Miracle on 34th Street

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:14-17 ESV) Valentine Davies was born in New York, died in Hollywood, served in the Coast Guard, graduated from the University of Michigan, wrote a number of Broadway plays, served as president of the Screen Writers Guild, was general chairman of the Academy Awards program, and yet few would remember his name. But his Christmas classic "Miracle on 34th Street” is remembered by anyone who "believes." The 1947 novel "Miracle on 34th Street" became a movie the same year, earning the author an Academy Award for the Best Original Story. The film itself was nominated for the top picture. Edmund Gwenn, who played Kriss Kringle, won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and George Seaton received one of the gold statues for his screenplay of Davies’ story. Though not an award winner for this effort, child actor Natalie Wood won the hearts of viewers as Susan Walker, the little girl whose doubt in the existence of Santa Claus is transformed by her association with Gwenn’s Kriss Kringle. It has become one of the classics of the Christmas season. It is a story of transformation. Transformation is often both ugly and beautiful! Caterpillars are ugly, yet they become one of the most beautiful creatures of God’s design. Once an animal covered with ugly black hair becomes a butterfly splashed with amazing colors; once an animal that lives off the leaves on the ground becomes the connoisseur of flower nectar; and, once a creature that once crawled everywhere becomes one that can fly everywhere. We’re not talking makeover here. We’re talking miracle! The Creator who so miraculously transforms caterpillars does something far more amazing; He does it for people, like you and me. He did it for Bill Hadley. He was a handsome, successful man, with a fatal flaw, alcohol. He’d been hooked since he was 12 years old, and no one could get him unhooked, including himself. His addiction eventually cost him his job, his relationship with his family, even his freedom, landing him in prison for a while. He was, in essence, crawling through life on a caterpillar level because of something inside him he couldn’t change. So one night Bill Hadley decided to die. He was on his way to Lake Michigan in Chicago to end his life when he heard this vaguely familiar song coming out of an old rescue mission. It was a song his mother used to sing. He decided to go in for a minute, never dreaming that the caterpillar that went into that mission would emerge a butterfly. From that night on, Bill Hadley never touched a drop of alcohol again. He became a wonderful husband, a loving father, and a respected spokesman for the God who changed his life. That night he was planning to die, Bill Hadley began a new life, by beginning a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Your struggles with your own darkness may be different from Bill Hadley’s, however, the same kind of miracle can happen to you. It’s...

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The Proposal

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13 ESV) A news item caught my eye this week when I logged on to my home server.  It was titled, “Five Worst Proposal Mistakes Guys Make.”  The article centered on the mistakes that should be avoided when asking someone to marry you.  It included five pointers.  The first was called “premature proposing.”  The subheading is self-explanatory. It dealt with the need to wait until you really had the opportunity to know one another.  The second one was a little more difficult to understand from the heading.  It was “it’s not about you.”  The gist of the advice was to ask in a manner that you think she would like rather than how you would like it to be.  It was about being selfless in your proposal.  The next two were similar and dealt with not being too elaborate or complicated.  And the last was advice to be patient. If your intended needed more time to think about such a commitment, be prepared to extend that time with grace. I know you are wondering what this article has to do with a spiritual thought for the day, but it struck me that Jesus’ invitation to us does follow the same “etiquette.” In our reading this morning Matthew was asked to make a life commitment to follow Jesus. It was not a demand, but a request. Jesus is always the perfect “gentleman” in His requests of us. How strange that we often miss the call of God in our lives because we wait for the “burning bush” experience.  There are those times in some people’s lives, however for most of us, Jesus simply asks us to follow Him in a soft, gentle voice. The New Year is almost dawned.  There are so many unknowns about this year.  The economy is an uncertain, the world is in turmoil, and personal decisions about your vocation or relationships may be before you. Jesus is calling to you to come to Him. There will be your answers for the future.  It is not a simple answer for a complex problem.  It is a step of faith in securing your future beyond the immediate challenges of this life. Wherever you may be “sitting,’ like Matthew, Jesus calls you to follow Him. In Christ we can have so much. He offers us a love that can never be fathomed; a life that can never die; a righteousness that can never be tarnished; a peace that can never be understood; a rest that can never be disturbed; a joy that can never be diminished; a hope that can never be disappointed; a glory that can never be clouded; a light that can never be darkened; a purity that can never be defiled; a beauty that can never be marred; a wisdom that can never be baffled; and, resources that can never be exhausted. What will you answer...

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Blameless

For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 ESV) I read a great story some time ago about two young men that joined a construction crew commissioned to build a multistory office building. At lunch they sat themselves on an iron girder high above the ground and opened their lunch boxes. "I can’t believe it," groaned Joe. "Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I don’t like peanut butter and jelly!" With that, he crumpled his sandwiches and hurled them to the ground. Lunch on the second day was a repeat of the first–Joe became visibly upset with the sandwiches in his lunch. Once again, he hurled the sandwiches 17 stories below. Joe’s buddy dreaded lunch on the following day. Sure enough, rather than enjoying a well-deserved rest, he was stuck listening to his new coworker complain. Day after day he silently watched Joe sort through his lunch, exclaim over the offending sandwiches, and send them hurtling to the ground. "I’ve had it with peanut butter and jelly!" screamed Joe once again. Angrily smashing the sandwiches in his hand, he thrust them to the ground below. Unable to restrain himself any longer, Joe’s buddy blurted out, "Look, if you don’t like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, then tell your wife not to make them anymore." "Hey, buddy, wait a minute," snapped Joe. "Don’t bring my wife into this. I make my own sandwiches!" Sometimes we complain about the way things are when we have nobody to blame but ourselves. We are not mere victims of circumstance. We have the power to control our reaction to what happens to us. But we need to do more than complain; we need to take action. The Apostle Paul saw that characteristic in people and when he wrote to the church at Thessalonica, he encouraged them to let their love grow and overflow to others. By doing that, the result would be a strengthening of their hearts so that they might be blameless before God. It almost seems too simple to be the truth.  If we merely love others then we can be blameless.  Yet, that’s at the heart of the message Jesus had when asked about commandments. The “Royal Commandments” were simple: first, love God with all your heart, mind and soul; and, second, love others as you do yourself. What better time than Christmas to show others the love of God you have found in Christ? There are so many ways to do that. Speak a word of encouragement to those around you.  It might be the only kindness they are shown that day! Go out of your way to do something for someone less privileged.  Take food to a sick neighbor. Take some flowers to your local convalescent center. There are hundreds of ways to express a little bit of love to others at this time of the year. Pick one and renew the pattern of love in your...

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Past and Future

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. (Philippians 3:13-15 ESV) Another year has almost slipped into history. It has been full of many changes. Perhaps your year had more than its share of changes. As I began to reflect on my year, I was reminded of a principle that I have made a focus for a long time: Never let past failures or future fears rob you of present joy. I have found that concentrating on this proverb has helped put many experiences into perspective. The following story illustrates the point so well: Dick Lehman is a marvelous potter in Goshen, Indiana. One day a number of years ago Dick was hosting a visiting Canadian potter for three days of raku firing at his studio. Raku is a method of firing pottery loosely based on a 16th century Japanese technique, where a piece is rapidly fired, removed from the kiln while hot, placed in a container or pit with combustible material, and covered. Many interesting glaze and surface effects can be obtained using this method. Dick Lehman and his friend had limited time, so they decided to fire on the second day, in spite of threatening, very stormy skies. At one point when they were moving one of the large pots from the kiln to the post-firing reduction container, a tornado touched down several miles away. The surrounding gusts of wind toppled his container and Dick’s prized pot rolled down a dirt bank into a large clump of wet grasses. His heart fell to his feet. Very unhappy, he retrieved the pot, covered it up again, and "waited with dismal certainly for it to cool and confirm it’s almost-certain" failure. But when he uncovered the pot, he said, "To my surprise I discovered a colorful photo-like image of the wet grasses on the side of the pot." This happy accident led Dick to pursue intentionally firing fresh leaf images onto his raku pots. As he experimented, he was able to create an almost photographic clarity to the images. Today his innovative fresh leaf nature images on pottery fetch very handsome prices, once again proving the old adage; some happy accidents are the mother of great bankrolls. 1 Perhaps this year has been one “storm” after another for you. Perhaps some of the challenges you have faced were of no cause of your own. Can you find a way to pick up the ruined pot and unwrap it to find the treasure that remains? Often out of the most difficult of experiences come the best blessings. Out of illness, comes new awareness of the love and support of family and friends. Out of financial setback, perhaps you learn how to trim your expenses, or get by on less. The disappointment of not making it into the school or job of your choice turns out to be a blessing in disguise, and you find new meaning or new friends in another location. Each year, each day, and each moment really, is a fresh chance to begin again. Put the past where it belongs – in the past! Live in the moment God has given you and trust Him for your...

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Fist or Cut Bait?

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62 ESV) There is a very old saying that you may have heard before: Are you going to fish or cut bait? It is typically used when someone needs to be encouraged to take action.  The following joke is very old, but bears repeating for emphasis this morning: Old Pete had a knack for catching fish. Every weekend Old Pete went fishing and returned with dozens of fish. Nobody knew how he did it. When other fisherman were unable to land more than three or four, Old Pete always came back with stringer after stringer of freshly caught fish. Curious, the fish and game warden decided to investigate. He followed Old Pete out to the lake, and when he launched his boat at the dock, the warden asked if he could ride along and observe. "Sure," said Old Pete. "Hop in." Old Pete started up his outboard motor. When they arrived at an obscure reach of the lake, Pete stopped the boat. The warden sat back and watched. Reaching into a box, Pete pulled out a stick of dynamite, lit it, and tossed it into the water. After the explosion dead fish soon started rising to the surface. Old Pete took out a net and started scooping them up. "Wait a minute!" said the warden. "What do you think you’re doing? You can’t do that! I’ll put you in jail, buddy! You’ll be paying every fine in the book! You’ll never fish again!" Old Pete calmly put down his net, picked up a second stick of dynamite, lit it, and tossed it in the warden’s lap. "So are you gonna sit there criticizing me all day," he asked the panicked warden, "or are you gonna fish?" The fish and game warden was quickly transformed from passive observer to, shall we say, enthusiastic participant. It is always important to think before making decisions.  However, some people make the “getting ready” part of a decision a life-long event and forget that reaching a goal demands action. Life really is a participatory sport! Often when we fail to make decisions, the moment passes us by. This is the clear principle Jesus taught in our reading this morning. The young man who wanted to go home and bury his father sounds as if he is making a reasonable request, until you realize that his real intent is to go home until he can legitimately receive his inheritance. It is tantamount to “looking back.”  This New Year determine to do more than just “cut bait.”  Do some fishing! Plan well, but take action in your life! See if good things don’t immediately...

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All Things Great and Small

I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses—though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:1-10 ESV) Helen Keller said, "I have found that though the ways in which I can make myself useful are few, yet the work open to me is endless…I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty and joy to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. All of us have had ambitions of doing great works. Most of us have probably dreamed of having our name in print or achieving stardom or arriving as a star athlete. But, to be honest, the majority of the people are just ordinary people doing ordinary jobs. The people that stand out are the ones that do their ordinary jobs with excellence. The difference in ordinary and extraordinary is just that little extra. It makes all the difference in the world. There are only a few superstar positions open, but there are many ordinary positions where we can perform extraordinarily. The key, as Helen Keller says, is to treat those humble things as though they were great and noble. When you give them the attention they deserve, then and only then do you get to do a few great things. The good news is that you’ll be prepared because you did the small things first. When artists transfer a drawing to a large surface, like a wall, they often divide the painting into small blocks. Then they paint the blocks one at a time. I may not be able to paint an entire wall to exact detail, but I could paint a small block, then another, then another until eventually I have a huge portrait. What little thing does God want you to do? No matter how small, treat it with nobility and accomplish it with vigor. That’s a New Year’s resolution worth...

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