The Pastor’s Corner is written by the pastor of Coronado Bible Church.

Christmas Craziness

I’ve never shopped for that many people before. I’ve never shopped with that many people before! Sue and I ventured in to Albrook Mall because we heard the big chains were having Christmas sales. We had a list of 122 children to shop for (ages 3 months to 15 years).

The Titan toy section was an absolute zoo! Dazed parents slowly scanned each shelf. Employees madly unpacking boxes and roaring down isles with carts of more … only slightly annoyed by those nuances called customers! Cart traffic was … well, like all Panama traffic. You get the picture. An eight-year-old boy test-drove a rubber ball in and out of customers, stopping just long enough to ask me if I’d buy it for him. Mom came to my rescue. About that time a guy started shopping in my cart. Still, our first foray went well … 55 gifts from one store. We hadn’t thought about how we’d get the five large bags to where they needed to go. My arms are still sore.

The stores got busier as more and more families arrived. Navigating El Costo close to closing was like being part of a giant slider puzzle. You know … this piece must move to the left before the next one can move forward … and the whole picture is horribly scrambled.

Making the entire experience even more lovely was the frenetic music blaring through the store’s speaker system. Four-thousand anxious adults and excited children packed into half a city block evidently don’t make enough noise. Just about the time my right eye began twitching … I tuned into the fact that these were Christmas carols. I still don’t appreciate music that sounds like it was composed by a squirrel hyped up on caffeine … but they were Christian Christmas carols. Wed with the thumping beat, I heard,

Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord,
late in time behold him come, offspring of the Virgin’s womb:
veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail th’incarnate Deity,
pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel.
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by, born that we no more may die,
born to raise us from the earth, born to give us second birth.
I’m glad I ‘came to’ long enough to find Jesus there in the crazy Christmas crush. I’m glad that He has not left Himself without a witness. Whatever craziness comes your way this season, I pray you’ll be able to do the same.
In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. 1 Peter 3:15

Instant … Not Easy

You message a friend that you can’t make your arranged meeting. You get back the one-word response … “Fine.” Look at the faces to the left. Which face is on the other end of that text? Is it an indignant “fine?” Are they hurt? Is it a relaxed and friendly, “Don’t worry about it?” Perhaps they’re relieved you can’t come. Can’t you hear the different possible intonations? Maybe I should ask, “Can’t you imagine them?” We read the words and our minds jump to supplying the rest; the look in their eyes, the set of their mouth, the cock of their head. We might even hear their voice.

People seem to be catching on that text doesn’t always convey exactly what we intend. I found several very useful articles on the internet about how not to start a war with your email. One article had a radical suggestion; “If you suspect that your message might be misunderstood or cause offense, get out from behind your computer and go talk to the person face to face.”

Paul didn’t always have that luxury, but he was sensitive to the limits of a written message. One of his hardest hitting letter was written to the church he founded in Galatia. In his absence, other teachers came in and persuaded the believers to return to some sort of works-based salvation. Paul did not shy away from confronting this distortion of the true Gospel. He did not mince words … “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” Galatians 3:1  Paul felt he had not only the right, but the obligation to speak in such a forceful manner. The situation required it … the Galatians were in spiritual danger! And yet you find that he was concerned that they understand the heart behind his message. “How I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!” Galatians 4:20

Paul is a good example of going the extra mile in communication. Sometimes he even sent his letters with another pastor to make certain the recipients got the right message. 1 Corinthians 4:16; Ephesians 6:22; Philippians 2:19; Colossians 4:8. We live in an age of instant and easy communication … but good communication is seldom instant or easy. Go the extra mile. Reread your texts and emails before you hit ‘send’. If a message feels a little hot … let it cool overnight. If you know there’s a chance for misunderstanding, be brave … pray and go in person.

Unexpectedly Thankful

I’m the late-in-life, youngest son of an only son. My siblings did not have large numbers of children … and Sue and I had none. My parents are gone, my aunts and uncles are gone. Sue’s parents are still living, but her extended family is small, dwindling with age and miles away. Around the holidays, I remember large family gatherings that will never happen again this side of heaven. These thoughts could have produced a morbid cloud overshadowing the joy of the season … but they didn’t.  Instead, they set me up to be unexpectedly thankful!

This past Sunday, Sue and I arrived earlier than usual at church. There were still preparations to be made for the big Thanksgiving feed. I stood in the little kitchen and began mixing up one batch of instant stuffing after another. Slowly others started arriving. Debby came and started putting together her deviled eggs. I was intent on my task but threw greetings over my shoulder as I recognized the voice of each new arrival. As each new dish arrived, the room smelled more and more like Thanksgiving should. I mused … “I’m standing here bantering with Aunt Debby. Uncle Fletch is back there somewhere laughing and telling stories. Sister Adele and a dozen other cousins are pitching in to get the feast underway.” I realized, with a note of unexpected joy, that I felt at very much at home. The room was alive with the hum of … family.

After the service and after the meal, I gazed with wonder at a room filled with full tables filled with full, happy people. And I was full as well … not just my stomach, but my heart. I walked by each table and silently thanked God for my huge family. I realize I don’t know each one as well as I could … but that can be true with flesh and blood relatives. No one who finds a good church will ever be alone. I’m so thankful … grateful … and blessed.

Did you know this is Biblical? Paul writes instructions to the young pastor Timothy, so that his congregation will know “how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God.” (1 Timothy 3:15) He writes this wonderful news to the Ephesians, “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the households of God.” (Ephesians 2:19)

We all got into this grand household through adoption. When we received Christ and believed on his name, God the Father gave us the right to become his sons and daughters. (John 1:12-13) Let’s live out the privileges of the family of faith according to Paul’s encouragement, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.“ (Romans 12:10-13)

So glad you’re here … welcome home!

The Fugitive

Do you remember the name Dr. Richard Kimball? He was better known as the Fugitive. The hit TV show chronicled the life of a physician wrongly accused of murdering his wife and sentenced to death. During episode intros, the actor was shown staring out the window of the train carrying him to death row. The narrator rumbled, “Richard Kimble ponders his fate as he looks at the world for the last time, and sees only darkness. But in that darkness, fate moves its huge hand.” At that moment the train derails freeing Kimball … freeing him from death row but imprisoning him in a life of running infamy. Every episode is basically about one thing … escape. Kimball is hunter and hunted … following the trail of his wife’s real killer (the one-armed man) while being relentlessly dogged by Police Lieutenant Philip Gerard. Richard Kimball escapes in all but the final episode. Finally vindicated, Kimball walks away from the court building and the narrator says … “the day the running stopped.”

That was fiction … you’ve been reading real history in Acts. The story of a man that was hunted, hounded and wrongly accused. He was both pursuer and pursued. Running after one magnificent goal, heedless of the cost … but also running from his enemies … escaping at times by only the narrowest of margins. Our subject? The Apostle Paul. But the real hero of the story is not the fugitive or the huge hand of fate moving in the midst of Paul’s darkness … the Hero is Paul’s kind, sovereign and mighty God.

Paul’s story was not five seasons … his story spanned almost three decades. Reading from Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 to just before his prison voyage to Rome (Acts 26), I counted 27 separate attacks against Paul. He didn’t have just one determined antagonist like Dr. Kimball. Paul’s list of opponents is much longer … it included: unbelieving Jews, slave owners, the Sanhedrin, Gentile crowds, philosophers, zealots, city officials, a sorcerer, a trade union, two Roman governors, a Jewish puppet king and many who called themselves Christians.  

The attacks occurred in every city he visited, stretching from Judea through Syria, Asia, Macedonia and as far as Greece. Paul faced verbal abuse, defamation of character, orchestrated mob actions, sneering and jeering, beatings, litigation, a restraining order, stoning, imprisonments without cause and multiple unsuccessful plots against his life. Of the 27 incidents I mentioned, at least ten where intended by his enemies to result in Paul’s death. Without embellishment the life of Paul has plenty of material for several nail-biting seasons.

But Paul summed up his troubled life by saying, “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:17

That statement is impossible to fathom … until you hear this one, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him …” Philippians 3:8–9

Father forgive my whining and give me a heart for Christ like Paul!

Doing Your Country Proud

This weekend, two-hundred kilometers from home our car lost power and stranded us on the side of the highway. The old girl had the decency to die under a tree that first shaded us from the sun and then gave us some protection from the rain. Four hours of texting later, a tow truck picked us up and delivered us to a little repair shop on the back edge of Santiago.

Most of the time I feel pretty at home in Panama, but a stressful situation in an unfamiliar city, needing a new set of Spanish vocabulary, heightened my awareness that I am a stranger. I am an Extranerjo.

After four hours of laboring, Roberto finally gave us the bad news that the head gasket was blown. That was almost enough to make me want to spend my money on an airline ticket instead of car repairs … but it didn’t. That’s because of a guy named Roberto. Here’s how Roberto the mechanic treated us:

·       He warmly welcomed us into his little shop and insisted on changing his TV to English.

·       He wouldn’t allow Sue to use the shop restroom (solo hombres) instead he welcomed her into his home.

·       He charged us a modest fee for his labor … even though we were obviously at his mercy.

·       He was patient with our lack of Spanish.

·       He was patient with our indecision even though he had worked well past supper.

·       He asked if we were hungry and showed us where we could get some food.

·       He reassured us that he would keep our car and its contents safe until it could be hauled to Coronado.

·       He eventually took us and our luggage across town to the bus stop.

·       He insisted on parking, finding the right bus and making sure we were on it safely.

I hear a lot of disparaging comments about Panamanians … and I, to my shame, have produced a few of my own. It’s a less than noble way of dealing with the stress of living in a different culture. I just want to be sure I’m as quick to notice the good and give praise where praise is due. Roberto did his people and his country proud!

Are you doing your country proud? Look at this …

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 1 Peter 2:11–12

Peter uses two words to describe followers of Christ; “foreign citizens” and “sojourners.” You, Christian, are an extranejo in this world. Heaven is your true country. When the native-born of this world watch you … what conclusions do they draw about your people and your country?