Archive for November, 2013

Happy Turkey Day!

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.” (Psalm 9:1)

I can hear you responding to the title above: “This is a column for the community to enhance our lives of faith, and I expect something more…well…dignified from a theologically trained, multi-decade pastor and chaplain.” But…I think turkeys are God’s great gift (fried or smoked, if possible, please), and I have been called a turkey many times. It’s a badge of honor.

The “day” part is significant to me, too. Family, cranberry sauce and football are remarkable. I am sorry some will have to work, and others will elect to shop for the first time on Thanksgiving. It’s a day for remembering our blessings, but it is impossible for me to remember anything when competing for a parking space.

I also take seriously the pursuit of happy. I love to tease people and to receive it in return. I can’t tell a joke but I can throw an insult on the spot. It’s my gift to the world. My friends and family know nothing of political or social correctness, since they tease me about being short and bald and for being a whole lot closer to heaven chronologically than half of America. I, of course, in true Christian love, work at drawing attention to insulters in an affirming way.

Yet “happy” has a serious side. The beatitudes in Matthew 5 describe life in the kingdom of God as blessed—happy. God’s definition must be different than mine, since the blessed—happy—life includes: being poor in spirit, mourning, and persecution. How glad I am Jesus later said He came so our joy can be full and prayed for us, “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.”

Often, our culture sees happy as the absence of trouble, constant good, and fun. We say about our children, “We just want them to be happy.” But really, what do we mean by that and, more importantly, what is God’s agenda for our kids? For instance, didn’t God tell us He purposefully, intentionally comforts us in our afflictions “so that” we can do the same for others (2 Corinthians; Psalm 119:75)?

I have two preschool granddaughters living with us for a while. They are the most uninhibited, spontaneously happy persons on earth. The President of the United States could not receive a more thrilling greeting if he walked into our home. For the girls, every “day” is full of undeterred happiness and thrills at the simplest things. I am learning so much from the girls.

I do hope you will have a blessed Thanksgiving, and “recount all [of God’s] wonderful deeds.” Enjoy some fine turkey or ham or good veggies. Have a piece of pumpkin pie for me (I love it). After the day, we’ll all need God’s strength from the meal to engage in the world Christ died for—happily.

The Audience of One

The Herald News
November 20, 2013

How can we sift through all the distractions and screaming competitors for our hearts and please God?

She is the devoted wife of a pastor, appropriately proud mother of a bright University of Tennessee student, and sharp computer person I depend on. Most of all, she is a dear sister in Christ.

She sent this message to me one day last week: “Audience of One!!!!!!” That’s the entire message. It was an amazing encouragement. Ah, the timing of God.

She loves this phrase, and I do, too. As we’ve discussed it over time, the point is we live our lives primarily before the One who made us, Jesus Christ. My friend is passionate about following the Savior. Profoundly changed by his encounter and faith in Christ, the Apostle Paul lived his life single-focused. Like the ultrasound of your firstborn child, hear anew the blood flowing through his veins:

“…all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in Him all things hold together… that in everything he might be preeminent.” (Colossians 1)

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order
that I may gain Christ…” (Ephesians 3)

Of course, the perfect and motivating model for a clearly-focused and compelling life is Jesus Himself and His relationship to the Father. There is such mystery in this, but savor His heart:

“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you… whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.’” (John 5)

Many things I used to know have fallen into a black hole to be forgotten forever, but I can’t release a television promotion from decades ago. Picture a father and young son, walking in the woods. The father stops to light a cigarette, and of course, in the unrelenting teaching technique, imitation, the son reflects the father by lighting a fake smoke.

How can we stay resilient and focused on our Audience of One—and imitate His love for the Father? Paul moves directly to a simple summary of “that in everything he might be preeminent (have first place)” ;

“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven…” (Colossians 1)

Father, thank you for my friend and dear sister in Christ. Please light the way for her and me as we live before our Audience of One.

The Dermatologist and Daytona Beach

The Herald-News
November 13, 2013

Have you ever felt abandoned—scared and alone—crying out to anyone who would listen?

Last week I went to my dermatologist. My sun-damaged skin from youthful severe sunburns has caught up with me and I have to see him regularly. I like him, and we have good talks about things we share an interest in—like cars.

Without missing any beats, he talks and inflicts pain by burning off pre-cancers (Where were you sunscreen fifty years ago?). We talked about my upcoming retirement; I asked about the status of his. He noted it isn’t simple: he has to make medical records available for seven years and finding a dermatologist to take his practice is difficult.

His next words arrested me. He said, “And it is hard to abandon your patients.”

Rewind to when I was six years old. My mother moved my sister and me to South Florida from Maryland after a challenging winter of sickness and surgery. Kids have tubes for their ears now; I had surgery to remove infection. We stopped in Daytona Beach at a motel across from the ocean. We had the beach to ourselves.

With a brief warning to stay right there, Mom left us and went out into the water. We lost sight of her as she went deeper. Those few moments lasted forever. We squealed like baby whales separated from their mother. Have you ever felt that way?

Jesus knew what it was like to feel abandoned. Who can forget His words from the cross: “…Jesus cried with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

There are some aspects about God that are hard to get your hands around. One is His apparent distance at times. Jesus’ cry is from Psalm 22, and is about both David and Jesus. It continues by saying, “Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?”

Jesus personally understands our questions: Are you listening? Are you there? The sweet truth is: great promises light the way for followers of Jesus. One, He is there—though He may be silent for the moment for His ultimate glory and our good. He promised, “I will never leave nor forsake you.” Two, we are invited to “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We drink deeply for mercy and grace! And then, when our thoughts are scrambled, we know “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

Daytona Beach is unforgettable. I remember little about subsequent trips. But I can’t forget when I felt so lost—and then was found! Mom hadn’t left us at all!

Jesus, I have transferred my trust for everlasting life from everyone and everything else to you alone. Sometimes, it so hard for me to trust you. I know this: You are watching and guarding and…waiting. Thank You.


The Herald-News
November 6, 2013

“I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you.” Acts 3:6

Time seemed to stop, and it was a God-moment I can’t forget—and the implications of what God helped me to say reach far beyond the two minutes Cheryl and I were with Moreno.

Before our recent anniversary cruise I asked the Father to give me an opportunity to speak a word about Christ to someone on the cruise. Now, a cruise isn’t exactly a church camp meeting or revival or an atmosphere for evangelistic presentations. And the truth is: we intentionally didn’t go out of our way to make new friends. It was our anniversary and we just wanted to relax and enjoy each other. But God still provided the moment I prayed for as we went through customs on the last day.

Decorated with a cute bee, my mother-in-law gave us matching tee-shirts for our anniversary that said: “We’ve been honeys for 40 years.” Cruisers and staff asked us about the shirts that morning. One staff person took our picture, going out of her way to get a good shot. Everyone thought the “tee” and we were adorable. Grin please.

The moment came as we went through customs. The lines were huge but fast paced as security pushed everyone to keep moving, stop here and then there, and to be ready with our forms and passports—while carrying three suitcases and two carry-on bags.

Her name tag said our custom agent was Moreno. Asking us for our documents, she was efficient and thorough, and then time stood still. When she looked up, she thoughtfully and slowly read our tee-shirts. “Cute,” she simply said, but with a look that went deeper. Without hurrying, she struggled to form her question and asked, “What is the…secret?” I whisked a two-word prayer, “Help Lord,” and said something like: “We are followers of Jesus Christ, and believe as we are more and more like Him our marriage gets better all the time.” What could be behind this out-of-character moment and her question?

How do you handle relationships? Every parent knows the troublesome influence, bully, or crowd their child comes in contact with. Some marriages have moments—or years—of strained interaction. It is not unusual for workers at any level to have unreasonable bosses. The list of daily arenas for flesh and blood contacts is endless: as students, citizens, customers, patients, neighbors. Some run deep; others are momentary.

Who makes the best worker, parent, student, spouse, supervisor, worker, friend, customer, or citizen? I suggest: the one who increasingly reflects Jesus Christ. We were made for this! Romans 8:29 screams, we have been “…predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”

What would silver and gold be for someone needing the life of Jesus?

Father, would you visit with Moreno today, and meet her deepest need in Jesus Christ?

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