Category Archives: Journey

He’d Still Been God

So often when we experience challenges and trials in life, we wonder where God is and why He hasn’t protected us from the misfortune that has come our way. It seems we’re caught off guard when life isn’t fair; when we’ve been dealt a hand that seems counter to all that we’ve worked for. James wrote that we should consider it all joy when (not if) we encounter various trials. (James 1:2) Why? Because the testing of our faith produces good things in us like the steadfastness of a tree standing strong in the face of constant winds and harsh weather. Like these two trees outside my office window. They have withstood winds over 75 mph, freezing temperatures to 20+ degrees below zero, hail, and infestations of bugs.

These two trees standing in the rain today have weathered the storms and are standing strong and erect. One has a little bow in the trunk, but don’t we all change somehow as we weather all that life throws at us? Hopefully, the ups and downs of life have improved our perspective and perhaps strengthened us to better handle the next storm. A dear friend is a kind and gentle man (now in his 80s) who has seen his share of disappointment and his share of success. But the ups and downs of his life have strengthened his faith and given him a perspective and wisdom that he shares freely with me. Together we look at what we can learn about God through our lives, through the lens of Scripture.

Jesus was talking with Nicodemus one night and said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) So it is with the ways of God as He continues to mold and shape us to prepare us for life with Him in heaven. The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) We are indeed a work in progress.

So, as God continues to use all things that come into our lives for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28) let’s not despair over the trials of life. Rather, let’s use them to grow in the knowledge of God, being more convinced than ever that He is still God, the great I AM. Let’s not let our view of Him be drawn only by the good things that come our way, but, as we look around at creation, being confident that whatever comes our way in life, He is still the God who made us, loves us enough to die for us, and continues to care for us and shape us for His purposes in eternity.

While attending a 4th of July musical a few weeks ago, the Legacy Quartet sang a song that caught my attention. It’s titled “He’d Still Been God.” The words go like this:

Master, carest Thou not that we perish?
Can’t You see that we’re about to die?
This boat we’re on is surely going under
“Save us now!”, His disciples cried
So Jesus rose to stand against the tempest
Knowing His disciples had no faith
Just to prove that He was still the Master
He spoke, and the wind and seas obeyed

But He’d still been God
Even if He’d never calmed a storm on a raging sea
He’d still been God
Even if He’d never caused a blinded eye to see
He’d still been God
Even if He’d never brought a crippled man to his feet
It’s not about what He did
It’s all about who He was
‘Cause even if He’d never come and done a single miracle
Then Jesus woulda still been God

Mary was His loving, earthly mother
She understood the purpose of her Son
Ever since the angel’d come and told her
“This child is the blessed Son of God”
So when she’d see the people gather ’round Him
Watching for a miracle to prove
That He would be their One and great Messiah
She just smiled ’cause she already knew

The original release was done by a group called Greater Vision and here is a link to their version of “He’d Still Been God.” The YouTube video is about 5 minutes long and I’d encourage you to give it a listen.

Friend, let’s not let our circumstances define God. Let’s see our circumstances through God’s eyes. Let’s not let our faith hinge on God’s performance of a miracle in our lives. God loves us and is continuing to do a work in us that will not be completed until we get to heaven. Life here on this earth is preparation for eternal life with our Savior, Jesus Christ. Let’s allow God to shape us into His image rather than us trying to shape God around our comfort zones.

Grace and Peace,

 

Subtle Influences

C.S. Lewis wrote in the Screwtape Letters, “The safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” Letter XII

Most of us have heard the term “slippery slope.” We hear it and, in today’s world, we Image result for discerningallow ourselves to become distracted because we know whatever follows is someone’s projection of imminent disaster at some future point in time. There are voices from all aspects of the political and sociological spectrum forecasting the demise of society as we know it resulting from an initial tiny step being approved today by some arm of our government. The fact that God is in control gives us great comfort, but we must also deal with the reality that He gives us great latitude in determining our own, and society’s, pace of ethical and moral decline. Refusal to acknowledge the broader and long term implications in favor of a short-term pain point or vocal minority viewpoint, has, over the years, led us to depart from God’s perspective in making our decisions.

Because of many of these decisions, the new reality of our world is that we live in a very different world than the one in which many of us grew up. Just yesterday, I was talking with family members about how life was when our daughters were growing up. And, yet, we wonder how we have arrived at the place in our world in which we now live. Why do we feel so much more insecure? We have just purchased cameras for the security of our home? Why are we becoming increasingly concerned about the worldview of our society? Our institutions of higher learning were once paragons of free speech and places where various worldviews could be openly discussed. Today, public speech on our campuses is limited to those who agree only with a narrow band of worldviews. Opinions arising from other worldviews are not given a voice.

During the days of the Revolutionary War, battles took place in an open field with opposing forces marching toward each other. Everyone knew who and where the enemy was. The Vietnam War was notable for the guerilla warfare that made the enemy less visibly identifiable. The enemy was not always uniformed military. During this war, the enemy took on the appearance of common citizens. More recently, wars are being waged against invisible networks of people inspired by ideologies that are spread transparently across the internet.

I was reading a pre-release copy of a book by Dr. Jeff Myers, “The Secret Battle of Ideas About God.” In his book, Dr. Myers compares the ideological battles of today to that of fighting a virus. Rather than debating specific ideologies, i.e., Islam, Mormonism, post-Christian society, et al, Christians today, must focus on being grounded in a system of truth against which to test all the random values and ideas that are surfaced by today’s various communications media.  These inputs can come in the form of commercials, news analysis, headlines, social media, and pronouncements made by high profile personalities. These are just a few. At least part of the danger lies in repeated intake of messages. Being constantly barraged with bad thinking based on invalid worldviews does have an effect.

These messages seep into the church. Our Christian friends repeat things they have heard, a pastor says something that sounds right but doesn’t really align with Scripture, a Bible Study leader offers an opinion that is counter to Scriptural truth, a church leans on its own tradition rather than what the Bible says, and down the road we go. Just because something goes viral in social media, doesn’t make it the truth. The slippery slope has begun. I was reading an interview with a former pastor who has been given a credible voice because he wrote a book containing a restatement of an old line of thinking that suggests all will go to heaven because God loves everyone. This interview focused on this man’s perspective on Scripture. He indeed has taken the next steps in the slippery slope created by his new truth system. His view of the Bible is that it is a collection of ideas that have been put together by several human writers, that lead us to think divine thoughts. Rubbish!

This is how we stray from the truth. When we declare that truth, as handed down by God Himself, is simply a collection of human ideas that leads us to think of God, we have no truth at all. We’ve begun to slide down the slippery slope. The virus gains a foothold into our immune systems. How can we reverse the slide or stop the viral infection? Is there an antidote?

Scripture attests to itself that “all scripture is God-breathed.” The Bible is a trustworthy foundation for our worldview. The antidote is to become familiar with its words and its teachings. If its teachings come from God, then nothing can overrule it. The Psalmist wrote, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

We need to store God’s words in our hearts so that we can fight off the infection of false teaching by recognizing it when it comes to our ears. False teachers will infiltrate even the most Christian environments. After listening to the Apostle Paul, the Bereans would go home and search the scriptures to see if what he said was true. We need to do the same so that we are able to fight off infectious viruses that make us spiritually sick.

Perhaps it is time for a good helping of spiritual food that will help us ward off viruses. Psalm 119:11 says “I have hidden your word in my heart that I may not sin against you.” A good place to start.

Be well, friends.

The Parable of the Hole

Portia Nelson penned a brief story that will be familiar to many of us. The moral of the story lines up with the instructions of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 5. In the Sermon on Image result for the parable of the holethe Mount, Christ tells us regarding lust, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

What is Christ suggesting here? I believe it safe to say that he is presenting options to us. We can continue to sin and miss the glory of heaven or remove those things that cause us to sin and be welcomed into the presence of God.

It would definitely be true that to lose an eye or a hand would be better than for our souls to end up in hell and miss spending eternity with God in the new heaven and the new earth. There is nothing here on this earth worth missing out on the treasure of that hope.

In the bigger picture, however, Christ is telling us that if we frequent a particular coffee shop so that we can lay eyes on an attractive woman who works there with the fantasy that her favors might be ours, quit going to that coffee shop. If you find ways to spend time with a particular colleague with the same intent, set different habits that will remove those tempting thoughts. Or consider something that an increasing problem, internet pornography, which devalues both the men and the women who lead us into a fantasy world.

In other areas of life, we can choose to associate with those who propose a different view of truth and the origin of things than what God has given us, thus opening ourselves to accepting their views. Or the even more subtle, “You have your truth and I have mine.” This ends of with neither one of you being right. The point is that we have choices to make regarding the voices we will take in on a regular basis.

With this concept in mind, Portia Nelson wrote The Parable of the Hole. It goes like this.

I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in.
I am lost. I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I’m in the same
place, but it’s still not my fault. It still takes a long time getting out.

I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it
is there, but I still fall in. It’s a habit. My eyes are open. I know where
I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down a different street.

Proverbs 25:28 tells us that a man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. That is quite a word picture. In those days, a city without walls was defenseless. The walls were not intended to keep people in, but rather to keep invading marauders out. The gates to the city were the only path into the city and could easily be defended. In the same way, we as God’s people need to recognize that we are in a battle.

Remember the battle of Jericho when the people of Israel began to take the land of Canaan after their journeys in the wilderness. The key to the battle was to take the walls down. Many years later, God used Nehemiah to lead the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem because that city was lying defenseless. The walls of the city were instrumental to the safety of its inhabitants.

In the same way, a man or woman who does not prepare for upright living by taking in the teaching of wisdom, by listening to what God has to say about all that the world throws at us, is leaving themselves open to the situational ethics proposed by the world. As we have seen in our short lives, the lines between right and wrong have all but vanished and ethical behavior is being redefined by the loudest voices in our society. Truth, like beauty, is thought to be found in the mind of the beholder.

Peter writes, in his first letter to the churches, that we are to be sober-minded and watchful because our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for those of us who have let our walls fall into disrepair, because that person is an easy target and defenseless. Without a foundation of truth we’ll buy into whatever someone thinks is right.

Let’s be men and women who chose on each and every day, to focus our minds on those things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. And if there is anything that is excellent or worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil 4:8) Solomon reminds us that the path of wisdom is to keep our hearts with all vigilance. James reminds us that if any of us lacks wisdom we simply need to ask God who will give us wisdom.

Follow the path of wisdom, know where your holes are, and walk down another street.

Christmas Eve 1968

Do you know what was happening on Christmas Eve, 1968? I can tell you what I was doing. In addition to trying to remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus, I was celebrating the birth of our oldest daughter, Debbie, the day before. She was born on December 23rd, 1968. Last night we celebrated her birthday with all the family together. As we were reflecting on what her presence in our family meant to each of us, there were ten mini celebrations of her impact in our lives.

That was indeed a life changing event for us all in so many ways. Her arrival in this world meant that I would be exempted from being drafted into the service of our country. Those were the days of the height of the Vietnam War. Being drafted was certain to have a battlefield assignment in guerrilla warfare. Those were the days of flower children, draft dodgers and when flag burning started. It was tumultuous time in our country. Lest you think the days we are in currently are uncharted territory, let me just assure you that the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes was so right when he said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

There was another significant event taking place that Christmas Eve. On December 24, 1968, three American astronauts were circling the moon. Many of you were not even born yet. Some were too young to remember, but many of us remember the day very well. What a historic moment! They sent back pictures of the earth and read the first 10 verses of the book of Genesis to an audience rapt in wonder and awe.

Seven months later, the United States landed men on the moon! As with so many major events, there is a back story. Eric Metaxas, who heads up the Colson Center shared one part of the back story in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Rather than restating the story, I’m providing a link to the op-ed Christmas Eve in Space and Communion on the Moon. The story shows that our battle against the powers of the air are not new. Satan, the prince of the power of the air, has been working to suppress the good news of the gospel since the Garden of Eden.

Mr. Metaxas shares the story of how that momentous arrival of men on the moon was celebrated by Buzz Aldrin with the taking of communion as the most appropriate thing he could do. He read portions of the book of John where Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches …” In light of the public pressure, even in those days, NASA advised that these actions and readings not be broadcast back to earth. Well known atheist, Madelyn O’Hair had filed suit for the Christmas Eve event. It is no wonder this story has been suppressed.

But on this Christmas Eve, I feel it is important that we hear the story of Buzz Aldrin. As so many in our country are giving their all to deny the truth of God’s word and the real story of Christmas, we should take encouragement from Buzz Aldrin’s story and his strength of faith.

Let’s be men and women who know who we are and Whose we are. Buzz knew Whose he was and could not let that moment pass without acknowledging the God of the universe. Let us take courage in our hearts to give thanks for the greatest gift EVER, the Christ child coming to earth for one purpose only. That purpose was to provide a way for us to have a relationship with the God who created the moon and the earth, not to mention thousands of galaxies that have yet to be discovered. We discover knew expanses of our universe every year, and our God created it all.

Blessings to you and your families this Christmas season. May Christ be your source of joy and peace as we give each other gifts to celebrate His birth, God’s gift to us.

Generational Gifts

I’ve talked about this in the past and will likely talk about it again in the future, because it is a subject that is near to my heart. We often talk about heritage and legacy. For centuries Image result for family faithpast we have been a world that has lived in close proximity as families and as communities. We were able to walk from our homes to the homes of other family members. Speaking from my personal family history, my parents with their siblings and their parents, with few exceptions, lived in close geographic proximity. Uncles, and aunts and cousins lived across the street from our house. In fact, at one point, our family shared a house with my father’s sister and her family.

I know from talking with friends, that our experience was not unique. Neighborhoods even in New York City were filled with family networks throughout the neighborhoods. This level of living in proximity facilitated the passing down of family traditions, customs, and generational values that most often were and are interlaced with values of faith, or lack thereof. We sing a song titled “Faith of our Fathers” which talks of that faith living still, and our children dying for that faith. The concept of which we sing is that of passing our faith and system of truth along to the next generation. It is indeed one generation’s gift to the next.

In the sixth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses says that this is the commandment that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you … that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son … that your days may be long. He goes on to write, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise … You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” In other words, show the next generations, first of all, your faith in God, and because of that how they should live. Pass these values along at every opportunity when you are with your children whether in the house or at play or walking along the path as you work.

In our world, proximity is a rare commodity. Our families are spread across hundreds and thousands of miles. Passing along these generational gifts becomes more challenging but technology gives us many opportunities to cross the miles to influence the next generations. This blog is an example of that. It will be left behind for my children and grandchildren to read and reflect on the words recorded here. I have the opportunity to talk about God’s word across the miles and into the future for the generations that I may never meet until we see each other in heaven.

In many cases, we awaken to the faith long after our children have left our homes and have settled in other parts of our world. We ought not to live in regret, but rather in thankfulness that we have awakened to the need for influencing the next generations. Galatians 6:10 provides this counsel, “And let us not grow weary of doing good for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” And again in Ephesians 5:15-16 Paul tells us that regardless of where we find ourselves, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” So, as an encouragement, at such a point in time when we awaken to God’s call on our lives, we have the opportunity to begin walking as wise people, sharing the wisdom of God’s truths with our children, so that they too will be able to see the love that God has for them.

We all love to give good gifts to our children. What greater gift can one give to the generations that follow but to create an environment that holds the opportunity for that generation to take hold of the faith that is to love and know the Lord our God, which is indeed an eternal gift. The choice is their’s whether they accept the gift or not. Our opportunity is to extend to them graciously and lovingly the gift that we have received from our Father in heaven. Can there be a better time to give such a gift but during this time when we celebrate Jesus, God Himself coming to earth as a baby? Let’s make the most of every opportunity, and let God do the work that He has promised He will do.

Set the table, my friends.

Cheers

Some time ago there was a television show called Cheers. The setting was a neighborhood Image result for friendshipbar and the by-line was “Where everybody knows your name.” The idea was that a wide variety of people from the neighborhood would stop in, not so much to wet their whistles, but more for the conversation that would happen there.

Having lived in eight different communities, I have to say that each city, each neighborhood, each circle of friends have brought different things to my life. There were communities within the communities. We have community with our colleagues in our work, with those in our neighborhood, and among those with whom we worship. But one is forced to ask, why do we have so many lonely people in this world? How is it that we know people, but don’t have any relationships or friends?

As humans we are made to need and to have relationships. A relationship with God first, and then relationships with each other. When we don’t have those relationships, we have a sense that something is missing. We are unique among all of creation, because we alone have the need and capacity for selective relationships.

If this is a basic part of who we are, why are so many of us lonely? Might it be that we will not give others the opportunity to love us for who we are? Might it be that we hold back feeling that we may not be accepted? Maybe it is because we live in a closed garage door world. We go to work, are cordial but not really friendly with our co-workers, then go home, drive into the garage and close the door until we start the cycle all over again.

Now, I’m not so naive to think that this isn’t a gross oversimplification. But I do think it worthwhile to consider whether there aren’t some simple things we can do to know and be known, love and be loved.

Suppose for a moment that you would pick one day in a week when you reach out to a neighbor, yes, that one that you would like to get to know, or that one that you are thinking needs a friend. What if you reached out just to invite for a cup of coffee, or you found a reason to talk to that person on the phone. The worst that could happen is that they are not available or just hang up on you. What have you lost? Nothing. You have the satisfaction of having reached out. You may have to reach out to multiple people before you get a taker. Don’t give up on inviting others into your world.

Now someone accepts your invitation. Now what? A great place to start is to ask the other person about who they are, where did they grow up, what hobbies do they have, what about their family, what makes them really happy? Perhaps there is something that you could really use their input on. Think about it. Do you really have all of life figured out? With minimal thought, there are questions we could pose. You’ll be surprised how many things you’ll find that are common concerns, common viewpoints, or common interests.

This is the beginning. The next time you see that person you greet one another, exchange pleasantries, and ask about that thing that was a concern for that person. No need to make a federal case about it. Just show the other person that you’re interested in them and the things that concern them. Even something as simple as remembering names. I met a couple in church one Sunday. A week later, they came back and I greeted them by name. This simple act made them feel like they mattered. After all, isn’t that we all want? We want to know that we matter to someone? It’s even true of God. We want to know that we matter to God. When he answers our prayers, our deepest heart cries, we then know that we matter to him.

The fact that other people know our names gives us a connection. It is the beginning of relationship. Hey, I know who you are, and it matters to me. I am blessed to live in a neighborhood community where neighbors connect at an uncommon level. We care for one another, pray for one another, have meals together, support one another in causes that are important, not necessarily to me, but to different ones. We’re learning how to carry each others’ burdens.

I write this just to encourage you to sit back to think about how you might encourage your neighbors and colleagues or even family members who have become distant. We’re all on a journey. Some make friends easily, others not so much, but we’re learning. What if you joined with that neighbor to do a good deed for someone? None of us was made to do life alone. Find a way to connect with someone who needs a friend. For all the people in this world there is no need for anyone to be lonely.

Another World?

Today I began a journey of a different sort. I disconnected from Facebook and am opting, instead, to express my thoughts on platforms that give the opportunity for legacy and Image result for sword and trowelmeaningful discourse. At the same time, I am acknowledging that I am a stranger and alien in this world (Eph 2:12-19) and that the dialog in that particular public square is more about “civilian affairs” (2Tim 2:4) than things that matter for the generations that follow, and indeed, for eternity.

Am I backing away from the public square? No. I continue to believe that we should be in the world but not of the world. Yet, as I told a dear friend, posting words of wisdom is quickly lost in the haystack of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD). Those who would spread FUD without wisely discerning the truth of what they’re posting have begun to far outweigh the caring and personal touches that once were the hallmark of this platform. The vitriol has reached such a noise level that truth is impossible to discern. I believe that the rhetoric is being used by the principalities of the air to create confusion even among those who want to follow Jesus as the Truth, the Way, and the Life.

In another transition of leadership thousands of years ago, God told Joshua to be strong and courageous. (Joshua 1) He repeated this message several times until Joshua got it. God told him that I will never leave you or forsake you, so be strong and courageous. This is a message that is decried in our society today. A life with God is not a FUD life, but rather one of being strong and courageous. A life of faith requires conviction and confidence. God has told us that he has put government leaders into place (Rom 13). We can choose to believe that our God is sovereign over all of his creation … or not. If, indeed, God does rule over his creation, then what have we to fear. We should go forward being strong and courageous!

School break is a wonderful thing and it afforded me the opportunity to have coffee yesterday with two of my grandsons. We just hung out and talked about life. One is a gifted writer who will be a spokesman for others one day. He writes with a passion not often found in today’s young people. The other is three years further on in life and looking for answers on such things as work/life balance. Wow! Where have the years gone? This is a world to which I am choosing to dedicate my energies. Teaching the next generation what it means to live a life that is pleasing to God. Christ’s half-brother James, led by the Holy Spirit, wrote these words in chapter 1 of James, “26  If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27  Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. The prophet Micah wrote similarly in chapter 6 verse 8, “He has told you, O man, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Teaching this world, one person at a time, the meaning of the two great commandments is a mission upon which I have set myself years ago and one that I must once again take up renewing my energy with strength and courage. The next generation will lead in a very different world, but a world, that is no less under the sovereign watchful eye of the God of the universe. The efficacy of Christ’s work on the cross is not fading. It is and will be as powerful as it was in the days of the early church.

So, at least for the moment, I must focus my energies on building up the next generation and put aside the civilian cares of this world, pressing on to the mark of the high calling to which we have all been called.

In the picture with this post you’ll see a sword and a trowel. Nehemiah took on the mission to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. His workers needed a sword to defend themselves from the attackers and a trowel to continue building the wall. Nehemiah 4:17-18 says, “Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. And each of the builders had his sword strapped to his side while he built.” In the same way we need to be about the business of defending the faith while building up and preparing the next generation to carry on the work to with we have been called.

God bless you all and let’s prepare today’s world for the world to come.