Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Life Worth Living


We all have an idea of how we hope that our life would go. We all have dreams. We have dreams for our own lives and the lives of people who are close to us. We have goals that we would like to accomplish during our lifetime. We have a measure of what would constitute a complete life for us.

When reality does not match our idealized life, we are disappointed and sad. We grieve the loss of a life that we had imagined both for ourselves and those who are close to us. We wonder where God is in all of these situations.

The Bible tells us about a man with whom we can identify. Jacob’s life had taken several unexpected twists, yet he came to the end of his life content with God’s will. Jacob was ready to die, when his end was approaching. He was at peace with his life and all that God had done through him even though life had not turned out the way that he had planned.

Finally, Jacob said to Joseph, “Now I am ready to die, since I have seen your face again and know you are still alive.” Genesis 46.30 (NLT)

Jacob faced adversity most of his life. He and his twin brother fought from the time that they were born. As a young man, Jacob was tricked into marrying a woman that he didn’t love in a two for one special. Jacob left home on bad terms and lived apart from his family for many years. Jacob’s own sons fought and were intensely jealous of Joseph and Benjamin. Jacob’s wife died early. He lived for years as a nomad. He didn’t get along with his in-laws. As an old man, he witnessed a severe famine and saw his grandchildren go hungry.

Despite all of the challenges that Jacob faced, he continued to lead. He dealt with his grief. He chose to follow God. And, he chose to continue to envision a future for himself and his loved ones. He looked for what was redeemable about life. He lived a life that mattered.

All of us face the reality of a life that has not turned out exactly as we have planned. Sometimes we struggle to see all of the good that has come from our lives because it may have been unplanned or may have been forgotten along the way.

What do you want to accomplish in the days that you have left? What might God do in your life that you have not planned? What would it take for you to be able to say at the end of your life that you are ready to go because you know that your life was worthwhile?

Jacob was content knowing that Joseph was alive and that God was still doing His work in the world. May God give us eyes to see His will and work that will live on long past our few days. May God give us a glimpse of the bigger picture.  

Monday, December 21, 2015

Linus


A few weeks ago I watched A Charlie Brown Christmas while Nancy put finishing touches on the Christmas tree. Watching the show has become a part of our annual Christmas tradition and may be part of your Christmas tradition as well. According to www.usatoday.com, A Charlie Brown Christmas celebrated 50 years on air making it the second longest running holiday show. It is second only to Rudolph, which has been televised one year longer. Charlie Brown makes us laugh and makes us think.

Charlie Brown certainly is the star of the show, but my favorite part of the show happens when Linus tells us the true meaning of Christmas as he quotes Luke 2. Linus is well read for a 5 year old and can speak deeply on matters of theology and philosophy. But, Linus is 5, and is beset by fears of the world around him. Linus is rarely seen without his security blanket despite protests from his sister, Lucy. Linus’s blanket made him invisible when Sally sought him as a boyfriend and became a weapon when Linus needed defense. Linus usually turns to his blanket when he is afraid.

On this night, Linus lets go of his blanket for a moment as he teaches us about peace and fear. The answer to what Christmas is all about is the birth of Jesus. Jesus has come to bring us peace and to replace our fears. Before we begin following Jesus, we are like Linus in that our fears are present in everyday aspects of our lives. We are afraid that we might disappoint people. We are afraid of economic collapse. We fear medical catastrophes. We fear removing the warning label from our pillows. We are afraid of what people might do to us. We fear death. In Christ all of our previous fears are removed and replaced with one, holy fear of Jesus. We fall at His feet and worship and we are filled with great peace. Like Linus we lay down our security blanket and ponder the simple wonder of the God who came down.

What worries and fears run through your mind this Christmas season? Walk with us to the hillside farm in Bethlehem lit by a sky full of stars. Gather around the manger with people from all walks of life, and hear the sound of animals as they settle in for the night. Look at this little baby and know that He came to this world for you. He came to replace your fears. He came to forgive your sins. He came to give you hope. He is here. Let your fears fade and worship before Him.

 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Freedom

In January of 1991 an original copy of the 200 year old Bill of Rights was on exhibit in Montgomery, Alabama. Despite my sister’s displeasure, I was selected during my sophomore year of high school to join her senior class on a field trip to see this historic collection.

For years I had studied about these archives and I was excited to see them first hand. I remember standing around the dense, protective glass of the documents and reading it as if it were the first time. 

The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution begins with the following words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” 

I had no idea at that time that I would one day be a pastor or that these words would even need to be explained. As a fifteen year old, the words seemed abundantly clear. As citizens of the United States of America we have the freedom to worship.  

The concept of freedom for a purpose has biblical roots. 

“Go back to Pharaoh,” the LORD commanded Moses. “Tell him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so they can worship me.’” Exodus 9.1 (NLT) 

The original intent of freedom for the Israelites in their release from slavery in Egypt was not political or even to ease human suffering. Freedom for the Israelites is not simply a metaphor for overcoming individual societal limitations. The purpose of freedom for the Hebrews was for worship of the one true God. 

We enjoy exceptional freedom as citizens of this great country. We are constitutionally free to pursue liberty and fulfill the desires of our hearts. We have the opportunity to be truly free.  

Freedom for our souls is not found in reckless abandon without any limitations. We were created with a deep longing for God. We are never fully free until our souls find the forgiveness of the cross of Christ and we are bound to the One who formed us.  

As we celebrate our political freedom, may we freely exercise our right to worship the living God and find liberty for our souls.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Thanksgiving

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! Psalm 118.1 (ESV)

Thanksgiving has been a theme for believers in every generation and in every culture. This refrain occurs numerous times in the Bible by different writers over several centuries. Two reasons are given in this verse to be thankful. The first reason is the goodness of God. The second reason is the steadfast love of God.

The goodness of God is at the heart of our understanding of who God is. The first temptation in the Garden of Eden was to doubt the goodness of God. The Serpent essentially asked Eve if God really cared about her. Does God really care for you? Is God really for you? If God is good, then why are you being denied something? You have the right to what you want.

What is your response to God? Is God good? How has He proven Himself to you?

I was asked recently if there was a special word in Scripture for steadfast. In the original language the first word of this verse is a word that means loyal love or unfailing love.  It refers to God’s covenant love for us and is a love that lasts through every trial throughout all of time. David uses this word here to praise God for His protection and care. Many people have failed David. David has failed God and others. But God never fails.

Have you experienced the unfailing love of God in your life?

These words were written as a celebration of thanksgiving. May we join the ancient writers in giving thanks?

 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Run the Race


This morning I had a great run along the banks of the Roanoke River. It was perfect weather for running and I had lots of company along the way. I love seeing people outdoors enjoying God’s creation.

Hebrews 12.1 says, “let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” In this verse running is a metaphor for following God. Even if you are not a runner, it is a simple metaphor to understand.

We are called to run the race set before us. When you compete in a race, race organizers have already determined the boundaries of the race and the starting and finishing points. Runners simply line up and run the race. In this sense, following God is simpler than we sometimes think. God hasn’t called us to solve all of the problems of the world. He has called us to trust Him and follow the path that He has set for us.

I have a tendency to attempt races (or at least paces) that God has not set before me. I am competitive by nature. I try to deny that I am competitive, but the drive is deep within me. Last week, I was enjoying a short run in a neighborhood park before heading to the office for the day. About three laps into my run I noticed a guy getting closer to me on the track. At his pace he would soon pass me. I also noticed that he was about half my age. At first, I shrugged it off as just being part of life. We all get older and a little slower with time. Then I decided to pick up my pace. Soon I was running at race pace and after a few laps I noticed that the young guy was no longer gaining on me. By the end of my run, the young guy was walking. I felt pretty good about myself…for about a minute. Then, I realized that the young guy probably wasn’t even aware that I was “racing” against him.

Being competitive isn’t wrong. Getting distracted from the race God has set before in life is the real danger. We can be sidetracked by goals that have little or no eternal value. We can chase the wrong goals because someone in our life makes us feel guilty or because we lack personal fulfillment. Running the wrong races can drain us unnecessarily and keep us from the running the real race set before us.

How do we keep from running races God hasn’t given us in life? Consider Jesus. He is the focal point, not other runners. Hebrews 12.2 says, “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus.”

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Technical Difficulty

This blog has been inactive for a while due to some technical issues. It is good to be back and I have learned that my technical ability has declined in the last few years. It is amazing how quickly things change.

I have been around computers for almost 30 years. My dad bought a commodore 64 in the early 80’s and bought an IMB clone pc later that decade. I spent part of my childhood playing Impossible Mission and Pac Man while typing the occasional paper. For those of you who did not grow up in the 80’s, yes, typing a paper was a big deal. I’m surprised that I didn’t get beat up more as a kid.

I learned how to use pc’s before Windows 3.1 and remember when Word Perfect was better than Word – the WYSIWYG was way better on Word Perfect when printing to a dot matrix.

While I was in college in the early 90’s I took computer programming and worked in the computer lab. During graduate studies I continued working in computer labs and began doing contract work for computer vendors and NCR. I installed self checkout systems for places like Wal-Mart and Kmart and printing systems for Fresenius Medical, Edward Jones, and Kroger Pharmacies. I occasionally assisted with the installation of Cisco servers for universities and banks. I was pretty tech savvy.

It has been about 10 years since I did my last computer contract job. I still have my id badges for different companies and can occasionally hack a payment kiosk screen at a cash register, which I would never do since I am a pastor – no matter how bored I get while waiting in a checkout line.

My ministry opportunities have grown to such an extent that I no longer have time to disassemble pc’s for fun and fortunately do not need to do contract computer work to supplement my income.

For most of my life I have considered myself to be technologically knowledgeable until recently. A few months ago I purchased a new computer for my office. When selecting a new monitor, I had difficulty finding a monitor with a dvi connector. I went to Staples to see their monitor selection. One of the store representatives noticed my puzzled look and offered assistance. He informed me that all new monitors have VGA and HDMI inputs. As he explained the technology to me he demonstrated how to plug the cables in to the monitor. I had momentary flashbacks to tech service calls to Dell in the 90’s when the representative would ask “Are you sure that the computer is plugged in and turned on?”

Somehow a decade of technology has passed me by. I am sure that it won’t be long before I will be the old guy telling the young ones how computers have taken over our world and ruined it – sort of like Impossible Mission.

Now you can understand why my blog has been down for so long. My domain name services changed and I didn’t.

As I get older, I am gaining a greater appreciation for older generations who feel that church has passed them by. Some long for yesterday when church was simpler. I remember several people who mentored me in ministry who have since passed away. I have a better understanding of what it feels like to have a young know-it-all tell me how things should be. I know what it feels like to have a kid who has never seen a c:/ instruct me on plugging in cables. I wanted to tell him about the good old days (that is what my blog is for), but I just smiled and said “thank you.” I remember the wise old mentors who looked at me when I was younger as I told them how church should be. They gently placed their hand on my shoulder and said “keep following God.” I thought those words were affirmations of my great insights. What they really meant was, maybe one day you will understand. Maybe.

I am learning to better appreciate those who have come before me on whose shoulders I stand.  From here I can look far into the future with great hope.

And, I am learning how to post a blog again.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A pat on the back

I really just wanted a pat on the back.

Several years ago I attended an appreciation luncheon for pastors. I had been to a similar event hosted by the same group the previous year, and I really enjoyed it. The previous year they gave away some nice prizes, and we all left the event feeling encouraged and valued.

I knew the main speaker before the event and I had been looking forward to his encouraging words. As soon as he started his address, I knew that it was going to be a difficult lunch. He began asking us probing questions about our prayer life and our personal relationship with God. He continued pressing us to evaluate sin in our life and called us to turn from our sin. I could not believe it. How could this guy do this to us? I came here to be encouraged not attacked. His assignment was simple. All he had to do was talk about how tough ministry is and let us know that he has been there. He could throw in a few funny stories and everyone would leave happy. The longer he spoke the more uncomfortable I became. What a waste of time. I said a weak prayer and I left the event feeling horrible.

On the inside I was dying because I was holding onto unconfessed sin. The challenge from the luncheon that day continued to grow in my mind and heart until I spent time with God praying for His holiness in my life.

I needed the message that day far more than I realized. I am so thankful that our speaker was faithful to proclaim what God had placed on his heart. As I have thought back about that day, I have wondered how hard it was for him to preach that message. It isn’t easy being a prophet. It is much easier to give everyone a pat on the back.

“One of the greatest motivating factors is the pat on the back, although with some individuals, you have to make the pat a little lower and a little harder.” -John Wooden.