Archive for the 'The Indestructible 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

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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?

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?

Bullseye

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

My wife has recovered but I am still in process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

what do I have?

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

Rachael Restrick

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My son has no idea how to look for things.

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

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

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Bypass To Nowhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who sang those songs in her presence?

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

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

Convince Me: I Should Study History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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