Abba

What has struck you about Father’s Day this year? May I share a few thoughts of mine?

First, we have the unending love of our heavenly Father. May I gently urge you to not let our culture or your pain define or limit the infinite, amazing “steadfast love” of God toward you—nor the call to imitate Him in our relationships? “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1).

Second, not everyone knows their earthly, biological father. I’m in that camp. Some know but deeply resent their father. When I was a prison chaplain I once delivered a message to a prisoner that his father had died. The inmate laughed and walked out. At the prison, we gave away hundreds of donated Mother’s Day cards each year but very few Father’s Day cards. Doesn’t the difference tell a story?

Third, we must have both wisdom and compassion, leaving room in our hearts for fathers who regret the past, have repented of their sins, and would give anything to have a relationship with their children again. The loss of a father can be nearly insurmountable for children. Revenge, bitterness, and anger only hurt the children and us. Allow me to say some more about the challenge of compassion.

Cheryl and I attended a Father’s Day program at the prison where I volunteer. A prisoner I spend one-on-one time with signed up to go. He usually doesn’t go because it is painful. He has demonstrated himself to be a changed man because of Jesus Christ, demonstrating no one is outside the power of the gospel to make a person into a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Yet his grief is real. A quiet man, he cried softly during much of the program.

Fourth, it isn’t always biology that provides the emotional, practical, and disciple-making heart of a father for us. I thank God for several Dad-like figures in my youth through church and school. One met me at the altar, knelt with me, and led me to the Savior—and helped me to get my first bike and car. A high school teacher came alongside me, made me his under-study, and taught me skills to lead an award winning orchestra. As a teen, a pastor took me on visits to homes, hospitals, and funeral homes so that for over forty years of ministry I have been at ease with these opportunities for service.

The ultimate “Dad” for me is my father-in-law. Dad is ninety now, and has been a great Dad from nearly day one. Well…after those early days of dating his beautiful firstborn daughter…

Five, there is always a young person that needs a parent/father-like influence. Who is this for you?

Back to where we started. There is a wonderful New Testament term of endearment to describe the connection we can have with our heavenly Father—“Abba.” To His children, our heavenly Father is always Daddy—strong, tender, available.

May the Father be immeasurably Abba to you, His child, all your days!

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Just Get Home

It was a casual remark, but it loudly illustrates a biblical perspective on earth life. This column is dedicated to my brother-in-law, Barry, who is out there, somewhere.

My wife’s mother had surgery last week and Barry, her son, flew in from Denver, Colorado, via Florida after moving his son from New York to Orlando. Whew! His daughter works for an airline and he gets to fly on passes.

While passes sound wonderful, there are numerous expenses and hazards that come with it and it isn’t a piece of cake sometimes. For instance, on this trip he spent over ten hours in Knoxville trying to get to Chicago so he could get home to Denver. He never was able to get on a flight. So, we picked him up in Knoxville and brought him to our home. The next day he seemed assured he could fly out of Chattanooga to a connecting flight in a major hub. He was able to board the plane and then was pulled off for a paying passenger. He finally bought a ticket to Atlanta and, as I write, is currently playing Russian Roulette with schedules, passenger statistics, weather, and airports. In his calculations he is even considering renting a car and driving to Colorado—which he has had to do before.

He is a pro at traveling but it gets wearisome and he misses his wife. He said late last night, “You get to the point where you’ll do anything to just get home.”

Home is the place for rest and, often, relationships that encourage, protect, and love on us. I think God has placed in us the desire for our eternal home in His presence while we travel for a while on earth. We are desperate for home. The Apostle Paul said,

“For we know that when this tent we live in now is taken down—when we die and leave these
bodies—we will have wonderful new bodies in heaven, homes that will be ours forevermore,
made for us by God himself, and not by human hands. How weary we grow of our present
bodies. That is why we look forward eagerly to the day when we shall have heavenly bodies
which we shall put on like new clothes” (2 Corinthians 5:1-3, The Living Bible).

The Bible describes us as sojourners—pilgrims on our way to somewhere else, strangers, and aliens. Follower of Christ: Have you ever wondered if we become too satisfied with our corner of the world and lose sight of our ultimate destiny?

Psalm 16:11 is a universal favorite and sings our song, “You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

In the movie “Airport,” Tom Hanks wanders around in an airport for weeks, waiting to be released into the city and ultimately, after accomplishing his mission, go home. He is ingenious and adapts wonderfully. But it is still just an airport.

Somedays, don’t you just want to “get home” to Jesus?

Bullseye

I have two Godly, wonderful daughters and seven indescribably amazing grandkids (with fathers that are pretty terrific, too). One family lives nearby and the other resides in the flat lands of south Georgia. At one point last week, the whole gang was at my small house. We had thirteen for dinner that night, and my house is still leaning sideways. Five of the thirteen stayed at our house for a week.

My wife has recovered but I am still in process.

My nearby daughter and I work at spending time together. Our ongoing talks, like the recent day centered around going for strawberries at the strawberry farm for her world-wide heralded jam, are energetic and delightful. Talks with my daughter from the peach state with four kids are a little more difficult to come by. So, we went to breakfast one morning last week before all the kids woke up. We talked about the kids, her husband, and circles—concentric circles to be more accurate.

Parents of adult children: Do whatever you have to do to still encourage your “kids” in their walk with Christ.

Joy mentioned she had been reading a book which urged her to make Jesus the center-piece of life—the bullseye. Everything else belongs in the circles that run outside and around that center. They are important, but secondary. From the center flows life and instruction and riches and joy. Chapter one of Philippians came up. In context, the Apostle Paul acknowledges there are competing teachers in the church of Philippi. Some were self-motivated, yet the higher value/purpose/priority of proclaiming Christ overrides their personal agendas. Listen in:

   Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of
   Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope
   that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be
   honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is
   gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I
   cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with
   Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.
(Philippians 1:18b-24)

“Life is Christ,” testifies the Apostle. Even more, “to die is gain.” Ouch. Do I think that way?

This passage cocks the rifle and fires the bullets of our longings, pursuits, life investments, and heart. It brings into focus our time, treasures, and talents given to us by Christ. Later, Paul will describe the prized center—bullseye—as “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:8). Such all-consuming, all-pursuing intimacy centers him so that he lives with the tension of “ready to go but willing to stay.”

So, how are you improving your shot toward the bullseye?

what do I have?

A favorite passage in Scripture accompanied by a warm heart. Thanks Rachael.

Rachael Restrick

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My son has no idea how to look for things.

I used to wonder if this was just a “kid” thing – and then Olivia happened. If I tell her to find her cup, she’s got it in 15 seconds. I think all kids can be a little spacey when it comes to locking their eyes on whatever they’re supposed to be looking for – but Brady takes it to a whole new level. I’ve basically given up on asking him to go get me anything. It can literally be at his feet and he’s looking up on the ceiling for it. Sometimes it’s funny, and sometimes I want to pull my hair out. IT’S RIGHT THERE, MAN.

I have heard the love of God related to how we love our kids here on earth. I totally get that this is our closest representation of love. My children grew in…

View original post 678 more words

Bypass To Nowhere

A hundred years ago Cheryl and I lived in Portland, Oregon for six of the best years of our life. While there, Cheryl’s brother and his wife lived in Seattle, Washington. It was our joy to visit them as often as we could. Seattle is big—really big—with massive freeways.

I saw the most startling sight while driving into Seattle one day. While surviving a fast moving freeway, I saw an exit ramp for a bypass that stopped in the middle of the sky. There were no indications that it was still under construction and it just stopped in mid-air. It was the bypass to nowhere.

A lot of ink has been poured into books about the will of God for our lives. Often there is great angst about living purposeful lives in the center of God’s will. God, it is assumed, has a specific, intentional plan for each person. In our culture, He doesn’t, it is implied, want us to be disabled or sick or poor or anything but successful or prosperous or happy.

Or does He? What I see is the usual call upon our lives is to walk—live—as faithful stewards (managers) of whatever He has already given, including gifts, abilities, opportunities, time, relationships (including singleness), and circumstances. Colossians 3:23 is penetrating: “Whatever you do…do…heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” (Matthew 25:21-23 does note faithfulness in the “whatevers”—the little things—can lead to greater kingdom service.) Here is the ultimate promise: Everything done for Christ matters now and soon at the time of our rewards at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:9-10).

I read the following story recently and it deeply touched me.

In a home for disabled children, Catherine was cared for for twenty years. Mentally disabled, she had never spoken a word. She only gazed quietly at the walls or made awkward movements. She did not respond to anything happening around her. She had serious medical problems, including one leg that had to be amputated. The staff were caring but quietly stated they wished God would take her home.

One day the doctor called the director to come quickly. Catherine was dying. When they entered her room, they could not believe their ears. Catherine was singing Christian hymns! Toward the end and with a transfigured face, for half an hour she repeated the German song, “Where does the soul find its fatherland, its rest?” She sang with a transfigured face, then she quietly passed away.

Who sang those songs in her presence?

And so, a gentle hug and simple prayer to Jesus matters for someone who has received bad news. Finding room in our life to talk about Jesus with a child is gold in heaven. Prized, hard-to-give-up time spent with God in the Scriptures and prayer feeds our soul or is, often, an offering only for the ears and heart of the Father and Son.

There are no bypasses to nowhere in God’s daily will for us.

Convince Me: I Should Study History

I once had a history teacher in college who challenged the common idea that history, if not studied, would repeat itself. His rebuttal was that to say so is to say emperors, kings, and presidents did know their history and still chose to repeat its mistakes. Wars, he submitted, told the story. I have wondered many times: Why in the world, then, did he teach history? His class didn’t provide any answers.

His statement may be half right. After studying Scripture, human nature, and history for decades, I think he has correctly observed human nature, and how it gets in the way when moral choices need to be made. Given a choice, we often take the easy road or the self-centered highway. Self-preservation usually wins. That’s why theologians call it the sin nature.

It is wonderful that so some respond wisely and as noble citizens (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26). Christians indwelt by the Holy Spirit, considering what Scripture has to say, and focused on reflecting Christ and growing in personal holiness have the best opportunity to do what is right.

I am thinking about these things in my preparations to teach a class on the history of the Reformation. “Boring,” I hear some muttering. But the more I study history the more its importance meets me eye to eye. There are some healthy and helpful reasons for studying history. Here are some initial thoughts.

1. We all have roots. Understanding our past doesn’t have to control us, but it does influence us.

2. The Bible itself is largely history, with good and bad examples and principles in the context of real people living real lives. It doesn’t whitewash their mistakes; it shows them to be very human. However, the grace and mercy of God woos us to God and their lives while they make no allowances for sin. It is imbalanced to only say “To err is human” without recognizing we are no longer bound to sin (Romans 6) and we are empowered to live righteously once we are born again.

3. Akin to number one (above), church history, and in particular the Reformation, has started and/or shaped the particular church we part of. Somewhere in the stories of rebels and reformers—“protestors”—we have our beginning. Vital to our spiritual life and growth, our “protestant” churches have a beginning in the Reformation and their voice (or ghosts). At a minimum, they are our ancestors and helped us be who we are today. Their spiritual DNA is in us. Even the Catholic Church was and is untouched by the events and people of the Reformation.

4. We need heroes. Though intriguing and entertaining, we have made-up heroes with improbable superpowers and silly outfits that pull and squeeze on body parts in every direction. We don’t need placebos. We greatly benefit by the examples in history of men and women of real and realistic faith in the midst of life in a fallen world. Yes, the Bible provides us with many real heroes. But in history we find Scriptural models coming alive again. The focus and sacrifice of Hus and Wycliffe, the devotion to family and boldness of Luther against man-made religion, and the intellectual courage of Calvin all model living out the call to follow Christ with intentionality and faith. History can give us courage to do these things.

5. Doctrine. The word repels many, but truth had been lost and the Reformation found it again. Religion (as opposed to biblical truth), is distracting at the least, disastrous for needy souls for sure, and, sometimes, deadly in regard to eternal destiny and persecution (even false religions suffer persecution).

6. Understanding. Each part of the Bible has a historical context. A faithful interpretation includes knowing the setting each text was written in, to, about, or because of.

7. God uses imperfect people. The Reformation is jam-packed with them and they look like us. History humbles us.

I like J.I. Packers summary. He said, “When Henry Ford declared that history is bunk, he no doubt thought he was uttering wisdom. But his dictum is a classic instance of—well, bunk, and bunk in its purest form. Both the processes and the characters of history have a vast amount to teach us; studying them matures our judgment and frees us from blind submission to present-day prejudices. It has often been said, if we will not learn from history, we sentence ourselves to repeat its mistakes. This is supremely true of Christian history, which shows us the conflict of God’s Word with the world, in and through the lives of his servants, and sets before us the possibilities of living for God that had never before entered our minds.”

So, I am convinced history is an important exploration and, often, exhilarating to seekers of God’s heart.

If

If we could see the future it would make all the difference in the world.

Recently, I was stopped at a red light by a long train. Do you ever get irritated at a train that makes you stop? It was a long wait and then…(you know)…the train stopped in the middle of the intersection. I glared with my mouth wide open. Sit there with me for a minute.

Scriptures and therapists alike have guided us to rightly relate to time. Notably, Paul said, “[I am] forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13). Jesus, the foundation for the teachings of Paul, also lived with the past, present, and future in proper perspective (see Matthew 25 and John 17).

While we rightly live in the moment and one day at a time, the trajectory of our heart-life is the future.

I have a nephew who has intentionally lived with his wife and daughter among a non-Christian people group in the United States. Preparing to live across the ocean among a people-group hostile to Christ and Americans, both my nephew and his wife have already been tested by the fire of severe health challenges when visiting there (each have been hospitalized more than once). Why not, some may ask, remain “ready to go but willing to stay”? Why risk further health problems or potential persecutions? Here are some things I sense from their hearts.

First, to them the good news of salvation in Christ alone (the “gospel”) is more than a decision in their past to follow Jesus Christ. It is a lifestyle, a love, and a life calling. And, it constantly shapes and redirects everything.

Second, they have heard our common, biblical gospel call to reach unreached people groups. It urges us to reach beyond our comfort zone and outside our friends and family. God asks us to accept what is an unnatural, often unaccepted but Spirit-led summons. And they know: It can be costly, even deadly.

Last, they have seen the desperate future for those without Christ, e.g., 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12. There is no “if” about it; they have seen what God has already said about their future. And, like the train I saw that morning, it is compelling with devastating potential for those who don’t stop or turn from it.

Speaking of the train, traveling down the highway later I saw the reason for the train slowing to a stop: Another large train was coming and the first train had to pull over to let it pass. If I had known that I might not have talked so unkindly to my windshield.

There is no “if” about it: We have seen the future for those without Christ. As Christ is being “formed in you” (Galatians 4:19), what will we do to reach those who will soon be separated from God forever?

My love ones are willingly being redirected, counting the cost, and are compelled to go to the lost right here and, soon, over there with everything.

Am I? Are you?

The Rhea Herald News

May 9, 2018

Glowing

When I walked one morning last week the rising sun was sandwiched between two layers of dark clouds. Only a few feet above the horizon, it was blinding even through thick sun glasses. Behind me at the walking track was a normally sleepy mountain range. It frames our valley on one side and begins a plateau that goes for many miles toward the center of Tennessee. The mountain was glowing in a bright yellow I have never seen in twenty years of daily observation. Until the clouds took over and rain began, light and color surrounded me.

The weatherman promises this week will be stunning in its own way, with blue skies and warm spring temperatures. Now, maybe, we can get ahead of the weeds…

Truly, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Noting verses two through four, we watch and worship God and listen as creation and the sky continue to speak of God’s invisible attributes: “Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” Scripture affirms our senses are physical and spiritual instruments to energize our appreciation for creation’s glories and God’s gesturing offer of relationship.

“Glory” can be an elusive term. God’s glory is “The visible appearance of his beauty and perfection reduced to a blazing light.” It is His essence. Like His ways, it is inscrutable—unfathomable, mysterious, impenetrable, indecipherable. “Oh,” says Paul, “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways…for from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:11, 36).

Do we love Jesus or do we love His gifts such as creation?

Romans 1:19-20a comments about God’s glory and creation, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” The context of Romans 1 sadly reminds us many, many have historically and now continue to reject God’s wooing invitation in the sky and have turned to themselves as the authority for what to worship and how to live.

Have you entrusted yourself for life and godliness to the One who made the feast in the sky?

Because of God’s grace, each follower of Christ is privileged to be like the yellow morning mountain—bright shining—glowing—with a glimpse of the One who made the sun and us. We are, “predestined to be conformed into His image” (Romans 8:29). “Amen,” as Romans 11:36 shouts!

Amen means “may it be.”

Tonight

Friends and Foes,

A transparent moment…

Tonight I am participating in a webinar called Author School. It’s sort of like a writer’s conference from home for the next two months. It’s an attempt to pursue clarity and get help. It is led by a well-known agent with a terrific track record of helping and publishing.

Why? A hundred years ago I said to my mentor and friend that I wanted to write a book and he quickly said, “What would you write about?” The implication was I didn’t have much to say at that time. We’re still friends and he still impacts my life! There are miracles.

I may still not know much. But I’ve experienced the grace and mercy and love of God for a long time now. And, I can’t get this writing idea out of my head. Writing a weekly newspaper column has keep fuel on the fire.

So, this near geezer wants to settle the question and give it a try.

Thanks for your prayers.

-john

P.S. If you’d like to receive an email of the weekly column please FB message your email to me.

 

Wrestling With Tatoos

The five-hour return drive last week won’t soon be forgotten. No, it wasn’t because of an accident. In fact, it was no accident at all.

I slipped out-of-town for a couple days last week to see my oldest daughter and to surprise the grandkids. (Their husband/dad was out-of-town on business). Miracles do exist—I drove through Atlanta without having to stop and, for a change, I didn’t miss the ever-changing signs to stay on the highway I needed.

The visit was great, including a winning soccer game by my oldest grandson, the excitement of the grandkids when they got off the school bus and saw me, a discussion with the almost fourteen old granddaughter about boys she won’t date someday (smokers and tattooed), breakfast alone with my daughter (rare and delightful), and the school tour by our pre-school four-year old grandson. Smile, he was very excited and animated.

We seldom know when God will visit and I need to be watching and listening more attentively.

On the way home, I scanned the dial for one of the million Georgia radio preachers and was struck by one who asked: “Do you ever wrestle in prayer?” He read from Ephesians 6 about the armor of God and its strength in our real world of spiritual battles in and around us. Listen in:

11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. Ephesians 6:11-18, ESV

I often pray “for” many things. I don’t often wrestle in prayer “against the cosmic powers over this present darkness.” Do you?

Prematurely or intentionally secluded from the world, “the spiritual forces of evil” seem far, far away. But they aren’t, and sometimes they are active in us who struggle to be followers of Christ. I do not suggest bold demon possession of God’s family is normal; I do affirm Satan’s regular, subtle, and slow influence in and around us (2 Corinthians 11:14).

Being devoted to wrestling prayer (Colossians 4:2) has taken on a new urgency for me.

Especially about those possible boyfriends…

​John Fields
Rhea Herald News
April 25, 2018


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