The Heartbeat
On December five and twenty, fum, fum, fum.
On December five and twenty, fum, fum, fum.
For a Blessed Babe was born upon this day at break of morn.
In a manger poor and lowly lay the Son of God most holy,
Fum, fum, fum

And so the song and tradition goes that Jesus was born on December 25th. As Christian parents we, of course, stress this to our children as we tell them that Christmas is Jesus' birthday. In some homes there may even be a singing of "Happy Birthday" to Jesus on December 25. But was Jesus really born on December 25?

The history of the early church is a history of persecution: first by unbelieving Jewish relatives and later by the Roman Empire. Only after the conversion of Constantine, in the early 4th century, did Rome begin to change its stance towards Christianity. Rome would go from being the church's persecutor to its promoter and with that promotion came an open dialogue regarding the celebration of Jesus' birthday. The first known official mentioning of December 25 being recognized as Jesus' birthday appears in a Roman calendar from 336 A.D. Most historians believe that the December 25 date was settled upon as part of the state's new attempt to "Christianize" everything within the empire, including previously recognized pagan holidays. There already existed a pagan ritual honoring Saturn that existed around the time of the winter solstice, earth's shortest day (December 21). As the winter solstice was a day to celebrate the fact that the days would now begin to grow longer and one could already hope for winter's end, what better way to celebrate than to connect that day with the fact that God sent his Son into the world to bring hope for sin's end and a new world to come?

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. - John 16:33 (KJV)

Years after starring in Frank Capra's 1947 Christmas classic film, "It's a Wonderful Life," Jimmy Stewart said that, all in all, his role in that film (as George Bailey) remained his favorite. And what is there not to like in that film? It is the story of a good man driven by principles of goodness and service to others but how, seemingly, in spite of all that goodness, life has been very unfair to him. Then an angel from God is sent to show George Bailey what life would have been like for others had he never been born. And by the film's end we see how such goodness does pay off even if it is not in financial riches. George Bailey got to see his true riches in a faithful wife, a loving brother and children, and in so many good friends.

…Or what fellowship has light with darkness? – 2 Corinthians 6:14c

I recently read that Chick-fil-A decided to cease making financial contributions to the Salvation Army and to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). In place of these organizations, several others were chosen including one that has been deemed LGBTQ friendly. On the surface this decision would seem harmless enough. And, the fact is, Chick-fil-A can contribute (or not contribute) to whomever it wishes. That hardly seems like it should be a concern to anyone. But for those who are particularly mindful of the stance that Chick-fil-A's founder, S. Truett Cathy, had taken in regards to marriage (being between only a man and a woman) – a stance that had garnered plenty of negative press – this change seems calculated. Is it an attempt to move away from being associated with historically "straight" organizations (like the Salvation Army or FCA) and towards organizations that are more LGBTQ friendly? The spokeswoman for Chick-fil-A says no, but few seem to be buying it.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing. – Ecclesiastes 3:1 and 5b

Following approximately four years of dating, Marcus Shand took our daughter Esther out for a canoe ride on the Conestoga River Thanksgiving morning and there asked her to marry him. As parents of Esther, Ruth and I had often wondered what would be the final outcome of their dating relationship. Now we have the answer as Esther responded to Marcus' question with a "Yes." So another son-in-law is now in the plans! When the wedding will be is yet to be determined. Having been previously blessed with a truly great son-in-law in the form of Jason Rausch, our hope and prayer is that Marcus will prove to be of the same blood as Jason.

Elder Dave Graves and I are currently reading Jonathan Edwards' classic book, The Religious Affections. The book was written in 1746, in part to give clarity to what has come to be called "The Great Awakening." But prior to reading my used copy of Edwards' book (purchased over eBay), I found two pieces of paper inserted in the book upon which are lengthy quotes.

In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:18

In our busy lives how often do we take time to thank God for His blessings? I recently saw a plaque with this on it: "What if you woke up today with only the things that you thanked God for yesterday?" Would a lot of our things disappear?

During last Sunday's sermon I spoke of the various reasons people leave church life (not being spiritually fed, not connected to the body, not being used). After the service ended a church member suggested to me yet another reason someone might leave a church: it is when a church leaves that person. That is, when there has been a theological shift within the church or church's leadership such that any person with a real love for God's word is going to face serious questions about staying at that church.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. – 2 Timothy 4:7 (ESV)

This past week I drove to Philadelphia to visit a former missionary whom I have known for around 35 years. His name is Tim McIntosh. Back when I had just become a pastor, Tim and Deb McIntosh were starting out as missionaries to Peru. Deb was from Lancaster County and she had a sister who had attended LEFC (Lancaster Evangelical Free Church – the church that I was pastoring) off and on for several years. I'm not sure if it was because of Deb's sister but somehow a contact had been made with Tim and Deb and the church had agreed to help take on their financial support.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:17

While in town, my 91-year old dad was interested in going to some antique shops. While at an antique shop in Columbia he spotted a statue of Abraham Lincoln. It was not a real antique, just a "vintage" plaster of Paris piece, some 41" to the top of his top hat. He bought it. But now the question was how to get it back to my sister's house in Highland, Illinois, where he currently is living. So we took it to the UPS packaging center on Columbia Pike and for around $120 Lincoln was on his way.

A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want (scarcity) like an armed man. – Proverbs 24:33-34 (ESV)

There is no single reason for poverty. Education consistently marks off the haves from the have-nots. And a person's race, sex, genes, appearance, freedom from disease or illness (or presence of disease or illness) can all be factors in determining one's financial status. In addition, Pre-marital pregnancy, a welfare mentality, drug, alcohol or tobacco use, physical, emotional or sexual abuse – all these and countless other issues also factor into this equation. So while the writer of the above quoted proverb may have focused on laziness, no one would argue that sloth alone is that which determines where someone will end up financially.

This past week I read that 40% of American adults do not have even $400 set aside to aid them in the event of an unforeseen financial need. How this can be is hard to understand. Granted: it would be interesting to know what percent of that 40 percent have a smart phone, smoke, pay for cable television or have spent more than $50 on a pair of sneakers in the past year. So it is possible that 40% of American adults are far more financially foolish than they are lazy. But that is hard to say. What can be said for certain is that we live in a land of plenty where some have a LOT and where many have relatively LITTLE. Sure, compared to many parts of the world, even the 40% are wealthy. We've heard that from the time we were little children.

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. – Proverbs 27:17

Atrophy is what sets in when we fail to use various muscles in our body. The old line "Use it or lose it" is tied in with this notion of atrophy. For unless we keep using the muscles we have, they will weaken to the point of being unable to aid us in walking or moving (or thinking). When one reads in the New Testament of lame people being told by Christ or one of the apostles to walk, the real marvel is not just that they walked but that they immediately walked really well: "walking and jumping and praising God" (Acts 3:8). For it is a well-known fact that when we do not use certain muscles, it takes a long time for those muscles to again function as they should.

(submitted and edited by Pastor Doug Winne. Pastor Doug personally spoke with Lee this past week regarding this article that was published some 20 years ago in Reminisce magazine. This is a great true story of how grace…kindness…can be shown, potentially altering a person's life.)

In 1971 I was 15 years old, a long-haired, lean Connecticut kid. Eligible for my driver's license in a year, I began saving to buy a car. I mowed lawns and did odd jobs.

One of my regular lawn-mowing clients was an elderly couple who used the house upon the hill as a weekend retreat. The man was in his eighties and all but bedridden, his wife a tireless chatterbox. In their garage was the most beautiful car I had ever seen.

It was a 1957 Ford Fairlane 500, four-door, two-tone black and white, gold trim on the sides, with a V-8 engine and automatic transmission, wraparound windshield, big chrome bumpers, fins in the back, with the Ford logo set in white enamel on the ornate hubcaps. The interior, in gray and white, still smelled new after 14 years and only 1,500 miles. It rested on cinder blocks. As often as possible, I sneaked away from work to sit behind the wheel and make engine noises. I became obsessed with that car.

But we preach Christ crucified… – 1 Corinthians 1:23a

As most of you know, Ruth were away the past two weeks. We were in Italy, celebrating our 40 years of married life. Thank you for allowing us to go and a special thanks to those who, to our great surprise, contributed financially to this event. The trip was over two years in the planning and to be able to return knowing that it has been fully paid for…well, that was and is great.

Our trip took us briefly to Paris before making our way on to the Italian cities of Venice, Florence, Rome and Naples. Florence was our favorite, although Venice is, without question, the most unique (no roads or cars, only bridges and boats). Ruth and I estimate that we walked approximately 10 miles every day. To reach our first Airbnb apartment required walking up 101 steps (no elevator); another place had 90 steps. We climbed to the top of the Duomo in Florence (463 steps) as well to the top of St. Peter's basilica (551 steps). But we liked Florence the best because it was not the big city that Rome or Naples have become and it has a much more religious feel than the other places, even more so than Rome where the Vatican is located. It also was cleaner.

…Live peaceably with all. - Romans 12:18b

Burning Hearts Community Church is a Christian church. A bit more specifically it is a Protestant Christian Church. But beyond that, it would be hard to put Burning Hearts into a box. And this is problematic for a lot of people. For a lot of people – particularly older people – find some comfort in having things very well ordered, packaged, and boxed up.

Like many of you I have a variegated church background. I was raised in a "community" Church. During my college and seminary years I attended a couple different Baptist churches, an Orthodox Presbyterian Church, a PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) Church, and even, on occasion, an Episcopal Church. The pastors I have been the closest to in Lancaster County over the past 37 years have been from non-denominational Charismatic Churches or from Reformed Churches. Because of all this – and the influence of these various perspectives – I have, in my preaching, tended to try and find "middle ground" with a variety of positions, even when those positions conflict with one another.

Those who come from Italy send you greetings. – Hebrews 13:24b

I recall a fellow named Don, now many years ago, telling the congregation that he was taking his wife to Hawaii for their 30-year anniversary. I later kidded him that he had, with that remark, made himself among the men of the congregation probably the least liked man in the congregation! The women may have thought him wonderful but not the men. For there he had gone and really messed things up for the rest of us, setting a new standard by which we were sure to never quite measure up. Hawaii! Thanks a lot, Don!

And here I am in Italy! Well guys, don't blame me…it was Ruth's idea! But, yes, I complied. Indeed, I worked hard to see this become a reality for my wife. Someone asked me a few weeks ago what I most desired to see in Italy and I said that I particularly desired to see a smile on my wife's face.

And do not be anxious about anything… – Philippians 4:6a (NIV)

Just as soon as this morning's service ends, Ruth and I are quite literally "out the door." Ordinarily I would be the last one around and I make certain things are all locked up. But not today. For today we need to immediately make our way to the JFK airport, near Queens, New York, to catch a flight that leaves at 6:15 flight. One wrong turn, one flat tire, one case of bumper-to-bumper traffic and we will have a problem making that flight.

Anxiousness. It can creep into our lives at anytime. And sometimes it does over even the smallest of things. I don't about you but I have known what it is to wake up in the middle of the night thinking, "I'm not sure I…" And then, whatever that thing is that I was wondering if I had done it or not…well, it's out of bed and time to check on it. Some may be able to just turn off that inner alarm clock, roll over, and go back to sleep, but not I. How about you?

Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment. – Hebrews 9:27

Back in 1983 Ruth and I were still quite young, we had no children, and we had just moved to Lancaster County. I was working as a real estate agent with Century 21 and Ruth was working at Park City Mall at a women's clothing store. Late one Wednesday night I received a phone call from my dad telling me that Mom had been taken to the hospital, had there collapsed on the floor and had been immediately rushed into surgery. Dad sounded very concerned and said, "Pray!" A few hours later he called back with the very brief and tearful message: "Your mother's dead. Come soon." And so it was that both Ruth and I flew the next day to St. Louis where we were picked up at the airport by a member of the church that Dad pastored in nearby Highland, Illinois.

…An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream… – Matthew 2:13

Dreams, and often the content of those dreams, are mentioned many times in the Bible. Besides the very famous dreams of Joseph and Pharaoh (recorded in Genesis), we have the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar (recorded in Daniel) and the dreams of Joseph, Mary's husband (recorded in Matthew). Indeed, in Matthew chapter 2 we have 5 dreams mentioned. All of these dreams are referenced as being a means by which divine truth was conveyed.

The Old Testament prophet Joel prophesied, "And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh: you sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions" (2:28). It was this passage that Peter quoted on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) in support of what the Holy Spirit was doing that day.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. – John 10:10

Let me be clear: I do not consider homosexual activity as the greatest of sins. Pride holds that honor. And the fact of the matter is that many Christians are committing that sin – pride – when they speak condescendingly of the sexual mores of others. Nevertheless it is impossible to take the Bible seriously and not be convinced that homosexual behavior is indeed sinful behavior.

In my years of counseling people, none has been as difficult as those cases where the individual is struggling with their sexual identity. How we view ourselves sexually is basic to who we are. So when that issue is unclear or unresolved in a person's mind it leaves the individual in a place of tremendous angst. I recently heard Pete Buttigieg (the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana who is running to be the democratic nominee for the office of President of the United States) commenting on his emotional struggles, as a teenage boy, as he tried to identify as a boy who should have been attracted to girls but who felt, deep down, a deep attraction to boys. He said that he cried out to God countless times to change how he was feeling. He said he would have given anything to see such a change in himself, but it didn't come. And so when he finally gave in to his desires (he is now "married" to a man) he actually felt relief.

I was actually a bit taken back when my son, Jonathan, began talking about the intersection of a person's time, health and money. I was taken back because when I was not much older than Jonathan I spent some time thinking about the exact same thing. Indeed, at that time, I developed a graph trying to ascertain the point at which those three lines best intersect. I.e., a person's available time generally decreases once children come into their life, but once those children are out of the home, in general (and there are exceptions to all of these points) there is more time available. Money generally increases throughout one's working career – at least what one earns. But come retirement the level of income goes down and any increase is more tied to the cost of living than to any accomplishments. As for health, we've been told that it is pretty much downhill after age 21 or so. Some stay in tremendously good health right into their senior years but the number of men who might boast with Caleb that at age 80 they are just as strong as they were at age 40 would be very, very, few.

Recently I came across a book review in which the writer suggested that the book that was being reviewed (The Civil War as a Theological Crisis by Mark Noll) might provide fodder to those in support of LGBTQ "rights" within the church. Now I have not yet read Noll's book so I am not able to comment on the book nor the reviewer's comment. But I am well acquainted with how the issue of slavery – a key issue in the American Civil War – was viewed so differently by northern and southern white Christians. The northern abolitionists argued that what was being done to the Africans bore no resemblance to the slavery mentioned in scripture and was an affront to God by robbing these people of their freedom and dignity. Those in the south, on the other hand, appealed to the Bible and its allowance of slavery as evidence enough that God was not opposed to the institution of slavery.

As we all know, the south lost that war (and argument).

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity. - Psalm 133:1 (ESV)

Since around the time of our dad's 80th birthday, my two sisters (Shirley and Marilou) and I have been meeting on an annual basis with our dad. For years that meant a week's wintertime vacation in Florida where he lived – something not hard to take! But since his leaving Florida and moving in with Shirley near St. Louis, we have been doing something different each year. Last year was our fantastic trip down the Mississippi River on a large paddleboat named the American Queen (paid for, in total, by our dad). This year we made a "Remembrance Tour" of the places that were dear to our dad and we three kids as children. Thus a road trip from Chicago, up into Wisconsin, the upper peninsula of Michigan, down into the lower peninsula and ending in Highland, Illinois. Here are a few highlights with some lessons to be learned...

Upcoming Events

Prayer Meeting
29 Jul 2020 - 07:00PM
All Church Hike
16 Aug 2020 - 01:00PM
Annual Church Picnic
30 Aug 2020 - 10:30AM
Fall Bible Study
10 Sep 2020 - 07:00PM
BraveHearts Breakfast
12 Sep 2020 - 07:00AM