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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

God is the Same!


I just came inside from planting a clematis and setting up a trellis for it, after walking by a little rose garden with 8 or 9 bushes leafing out in celebration of spring.  All of those plants once belonged to my father, who passed away a few years ago.  

Many of you are aware that my wife and I are in the process of a very long, drawn out move from one town to another.  Those of you who know me, already know that I am a sap.  

Movies, songs, mementoes and photographs are just a few of the things that transport me in time, and bring back treasured memories.  And I have learned that those treasure memories that helped shape who I am, travel with me wherever I go and whatever I experience as life changes and moves.  

Those leafing plants are part of the connections for me during this time of transition as I move forward into this next chapter God has for my life.  Every shift that takes place in life, always brings something new that creates new memories, friendships and treasures that are added to what God has already gifted to me, creating and enriching new things in my life. 

Transitions are always like that.  They are often not easy.  It is not an easy thing to pick up roots and move from one location, leaving behind church, friends, family and familiar sights to start afresh in another.  But in the moves I have made over the years, I have learned that even though there are things left behind, there are new friends, new churches, new favorite restaurants, new sights, a plethora of experiences to come that cannot be experienced without stepping away from what was.  So while a time of transition (whether a forced transition or one made by choice) can be challenging, it is also a time of promise.

You may be in life transition yourself.  Divorce is certainly one of those experiences, often a very difficult transition, but so is moving, job change, empty nest, and lots of other life experiences.  Each time, one goes through the process of figuring out what to let go of, and what can and should be brought along.  Perhaps the most important things to take with you are the things that cannot be taken away:  your character, your faith, the lessons you have learned, the memories you cherish, the friendships you have developed.

I first learned this lesson from an elderly woman who resided in a nursing home for whom I was the assigned deacon to take communion to her month by month.  She had only recently moved to the facility, and it was apparently not her choice to have done so.  She struggled with being in the new location, she missed her house, and longed for something familiar in her life.  One day when I met with her, she pointed to a simple chest of drawers and explained that her children had brought it from her house for her, and how pleased she was that they had. She then said something I have never forgotten:  “You know, they can take away my things, but they can’t take my memories, and I have some wonderful memories.”  

God is the same, wherever you reside.  

Your memories remain your memories in any location.  

Your character, your essence, the core of who you are is not dependent on where you live, but on choices you make and experiences you have had, and especially on how you allow God to use those things to shape you into his image.  

In transition?  

That is how life is for all of us.  A friend of mine used to say that the only thing that never changes is that everything is always changing!  I encourage you to make your transitions with faith, hope and expectancy, embracing the positive things ahead with all the things you have become through the things that have brought you to this point already.  God awaits us whenever we venture into those new chapters of life.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Resurrection Living


I figure it wasn’t very much fun to be one of Jesus’ disciples from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.  They had been very excited about what they had discovered when they met Jesus, and as they followed him, sharing in the teachings and miracles of the Messiah.  It was like a dream come true.  It must have felt like everything they had hoped for in life and beyond was the experience of their daily lives.  

But then, when they saw Jesus crucified and buried, their world turned upside down as their dream come true turned into a nightmare come true.   Not knowing where to turn, they spent their time hiding in fear, or returning to their simple lives as fishermen.  

Hopeless.  Dark days of isolation and sorrow.

Then came resurrection Sunday.  

Friday was not the end of the story, however.  

Though they experienced the depths of sorrow and despair, God didn’t leave them there.  Three days later, there was exultation beyond their wildest imagination.  This is the story of hope, the story of life, God style.

Resurrection living applies to many areas of our lives, where we need God’s light to shine into the darkness of our struggles and experiences to bring new hope, fresh starts, second chances and new opportunities.  Whether it is  second opportunity after a broken marriage, a fresh start breaking free of addictions, or simply moving to new dreams while leaving despair behind, God specializes in resurrecting the dead places of our lives.

Simple message today:  offer God those areas of your life that could stand to be given new life, then watch him work.  You will be as amazed as the disciples were, come Easter morning.

P.S.  Nola and I went to watch the movie, “The Case for Christ” yesterday in preparation for Easter.  It’s worth the time and money…I encourage you to make plans to go yourself…and invite a friend!  Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Where was God this morning?


This morning, Palm Sunday morning, as Coptic Christians were celebrating and remembering Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, bombs went off at their churches and killed dozens of worshippers, and wounded scores.  ISIS was quick to claim responsibility.  

My heart goes out to those brothers and sisters on the other side of the globe in their grief during this most special time of the year for those of the Christian faith.  

A few years ago I got to go on a trip to tour sites in Jordan, Israel and Egypt.  While we were in Egypt, we were hosted by a guide who was a Coptic Christian.  She was a very intelligent woman, knowledgeable about the history of her nation and all the sites we went to see.  Every time I read a headline about the Copts, I always think of her, and how gracious she was to us on our tour.

It wasn’t that long ago a Coptic Church in Cairo was bombed by the radical Islamic terrorists.  I remember hearing later that after that happened, the next time the church gathered to worship, more tolerant Muslims gathered in front of the church to protect it and to show in a tangible way that not all Muslims are like those terrorists.  

I have known of folks who have wondered, though, why God would allow things like that to happen to people who worship him, why he doesn’t prevent these things from happening.  

It is a good question, and this is a good time to ask it.

Today, in our worship services, we focused on the fact that when Jesus headed into Jerusalem on the Triumphal Entry, he went in knowing that he was soon to be tortured and killed, and yet he went.  He went because he knew that God had a purpose that was more important than keeping Jesus safe from physical harm--the winning forgiveness and salvation for millions who would believe.  First Peter 2:21-23 addresses this and the relevance it has for those of us who struggle:

 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

It is interesting that this passage makes the assumption that those who follow him will also suffer, and that Jesus’ experiences of Holy Week serve as guides for how we are to face tough times.  I have heard reports in the past that the Coptic Christians who have suffered so much have actually lived by the instructions in this passage, and that their response to suffering has had a great impact on those who have observed them, even causing some of them to come to Christ to follow the God who helps people in suffering such as this.

God doesn’t always explain why he allows people to suffer, and not even those who are striving to follow him in life.  Nor is he obligated to do so.  But over and again the scriptures make clear that God DOES have purpose when he allows tragedy into the lives of believers, and that he will work it into something meaningful and use it in a way that brings glory to him.  

Perhaps you are struggling today as well.  Maybe you didn’t lose a loved one in a bombing, but there are lots of ways people struggle:  health concerns, emotional stress, job loss, the list is endless.  Maybe you feel the betrayal of a spouse who has filed for divorce, as Jesus felt the betrayal of Judas and of the crowd who would later shout for him to be crucified.  He understands what it is like to be betrayed.  And he left you an example of how to cope with it.  

Where was God this morning in Egypt?  

He was weeping beside those who lost loved ones in the bombing, and was collecting every tear they shed as a precious treasure.  

He was holding the survivors close, waiting for them to turn to him for comfort and hope.

He was speaking to the hearts of the ISIS leaders, warning them that the path they are on is not the way of God.  

He was reaching out to the hearts of those who are observing the Coptic Christians in their grief, showing them that there is a faith that can sustain even in the darkest of days.

At the same time, I also heard today that Christians were able to freely gather and worship today near Mosul, after years of oppression that kept them from doing so.  

God is still alive, God is still moving.  

I invite you to join me in prayer for the families of the victims there in Egypt, and also for their witness in this tragic time.  I invite you to join me in praying that God will help them through the rest of their Holy Week remembrance, and be especially near to them on Easter.   And, though I did not write about them, let’s also be in prayer for all those victimized with the poisonous attacks in Syria.  The world is just as troubled today as it was when Jesus walked the earth.  Thank God, though, that he has done something about it:  he sent a Savior who will one day return as judge, at which time he will make all things right.  At that time, we will no longer ask why; instead, we will marvel at the wisdom of God in allowing things we would never have imagined could be turned for good.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

I Will Be With You.


Have you ever heard the jokes about the light at the end of the tunnel?  You know, like the one where the guy says he finally say the light at the end of the tunnel and felt great relief, until he realized it was an oncoming train?  Or the one I like best, says, something like:  In order to help conserve energy and curb global warming, the light at the end of the tunnel is now turned off until further notice.  It’s kind of like the person who says that, knowing his luck, when his ship comes in he’ll be at the airport!  Laughing about those kinds of things can be fun, but when you are in the midst of the dark tunnel, they aren’t quite as funny.  

I don’t know about you, but I have found in the course of my life, that there are plenty of times that feel like pretty dark places now and again.  Sometimes it can be limited to one specific area of life, other times it may be how life in general feels.  I recall that while I was going through the divorce process and its aftermath, that was a really dark time.  And like the proverbial tunnel, it felt like it just went on and on and on…and sometimes there I couldn’t see any light, whether at the end of the tunnel or anywhere else!

Maybe you are reading this, and that is exactly where you are, down in that deep, dark tunnel.  I remember reading a long time ago that one thing that was learned from the experiences of soldiers in the Vietnamese prison camps was that an individual can endure almost anything as long as he or she has some sense or hope that there will be an end to it, especially when the end is in sight.  Sometimes it is hard to see that end, especially when things drag on and on, or seem to go from bad to worse.  

At the same time, there are life lessons, and God lessons, that one can only learn when in those dark times. For example, nobody ever learned endurance without having experienced something that required them to endure!  Or that you will never know God can provide for you if you never need anything.  Sometimes the lessons that are learned are lessons about what really is important in life, with the result that we adjust our priorities accordingly.  It still isn’t fun to go through the tough times, but at least there is a benefit in the long run.

One of my favorite passages in scripture is found in Isaiah 43.  Verse two says:

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.”  (ESV)

I love it because, though it does not promise we won’t face tough times (in fact, it acknowledges that we definitely ARE going to), God’s promises in the verse are that we never need face them alone, and that He will put limitations on them so that, if we lean on God, they will not do us in.  Those two truths are probably the best “light at the end of the tunnel” promises we could ever find.  Today, I just want to encourage you to remember that, no matter how dark things get in your life, God will walk through them with you if you invite him to do so, and he will make sure you get through them okay.  

Hang in there…the story isn’t over, God is still working.