You only get married twice, once.

Last weekend I had the honor to officiate a wedding “do over” for a couple who first married each other in 1997, but divorced several years ago. I’ve known this couple (Jamie and Jalynn Schnur) since the moment they met in 1993. 

This week’s post is an edited version of my message from the wedding…

Father God, thank you for bringing us here today. Please bless the words that will be spoken in this ceremony, may they glorify you, may they be used to strengthen marriages, and to get a better glimpse into your character. We ask for a blessing on this marriage and this family. In Jesus name. Amen.

The reconciliation, the restoration, the second chance that has occurred here is fascinating. We are part of something very special and rare. Many people will say that divorce is like a death. In some ways it is because marriage is an entity, and divorce brings an end, a death, to that entity. While weddings symbolize the beginning of something, this wedding also symbolizes the end of something. The end of separation, the end of the divorce. This wedding is unique.

Like Jamie and Jalynn say “you only get married twice, once”.

Jalynn shared with me that while it would have been easier (and less expensive) for them to jet off for a private ceremony, they wanted to share this time, this event, this gesture with friends and family because they wanted all of us to be a part of it. To learn from it.

She wants to do this to “put a bow on it”. They’ve come a long, long way together and they wanted to cross this finish line in the presence of friends and family.

Several years ago I was hanging out with Jamie and Jalynn, and the thought popped into my head to ask them, “how is your marriage?” – but I chickened out. I made excuses.

  • didn’t want to intrude
  • didn’t want to offend
  • I’m sure it is fine
  • none of my business

Except as a friend who had known them as a couple longer than anyone, it was absolutely my business. I knew in my heart there was something wrong but I didn’t do anything intentional to address it. A missed opportunity at best, and I bet I’m not the only one here today who could have been a better friend.

The beautiful thing is that it is all ok. These two have learned how to forgive; there has been a lot of hurt along the way. The hurt piles up, but only in true forgiveness can there be true reconciliation and healing. Jalynn shared with me that toward the end of her father J.C.’s life, he grew more and more into a man who was all about forgiveness; both in words and action. That same theme, forgiveness, is part of the Schnur reconciliation both with each other, and with those who may have been part of their pain in the past.

Who in your life right now needs you to step up, lean in, and offer love, a listening ear, words of encouragement, a shoulder to cry on, prayer, wisdom, financial support or forgiveness? Whether it be a marriage on the rocks, a troubled teenager, a lost soul, or someone you know is hurting. Who will step up to intervene?

If something stirs in us to even ponder saying something, then we’ve been called. We were not put on this earth merely to satisfy our own pleasures and desires. We as humans, made in the image of God were put here to live out our lives for His glory, and how we respond to those in need is a reflection of our inward hearts. Jamie and Jalynn were blown away by the response to their wedding and see that as a symbol of how we feel about them. Most of us have no idea how important we are to other people. Let’s all start sharing more with others how important they are to us.

Consider Jesus of Nazareth. His miracles were well documented with his first being the turning of water into wine at a wedding feast. He performed miracles not to glorify himself but to glorify his father in Heaven; he raised people from the dead, walked on water, healed the sick, helped the blind to see, and in the end he offered the ultimate sacrifice as a substitute for the penalty we deserve for our sin; he offered his very life.

Matthew chapter 22 documents Jesus’ response to the question “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39)

We have the same call with what we’ve been given as far as intellect, strength, and our resources such as time and money. We are called to offer this love to our friends, family, and people we may never even know personally. Don’t miss the opportunity as it will not last. We know people are counting on us. How will we respond today?

A few years ago while talking to Jamie about “joy”, sadly at that time he said “there’s no joy Jon, none”. That broke my heart; there were lots of broken hearts during those times.

But there is hope… JOY HAS RETURNED! 

There is gratitude and gratefulness for the second chance. Few people get this opportunity. Jamie and Jalynn have a new perspective and are doing this for the right reasons. They are both ready; their family is ready. They’ve rebuilt something together that now stands on more solid ground than ever before. They don’t seek to be perfect on their own; they seek to learn from mistakes, let the past be the past, and move on. Life is precious and too short to take any other approach.

Today there’s love, restoration, respect, trust, laughter, forgiveness, passion, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness. There is communication. There are tears of joy.

And that’s what we are here today to celebrate; this is a reunion of friends and family, so let’s get on with it and make it official, let’s put a bow on it.

Today’s reading links: Hebrews 7 & Psalm 15

Justified by Faith ~ Freedom in Christ

Welcome to Galatia. Where life by many is lived by the law. Where your merit and what you do, means more than anything. This idea of, what do you do?; in contrast to, Who do you follow? Or the question of, what law or rules are you following? instead of,  Who do you have a relationship with?

The book of Galatians has been called the charter of Christian Freedom according to a couple study bibles.  Who better to write this letter than apostle Paul (formerly Saul). The story of Paul’s miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus is necessary story to the people in Galatia, it is necessary to us, it is necessary to me. Here’s a reminder. (Acts 26:5-23) As I reflect on this story, I think that when the Lord gives you an opportunity today write down or share your “Damascus Road” experience with someone who needs Christ will I? Will you

Paul wrote this letter to defend his apostleship and to defend the authority of the Gospel. To help the Galatians turn from legalism to faith in Jesus. This issue can still be present today where we try to earn God’s favor through doing so many things, following rituals, or obeying a set of rules.  I found a great reminder for myself in Our Daily Bread: Rhythms of Grace. It reminded me to take a second to pause and take inventory of your life: “If you find that Christianity exhausts you, draining you of your energy, then you are practicing religion rather than enjoying your relationship with Jesus. Your walk with the Lord will not make you weary; it will invigorate you, restore your strength, and energize your life” ( Matthew 11:28-29)

Paul gives a realistic picture of the challenges of transitioning from a religion based on rules to one based on a relationship with Jesus Christ. From a life based on entitlement, to one given through grace; to a life not lived out through our flesh, but through the power of the Holy Spirit.

So are we working for Him, or walking with Him? While you read through Galatians be reminded that we are justified by faith not just the law. ( Galatians 2:20 Galatians 3:10-11) That our list of do’s and don’ts doesn’t confine us, it is our relationship with the Lord. We have freedom in our faith in Christ alone.  He is all we need now and for eternity. (1 John 2:1-2)

Dear Jesus,

Thank you for your grace. I accept that I am just like everyone else and can’t do any of this life on my own.  We are imperfect in so many ways and prone to sin. There is nothing we can do that makes me better than anyone else.  You love us so much you gave yourself up on the cross for me. That’s a grace so amazing that I can’t wrap my head around it, I can only accept this free gift and know that I’m saved.  I pray for guidance and willingness to submit the rest of my life to you.  That as we walk together I grow my faith and serve you with continued joy.  As we read through Galatians keep your words through Paul in our hearts.

Amen

 

Courage

Luke 23

What emotions arise in you when you read of Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and burial in Luke 23? Although I know it was part of God’s plan and Jesus willingly gave His life for you and me, anger at the Council, Pontius Pilate, and the people yelling “Crucify Him!” is one feeling that is stirred up in me often times.

Today though, let’s focus on the courage shown in Luke 23, instead of the cowardly actions of the Council, Pontius Pilate, and the people. The first act of courage we see is shown by Jesus. I had a Sunday school teacher growing up who would cry nearly every time he spoke of Jesus’ death. In my young age and immaturity, I did not understand why this moved him so much. Now older, and maybe a tad bit wiser, I think about the sacrifice, pain felt, and courage shown by Jesus to justify not what He had done, but because of what I have done, and it can move me to tears often, too. Watching The Passion of Christ movie really helps to grasp this. If you have not seen this movie, I strongly suggest you do.

The second act of courage in Luke 23 is that of one of the two criminals being crucified next to Jesus. While the people below and the other criminal being crucified mocked Jesus telling Him to save Himself if He truly was the Christ, this criminal stepped up with great courage. He was willing to be different and asked Jesus in Luke 23:42 to “remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Although we don’t know his name, we are assured that Jesus does. He says in Luke 23:43, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” This is also a good reminder for each one of us and to others we love that need to know Jesus that regardless of what sins we have done and no matter how many times we’ve committed them, anyone can be saved if they believe in Jesus and ask for forgiveness, even in the last seconds of their life. It is never too late.

The last act of courage we see is that of Joseph of Arimathea who went to Pilate in Luke 23:52 and asked for Jesus’ body to give him a proper burial. Had he not just seen what they did to Jesus and the contempt they had for Him? But greater than that, we are told in Luke 23:50 that He was a member of the Council…the same group that had Jesus arrested and just asked Pilate to kill Jesus. However, Luke 23:51 tells us that he was “looking for the Kingdom of God” and that he “had not consented to their decision and action.” Wow…talk about showing courage and a willingness to stand up for what you believe is right!

As I reflect on this, I ask myself the following questions. Am I looking for the Kingdom of God like Joseph of Arimathea? Am I willing to take a stand, despite criticism for doing so, like the criminal on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him in paradise despite mocking from the other criminal and likely the people below? Am I willing to be different and live the type of life we are called to live as the Bible instructs us? Or am I conforming to what the world tells me is right? Although I can never be perfect like Jesus, am I striving to be more like Him daily and following His example? Am I like the criminal who gave His life to Jesus? Am I like Joseph of Arimathea who was willing to be different, not only risking his reputation, but potentially his life? Or unintentionally and unbeknownst to me, am I more like one in the crowd yelling “Crucify Him?” I do know one thing is for sure, I am forever and immeasurably grateful for Jesus’ love, mercy, forgiveness, and saving grace!

Washing Feet

Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. – James 5:9

Last week I got to reflect Jesus’s interaction with Peter when Peter was learning what it meant to get his feet washed and to wash others feet. Washing feet appears to be connected with forgiveness of sins. It seems to concentrate not on the judicial forgiveness, connected with salvation, but rather a regular sort of maintenance to ensure a right relationship with God while we sojourn here on earth. Put another way, we were washed head to toe and adopted into Christ’s family. We were saved. (John 13:10) Yet still, though we are saved, we accumulate dirt on our feet and need to have our feet washed by Christ if we want to commune with Him (John 13:8).  

I have heard this communion with Christ likened to a son who estranged his father. Perhaps he did something that his father could have no part in. This however does not mean the father disowns the child. The child retains his sonship. Yet the child needs to come to the father and make things right if the two are to reconnect on an intimate level. In my estimation several things need to happen in order for this communion to remain, in order for us to remain in Him and He in us.

  1. The child needs to recognize that they have accumulated dirt on their feet
  2. The child needs to desire clean feet
  3. The child needs to admit they can not avoid dirty feet on their own
  4. The child needs to let go of trying to wash their own feet
  5. The child needs to believe that the Father can clean their feet
  6. The child needs to run to the Father and let the Him clean their feet
  7. The key thing…

One last thing that seems to be essential in this process is the washing of others feet (John 13:12-15). The forgiving of others. The grace we’ve freely received and we are called to freely give. God has given us everything, but not to hoard, rather to share and make friends of others (Luke 16:9). If you are feeling distant from God, I have come to believe this a key question to reflect on:

whose feet should you be washing?

 

Today’s reading: 1 Chronicles 18; James 5; Jonah 2; Luke 7

Suggestions for prayer: Ask God to help you understand the truth about your feet and the truth about how to wash others feet. Ask God to make you a merry, hysterical feet washer of others.  

For further study: Listen to these sermons on forgiveness and understanding communion with God from Jesus’ sermon on the Mount:

Daily Washing

Today’s Readings: 1 Chronicles 5–6; Hebrews 10; Amos 4; Psalms 148-150

This past week I wrestled with the daily events between home, work, school and other commitments sprinkled in and out. In the midst of my yearning for putting the “No” in November I was juggling many things. In the middle of this circus I was losing sight of God and His will for how I should be handling everything. In hind site,  much of what I was trying to accomplish was on my own. This selfish attitude lead to a shortness of patience, love, and understanding for those around me. I sinned and fell short by my own selfish desires to control a situation. Unfortunately, my lack of faith had succeeded once again.

After many prayers and apologies I still felt this guilt over letting my family and God down. I turned to God’s word and asked for direction.  Prayerfully, there is only one way out of this situation and it was through Him. I needed to surrender it all to Him and hear His voice instead of my own.  In Hebrews 10 I’m reminded of the sacrifice Jesus made for us.

And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Back in Hebrews 10:3 as people gathered for sacrifice on the Day of Atonement , people would be reminded of their sins and felt that guilt all over again.  But by His grace, Christ has provided us with permanent forgiveness that once we have confessed this we need not think of continue to cause pain. We are all broken and yet cleansed by an amazing God who sent his only son to die for all of our sins.  Encourage growth in our daily lives by applying and living out God’s scripture in all areas of our lives.

“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” 17 then he adds,“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

As we face these struggles its important to continue to encourage and meet with other Christians sharing our faith and love. We can help provide the strength we need to make it through each day.  I’m grateful for this daily group of writers, our weekly small groups, and the messages we hear each Sunday that deepen our relationship with God. Yesterday, I was talking with Micheal Summers about this scenario and he reminded me of the conversation Jesus had with Peter in John 13.  What a timely reminder. In Humility of Love by Grace to You, the authors remind us how Jesus provides us with spiritual washing when we confess and submit to Him.  Thanks Mike!jesus-washing-apostles-feet_1299230_inl

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Thank you for reading and being in the scripture together daily.  Psalm 150 reminds us to,  Praise Him for Everything!

Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Psalm 150:2

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord! Psalm 150:6 

So what spiritual cleaning do you need?

Any dust collected on your feet?

We need our feet washed every day. As we walk through this world with our earthly desires we can get our feet dirty.  1 John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us [literally, keep on cleansing us] from all unrighteousness.”

Thank you Jesus for washing our sins away. Amen

Because He Lives – Matt Maher

Read Humility of Love by Grace to You.

A New Covenant

But God found fault with the people and said: “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.Hebrews 8:8-9

As I read about this New Covenant I wonder: Why did we need one? How does it work?

God once made a covenant with His chosen people. These were the descendants of Noah, and the children of Abraham. He promised to bless them and save them; and to save the world through them. They, in exchange were bound to his law, essentially the Ten Commandments. Law that focused primarily on loving God and each other, putting God above all while striving for purity and relying on ritual sacrifice to receive God’s atonement for sin.

As I read through the book of Kings and 2Kings, it reinforces the tremendous disappointment God experienced in the almost constant rebellion of his people. Though God appeared at crucial times, rescuing His chosen people, offering many signs and wonders, still they turned away — worshiping other gods, sacrificing their children, and leaning on their own understanding.

The New Covenant came despite God’s disappointment, perhaps even because of it. It came as an expression of His constant love for people. This is not His plan “B” but the final reconciliation, through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Considering our tendency to rebel, it’s remarkable God extends salvation to us. When we receive God’s grace, in an instant our sins are washed away and we are made righteous by faith! No longer under the power of the law, we are set free in Christ and given freedom to pursue a relationship with the one true God. A holy God who declares our innocence, though we are guilty. A self-sacrificing God, who takes our place on the cross and dies for our sins so we don’t have to.

The New Covenant is based on an act of love that restores the fullness of God’s intended relationship with us — His created beings. Once set free from sin, we are able to pursue holiness in the power of God’s Holy Spirit and a life in the presence of a living God who offers everything we cannot attain on our own. In this way we are blessed with peace, freedom, power and joy in the truth and security of an eternal, dynamic relationship with the very creator of the universe! This is the New Covenant. Thank you God!

Reading: 1 Chronicles 1–2; Hebrews 8; Amos 2; Psalm 145

God’s law loves you too

Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 27–28:19; Psalm 119:1–24; Isaiah 54; Matthew 2

June 22nd, 2016

Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart. They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways. Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently. O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes! Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments. I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments. I will keep thy statutes: O forsake me not utterly. Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. – Psalm 119: 1-11

To me the law is a beautiful thing. It is full of judgement, mercy and faith (Matthew 23:23-24). The law is love written on our hearts (Romans 13:10, Hebrews 8:10). In my estimation, so that we are hardwired with the ability to love others with the love of Jesus Christ. Like an operating system for our soul, when we divert from the law and choose not to love another, the system gets confused and pushes back; “processing, processing, processing…” God reboot my soul, reset my system anew with love. My soul longs for it. God’s law leads me, directs me, governs me and to the extent that I accept this truth, seek after it and hold to it moment-by-moment, my soul is at rest in the peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

Still from time to time I encounter a sort of push back amongst Christians when the phase God’s law is used. For some the word law carries with it evil connotations of the very worst sort. To the extent the word ‘law’ or phrase ‘God’s law’ is perceived as an enemy of love. A fear arises in some that God’s law will push non-believers away. The phase “old testament god” is used, as if there were such a thing. God is God and has always been, no shadow of turning (James 1:17, Hebrews 13:8). Oh how this saddens me. I hate this perversion of my Master’s holiness. My anger is with the evil that has managed to redefine the meaning of the word law through hypocrisy.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. – Matthew 23:23–24

James Tissot, Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees.
James Tissot, Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees.

Gnats and camels alike where considered unclean. Camels were likely the largest unclean thing while gnats were likely among the smallest. Religious leaders would strain out gnats before drinking wine to be sure to uphold the law and not unknowingly consume something unclean. Jesus here describes a rather comical situation. Imagine watching someone meticulously straining wine through a linen to “be sure” to uphold the law in every way, the whole time a camels is somehow sitting in their cup, which they then gulp down proudly.

In my estimation, Jesus here criticizes the religious leaders for their blinding attention to detail that caused them to lead others astray from the truth of the law. My prayer is that the Pharisees’ and hypocrites’ perversions of the law will be untwisted and made straight. That we may dismiss the worldly definition of God’s law, wave God’s banner and return to the truth, proclaiming a biblical definition of His law. That we would all fall in love with God’s beautiful law. That we would never be deceived into a judgemental nor self righteous nature. That we would not be fear-driven conditional lovers and so pervert God’s law. That any inner Pharisees within us would be vanquished by God’s truth (Psalm 139:23-24).

Judgement is not about one person assessing another’s keeping of the law but rather the law helping one keep their own affairs in order (Isaiah 1:17, Jeremiah 22:3; Zechariah 7:9–10; Micah 6:8; Habakkuk 2:4). Praise God for writing His law on our hearts that we may live abundantly (Jeremiah 31:31-34)!

Keeping the law is beautiful

Straining out the gnat is not evil in any way. Jesus makes it clear that we should do it (Matthew 23:23). His criticism is that the Pharisees had done it to the dismissal of things that were more important and where lost thinking they had not only kept the law but kept the finer points that others had missed. 

Loving the LORD thy God with all one’s heart and soul and mind and desiring to do His will in all things; Beautiful. Thinking one’s self capable of judging another’s love for God; Ugly. Deep concern for one’s own stewardship; Wise. Being overly concerned for someone else’s; Foolish.

Judgement is a gift from God to help us with our stewardship. Let us not pervert this gift by trying to unwrap it for another. Instead let us rejoice in it, praising God for His gift to us in humility as we are judged in grace and mercy to the glory of God as we are made whole and mature in Christ (1 John 4:17).

Let us also consider the inverse. If we pass by and see another straining out a gnat and think, “that hypocrite” are we not in judgement of another? By straining a gnat have they judged another? If so how is one to obey Jesus command to let their light shine? (Matthew 5:16)

Shine Your light oh LORD and vanquish darkness. Here is truth about the law:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. – Ecclesiastes 12:13

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. – John 13:34–35

Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. – Romans 13:10

Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. – Matthew 22:36–40

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. – Matthew 7:12

 

Extra Credit:

  1. Check out the eight woes of the Pharisees, this post mostly drew on the fifth.
  2. Golden Rule thought experiment on the power of God’s law in love

Scripture: Matthew 7:12, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ephesians 2:10, 1 Corinthians 13:5

God gives us a simple and basic, at the most fundamental level, instruction on how to keep the law well. Many call it the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). I say it is most fundamental because it is by way of that which we are most intimate with than any other; ourselves. We know exactly how we should like to be treated and regarded and so forth. Even if not consciously, subconsciously we are hardwired to love ourselves well. Follow along for one simple illustration of this truth. We know that love thinketh no evil or, put another way, keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5).

What if we were to apply how we feel about ourselves in this matter on to others? In order to explore this question I encourage you to join me in a thought experiment on your being wrong. Popular exercise, I know.

  1. Name a time when you were wrong; no excuses, no circumstances at work that were out of your control, no anything but you and your wrongness hanging out being wrong.
  2. Let’s say you came up with something. Then let us go to how long it took to recall. Checking all those excuse boxes may have taken a bit of time. Well that one wasn’t really all my fault, etc. So how long did it take you to recall?
  3. Now think back to the first time you had admitted you were wrong in this instance. Think on how quickly and completely you forgave yourself. Did it even take a second? Did it really even register?

Is not love a beautiful thing?!?! Praise God that His law is written on our hearts! (Jeremiah 31:31-34) His forgiveness, His grace and His mercy are written on our hearts!!! The questions then become, does it take you as long to come up with something someone close to you has done wrong? Has it taken you more than a second to dismiss it from your mind?

The point here is that our love of ourselves is much nearer perfection in fulfilling the law than our love for our fellows. God has written it on our hearts to help us, to enable us for the good work He has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). How can we not fall in love with His law? Is it not beautiful? Does it not equip us to save souls and rescue others from bondage as it all the time rescues us from a hopeless existence with ourselves? God Your beauty is unimaginable! Your goodness unsearchable! Your ways are beyond me my God and my redeemer! Praise Your Name!

The Road Less Traveled

“……I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

By Robert Frost from “The Road Not Taken.”

Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 9; Psalms 92–93; Isaiah 37; Revelation 7

Driving through the familiar Appalachian Mountains last week gave me a chance to reflect. Returning from a short trip to visit my two oldest boys, I took a new route that not only saved me an hour, but surrounded me with great scenery and wilderness that reminded me of the struggles most of us face; sometimes raising children. The road that led through the years, to the joy of family in the restoration of relationships, through the power of love and perseverance.

Yes, there were still those moments I longed for the time when my children were younger; the sweet, innocent years, moving away fast in the rearview mirror. As I thought about the challenges we had all faced, how we had survived, tears of gratitude filled my eyes. My children were healthy, happy and productive, but it hadn’t always been this way. As much as I wanted to protect them and love them, it wasn’t always possible. Things often got in the way. Sometimes it was the things I couldn’t control; and sometimes it was me!

My trip to North Carolina began with nearly twelve hours of driving, arriving in Raleigh just in time for dinner. I had picked up Brendan, my twenty six year old, in Hendersonville, continuing on to Raleigh meeting up with Travor (my twenty eight year old), and his awesome wife Samantha. I can’t begin to describe the joy of celebrating life, breaking bread with these three extraordinary people who have found productive paths by overcoming personal challenges.image

After our feast at the legendary Angus Barn, and a good night’s sleep in Chapel Hill, Brendan and I drove back up the mountain, another four and a half hours to Hendersonville. There I was privileged to enter Brendan’s world, which included a short trip to the home of Carl Sandburg; the hobo poet who won the heart of the country in the early 1900’s. I had visited this special place with my two sons in 1995; now it was one of Brendan’s sanctuaries. A place he went to find God who had revealed love for His children and for the human race through nature; and by kindness expressed in the lives of others. I believed God’s love was also revealed in the Bible, the story of His disappointment at our reluctance to receive His blessing and keep his commandments; and the story of redemption.
image

Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ ” -Revelation 7:15-17

Yes, it was true that God loved us enough to reconcile us back to Himself, whether we thought we deserved it or not. This was the amazing love that I wanted to emulate and yet fell short of every day.

How much can a parent love a child? You can answer this for yourself, but I think most of us would say “a lot.” How much would we sacrifice for them? Would we die for them? Many parents defer their dreams and pleasures (and more) for their children. Carl Sandburg had written that “A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on.” Truly our children are miracles to whom we pass the eternal torch. My hope was to pass the story of the Messiah on to mine by demonstrating love and leading a life that pointed to the truth.

As I drove through Pikeville, KY, the ghosts of the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s roamed the hills, shooting memories of how fast relationships can go bad from harboring resentments, and from acts of vengeance. People who were once close, even family, can become hostile to the point of no return; or so “the enemy” would have us believe. The truth, was that by God’s power and love, restoration was always possible in the grace of forgiveness. image

Now I drove a new route from Asheville to Ashland, one that I hadn’t considered before. It made me think that the restoration of our relationships was similar. Sometimes we needed to try a different way. Sandburg said, “Anger is the most impotent of passions. It effects nothing it goes about, and hurts the one who is possessed by it more than the one against whom it is directed.” The power of love over anger and indifference is a gift from God. One so powerful it is able to restore goodwill between parents; between parents and children; between people; and between people and God.

We are all God’s children and to reconcile us back to Him, and in a sense to each other, he demonstrated amazing love by becoming human and dying for the sins of all humanity. By becoming the sacrifice of atonement, he redeemed each and every person. So by accepting this propitiation, by faith, we can receive God’s grace along with His Holy Spirit, which gives us the supernatural power of sacrificial love and restoration. Loving our children in the difficult things, and one another when it makes no sense, demonstrates God’s love; this is how we help inspire loving children, and so on. It is for me, my road less traveled, “and that has made all the difference.”

What to do when you fail

Today’s reading: Numbers 27; Psalms 70–71; Isaiah 17–18; 1 Peter 5

May 18th, 2016

Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, Which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep which have no shepherd. – Numbers 27:16–17

What to do when you fail

Whenever I read these phrases about ‘going out and coming in before them’ in the Bible my heart longs to be a leader. I love. I thirst to serve and help others. Yet my desire brings about failure. Repeatedly. Today I pain for those I have failed along the way as we went out and came in.

Yesterday marked a failed attempt to restore a previous failure for me. This morning I sought advice from a stronger and better leader of what to do now. The chapter was titled ‘Dealing with failure’, from Mastering Self: To Lead Self and Others by Donald G Hanna. I was looking for a next step. Here is what I found.

Chief Hanna teaches that leaders fail for three basic reasons: relationship, commission and omission.

“Leadership is demanding of time, priority, and emotional energy. A tendency persists to neglect prayer, Bible study, spouse, and children. Relationships become strained or deteriorate with residual failure. Relationship failure occurs due to improper relations with God, family, superiors, or others. Commission failure results directly from wrong decisions, actions, and priorities. It results indirectly from wrong values, beliefs, attitude, and thinking. Omission failure results from failing to decide or do what should be decided or done. It often involves overlooking in lieu of overseeing, i.e., failure to exercise authority in oversight obligation. Procrastination and rationalization enhance omission failure.”

Chief Hanna goes on to say that, “three biblical steps are necessary to respond to a personal failure or wrong:

  1. admit the failure or wrong without rationalizing or blaming,
  2. seek forgiveness from the person wronged by your failure, and
  3. take remedial action if the failure or wrong can be restored.”

Praise God for a system of forgiveness. Oh how I rely on Him. Chief Hanna’s perspective on the causes of failure leave me with much work to do. How are you doing with your leadership?

God would you help me lead. God may You abide in me and I in You. This is my only hope. Amen.

Renew Your Mind

Today’s reading: Genesis 31; Mark 2; Esther 7; Romans 2

January 30th, 2016

Renew Your Mind

From our past reading of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant Jesus tells us the dynamics surrounding not forgiving our fellows having received forgiveness from God. When the King forgave the servant his debt it was obviously not about the money. If it were simply the money, what the servant owed the King, what the servant did after it had been forgiven would have no bearing on the matter. But what happened after the servant was forgiven did matter and so we know it was not about the money, the tangible, it was the principle of the matter, the intangible.

The King was giving the servant an intangible gift that unfortunately the servant did not really receive. The gift was meant to renew the servant’s mind. To change what he believed. But when the King found out the servant was collecting debts harshly, He knew the renewal of the servant’s mind had not taken place and so the tangible was gift was revoked and the penalty attached to it reinstated.

This link between the intangible and the tangible is the point today. Take Jesus’s sermon on the mount. It was all about the intangibles. You have heard [tangible], but I say [intangible]. You have heard “Thou shalt not kill” but I say “whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment”. Blessed are the meek (intangible) for they shall inherit the earth (tangible). Jesus makes it clear that it is now about the heart and He made it clear that He knows our hearts. And the people were amazed because the word had become flesh and the word is sharper than any two-edged sword able to separate the soul from the spirit and able to judge the intentions of the heart. Jesus shows up and it becomes a matter of the heart.

From today’s reading Apostle Paul warns and even rebukes the religious who are looking down on and judging others; if the intangible is not present, the tangible will neither be.

Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? -Romans 2:1-4

This word repentance here μετάνοια, means the changing of one’s mind. In my estimation Apostle Paul is basically saying; “If you truly understood and accepted God’s gift, your mind would be renewed and you would not judge others.”

But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. -Romans 2:5

God may we receive Your good gifts in truth and may they renew our minds in Christ Jesus. Would you bless us in this way God? Thank You God! You are good! Amen.