Archive for the 'Boomer Life' Category

The Inescapable Subject

You would love Avery. Only three, she has the biggest smile, can chatter faster than a race car, and, of course, is cute as can be. Did I mention she is my youngest grandkid?

Avery’s parents do a fine job yet, as you know, things still happen. She recently had her first visit to the emergency room because—are you ready?—a blue bead became stuck in her nose. That ER visit and a follow-up to a specialist were unsuccessful in removing the blue invader from an unknown galaxy. Surgery was next. Thankfully, she wasn’t in pain; she just kept on smiling and playing and enjoying life.

On the day of surgery her mother posted pictures of Avery, still smiling from ear to ear and, again, cute as can be in her surgical gown. I have to say, Mom looked a little bleary-eyed from her four in the morning wake-up. Avery was fine with it all until…they started to separate her from Mom to go to surgery.

All ended well, and well, they still don’t know where the bead came from.

We are not in heaven yet, are we? Even if we hide in a cave, following Christ includes tests of faith that are purposed to shape us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). What are your tests today?

Psalm 91 can bring hope (certainty) while being loved by God in unexpected, unsought circumstances. Do you remember these much loved words from God, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust’” (91:1)? They are such words of promise that plummet deep, deeper than the colossal Tennessee River!

Verse one has an inescapable subject: God. He is “the Most High…Almighty…the LORD…my fortress…my God.” We instantly see in His name (s) He is so powerful, so much above, so much wiser than the impotent idols we create to bring help, comfort, and meaning to our circumstances. And, He is “my” God. “Men,” an older commentator said, “generally seek out a great variety of hiding-places…according [to] the calamities…which threaten to overtake them; but here we are taught that the only safe and impregnable fortress to which we can flee is the protection of God.”

There is an astounding reality-joy in verse one. We are accustomed to the call to “abide” from John 15 (stay connected; to “sit down in the High God’s presence”), but the Psalmist shatters our small views of an impersonal, distant God by declaring when we trust in Him we travel—“abide”—in His presence.

What wrangles your nerves and sets you to wondering what God is up to? If you are in Christ, nothing can separate you from the “love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:29).

Not even the hunt for a blue bead in the lovely nose of Avery.

The Herald News

August 29, 2018

Advertisements

Who Is Your Friend?

The value of friendships has been wonderfully impressed upon me lately. Will you allow me to share some Scriptural words about friendship as a crucial part of our walk with Christ, and to give personal testimony from recent weeks?

Just before our cruise in July we spent two days with long-time friends Bert and Alice. We sailed from Seattle and intentionally went early to see them. We remembered, walked, talked, laughed, talked some more, and ate lots of good food together. What hosts they are!

Bert is a long-term friend-mentor. I don’t say that lightly. Through decades of both wonderful and dark days of ministry preparation and actual service, Bert has been a reliable presence. Always available, it is amazing how he also has “just called” at crucial times when I needed encouragement. I learned much about how to teach and preach over bear claws and coffee with him—and have a souvenir mug from our hideout. A prominent ministry leader, he has drawn me into his world with a hospitable heart, confidence in me, and words of wisdom. Distance hasn’t stopped us.

Certainly, of Bert it can be said, “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel” (Proverbs 27:9).

Bill and I celebrated our twentieth anniversary of friendship over breakfast last week. Bill came into my life at a challenging time and he has stuck by me no matter what. We have differences, but nothing gets in the way of our friendship. When we are together we talk about family, culture, the Bible, theology, health, and getting-older men stuff. I don’t know many people that have modeled a servant heart and love for Jesus before me than Bill. You should hear him pray!

Of Bill I think of Proverbs 17:17, “A friend loves at all times…”

We need friends and they need us. Yes, it takes work and intentionality. But friendship is an investment, not a liability. Singles have a unique and wonderful opportunity to pour themselves into their friends. Married folks have the privilege of experiencing the deepest level of friendship’s intimacy, trust, security, and joy as they grow together into the image of Christ. I confess to not realizing this about Cheryl for too long.

Here is an astounding reality: Our earthbound friendships mirror what Father and Son have said is our reality when we travel close to them. Abraham was called a friend of God. Can God say this about you or me? Jesus Christ said of His disciples, “I no longer call you my servants”—a statement of status, not a negation of love’s sacrifice—“but now I call you my friends” (John 15:11). Does our view of God see Him as trying to catch us in sin to inflict punishment? Does our view of the Father and Son include the intimacy and trust and security and joy of friendship?

So, have breakfast with or contact a friend. Celebrate them as God’s gift to you—because they are.

A Staggering Joy

Where the rubber meets the road the truth is: The calendar that matters the most isn’t the one that starts with January. It starts when school begins.

Grandkid update. All seven are in school now from pre-school to high school in six schools. One daughter has four kids and each is in a different school. If alarms don’t go off in the morning in their household the entire county school system goes on system-wide alert. Smile.

School days and calendars present us with staggering opportunities for joy and…worship. Surprised?

I have recently written about worship. It is the most important thing we do as gathered communities of faith in Christ (Colossians 3:15-17; Hebrews 10:23-25). Consider, also, the importance of personal worship in regular, secret offerings to God (Matthew 5:6). The former could be considered the ultimate joy; the latter our personal joy. Today, will you give thought to the staggering joy that is ours to go from our solitary place and gathered worship to a yet another arena of worship? The Apostle Paul wrote: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

Following the towering benediction at the end of eleven chapters on salvation, Romans 12 presses us to deeply consider what our salvation truly means to us (“Therefore”), and to put definite rubber on the road. Verse one continues the imagery and language of worship (11:33-36) and encourages us: What you do with your life in your actual body is an offering to God. Ouch.

There is no arena untouched. In an old timey way William Barclay offers, “A man may say, ‘I am going to church to worship God,’ but he should also be able to say, ‘I am going to the factory, the shop, the office, the school, the garage, the locomotive shed, the mine, the shipyard, the field, the byre [house or barn], the garden, to worship God.’”

The consistency of Scripture in this is stunning. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” Yes, rewards for faithful service. Yes, “Well done good and faithful servant.” Yes, beyond mere intentions, there is an evaluation for what we have actually done in and with our bodies as an act of worship. This is especially good news for those who live, love, and labor without fanfare.

Back to my grandkids. Three of my grands live nearby. I literally drive past their two schools often on the way to doctors and business. I am not perfect in this, but I usually pray for my kids, the administrators, and teachers—that right there and then they would offer to God their hearts, souls, minds, and strength.

When you drive by my house, would you do the same for me?

Flame

Cheryl and I are back from Alaska. Yes, Alaska! Have you seen it or imagined what that would be like?

Our souls still leap when we remember the beauty of what we saw and experienced. May that sense of awe never be cheapened or go away.

The glory of God in Creation, of course, shines all around us. It’s hard to beat where we live right here in East Tennessee. But oh how I love the Pacific Northwest, Puget Sound, and the Inland Passage of Alaska.

Language is a feeble friend to describe the immensity of brooding mountains, deep blue waters, the majesty of powerful whales, graceful eagles, and the delicate blues of glacier chunks.

I am using enormous words to attempt to paint a picture of Creation’s splendor: glory, awe, and majesty. Glory is the essence of God. Creation’s portrayal in Alaska and everywhere is but a small glimpse of His glory—His light, majesty, beauty, weightiness. Awe, our response to the glory of God, is what we are captured by. What startles your spirit—what grips you, amazes you, or seizes your heart and senses when you see our nearby fog-shrouded mountain, the rays and colors of sunrises or sunsets, the flight of an osprey, the dance of a deer, the never-ending variety of green colors in our trees, or the limitless shapes of leaves?

Psalm 29:1-4 and 9, note they all cry glory.

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.
The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth
and strips the forests bare,
and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

Some see the “temple” and “cry” as the language of worship, and Creation’s particulars as motivation for worship. Certainly! Creation is a start, calling us to bow before its Maker and to see—really see—some of who God is. I also note Scripture’s continual portrayal of God’s glory in creation’s elements themselves. Praying through Job 36-39; Romans 1; and Psalms 19, 33, 104, 148 bring together the sovereign act of Creation and the glory of God in and through its particulars, and will bow our hearts in reverence and joy all at once. Awe won’t be enough.

One such experience on our trip came to me through Flame. She is a humpback whale who spends summers around Juneau, Alaska. Identified by the unique identifying underside of her tail, she performed one dance after another as we shadowed her around area waters by boat—while she consumed some of her one ton of food a day. Power, beauty, grace, majesty—glory—abounded.

In the small and great things we see may we continually shout out to God, “Glory!”

-john

Rhea Herald News, July 25, 2018

 

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.

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


Advertisements

%d bloggers like this: