Archive for the 'Retirement' Category

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.

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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.

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.

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.

Home

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Hebrews 11:13

What do you say when someone asks: Where are you from? This week’s column is dedicated to all those who look forward to going home.

Please forgive me: I didn’t grow up here. By “here” I mean where I live and write from—Tennessee. When asked, I make a joke that I’ve lived in many places and I am a gypsy. Why ‘gypsy’? In a series of unforeseen moves I was hatched in Washington, D.C., went to first grade in Maryland, lived in Florida twice, paid lots of taxes in Oregon, and now live in Tennessee. I could include military time in Texas and North Carolina while in the military. Cheryl keeps a bag packed.

I recently went to the Tennessee Titans vs. Miami Dolphins football game in Nashville—and had a sunburn to prove it. The game powerfully illustrated the principle: Nothing on earth is really home—my home is really where Jesus is. At first, I wasn’t sure who to cheer for. Miami was where I grew up, met my bride, and we had our first child. I cherished the Everglades. But then, Tennessee has been home for fifteen years. I prayed (really) that I could live here someday. We have wonderful friends, a good church, the Tennessee River I love, and we are near family.

Listen in to some hometown talk in Hebrews 11:13-16: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”

There so many vital, strategic principles in our passage: God’s heroes are sustained by “faith,” God has “promised” a better place, God lets us “desire” this better place and time, God approves of us and “is not ashamed” of us as we walk by faith, and, God has “prepared” for us an even better place than Tennessee. Earth life is centered on me; heaven-bound life is about God.

Jeff Gordon, the NASCAR champion, is retiring this year. He has said, “I am proud of my accomplishments but looking forward to the future.” He is focused on what’s ahead, not the past.

Yes, I was confused who I should cheer for last week in Nashville. But an immeasurable reality and joy surfaced by the end of the game: Miami is past; Tennessee is home now.

For a while.

Blue Moon

“He made the moon to mark the seasons…” Psalm 104:19

 Yes, “Blue Moon” is the name of an old song. It was also a celestial event last week on July 31st. Did you see it? A Blue Moon is a second full moon in the same month. Unfortunately, it only happens once every three years. It appears blue only when light particles so color the atmosphere.

Perhaps the moon that night was more striking because it was a cloudless night sky. Just above the horizon, Cheryl and I stood in the driveway and gazed amazed—and we were nearly blinded by its brilliance.

For over a year I have made it a point to search the Scriptures most early mornings, specifically enjoying and praying through passages about celestial and creation wonders. Sometimes, I write about it on a blog: https://indestructiblelife.wordpress.com. The moon has been a sweet surprise. Unaffected by the clamor of city streets, families hustling to get ready for school and work, or sleepy heads hitting the snooze, the moon often stands by smiling, watching the sun wake up.

With the recent excitement about new and enhanced pictures of Pluto and the discovery of a distant planet “Earth 2.0,” our Blue Moon was a welcome pat-on-the-back for the sun’s cousin. Sadly, the moon is too familiar and forgotten. Without ice mountains or rings of frozen crystals it seems boring at first glance—that is, until we hear what Scripture has said about the moon.

  • Job described the moon as “moving in spendlor” (31:6). I see and like that a lot.
  • The moon humbles us and Psalm 8:3 describes its creation: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place…” Rather than diminishing us, the Psalm–and moon—elevate our significance.
  • Psalm 89:36-37 notes, “…the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.” I’m increasingly thinking about it as a teacher about God and His work.
  • There is danger in it as a celestial seduction: “And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them…” (Deuteronomy 4:19). I saw evidence of this happening at a Mayan ruin where spiritual seekers go for annual festivals of worship. I wonder: Are we tempted to dangerously devote ourselves to God’s creatures or creation?
  • Psalm 104:19 notes God “made the moon to mark the seasons…” Psalm 136:9 states, “…the moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever;”

It’s stunning: In love, God gave the moon to fulfill His purposes for earth, to witness to His love, and to woo us to Himself! We’ll have to wait until January 2018 to experience a Blue Moon again. We don’t have to wait to worship the moon’s Maker and Sustainer.

How about now?

Blossoms Rare

Blossoms Rare

Blessed are all they that wait for him. Isaiah 30:18

The Herald-News, September 17, 2014

My friend Ron calls me “gimpy.” My wife, with a twinkle in her eyes and smirk on her lips, tells everyone who will listen that I have a sport’s injury. The truth is: grandfather’s should be very careful about ballgames they play with their grandchildren where balls are thrown, there is lots of running, there are raised bases to trip over, and where people are going to collide. Yep, I am the proud owner of a leg injury. I limp with joy because I was with the grands and they wanted me to play with them.

What has been a consistent theme or person—positive or challenging—during your last week? My brush with discomfort has colored my days (and nights) lately, and, I’ve noticed an unusual amount of suffering among my friends. Bill has blood clots and is hospitalized. Ron has searing and unresolved pain from an injury. John (not me) had to have emergency surgery. Jan had a virus so powerful she had to be hospitalized. Effie recently had the return of a chronic medical condition that sets her aside for days. And these are just the medical tests of faith!

It seems we spend a lot of our life waiting on God—waiting for Him to heal us, or restore our broken relationships, or provide a good job. What waiting room are you in these days?

We like comforting quotes. One of my favorites is, “God is seldom early but never late.” Words help. Friends help, too. God definitely uses others as agents to deliver soothing salves.

Yet, Psalm 121 tells us we may look in wrong places. Its famous question is, “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come?” The point of the Psalm is “our help comes from the Lord” and not primarily from other sources. Mountains are majestic; even greater, God made “the heavens and earth.” Why don’t we talk to Him more about our troubles?

Do you remember the Apostle Paul’s ardent petitioning of God for deliverance from an unspecified “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12? God said, “No.” He reminded Paul there are heaven-designed plans for our pain and losses and crosses. For Paul, he could be experiencing God’s grace—kindnesses—in ways he could not without his “thorn.”

Effie, in writing about her recent physical condition, wrote about waiting on God and quoted Pilgrim’s Progress (http://sunrisesinthevalley.blogspot.com). I like this:

I longed to walk along an easy road…

   But Jesus said, “I choose for thee this soil,

   That thou might’st raise for Me some blossoms rare.”

What are the “blossoms rare” God wants to give and display for His glory through my injury?

Father, maybe…the wait is over for us; maybe not. Help us to accept “this soil” and to be rare blossoms of grace that draw attention to You. Especially if You are saying, “No.”

Where Did the Elephant Go?

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21

My wife Cheryl said it first and profoundly: There was no elephant in the room.

Last weekend Cheryl and I visited with Bobby and Laura. Bobby has been my friend for decades and I was best man at this wedding. Now, he has leukemia and the end is near. This is no small faith-walking man. His decades with Christ have brought many tests of faith and Christ-like, character building experiences: loss of health as a young man and his ability to work, and, recently, the death of a young adult daughter. Laura has walked with him in irrepressible joy and faith.

Bobby believes life is Christ. When we first entered his home he immediately started talking about heaven and Jesus. When I asked him what he was looking forward to he simply said, “Jesus.” God, through Bobby, was the comforter—not us. Bobby longs for his homecoming. His deep-souled faith is delivering anticipation in him and his visitors.

The Bible, deeply rooted in Bobby, was often quoted or expressed that hour and the room became holy ground. Cheryl and I have had the privilege of being with many folks during their last hours. As we drove home Cheryl, never flippant with words, thoughtfully said there was no elephant in the room. Sometimes, death is unmentioned and begrudged at every turn. Yes, sick ones are “hard pressed” to stay here or go, as the Apostle Paul notes in Philippians 1:22-23. Yet, there comes a time in our life when our settled confidence is this: For followers of Christ, the cross and empty tomb defeated our enemy, death, and we have already “passed from death to life” (John 5:24) when our faith is placed in Him alone. He is our life—now and then. For Bobby, this has been his testimony for decades.

While we “…groan, longing to be clothed with the immortal,” there can be unspeakable, unimaginable joy and real hope for followers of Jesus who are truly waiting—anxious in a good sense—to be face to face with Christ. When the lights are dimming for me, come visit for a few moments and share words of life like these promises:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:27-28

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…Psalm 23:4

And, when you come…chase away the elephant in the room.

The First Time

“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” 1 Thessalonians 2:13

May I share two remarkable, unforgettable images that brought me great joy this week?

I bet you are expecting a mushy column as a tribute to Cheryl, my wife, for Valentine’s Day. Now, I do like Valentine’s Day—and I absolutely adore Cheryl. But in our world, our anniversary is in March, and we’ve just come off a budget-busting season of travel, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and birthday observances. So we’re going to keep it simple at our house and focus on our anniversary next month—and I will keep Cheryl guessing about my secret plan for this year’s celebration. Besides, have you ever stood in line forever and ever at a restaurant on Valentine’s Day?

I figure it will take some time to declutter and debrief, and to catch a rhythm to this new season called retirement. I’ve set out to make my number one goal to grow in intimacy with Christ. Of course, the foundation for spiritual growth is the Word of God—studied, delighted in, prayed, and applied. It’s an essential part of Christian life and growth at any season. Now I get to linger longer and chase rabbit trails. I love those endless rabbits and the trails they take me on.  

So, my spiritual nerves are raw and aflame about the Scriptures these days already, and God provided two fresh images to fan the flame. The first image was a video I saw of Chinese believers receiving their first personal Bibles. They ran—actually ran—to grab their copies, clutching them tightly to their hearts. Several kissed their new found friend. It is a piercing image of laughter and tears and reverence all at once. Their delight was uninhibited as if they’d received the greatest treasure on earth. They had.

The second image is of Hailie, our four year old granddaughter, and the glow on Hailie’s face as she opened a children’s Bible app on her mother’s new phone for the first time. She couldn’t wait to see and hear a Bible story from it—mouthing parts of the story she already knew as the program came into focus. May she never lose her sense that these are “not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Father, how I love Cheryl so much this Valentine’s Day! I remember the day when I first knew she was the one for me. Like the joy of that day—and the thrill on Hailie’s face and the exuberance of our Chinese spiritual family in the video—may I recapture the wonder of the Word of God all over again. And then, Lord of heaven, use your Word to be “at work” in me that I might grow in Christlikeness. Thank You for such joy!   

I have posted the video @ www.facebook.com/jfields.fieldsoffaith

The Gift of Ants

This is a tribute to some very special ants. They definitely aren’t slugs.

I was introduced to slugs in the Pacific Northwest. I don’t dismiss God made slugs and made them with purpose—though it isn’t obvious to me except to build patience before I unleash unkind words when stepping on them. If you’ve ever stepped on one you know they are slow, slimy, slippery, and ugly.

Their human counterpart, the sluggard, isn’t favorably portrayed by God. They don’t display a lot of initiative. Consider what God has said about them: “The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly” (Proverbs 26:16); “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?” (Proverbs 6:9). At best, sluggards can only rise to the level of, “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.”

The ant receives high regard from God.” Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.” (Proverbs 6:6). Ants plan and build, and are tenacious about their work. We can learn a lot from them. I’ve always wondered if they even sleep. Our culture needs fewer sluggards and a lot more ants.

Interestingly, God connects wisdom to work, and the illustration is ants. Satisfaction in work comes from approaching it wisely. Being a workaholic isn’t the answer, but faithfully doing what God has before us—whether jobs or tasks or service, with thought and persistence “as unto to the Lord.” In meeting our physical needs, God has even instructed the church: “If a man won’t work he shouldn’t eat.” Ouch.

The significant yet lesser work is our jobs or careers. I’ve had many jobs and ministry stations in the last fifty or so years. They certainly were God-appointed arenas to reflect Christ, serve others, and meet our daily needs. For sure, it is all kingdom of God work. The greater “work” for followers of Christ is to point others to the One who, in grace and love, did the ultimate work—giving His life for us on the cross. We never had an angry “boss” on His throne waiting to stomp us. We have a Father, urging us to come, rest from our labor and sin.

I said earlier this column was a tribute to some very special ants. For the last five years I have worked with hard-working and unappreciated public servants at the Department of Human Services. I salute you. This is a fabulous team. They are truly like an ant hill of furiously busy workers, each with their own purposeful task, moving about to help tons of people. I have loved their wacky, loving insults and tricks (they decorate my cube from time to time), and the freedom they have given to be weird me. The Queen Ant sets the example and provides encouragement day after day against impossible odds. (Her baked goods are pretty good, too.) They all know how to love.

Today Father, I am especially thankful for the gift of “ants.”


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