THE MORNING STAR
“And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” 2 Peter 1: 19
Recently I got up early—before sunrise—and glanced outside our south-facing window. My eyes were drawn to a bright shining star in the east. My knowledge of the constellations is limited to the Big Dipper so I looked at this star with the eyes and wonder of primitive man. I thought to myself how the Star of Bethlehem must have appeared to the magi who studied that sky at the time of the birth of Christ. A little quick research revealed that this “morning star” was likely the planet Venus, but that didn’t squelch the feeling of beauty and wonder that I felt as I contemplated the words of the Scripture above. Peter implies that Jesus is the “morning star” that rises in our hearts. I posted a grainy picture of the star on Facebook and found that others found it to be something beautiful, too.
Over the next few days, I got up early and checked the sky for my “star.” I was not disappointed. One day I got up a bit later—as the morning sun was just chasing the dark of night towards the western horizon. In the murky early light my eyes first caught sight of a doe grazing in the field behind our house. I imagined that I was up too late to view my morning star, but I dutifully searched for it anyway. To my delight I saw it peeking through the bare branches of our maple tree, not as easy to spot with the distractions of does and morning light, but there none the less. The lesson I learned from this experience is: The Morning Star is there but you have to look for it.
Like me, I am sure that you have plenty of distractions that can keep you from looking for Him but Jesus has promised that He will be found by those who look for Him—“Seek and you will find.” But just like it was with the magi over two thousand years ago, the ones that find the Lord are usually the ones who are looking for Him. Today, won't you take time to look…and contemplate the wonder of His incarnation. May the Morning Star rise in your heart!
We find it hard to comfort our friends in their time of loss. I experienced that firsthand recently when my father, Carter Shannon, passed away. Many who saw me in the days after his passing struggled to find the words to say and I confess that I was just as uncomfortable receiving their words as they were saying them. Others were unaware of his passing when they saw me and later apologized that they had not acknowledged it at the time they first saw me. I understood.
My awkwardness in receiving words of comfort stems partly from my personality and partly from the fact that I didn’t grieve the way some might expect of me. I realized that when I shed tears they are tears for my mom, my family, or even myself…but not for dad. Many people said “He’s in a better place” and I know that this is trite and cliché and probably not always the appropriate thing to say…but in dad’s case, I believe it was the truth.
I smiled when I read a message from a friend who wrote: “So sorry to hear your Dad went to be with the Lord today….” I knew what she meant and where her heart was, but I couldn’t help but think. “I’m not sorry. I’m so glad that my dad went to be with the Lord.” It’s the one comfort I have…knowing that God’s promises are true and He is faithful. That because Christ lives, my dad lives also. That though he might die…yet, he will live!
In “When Christ Comes” Max Lucado writes: “We don’t like to say goodbye to those we love. Whether it be at a school or a cemetery, separation is tough. It is right for us to weep, but there is no need for us to despair. They had pain here, they have no pain there. They struggled here, they have no struggles there. You and I might wonder why God took them home. But they don’t. They understand. They are at this very moment, at peace in the presence of God..... When it is cold on earth we can take comfort in knowing that our loved ones are in the warm arms of God. And when Christ comes, we will hold them too.”
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1: 12) This is my hope. My conviction. My anchor. I pray that it will be yours, too.
In His Love, Pastor Randy
She warned me last December. We didn’t have any of our kids home for Christmas last year so we didn’t do much in the way of decorating. But Vicki warned me that with the kids in the area this Christmas we would go all out in the decorating department when this season rolled around. That meant that I would have to hang the outside lights on the house this year. My daughter loves them. I do, too…except for the part of hanging them. I sympathized with the guy who took the shortcut to hanging lights (see the accompanying picture) & wondered why his wife didn’t think it was funny. Hanging the lights this year would also be different because some remodeling projects & electrical considerations meant I would have to change my “system.” (Yes, I had a system). This year, I would have to develop a new system & plug into new places. The result was I wound up working for what seemed like several hours in the extreme cold temperatures of a December Saturday to hang the lights. My grumbling & outbursts of frustration were heard by no one but me…I hope. (My wife reminded me, kindly, that she had mentioned getting them hung in November during the unseasonably warm weather that we had, but I failed to get it done). I persevered, however, & got the job done; I even went farther with the lights than I ever had before. I was so proud that the garage end of the house would now be lit & pretty. And it was…for about one night. Early in the next week, my wife & I discovered that the lights did not come on as they should. I’m not talking about a section of lights…NONE of them came on! All that work & for nothing! We checked the timer, the extension cords, the circuit breakers, etc. I even Googled the problem. What I discovered was that apair of tiny fuses are embedded in the plug of each string of lights & one of the fuses in the first string of lights was blown (see picture). Such a tiny little thing had spoiled my Christmas magic. What I learned is that the extra lights I had put on this year had exceeded the number of strings that I should have strung together resulting in a blown fuse. Ironically, I realized that I had blown several fuses—temperamentally speaking—while hanging the lights, too. I hope you take away two lessons from my experience: 1)the anger of man does not accomplish the will of God…blown buses leave you in a very dark place; and 2)don’t go too long between points of connecting to the Power upon which you depend. Strings of light work best when they connect directly to the power supply…and so do we. See you at church in 2017!
In His Love,
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH by Pastor Randy Shannon
Logan Buntin was 96 years old when he helped Vicki & I remodel my grandfather’s home…the place we’ve called home for 36 years. He was often asked how he managed to be so active at such an old age & one answer I recall that he gave me was that one time when he was young he ate so much at a meal that he was lethargic & miserable the rest of the day. He decided from that point on to not overindulge but to draw the line when he had eaten enough. In our consumer-driven society … particularly during the holidays…it seems that this line is hard to draw; not just as it applies to eating, but as it applies to our insatiable hunger for something more.
How do you know when enough is enough? I think that this requires us to move our focus from what we want to what we need. William Barclay shares the story of a conversation between a young & ambitious young man & an older man who had grown wise through a long life. “What will you do now?” asked the older man. Said the young man, “I will learn my trade.” “And then?” asked the older man. “I will set up in business.” “And then?” “I will make my fortune.” “And then?” “I suppose that I shall grow old & retire & live on my money.” “And then?” “Well, I suppose that someday I will die.” Now, came the really important question: “And then?”
When we face the reality that this life is transitory we realize that what really matters is how we have prepared…or failed to prepare…for eternity. It is then that we can understand the significance of Jesus’ response to Paul’s desire to remove the thorn in his flesh (2 Cor. 12:7): “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (v.9)
His grace IS enough. When we consider our ultimate need we recognize that His mercy & grace is the ultimate solution. We will have good days & bad days…times of pain & sorrow…but one day God will say “enough is enough” & on that day all of us who have trusted in Christ will give Him praise for the simple truth that His grace, so freely offered, is what we truly need.
In His Love,
“The Elephant in the Room”
by Pastor Randy Shannon
Cumberland Presbyterian Church
This article, which was first written in 2012, seems just as timely today as we prepare to vote in the Presidential election of 2016. If anything, the message—which has been slightly edited here-- is even more important today, I believe, than it was when it was originally written.
Politics are not a topic that I talk about very much….for many reasons. For one…I recognize that the old adage is pretty much true that religion or politics are two topics that can start a fight in an empty room…and talking about religion AND politics! Well, some people would just say that’s crazy!
I believe that it is possible…and even important…for people of faith to be involved in politics. Jesus said that we are to be salt and light in this world…to encounter and transform our culture. I also believe that it is possible and even VITALLY important for Christian people who disagree on politics to be able to disagree without being disagreeable.
It’s not easy for a person of faith to remain true to God in the political arena. It changes people; even good people.
That’s why the Psalmist writes in Psalm 146--“Do not put you trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save….Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God….the Lord, who remains faithful forever. ”
As the November election time approaches; a time when we will be bombarded by message after message of empty promises and hateful distortions of the truth…I think it’s important for us to remember going in:
The Democrat Party cannot save us. The Republican Party cannot save us. The United States system of government cannot save us.
In 2012, Dr. Amy Black, author of “Honoring God in the Red or Blue,” challenged Christian voters “to approach political divides with an extra measure of grace. Success begins with seeking God's honor first and foremost, regardless of where we fall on the political spectrum.”
In his letter to the churches of Galatia, the Apostle Paul wrote
“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3: 26).” We need to remember…as the Apostle Paul reminded us…that no matter which party you support…Christians who disagree on politics should recognize that they are a fellow children of God.
We are not donkeys. We are not elephants. We are sheep following a shepherd.
A pastor friend of mine commented that we need to stop claiming that God is on our side…and start being more concerned with asking “are we on God’s side?
Are we honoring God by the way we think…and the way we speak…and the way we live? Are we choosing not only the right way….but also the loving way? If we who call ourselves Christians...whether liberal or conservative…or Democrat or Republican…fail to honor God in the way we address our differences…it makes no difference WHO wins this November, for we ALL lose.
Sick and Tired
I have often heard the phrase in the title of this piece used in exasperation over some frustration the person uttering it has felt. For example: “I’m sick and tired of the way you treat me” or “I’m sick and tired of how you never listen” or “I’m sick and tired of all the hateful politics on Facebook” or “of all the game requests” or “of all the chain letter style posts” etc.
I could go on forever. I’m sure you could, too. The fact is “sick” and “tired” is a bad combination. I’ve not been feeling well off and on for the past week and I find that illness makes my fuse shorter and criticism and negativity tumble from my lips much too easily at times like that. I also know what it’s like to be tired and how that affects my mood and my patience with others. “Sick” and “tired” are really bad when they occur together in the same person at the same time.
A friend once told me that she thought I had a melancholic personality. That description kind of depressed me. Maybe I was just having a bad day. Maybe I'm melancholic right now!
But the fact is….pastors get “sick and tired” too. It’s not easy to admit this; after all, we are supposed to be bastions of faith. And I am. I believe in God. I just don’t believe in the human race sometimes. I think this is a product of growing older. I have statistically had more opportunities for people to let me down, stab me in the back, disappoint me, and so forth. And I don’t think I set the bar too high for others. More likely, I set it so low that they trip over it.
Eventually, everyone falls short sometime. Newsflash: Over 2,000 years ago the Apostle Paul noted “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God;” that means me, too. And I’m sick and tired of that. The most amazing thing is that God still loves me. Still loves US! Suddenly, I just realized that my ramblings have done what perhaps a majority of the writings in the Book of Psalms do: complained and griped my way into remembering that God is good and His steadfast love endures forever…And I’ll never be sick or tired of THAT!
In His Love
LONGING FOR HOME
by Pastor Randy Shannon
Cumberland Presbyterian Church
I went to the basement to look for a box that would be suitable for recycling and found an idea for this column instead. On the shelf in a large, clear plastic tub was a container marked “Out of Season Clothes.” Peeking through the sides of the tub were wooly house shoes and sweaters that I cannot fathom any possible use for on this particular day. It’s summer and the heat index is around 100 degrees. The humidity makes working outside…not to mention breathing…difficult. I confess that I found myself longing for winter this afternoon.
Of course, I know intellectually that it wasn’t that long ago that I was looking at the shorts and sandals peeking out of the side of that same plastic storage container and wishing for summer to arrive.
It seems that there is a constant yearning in my Missouri spirit to be some place other than where I am now. The moments when I feel perfectly, blissfully content in the moment I am living seem far too few; but when they come, they are heaven: Like a friend who described driving home on a starry night with the convertible top down and realizing how good it is to be alive.
Perhaps this discontent and longing I feel is part of me recognizing the Biblical truth that I am a sojourner…a visitor…here; that this world is not really my home. I was created for something…Somewhere…else. In the classic play, Our Town, by Thornton Wilder one of my favorite moments is when the Stage Manager says:
“Now there’s some things that we all know and we don’t take’m out and look at’m very often. We all know that SOMETHING is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names and it ain’t earth, it ain’t even the stars---everybody knows in their bones that SOMETHING is eternal and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always letting go of that fact. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”
Don’t let go of this fact: Something “eternal” in you is longing for more than this world. As Augustine noted: “Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Seek and explore the “eternal” part of yourself this week.
Love in Christ
God Qualifies the Called
This week I started rehearsals for “1776”—a musical about the American Revolution—at the Lyceum Theatre. I played the same role in 2006 just before I began serving here at Cumberland as your pastor. You would think that I would feel very much at ease tackling this task considering 1) I played this part before and apparently escaped the experience unscathed; and 2) I was asked by the Director to reprise this role. And…I WAS at ease….UNTIL I got to the first practice.
I walked in the door and felt immediately out of place. Many of the people are professional actors and had already been working together for weeks. Only a handful of people there knew me. We were immersed immediately in working on the opening song in the show and I was quickly aware that I was surrounded by a LOT of talented people who could talk technical musical terms with one another. It highlighted the glaring truth: I don’t read music. Part of me wanted to become suddenly ill and have an excuse to remove myself from the situation. I felt overwhelmed and under qualified. Ironically, the sermon I was preparing for that week was about how we feel unqualified to be of any use to God. I suddenly found myself becoming the perfect sermon illustration.
The fact is—God USES the unqualified—like me. Like you, too! He seldom calls the qualified…more often than not, He qualifies the called. Moses felt like he was a poor public speaker—God called him to go before the king of Egypt to argue His case. Gideon was the least likely member of the least likely family to be able to lead an army of Israel….yet God called upon him to deliver His people from the attacks of their enemies. The list of the unqualified is like a Who’s Who of the Bible: David was an adulterer, Abraham was deceitful, James and John were temperamental, Paul persecuted the followers of Jesus, Matthew was a sell-out to the Romans, etc.
It would be easy for any of these guys to feel that they had behaved in a way that disqualified them from serving God. The important thing in each of these cases was the same thing that was the important thing in my playing this part in “1776”: the director called me and asked me to do it. He chose me. That is all that matters.
Whatever we feel might disqualify us doesn’t matter—what matters is the Director chose you…He called you. Will you faithfully respond to that call?
In His Love
WHAT’S BEHIND YOUR SHED?
Recently I noticed that a tree in our back yard had a couple of sizable and very dead limbs hanging over our vinyl fence. It only took a rudimentary understanding of the law of gravity and the nature of vinyl fencing to understand that this was not a good thing. Normally, even though I saw the impending danger I would have waited until after the limbs crashed to the ground before I took action. This time, I was very proud of myself that I called a friend in the tree trimming business and solicited his professional expertise to bring the limbs down without destroying our fence. I assured him that I would cut up the limbs for firewood if he would just get them safely to the ground for me.
If you’ve ever tried to hire someone to do work for you then you know how pleased I was when my friend came to trim my tree within two days of my call. As his crew worked I got out my chain saw and cleaned up all the limbs that were deposited in the yard. From the house, you would never know the mess that had been there. He warned me, however, that behind my woodshed—where the biggest limbs and the bulk of the brush was dropped—I had “quite a mess to clean up.” I needed to get to the office so I left that mess for another day.
Upon reflection and self-examination, I realize that since I can’t see the mess behind the shed I will be less likely to clean it up promptly. Anything in the yard in front of the shed would have been visible to me and annoyed me every time I drove up the drive until I got it cleaned up. But the behind the shed….Well, that is a case of “out of sight, out of mind.” It needs to be done. The mowers will have to mow around it leaving it to grow up in grass and weeds and saplings. It will kill the grass where it lays and become home to a variety of pesky wildlife if left unattended. But I know myself well enough to know that it is less likely to be done since I can’t see it. Even more…it is less likely to be done since I know that other people can’t see it.
Do you have a mess behind your shed? Are there things in your life that need to be cleaned up; things that you don’t want anyone else to see? God wants to help you with that. Just invite him to meet you out behind the woodshed…where you can show him your mess. I told my tree trimming friend that I could clean the mess up myself and we try to do that, don’t we? But some messes take a bucket truck…and others take a Higher Power: a God who loves you and will remove your mess as far as the east is from the west, if you ask Him. So….ask Him.
Love in Christ
“However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”-the things God has prepared for those who love him” 1 Corinthians 2:9
Last Sunday my sermon was about how we struggle with unanswered prayers. Many people will say, “God answers prayer but sometimes the answer is No.” I am sure that like every good parent sometimes God does have to say “No” to our requests. That’s because like most children, we sometimes ask for things that would be hurtful to ourselves or others should our request be granted. However, I like the concept that I read somewhere which states that God answers our prayers in one of three ways: “Yes,” “Not yet,” or “I have something better for you.”
After my message on unanswered prayer, Janet told me a story which perfectly illustrates the last response. One day they took her grandsons on a trip to Worlds of Fun. On the way they stopped at McDonald’s for lunch. It had one of those little play areas that you often see at fast food restaurants. Janet says that her grandsons were really upset because they were enjoying playing in the play area and didn’t want to leave. They had no concept of the “world of fun” that awaited them just down the road. Their grandparents had something much better planned for them than the little play area they thought was all they wanted.
We, like those young men, may think we know what is best. We may be upset when God doesn’t give us what we request and wonder why He is so indifferent towards our needs. The fact is: God may have something better planned for us… something like we have never seen, better than anything of which we have ever heard, something our mind is unable to even imagine. The key to dealing with unanswered prayer is a lesson that those young men learned on that trip to Worlds of Fun: you can trust your loving Father to do what’s best for you.
In His Love, Pastor Randy
The palm branches plucked from the trees just days before by the jubilant crowd lie withered and dead along the road east of Jerusalem. The cries of “Hosanna” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” have likewise withered and died along that same stony path. The one they call Teacher invites them to a Passover Supper in a room He has chosen. Though He knew that there were those in Jerusalem who sought to kill Him…He came anyway. He could have chosen an easier path….a safer course. He could have remained in Galilee, by the sea. However, the safer course would mean forsaking His divine mission…His calling…and forsaking those He came to save. Love demanded that He come. Love for God and love for God’s children. So He came.
Gathered in that upper room were the twelve closest friends He had on this earth. He had poured His life into them. Now He poured water on their feet…and bathed them. It was a job normally assigned to the lowest servant on the staff. “The greatest among you will be your servant,” He said, “for the Son of Man came not to be served…but to serve…and give His life as a ransom for many.”
One by one He washed the feet of His followers. Feet that would later flee in fear and leave Him alone. He washed the feet of everyone of them. Even those of Judas….who He knew would betray Him. And Peter….who he knew would deny even knowing Him. Why would anyone do that? Once again, it was love: Love that is not dependent on the worthiness of the loved one; that does not increase or decrease with the value of our deeds or the degree of our faithfulness. Not love IF…or love BECAUSE….Just love. Judas’ feet were Jesus’ way of showing the generations to come that no one is beyond God’s love. We can refuse that love. We can betray it. We can even crucify it. But we cannot kill it. Jesus was giving Judas another chance. He refused it.
But you don’t have to. You can still choose. I give you a new commandment, Jesus told them, that you love one another, even as I have loved you. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Jesus would not ask us to do something that was impossible to do. Loving one another is not always easy….sometimes it can be the hardest thing to do. But His love for us…and our love for Him…demands it. If you love me, He said, you will keep my commandments. Loving one another is one of them….one of the biggest ones! It’s hard. But, through Christ in you, it can be done. But you must choose to do it. He chose you…so you can choose…
Choose wisely. Choose love.
“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” --Matthew 3: 1-3
When my daughter got a job in Independence we were thrilled. But she and her husband didn’t have a place to live yet and needed a place to stay until they could find one. We were more than happy to offer her our home while she got settled into her new job and her husband tied up loose ends at their old home in Virginia. Adding another person to our home meant that I had to vacate the “guest” bathroom that I had claimed as my own when the kids had moved out. Preparing for her arrival meant that I needed to make the space usable for her. I scrubbed the shower, toilet, floors and sink in what would become her bathroom. I went through the closet and made room for her by discarding things we had held on to for much too long and reorganizing the things we wanted to keep so that they were more accessible. I cleaned out the medicine cabinet and a drawer in the vanity so she would have some personal space. In emptying the drawer I found a lot of things that I never used and didn’t even know were there. Mostly, I also found a lot of cleaning that needed to be done from years of accumulated gunk.
During the clean-up process it struck me: if this is how I prepare for the coming of my daughter, shouldn’t I also prepare for the coming of my Lord in much the same way? Shouldn’t I make room for Him in my life? Shouldn’t I discard the things that clutter my life and keep me from effectively serving Him? Where I find filth and gunk in my life, shouldn’t I root it out and clean it up? John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus to come the first time saying “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” He prepared himself and others for the coming of the Lord. Shouldn’t we? Aren’t there things you are holding onto that should be tossed, and places in your life where you would want to clean up before your Guest arrives? I cleaned up my bathroom because I was excited that my daughter was coming and I love her. I know my Lord deserves my very best…and for the same reasons.
Large Enough to Serve You
Marshall Cumberland Presbyterian Church
Small Enough to Know You