Reach for the Impossible

17 Oct

I just finished my first draft of a short story I’ve written. The main characters are Peter, the rich young ruler, Jesus, and Judas Iscariot. And I find myself relating well to Peter’s frustration. Every time he thinks he has made a giant leap forward in his understanding and favor with the Lord, he falls miserably back into his cesspool of wrong thoughts and actions. He concludes that if Mr. Success (the rich young ruler), who has life by the tail, can’t enter the kingdom; there’s no hope for him. Does anyone else feel that way?

Take heart. Jesus doesn’t leave Peter (nor any of us) there with such a thought. He tells Peter whatever is impossible for man is possible with God.

I have to keep telling myself that. I follow it up with other great promises like: God is faithful to complete what he has started in me and I can do all things (unbelievable things, amazing things, kingdom things) through Christ because it is no longer I but Christ in me. When I fall back into my cesspool, Jesus is faithful and just to lift me out when I cry out to him. And not only lift me out, but also remove all traces and stench of the filth.

Lest you think I see Jesus as my get-out-of-jail (consequences) card, I am also reminded to work out my salvation with fear and trembling. While Jesus has paid my debt from past to future offenses to the Father, I still have a responsibility to press in to him, to be a faithful disciple, to become more like him, and to be led by his Spirit–choosing to yield myself to righteousness instead of sin.

Recently I posted verses I think provide a sketch of what that should look like in me and in every believer.

“Just be sure you live as God’s people in a way that honors the Good News of Christ…stand together with the same purpose and…work together like a team to help others believe the Good News. And you will not be afraid of those who are against you. All of this is proof from God that you are being saved and that your enemies will be lost.” Philippians 1:27-28 Easy to Read Version.

I put the last sentence in bold to draw special attention to it. Why? Because it has a double edge to it. First, it challenges us to examine our lives. Are we providing irrefutable evidence that we belong to the Lord? Do people see Jesus in us or simply a churchy person? Second, our lives should display the judgment that is to come. There is no weighing of how good or how bad our lives have been. We either belong to Jesus or not. But as the first sentence implies, if we say we are in him, our lives should show it–proof positive.

And when we want to object with Jesus was God/I am not so I can’t be as he was, remember what Jesus told Peter: what’s impossible with man is possible with God.

 

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God will raise up a standard

6 Oct

Want to really mess with progressives’ minds?

Just be sure you live as God’s people in a way that honors the Good News of Christ…stand together with the same purpose and…work together like a team to help others believe the Good News. And you will not be afraid of those who are against you. All of this is proof from God that you are being saved and that your enemies will be lost.

Philippians 1:27-28 Easy to Read Version

The word is still get ready

24 Sep

September 23rd is past. My unpacked bags are still in the attic and I and my family are still here–as I predicted.

“But you should never lose sight of this fact, dear friends, that time is not the same with the Lord as it is with us—to him a day may be a thousand years, and a thousand years only a day. It is not that he is dilatory about keeping his own promise as some men seem to think; the fact is that he is very patient towards you. He has no wish that any man should be destroyed. He wishes that all men should come to repent. Yet it remains true that the day of the Lord will come as suddenly and unexpectedly as a thief. In that day the heavens will disappear in a terrific tearing blast, the very elements will disintegrate in heat and the earth and all that is in it will be burnt up to nothing.” (2 Peter 3:9 Phillips translation)

Plan as if Jesus is not returning for a thousand years; live as if He is coming before day is done.

Why Jesus Won’t Show Up September 23

19 Sep

September 23, 2017. I find I have mixed emotions over it. If you have seen the news about it, you know a new group is claiming this Saturday is the day of the Lord’s return. Such claims have come so frequently in the last several years that few are paying much attention to it. I’ve not seen the number of hoots and catcalls being cast about as in the past. However, one did get my attention and a chuckle from me. It portrayed God telling Jesus to relax. He had planned on sending him to earth on September 23rd, but someone spoiled the surprise so the date has to be rescheduled…again. The quip reminds us not only that no one knows the day nor the time, but also no one will know it. No mathematical formula, no alignment of the planets, no hidden clues in the Bible will reveal it.

Thus, I groan when another date is set and advertised. It serves as a tool to turn more people away from Jesus. It becomes fuel for the mockery first recorded in the Psalms 115, “Why should the nations say, ‘Where, now, is their God?” and echoed by Peter in 2 Peter 3:4 “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” Genuine faith becomes foolish superstition in others’ eyes.

At the same time, I rejoice in the truth being proclaimed: Jesus is coming back and based on the conditions in the world, it looks to be real soon. I am challenged anew by it. But I don’t turn anxious eyes to the sky. While Jesus’ return will be soon, it is not yet and I believe for this one reason: the church isn’t ready. Yes, you read that correctly. The church is not ready.

• Revelation 19:7 “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” (my emphasis)
• Ephesians 5:27 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.
• 1 John 2:6 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

And in Jesus’ longest and most direct discourse on the subject to his disciples, note how many times responsibility is put on his followers:

• Matthew 24:21-22 For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.
• Matthew 24:24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.
• Matthew 24:42-44 “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.
• Matthew 25:13 Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.

Before, between, and after these verses, Jesus tells us what we can expect to see happening around us leading up to his return. He adds depth to his warning and exhortation with parables to teach us what being alert means to him. I gain understanding and experience each time I come back to these verses, but I know I am not even close to living them out. I am so distracted by the little urgencies life throws at me. Building my own house and comfort most often takes priority in my life. And then there is the self-effort to fulfill God’s expectation—forgetting the futility of trying to earn his grace.

And while it is grace that allows us to enter his kingdom, we mustn’t forget it is by his grace that we put his kingdom on display through the temptations and trials we daily face, and even more so as the day of his returning gets closer. His kingdom reveals the purity, the love, the power of the Father and the Son, and the victory over the signs of the time. We become like the burning bush Moses turned aside to see. The fire of God’s glory burning and shining within us. When his bride is ready, he will come.

The Big Daddy/Daughter Dance

5 Sep

Our dance score

Normally summer ranks as one of my favorite times of the year. Labor Day weekend stars as a time when the Midwest gives its last hurrah. It marks the end of summer. Kids return to school. Fall fruits mature for the great harvest. And trees try their best to outdo the flowers in their display of color. However, that means long nights, snow, and bitter cold will soon settle in, doggedly refusing to move out in the spring. Labor Day, I have hated you for that. But this year is different.

This Labor Day marks the end of preparation for an event that has caused me much anxiety—all summer. I was assigned a role and a task that divided my emotions. The event: my older daughter’s wedding. Since she and her sister were young, I’ve told them—half teasing—that they will have to elope when they get married because I would never be able to answer the question, “Who gives this woman to this man.” I told them the scripted answer would choke in my throat. Well, the girl I called my princess when she was little found a guy we are so glad to add to our family. She (Pam) wanted to elope because she didn’t want to be the center of so much attention. But, he (Jon) wanted a traditional ceremony. I hadn’t anticipated a future son-in-law would be the one to put me in that dreaded position.

Even so, that wasn’t the big problem. My daughter decided to bend the traditional part. She heeded another discussion our family has had following weddings. “The wedding is your special day. Make it what you want. It will be your memories to cherish.”

Since she was being pressed into a wedding ceremony, she decided her wedding must be fun. If she was going to be center stage, she wanted to enjoy herself and have her guests also remember the event as the best fun party ever. A traditional wedding wasn’t totally out, but it formed only a skeleton for the event at best. She decided to have a wedding based on a theme. Her chosen theme was taken from a song in the Sound of Music: “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things.” Some of the songs in the wedding were far from traditional ones. Table centerpieces at the reception were replaced with games which guests were encouraged to play.

I’m happy to say I made it through my one line in the ceremony. And that brings us to the BIG problem: the daddy/daughter dance. Dancing is something I don’t do. At weddings or other events with dancing, my wife and I wait—well, she waits as I wait—for the right song that allows us to simply sway back and forth.

My daughter made an announcement at our house as we talked together about the wedding plans. I was told I cannot choose a dance that would make her cry. No dusting a patch of the floor. No nice and easy final intimate time with my beautiful girl. We pulled out our cell phones and began to google father/daughter dance ideas. We couldn’t agree on anything, and the next few days of texting between her and me consisted of suggestions and replies. The latter ranged from “Too sappy” to “You’re kidding, right?” Then the call came.

“Dad, I’ve decided on a song.”

The tone in her voice prepped me to brace myself. I didn’t know how serious and set on it she was, or if she was getting ready to pull my leg, again. “Okay.”

“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

“Really?” I had already passed on “Yakety Yak.”

“Yes, really.”

I knew I had to be careful how I answered. I searched for the right words and reasons. The answers came back to me. “It’s her wedding. She is creating the memories she wants.” My mind stopped on “A Few of My Favorite Things.” When the children were little, we often sang around the house. Regular tunes included songs from Mary Poppins. Favorites were that song along with “I Love to Laugh,” “Chim-Chiminy,” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.”

I realized she had paid me a vaulted compliment. Those times constituted favorite things for her. With such a way of being remembered, what could I say? “I’m game.”

On the sly so Jon knew nothing about it, we pulled out the dvd, worked out the choreography, and began to practice. The I-can’t-do-this stood in my way as I tried practicing alone. The I-can’t-disappoint-my-daughter kept guilting me to say, “but I must.” In my mind, I tried visualizing us completing the dance to the praise of the guests. When I shared it with our men’s group at church for prayer more than halfway through the summer, they howled. “Can we come watch?”

“No. But it will likely end up on YouTube and Facebook by some attendee.”

Worry over creating a bad memory for my daughter instead of a fun one hung over me. I lost focus and creativity. I couldn’t write for two weeks. Finally, three weeks before the wedding, the dance started to come together. I began to hope it would be okay. Now that it’s over I would say we were at least some blurred facsimile of the pros. And the burden of this summer has been cast away. Replaced by beautiful, fun memories.

A final note: Pam and Jon walked out of the reception to the tune of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” Before the first tear reached my tux, Pam called out that this is the final dance for the evening and all should join in. I think my wife and I were the first on the floor. Tears gave way to our joyful dance. Goodnight, Princess.

Click here to see a bit of the dance that my sister-in-law captured: http://bit.ly/2wBTWVO

 

I Blew It

31 Aug

I did. I mean I REALLY blew it. I let my sense of right and wrong jump ahead of what I’m supposed to be. And I let all my superior social correctness spew out of my mouth. The worst part of it was seeing it happen, knowing I had overstepped, and went with it anyway.

Here’s the Skinny:
My wife and I were at a local close out store for an upper-end merchandiser. We found the few items we went there to buy and got in line. We kept our purchases at our original intent even though the store was having a major price reduction on everything. Many in the checkout line had overflowing carts, and some two. We had stood in line for several minutes before the human train advanced one person. In that time, the line had grown behind us to stretch beyond three or four inner-store blocks (aisles).

And then it happened.
A woman with her arms full motioned to someone at the back of the line to come to her. Based on family resemblance, I guessed them to be the woman’s daughter and teenage granddaughter. The woman looked at us standing in line behind her and said, “They’re with me.” Like that justified anything.

Since she initiated conversation, I said, “But that is still cutting in line ahead of everyone else who have been patiently waiting their turn.”

Her daughter looked at me with an expression that said, “What’s the matter? We’ve always done this. Everybody does.” And the granddaughter’s face held a question suggesting, “Are you saying Grandma is teaching me to do wrong?”

Three generations of bad training standing right in front of me. My inner conversation began dropping down from my brain onto my tongue like hitting a trampoline. Words kept bouncing out of my lips. They were calm and quiet, but biting satire. I wondered if making them uncomfortable would give them pause the next time they considered doing the same thing. I hoped so.

That argument was not the only one I used to justify my action. We weren’t in any hurry so their cutting in ahead of us was of little consequence. But I couldn’t say that for everyone behind us. Where was her compassion for them? Couldn’t she see her calloused arrogance? I tried to sharpen her vision.

God Spoke
I knew I went too far with the conversation after my first calling her out, but I continued to answer her every retort. When I refused to obey God’s prompting to be silent, He used a stranger in line to tell me to relax and let it go. I just smiled and said I usually do. Then when it came their turn at the register, but only one went forward, I had to add one last zinger, “I thought you said you were all together. Go forward. They just called you.”

When I had those I-could-have-said moments, I wondered how it might have played out if I said nothing more than, “Since by your confession you realize you are doing wrong, the good news is that you have time still to correct your action.” I mean, obviously the Holy Spirit was speaking to her. She spoke first, trying to justify herself. A sure sign of conviction working in her. Instead, I felt compelled to help the Holy Spirit.

He Spoke Again
Then I thought it might not have been the Holy Spirit at all. I hadn’t looked at the faces of others, and I certainly couldn’t see my expression. What if she defended her actions because of judgment written on our faces—on my face?
What if her first justification was in response to my spirit and not the Holy Spirit? To my indignation, pride, arrogance, self-righteousness—my definition of right and wrong. (NOTE: Opinions of right and wrong don’t make something so. This woman obviously saw nothing wrong with cutting in line. That does not make it right. But neither does my position on the other side of the argument make my actions right.)

Why This Is Important
This all happened before my last blog: Now What Do We Do. In fact, this experience helped me write that blog. I realized how many opportunities to be a right ambassador for Jesus plop down right in front of us all the time. When challenged to tell others about Jesus, we stutter excuses about not knowing how. We excuse ourselves by saying we are waiting for the right time, or it’s not me—I’m a teacher, not an evangelist. Lies.

I can’t put a number to the times I’ve gotten a great deal or had a remarkable experience that I had to tell everyone I met. Somehow, I could work it into a conversation with ease. Multiply that by the ones I have listened to. We have no trouble telling others fantastic news. Friends, there is nothing more amazing than being unconditionally loved.

This weekend we are celebrating the marriage of one of our daughters. My mind goes back to our own wedding forty-four years ago and the love we shared then and the deepening love over the following decades. The apostle John tells us the love of Jesus is unfathomably greater. His love is so great that it remained steadfast and unbroken as people spit on him, beat him, mocked him, falsely accused him, and eventually nailed his hands and feet to the cross. John tells us his love doesn’t stop there. Even after committing ourselves to him, telling him we will love him back and never forsake him, we break our oath. We act in despicable ways—sometimes in his name—and he is quick to forgive us because of how great his love is.

I am so glad for that. I need that because I blew it. I continue to mess up. And I keep getting reminded that Jesus is in me. When opportunities arise, I can remember how his love for me is so much greater than the infractions like line-cutting that I let irritate me. I can seize the opportunity to tell others about that love through my actions and sometimes with words. John said he gave an old commandment and at the same time a new commandment in his letter: love. America needs to see that love in these days. Purify your love in me, Lord, so I can be evidence of it to those I meet.

Now What Do We Do?

29 Aug

In Charlottesville, North Carolina the scab was ripped off America. The ugliness and pain of pride, prejudice, and hatred buried beneath it broke out and bled before us. The about-timers worked to squeeze the last bit of infection out, creating more anguish and pain. Deniers saw the squeezes as the source of the pain and not the wound itself. Their response followed basic animal instincts. An animal caught in a trap will attempt to bite the one working to set them free when efforts cause more pain.

A Proven Alternate

Surrounded by this news and social media frenzy, I sat awed by the testimony of one man. He has a collection of KKK robes and Confederate flags willingly surrendered to him by those who once hated him for no reason other than the color of his skin (see http://bit.ly/2xsFNYW). His secret weapon to disarm his enemy? Friendship. Daryl Davis meets them where they are. Spends a little social time with them. Then he asks, “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me? Look at me and tell me to my face why you should lynch me.”

Brotherly love shown them through continued contacts turned their disdain of him into shame on themselves. The love he extended returned to him. What a great lesson!

Old Wisdom

Of course, it’s not a new lesson. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger,” (NKJV). It’s a tough lesson to learn, though. The stronger sense of right and wrong a person has the harder the lesson is. That’s me, I know. And it’s probably why Davis’s testimony impressed me so much. He is a living example that God’s word is true.

On the heels of all this, I opened my Bible and began to read in 1 John. In case I had entertained the thought that Solomon’s exhortation was limited in its application, Jesus corrected me in John’s letter. Consider these verses (my paraphrase):

I want to put your mind at ease so you can experience fellowship, friendship, and love with us—and not with us only, but with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. With it comes a joy unimaginable. I know it to be true because I saw and touched Jesus after He rose from the dead. I watched Him ascend into heaven. Eternal life is real. (1 John 1:1-4)

But there are some who take the relationship with Jesus lightly. They think they can weigh their good deeds against the bad and if the scale tips to the good side, then they are okay. Listen up! There is no darkness or shadows in God; He is light in perfection. Darkness can’t abide in Him. Don’t think you can slip into that light holding onto dark thoughts. Either you are a liar or you make him out to be one. It’s a losing proposition. (1 John 1:5-10)

You may be thinking, “But I have accepted Jesus into my heart. I’m made clean and righteous in His eyes.” That is true—not only for yourself, but His mercy and grace is for everyone in the world. All can be in that grace. (1 John 2:1-2)

Here’s the issue: anyone who says he is in the light but harbors anger, bitterness, revenge—in short—does not have love toward his brother (neighbor, co-worker, boss, a rude store clerk, etc.) harbors darkness. That darkness blinds them and causes them to stumble. The most basic commandment from the Lord is to love. He gave no qualifiers. The love can’t be split between loving in the spirit but looking to get even in the flesh. Love in the spirit and in the flesh. Showing less than love equals breaking His commandments. It’s the difference between light and darkness, speaking truth about being in Him or lying. (1 John 2:3-11)

Bandage Cover-up or Healing Balm?

Forces are at work to divide America. God’s people have separated themselves from one another over many things through the years, creating hurtful splits in congregations and much disputing, blaming, and harsh judgment. Now these forces are putting even Christians into one of two camps, depending on the issue. It’s time for believers to return, not in theory but in practice, to the two greatest commandments summed up in John’s letter. Remember, we have been called to reconcile—to be peacemakers. Those across the ideological divide are not our enemies. They are the ones Jesus died for. He loves them even if they are against Him. We must, too.

Thank you, Daryl Davis, for being an example.

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