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Last Words Spoken

25 Jul

We promised each other to say, “I love you,” every day without fail. That is one vow we have kept as best we could. Even if business trips separated us, we tried to call one another just so we could say those words. If somehow a day slipped by us, we made up for it many times over by affirming our love several times through the day when we could. After all, we can’t say it enough.

When I drop her off at work now that I am retired, we say those three little words. We have read or known of those who faced the death of their loved one with the last words spoken being harsh from a disagreement. We can’t bear the thought of having to carry that remorse for years.

When people ask me how I account for a long happy marriage, I point to living up to this promise. One Bible verse shows the importance of this exercise that might otherwise seem too simple to make a difference. Paul wrote, “Be angry and sin not. Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath,” (Ephesians 4.26). We found it impossible to say I love you when we were angry with one another. Our determination to keep our promise forced us to deal with what caused division, to ask and receive forgiveness. Only then could we affirm our love and have a peaceful sleep.

Not Perfect Bliss

I don’t want anyone to think we have been flawless in keeping our vow. Some rifts did create deep emotional cuts. They did go beyond sunset—maybe even more. It was horrible. For that reason, we made sure it didn’t happen often.

I also don’t want anyone to think we are special people with special personalities that naturally fit into this practice. Our success in it—whatever measure it is—happened because of the grace given us through Jesus Christ.

My Reason for Sharing

Now, here is the reason I am sharing this part of our lives with you. After Paul wrote what the relationship between a husband and wife should be, he added, “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32).

Only recently have I considered applying the same vow I have with my wife to my relationship with Jesus. Yes, I love Jesus, and I spend time with him. I praise and worship him. Thanking him comes natural when things are going good. But, it’s easy to step out of bed in the morning with the tempo from the previous day. Gotta get it done. Get it done. Get it done. Just get it done. Then I suddenly realize days have gone by empty of the love toward my Lord.

My promise to Cindy has been easy to keep. Each time I see her, a little tic sparks within checking whether I’ve told her or not. Then, I say it anyway. Maybe she needs to hear it again. Maybe I’ve given her reason to need to hear it again. And, in case one of us fails to wake up in the morning, we say it again before we sleep.

Duh

Jesus has done so much more for me—even giving me the breath to say the words—how can I slight him? How can I think it’s okay to go to sleep while angry that God hasn’t answered prayers when and how I want? Or hold onto doubts or bitterness because of what he is allowing us to go through? What were the last words spoken to him?

Since seeing this inconsistency in us, Cindy and I have tried to remember our vow—sweet as it is in the natural—applies to Christ and the church, Jesus and me.

Will you join us? When you first wake up, tell the Lord how much you love him. Throughout your day, when you are pausing to catch a breath, deciding which task to pick up next, stopping for a drink or snack, and especially as you lie down at night; have a little lovefest with Jesus. You will find less friction and more intimacy in your relationship. What works in the natural works especially well in the spiritual. It’s a mystery, but a wonderful one.

How do you maintain intimacy with Jesus?

How do you make sure your time with him is out of love and not duty, pious ritual, or strict will power?

I would like to hear from you. Please feel free to share what helps you. It may help others, too. And, sign up to be notified when I post next if you enjoy what I write.

Of Memorabilia and Men

18 Jul

Digging through boxes looking for something else, I ran across something I hadn’t thought about in years. I told my wife about it, and she held nothing back. “Who on earth holds on to a shuffleboard trophy from 53 years ago?” (I should have put that in all caps, probably.)

So, I explained how much it meant to me back then. I was an anomaly in eighth grade. I couldn’t participate in sports. That cut me out of being part of any pack with the guys. My good grades redeemed me from being a total outcast. However, I was too personable to be called a nerd even though I did see the value in and did use pocket protectors. I was generally liked…just not held too high on invite lists reserved for the ultra-attractive and those with athletic prowess.

My Time to Shine

That winter the school decided to have a shuffleboard tournament. I won a trophy. I was worthless at baseball or basketball. Track and field was a joke. But I bested the jocks in shuffleboard, and I had the evidence. It was my Olympic gold at the time.

I look at it now and can say with total confidence this one thing about it. When it comes time to sort through my earthly belongings, its destination will be some landfill. That’s probably true about most of the things I’ve held onto and put in places of honor in my home.

If this life is all there is

I feel sad about some things, but then I remember a story Jesus told. A man had amassed land and been successful in growing crops. It got to the point where he ran out of places to store his harvest. He decided he must build more and greater barns, then he could retire. Well, Jesus’ actual phrase was “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry. But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you.”’ No fat, juicy retirement for him. And the Lord added, “Then whose will those things be which you have provided? So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

A different path

In other words, we have a choice. We can strive to collect our trophies—awards, rebuilt classic car from our high school years, heirlooms—and hope they don’t end up as garage sale discards or trash. Or perhaps we live our lives more like the man in Jesus’ story. We have been successful and built a legacy for our family, a hospital wing gets named after us, or maybe we even secure a place in history books. But if our identity and self-worth are dependent on those things, a day will come when no one remembers the stories connected to the items and why they mattered to us.

Or we can choose to build a legacy for eternity—a treasure in heaven, being rich toward God. How is that possible? By having our identities dependent upon what God thinks of us and our relationship with him. An amazing freedom exists when we no longer care what others think of us—when God’s opinion is the only one that matters. Through that resolve, we can live our lives for his glory and not our own. We discover our greatest treasure is knowing the people we love have chosen the latter course with us.

New meaning for faded glory

For now, the shuffleboard trophy will remain on my shelf—not for gloating in my victory, but for a reminder that my treasures here will go to strangers or end up in a landfill. The victory won and given to me by Jesus is eternal.

Don’t be too quick to discard any trophies you have. Their stories help create the fiber of the cords that bind us together. They have helped make us who we are, but they are not to be the sum total nor even the most important. What trophy can you use to remind you of what is most important?

I love hearing from you in the comments section. Feel free to email me, as well. Please, click the link on the right to sign up to receive email notices so you don’t miss future posts. (Just so you know that I won’t flood your email box, I average one post per week.)

Hide and Seek with Jesus

11 Jul

BOOM! RUMBle, RUmble, rumble. That woke me up. I listened for a bit. No rain. I rolled over and tried to get back to sleep, but the continued thunderclaps kept me awake. I thought about getting my camera and going outside to try to capture it. Conditions were ideal: no rain to deal with. But all I wanted was to go back to sleep. The amateur photographer in me kept telling me I was passing on an opportunity of a lifetime. The other part of me told him to shut up. I can only imagine what a celestial show it must have been.

I burrowed deeper into my pillow until the electric went off. Even then I did not look outside, but I went to the basement to check on the sump pump. What rain fell after the lightning display was not enough to threaten our basement. When I realized I had gotten up for a pointless reason, I kicked myself for not getting up for a fantastic reason.

Thinking back….
A few days later my mind carried me back to that middle of the night intrusion. I wondered how the Lord ever gets my attention. How often do I push him out of my thoughts and replace him with some simple pleasure? If I can ignore the loud booms, how do I hear his still quiet voice? How often and in how many ways do I place my wants before his desires for me and before him altogether? What other incredible opportunities have I missed because I didn’t want to be inconvenienced?

My game
Sometimes the effort to sense the Lord’s nearness and to hear his voice strikes me as a game of hide and seek. I find myself wondering where God is. Experience has taught me that he hasn’t moved away from me. I know his promise to never leave me nor forsake me, but for a moment or longer, doubts win over faith. Financial problems, health problems, or tragic losses darken my days so I can’t see what God is doing. I panic.

It’s funny, isn’t it, that seeking God is so natural and first place in our thoughts when we need something from him. He seems like he’s lightyears away when he is “hiding” nearby. And if you have committed your life to him, you don’t even have to look outside yourself—he’s within. How sweet are the prophet Jeremiah’s words, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). His words are all the sweeter when we realize (or remember) they are for every day and every moment of the day. He desires to be found. He wants us to cling to him.

His rules
If Jesus did play hide and seek with us, he makes it easy; he isn’t hiding. He intends to be found. I finish counting, add “Ready or not, here I come,” and open my eyes. I will find him standing in front of me! I reach out to touch him and shout “I win!” Wow. I find him and win. And he’s saying, “He found me. I win.” The reward in that is so much greater than taking pictures of a remarkable lightning storm. Moreover, it’s not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it’s new and awesome every time.

I invite you to click on the link on the right to follow my blogs. If any of my words speak to you, I hope you will share them for others to see. And, please, feel free to post a comment.

Facing the Wrong Way

27 Jun

I want to invite you today to step into my imagination. This won’t take long, I promise. Imagine we are in a meeting together somewhere. The room is full, and we are sitting near the back. Part way through the meeting we turn our chairs around and sit back down so we are facing the back of the room and the people in the few rows behind us. They give us a questioning look at first. Then they focus again on what is happening at the front of the room. For us, we continue to listen and participate in the proceedings with proper responses but with our backs to the meeting leaders.

For a moment, experience my story. Feel what it is like to do what I’ve described. If it will help you, close your eyes. Let your imagination kick in to jar your emotions. Are you at ease or do you feel awkward, nervous, fearful, or maybe plain weird?

Venue Change

Now, to add a new dynamic: the meeting isn’t a townhall meeting, a concert, or an employee meeting. It’s church. Does that change how you feel?

Matthew records Jesus saying, “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me, but in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men,'” (Matthew 15:7-9 NASV).

Do You Feel It?

It seems most churches in America are filled with people who go through the Sunday motions. They prove faithful in attendance, serving, giving, and being as good as the person next to them. But when God calls for a deeper intimacy, a greater surrender, and dying to self; they turn their backs on it. It pains me to admit the number of times I start to drift into sleep or a word in the message diverts me down a rabbit trail away from the point being made. There are even Sundays when I feel I am attending out of duty alone. Rightly I hear Jesus say, “You hypocrite. You honor me with your lips, but I want your heart.”

Switch Gears

Fasten your seatbelts. I’m slamming this train into reverse. You see, the story has another valid interpretation.

You and me turning our chairs around could be the ones who are responding to the Lord’s voice. Everyone else may be lulled into the routine, satisfied they are pleasing God with their participation. When God says he wants to do a new thing, they respond with determination to hold fast to what is comfortable. In so doing, their focus remains on the program and on the persons up front instead of what God is wanting to do in their own hearts.

Works Either Way

It doesn’t matter which way you look at my story. The message is the same: God wants intimacy with you. I’m currently reading a book by Kim Cash Tate called Cling: Choosing a Lifestyle of Intimacy with God. In the introduction she points out the word translated as cling in Deuteronomy 10:20 “You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name,” is the same word translated as cleave in Genesis 2:24, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (KJV).

It All Comes to This

This leaves little doubt. God wants a deep personal relationship with us. David must have realized this when he wrote in Psalm 51:16-17 “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” Love Jesus anew today (every day) and begin to love the people he loves.

Perseverance

20 Jun

Writing today’s blog reminds me of a cartoon series I read daily decades ago. The strip told the life of two characters who, like hobo clowns, let life carry them wherever it willed. Sometimes the humor rested in the foolish decisions they made, such as the time they explained the overtime they billed the customer. Their reason made perfect sense to them. They had painted themselves into a corner and had waited for the floor to dry.

The cartoonist sometimes put them as characters in different historical events. One of my favorites had them in ancient garb standing next to a wall. One said he was going to sit this round in the shade against this wall. After all, they had already marched around it six times. The setting is, of course, Jericho just before the Israelites completed their seventh circuit and the wall tumbled down.

I have sat at my computer a number of times to compose a thought intended to be an encouragement, but have been against my own wall. Life’s interruptions, stresses, and lures kept me frustrated and empty. Often I have made the same decision as my cartoon friend. I decided my effort was pointless and turned aside to some other activity.

I doubt any of the Israelites dropped out of line to sit against the wall, but I bet many wondered why seven times. Why not three or five? I wonder how many questioned what Joshua expected to happen. You must agree it was a strange way to conduct a battle. But perseverance in obedience gave them the victory and all questions vanished.

The battle of Jericho reminds me of another event when the number seven was important and didn’t make sense until the seventh time. In 2 Kings 5 we read the story of Naaman, the commander of Aram’s army. He was held in high esteem, but he fell prey to leprosy. When the prophet Elisha told him to wash himself seven times in the Jordan river, he went away from the prophet with his thoughts boiling. Indignant that the prophet did not respect him enough to speak to him directly, but sent a messenger out from his house. Disgusted that he was told to wash in the dirty Jordan when they had cleaner rivers in Aram. And why wash seven times.

His servants pressed the issue and persuaded him to obey the prophet. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to try. He turned again to the Jordan, the account continues, and dipped himself seven times. On the seventh time, he came out of the water with skin restored, fresh and clean like a boy. I imagine Naaman looked at his arms after each dip and saw no change. Did he almost give up and not do the seventh time?


Sometimes God gives immediate answers. Sometimes he tests the strength of our faith. Don’t give up if you are in a period of testing. In his time God will give the deliverance. The blank page in your heart will be filled with his word for you.

Don’t sell Jesus short in your life

30 May

Paul has a special prayer for the church in Ephesus–and by extension, to us as well. He asks Jesus to expand their understanding of what God intends for them according to the superlatives we find in God. In short, what is ours in His kingdom is mind blowing. It’s based on the Lord’s power and intended for His glory as others see His impact in our lives. Dive in and let it out.

Spurned Love

23 May

My mind drifted today to spurned love. I’m not talking about that which occurs between lovers. No, friends and family members who won’t let you near them when they are struggling. Efforts to express your love and support get cut short or cut off. Something within them or integral to the problem erects barriers. They don’t want to hear your counsel. A hug smothers them. They’re certain they can work it out by themselves. It hurts being force to watch from a distance.

I can relate to them. I’ve used my turtle shell a number of times, too. I wonder how many times I reacted that way to Mom and Dad. Were there times when they would have made a big difference in outcomes if I had let them in? Did I hurt them by my actions? Surely it’s so; that’s the way those things work.

I never doubted my mom’s love for me. I had convinced myself that Dad’s chemistry lacked love. Not until years after his death did I begin to see the times Dad reached out to me with the only way he knew how to express love. Unfortunately, I wanted to receive it in different ways. His efforts missed my expectations and demands. Near the end of his life, we reconciled and love for one another grew, but most of my life held a great void. I guess if I could be granted a do-over, understanding how Dad tried to say he loved me would be on my list to choose from.

No matter which side of the communication a person is, both sides hurt when love cannot be expressed. As I look back at the previous void in my life, I am comforted to see Dad’s love was there for me.

Through this muse, I discovered a deeper appreciation for this passage in Matthew 23:37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”

Israel had been waiting for millenniums for the promised Messiah. When He stood in front of them, they rejected Him. He didn’t come in the way they wanted. They had a long history of rejecting God’s word to them. Because His communication fell flat—dead on arrival—for their purposes, they doubted God’s love for them or that He even existed. They reasoned that maybe the gods of other nations had more to offer. But still, God continued to love them and desired their nearness.

How many times when I didn’t sense God’s nearness could I say I was unwilling to draw near? How many times have I rejected His comfort because it wasn’t how I wanted it or because I thought I had to overcome the struggle on my own? In short, how have I spurned His love?

“…the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” That is such a beautiful image of God’s love and intimacy He wants with me and with you. I’m planning to bask in this thought this week. I hope you join me.

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