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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Purpose and Plans


Are you one of those people who wrestles with meaning in life events?  You know, I mean the kind of person who faces hard things, and then tries to figure out what possible purpose it could serve in your life?  

You think, “Maybe this is to teach me patience or endurance.  Maybe I am going to come out a stronger person.” In doing so, sometimes you can drive yourself nuts trying to figure out a purpose, sometimes you can find a meaning that will help you through a rough time, sometimes you come up with an idea of what it’s all about only to find that it doesn’t work out at all, and sometimes you don’t have a clue!  

Regardless, there is something within us that longs for life to have meaning, for our hardship to have purpose, to have a sense that our lives are more than just random experiences that come our way.  

The good news is, that instinct within is something hardwired into us by God, because life does have purpose, each life has purpose by design.  We really are uniquely designed to fill a specific role God has for us during our days here on earth.  As a result, there is an inner longing to discover what our unique contribution is to be, and how the various experiences of life fit into that design.

When philosophers and theologians get caught up in this discussion, often included are conversations about free will, the role and existence of evil, and whether God allows painful experiences in our lives or designs them to be there for a specific purpose.  One of the answers I like best focuses not so much on the origin of those hardships, and instead emphasizes that God is able to take every experience of our lives and use it for good.  

That assurance frees us from trying to figure everything out, so that instead, we can watch and wonder as we see God take the hard things of life and use them in amazing ways.  The greatest example, of course, is the awful ugliness of the brutal and unjust crucifixion of Jesus which God used for the ultimate good, the purchase of our redemption and entry into eternal life with God.

Sometimes we may not grasp the good God is accomplishing this side of heaven, because it will only be explained in eternity.  For instance, I think of Abraham, who had been promised special blessings from God, but never saw any of them come to fruition while living on earth except the child, Isaac, who was born to Abraham and Sarah late in life.  But thousands of years later, God used Abraham’s obedience in a way that brought into existence Messiah Jesus in Bethlehem, resulting in making salvation for any who would come to him in faith—accomplishing something Abraham never would have imagined.  What good might God accomplish through your efforts to follow him in obedience?

One of the hardest experiences of my life was my divorce. It was something I did not want, something I did not believe was God’s desire, and something that was awful to go through.  

To this day I have a hard time understanding how God will use the various results for good. However, I have also become aware that the books I wrote to help people through divorce, could never have been written had I not gone through the experience myself.  

What makes that significant is that as a result, I have had opportunity to help people struggling in divorce by means of the book, the blog, and emails with individuals I have never met, but who have found the help they needed in these simple efforts.  I must say those things have given meaning to that difficult period of my life, and are ways God has done something good that I never would have expected at the time.

What things are hard in your life, right now?  What are you confused about, doubting that God could ever use it for anything good?  It’s okay if you can’t see it yet.  Wait, watch, endure, follow God as best you can, and one day, you will find that God will surprise you with a good you never imagined.  It is one of the best promises God has for those who love him! 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

New Year. New Place. New Idea.


If you read my books, you know that one of my suggestions about holidays post-divorce is to create new traditions of your own. However, the same can apply in almost any transition of your life, when it is time to close one chapter and start the next.  The importance of embracing fresh traditions to renew or enrich old meanings, or to discover new ones for a new time of life should not be underestimated.  After all, when those transitions come, so do the questions.

For instance, parents who have for years been immersed in their children’s daily needs and activities one day encounter an empty nest when they come home.  The questions come pouring in now?  Who am I, now that I am not the mother or father of a little child?  What does it mean to be a good parent for an adult child. Or after the death of a spouse, the questions become things like, “How am I supposed to go on without her?” or, “How do I fill the emptiness in my home?”  New traditions can help us find those answers as we build new meanings for new times.

I think back over my life, and there have memories of traditions, both those that have carried with me wherever I was, and others have varied in different places and different times.  For example, from childhood on, I have always spent time watching at least part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and the Rose Bowl parade on New Year’s (you can imagine my thrill when I got to attend each of them in person!)  Or almost every New Year’s Eve for about 30 years now, a small group of friends have gathered at one another’s homes to play Spades and watch the ball drop in Times Square.  (And for those of you math whizzes who are trying to use that to figure out my age, yes, I knew how to play cards when I was 5!!)  And no matter where I have been or my situation in life, Christmas Eve always has included a candlelight service at church before any presents were to be opened.

Other traditions have come and gone.  For example, there was a time when the Christmas season meant the annual trek to the Cincinnati zoo when it was all lit beautiful lights and the fountain was flooded and turned into a free ice-skating rink, or the walk by Carew Tower downtown with the marvelous exhibit of model trains and festive windows.  In Kansas City I loved to drive through a suburban neighborhood where everyone joined together with decorated homes and huge greeting cards in the yards.  I communities where I pastored, one we celebrated an annual Christmas party and white elephant gifts with a study group, and another had churches combining to stage a driving tour of live biblical scenes of Christmas and the life of Christ.  Or in more recent years, we gathered with my cousins and my dad and uncle, around a long set of tables for a humongous Thanksgiving meal together, or on Christmas Eve for a crazy mad dash game built around white elephant and fun gifts and laughter, which ended after our parents passed away and my wife and I moved.  But you see, each of those memories is unique to each of those place, and each of those times, and so becomes a special chapter in my heart.

So how do you make that new tradition and adapt? After my divorce, for Thanksgiving, I bought one of the deep fryers for whole turkeys, and for several years enjoyed the difference that made in my Thanksgiving feast (as well as among the college students I was leading).  I still have the fryer, but don’t use it as often…it was more important at that time. As I struggled to find new traditions to brighten Christmas after the divorce, a friend introduced to an idea that became a great tradition, which was to attend a nearby extravagant dramatic production of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, which I used as a special time with the children, and with my second wife.  I remember that time fondly whenever I hang the “God Bless Us, One and All” ornament on the Christmas tree, even though it has been over a decade since I went.  

Another shift for me was that, having used an artificial tree throughout my first marriage, I decided when alone to return to my growing up years, and so for many years in my new home, both when single and with my second wife, Nola, I would make everyone bundle up and we would go to a Christmas tree farm where we could select and cut down our own Christmas tree…but only after searching for a significant period of time to make sure we found the perfecttree.  (Well, except maybe that one year when there was also an ice storm and bitter cold, so the youngster with us on the wagon out to the trees “just happened” to find that perfect tree very quickly and were able to spot it without even having to get off the their seats to go and look!)

Memories, meaning, traditions—new and old, each for a time, each for a place, each taking their role in the chapters that compose the story of my life and relationships.  Some of those chapters came into being because I moved to a new location.  Some came because of life changes such as death or divorce.  And some have been there since childhood.  This year, I encourage you to look around and consider, what could be that tradition for you?

Oh, perhaps you are wondering about the title of this blog? Well, Nola and I moved to a new church and a new town in Nebraska just a couple of years ago, so we have been having to create new traditions, as she has reconnected and introduced me to relatives on her side of the family.  This week, I think I found what I hope will become a new Christmas tradition that will become one of my fond memories from this place and this time.  You see, I was recently listening to one of my Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas cd’s to help me get in the mood as I was making plans for the church for Advent.  In the midst of it, the thought suddenly occurred to me that I love their music and have always wanted to go to a concert, but never knew when they were coming and so always missed it.  This time, it was well before Christmas, so I decided to look on the internet to see what their tour was, and lo and behold, they were going to be nearby.  I suggested it would make a great Christmas present if my wife wanted to take me, and so she bought the tickets, we went this past week to an absolutely phenomenal concert (if you like their style, of course), and I told her afterwards, I think I have found what might be a new Christmas tradition!  I heartily recommend it!

(By the way, I also told her how refreshing I thought it was to listen to an entire Christmas concert that wasn’t an overtly Christian specialty, and to not once hear anything about Santa Claus or Rudolph or a Grinch or Jingle Bells…just reminders of the wonder of Christmas and the birth of the babe in the manger.)   

May you each find some fresh and meaningful traditions to embellish this chapter of your life.  Start now.

Thursday, November 8, 2018



As I write this blog, voters are standing before machines, screens or with paper and pencil in hand, casting their votes in this year’s mid-term election.  If things go the way YOU want them to go, you might be very joyful tomorrow claiming that the nation has experienced some kind of deliverance.  If it goes AGAINST your preferences, you might declare the day a disaster!  

Do the elections seem capricious to you?  

Do you get frustrated at political maneuvering and gerrymandering? 

Do you think it has all gone awry somehow? Sometimes, because we live in a country where leaders are voted upon and decided through those votes, we seem to forget that ultimately, God is the one who is in charge.  I can’t explain how God uses our election system to accomplish his purposes, but make no mistake:  just because we are voting, does NOT mean God has abdicated his place on the throne to bow to our whims.  

Do you remember these scriptures:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.—Romans 13:1  (ESV)

For not from the east or from the west
    and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,
 but it is God who executes judgment,
    putting down one and lifting up another.  –Psalm 75:6-7 (ESV)

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior”  --1 Timothy 2:1-3

These are just a couple of the scriptures that remind us who is really in charge, that nobody wins elections just through their own maneuvering or popularity, for behind it all there is a God who is acting in ways unseen to accomplish his will.  You may want to argue this point, and even choose to use Adolf Hitler as an example to prove God does not appoint the leaders, because of how evil Hitler’s reign was.  But I would remind you that when Paul wrote that Romans passage above, as well as this one from 1 Timothy, he was living under Roman domination, a rule so frightening that it was deeply hated in Israel.  It was also the Roman Empire that persecuted Christians for daring to not believe that Caesar was divine, culminating in the tortuous murders of Christians under the rule of Nero, who may have been the one in power when Paul wrote Romans.  When Paul was facing his own death sentence, he didn’t write another letter telling everyone he had been wrong, that God doesn’t place these wicked people in power and we shouldn’t respect or accept their authority.  Paul truly believed that God is behind the selection of governmental leadership, accomplishing his own purposes whether those leaders bow to God or not.  

Do YOU believe that?

When this election cycle ends, I can guarantee you that there are going to be people who won’t like the outcome, whichever way things go.  Personally, I think the perpetual grumbling against the government got its biggest boost during the Vietnam and Watergate eras, and that ever since, instead of respecting the office people have sought to bring specific leaders down while freely and viciously criticizing the various officials.  Now don’t get me wrong, I can grumble with the best of them!  And with the political leadership I have witnessed over the decades since Watergate, there seems to always be plenty to grumble about!  

But if we truly believe that God is behind it all, raising up one leader, removing another, establishing the authorities, then surely that requires us to take a different approach, does it not?  Paul spoke against a ruler who was unjustly punishing him once, but when he discovered it was an official leader of the people, he apologized and quoted this verse from Exodus:

“You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.”--Exodus 22:28  (ESV)

I wonder how the tone of our country would change if everyone took this stance.  If instead of grumbling about the elected leaders and all the government waste or abuse, we took to heart the admonition of 1 Timothy and seriously interceded for these individuals, whether we voted for them, and whether we like them or not.  In fact, perhaps one of the causes of poor leadership is that instead of praying for them, we grumble and complain instead.  Maybe part of the problem with government leadership isn’t found in the capitol, but is found in our own prayer closets. 

Let us all remember that no matter which side of the aisle, and no matter which end of the political spectrum we may be on, together we make up the United States of America, and those opposite us whom some would like to deem to be enemies are, in fact, fellow citizens who also love their country, even if they have a different view of how things should be. It is the ability to learn from one another, to listen to one another, to work our compromises that address the concerns of all that make our government strong. 

So, tonight, if you end up rejoicing, please remember that there are others who are disappointed, just as you may have been in a previous election with a different outcome.  And if you end up despairing, remember that no one point of view holds all the answers for our country, we need to learn from one another.  Most of all, however you feel after it all, remind yourself that God is still on the throne, and he is moving history just the direction he knows is best….even if you and I are unable to see it ourselves.

Join me tonight, and pray for our leaders, won’t you?