Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Staying Connected

Something unusual happened today. I found myself sitting at my desk, and decided to take an email break from what I was doing. Normally, I get emails from my dad in Michigan all the time. Most recent was the photos he took at the Chelsea, MI Tax Day Tea Party. But today, I found a Facebook friend request from him. Not that friend requests are an uncommon event for me, I've been a Facebook subscriber for over a year. I get them constantly. It was funny to see that my dad had found the Facebook site at all. He is still learning how to use his new laptop! Before that, computers to him were cutting edge with the old Apple IIGS, 25 years ago. (If you read this, dad, just having some fun. I'll send you lots of meaningless applications for your FB page, like Retro Arcade games. Nothing like the original Pac-Man!)

The request set me off on a FB spree. I found my uncle, my aunt, a couple cousins, and even my grandmother! If I thought I had a lot of friends on that site before, they are coming out of the woodwork now. I hear somewhere out there, my mom has a page, too. I'll search her out soon enough. I like Facebook because it really connects old friends and family like nothing else. Not even Myspace comes close to the impact FB is having in this area. And, most of my friends and family are far away, out of state. Now I have one more way to staying in touch with those that mean so much to me. And I can send them cool pictures of Starbucks coffee, too!

When you think about all the ways we have today to connect, it can boggle the mind. We have instant messaging, email, cell phones, Myspace, Twitter, blogs and Facebook. But, let me take this and give you a mini-sermon. While it's great to connect with the people in our lives, we need to remember that we have a Savior who wants to stay in contact with us, too. With all the voices and things (even, dare I say, Facebook!) in the world that clamor for our attention, it can be extremely easy for us to forget that. I haven't even mentioned the worries, the stressors, and the cares of life, either. It's like a tug-of-war match is going on, and we are the rope!

I'm reminded of a church the resurrected Lord Jesus scolded in Revelation 3:14-22. It was the Christian Church in a wealthy city called Laodicea, in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). These folks had money, they had security, they had expensive clothing. They lacked nothing material. But the Lord saw something that did lack. They didn't see that they had grown distant in their faith, and lost the passion that they once had for the Lord Jesus. They were blessed with wealth, and that wealth distracted them from the One who gives us "every good and perfect gift". Though they were rich in cash, they didn't realize that the Lord saw them as impoverished. Though they had designer threads, they lacked the righteous threads that only Jesus Christ could give them. They had let the tangible things they possessed rob them of their deep, spiritual fellowship with their Savior. Read what Jesus said to them:

"Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and with me." Rev. 3:19-20

Back then, people got together around the dinner table. Food played a big part in fellowship. What Jesus was saying to them was "Hey, guys, I miss your fellowship! But I never left you, you did. I'm outside the door of your heart, and I'm knocking loudly. I want that relationship back!" Friends, you hear Him "knocking", don't you? You can sense in your spirit that you aren't where you need to be with God. Do you feel something tugging on your heart strings, beckoning you back to the Savior who died for you? Don't pretend you can't hear Him, and don't turn the distractions up over the sound of the pounding. He desires to have that prime spot in your life. No, He desires to be your life!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Lesson from Brownies

**This was inspired by a message from Pastor Tim Dilena.

I have a secret that many guys would have a tough time admitting. Funny, I usually end up doing at night when not many can see it. Now, don't let your minds wander and think, "This preacher has some dirty secret!". No, I'm addicted to anything illicit, or even take part in such things. You see, I love to bake! I've been doing it for a couple years now, and I have to say, I am getting some kudos from my wife and kids. In fact, as I type this, the smell of fresh brownies lingers in the air. Mmmm...!

Last night, I made a batch, only to mess up and place the pan on a burner I forgot to turn off when I melted the butter. What a Homer Simpson "Doh!" moment when I swore an hour after baking them that I could smell them burning! One whole batch, charred and tossed out like moldy cheese. So, this afternoon, I took my culinary skills out in the daylight and baked a fresh, homemade batch. (And a store-bought batch of walnut brownies for the Mrs.)

When you are just buying a box of brownie mix at the local Kroger (or Publix or Meijer's), it's easy to forget the steps that go into really baking brownies. Rather than dump a bag of mix into a bowl, and adding some water, eggs and oil, I actually have to go through a process. I have to measure out the flour. Then there is adding the sugar, the cocoa, eggs and vanilla. Mix them together, add some heat, and viola! You have some kicking brownies. Likewise, God takes us through various processes as He makes us the people He's called us to be.

My kids constantly want to lick the mixer and spoons. Yours do to, heck, you probably do, too! But have you ever had someone come into the kitchen and ask to lick the measuring cup clean after adding flour? Or begged to slurp down a raw egg? How about scooping down spoonfuls of unsweetened cocoa? My guess is no. Who wants to eat those nasty things? I sure do love to have a spoonful of sugar, though. Likewise, we'd love to have nothing but good in life as Christians, don't we? Yet, the Lord uses the good and the bad to mold us into His image. We have to endure the flour and the bitter cocoa, and the slimy eggs, along with the sugar. Some pleasant, some not so pleasant, but all necessary for the finished product.

When this life is done, and we are forever in the Lord's presence, will be perfected. Not underdone, not overdone, just right in His image. I'm reminded of what happened when Solomon was having the Temple built. The stones for the building needed to be cut out, but when they were chiseled, it didn't happen on site in Jerusalem. The Bible says that they were cut and shaped while still at the rock quarry, so that the sound of the hammer was not heard in the actual construction. In other words, the rocks arrived ready for the presence of God. In this life, we have our troubles and our joys that all shape us. God is chiseling away the junk, to reveal the living stones (1 Pet. 2:5) that we are. When the time comes to stand in His Holy presence, we will be complete! "He who began a good work in you shall complete it by the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil. 1:6)

God bless, and have a great Sunday!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It’s The Little Things…

Every day I deal with it. Life, that is. It seems to come at us from all sides, doesn't it? If it isn't the rent money being gone, it's the car breaking down. Life always seems to randomly toss out blows like a blind boxer. I remember several months back, as I was driving into Lakeland from Davenport, the van suddenly died on me. There I was, in the middle lane of I-4, in morning rush hour traffic. I had cars and a couple semi trucks surrounding me. I managed to coast the van over and stopped just about halfway to town. With 3 of the kids with me, I called my wife, and then called Pastor Johnny for a ride. Then I called the insurance company to arrange a tow. Finally, very late, I got the kids to class, and I got started on my day. It was indeed a frustrating time.

Yet, through it all I didn't lose my cool. I managed to stay calm, even after hearing the price for repair (well over $1400). The funny thing is, I can have something huge like that hit me, and I cope. Yet, when something small happens, I can go off the deep end. I can manage the car repair, but don't you dare spill the apple juice! To my shame, I've let too many juice and milk incidents rob my peace as I blew up at the offender, only to feel like a pile of poop. (Good thing my kids are resilient.) In reality, the problem I had was letting life's blows chip away and sweeping the frustrations under the rug, thinking I'd dealt with it. The small juice spills and artwork on the wall was simply the straw the broke the camel's back.

As I read through the book of 1 Samuel the other day, I came across a familiar story for any serious Bible student. That would be the encounter David had with a man called Nabal. This guy was one rich homeboy. He apparently had quite a spread. He had dozens of servants, and shepherds tending to his flocks and herds. He also had good taste in women, because the Bible says his wife, Abigail, was a knockout. She had brains on top of beauty, too. (Funny how so many ladies who could have the best fish in the sea end up with bottom-feeders-just continue reading!) David had his men, some 600 guys with him. They saw this man's flocks and shepherds, and when they could have picked the shepherds off and ate the sheep, they protected them. The shepherds themselves testified that David's men were a wall around them. So, with a feast approaching, David sent to ask Nabal (whose name means "foolish"-just an FYI) if he could spare from his immensely huge supply of goods for he and his people. David was met with scorn and vitriol from Nabal. "Nabal answered David's servants, 'Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?'" What a guy, eh? Who cares if your possessions were protected because of this guy David. What happened next was really a little piece of straw busting the camel's back. David had a conniption over Nabal's response. He commanded his men to strap on their swords, and off they went to utterly obliterate all belonging to Nabal. Only when the foolish man's servant saw what was coming did God intervene by sending Nabal's smart wife to pacify David. He relented, and soon God took care of Nabal.

The funny thing to me is that while David exploded over the Nabal thing, he was literally on the run from the king of Israel, Saul. He was being hunted down like a deer in the woods, Saul trying desperately to kill David out of his raging jealousy. David spent years running, sleeping in caves, and hiding out with the Philistines and Moabites for protection. If anything should have pushed him over the edge, it should have been that. But when Saul's murderous intentions failed to set him off, it was Nabal's petty insult that did.

David was a man who knew the comfort of God. God was gracious and merciful to him while he was on the run. More than a few times, God kept Saul from reaching David. And even while running, David knew to praise and worship his Creator, who was keeping him. In fact, the heading of Psalm 57, one of David's psalms, tells that he was hiding in a cave from the raging king. In that psalm David praises the One who alone could save him, even while danger was hunting him down. "Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed." (vs. 1). I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills {his purpose} for me. He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me; Selah God sends his love and his faithfulness." (vs. 2-3)

Did you notice that odd word in the third verse? Selah. It means to stop and think. Take in what you just read. David apparently did not do a "selah" in this situation. He knew the One had his back. And even then, he let something small drive him over the edge. Man, how many times have I been guilty of that? I know the Lord has my good in mind. Yet, when it comes down to it, it's so easy to forget and freak out and sweat the small stuff.

What's on your back today? Ask the Lord to help you with it, because tomorrow it'll be something different. It may be a lot smaller, but it could be the straw that broke the camel's back. Don't let the little things get you. But give the big things to the Lord who sees you through. Believe me, friends, it adds up.

God bless!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

It's Late

It's late. Here I am, getting ready to catch some z's, and I feel the need to write more than the 140 maximum on Twitter. I read today in the daily journey through the Bible of David, when he was on the run from Saul. In 1 Sam. 25, David had sought the aid of a man descended from the one and only Caleb, who at 85 was still kicking Caananite tail. He was a God-fearing man. Too bad his descendant wasn't. His name was Nabal, which in Hebrew meant "folly", or foolish. And he was. He mistreated David and his men who had been so kind to him, his shepherds and servants. They had been bodyguards to them in the wilderness. Yet Nabal foolishly shunned and scorned David.

My point tonight is that the apple fell far from the tree. What a Godly heritage to emulate, only to bury it selfishness and pride and bitterness.

I'll post again soon about this, but looking at David. Till then, I leave you with this thought: typing on a laptop is somwhat more difficult than a regular keboard.

Anti-climatic, isn't it?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

He's Coming

It finally arrived. A family member decided several weeks ago that he wanted to buy us a brand new laptop. He called us from up north and had us go to Best Buy, find a computer we liked, and send him the model numbers. So, we found a Gateway with 4 GB of RAM, a 500 gig hard drive, wireless card and a whole lot more. Well, he got the computer, and UPSd it to us. We got home yesterday to find a delivery attempt tag on our door, so I called to arrange a pickup from UPS on Tuesday night. After arranging the pickup, my wife was giddy. She practically danced around the house in anticipation of the laptop. It was humorous to watch. When it was time, I got the package, and I took it home. Just as she had been before I left, my lovely wife came skipping in excitement to the door, not because she was thrilled to see me. I didn't get even a little peck on the cheek. She snatched the package from my hand and had it opened before I got my shoes off!

While the computer is a great gift, and will be put to good use, the bigger lesson I think I got from what happened yesterday came through my wife. She waited in anxious expectation for what was coming. She couldn't wait for it to come, and looked for it almost daily. Friends, that is kind of how we should be in waiting for our Lord, who we have already been told is coming. Just before He was crucified, Jesus spoke to His followers and said, "I am going away to prepare a place for you. And guess what? If I am going to prepare a place for you, I'm coming back to get you!" (See John 14:2-3) After the Lord had risen and ascended into heaven, some angels appeared to the disciples, who just stood there, undoubtedly with mouths ajar, staring at Jesus as He was taken up before their very eyes. "Why do you stand here gazing into heaven? This same Jesus who was taken from you will in the same way come back." (Acts 1) The Bible teaches us that time is short, and that not only is the Lord coming back to reign on the earth, but He is first going to round up his people. That means me and you. Paul told the believers in the city of Thessalonica this:

"According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 1For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words." (1 Thess. 4:15-18 NIV)

Still, Paul taught us further that our Lord's coming will be "in a flash-in the twinkling of an eye" (1 Cor. 15:52 NIV). I've seen fast things in my time thus far. I've been to Indy races with cars racing of 220 MPH, as well as NASCAR races of nearly 200. I've watched the speed of hockey players with awe. I've fired a shotgun with amazement at just how fast that bullet travels. But that is a snail's pace compared to the Lord rupturing us out of this old planet. That is less than a blink of my eye, and I'm not talking about an intentional blink. I mean the involuntary blinks that our eyes do without us even noticing.

The question is, while we may know theologically of His return, do we show it in all we do? Are we so anticipating the Lord that we are going about everywhere, telling those we see of it? Are we living each day like it could be the day Jesus returns for us? Sunday night, a preacher came by and spoke to us. He preached on this very topic that is a cornerstone of our faith, yet strangely lacking from our pulpits. He posed a question to us all that night. If we knew we had exactly one week before His coming for us, how would it change things? Would we take care to be about His business? Would we reach out to family who don't know Him? What if we had only 3 days? Certainly, we would get off our spiritual sofas and get busy for His Kingdom (I hope, anyway). The fact is, friends, we don't have a set time of return. It could be tomorrow night. It could be at 3 AM tomorrow morning. We may not even see the eleven o'clock news. The Lord could come any time.

Friends, I'm reminded of the parable Jesus told of the servants who each was given money from their master, who then told them, "Do business till I return". His words in that parable, I believe are His words to us. "Do my work, do my will, preach my Gospel to everyone you see! I am going to return!" It is a serious reminder to me to be about His business, so He finds me faithful upon His return. I pray that this little blog today sparks a hotter fire under you, too.

God bless!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

In The Waiting

I’m a pretty impatient guy. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that I hate waiting. When I want something, I want it immediately, not an hour or even a minute later. Walmart drives me bananas, because more often than not, I’m forced to wait in an agonizingly long line. Then, if the people in front of me have two carts full of stuff (especially if it’s an item limited check-out), I want to pull my hair out by the handful! I know, this doesn’t sound too spiritual, does it? Now admit it, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about, eh?

As much as we humankind hate waiting, it sure seems like we have to do a lot of it. God Himself takes us through periods of waiting. Why? Because waiting does something to us- it changes us. God uses waiting periods to shape us, and to mold us. He uses those times to make us more like Himself.

There are many stories in the Bible of men and women of God had to endure times of waiting. In my trip through the Bible in a year, I recently read one such story. It was in the book of Ruth. The story goes like this: a man from Bethlehem, Elimelech, took his wife Naomi and their 2 sons into the land of Moab, because a famine had hit Israel. While living in Moab for 10 years, the boys married women from that land. Soon, however, Elimelech died. To add insult to injury for a grieving wife, Naomi lost both sons, too. In that time, this was doubly disastrous for a woman. It was a man-run society. Women didn’t have rights, they couldn’t even own property. They needed either a husband or a son to care for them. When she found herself without son or husband, it really was like a death sentence for her. She had no way to get herself back on her feet.

In the middle of all this, Naomi heard that the Lord had given bread to the homeland. She took her sons’ widows, Ruth and Orpah, and headed for home. Along the way, Naomi tried to get her young daughters-in-law to stay in their countries, find a new man and settle down. Orpah took her advice, but Ruth made a decision that day. She would not leave her mother-in-law. “Where you go, I will go. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God!” (See Ruth Ch. 1)

Ruth’s mind was made up. She was staying with Naomi no matter what. They made it to Bethlehem, and tried to get on their feet. The townspeople were thrilled that Naomi had returned, but Naomi had been depleted of all joy. “The Lord has dealt bitterly with me.” However, once they were home, they found out that God was working for them. There was a kinsmen-redeemer, a relative of Naomi’s late husband, who would marry Ruth and take care of them. He would father a child to be raised up in Ruth’s late husband’s name. But, it didn’t happen overnight. These two ladies had to endure a time of waiting.

Just how long they waited is unknown. It happened during the barley harvest. Perhaps a month, who knows? And during this time, even though it was certainly uncomfortable, God took care of them. Ruth worked gleaning the field Boaz, the relative of her dead father-in-law. He gave them food and protected Ruth in the field. In time, she revealed who she was, and that Boaz was the one to redeem her. He did just that, and after the waiting was over, Ruth walked down the aisle, soon had a son, and Naomi was set. But it came after a time of waiting.

Are you in a time of waiting? As one who has been through several, let me advise you not to despise it or squander it. Use this time to your advantage, for God is using it for your advantage, too. It’s in the waiting periods that God molds us and transforms us. He makes us into the people He has called us to be. The acid test of time really brings out what lies just under the surface. That’s good, because the stuff that exits in these times need to come out. It’s a time of refining. When gold or silver is refined, it’s heated till it melts. Impurities then rise to the surface, and the refiner skims it off. He knows when it’s done. It’s done when he sees his reflection in the molten liquid. Friends, God uses these times of waiting to bring the impurities out, so He can see Himself in us.

So, don’t be like I am in the Walmart check-out. Don’t get impatient with God. Let Him do what He needs to, and when He’s done, you’ll be prepared for His plans.

God bless!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

In Training

Back in school, I was on the wrestling team. It was the only sport I took part in, and I did so all 4 years I was there. That's not to say I was any good, though. (Honestly, I stunk.) When I first joined the team, I was clueless as to just how much hard work, sweat, and pain I was taking on. Here's how it started. In the fall, we'd kick off with about a month of what was called conditioning. We'd get out of class and get changed into shorts and T-shirts, and head upstairs to the main classroom area. It was one big square, with halls all around. The coaches had it all figured out. 7 laps was 1 mile. We'd start out with a mile, and after a few days, we'd have to start increasing. Eventually, we hit 5 miles by the season's end.

After all the running, we'd walk down to the wrestling room, where we'd run more, drop and do push-ups, sit-ups and down-ups (if it sounds painful, there's good reason), do a hopping drill on plywood boxes of varying heights, and slam each other around. If you came in to conditioning out of shape (and I was), you were in pain for weeks. My legs felt like they were on fire.

But it all helped us. It got us into shape for a sport that really is harder than it looks. And forget the cartoon-like WWE junk. This was real wrestling that drained you physically and left you to finish the match on nothing but pride and willpower. Other sports have similar training periods to whip the athletes into shape. But God too has His own time of conditioning. I'm in that time now.

Now, I pray daily, and I read the Bible daily, too. I spend time with the Lord, and I worship him daily, not just on Sunday. I love Jesus, and I want to get as close to Him as possible. But these past few weeks, I've been driven to kick the study and prayer up, and to spend more time praying, and that more fervently. The only reason I seem to be coming to is that God is preparing me, conditioning me, if you will, for some kind of contest, some kind of match and battle yet unseen. I know that I have a pastor's call. My heart is to shepherd God's people, and I know that there is a church out there God needs me to pastor. Just where is the current mystery. So, I've sensed the need to pull out the old textbooks from my internship courses from several years back. I have been reading and reviewing the New Testament Survey book, and even bought a used Old Testament Survey book I lost long ago on I've been reading more from the theology stuff, and praying. God is running me on His track and in His wrestling room.

Scripturally, God seems to favor these training periods for the men He called. Moses spent 40 years taking care of sheep after his flight from the Pharaoh. Fitting, since God called him to be the shepherd of Israel that led them out of Egyptian slavery. God started David in training young, as an unnoticed shepherd boy watching his daddy's sheep. Eventually, David would become king, but not before undergoing God's training in fields, in caves, on the run. Let's not forget Elisha, the successor to Elijah, who spent time tending to the prophet. Then there is the Lord's Disciples, who spent more than 3 years in training under Jesus, learning from the Master of the Universe Himself. I could go on about Timothy and Titus, Paul's proteges, and John Mark, who learned under the Apostle Peter.

These are just some of those who underwent God's conditioning program. Everyone who desires to be used by God will endure it. Things may get intense, but if you are in it, stay there and let God do His work. Not only am I driven to study more, I am learning to deal with more pressures now. I'm learning the behind-the-scenes work that every pastor needs to know. Sometimes it hurts. But praise the Lord, I'm getting stronger.

Are you struggling through those spiritual push-ups? Feeling the burn of God's crunches? Are the down-ups you endure wearing you out? Keep up the training, friends, and don't let go. Let God build you up. He knows just where you need it, and He'll bring you to where He wants you.
Whether it's in a book or in bind, He has you right where He wants you.

God bless!