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Monday, April 9, 2018

God at Work


I had a good conversation with a dear friend, the other day, whom I have known since early childhood.  During the conversation, I shared some photos from recent trips of mine, and it all got me to thinking.  I was thinking about I have been very blessed in life to get to see and experience lots of things.  

Let me share some of the things I recalled as I was reflecting.  I have hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and been atop Pike’s Peak.  I have walked ocean beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean.  I have stood at the top of the Empire State Building, the Washington Monument, and beside the roaring waters of Niagara Falls.  I have stood where America’s founding fathers first read the Declaration of Independence in Boston, and where they signed it in Philadelphia, and seen one National Archives of Washington D.C.   I have toured government buildings in our nation’s capitol and enjoyed the beautiful homes of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and several other presidents.  I have stood where Abraham Lincoln read his Gettysburg Address, and where the Civil War ended settled at Appomattox Courthouse.  I have been inside a space shuttle and a retired presidential jet, touched a moon rock, stood at the base of a Saturn V rocket while wandering around Cape Canaveral.  I have been to Disneyland and Disney World and other amusement parks, and even traveled on a cruise ship.

I have walked among totem poles in Alaska and waded in the oceans of Miami Beach.  I have seen great masterpieces by Monet, Pissaro, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Renoir, Rodin, Degas, Dali, Picasso, Cassatt, Homer, Rockwell in the art museums of cities like New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Oakland, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Austin, as well as in the home of an acquaintance.  I have attended plays and musicals on Broadway (and elsewhere), enjoyed live presentations of magic by David Copperfield and Dough Henning and attended the filming of a network sitcom in Burbank. 
I have stood on five continents, and seen some of the wonders of the world.  I climbed pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, stood atop the mountain fortress of

Masada, climbed to a cave where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found and entered the treasury room of the magnificent desert city of Petra.  I have eaten lobster in Maine, clam chowder in San Francisco, bar-b-que in Kansas City and Houston, wonderful pizza in New York and sub sandwiches in Pennsylvania, Tex-Mex in San Antonio, sea bass in Seattle and great steak in Kansas City and Omaha.  I have watched them make Hershey kisses, and toured Kodak’s great photo factory in Rochester.  I have been to professional football, baseball, hockey, basketball, car races and soccer games.  (Yeah, I know, those of you who know me well are stunned by that last sentence!)
I have hiked to the bottom of the Great Meteor crater in Arizona, climbed the stairs inside the Statue of Liberty, and descended the stairs inside the Washington Monument.  I have been to many historical sites, and have enjoyed watching meteor showers in August and December, eclipses, alignments of planets and the first moon landing by Armstrong and Aldrin.  (I didn’t watch that last one in person…it was televised.  😊)

I spent great times with lots of aunts and uncles and cousins at their homes and family reunions.  I have experienced the joys and difficulties of having and raising children, of being married and of caring for aging parents.  I could go on, but you get the idea---I have been lots of places over the years, and gotten to see and do lots of things. 

At the same time, there are plenty of things I haven’t experienced.  Things like owning a Lambourghini or vacationing at the fancy resorts in Hawaii or the Caribbean.  I have never seen the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or Michaelangelo’s paintings in the Sistene Chapel.  I have never had millions of dollars (or even hundreds of thousands) of dollars in the bank available for me to just spend any way I would choose.  On the negative side, I have never been imprisoned, nor been so enslaved to drugs that I would steal, lie and cheat just to get money to get them.  I have never known what it is to be starving, to live with a terminal disease, to grow up in foster care, to fight in the combat of war, or to be in fear of my life from marauding bands of soldiers in my own country. 

Okay, so I recounted all those things so that you could have a point of reference to understand my conversation with my good friend (remember that?) as I share what struck me as a significant point.

I was showing my friend photos from my trips to tour mission work in Bangladesh and, more recently, in Bolivia.  As we talked, I thought of all the wonderful sights I have seen in my life, but it occurred to me that all those things just don’t compare to being somewhere watching God moving in the lives of people, as I did in Bolivia and Bangladesh, and so many other places.  I have been privileged to watch God do things not merely far away, but in the churches I have pastored, at children’s camps I have helped lead, at conferences I have attended and prison ministries I have served, at concerts and revivals and prayer groups and Bible studies and even over the kitchen table in my home.

There is nothing more amazing than being present when the Spirit of God is in the business of touching hearts, changing lives and saving souls.  

If I had to choose between all the wonderful sights I have seen or being present when God is changing someone’s life, I would choose to be present where God is moving, especially when He is giving ME the opportunity to be one of the agents that He is using!  

I invite you to look around you and ask yourself, where God is at work in YOUR part of the world, and how YOU could be one of the agents through which he does his life changing deeds.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

3 Lessons from Holy Week


I have really enjoyed Holy Week here at my church, and hope you have been doing the same.  Wednesday, as we shared together for a morning breakfast, I was leading with a little devotional thought, and as it was something kind of fresh for me, I thought I’d like to pass it along to you.  The concept isn’t anything new or different, but a scripture passage just led to fresh perspective. 

The passage is in Luke 22 as part of the description of the Last Supper and the events surrounding it.  In the devotion time, we were discussing the fact that some people call Wednesday of Holy Week, “Silent Wednesday,” because there is nothing specific recorded about the actions of Jesus on that day apart from his usual teaching in the Temple.  I commented that none of the disciples knew what their next few days would be like…the terror, the anguish, the grief, the despair, nor the ultimate joy and wonder that would come on Easter; it was all totally unknown and unsuspected.   

That’s the way you and I live, too, isn’t it?  How many things in your life have come that were not at all what you would have guessed might come to pass (such as a divorce, perhaps)?  

Life unfolds one day, one hour, one minute, one experience at a time.

I also thought that, even though all the disciples fled, and none of them understood what was happening during the crucifixion, Jesus didn’t spend his last hours thinking he should have explained things better, spent a little more time, or talked to the disciples just a little more so that they would be better prepared.  Somehow, Jesus was able to say, “It is finished,” without regret or any sense that he left something out…even though the disciples were so confused and confounded!

In the midst of all the events of Thursday evening, Luke records a statement Jesus made to Simon Peter that only Luke records in 22:31-32,

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Jesus is warning Peter of the trials that are about to befall him, and in his statement, demonstrates confidence that Simon Peter and the disciples will be just fine.  Notice he doesn’t say, “IF you turn again,” but “WHEN you have turned again!”  Jesus was fully confident that Peter would come through just fine, and when he did, he would be able to help the other disciples.  WHY did Jesus think that?  Because, he said, “I have prayed for you.”  That was enough.  Jesus understood how prayer worked.  Jesus believed praying for Simon was what was needed, and that it was sufficient to get him through every trial that would be coming in the coming days.

So what is my point?  Several things.  

First, we may not know what is coming ahead in our lives, but the Lord does, and just as he did for the disciples back then, so he will also make sure that his disciples now have everything we need to make it through whatever is ahead.  

Secondly, we can learn a lot about prayer and trust.  Jesus considered the matter settled, because he had prayed, and he knew that God answers prayer.  

Thirdly, whatever life shifts you face as his disciple, remember that just as Jesus prayed for Peter, so he has also prayed and is praying for you.  (Refer to John 17:20 and Hebrews 7:25.)  You don’t have to face the hard things all on your own.

May your celebration of Easter remind you that, no matter what life brings, if you look to the Lord as your guide and your source, you can rest assured that God will get you through.  That is one of the little side promises of Easter!  I hope you have had a blessed time through your celebration of Holy Week and Easter.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

God's Perspective on Humanity - Part 2

Mary Eggers - Woman at the

Last blog I wrote about the value our society places on people of various stations and experiences.  That kind of fawning over the rich and famous, according to the book of James, is simply wrong and ungodly (James 2….in fact, that passage suggests the wealthy and powerful are often the problem!)  But today, what I wanted to tie this discussion up with is a reflection on how Jesus valued the people he met. 

Jesus was with some people who were wealthy, such as Zaccheus, Simon, and a ruler of a synagogue.  But he was also with people who were outcast and poor, such as the individuals suffering from leprosy and the peasants who gathered to hear him speak.  But one of the most interesting stories to me, and one that has become more and more striking as times goes by in life, is the story of Jesus with the woman at the well in John 4. 

When individuals teach or preach from this story, it is often noted that the woman was considered an outcast of sorts in her village, because she is out by herself drawing the day’s supply of water during the heat of the day, instead of in the cool of the morning with the other women of the village.  It is assumed that this low status is because of her multiple divorces and that she was currently living with another man without being married.  She is considered an outcast from the perspective of the Jewish people because she is a Samaritan…the wrong race, the wrong religion, the wrong parcel of land.  The story itself points out that the Jews of those days had no dealings with Samaritans.  In addition, while it did not make her an outcast, it was an issue of social boundaries, the fact that she was a woman and Jesus was a man meant that, in proper etiquette, there should not be any private discussion between the two of them. 

In spite of all these things, Jesus makes a point to spend time talking with this woman.  He makes a point to go through Samaria, rather than take the normal route to Jerusalem, just so that he CAN meet this woman at the well.  He strikes up the conversation, which even surprises her, since she knows that her race is not acceptable to his.  I have often pointed out that, in terms of what happens during Jesus’s life, this woman is a more effective minister for Christ than the disciples, because she goes to the village and brings all the residents back to meet Jesus, while the went into the same village and only brought back something to eat. 

Clearly, Jesus demonstrates that God values people that most of the world would ignore, that he wants to reach out to them, and that he can use them, and he has set an example for us to follow.  But I learned a couple of new things the last time I encountered this story (or, maybe I had noted them before, but just never really thought about what they implied).

The first new insight was that a booklet I was reading at the time pointed out that not only does Jesus demonstrate the value he places on this woman, but this story is actually the longest recorded conversation we have of Jesus with another person!  Now, realize, I haven’t gone to compare and try to verify that, but it sounds about right.  The other long discourses in the Gospels take place in a group setting, such as his discussions with the disciples at the Last Supper.  Do you see what I saw when I heard that?  Both the Gospel writer, and God who inspired that writer, decided that Jesus’s interaction with this rejected and outcast woman deserved to be recorded and preserved more than any other individual conversation he had.  Interactions with the lowly matter!

The second thing that struck me, after rereading the story and thinking about what I learned, is that Jesus demonstrated his valuing of all people in this story in a way that goes beyond the woman.  Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, you may recall, when he met this woman.  After her response, and the people of the village all coming to meet him (people who were ALSO of the rejected Samaritan heritage), the passage says that he then spent two more days just to be with them and to teach them.  The woman had been stunned that the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, would talk with her.  The disciples had misgivings about the experience, as well.  Imagine what they all thought when he not only talked with her, but stayed in what would have been considered an unclean village to interact with this forbidden race for an extended visit! 

Let me close with this simple thought.  

First, others may tell you that you are less then they are, reject you for one reason or another (such as the fact that you have been divorced or your skin is the “wrong” color), or treat you unfairly.  

You may be unnoticed in your world, in your job, in your church, and feel insignificant, especially when you see people fawning over others, the beautiful, the rich, the socially acceptable.  But the story of the woman at the well, especially, shows that God places a great deal of value on each of us, whether anyone else does or not.  Beyond that, the story also demonstrates that God can and will use anyone, who has a willing heart and servant attitude.  This woman responded to what Jesus had taught her, and she chose not merely to keep it to herself, but to share it with others.  I encourage you to do the same.