term memory, from days long ago when she gave me a love of music in piano lessons. She would say, “David, I am so glad you’re going to grow up to be a man because we need men to sing and play God’s praises. You can be like King David of Israel and bring a blessing to many people.” I imagine the heart of praise showing up in how I worship today is probably because I always longed to be the man that she dreamed I could become.

img20171217_04552268-002She was always the oldest sister, so I suppose it was natural that she would become a counselor to my dad and mom in their hardest moments and deepest struggles. Pauline was a constant source of encouragement to my dad after his leg amputation and the loss of mom to heart attack. Now in my older years, I can see that her devotion to them was not just a normal response to being the older sister, but a choice, a deeply loving choice to stay near them and to fight for them. My deep appreciation to her for those years of constant care and attention to their needs is beyond words.

I cherish the way Pauline would pamper me with her sour cream raisin pie, date bars and cream-bathed lima beans. I’ll never forget her loving smile and the love in her voice when she said my name.

How many times I have said to my soul, “David if Pauline can stay faithful to Christ, hurting like she does, so can you!” She was a continual Beacon of Hope in my quest to act in faith during times of loss and suffering. And so here I am this morning, wanting to walk in this day in the spirit of Grace that my sister exhib1472725_10202628918186909_2045534552_n-001ited so often.

24058763_10210727193161946_514252581082750938_n-001My prayers go out to my brother and her husband, Art, and her six children – Jim, Paula, Bonnie, Terry, Nolan, and Tyrone, and their families. All  of you are continually on my mind, as I wait on the Lord to do miracles of grace in your lives and provide for your need for wisdom and strength as you put the finishing touches on Pauline’s life.

13427789_10206639549893419_6245828837550442054_n-001We all are, as Pauline was, human beings filled with desire and longing, struggling with sins of selfishness and fears over this or that. But in the end Jesus took her life and turned it into something beautiful. Now the glory that she walks in with him has put everything in perspective and she is quiet in his love and his care forever.

Those of us who remain rest in hope Jesus will do the same with us.

World-class Cooking with Leftovers

It might have been last night when we had this conversation:

“Let’s make a salad for supper.”

“Ugh! This lettuce is gooey!”

“Okay, well then how about soup from the vegetable drawer?”

“Well, the carrots are limp and the celery is streaked with brown, the cucumbers are soft and the leftover peas are lifeless.”

“What now? What can you make from a refrigerator stocked with wilted veggies?”

“Not much, but we better get this sorted and cleaned out before we go shopping.”

Have you noticed that all the great cooking shows on TV these days are stocked with the freshest, best-looking food? There is not one brown streak to be found anywhere ― and even the mushrooms were picked that morning. The chef comes in and voila, the perfect dish is presented to the judges who gush over it, exclaiming they have never had something so delicious. It is great competition, but I wonder if it has any practical value for me in my kitchen.

I think we should start lobbying for a show called World-class Cooking with Leftovers.” The host would say to the contestants, “Your challenge today is to cook something good from these ingredients – the stuff we’ve raided from your friend’s refrigerators down and around the block.”

The contestants would then receive inferior veggies and discounted meats to work with. The winner of that competition would certainly be welcome in my house, anytime, because he or she would have proven that a good, editable meal can be created using imperfect ingredients. It might not be as perfect as a dish prepared from perfect food, but we would have to say that chef can do wonders with even the leftovers.

My friends and I are a lot like the inferior food leftover in my icebox. You might say we’ve been in the frig too long and may even be getting close to being thrown out.  I am imperfect in body, soul, and mind; living in an imperfect house in an imperfect town with family and friends who are imperfect; attending a church that is imperfect and picking up job after job that just doesn’t seem to fit who I’d like to be and what I’d like to do with my life.

I have to admit that after all this time I sometimes still long to do something exactly right, say something exactly right, and look exactly right – in other words, to make a perfect life. In those moments I want a job that fits me, energy that is boundless, and love and accomplishment oozing out of everything I do. But what can anyone do with imperfect ingredients in an imperfect kitchen with imperfect utensils? I’ve tried making something that tastes good out of my life, and many times have ended up pining away precious moments wishing I were a better man and life made more sense.

The really cool thing about all this here and now is that we have someone other than ourselves that we can invite into our lives and homes and jobs, to take what is imperfect and make something good out of it.

That someone is the Lord Jesus Christ. He takes leftovers and makes masterpieces that some day the world will marvel over and praise – “contest winning recipes” if you please, that taste really good and are the best we could hope for from what is leftover from our self-effort yesterday.

God has only imperfect ingredients with which to work. Yet, miracle of miracles, He is a master at doing the best and most loving thing that can be done with those ingredients.

“Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (MSG)

Perhaps you’ve been praying, expecting God to do the perfect thing in an imperfect world. Why be surprised when result of our praying isn’t the perfect solution we were salivating over in our imagination? Could we have done any better? Is there any other so-called god that can do better, given the leftovers of our lives? NO!

God will have perfect people in a perfect world to work with one day.  Imagine that! Yes, imagine what God will do with us when everything is once again perfect, but in the meantime, we must trust Him to do the best with us, as we are, in the leftover world we have created.

“There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” 1 Corinthians 15:41-44 (NASB)

“I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea. I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. 3-5 I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: ‘Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.’ The Enthroned continued, ‘Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.’” Revelation 21:1-5 (MSG)

David Ewert

Saturday, November 11, 2017

God Is Good All The Time

God is goodIn 1971 we visited my uncles and aunts in Kansas. Uncle Eli took us to a home that was being broken up after the death of the husband and it had a huge library that was being dismantled to be donated to the Christian school in the area. Uncle Eli said we could take whatever books we wanted. I found a little devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers, that I have read through dozens of years. The first few years I argued with Chambers over a lot of things. Over the years, however, I quit arguing as I grew in my faith and deepened in my understanding of God. Now I add notes to each day along with my prayers that arise from Chamber’s writings. He says that God brings things into our lives, not just for us, but for us to learn lessons that He intends us to use as we share the love and life of God with those around us. We are to take the lessons He teaches us and pass them on, but the lessons come, not as head knowledge, but as experiences that change our lives and drive God’s truths deep inside of us.

If you know me at all, you know I am a storyteller. I think it came from growing up in a preacher’s family where, when events happened, we would comment, “There’s a sermon illustration in there somewhere.” Events unfold in stories to my mind. As a child I was often accused of lying, for my quirky way of seeing the world didn’t appeal to people who saw it in black and white details. In fact, even my husband used to try to correct my stories until one day God showed him that even he didn’t see all the specifics of an event. Only God knew the whole story and my way of seeing was as valid as David’s facts-only base of viewing life.

It is with this storytelling basis that I venture to share with you some of the truths God has taught me over the years.

One of the most basic lessons I’ve learned is that God is good all the time. This is a lesson I’ve learned, not necessarily from the highs of my life, but usually from the hard things I’ve faced.

As a writer, the easiest way I pray is by writing letters to God. I have stacks of notebook that go back over forty years. As I have read through those notebook I’ve seen many prayers that God did not answer. I pleaded with God many times to remedy a problem in my life or to give me something I longed to receive and it appeared that He ignored my requests. But as I’ve gone over these prayers years later I discovered something. God did not ignore me, He simply knew me better than I knew myself. There are verses in Romans 8:25-27 that say, “But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” I have learned that when I pray, the Holy Spirit within me says, “Father, she doesn’t understand what she is asking. This is really the true desire of her heart,” and He rewords the prayer according to the will of God and according to my deepest longings. That is the prayer God answers. Let me give you an example.

In the early eighties we wanted to buy a house near Lake Zurich, Illinois where we had been living for over six years. During that time we lived in four different houses and we were tired of living-in with people or renting. Both options left us bound by other people’s rules. I pleaded with God to allow us to buy a home close to the church where David was the associate pastor and near the park district where I was teaching preschool. It didn’t happen. As I read those prayers years later, I thanked God that He hadn’t answered my pleadings. One year later, God moved us out of the Chicago area to Champaign, Illinois where we not only purchased two houses in our twelve years there, but He allowed us to build one and have the fun of picking out the design and all the furnishings. Had we purchased one in Lake Zurich, it would have been a hassle to sell it in the timeframe we had for moving and after one year in the financial climate of the early eighties, it would have been a huge financial loss for us. God’s plan was much better and gave me the creative outlet I was craving.

In the late seventies my great-aunt Suzanne had one child, Patty, and she had four children. Patty’s husband, Don, was in the National Guard reserves and away for two weeks so Patty decided to visit him. On the Sunday before she left, she talked to some friends at church and asked, “What do you do when your children want to play funeral?” On Wednesday night at church Patty mentioned to her friends that she felt the need to go to each of her children that week and make sure they had personally said “Yes” to Jesus. On Saturday, when they were traveling to Minnesota to visit Don, they hit a semi-truck head on and were all killed instantly. How does that show that God is good? As friends related their last conversations with Patty to my aunt Suzanne, she realized that God not only prepared her daughter and grandchildren to meet Him, but they had left behind a clear testimony that Patty and all four of her children loved God and were now they were safely and forever with Him in heaven and that Suzanne would definitely see them again. Inside her grief, Aunt Suzanne had the wonderful hope of being together once more and that brought her peace in the center of her pain. In the middle of it all God sustained Don as well and brought him through without bitterness to a place of peace and joy.

Our family has been riddled by tragedies yet God’s peace and love has flowed over us and His goodness has shone brightly. It has taught us that God’s goodness doesn’t mean everything will be easy, but it does mean that He will love us, hold us, and lead us through the trial to victory on the other side. He pours out His peace, joy and grace in the middle of everything. He works all things together for our good and His glory as we trust in Him.

Today I struggle with a terminal illness. It is not what I wanted or expected in my life. Yet God’s hand of goodness overflows. He gave wonderful physicians, free medication that would have been impossible to afford on our own, and already He has extended my life for almost a year beyond what the doctor’s told me I would have. During this time, He gives me strength for the things I need to do, joy in the wonderful moments with my husband and family, and peace that tells me that He is the one in charge of my life. This has made life more precious than I ever imagined possible. He has proved once again that He is good all the time.

Some people say God doesn’t want us to have pain and anytime it comes it is from the enemy. I don’t believe that for a moment. I was teaching a club for children and the memory verse for the day was John 16:33: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” I asked the children what promise of God was in the verse, thinking that God had promised peace and to overcome the world. Instead, one of the girls answered, “Tribulation.” I did a double-take, but she was exactly right. God disciplines us, brings trials to teach us that His grace is sufficient, and allows sufferings so we can join in the sufferings of Christ.

David has had the privilege of teaching leaders of the underground church in places around the world. In one group David led, several had just a month before been imprisoned for their faith. One man was taken by the guard and told he was to be beaten to death. As the beating was happening, the man began to laugh. It made the guard hit him harder. The harder he was hit, the more the man laughed. Disgusted that the beating was just bringing the man joy, the guard threw him back in his cell. When his friends asked him what happened, he said as he was being beaten, he remembered the verse from Matthew 11:28-29: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” The man said he realized he was bearing the yoke of Jesus and sharing in His sufferings, and that filled him with joy. That joy saved his life. A week later they were all released from prison by a miracle and a month later were in the class with David.

David told the men he had not expected them to be such fun-loving, joyful people after all they went through. They told David they pray for persecution to come to the American Church, for they believe it is only in persecution and great trial that we come to understand the great love of God.

But God is good in joyful times as well as trials. He gave me the very best husband in the world even though, in the beginning, I wondered about His gift. As He has grown us up and together, I’ve come to marvel at the wonderful gift He gave us in our marriage. His ability to put just the right people in our path, to give us gifts just as we need them most, and to bring opportunities we never thought possible into our lives have often left us gasping for breath.

One incident was when a woman called us from Austria and asked if she could stay with us while her daughter checked out the University of Illinois. They came and then wanted to go to the University of Indiana. On Sunday after church we were just heading out the door when the phone rang. It was a friend from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Conference Center asking if we could pick up someone at the Champaign bus depot and bring him to Decatur, Illinois where our friend could pick him up. We said we could, especially as we were just heading out the door to drive to Decatur for lunch. In our tiny Toyota, Corkie, her daughter Heather and I squeezed in the back seat while David and the young man sat in front doing small talk to get acquainted. The young man told us he had been living in Russia working for a man who was part of a new political party. He wanted to know what clubs American high schools had, so, being a Christian, the young man mentioned Youth for Christ, Young Life, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. His boss stopped him and told him to go to America and find out how to get Fellowship of Christian Athletes in all the schools of Russia. (This was just as the Wall was about to come down.) He had been disappointed because FCA is only a stateside organization. Corkie, our new friend in the back seat chimed in. She and her husband were in charge of Campus Crusade for Christ in Europe, especially in training people behind the Iron Curtain in case the Wall ever fell. She told the young man they had trained leaders for Athletes In Action all through Russia, but no contacts to get it into the schools. In our car the two traded information and as you know from history, the Wall fell, and Campus Crusade for Christ moved into the schools of Russia with the Jesus movie and thousands came to Christ. We sat in wonder at the goodness of God to let us have a tiny part in that great miracle. We planned nothing. God did it all.

God is good all the time. In pain, in trial, in joy and in the unexpected. God is at work for our good and His glory. And He makes it all good.