2014 in review

Thank you for your support and encouragement in 2014. I’m praying for an even greater 2015! See you then.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,100 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Trying to Get the Pageant Right

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

I love Christmas. I especially love the children’s Christmas programs at church. There is something about hearing and seeing the story of Christ’s birth through the eyes of a child that just makes it even more special for me.

One of the things I have learned over the years is that Christmas is about the unexpected — especially when children are involved.

I heard about a Christmas pageant being presented at a small church. The innkeeper was played by a boy named Ralph who had very much wanted to play the role of Joseph. He didn’t get the part, and had actually refused to even participate int he program — but his mother INSISTED that Ralph do his duty and be a part of the pageant. So…Ralph was the innkeeper.

Ralph decided to get even with the director and his mother who didn’t let him play the part of Joseph. When that part of the pageant occurred in which Joseph inquired about a room, Ralph turned to the audience and grinned. As loudly as he could, Ralph said, “SURE — come on in! We’ve got plenty of room.”

The audience — especially Ralph’s mother was shocked. The director gasped. Joseph and Mary were stunned. They were expecting to be turned away. But — as the saying goes — “the show must go on.”

Obediently, Joseph and Mary walked in the inn. But the young man playing Joseph was equal to the occasion. He looked around, turned to Mary and said, “Hey, Mary — this place is a dump! I’d rather stay in the stable!”

What would like be without surprises?

“Well Pastor — it would be  a whole lot less embarrassing I think!”

Maybe so. There are plenty of surprises we could do without. Christmas is not one of them. God came into the world in the person of a tiny baby. Angels sang and the shepherds rejoiced and the world was forever changed. That’s one surprise that this old world is still coming to terms with.

As you celebrate Christmas with your family this week — it is likely some “unexpected” things might occur. Don’t get rattled. God often uses the unexpected to bring His greatest blessings. As I celebrate — I’m just doing my best to “get the pageant right” with as few major surprises as possible.

Remember — because God became flesh, He knows our problems and struggles. Jesus experienced physical and mental needs. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us, “for we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”

God took a giant step when He stepped through time and space to come to rescue you and me. As we celebrate Christmas — remember we walk by faith and in so doing — surprises come. But they are not unexpected to God — He’s got it under control and will use even the worst of circumstances to reveal His glory and purpose to you in your life.

Merry Christmas!

Thank God for Jesus

Well…first things first. I promised a picture of my grandson yesterday and I forgot to attach it. So — here you go. This is Hudson Keith Vaughan and he is Poppa’s Buddy. He’s almost 6 months old and I call him “Scooter.”

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Now…Today’s Devotion

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.” (Colossians 1:15-16)

I suppose everybody has their own list of things for which they are thankful. I heard about a little fellow in Sunday school who was asked make a list of things for which he was thankful. He wrote down that he was thankful for his glasses.

The teacher was impressed by that. Some people resent having to wear glasses. Here, obviously, was a child mature enough to appreciate what wearing glasses did for him.

“Johnny,” she said, “I see that you put your glasses down at the head of the list of things for which you are thankful. Is there any special reason for that?”

“Yes, ma’am. My glasses keep the boys from hitting me and the girls from kissing me.”

As I was reading Colossians 1 today, I found something for which I am thankful. I’m thankful for THE INCARNATION. Paul says, “He is the image of the invisible God…” If you keep reading, Paul says, “He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:18).

Crucial to everything we believe as Christians is this truth. God loved the world so much that He made the long journey from where He was to where we are. When it was impossible for us to reach out to Him, He reached out to us.

We may be divided by theologies, how we baptize people and a host of other issues — but on one point we must all agree — God became flesh and dwelled among us. That is the incarnation and without it, we have no eternal inheritance. John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Here is how Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer describes the incarnation.

“In a reasonable effort to attain to a worthy appraisement of the Redeemer, this fundamental truth must be fixed in mind as the ground for all other realities which enter into His marvelous, exalted Being, namely, that, since He combines in Himself undiminished Deity and perfect humanity, there is none other comparable to Him, either within the Godhead, among angels, or among men.” (Systematic Theology, vol. 3, p. 15)

Do you see how important this is? There was no other way that God could possibly have revealed His nature to us. Suppose, instead, He had chosen one of us and taken us to be with Him and then sent us back to tell everybody else. Do you actually think people would listen?

Years ago in The American Magazine, Merle Crowell told a true story from Alaska. It was about an Eskimo from Greenland who was taken on one of the American North Polar expeditions a number of years ago. Later, as a reward for his faithfulness he was brought to New York City for a visit. He was amazed at the sights and sounds he experienced there. When he returned to his native village, he told stories of buildings that rose into the very face of the sky; of streetcars, which he described as houses that moved along the trail, with people living in them as they moved, of mammoth bridges, artificial lights, and all of the other dazzling aspects of being in a large city.

His people looked at him coldly. They did not believe him. Indeed, they gave him a new name. The name was Sagdluk — which means “The Liar.” He kept that name all of the rest of his life until his old name was entirely forgotten.

There was no other way God could have done it. It was essential that the God of all creation take upon Himself the flesh and frailty of humanity.

And for THAT, I am thankful.

Have a great day.

Proceed With Caution

“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” (I Corinthians 3:19)

For the record…

Edna and I both grew up “believing” in Santa Claus and we have turned out to be reasonably well-adjusted adults. Any maladjustment we experience comes from something OTHER THAN Santa, I can assure you.

When we married and Danielle and Dustin were born, we also celebrated Christmas with the inclusion of Santa Claus. Again, nothing evil happened and we didn’t diminish the significance of Christmas by including Santa in our Christmas traditions.

I now have a grandson — in case you didn’t already know that — I’ll include a picture of him for you to see in a bit. We took him to see Santa a few weeks ago and I’m sure his mom and dad will include Santa in their Christmas traditions as well.

Let me say this as clearly as I can…because we have included Santa in our Christmas fun, we are NOT less spiritual than those of you who choose to leave Santa out of your tradition. By the same token, those of you who have decided that Santa has absolutely NO PLACE in our homes or lives as Christians are NOT more spiritual than me. I respect your decision to include or exclude Santa and I expect you to do the same with me. I’m still saved and I’m going to heaven when I die and I KNOW Santa has absolutely NOTHING to do with that.

“OK, Pastor Keith. Are you DELIBERATELY trying to start World War III here? Why can’t you just leave well enough alone and stay out of this mess?”

To tell you the truth, I have wrestled with even writing this now for several days. I’m not interested in starting an email/comment war between the two factions. If you want to do that — write your own blog and say what you want to say. My point is simply this…IF you choose to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and include Santa in the family fun of that celebration…proceed with caution and do so responsibly as Christian parents.

Here’s what I suggest to you.

Start by teaching your children about the REAL Saint Nicholas. Nicholas was born during the third century and lived in what is now the southern coast of Turkey. His parents were quite wealthy and they raised him to be a devout Christian. His parents died while Nicholas was still a young boy. Nicholas was so committed to his Christian faith that he used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick and the suffering. He was eventually made Bishop of Myra and was known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need.

Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, Nicholas was persecuted for his faith and eventually put in prison. He died in 343 and was buried in the church where he was Bishop.

NEXT…please make sure your children understand that Santa is NOT God. Here’s where you are going to have to depart from the traditions of the world. We should NEVER attribute characteristics to Santa that belong to God alone. For example…

Santa is NOT omniscient. We mistakenly tell our children that Santa knows if you’ve been good or bad. He knows if you are asleep or awake. That’s just not possible! Only God knows ALL THINGS. There is not person who KNOWS everything about you and who watches you regardless of where you are. ONLY GOD can do that.

Santa is NOT omnipotent. The world says that Santa defies the laws of nature by flying and coming down chimneys to bring toys he has made throughout the year. Nothing is too hard for Santa — no storm will keep him from performing his annual miracle. NOT SO.

Remember this…“For with GOD nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37). GOD — not Santa.

Santa is NOT omnipresent. To visit so many homes in one night requires nothing less than omnipresence. He’s everywhere! NOPE — impossible.

We have also mistakenly taught our children that you can ALWAYS count on Santa. Santa never fails, and he never breaks his word. When Santa makes a promise, he keeps it.

The Bible says in Hebrews 13:5, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.'” GOD is the only one who will never disappoint.

I hope you see the potential problems we create when we — even with the best of intentions — mislead our children into believing there is a human being who possesses the attributes of God.

So…have fun at Christmas. There is absolutely nothing wrong with pretending or encouraging imagination in our children. But don’t allow it to get out of hand to the point that they begin to confuse only things God can do with a fictional character.

Many of you may read this and just completely dismiss it. People are dogmatic in their beliefs about this issue. The older I get, the less dogmatic I am about anything other than the only way of salvation being through Jesus Christ. Instead, I pray that you and your family will seek a fun balance between fun, imagination, pretend and TRUTH.

Whatever you do in your home and with your children — don’t ever minimize the importance of Christmas. We celebrate the birth of the King of Kings and it is through HIS LIFE, DEATH and RESURRECTION we are promised forgiveness of our sins and everlasting life.

I pray this will encourage someone today. Have a great day.

Walk Wisely

“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15)

It was a beautiful summer day and Clarence was enjoying a row in the boat with his lovely girlfriend, anticipating the picnic they would have when they got to the island in the center of the lake. These were days when young men and young women wore more than shorts and t-shirts when out in public.

Clarence had donned a spiffy suit with a high collar, and his female companion had on a long dress with billowing petticoats underneath. Clarence masculinely pulled on the wooden oars as his date sat cooly under her parasol. Though the steamy heat of the summer day began to wring sweat from him, he was so hypnotized by his girlfriend’s beauty, he was not troubled. Finally, he reached their location, dragged the boat onto the shore and helped his girlfriend out of the boat.

He placed all their supplies beneath a spreading shade tree, and as he prepared to sit down and enjoy the coolness of the shade the girl said gently, “Honey, you forgot the ice cream.”

“Ice cream,” stammered Clarence, recalling that the two had planned an ice cream dessert. So the suitor got back into the boat and stroked his way back across the lake. He found a grocery store, bought some ice cream, and headed back for the cool shade where his date sat.

Upon arriving at the island once more, his girlfriend had another friendly reminder — “Clarence, honey, you forgot the chocolate syrup.”

Clarence was in love. So he got back into the boat, grabbed the hot oars once more, and set sail for the grocery store on the shore. He bought the syrup, returned to the boat, and once again began rowing in the hot afternoon sun. But this time the frustration of it all got to him, and half way to the other side, he put up the oars and began to think. There must be a better way.

By the end of the afternoon, Clarence Evinrude had invented the outboard motor. The girl he left stranded on the island became his wife, and the company he started used this story in it’s first ads for the revolutionary new outboard motor.

Clarence was not only smart — he was wise. He applied his intelligence to his situation. I think that is one of the things Paul is telling us in our verse today. The longer I live — the more I see how foolish people have become.

I’m not talking about the everyday “boo-boos” we all make from time to time. I’m talking about the foolishness of some people who believe that they are somehow exempt from life’s physical and moral laws.

The great missionary E. Stanley Jones said,

“The universe is not indifferent to your virtue and your vice, it takes sides. It is a universe where you get results or consequences. If you work with the moral universe, you get results; it will back you, sustain you, and further you; you will have cosmic backing for your way of life. You will get results. But if you go against the moral universe, you get consequences; you will be up against reality; you will be frustrated. Some people go through life getting results. Others get consequences. You are free to choose, but you are not free to choose the results or the consequences of your choices; they are in hands not your own. You do not break these laws written into the nature of things; you break yourselves on them. These laws are class-blind, color-blind, race-blind, religion-blind; break them and you get broken.”

How many more broken marriages, broken bodies, broken lives will it take before people get wise to this one elementary truth — YOUR CHOICES HAVE CONSEQUENCES!

Regardless of the issue — whether personal or national — God’s laws are the same. Galatians 6:7 reminds us — “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”

Teach this lesson to your children and grandchildren. If we, as a nation don’t start to walk wisely…we will continue to reap the consequences of our stupidity.

Have a great day.

Destroying Ourselves

“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)

An insurance agent filed this claim on behalf of one of his clients:

“The insured operates a dude ranch and we insure all of his ranch buildings and his pickup truck. He had been having trouble with coyotes and had rigged up an ingenious sapling cage trap to catch the animals, after which he would shoot them. This time, he decided to try something different — and instead of shooting the coyote, he tied a stick of dynamite to its neck and let the fuse — opening the cage door at the same time. The coyote ran under the insured’s pickup truck. This claim is for the truck which is a total loss.”

Our first response would be that the insured got exactly what he deserved for his cruelty. But let’s look beyond that for just a second to the application of this story in our own lives.

I think we would all have to admit that often when we give in to anger and bitterness, it is we ourselves whom we destroy. Paul says in our verse today, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” But he continues with something that is even more convicting to me — “and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

All you have to do is look at the news and you see the result of hatred, hostility and bitterness. Historians tells us that World War I left the nation of Germany in shambles. Consequently, the people of Germany were bitter towards the entire world. That anger eventually led to World War II. After the war, a stone statue was erected on the Polish frontier. That statue was of a woman brooding in determination facing the Polish nation. Underneath that woman were these words — “Never forget, Germans, of what blind hatred has robbed you.”

When we allow negative and destructive emotions to overtake us, we become like the irate customer who said he was so angry over a mistake make by the store — he said — “You have made me so think, I can’t mad straight!” When anger and bitterness take control — we often do and say ridiculous things.

As believers, we must not let the injustices of the world cause us to respond with bitterness and wrath. We must maintain our Christian witness to the world and remember that God has forgiven every one of us EVEN THOUGH WE DON’T DESERVE IT. When are we Christians going to ever learn to model that kind of forgiveness to the lost world? When are we ever going to comprehend God’s grace to us in such a way that we actually demonstrate it toward those who ridicule and mistreat us?

Charles Spurgeon told the story of a pastor-friend who wrote a book entitled COME UNTO JESUS. Another pastor wrote an article ridiculing the book. At first Spurgeon’s friend suffered in silence, but as time passed the criticism gained wider prominence, his resentment and rage became nearly uncontainable. He wrote an angry response to the critical article filled with spite and anger. He said some ugly things he would never have said under other circumstances. Before he mailed the response, he showed it to Spurgeon and asked him whether he ought to mail it.

After reading the letter, Spurgeon answered, “By all means, mail it. But first of all beneath your signature write, ‘By the author of COME UNTO JESUS.'” The response went unmailed.

If you read Ephesians 5, you will discover that Paul gives a prescription for getting rid of our anger and bitterness toward others. He says, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”

It’s not easy — but nobody ever said it would be. The EASY way is to get angry and destroy everything around us and ourselves in the process. The CHRISTIAN response is to forgive as we have been forgiven and love as we have been loved.

Only God can give us the grace to respond in that way. I pray today He will give me an extra measure of His grace to show toward others.

Have a great day.