God’s “Oh-By-The-Way” Assignment

It was unexpected, but aren’t the really moving encounters always like that?  For example, when we were in Green Bay with our son, a newly drafted Packer lineman, while were getting a tour of the facilities, Brett Favre walked by and had a brief casual conversation. Later, I commended Cindy (my Red-Headed Irish Princess) on her great restraint. She could have reached out and touched him… but she didn’t.

Back to the story: I recently had that rare unscheduled day, so I took off after breakfast with the Misses, not knowing where I was going or what I was going to do. I considered a day-long road trip to see some old friends who lived a few hours away, but along the way was nudged into a brief side trip to see how low the water was in the lake. I think the Corps of Engineers was getting ready for the heavy rains predicted the next couple of days.

As I pulled up to a boat launch ramp that I have used, I noticed a man standing nearby. I shouted a greeting out the car window and asked about the low water. As you might expect with two older men, we could not really hear each other, so he walked nearer and I got out of the car. That was the unremarkable beginning to a remarkable encounter that was, although unannounced by God, clearly ordained by Him.

The subjects and the length of our conversation was broader and more in-depth than either of us could have anticipated. For this article they aren’t even worth mentioning. What is worth mentioning… and even worth stressing, is that God moves in our lives when we think that we are the ones doing the moving.

As an “All In” disciple I easily forget that He leads me into the paths of others, and others into my path to accomplish His will, not my own. I must keep my eyes, ears and (most importantly) my heart open for the “oh-by-the-way” tasks He assigns along the way.

“He [God] creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work He does, the good work He has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” (Ephesians 2:10 The Message)

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…Not As Those With No Hope

Grieving is a process. It is a painful and ongoing process. We grieve over many things: job loss, missed promotions, poor performance reviews, missed opportunities, lost loves, degrading friendships, etc. The list can seem endless. What usually comes to mind is the anticipation of death or the reality itself.

The process is painful, but after a time it can morph into a dull ache. Energy is stolen and motivation is hiding away from view in some dark corner. Life goes on and needs are still met, but the darkness seems to be there… just behind that last corner.

People who have studied such things mention predictable stages of grief that we float thru, back and forth, until some resolution and healing is achieved. That all sounds about right to me based upon my personal experience.

In it all, though, there is a foundational limit in grief. Those who have no “hope” rooted in God and His love and care seem to have a much deeper darkness to swim about in while grieving. It doesn’t have to be that way.

For believers, the grave is not the last word. The resurrection of Jesus is! He overcame death, so “death’s” claim to victory is no longer valid. There is a final homecoming and reunion scheduled. Don’t miss out. Be an “All In” follower of Jesus.

And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.

And then this: We can tell you with complete confidence—we have the Master’s word on it—that when the Master comes again to get us, those of us who are still alive will not get a jump on the dead and leave them behind. In actual fact, they’ll be ahead of us. The Master himself will give the command. Archangel thunder! God’s trumpet blast! He’ll come down from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise—they’ll go first. Then the rest of us who are still alive at the time will be caught up with them into the clouds to meet the Master. Oh, we’ll be walking on air! And then there will be one huge family reunion with the Master. So reassure one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 The Message)

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Trust But Verify

We are prone to accept the conventional wisdom of the day, and resist ideas that conflict with what “everybody just knows.” After all, it is expensive to challenge the norms of culture. There is laughing, teasing, ridicule, and sometimes even being ostracized. Nobody wants to have that happen.

There have been uncountable hoards who have “smoked like chimneys” and, concerning alcohol, “drank like fish.”  Thinking about that expression, it really does not make sense does it?

I digress, so back to the subject: many people throughout history have smoked and drank a lot for a variety of reasons, but Enrico Caruso, the great operatic tenor did both for the expressed purpose of “protecting his voice!” By the way… he died at the age of 48.

I wonder sometimes how many of the “truths” and “conclusions” of my culture I accept, just because I have always been told they are true. It is easy for me to expect others to challenge their beliefs and verify them with Scripture. It is more difficult for me to employ that same objectivity test to my beliefs.

As an “All In” follower, I must be willing and be involved in doing just that. My comfort should be found in God’s truth that sets me free (John 8:32). All to often I find my comfort in familiarity instead. I must change. It is wonderful that God loves me anyway as I grow.

Join me in the ongoing challenge to be “All In.”

Photo: Enrico Caruso postcard circa 1910

By The Way, You Have Cancer

I talk to people who describe themselves as cancer survivors. Like many others I am in a category that is a little different: Still surviving with cancer. When told I had cancer in 2004, there were many thoughts and emotions to be processed… some over and over. It is interesting how a “sniff” of your own mortality gets one’s attention.

I recently visited with a man who had that day learned that he, like me has a cancer that, barring God’s intervention, he will have until he graduates into eternity. I recognized the ongoing turmoil as we spoke of many things.

The main thought I wanted to share, one that has been central in my walk, is that we are God’s servant in all circumstances. That includes health challenges. He and I, as well as many others, are walking a health challenged path God has placed us on to accomplish His will. That will may be to change us, or to impact others. It is likely a blend of both.

I told the gentleman that I do not know everything that God has as a goal in my circumstances, but that it has granted me the honor of showing my family how a man desperately trying to be “All In” faces death. What an honor! Who else would I rather teach my sons and grandchildren this walk?

Being an “All In” disciple even permeates the shadows of life. After all, it only makes sense that my trusting God with the big picture of eternity will make trusting God with something as temporary as my health, a no-brainer.

Looking In from the outside, being “All In” seems like it would be very stressful. The exact opposite is true however. As promised, it ushers in the peace that just can’t be explained.

Take the plunge. Be “All In.”

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I Am Weary, But Forever Changed

There are difficult times and difficult circumstances for each of us, whether pagan or “All In” disciple. It doesn’t matter if we believe God exists and just ignore Him, or if we are marginal in our lip-service to God. Difficult times are ordained to be a part of human life as Job astutely observed: “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1).

There are theoretical discussions and explanations for this reality that make perfect sense and are Biblically sound. I have been involved in that type of discussion and believe that pain and difficulties are tools to sharpen us and draw us to God, but it is not always the right time to speak about that.

I sat with a family who had just lost their child, a child I had learned to love as well. When I arrived at the hospital and we had settled for a few minutes, it became obvious that it was time for me, the preacher, to say something. The mother looked at me and said: “I do not want to hear that everything happens for a reason.”

I told her that saying that right now wouldn’t help, as a matter of fact, nothing helps much but time. I shared that I had lost some grandchildren several years back and it did not help then either.

Being able to articulate the theory does not take the place of living through and growing through the event and associated pain. Analyzing the process is not the same thing as participating in the process.

“Be Still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Sometimes we just need to be still and let God do with it what He will.

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An Accurate Understanding Is Important

It is reported that in 2012 a mid-level Taliban commander walked up to an United States Army checkpoint in Afghanistan presenting himself for a $100.00 “award.” For proof he was carrying a “wanted” poster with his name and picture on it. The poster was advertising a “reward.”

As ridiculous as that sounds, it is reported to be true. It is not any more ridiculous, perhaps not as ridiculous as an emotionally charged disciple who has not really checked in with God’s instruction (the Bible) about God’s expectations. This person may flit around constructing his/her own list of what God surely must want. The apostle Paul said the Hebrew people, his kinsmen, were doing that back in his day.

“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Romans 10:1-3 NIV).

Being “All In” as a follower of Jesus is more than zeal. It is also more than knowledge. It is a living out of both: zeal driven by understanding what the Creator of the Universe wants from His servants. Admittedly, it is a constant evaluation, adjustment, re-evaluation process.

That Taliban commander, Mohammed Ashan, would have done well to check his understanding of the poster before becoming a prisoner instead of a “winner” of $100. You and I will do well to stay busy working on our understanding of God’s Word as we zealously go about doing “good works that He afore prepared” (Ephesians 2:10).

It is time consuming, but that should be no deterrent for someone who is “All In.”

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Give Thanks In All Things

On the way home from a recent trip, I was sitting with an adult nephew outside in the campground. We were commenting how nice the weather was… in Texas… in March… at least this March.

How often do we enjoy the little niceties God delivers unrequested without the first thought of thanking Him for these little things. There are other little things: close parking places, breaks in the rain when we need to go in, clouds floating over to take the brunt of the sun in our eyes while driving, etc.

I know that others look at these and think coincidence, especially since the parking places are not always close, the rain does not always break, and the clouds do not always hide the sun on a bright day. But I have learned to thank God for those as well, because I know that He has a plan, and I trust Him.

Absolute confidence in and appreciation for/to the Creator of the universe certainly does absorb the stress of living, leaving only the peace that can not be explained to those not experiencing it.

May you experience that peace in every circumstance. The pathway is really very simple: Be an “All In” follower giving thanks in all things.

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Answer The Nudge

I had, on short notice, occasion to travel back to my childhood home in order to take care of some business. While there the thought came to me that I should “run by” to see an aging family member in a care facility. Up to that point I was so focused on my reason to make the trip that it had not occurred to me that God might have additional reasons.

After visiting in the care facility I realized He did have additional things in mind and assume it was His nudging that brought the visit to mind. The lady was moved to tears when she saw me, happy tears I should add. She had been so lonely the week before and was overcome that I had “showed up.”

How quickly I forget to ask God what is on His agenda. At least when I was nudged this time I responded. Our task is to be faithful to His calling. It is His to take care of the success of the efforts. There was much success in that visit.

Being “All In” requires an ear tuned in to God’s voice. It is comforting to know that even when I do not listen well, He loves me anyway!
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Complain? Who Me?

Following the lead of another minister I read about, I challenged the congregation to 21 days of no murmuring, complaining, or argumentative interactions. It sounds extreme, but the Apostle Paul said believers should not be doing it at all, much less for 21 days (Philippians 2:14-15).

What does it say about me when I say that I trust God, but complain like a teenager told to clean his room when the weather, traffic, meal, etc. do not measure up to my expectations? It says that I do not trust God’s decisions in this matter. If I do not trust Him in these little things, do I really trust God at all?

If I am to “shine as bright lights in darkness” as believers should, I must stop acting like the people dwelling in darkness! Being “All In” encompasses ALL nooks and crannies of life.

Do all things without murmurings and disputings. That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:14-15 ESV).

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To Vote, or Not To Vote?

In the dynamics of this unusual election cycle in the US there are celebrity types threatening a move if this person or that person is elected as the next POTUS. That kind of drama has become common place among the spoiled, brat-like dregs of society (even if they are in showbiz) we have birthed and reared over the past few decades. Those threats, whether or not they are carried out, are little more than the rants of people who have begun believing the press releases put out by their own publicists.

The knee-jerk reactions that I find troubling are the “believers” who are saying they just will not vote this cycle. While I have no interest in dissuading you if you feel that God expects you to sit this one out, I can’t help remembering a teacher I had in the 1970’s. He had returned from mission work in Italy (I think) a couple of years earlier. While there, he had worked in the campaign for a communist politician during an election cycle.

You can imagine the reaction from red-blooded, redneck Texans he received after that announcement! After he let us vent the excess hostility that had immediately boiled up, he “justified” himself. The main thing that I remember about his explanation is that you must choose between what is available. The candidate he supported was less of a danger than the other one. After all, the purpose of government is to protect and defend the citizens. It is nice to think about governments being “righteous,” but that is not going to happen this side of eternity. There are too many people involved for it to be possible.

May I encourage every believer to vote. Choose from among those on the ballot. Do not murmur nor complain, but trust that God is not napping. You may find the outcome confusing, but do not assume God is not in it.

This is certainly a challenging part of being “All In” as God’s disciple.

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