"For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s." Romans 14:8
The past month has been a roller coaster of emotion. Cindy and I are exuberant with two new grandkids, Jonah and Eli. We never imagined it would be so great. Recently I dedicated a young child to the Lord. With these new lives come the hopes and dreams of parents and family that these children will grow to experience God's best in their life and that this would be the beginning of a continuum of faith where they would know God live for Him.
With the beginning of each life ultimately there is an end, at least as we know it on this earth. This was brought into sharp focus over the past three weeks. Last week I stood over the bedside of a long time member of Grace. She is 99 years old, incoherent, mostly non-responsive. She may have a week or months to live. I thought of her active years as a wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, all her memories, at least up to the past few years. She has lived long and well. It seems this is how it should be. However life doesn't always unfold as we wish. These past three weeks we lost two wonderful young adults, 26 and 30 years old. How do you process such a loss? All we can do is hold tightly to the love, sovereignty and grace of God, that He is not taken by surprise by these tragedies and somehow He has a plan.
The good news is that they knew the Lord. Did they struggle? Yes. But the fact they struggled doesn't minimize the power of the gospel in their life. And today we have the assurance that they are living with God, in His presence.
I am reminded of Paul in Romans 14, where he indicates if we know the Lord, we don't have to be shaken by life's circumstances, because "we are the Lord's." And when we die, even if it is premature by our thinking, there is nothing to fear, for "we are the Lord's." I can't think of any better place to belong in life and in death, than to belong to the Lord.
What Love means to a 4-8 year old...
A group of professional people posed this question to a group of 4 to 8 year-olds,
'What does love mean?'
The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined.
Make sure to read all the way to the bottom.
'When my grandmother got arthritis , she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore.. So my grandfather does it for her all the time , even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love.'
Rebecca- age 8
'When someone loves you , the way they say your name is different.
You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.'
Billy - age 4
'Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.'
Karl - age 5
'Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.'
Chrissy - age 6
'Love is what makes you smile when you're tired.'
Terri - age 4
'Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him , to make sure the taste is OK.'
Danny - age 7
'Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing , you still want to be together and you talk more. My Mommy and Daddy are like that.
They look gross when they kiss'
Emily - age 8
'Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.'
Bobby - age 7
'If you want to learn to love better , you should start with a friend who you hate.'
Nikka - age 6
'Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt , then he wears it everyday.'
Noelle - age 7
'Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.'
Tommy - age 6
'During my piano recital , I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling.
He was the only one doing that.
I wasn't scared anymore.'
Cindy - age 8
'My mommy loves me more than anybody
You don't see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.'
Clare - age 6
'Love is when Mommy gives Daddy
the best piece of chicken.'
'Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly
and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford .'
Chris - age 7
'Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.'
Mary Ann - age 4
'I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.'
Lauren - age 4
'When you love somebody , your eyelashes go up and down
and little stars come out of you.'
Karen - age 7
'Love is when Mommy sees Daddy on the toilet and she doesn't think it's gross.'
Mark - age 6
'You really shouldn't say 'I love you' unless you mean it.
But if you mean it , you should say it a lot.
Jessica - age 8
A four year old child whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife.
Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman's yard,
climbed onto his lap,and just sat there.
When his Mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said,
'Nothing, I just helped him cry.'
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 1 John 4:9 (ESV)
John - age approximately 90
"For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome."
(1 John 5:3 ESV)
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15 ESV)
John knew something about loving Jesus. He is known as the disciple who loved Jesus. Jesus had an unusually close relationship with I believe John because loved Him so completely. So it's not surprising John would speak at length about what it means to love God. To love God deeply is to keep His commandments; in other words to live as Jesus did, for all Jesus did was in obedience to the Father. To love God is to abide in Him and experience the joy and satisfaction of intimate fellowship. However we are bombarded daily by the temptations of our culture to embrace empty, meaningless activities which ultimately distance us from the intimacy of God's fellowship. In Joshua 22 after Joshua entered the promised land God allowed the Eastern tribes to return to their home on the other side of the Jordan where they would finally find rest. (God's peace) I believe to effectively follow God and enjoy His peace we have to create boundaries in our life to insure we love and follow Him completely. Joshua gives these tribes 5 boundaries which would insure they would experience God's peace. They do for us as well.
"Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul." (Joshua 22:5 ESV)
Joshua says "Be VERY careful". He's saying, create boundaries in your life that foster obedience and love of God. And you do this by OBSERVING God's Word. To "observe God's Word (command) means to keep God's Word. Look at it. Apply it. Live it. This is how we create spiritual boundaries in our life.
The question is, how do we observe God's Word? Joshua gives 5 ways...5 boundaries, if you will.
1. "LOVE the Lord YOUR God." He tells us to love a God who is personal. He is YOUR God. MY GOD. God is not an impersonal diety uttering commands from on high. He is OUR God who desires our affection, our devotion, our love. It all begins with a heart for God doesn't it?
2. "WALK in all His ways." God isn't asking us to keep a checklist of dos and don'ts but to live a lifestyle marked by His attitude, His desires..."His ways."
3. "KEEP His commandments." My prayer is that God's "thou shalts/shalt nots" become my shalts/shalt nots.
4. "CLING to Him." I read this and I'm reminded as a kid when I used to take white water rapid trips in N.C. Invariably there were times I would literally cling to the raft to keep from falling out. Often the trials and challenges of life feel like we are on a fast rapid about to flip out of control. in those times we must "cling to Him" to keep from being swept away.
5. "SERVE him with all your HEART and all your SOUL." God desires that we serve Him. But notice - we are to serve Him with our heart and soul. That screams of serving out of an internal motivation. What is that motivation? Our love for God. The greatest satisfaction comes when we serve God out of gratitude and love rather than legalistic check list. God wants us all in for Him... our emotions (heart) and our desires and passions. (soul)
John and Joshua would agree that loving God is the pathway to experiencing God's peace. It creates a boundary between us and that which would rob us intimate fellowship with God. It is through heart motivated obedience and service that we demonstrate our love for God.
Soli Deo Gloria
My cousin sent this to me today. It had special meaning given I'm sending Maria (my daughter) to India this Friday to serve in missions for 4 months. I don't anticipate this being our last goodbye, but it was especially meaningful today.
I Wish You Enough!
Recently I overheard a Father and daughter in their last moments together at the airport. They had announced the departure. Standing near the security gate, they hugged and the Father said, 'I love you, and I wish you enough.' The daughter replied, 'Dad, our life together has been more than enough. Your love is all I ever needed. I wish you enough, too, Dad.'
They kissed and the daughter left. The Father walked over to the window where I was seated. Standing there I could see he wanted and needed to cry. I tried not to intrude on his privacy, but he welcomed me in by asking, 'Did you ever say good-bye to someone knowing it would be forever?'
'Yes, I have,' I replied. 'Forgive me for asking, but why is this a forever good-bye?'
'I am old, and she lives so far away. I have challenges ahead and the reality is - the next trip back will be for my funeral,' he said.
'When you were saying good-bye, I heard you say, 'I wish you enough.' May I ask what that means?'
He began to smile. 'That's a wish that has been handed down from other generations. My parents used to say it to everyone. 'He paused a moment and looked up as if trying to remember it in detail, and he smiled even more. 'When we said, 'I wish you enough, 'we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with just enough good things to sustain them.' Then turning toward me, he shared the following as if he were reciting it from memory.
I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright no matter how gray the day may appear.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun even more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive and everlasting.
I wish you enough pain so that even the smallest of joys in life may appear bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final good-bye.
He then began to cry and walked away.
They say it takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, a day to love them; but then an entire life to forget them.
Take Time To Live.
Packed out Christmas Eve service – I don’t think we could fit another person in our facility. Family Christmas Day service. Fun. Relaxing. Love the carols. Then home with my family to eat and open gifts. Today… the day after. Whew. Take it easy. Exhale.
We willingly dive into this whirlwind we call Christmas to focus our attention on those relationships closest to us. I could do without the shopping and store parking lots but Christmas is a wonderful time to celebrate my relationship with Jesus, my family, my church family and friends. Christmas is the season which brings out the best in us. Yet If we are honest, Jesus receives more of our attention at Christmas. We cut our families and friends more slack at Christmas. We pack the building for worship more at Christmas. What’s wrong with this? Nothing, at least for a day. But what about the other 364 days of the year? I wonder how our life would change if we celebrated Christmas everyday? Hm, let’s see – Jesus would grab our attention more and more every day. Rather than singing “Joy to the World” once a year we would be joyful in all things, every day. (Phil 4:4) We wouldn’t reserve one day a year to cut our family and friends slack, but we would freely offer forgiveness at all times, daily seeking unity and reconciliation with all. (Col 3:13, 14) Not only would we pack the church in worship on Christmas Eve to celebrate the birth of our Redeemer but we would pack the church regularly to worship Him because we recognize our Redeemer was born so we could be born into an eternal relationship with Him. We would worship in recognition that our redeemer was born so He could die as a sacrifice for our sins, making eternal life possible. (John 3:16) We would worship because death did not and will not prevail. Jesus conquered death. He rose again, bringing the power of His resurrection into our relationships, our church, our jobs, our hurts, our family...our lives. Through such worship we would weekly encourage each other to live out our faith in tangible ways that would reveal God's Kingdom to a hurting world. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
My New Year’s resolution is to celebrate Christmas every day. How about yours?
Shopping is over. No more playing bumper cars in the grocery store parking lot – at least for another year. Lots of food – more than I need.
Christmastime is here. It seems only yesterday I was stuffing myself with turkey. With the first Sunday of Advent, November 27, we began a new Advent teaching series, The Songs of Christmas. We are examining The Song of Mary, Zechariah's Song, The Angel's Song and Simeon's Song, all from the gospel of Luke. In each of these remarkable passages of scripture we see how God was preparing the hearts of those who would be chosen to participate in the arrival of the greatest gift ever known - the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. Each week I'll post the sermons online. May God put a song in your heart as you celebrate Christ this Christmas.
I'm on week 2 of a 2 week mission trip to Japan. This country is a striking mixture of cultural heritage, customs, incredible natural beauty and 21st century technology. Against this backdrop is damage and devastation beyond imagination. The immense power of the March tsumani is only imaginable viewing from the aftermath or from Youtube video accounts. In contrast to the rubble, gutted out stores and homes are a beautiful people with an incredible spirit will , courage and the will to rise from the ashes of this tragedy. It has been and is a privilege to be a small part of helping them get back on their feet.
We've had numerous opportunities to serve. Initially we planned to work alongside a local church, but that didn't happen. Instead we have gone to the Kesennuna volunteer center daily and taken jobs alongside numerous other volunteers. We are fortunate to have 3 people on our team who speak Japanese, so we've been able to manage quite well. Our jobs have been varied. The dirtiest would easily qualify for the TV show, Dirty Jobs. Most of the street drains in Kesennuna are filled with decayed muck, sludge, and who knows what else. We've “mucked” out drains for a day. You must wear masks because of the overwhelming smell of decay. In the midst of “dirty day” we made friends with shop owners adjacent to the property. They allowed us to wash off. We met a wonderful, friendly golden retriever, Corella. We spent a day at a local gym where thousands of photos have been found in the mud, undergrowth, etc. It is estimated that there have been in excess of 1 million photos found. Each one is hand washed and restored as much as possible by volunteers. People come in daily searching for photos of their family. We cleaned bolts at a local business. We spend the day at a home helping clean drains, washing damaged windows and doors. Every job is a drop in the bucket – yet an important drop.
Japan has historically been very cold to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe we have been able to share His love in tangible ways. In several instances we have made genuine friendships which I hope will continue beyond this visit. The Japanese people are so remarkable, innovative and disciplined one can only imagine the world wide impact they will make as they turn their lives over to Jesus Christ. I believe it's coming. That's my prayer.
I thought this blog entry was over,yet walking back to the camp the ground began to shake...and shake....and shake. Another earthquake. It is nearly a daily occurrence. The best way to describe the sensation is to walk under the tracks of an (elevated) train in NYC.
I've uploaded some pics from the trip. Check them out in the photos section.
Soli Deo Gloria,
How often do you experience a crisis of faith? You may not make a formal proclamation but in your heart you begin to doubt God's goodness and consequentially quietly pull away from Him. Perhaps there are situations in your work environment that you've prayed about, yet God seems silent. You pull away. Perhaps you have relational expectations with a spouse, child, friend. You pray but are still disappointed. You pull away. Perhaps you've lost someone or something you deeply care for: a loved one, a dream, a promise, a job. You pull away.
Many have been praying for a young Chinese Christian, Alim, who was imprisoned because of his faith in Jesus. He has been incarcerated for two years. His case finally came up for review. Please read the report I received today."Alim's unjust prison sentence went before a high court for review, but the high court has not overturned his sentence. Alim's wife, Gulnur was able to visit him on Feb. 16 and he told her that the court decided that his 15 years prison sentence still stands. Despite this, Alim seemed to be in good spirits. He told Gulnur that this is what a life of faith may require and he is able to accept it. Please continue to pray for this dear family. The added pressures that Gulnur faces, apart from having her husband away from her and in jail, are many."You may read the summary of Alim's case at http://www.chinaaid.org
I read this and find myself ashamed at the issues of my life which create turbulence in my faith. Sometimes things don't work out and as Alim said, "...this is what a life of faith may require." The question is - are we willing to accept it?
Here's a shout out to crash bars on motorcycles. I had to lay down the bike this morning entering Route 23. The truck was coming too fast and it was lay it down or get run over - only a gimpy ankle, bruised rear and scuffed up helmet to show for it. God is good and crash bars are useful. Riding home I first thanked God that apparently an ace bandage is all I need. Then I thought about God's crash bars when our life skids out of control. Just like my bike crash bars kept me from some serious personal damage this morning- God's Word, prayer and spiritual community provide the support when my life gets a little slippery. If you feel like your life is sliding out of control, try using the crash bars first. :)
Soli Deo Gloria
I returned from a 3 day Prayer Summit in Tuscarora, NJ - lots of great worship, teaching and plenty of time for prayer. What I was most struck by was an emphasis this year on 'being". It is so easy to be consumed with "doing" when in ministry because of the myriad of expectations. Doing is important, yes essential. But if doing precedes being, then doing is generally powerless, frustrating and draining. One speaker talked about the early church practice of praying 3 times a day. I'm not talking about a prayer before breakfast, lunch and dinner, but a real prayer time, probably an hour each time. We wondered - what would our life be like if we intentionally set aside 3 times a day to pray? There is a story of a community caught in a blizzard. You couldn't see to walk from your house to the barn. People who ventured out became lost in theirown backyard and many died just feet from their doorsteps. People would attach a rope from the house to the barn. As long as they held onto the rope they could find their way back to the house in the middle of the storm. I wonder if we were teathered to God like that throughout the day, if we would be able to weather the storms of life better? I'm going to try it. Why don't you?