Archive for the 'Boomer Life' Category

Drifting in the Mangroves

It is so easy to do.

My hobby in my teens and twenties was the sawgrass wetlands, cypress forests, and the mangrove islands of the Everglades. There, beauty, danger, and intrigue await all who will linger.

The thousands of mangrove islands on the lower west coast of Florida are my favorite. Tidally influenced by the Gulf of Mexico, the water can vary in depth and can change quickly. Oyster beds rise faster on a receding tide than a spring flood.

I will never forget the moment we rounded a corner between two islands and there before us was a good-sized boat, high and dry on an oyster bed—with a lady casually reading a book. I have no idea what happened to her companion. She had a long wait until the tide came back in.

I have been studying the book of Galatians and it presents a similar situation. The Galatians had wonderfully embraced the gospel—the good news of salvation by the grace of God, through Christ alone, by faith alone. But now, the Apostle Paul found them drifting backward to religious activity to somehow please God. False teachers had convinced some that salvation came with a price.

Of course, in a sense salvation does come with a hefty price—our lives. But “we love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our cheerful reception of the good news that “Christ died for our sins…and was raised on the third day” is a living faith that serves. In fact, we were designed for good works (Ephesians 2:10).

Grace is scandalous because it takes away the false security that my works turn the head and heart of God in our direction.

In chapter four Paul is both affectionate and deeply concerned. “I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain,” he says. He asks, “How can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” He’s talking about a law-based, rules-based, performance-based life characterized by the insecurity of never knowing if we have done enough to satisfy God. Religion does that; a relationship with God does not.

We are reminded of the joy of a grace- life at the end of chapter three. Paul, with passion (I hear his voice rising to a high pitch), notes our sonship and startles us with God’s intimacy—urging us to the Father’s summon: call me “Abba.” Abba means Daddy. We are, in the idea of Galatians, no longer slaves but exalted, loved, accepted, embraced children of God. Follower of Christ, this is our blessed status (4:15).

Unbeliever, I plead with you to see how deep is your estrangement in sin and how great the sacrifice of Christ to open the Father’s arms to you. God wants to be your Abba.

Christ-follower, let us not drift from the grace-given salvation offered by Christ and, with delight—not duty—love God and our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39) since we have been first loved by God.

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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!

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?

Thanks Bill

Who then is a faithful and wise steward? Luke 12:42

Procrastination is a fierce enemy of Christlikeness. I struggle with it, too.

This week’s column is dedicated to my friend Bill. I hope you have a Bill in your life. He models Jesus in all-consuming ways. And, he sends me a text every Sunday morning that almost always hits me right between the eyes. He is a messenger, encourager, and teacher from God. Here is what he said last Sunday:

   In the Bible a steward is someone who has been selected to manage wealth. 
   In Luke 12:42 the LORD asks “who then is a faithful and wise steward?” 
   Wealth tends to corrupt in our hands and takes our mind off God. Each one
   of us should realize that we are only stewards of that which God has given us.
   Our prayer then ought to be one that seeks wisdom from God in spending the
   wealth He has given us, to the glory of God! Be blessed!

Bill is a man of modest means, so I am wondering if he has received a huge inheritance and not told me yet…Expand “wealth” to include stuff, health, relationships, responsibilities, opportunities, time, spiritual gifts, Christian life/sanctification/holiness, and godliness. After all, a steward is a manager of the Master’s household—of life.

Dig into the words of Jesus in Luke 12:35-48. Luke has just told his hearers it is the “Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (12:32). The kingdom of God—the rule and reign of Christ—has begun within us (17:21) and is actually coming (12:40). We are a waiting people, and while we wait for Jesus to return He asks us to be watching and tending to the life He has already given us. Such a person is “dressed for action” (12:35) and will be “blessed.”

The character of the life of a wise steward-manager is they are “faithful and wise.” Procrastination is our fierce enemy, tempting us to be unfaithful and unwise. One commentator writes, “The faithful manager pictures the genuine believer, who manages well the spiritual riches God has put in his care for the benefit of others…such spiritual stewardship will result in honor and reward.”

The most attention-grabbing words to me in Luke 12 are what it says about the Owner of the household-kingdom at His return. First, He is preparing a banquet for us (Cf. Revelation 19:6-10). And then these astounding words: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them” (12:37). I can’t wait!

So, I am making changes to better manage and enjoy the life He has given me. Accumulation, chaos, sloth, and busy-ness are out. More dedicated time for Christ and my important, God-given world are definitely in.

The service will be superb. Don’t you wonder what the menu will be for our heavenly banquet?

The Rhea Herald-News, June 28, 2017

 

Scrooge The Distracted Traveler

“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ ” Matthew 25:23

Living each day with a view to our future’s fullest joy is spiritually healthy and wise. Ebenezer Scrooge tasted it before it was too late and his discovery can be ours, too.

Three “spirits” visited Ebenezer Scrooge in the classic Christmas tale, “A Christmas Carol.” In one version I watched this season with Cheryl (the Queen of classic Christmas movie watchers), the spirit/ghost of his past brought regret as Scrooge looked back to see the decisions that ambushed joy. The spirit/ghost of his present life revealed the emptiness of distracted daily living without simple delights and important relationships. Scrooge, you remember, replaced joy with the unfulfilling tedious pursuit of wealth and security. This is already too convicting, isn’t it?

The grim reaper, spirit/ghost of the future was frightening; showing him what eternity would be like without a change of heart. When Scrooge came to his senses about the future he was moved to heartily confess and commit to reversing course—to “repent” as the movie told—and take on the way of a radical, new, present joy. Scrooge learned the value of a future look—and his view changed everything. Randy Alcorn said, “I keep pondering how heaven will overflow with happiness because God himself overflows with happiness. It is not a fairy tale that we will live happily ever after. Our Creator and Redeemer’s happiness guarantees a happy ending to the story that will never end.”

Revelation 21 has captured my heart lately. Join me there and imagine our future home. It is: wonderfully new (v.1, 5), unimaginably beautiful (v.2, 9-24), overwhelmed by the actual presence of Father and Son (v.3, 6), and personally enriched by our inheritance as God’s heirs (v.7). Randy Alcorn, again, has said, “I have found myself daily frontloading into the present the promises of eternal joy, and letting that color my view of daily events. It’s been a truly Christ-centered and happy-making experience.” There is no grim reaper now or later for those God has prepared a home!

I actually viewed two performances of “A Christmas Carol” in December. The other one was a community theater musical production in Perry, Georgia. It included my son-in-law, two oldest grandchildren, and a cousin. Fabulous! It strikes me that many of the actors and the audience had no idea of the implications of the storyline(s) for eternity or earth-life right now. It is, frankly, more clear and stirring to me now than ever before. Jonathan Edwards observed we can be like a distracted traveler, staying in a hotel on the way to a destination but never moving on to the place we are headed.

Should you have losses and crosses as 2016 begins, I invite you, with me, to look ahead and become a reborn Scrooge—and “enter into the joy of your Master”—now.

Dakota Howard

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Someone has said, “God never wastes our sorrows.”

Just outside our town, on a winding Highway 30, Dakota Howard tragically died when the road collapsed. He was only twenty-two. Many others across America have recently died because of flooding rains. But this Dakota is from our community. Around here, the grief is real and deep.

I didn’t know Dakota personally, but I attended his funeral. I marveled at the community support, and I can’t forget the bewildered faces of hundreds of stunned mourners—many silent and others fumbling for words. The funeral was at his church and several pastors gave good testimonies of Dakota’s faith in Christ. Yet there are still questions.

Elizabeth Groves suggests: “We worship a big God…We are in his hands, and nothing happens to us by chance. That’s good news. But in grief, if that is all we remember about God, it might actually make the pain worse…” 2 Corinthians 1(above) can point us in a helpful direction. They are not easy words, but they can move our emotions forward with God’s perspective and comfort.

First, the subject in our grief is God, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” To “bless God in all our afflictions” is to offer honor and recognition—to give a good word (“benediction”) about and to our Creator-Savior-comforting God. The Psalms help us pray this way.

In 2 Corinthians 1, the Spirit of God chooses God’s mercy and care/comfort. We wonder: How is there mercy and care by God in tragedy and grief? In part, God has been there—here—and understands. Isaiah 63:9, my favorite verse of last year, says about God, “In all their affliction he was afflicted.” And, Jesus is Immanuel—God with us. Also consider: the Psalmist reminds us “God is good and does good.” Finally, though tragedies are mysterious, our grief as followers of Christ is not without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We know, for instance, the Holy Spirit has been sent as “another comforter” (literally, He has come alongside us). We have God! It may not come quickly, but the way of hope and comfort begins with a right focus on God.

Second, God never wastes our sorrows. There is purposeful new direction in tragedy and God’s comfort, “So that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Now, family and friends of Dakota can minister to others who need comfort from God—because, like God and with God, they have been there.

Grief compels us to God and others in need, and therein comes comfort.

Rhea Herald-News, January 4, 2016

Scrooge The Distracted Traveler

“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ ” Matthew 25:23

Living each day with a view to our future’s fullest joy is spiritually healthy and wise. Ebenezer Scrooge tasted it before it was too late and his discovery can be ours, too.

Three “spirits” visited Ebenezer Scrooge in the classic Christmas tale, “A Christmas Carol.” In one version I watched this season with Cheryl (the Queen of classic Christmas movie watchers), the spirit/ghost of his past brought regret as Scrooge looked back to see the decisions that ambushed joy. The spirit/ghost of his present life revealed the emptiness of distracted daily living without simple delights and important relationships. Scrooge, you remember, replaced joy with the unfulfilling tedious pursuit of wealth and security. This is already too convicting, isn’t it?

The grim reaper, spirit/ghost of the future was frightening; showing him what eternity would be like without a change of heart. When Scrooge came to his senses about the future he was moved to heartily confess and commit to reversing course—to “repent” as the movie told—and take on the way of a radical, new, present joy. Scrooge learned the value of a future look—and his view changed everything. Randy Alcorn said, “I keep pondering how heaven will overflow with happiness because God himself overflows with happiness. It is not a fairy tale that we will live happily ever after. Our Creator and Redeemer’s happiness guarantees a happy ending to the story that will never end.”

Revelation 21 has captured my heart lately. Join me there and imagine our future home. It is: wonderfully new (v.1, 5), unimaginably beautiful (v.2, 9-24), overwhelmed by the actual presence of Father and Son (v.3, 6), and personally enriched by our inheritance as God’s heirs (v.7). Randy Alcorn, again, has said, “I have found myself daily frontloading into the present the promises of eternal joy, and letting that color my view of daily events. It’s been a truly Christ-centered and happy-making experience.” There is no grim reaper now or later for those God has prepared a home!

I actually viewed two performances of “A Christmas Carol” in December. The other one was a community theater musical production in Perry, Georgia. It included my son-in-law, two oldest grandchildren, and a cousin. Fabulous! It strikes me that many of the actors and the audience had no idea of the implications of the storyline(s) for eternity or earth-life right now. It is, frankly, more clear and stirring to me now than ever before. Jonathan Edwards observed we can be like a distracted traveler, staying in a hotel on the way to a destination but never moving on to the place we are headed.

Should you have losses and crosses as 2016 begins, I invite you, with me, to look ahead and become a reborn Scrooge—and “enter into the joy of your Master”—now.

Another Merry Christmas

Christmas Mercy

“The tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:78-79

I have some questions for Gabriel about the first Christmas season in Luke 1. For instance, what was the look on Mary’s face when God sent him to recruit her? I wonder: Was he startled when God took away Zechariah’s voice when fear replaced his faith? Gabriel witnessed so many supernatural things that first Christmas.

Written over the season was “miracle.” Consider: In God’s timing, He aligned the solar system to provide the Christmas star; Kings worshipped a baby; travelers brought gifts to a feeding trough they didn’t know existed; Elizabeth, barren and beyond child-bearing years, became pregnant and became directly involved in God’s Christmas plan; and poor Zechariah, a whole lot like us, miraculously lost his voice when he didn’t believe angel Gabriel—and then had his voice revived by God when he saw baby Jesus. Father, don’t let these miracles be commonplace.

Of course, the ultimate miracle of Christmas was salvation’s offer: God became a man to offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our every sin. Those who trust only Jesus Christ His Son to rescue them are thus removed from God’s wrath, and transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. Have I heard this so many times it seems ordinary and the power of the gospel is not changing me this Christmas (Romans 1:16; 2:4)?

One other unnatural thing happened that particularly strikes me this Christmas: The socially awkward situation then of a miraculously pregnant teenager and her fiancé is incredibly used by God to bring salvation’s greatest gift. Note how Elizabeth took great interest in Mary; some even believe Joseph was adopted by Dr. Luke. God takes in some needy people, doesn’t He? He makes them not just guests. He adopts them—us—as His family. Adoption has again invaded our family.

Last week, I wrote about our firstborn daughter who was born on Christmas day. This season, our family has another fresh Christmas miracle story to tell. Her name is Haley Jane. As you read this, my oldest daughter and her family are in Florida taking custody of her for the purpose of adoption. She bears the same name of our third-in-line grandchild and—hold your breath—is also six years old and in first grade. Family gatherings are about to be very confusing…

For Haley, her perceived greatest need is for a permanent family. Having lost so much and so many she longs for a home instead of, so to speak, another manger. In the “tender mercy of God” He is adopting her into our family. How breathless we are to praise God for His sweet, life-shaping, affectionate salvation displayed when adopted us into His family, too.

This Christmas, I am astounded by the adopting, tender mercy of God.

Rhea Herald-News, December 23, 2015

P.S. The legal work is completed and Haley is in Georgia tonight with her new family. Aren’t you so glad we are part of the family of God!

 

Christmasy?

“But Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.’” Matthew 22:29

This column is dedicated to Nancy, my thoughtful relative who sent me a copy of the following letter to an editor. A lot about it bothered her and troubles me, too. How about you, Reader?

Editor:

I am thinking about converting from agnosticism to Christianity, but I have a question: Am I to    understand that as a Christian I can deny basic humanitarian assistance to penniless, homeless refugees from the Middle East, the part of the world that Jesus called home, as long as I demonstrate proper outrage because Starbucks’ seasonal coffee cup isn’t Christmasy enough?

   Jim K., West Reading

Ouch. The letter is a window into how we are perceived by non-Christians.  It stings and makes us mad all at once. Our inconsistencies are showing and it is unpleasant—like underwear peeking out when we bend to pick up a penny. Yuk. I am remembering the famous carton by Poco: We have met the enemy and he is us.

Is Jim K. really interested in devoting his life to Christ or if he just wants to pick on Christians? He expects something of Christians no one on earth can possibly fulfill—perfection without any inconsistencies or hint of hypocrisy. Has he found an excuse to not turn from himself as self-appointed savior and then to follow Jesus? The Bible calls that repentance.  Is he authentic but uninformed or distracted by a social and political issue (refugees) and the silly behavior of Christians over coffee cups? Is there another possibility?

Jim K. errs because he doesn’t know or refuses to accept the good news—the “gospel”—which alone is “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). This is Christmas: God’s good news, when received, forgives our sin and invades our life with its exclusive power to transform us. Christ becomes primary, investment in others occupies the important second place, and we deny ourselves and take up a cross-reflecting life. Jim K. observes how we often change the order.

An angel helped a troubled Joseph understand the whole point of Christmas and Christ: “But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21)

Two people especially need prayer this Christmas. Will you pray for Jim K., that he will turn from himself to Jesus Christ to forgive his sins? And then, pray for the rest of us, that we will avoid being “Christmasy” in such a way that the good news of Christ is unreal, unattractive, forgotten, or, worst of all…rejected.

Turkey Wisdom

“Come into his presence with thanksgiving” Psalm 95:2

Our affection for Thanksgiving is real. Lovingly called “Turkey Day,” we call each other “turkey” and make fun of one of the strangest animal faces God created. Imagine a close-up of an ugly turkey face and extra-long neck, and chuckle at the caption: “No matter what happens this month, at least you aren’t a turkey.”

Getting our perspective right is important especially if you are you are going through some troubled times and hope is in short supply. Picture a cartoon with a sad Mr. Turkey. He is asked, “What are you thankful for?” Answer: “Vegetarians.” No matter what anyone says you aren’t a turkey without a future if you are a follower of Jesus Christ.

Join me in some “Turkey Wisdom”—a small list of hugely important thanksgiving biblical theology.

First, there is the obvious but ever-important need for thanksgiving to God. Thanksgiving is a response to God for His goodness to us. The Psalmists talk a lot about God’s works on our behalf. For instance, “It is good to give thanks to the LORD…For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work” (Psalm 92:4). Trace thanks and thanksgiving through the Psalms and hear God’s story of deliverances, rescues, gifts, joys, and provisions just like yours. “Praise,” someone said, “is the occupation of the soul with God’s blessings.” Chew on that long and slow before the start of family, fun, and football on Thanksgiving. You’ll have a wonderful time of worship.

Second, and even deeper, thanksgiving recalls the nature-character-essence of God Himself. “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving…For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (Psalm 95:2-3).  An entire life of study could not exhaust the depth of who God is (Psalm 139:17-18). Yet to do so is our privilege, joy, and call. When your mind is most clear, I recommend Psalm 111. Circle the many descriptions of God.

Third, a lifestyle of thanksgiving is protection from idolatry. Yikes! I know you didn’t expect that so catch Paul in 1 Corinthians 10. Using Israel’s Old Testament history as a negative example for us, he says: “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did…Do not be idolaters as some of them were…We must not put Christ to the test…nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer…Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” In the middle is grumbling, and grumbling is a spiritual big deal. It isn’t our human nature to do so; it is our sin nature in rebellion, worshipping the idol of self. Thanksgiving guards our hearts. The Father said, “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me” Psalm 50:23).

Christmas is pushing its way in prematurely, so this Thanksgiving won’t you open the door to thanksgiving with a full heart before you fill your empty stomach?

The Rhea Herald-News, Thanksgiving 2015


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