Midweek Reflections

The Exaggerators

Read: Psalm 33

During these times of holiday gatherings with family and friends many stories are told from the past year or years that bring back good memories and share new experiences with others.  In some cases those stories tend to get exaggerated.  I’m not sure if you have a family member or friend that does this but I have a couple in mind (that statement might get me in trouble).  I guess I should admit that I sometimes fall into that trap as well.

Pastor Judah Smith admits that he is an exaggerator in one of his devotionals.  He writes, “I always exaggerate.  I do it all the time.  Life is never bland or colorless to me.  I make everything bigger, crazier, and more dramatic than it actually is.  See?  I just exaggerated four times in that one paragraph.”  Human stories, memories, and experiences sometimes get overblown and stretched out of proportion but we can never do that with the stories of God.

This past Sunday I shared a message about how amazing God is.  I asked the congregation to text me with ways that God is amazing.  My phone went crazy for a while.  So many descriptions of how incredible and amazing God truly is.  From Creator to Forgiver, from Love to Redemption, from Miracles to Strength, none of the descriptions could exaggerate who God is.

Psalm 33 is a testimony to this.  It is full of words that might seem like exaggeration and yet they are all true.  “By the word of the Lord, the heavens were made.”  “He spoke and it came to be.”  “He gathers the waters of the sea.”  “From his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth.”  Are you convinced yet?  Those are amazing claims of God’s power, omnipotence, goodness, and love.

Later on his devotional Judah Smith writes this, “If you are going to talk about big things, if you are going to use grand, sweeping statements, do it about God’s love.  Go ahead and try.  Just try to exaggerate his love.  To overstate his goodness.  To overemphasize his faithfulness.  To overestimate his kindness toward you and me.  No matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to.”

The next time you tell a story with exaggerated details or hear someone else using those words, remember how amazing God is.  Celebrate the truth that we can never over-exaggerate who God is, what Jesus has done for us, and the freedom that we are given through Christ.  It is AMAZING!

Make it personal:  Try to think of some of the biggest words you can think of to describe how incredible God is.  Ask your friends what words they would use.  Most importantly, use your testimony to tell others how amazing God is and how their life can be changed by embracing his goodness and love.

Happy New Year,  Glen Rhodes, Arthur Mennonite Church

The Presence of Presents

Read: Matthew 2:1-12

Christmas has overwhelmingly become about the presents under the tree. This is fairly obvious due to the crowded stores and hurried delivery trucks this time of the year. Some people enjoy this part of Christmas because of the joy and symbolism of gift giving and others say that it has made Christmas too materialistic. There is probably some truth to both.

When opening gifts at Christmas we are amazed sometimes how little children often find just as much enjoyment in the boxes and wrappings as they do the presents that are inside. Wired magazine, which is a publication on high-tech things, recently ran an article that named the top five best toys ever. Their list included…. A stick, a box, string, a cardboard tube, and dirt. That makes us wonder if we really need to spend all of that money.

But there is enjoyment in blessing others with gifts and there is some tradition and history behind the reason that we give those gifts. Not everyone agrees on the exact reason that we give gifts but some of the reasons are obvious. The Magi brought gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh when they came to Bethlehem to worship Jesus the newborn King (Matthew 2). God gives us the gift of His Son as our Savior at Christmas. Jesus brings us the gift of grace and salvation through his birth, life, and sacrifice.

The New Testament uses the word “Gift” 66 times and many of those references are referring to Jesus coming to us and saving us from our sins. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he GAVE his one and only Son…” Ephesians 2 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the GIFT of God…”

Obviously the nature, value, and intention of giving gifts varies from person to person and family to family. In the early days of gift giving presents were very modest and included such things as cakes, fruit, nuts, dolls and items of clothing. These days they can be about as large and expensive as a person can dream up. But despite the cost or the gift the most important part of giving someone a gift is the love that goes with that gift.

So, there are many reasons that we give gifts during this time of the year. But as we give those gifts let us celebrate, remember, and treasure the greatest gift that has ever been given to us in Jesus Christ. He has blessed us in so many ways that we want to bless others and give to others, and if we do it in the right spirit those blessings can be extended.

Make it personal:  If you have children or grandchildren who are excited about opening their gifts this Christmas (and whose kids are not?) take the time to talk with them about why we give and receive gifts during this time of the year. It is a great opportunity to tell the story of God, Jesus, the Magi, and probably many others. Enjoy giving your gifts this Christmas!

Merry Christmas Everyone, Glen Rhodes, Arthur Mennonite Church

Building up or Tearing down?

Read: Ephesians 4:29-32

Do your words build people up or do they tear people down? This is an important question that we all need to ask ourselves. Encouragement can do wonders in a person’s life, but the opposite of that can destroy confidence, self-worth, and opportunities for other people to grow.

School bullying has received a lot of attention in recent years for good reason. Bullying can tear down in ways that are devastating to school aged kids. But adults need to heed those words as well. Adults can bully and treat people in ways that are just as bad as what goes on in our schools.

This reminds me of the story about author Muriel Anderson. She was asked one time about who encouraged her and how she became a writer and author. She said that four particular words shaped her life. Those words were spoken over and over by her father and became building blocks for her self-esteem and confidence.

She said, “I was fortunate enough to have a father who was good at saying “Of course you can!” just at the right moments. She shared about one time that her family had moved from a small town high school to a very large high school in the city. She wrote an article about the wonderful small town that she had left behind but figured the paper in that small town would not print it.

The paper had a tight budget and rarely would publish any freelance articles that were written, especially from an amatuer high school writer. But her dad kept encouraging her to send it and see if they would publish it. She said to him, “I don’t think I can get it published.” His words to her were, “Of course you can!” She sent it, they published it, and Muriel eventually became an author and writer.

In a world that so often likes to tear down, we need to build up. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” When we follow that advice we just don’t know who and how we may shape someone’s future.

Yes, there are times for helpful correction, words of advice, and thoughtful instruction. But those words must be anchored in love and not hate. People will never agree on every detail in this life, but we must have each other’s best interest at heart. When our life is over do we want to look back at all of the people we have built up or look back on those we have torn down?

Let’s build together. Whatever your occupation, calling, or ministry, let’s find ways to encourage those around us. Let’s make a difference in this world by choosing a different type of communication style. A style encouraged by scripture.

Make it personal: Try to be aware of your words this week. Think about times that you choose words that do not build the other person up. Make a conscious effort, with God’s help, to be an encouraging and helpful presence in this world.

Blessings, Glen Rhodes, Arthur Mennonite Church

The Heart of Christmas

Read: 1 Corinthians 10:23-31

In our consumeristic and confused world it is sometimes difficult to keep the true meaning of Christmas alive in our hearts. But for Christians this is vital! We can continuously try to point out to the world that if Jesus Christ were not born in Bethlehem there would be no December 25th celebrations. But more importantly we should be sure to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas in our families and in our own hearts.

Christmas is not about us. Christmas is not about the economy. Christmas is not about who has the best decor. Christmas is not about ________ (you add your own here). Christmas is about God coming to earth to save the world through his son Jesus Christ and showing us how to live for God’s glory instead of our own. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 Paul reminds us that we are to do all that we do in this life for the glory of God.

In her book “In My Father’s House” Corrie Ten Boom tells the story of a monk who sang a Christmas song every Christmas Eve for his brothers in the monastery, and for visitors who would come from the village for special services. His voice was very ugly, but he loved the Lord and sang from his heart. One year the director of the cloister said, “I’m sorry Brother Don, we will not need you this Christmas. We have a new monk who has a beautiful voice.”

The man did have a wonderful voice, and everyone was impressed. But that night an angel came to the superior and said, “Why didn’t you have a Christmas Eve song?” The superior was very surprised and said, “We had a beautiful song, didn’t you hear it?” The angel shook his head sadly and said, “It may have been inspiring to you, but we didn’t hear it in heaven.”

Corrie goes on to write, “The old monk with the raspy voice had a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, but the young monk was singing for his own benefit and glory, not for that of the Lord.” This story made me think about how we celebrate Christmas. Is it for our own benefit, pleasure, and excitement? Or is it a celebration of our relationship with Jesus our Savior?

We can’t expect the entire world to celebrate the heart of Christmas in the same way as those who believe in God and follow Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. But we can pray that somehow the true heart of Christmas might help them to understand what God has done for them. We cannot change minds and hearts, only Jesus can do that. May our lives and our testimony of Christmas be focused on Jesus this year and every year!

Make it personal: While we can’t expect every store, political figure, or publication to proclaim a Merry Christmas to everyone, we can do it ourselves. Take the opportunity this month to spread the joy of the Christmas story in any way possible. With words, songs, stories, and the truth about the heart of the Christmas story. May it be in each of our hearts!

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas! Glen Rhodes, Arthur Mennonite Church

Traveling Mercies

Read: Numbers 6:22-27

Many people will be traveling on the roadways over this Thanksgiving holiday.  Statistics show that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday following are the two busiest travel days on the calendar.  We pray for traveling mercies for all those who will be traveling to be with family and friends this week.

Numbers 6 says, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you.”  This reminded me of a story about St. Francis of Assisi.  One day, he longed to see his brothers.  They agreed to meet in a remote place of central Italy.  After arriving and enjoying their reunion, each reported what he had experienced on the road.

One brother who had traveled by muleback said: “God protected me in a miraculous way.  When I was crossing a narrow bridge over a deep mountain gorge, the mule jumped.  I fell and narrowly escaped falling over the wall of the bridge into the gorge.  God by his love saved my life.”

The other brother said: “I had to cross a river and I slipped and fell.  The waters carried me down the river.  But God in his grace provided a tree which had fallen across the river.  I could grasp a branch of that tree and pull myself ashore, thanks to God’s miraculous mercy.”  Then St. Francis said:  “Let us thank God for his wonderful works.  I did experience the greatest miracle of all on my way.  I had the smoothest, most pleasant, completely uneventful trip.”

This story is just another reminder that we have so much to be thankful for.  For God’s mercy, protection, provision, and even the days that are calm and uneventful.  May this Thanksgiving Day be a time of joyful thanks for God’s part in every part of our lives.
Make it personal:  Thank God for the everyday things of your life this week!

Happy Thanksgiving, Glen Rhodes, Arthur Mennonite Church

Good People

Read: Luke 6:43-45; Romans 15:14-22

I am afraid! But not for the reason you might think. I am afraid that we are becoming so consumed by 24 hour news coverage of all the bad people in the world that we are forgetting about the many, many, many more good people there are. Anytime we turn on the news we see “Breaking News” about the acts of terrorism, hatred, and violence that go on in our country and around the world. I believe it paints a distorted picture of the people of this world.

Yes, those evil acts are terrible and we must not hide our heads in the sand and pretend that they are not happening. We must make them and those involved a matter of daily prayers for sure. But I want to remind us all that the percentage of good people in this world far outnumber the percentage of bad people. It’s just that we always hear about the bad and not enough of the good. That may because of news reporting or it may be because they are giving people what they want?

I am the point where I also want to hear about all of those good people in the world! Like those people of Paris, Lebanon, Russia, and Baghdad who shined in the midst of such terrible situations they found themselves in recently. Like those people in our communities and in our own country that have a heart of service, love, and concern for their fellow brothers and sisters. Give me a 24 hour news channel that focuses on them please!

In Luke 6 Jesus talked about tree’s being recognized by their fruit. He said, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.” There is way more good fruit in this world than bad. In Romans 15 Paul encouraged the people in Rome by saying, “I myself am convinced… that you yourselves are full of goodness…”

Sin and evil will always be with us in this world. We are thankful that Jesus has provided a way for human beings to be delivered from that sin and that evil. Let’s continue to share the Good News of Jesus with those who need to hear it. But let’s focus our view on the many good people in our world and give them the credit they are due. It just might change the way we view God’s world and the many needs in God’s world. Yes, this is God’s world!

Make it personal: Sometimes we just need to turn off the news or focus our attention elsewhere for a while. We never should forget the hurting and needy world that is around us, but find ways to calm your fears and be reminded of God’s care for you and them. Turn to the Bible and read about the ways that Jesus encourages us to be good people and bear good fruit in this world. Also read that most important part about being saved from this world through Jesus Christ!

Have a peace-filled week, Glen Rhodes, Arthur Mennonite Church

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