The Christmas season continues to be an extraordinary time of year. The celebration of the birth of the Savior. Christmas Day worship service at church. Family. Friends. Bountiful meals on the dining room table. Pretty Christmas tree. Gifts in abundance. Sharing the days with loved ones. Laughter and memories. It is a time when I hear the words from both children and adults, "This is my favorite time of the year!"
This was a relaxing and wonderful Christmas for us. We were not able to make a trip to Oklahoma to see grandkids and family as we do many years, so we really missed that part of this holiday time. But it was still a busy weekend and wonderful time.
On Christmas Eve (Saturday), we had two "shifts" for eating with family and friends. Early in the day, Evan and Callie came over. Crystal, Shawn, Bailey and little Brynnlee arrived a short while later. Evan and Callie brought some appetizers and dips. Sondra had prepared the lunch feast of ham, mashed potatoes, corn, olives and rolls. Crystal brought the green beans, sweet potatoes and deviled eggs, as well as some homemade chocolate balls (some with peanut butter inside and some with crushed oreo cookies inside). We enjoyed a wonderful meal together, and then opened gifts. It is a joy to see Christmas through the eyes of a child (this time it was Bailey)!
They all left around 4 pm. We had invited Sondra's brother (Alden) and some other friends (Kaye Freeman and his wife Miles, Greg Freeman and his co-worker Steve) to come over for dinner and gifts. Sondra got all the food ready again, and we enjoyed the evening together with everyone. We exchanged gifts and sat around for a good time of conversation and fellowship.
Our church usually has a Christmas Eve service, but we did not have one this year because Christmas fell on Sunday. We really wanted our members to have a special time with family to observe their Christmas. It seemed very fitting to have a time of worship and celebration at church on Sunday, Christmas Day! We had a very uplifting time of singing Christmas carols and reading the Christmas story from Luke and Matthew. At the end of the service, a couple came forward to announce their engagement (Jack Shelton and Gail Anderson). It was a fitting way to end the worship hour with joy and clapping!
After church, Alden and Shawn/Crystal/grandkids came over for lunch (great leftovers). Evan had gone to church with his girlfriend Callie. We ate, watched some ballgames and napped. By the time Evan got home, Sondra was making dinner (pot roast with all the trimmings) for a Christmas Day dinner. For a little while in the afternoon, we all went across the street to a church parking lot to watch Bailey ride her new Princess bicycle. She was so cute and so excited.
We ate dinner and later tried to eat up all the desserts (pecan pie, apple pie, cheesecake and chocolate balls). But we failed.....ha ha. More for later! We had a good time of being together and it was a wonderful day.
Yesterday was December 21, the first day of winter. It also happened to be our 40th wedding anniversary. Sondra and I were married on December 21, 1971, in Bakersfield, Calfornia. Last Sunday, I surprised Sondra by showing a short picture presentation on the sanctuary screen in the church auditorium during the worship service. I found photos of us from our wedding and subsequent years. Here are some of the photos I showed.
For our anniversary, we drove down to San Diego yesterday afternoon. I got a room by using Priceline and was lucky enough to get the Hilton Gaslamp Hotel in downtown San Diego. They gave us a room on the 11th floor with a gorgeous view of the city skyline, after we told them that it was our anniversary! We drove around for awhile, just enjoying the weather and the ocean. Since Anthony's Seafood Restaurant is one of our favorites there, we ate there and got a table overlooking the bay. After dinner, I had gone online to buy tickets for a stage play in Old Town. It was a version of "It's A Wonderful Life." We had seats four rows up from the stage, and the show was quite entertaining. It was an enjoyable evening.
We had an exciting time getting a new Heating & Air Conditioning system on the roof of our church. We were blessed with a donation to pay for the unit. A forklift was borrowed from the Coronado Stone company and it had just enough height to set the new AC on the edge of the roof. Several guys hoisted it by hand the rest of the way to where it was to sit on the roof. By that evening, the heater was working in the sanctuary! Awesome.
Last week, I went back to the Chino Valley Christian School to receive a presentation of gifts for our Christmas feeding of the homeless at Fairmount Park in Riverside. The children were so precious and cute as they presented the gifts to me in the auditorium and then filed out to bring them to my car.
Well, that's it for now. Christmas is just a few days away. Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Do you remember reading the columns of Ann Landers and Dear Abby years ago? Someone would write and describe their problem or situation, and then they would ask Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby) or Ann Landers for an answer. Well, I felt a little like "Dear Abby" when I received an email the other day. A lady wrote to me, someone who was a member of a church that I pastored over 20 years ago. She shall remain anonymous in this blog, but I wanted to share my thoughts about helping others who feel lost in life or confused about their situation.
What attitude should we have towards others who are going through emotional and spiritual battles? What advice or counsel can we give those who are searching and trying to seek God? Read the following email that I received and consider what you would say to this individual.
Dear Pastor Galen: There is so much I want to change about my life and I really don't know where to begin. I don't want to be as stressed as I am. I don't want to be as impatient with my kids as I am. I want peace in my life. I know that my kids can't have a peaceful life if their mom is always stressed and worried about every little thing. I know I need to dedicate my life to the Lord. It's just finding the trust that I used to have. There is no church here that I want to be a part of. There are too many back-stabbing, two-faced people here. The only church that I know, the pastor seems to think it's OK for my sister-in-law to live with my brother and have her boyfriends in and out all the time. CAN NOT trust someone like that! What do you suggest I do. I know I need to have faith and believe in the good Lord. It's just so hard sometimes. Especially with everything that has gone wrong in my life! Have I confused you yet? LOL Signed, (Name Withheld)
How would you respond to this lady? How would you encourage and challenge her to find God’s peace and love? What specifics would you share with her to help her get her life on track in spiritual ways?
Here was my response.
Dear (Name Withheld):
Thanks for writing. You are not confused nor are you confusing in how you shared your heart with me. I want to help you so much and have prayed for words to say.
Let me tell you four things very quickly:
1. Don't be too hard on yourself. This phase of life is but a short segment of your whole life. Find a way to accept the difficulties and continue on with faith and perseverance and determination and hope. No one else can make you accept where you are in life. You are the only one. Tell yourself (even if you don't believe it now), "It's OK to be where I am in my life and thoughts right now, because at some point there will be a tomorrow that is better and I will be at peace." Just repeat that over and over, because it is a truth and you must take heart in that.
2. Make changes with purpose. Don't make changes just to make changes. Don't make changes just to make things feel different. Don't make changes just to please others. Changes have to be real and purposeful to be lasting and permanent. The best part of what you said is that your want to change. That is positive and encouraging. Be very methodical and write down what changes you want to make. Make a list. Be realistic and put down things that you can accomplish (by yourself, and with the help of others and most importantly by God's help). Keep a journal of how you are making progress daily and weekly. Just get some paper and write down something each day: (a) how the day went, (b) how you took control of your thought patterns to keep on track, and (c) how you thank God for his continued mercy and grace and comfort and strength.
3. Don't let the negative things around you pull you down. Don't worry about what others are doing that are not helpful, not right or not loving. You cannot control what others think, feel and do. You are only responsible for yourself. So, don't think that others are "supposed" to do the right thing and that they can help you on your life's journey. You will be very disappointed and frustrated and unhappy if you look to others too closely for a perfect role model or perfect encourager. Know that others can be very helpful, but also know that they can also be very distracting or disappointing in their actions.
4. Trust God completely without reservation. God is always waiting for you to surrender your heart and your life fully to him. Turn every part of your life over to him. He is always ready to welcome you back into his wonderful plan for your life. Don't delay. It is not simply saying the words, "Okay Lord, here's my life. Do something with it." It is much more than that. It is saying, "O Father in heaven, I am desperate and needy and hopeless without you. Please help me. I give up trying to do it myself. My life is a mess. Lord, put me back together according to your ways, and I will let you do that right now. I love you because you first loved me and have never given up on me. Even though I don't deserve your love, I accept it. Thank you, Jesus."
One thing I will say is that you need to seek out Christian friends and find a loving church to attend. Keep looking for a Bible-based church that has a heart to minister to the needs of others. Find someone in that church that you can meet with to be accountable for your changes. Meet with that person because you need to have someone who will be dedicated to praying for you daily. Meet with that person to find encouragement and total acceptance without judgment. This person must be mature in the faith, knows how to keep things in confidence and must have a desire to help. That will be a key for you to move forward.
Also, find a time to read the Bible daily. I don't really care what you read. All of the Bible is profitable and good for us. However, you might want to read the Psalms to lift up your heart with encouragement and praise. You might want to read through Proverbs to gain insight and wisdom by seeing life through a godly perspective. If you want to want to learn more about love and fellowship from God's viewpoint, read the little book of First John. If you want to see how God loves you and has a plan for your eternity, read the Gospel of John. If you want to see the power and miracles of God in individuals and in the church, read the book of Acts. If you want to read a good love story, read the book of Ruth. So you see, just start reading and let God speak to your heart as your read his Word.
Lastly, and most important, spend time in prayer. And I don't mean just a quick prayer to end the day. Take time to commune with God on an intimate basis. Pour your heart out to him. Also, take time to just sit and listen to him speak to your heart. It may be difficult or uncomfortable at first, just to sit and not try to be telling God something, but just take time to relax in Him. Allow yourself time to sense God's presence. You may not sense anything at first, but don't give up. Stay focused on hearing from God. He promises to speak to us very clearly with a word that will lift us up and strengthen us for the task at hand.
I hope this is helpful. Write me back at least once a week to let me know what is going on. We love you and are praying for you with great expectations of what God will do!
Signed, Pastor Galen
My prayer is that the Lord will use these encouraging words to help this young lady to seek God more fully to find peace and contentment and joy for her life!
A friend that I have known for more than 40 years gave a challenge in his recent blog. Even though my friend grew up in a Southern Baptist church environment as a child, he later rejected the Bible and God in his early adult life. Today, he is a leader and member of several groups – a Humanist Association, a local atheist group, a chapter of FFRF (Freedom From Religion Foundation) in his area, and the Freethinkers movement. On many occasions, he and I have spirited discussions on-line about religion and faith and the reality of God. I do not debate in any formal sense. I simply express my beliefs and views as clearly as possible, while listening to him and others to see how they come to their conclusions.
My friend began this latest discussion by saying that one can find a Biblical text to justify anything. Because of his beliefs, he apparently wanted to prove his point that he can validate the Bible’s stand on socialism. He quoted from Acts 4:32-37, which describes the actions of the Christian believers in the early church. The believers “had all things common….brought the prices of the things (land and houses) that were sold…and laid them down at the feet of the apostles…and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.”
The challenge came in the form of a statement. “Surely there must be a passage in the Bible which justifies laissez faire capitalism. When you find it, send it to me or post it on your blog.” Okay, I am a sucker for challenges so here goes!
To begin with, let’s start with some definitions.
Socialism. Socialism is an economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy. Through equal-power relations, production is determined by demands and needs, while allocation of products and services is determined by the principle of individual merit / individual contribution. Modern socialism evolved from a political movement that criticized industrialization and private property, attempting to secede from a capitalist society.
Laissez faire. The term laissez faire is French and literally means “let do.” In the context of economy, it means “let it be” or “leave it alone.” It has come to be defined as “let the people do as they wish.”
Laissez faire capitalism.Laissez faire capitalism is an economic system involving ownership by individuals. The goal of individuals is to use property (buildings, machines, capital) to produce goods and services to earn income. It is a culture in which economic transactions between parties are free from government interference and restrictive regulations and taxes.
Next, let us establish the truth that the Bible does not speak specifically about socialism or capitalism. One may find some little thread of thought, by some sense of logic or inference about socialistic or capitalistic ideals. But, again, there is no mention of socialism or capitalism within the body of Scripture.
However, the Bible is very clear about work ethic, financial responsibility and helping others.
With that in mind, let us go back to the Scripture text of Acts 4. We have looked at verses 32-37, but my friend left out the most important verse preceding this passage. In Acts 4:31, it says that the believers prayed and the place was shaken where they had assembled together. They were all filled with the Holy Ghost (the Spirit of God) and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
Do you see how this affects what happens in verses 32-37? Because of the presence of God, the believers testified, became one in unity, shared their possessions and property and finances, sacrificed, felt the power and grace of God emphatically, and saw how the needs of all present were met.
It was definitely not socialism in action. It was God’s movement in action. It was not by vote or decree that believers gave of themselves. It was by the power of God in their hearts that they gave.
Socialism allows secular society to determine needs and distribution. In socialism, there is someone (or some policy group) who has power and authority to determine what is best, even though the system is supposed to be communal in decision-making. Socialism comes from the intellect of mankind.
On the other hand, ministry (meeting the needs of others) in the spiritual context comes from the heart, not the intellect. The heart is moved by compassion, not by decree. The heart is moved by kindness, not by dictate. The heart is moved by love, not by demand.
Someone has said: “The corrupt mind seeks to gain at the expense of others. The Christian mind seeks the good of others at their own expense.”
The difference is clear. God’s people reach out to meet needs to bring others up. Government and socialist groups reach out to make all things equal by bringing others down. It is a huge distinction.
I do not promote capitalism in opposition to socialism. There are pros and cons to both sides. It is not an “either-or” situation. The best any society can do is to incorporate both principles and theories to meet needs of those less fortunate. Personally, I have always felt that, if the church did its part to meet needs as the Body of Christ should, there would be no need for government assistance. Similarly, if the individual believers would take care of their own families, there would less inclination to allow governmental agencies to be put in place. The church of our generation has failed to obey the call of Jesus to help those around us!
The Bible does not teach on the subject of economics as such. It teaches us about work and personal responsibility and accountability. I believe that the economics of the business world (and I have studied both macro-economics and micro-economics for my B.S. degree major of Business Administration) will fall into place in right relationship with mankind when our personal economics (living and working as God commands) are in place.
Work is noble and God-ordained from the very beginning, as we see in Genesis 3:19: “By the sweat of your face shall you eat bread.” When men seek to live off the toil of others, they seek to overturn God’s plan for mankind. Paul, the great apostle, wrote: “Let him who steals, steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his hands what is good.” Later, he penned the phrase, “A man is worthy of his hire.”
We find out that we work so that we may be a blessing to those in need. We are never self-centered. We live by the principle of grace, not greed.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:8, we work and “do not be a burden to others.” In addition, 1 Timothy 5:3-8 encourages us to work “so our family does not become a burden to others.” Work is not drudgery but a delight. Work was to be a pleasure in the Garden of Eden, but because of the fall of mankind (Adam and Eve) work became toil. We can still bring work to the point of delight when we seek to bring God glory through our toil. Proverbs 14:23 reminds us, “In toil there is profit.”
Colossians 3:23 says to “work heartily.” 2 Thessalonians 3:10 brings a warning to those “not willing to work…(that they) will not eat.” In Proverbs 10:4, the thoughtful and wise individual writes that a “slack hand causes poverty.” When Job suffered loss, he did not look to nor receive help from friends. He looked only to God, and he found peace and blessings. Those who cannot work or gather income are to be taken care of – the widows, the orphans, the sojourners. All others are to find work. Thomas Edison said: “Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” We must be willing to do any task that offers us the chance to work.
Listen to this quote: “The Christian work ethic requires more than hard work. It also requires a worthwhile enterprise, something good and beneficial, something that is productive and has value.” Our values must be Biblically based.
Here are some thoughts from another minister:
• Work allows us to be self-reliant and respected.
• Work entitles us to an honest earthly reward.
• Work affords us the joy of helping others.
• Hard work leads to a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day.
• Good work results in prosperity and opportunities.
In conclusion, we must find work that we love and that allows us to serve God through it. My real “job” is to worship and love the Lord. My vocation, on the other hand, is something I do that allows God to provide for me. My daily task at the workplace is God’s provision for my daily needs – food, shelter, raiment. Anything above those basic needs is just added blessing.
Socialism instsituted in the Bible? No. Capitalism promoted in the Bible? No. Personal responsibility by God-directed generosity to help those in need taught in the Bible? Yes.
There is no economic system (corporate or government) that is given a blessing in Scripture. The Bible calls mankind to have a personal relationship to God through Jesus Christ. Through that, the economics of each generation will be right and just and good. It is neither socialism nor capitalism that reflects the heart of God. It is only the economics of love, mercy, grace and compassion that reflect the heart of God!
Let us work to represent God in the workplace. Let us live to bless others. Let us glorify God with all we have and do. Let us worship and praise the Lord with every fiber of our being!
The highlight of this past week was when Shawn and Crystal took a short trip out of town for a couple of days, last Wednesday afternoon through Friday afternoon. Sondra and I watched the two little ones -- Bailey (two and a half years old) and Brynnlee (almost three months old). It was quite humorous at times as we "camped out in the living room" as we took care of these grand-daughters for 48 hours! We fed them, bathed them, changed diapers and heated bottles (for one only, as Bailey is potty trained and eats table food), cooked very little and went for take-out a lot, watched "Tom and Jerry" cartoons non-stop, listened to crying and laughing, played and got almost nothing else done.
Sondra works part-time in the school district, doing intervention teaching half-day in the mornings. So, from about 7am to noon I was taking care of the kids. My goodness, it sure was a lot easier when I was young! When Sondra came home, she took over the "grandma" part of taking care of them. It was a busy, busy time with a few moments of drama, but it was so much fun filled with special moments with the girls. Our house looked like a tornado went through it! We will do it again, but not anytime soon....ha ha.
Last Saturday we had a lot going on at the church. One of our ladies (Lynn Peters) had lined up helpers for a Yard Sale on the front lawn of the church, from 6am to 2pm. The money raised will help make several food baskets for some families in our congregation who are hurting financially. These baskets will be given out just before Christmas to show our love and encouragement to the families in need. It will be done in a quiet, low-key way because we do not want to embarrass them or make them feel like "charity cases." We simply want to make them feel special and loved.
Later on Saturday morning, Sondra helped supervise the decorating of the church sanctuary. Every year, we get out the trimming for the walls and tables and live Christmas tree to make the church festive and joyous for the holiday season. It is a little bit of work but well worth the effort.
On Saturday evening, we received an exciting call from our 9-year-old grand-daughter Kylee (our son Jason's daughter) in Shawnee, Oklahoma. She was so cute as she literally exclaimed, "I just became a Christian!" When asked by us, she explained how she had been talking with her dad about Christmas and about Jesus, and it led to a discussion about the purpose of Jesus coming into the world to save us from our sins. She had been thinking about this decision for many months and the time was right for her to receive Jesus Christ into her heart as Lord and Savior! That was a very memorable phone call that we will cherish. We talked at length with Kylee, and we rejoiced with her in her decision -- the best decision anyone can make in life! That made our Christmas right then!
Yesterday (Sunday), I preached on the "heart of Joseph." In the first chapter of Matthew, we read how the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a vision. Through these verses, we see the heart of Joseph revealed as he was told that his bride-to-be (Mary) was with child by the Holy Spirit of God. Through this, we see that Joseph had a.....
.....heart that was teachable (ready to listen to the instruction of God),
.....heart of integrity (considerate and thoughtful as he was seeking God),
.....heart of prayer (intimate communion with God),
.....heart that was sensitive (aware and in tune with God's voice),
.....heart for God's Word (an awareness of Scripture and prophecy), and
.....heart of obedience (taking steps of faith with patience).
And I must mention one more amazing thing that the Lord did last week. A big challenge in our church has been the need for a new air-conditioner/heater unit for the sanctuary wing of our building. The unit went out this past summer and we have not had the funds to repair or purchase a new one. Through prayer and trust in God, a donation of $1800 was given to help us buy a new unit. We are in contact with a heating/air conditioning man connected to our church who can get us a new unit at cost ($1800)! Our God is awesome and provides our needs!
It has been quite interesting this past week, as I have spoken in different places about the missionary call and foreign missions.
Last Tuesday, I again was asked to speak at the devotional time at Coronado Stone in Fontana. I decided to share a few thoughts about the call to be a missionary, taking my text from Isaiah 6. This is the passage in which God says to Isaiah, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" This question came on the heels of an incredible worship experience and vision of God by Isaiah. Isaiah's response was, "Here am I, send me." A missionary goes to others who have not responded or maybe have not even heard the gospel message, that message of hope and forgiveness and purpose. The call of missions involves a spirit of sacrifice and deep love for those near and far.
On Wednesday, I was scheduled as the featured chapel speaker at the Chino Valley Christian School. The assembly was composed of students K - 5. They are taking up a collection for our Homeless Ministry in Riverside. I spoke about God's call to missions and, because of that, I said that we are called to minister to those around us who are in need. I asked the students to help by bringing knit caps, scarves, gloves, blankets and toiletry items. The kids were very responsive and enthusiastic about helping! Our friend Vicki Park works at the school and enlisted me as the guest speaker that day, so Pastor George Nelson accompanied me to share in the experience.
Last Thursday night, Crystal and Shawn (and girls) met us at California Baptist University in Riverside for the annual Lighting of the Christmas Tree event held on the front lawn of the campus. They had little piles of snow brought in from the mountains nearby, so the little kids could play and throw a few snowballs. Bands were on the stages that were set up, playing both contemporary praise songs and Christmas carols throughout the evening. Bailey enjoyed throwing snowballs at us all! Afterwards, we ate a little snack at Baker's Drive-In before going home.
Friday night, the grandkids (Bailey and Brynnlee) were brought over to spend the night with us. Shawn and Crystal were going to have a night out and get a good night's sleep. It is a joy and a blessing to take care of a newborn (almost three months old now) and a two-and-a half year old. It is a lot of work, but great fun.
On Saturday morning, Pastor George (who had come in on the Metrolink train for the previous night as well) went with me to a monthly meeting at the Associational Office in Riverside. It is a Church Planters Network meeting, in which close to 20 people gather to discuss what God is doing in their work to start new churches in the Inland Empire. I attend this fellowship time, as I have three men who are doing the work of church planters under the auspices of our church. It is always a wonderful time of testimonies, as well as prayer time for the challenges being faced.
Our Sunday service was another time in which I shared the message of the certainty of God's promises. Our belief is secure and firm on the reality of God's blessings and faithfulness to his people. We do not doubt God, question God, argue with God nor bargain with God to get our way. Our hearts must be constant, settled and untroubled as we serve him with passion and love. We tend to waver when under stress, when hurt and pain are present, when faced with conflict, when we are tired and exhausted, and when we feel so terribly alone. God promises (he gives his binding word), God is able (his power is unmatched), and God performs his work (he always comes through).
Sunday evening, I was the guest speaker for the annual Foreign Missions Emphasis Dinner at the Crosspointe Church, where my brother Roger is co-pastor. During the dinner, Roger had pre-arranged for his daughter Jennifer to be on Skype internet video connection. The video call was shown on a large screen in the gymnasium-turned-banquet-hall. Jennifer is serving as a Journeyman Missions volunteer in South Asia (in a country which cannot be disclosed for security purposes). It was exciting to see her and to have a live conversation going on about her ministry there.
My message that evening was again taken from Isaiah 6, detailing the call of missions and evangelism to those spiritually lost. I spoke of sacrifice in depth, with the following quotes:
There is no success without sacrifice.
If you succeed without sacrifice, it is because someone suffered before you.
If you sacrifice without success, it is because someone will succeed after.
If you are troubled by thoughts of finances for serving, here is a quote from the great missionary Hudson Taylor:
"When God's work is done in God's way for God's glory, it will not lack God's support."
The three G's for personally being involved in missionary work are:
Go. Surrender your life for mission service and be immediately available to God to go anywhere! Get on your knees. Pray desperately for those who are serving and giving themselves for missionary work. Give. Share with those who go forth to evangelize, by giving of your finances and other resources.
My nephew Steven (my brother Noel's oldest son) came into town, as his Schneider trucking company had him stop in Fontana for the night. He came to the missions dinner with us at Crosspointe, and we had a special time together as family. Shawn and Crystal came and were able to catch up on news with Steven also. Steven then spent the night with us (in David's old room) and this morning, he and I met Roger at Panera for breakfast. Having time with family members is awesome!
As a sidenote, I got some pictures from David, who is now down in Tuxtla-Gutierrez, Chiapas, in Mexico. You may remember that the rains and floods were causing mudslides on the hill behind David and Meche's house. They have contracted for a retaining wall to be built in their backyard against the hillside to prevent further problems and possible damage. That is why you will see some dirt and rock and cement in the front of the house, as well as some of the digging and setting of the wall's foundation in the back. Here are a few of the photos:
Tonight, Sondra and I will attend a Pastors' and Staff Christmas Banquet for our Inland Empire Southern Baptist Association.