Twas’ the Night…

Here is my take on an old Christmas classic…

Twas’ the night before Christmas, and down at the store,

All the people were hurrying to get through the door.

And there I was with them joining the fray,

Just a few short hours before Christmas day.

“This is crazy” I said with my eyes turned toward Heaven.

My list is too long and it’s almost eleven.

It’s good that the store is open this late,

For those people like me who just wait, wait, wait, wait!

You see, I was shopping late into the night,

And I’m sure that I really was an interesting sight.

My arms full of packages, my feet moving fast,

Because I had saved Christmas shopping for last.

So there I was, impatiently scanning the shelves.

Wishing there really were such things as elves.

I had quite a list that I still needed to find,

And it was nearly driving me out of my mind.

A new dolly for Jenny and a puzzle for Bill,

A book for Freddy, and a necklace for Jill.

Those are the things that I had to buy,

Oh, why did I wait so long, why, why, why, why?

The shelves were picked over, and yet still full of stuff,

But the other shoppers were being quite rough.

I had been bumped, bruised, jostled and jarred,

And I still needed to find a new shirt for Bernard

Kelly wanted a sweater for winter of course,

Bobby was hoping for a plastic play horse.

Sally, my secretary wanted a raise,

But instead I was hoping to buy her a vase.

The company Christmas party had gone really late,

And I was feeling kind of sick from the food that I ate.

My back was still sore from putting up our big tree,

And the lights on my house numbered 4 thousand and three.

And now here I was in this ridiculous store,

Full of Santas and snowflakes and reindeers galore.

Christmas music was playing from the ceiling above,

Saying something about peace, joy, and love.

But I had no time, to listen to carols,

I was on my way to find some apparel.

My wife wanted a skirt, something in red.

And my son really wanted a fast racing sled.

The list just kept going, I was beginning to tire,

But it was my fault that things were getting down to the wire.

Why are the holidays always like this?

What happened to having a merry Christmas?

Could there be more to this time of year?

Something with joy or real Christmas cheer?

“What if I’m missing something?” I thought to myself?

As I reached for a toy from off of the shelf.

My hand stopped in mid air as I continued to reason,

And I remembered something else regarding this season.

A story from church back when I was a child

Something about a virgin, who was tender and mild?

Then I saw something that made my heart skip a beat,

It was in my same aisle, just down a few feet.

A nativity scene was sitting next to a toy railroad track,

And then the whole story came flooding on back.

I remembered the virgin, whose name was Mary,

And the trip to Bethlehem that must have been scary.

No room in the inn so they stayed in a stable,

Like out of a nursery rhyme or a long ago fable.

When the baby was born, he did not have a bed,

So they placed him in a manger, where animals were fed.

As I stared at that nativity scene I remembered some more,

Some shepherds in fields with a sheepherding chore.

And an angel appeared in the middle of the night,

It must have been a frightening sight.

But the message was good and he spoke of joy,

And not the kind that comes from getting a toy.

He spoke of true joy and peace and of love,

Coming down to us from the heavens above.

A Savior was born in Bethlehem,

That is what the angel told unto them.

And I remembered also that some wise men arrived,

Could this story be true, or was it contrived?

And at that moment in the middle of the store,

I bent down and knelt right there on the floor.

I realized that the nativity scene at the end of my aisle,

Was not a coincidence, not by a mile.

God put it there so that I would recall,

That Christmas is not something you find in a mall.

He reminded me what Christmas is really about,

And now I just wanted to stand up and shout,

At the top of my lungs, with all of my might,

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Christmas Carols – Minnesota Style!

Just for fun I thought I would put together a top 10 list of Minnesota versions of popular Christmas Carols.  You will probably recognize most of these songs, and if you live in Minnesota you will hopefully enjoy the little Minnesota twist.  Christmas is a time of joy, so I hope you enjoy this…

10) It’s Beginning to Lutefisk Like Christmas

9) Zygi Bells

8) We Wish You a Mauer Christmas

7) Brett Favre Got Run Over By a Reindeer

6) Deck the Halls with Bowls of Hotdish

5) O Come All Ye Lutherans

4) Rudolph the Red Nosed Viking

3) O Holey Metrodome

2) It’s the Most Uff Da Time of the Year

1) You Betcha! The Herald Angels Sing

A Funny Thing Happened While Shoveling My Driveway

So we just had a beautiful Minnesota blizzard this past weekend.  For those of you who did not experience it firshand, the snow started on Friday night and kept falling all day Saturday.  Here in Chaska we got somewhere around 16 inches according to the accounts I have heard.  But what made it so bad was the wind.  I went out Saturday afternoon to begin shoveling out my driveway and when I opened my overhead garage door, I found a wall of snow in it’s place.  The drift was almost 3′ tall.  It was the width of my 3-car garage.  And it was about 5′ long before slowly tapering off to about a foot and a half.  I just stood there staring at this winter wonderland wondering where in the world to start. 

Finally I got into action and began clearing a path by scooping the snow and throwing it as far as I could.  Then gradually after I cleared a path I started picking up a shovel full and carrying it over to the side of the driveway and dumping it there.  After working for about an hour I had cleared away about an 8’X8′ section of driveway and the wind was already filling that part back in behind me. 

Thankfully about that time my next door neighbor came by and offered me the use of his snowblower.  I gratefully accepted and after another hour of manhandling that blower through my huge drifts I finally had a semi-cleared driveway.  I still needed to go back the next day and clear out some more areas by hand, but the bulk of the work was done. 

It was a lot of work, and by the time I got inside I literally had icicles formed on my eyebrows.  In times like those you have to ask yourself, “now why again did I move to Minnesota?”  But you know, a funny thing happened to me while shoveling my driveway.  I found myself becoming more and more thankful.  It began with just a short thought, but snowballed into more of a movement within me to give thanks to God for so many blessings that I was reminded of from this storm. 

For instance, being out there for 2-3 hours in that cold wind and snow I was more thankful than ever for the shelter that God has provided for me and my family.  Sometimes we wish our house was different.  We complain about this or that and we talk about what we would like to do differently with our home, but it is in times like that snowstorm that I am simply reminded of how good it is to just have a home where we are safe and warm and dry.

I also found myself being thankful for the work that God allowed me to do just over the last couple of months to clear out our garage so that there was plenty of room to maneuver and get the cars inside and have stuff not be in the way.  I found myself thanking God for the big driveway, even though a bigger driveway means more to shovel.  I thanked Him for the neighbor who let me borrow his snowblower.  I thanked Him for even just letting me be done and that I was warm again.  I just kept finding myself thanking God for one thing after another.

So while I didn’t enjoy the shoveling, I think our little snowstorm helped me to be thankful.  It is sad, but sometimes it take a moment like that to remind us of all the wonderful blessings we often take for granted.  I don’t want to wish on you a snowstorm to help you be thankful, but I encourage you to be thankful. 

The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Thessalonica told them to, “give thanks in all circumstances.” (I Thessalonians 5:18a)  I think tough times sometimes cause us to be frustrated, impatient, angry, bitter, or discouraged and we find it tough to be thankful.  But God wants us to give thanks, no matter what the circumstances of life are.  And sometimes it takes those tough times just to remind us to give thanks.


Earlier this week I was reading in my devotions from Philippians 4 and came across verse 4, “Rejoice in the Lord alway.  I will say it again: Rejoice!”

That’s a great verse and a great reminder, but how often would that be a word we would use to describe ourselves?  How often do we actually rejoice?  When I think of rejoicing I get the picture of someone singing and dancing, laughing and shouting about how wonderful things are.  Kind of like we see Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music” dancing and singing, “the hills are alive with the sound of music,” as she glides across the Austrian mountainside.  Or like Gene Kelly in “Singing in the Rain” dancing in the streets and swinging on lightposts while whistling and crooning, “Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo-dloo-doo.” 

Now I know that I am not an overly emotional guy.  Is that redundant?  But how often do I rejoice?  I have been known to get pretty excited and even jump up and down when the Redskins or Colts win a big football game.  But that doesn’t last very long and I am not really rejoicing in the Lord so much at that time, just celebrating a win. 

So I think this is a valid question.  How often do I really rejoice?  Paul tells us in I Thessalonians to be joyful always and that seems a little more doable.  He also tells us to give thanks in all circumstances, which is difficult because of the parameter of “all circumstances,” but the idea of being thankful is something we can deal with.  However, if I picture rejoicing like Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music” and Gene Kelly in “Singing in the Rain;” then I have a little bit of a problem, because I don’t ever really act like that. 

I even decided to take a look at the word rejoice in Scripture and sure enough I found singing, shouting, playing instruments, celebrating and even leaping, as well as waving palm fronds and leafy branches referred to in conjunction with rejoicing.  When Solomon is crowned as king after David we even see the ground shaking with the sound of their rejoicing.  And in Nehemiah at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, we see that the rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.

So what do I do with that?  Paul is challenging me to rejoice in the Lord always, but my life is not a Broadway musical and I feel a little silly dancing up the stairs, twirling around lightposts, and singing at the top of my lungs.  How about you?  Well, maybe that’s our problem.

You know in the early church we see a contagious Christianity.  We see people being added to their number daily.  It was like people saw these early Christians and said to them, “I want whatever it is that you’ve got.”  And Christianity spread like wildfire.  But eventually that victorious rejoicing gave way to traditional practice and we as Christians became much more refined and proper.  We do church well, but how often does the world really see us rejoicing?

When you stop and think about it, we have a lot to rejoice about don’t we?  Just even think about what we are celebrating this month.  We are celebrating the birth of our Savior who came to earth to die for the sins of the world.  That is worth some singing, dancing and shouting isn’t it?

How much more effective witnesses would we be if the world saw us walking through this life rejoicing?  We would be much more contagious.  I guess that is my challenge for us this Christmas season.  Let’s really rejoice.  Let’s treat the Christmas message like we used to treat waking up on Christmas morning and running down to see the presents.  Let’s let the world see in our faces the wonderful message of the Gospel.  Let’s “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice!”

I Make the Pies in Our Family!

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.  I like getting together with family and friends, being thankful, watching football and eating too much.  Those are 4 of my favorite things to do all wrapped up into one holiday.  It is also nice that Thanksgiving is a 2-day holiday instead of being relegated to the 1-day holiday status like Labor Day and other national holidays.   Actually, here in Minnesota they have even thrown in Wednesday as well, so the kids got 3 days off from school.  I, didn’t get Wednesday off, but I did go home early.  Basically because I needed to make some pies. 

That’s right, I make the pies in our family.  Are  you surprised?  I was!  One day, when I was working as an associate pastor in my first church back in Indiana, I came home and declared to my wife that I was going to make a pie that evening.  You see, as a pastor, there are many times when it feels like you are not finishing anything, but only adding more things to your to do list.  And that can be frustrating.  I wanted to take on a project that I could begin and end that evening.  Something that would allow me to be creative and expressive and that would allow me to enjoy the fruits of my labor after I was finished.  Is that too much to ask?

And I did it.  It took me about 5 hours and at least 2 trips to the grocery store.  But I made 2 apple pies, completely from scratch.  I peeled the apples, made the crusts (top and bottom), got everything prepared and in the oven, and finally got to bed close to midnight after the pies had a chance to cool. 

And believe it or not, I enjoyed it.  And that got me interested in baking.  Since those first 2 pies, baking has become a bit of a hobby for me.  I don’t do pies often because they take a lot of time, but I enjoy experimenting with different kinds of cookies.  Just ask my children who makes the best chocolate chip cookies!  Along the way I have had plenty of flops.  One of the nice things about having 4 kids is that even when a cookie experiment doesn’t turn out so well, as long as it’s got sugar in it, my kids will eat every last one of them.  So while I sometimes have cookies that don’t turn out the way I would like them to, they never get wasted at the Mapstone house.

So this year for Thanksgiving I made a French Apple Pie (the kind with the crumb topping) and a Caramel Apple Pecan Pie.  Both turned out pretty well.  Most people are surprised when they find out that I bake a “mean” apple pie.  I guess I just don’t look like a baker?  But I found out that you never know what you might be good at until you try it.  And who knows, you just might find that you like doing something that you didn’t expect.  The same is true in the church.  There are all kinds of jobs that need to be done.  Some of them require specific gifts in order to be done well, but others just need someone who is willing to give it a try.  As a church body, we need to be willing to get out there and try some of these things.

I didn’t become a pastor until I was almost 30 years old.  Before that I was a graphic designer.  But before going into full-time ministry I have served in the church in a whole bunch of different ways.  I had handled the sound board, led games at AWANA, worked with the youth group, cleaned the church, served in the nursery, taught Sunday School, headed up a small-group, drawn cartoons for the church newsletter, coached the basketball team, redesigned the church bulletin, served on different committees, and been a deacon.  Some of those things I was good at, some not so much, but all of those provided opportunities for me to serve and to find out what I was good at.  Each one of those opportunities helped prepare me for full-time ministry.  Yes, even serving in the nursery helped prepare me to be the pastor I am today.

I guess what I am saying is that too often when someone asks us to consider doing something at the church, our default answer is “no.”  I decided to say “yes,” to a lot of things that I might not have tried, and it eventually led to me becoming a pastor.  Who knows what God has in store for you?  I never thought that I would be the one who makes the pies in our family.  But I gave it a try and I found out that it was something that I enjoy doing and I am actually pretty good at it.  Who know, you might find the same thing if you are willing to try something new?

Why I Like Funerals

So earlier this week I headed out to Chicago with my family for the funeral of my wife’s grandmother.  Her name was Ruth Romin.  She left behind a loving husband of 65 years, 5 children, 15 grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren.  She was a long-time member of the Salvation Army church and was also heavily involved in ministry to missionaries with the Christian and Missionary Alliance.  There was a small viewing time and graveside service for family and then a memorial service at her church afterward.  It was a wonderful celebration of a life well-lived.

I have to admit I like funerals.  Actually, as a pastor I enjoy doing funerals more than weddings, I always like to organize funerals and  use the Tuell-McKee Funeral & Cremation Services.  The reason is because I believe funerals have a much better opportunity for ministering to people.  Typically at weddings, people are much more focused on the formality of the wedding itself than on God’s presence.  On the flip side, at a funeral, people are looking for God.  They are hungry to hear from Him, to be reminded of His presence, and to reflect on the promise that He is in control.

Funerals are also a great time to connect with family.  All but one of Ruth Romin’s grandchildren made it to the funeral.  And the one who didn’t make it, had a really good reason.  So Julie was able to connect with her brothers and sister, cousins, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces.  Some of whom she had not seen in quite some time.

But the greatest thing about funerals, at least in the case of the death of a Christian saint like Ruth, is that it is the celebration of a loved one passing to glory.  Ruth was struggling here on earth during the last few years of her life.  She was in pain physically, mentally, and emotionally.  She was not the same woman that had lived such a vibrant, spirit-filled, service-oriented life for so many years.  And so she passed from this life to a better one.  She was, no doubt, welcomed into the arms of a loving Father, with the words, “well-done good and faithful servant.”  She is finally now at rest and peace.  So we celebrated her life and her passing on to glory this week.  We remembered her with stories and reminded each other about how wonderful things are now for her in Heaven.  We even finished off the evening with an ice cream social, celebrating two of her favorite treats here on earth: ice cream and Milky Ways.  You have to love a funeral that ends with ice cream!

But that’s the way it should be.  Because this was truly a celebration.  It is truly great to be a Christian and to know that death is not the end, but rather the beginning of eternal life with Christ.  We are reminded in I Corinthians 15:55-57, “‘Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?’  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So, yes I like funerals.  And it is not morbid.  It is because I know what comes next.  And so funerals have become a celebration.  But not all funerals.  Funerals for those who die without Christ, are not a celebration.  They are not a victory.  So if you are reading this and you do not know what will happen to you when you die, I urge you to contact us and ask that question.  I would love to talk with you more about how death can lose it’s sting for you as well.

Not Enough Books in the World

This morning in my devotions I came across one of my favorite little, honest, informal verses in the Bible.  It is the last verse in the Gospel of John.  And it is written in such a simple, almost conversational style.  It is John 21:25, “Jesus did many other things as well.  If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

Isn’t that a great little verse?  It is nothing overly deep or earth-shattering.  It is not a big theological point or an area of doctrine.  It is not a controversial topic or even something that is key to our discipleship process.  But I just love it, because it reminds me that Jesus’ life here on earth was even more amazing than I already picture. 

I have just finished reading through the Gospels.  Almost every day for the last 29 days I have been reading in either Matthew, Mark, Luke or John for my devotions.  And throughout that time I have been reminded of the amazing life of Jesus Christ. 

I have marvelled at miracles like Jesus feeding the five thousand and walking on water.  I have pondered His powerful teachings like the sermon on the mount and the Olivet discourse.  I have seen his compassion during His visits with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the woman accused of adultery.  I have read of His authority over nature when He calmed the storm, over the spiritual realm as He delivered the Gadarene demoniac, over the spiritual leaders of the day as he silenced them with His answers to their questions and even over death itself as He raised Lazarus from the dead.  I have enjoyed His parables like the one about the prodigal son and the one about the lost sheep.  I have witnessed His humanity as He faced temptation in the wilderness and struggled with the will of the Father in the garden before His arrest.  I have been reminded of His meekness and humility as He kept silent in the face of His accusers and willingly allowed Himself to be led away.  I have seen His love as He allowed Himself to be beaten, and mocked and spit upon and ultimately killed for my sins.  And I have rejoiced over His victory with the stone that was rolled away and the visits with His disciples before returning to His Father’s side. 

It has been a great month of reading about the amazing life of Jesus Christ.  But this simple verse at the end of the book of John, this last verse of the Gospels, reminds me that there was more.  There were others who were healed, other lives that were touched, other bonds that were broken, and other needs that were met.  There were more lives that were forgiven, more eyes that were opened, more mouths that were fed, and more hearts that were transformed.   The amazing life of Jesus Christ cannot be contained in just 89 chapters of 4 books.  There is more.

What was contained for me in these Gospels is enough to compel me to believe, but it is also good to be reminded that Jesus’ life is not completely contained in those 4 books.  My Savior, my Messiah, my Lord is amazing!  And if there were a whole world full of books written down, I would want to read them all.

We’re Not Gonna Take It Anymore!

I don’t like November 1.  Why?  Because it reminds me of the consumer spin that we have put on Christmas.  You know what I am talking about.  The day after that “trick or treating” holiday, while the kids are still nursing tummy aches from eating too much candy, all the stores begin to tear down the pumpkins, costumes and candy from their seasonal shelves and begin to put up their Christmas decorations. 

I don’t like this day, but it isn’t because I miss the pumpkins and other treats that that have been up on the shelves for the past month.  The reason I don’t like this day is because once the Christmas decorations go up, we begin a fast paced slide toward Christmas that is anything but the peaceful journey it is meant to be.

Between November 1 and the end of the year we have two holidays that are meant to turn our eyes toward our Heavenly Father with thanks and praise.  But instead of peacefully and joyfully celebrating this time of year, we have filled it with a flurry of gift-buying, party-going, card-sending, house-decorating, consumer-driven madness, that leaves Thanksgiving and the real meaning of Christmas wallowing in the carnage.

In just a little while we will be standing in the early stages of 2011 and looking back with dazed confusion at the blur that was supposed to be the holiday season.   It happens every year.  It seems like we go to bed on October 31 and wake up on January 2 and an entire two months have passed and we hardly had time to enjoy any of it.

I guess that is why I don’t like November 1.  The stores all rush ahead to try and be the first to get out their Christmas stuff and begin this feeding frenzy that we call the holiday season.  They push it by so fast that all we can do is reach out, grab hold and hang on for dear life. 

So my challenge for all of us this year is to get off the carousel.  This year, let’s stand up and say, in the immortal words of Twisted Sister, “We’re not gonna take it anymore!”  I’m not generally a big fan of quoting Twisted Sister, but this phrase fit so well that I just had to use it.  Anyway, we need to be intentional about getting off this crazy carousel of Christmas confusion.  We need to decide that we aren’t going to get taken for a ride anymore by what the stores and the media and the world in general have done with this time of year.

I encourage you to take your time this holiday season.  Walk a little slower.  Don’t rush.  Enjoy this time.  And make it a point to reflect on what it’s all about.  Take time to give thanks between now and Thanksgiving.  Count your blessings.  Remember what God has done for you.  And then turn your sights on the birth of the Savior.  Take time to consider this Jesus who came to earth as a little baby to become the sacrifice for all our sins. 

This is a special time of the year.  Let’s not miss it just because we are too busy.  Take your time and peacefully enjoy this Christmas season.

From the Cradle to the Grave

This year for my devotions I am reading through the entire Bible and it has brought up several interesting thoughts.  For instance, last week I was reading in Matthew 27, and this morning I was reading in Luke 2.  Why is that significant?  Well, let me show you what I found to be interesting…

Luke 2 contains a very familiar account of the birth of Jesus.  We typically listen to the story retold every year at Christmas time.  Even if it is only while watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and listening to Linus retell this story.  Over the years much of the story has become very familiar to us and one of those parts is Luke 2:7, “and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

On the flip side, Matthew 27 contains another familiar story.  It is a story that we talk about each year at Easter time.  It is the story of Christ’s death on the cross for the sins of the world.  But as I was reading from Matthew 27 there was one sentence that really jumped out at me in light of the story from Luke 2.  That sentence was Matthew 27:59,60a, “Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock…”

Do you see the similarity between those two verses?  Now, I know that I am working with the NIV and not with the original Greek, but the thought that really jumped out at me was the similarity between Jesus’ birth and Jesus’ death.  When He was born, His mother, Mary, wrapped him in cloth and placed him in a manger.  And when He died his friend, Joseph of Arimethea, wrapped him in cloth and placed him in a tomb.

The phrase, “from the cradle to the grave” is an idiom that is meant to speak of life from the time we are born to the time we die.  It has been used in song lyrics and even was a movie title, but it is very fitting when thinking of Jesus’ life.  From the manger to the tomb Jesus’ life was all about one thing.  We are reminded of that in Philippians 2:6-11, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Jesus came to earth to die for the sins of the world.  He came to earth with that plan in place.  He was born to die.   And even though it was difficult, He followed that plan all the way to his death on the cross.  From the cradle to the grave.  From the manger to the tomb.

But there is one other interesting thing that I find in these two passages.  First of all, when Jesus came into the world, there wasn’t even room for Him in the inn.  So his mom had to lay him in a manger in a stable somewhere.  This was a very non-intimate, non-personal, open, public place for Jesus to be born.  He was out there for everyone to see.  We even know of some shepherds that stopped by to see Him.   Anyone could come by.  Everyone had access.  

On the flip side, after He died, Joseph took His body and placed it in his very own tomb.  This was a very intimate, very personal, very private place for Jesus to be placed.  Joseph opened up his own tomb, the place that was reserved for himself, and gave that place to Jesus. 

That reminds me of us.  Jesus is available for all.  He came to earth for all who would receive Him.  But while He is there for all of us, it is up to us to act like Joseph did and take that very personal place, the place that is typically reserved just for us, our heart and give it to Him.

If you have never done that, then I want to encourage you to do that today.  Realize that Jesus’s entire life on earth, from the cradle to the grave, was given for you.  He died for the sins of the world.  Let’s give Him the place in our hearts that He deserves.

You Strain Out a Gnat, but Swallow A Camel

This morning, this phrase was part of my devotions, “You strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel.”  I love that.  Do you know who said it?  Jesus.  Let me give you a little context.  Jesus was speaking to the crowds and was specifically talking about the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.  He talked about their hypocrisy and pride and how they do everything so that others can see them.  He talked about how they constantly burdened the people with heavy loads and made it harder for others to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  He specifically called them blind guides.

Consider Matthew 23:23-24, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cummin.  But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.  You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.  You blind guides!  You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

Isn’t that great!  Jesus is chastising these leaders for being more interested in the kinds of things that show on the outside than on what is really happening on the inside.  He goes on to liken them to whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but are rotten inside. 

But while this is directed at the religious leaders of the day, it also is a challenge for us to consider ourselves.  What about us?  Are we more concerned with how we appear to those around us than on what is really happening inside?  Are we more concerned with looking perfect than we are with having a right relationship with the Lord?  I love the way that Jesus is able to cut right to the core of who we are and get us to take a hard look at ourselves.  That is what light does.  It shines into the dark recesses of the soul and makes us aware of the things within us that need to change.

But sometimes in order for us to change, we need to be willing to allow our beautiful facade to be stripped away.  We need to be willing to allow others to see the rotten garbage underneath as we start to really deal with the garbage in our lives and start focusing on the camels in our lives instead of the gnats.

I don’t know about you, but I want to stop swallowing camels.  I want to let Christ have His way in my life and help me to deal with the garbage on the inside, even if it means that others might see that I am not perfect. 

Another verse that I was reading in my devotions today came from Matthew 21:44, “He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”  Here Jesus was talking about Himself and our need to be broken before Him.  Coming to Him, in humility and brokenness, admitting our sin and our need for a Savior.  We need to be willing to be broken before the Lord.  And I know that is not easy.  We don’t like to be broken.  We want to pretend that we are perfect.  But you know what?  We aren’t.  This world is full of a bunch of broken people walking around trying to hide their problems.  We are constantly focusing on straining out gnats, so that people think we are perfect, when all the while we are swallowing camels. 

My challenge for all of us today is to stop it!  Stop straining out gnats and swallowing camels.  Stop pretending to be perfect while we are struggling inside.  Stop hiding the sin, pain, doubt and whatever else we are struggling with and deal with it.  Be willing to be broken on the Rock of Jesus Christ!