Come Lord Jesus!

Life is an ebb and flow. I didn’t really pay it any mind until I had accumulated five decades of it. Even then it came to mind only occasionally. Now that I’ve amassed more than six of those decades I seem to be reminded more often, more easily, and more forcefully. I have been assured those reminders are likely to intensify as I approach the end of “the race.”

The apostle Paul wrote to his young mentee, Timothy: “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have served the Lord faithfully” (2 Timothy 4:7). Paul was certain he was approaching the end of his life, soon to be graduated into eternity.

I take great comfort in his statement. Do not misunderstand, I DO NOT think of myself as a “Paul.” However, I do know that Paul had not always been a true and faithful servant of God. I suspect he had always been zealous, but for many years it had been his inherited religious tradition promoted by his zeal. I, in contrast, had not always been zealous about that. I was zealous about me!

Paul, describing himself as the “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) and still being confident that he had, as he sat in prison as an old man:

  • fought the good fight,
  • finished the race, and
  • served the Lord faithfully.

He followed that statement with: ” Now, a prize is waiting for me—the crown that will show I am right with God. The Lord, the judge who judges rightly, will give it to me on that Day. Yes, he will give it to me and to everyone else who is eagerly looking forward to his coming” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Clearly Paul was under no illusion that he had somehow earned or deserved such a prize, it was a gift he had been promised. There it is! That is the gift waiting for me as well. The ebb and flow of life has burned much of my self-confidence right out of me. Within myself I have little in which to have confidence. (That is quite a statement for a Texan!)

What I do have is God-confidence. He has promised and will deliver, because unlike me, He has always been faithful.

Hallelujah! Come Lord Jesus!

…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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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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It’s Just His Turn

Human health is an interesting thing. Like the old expression: “Here today…Gone tomorrow,” the illusion of physical or mental health can change dramatically in only a moment.

In the same day recently, I learned of an automobile wreck involving my nephew and his family, my daughter-in-law’s mother’s blood clot and subsequent leg amputation, and my brother’s medical event that appeared to have been either a mild stroke or a mild seizure. All of these people had plans for that day as well as those to come, which had to be modified. While all survived, they are all changed. A stark reminder that our physical lives really are a wisp of smoke in the wind (James 4:14).

It is easy to forget that God is involved and not on vacation when such events take place in our lives. We may be confused about what exactly is being accomplished for good (Romans 8:28), but the thing about being an “All In” disciple is that I trust God even with especially with things uncomfortable and inconvenient.

His “good” may require difficult times for me personally (like it did with Stephen, the first recorded Christian martyr), but death takes us to the ultimate reward anyway. I am to trust Him with that just as I am to trust Him in everything else.

It is certainly a clear reminder to me that “graduation” to glory is just around the corner. I must (and will) remain “All In.” How about you?

photo credit: King George Military Hospital, 3rd floor theatre, Dr. Barrington Ward and Dr. Lillian via photopin (license)

Graduation Is Coming!

I do not know where this picture was taken, nor to whom I should give credit, but it captures the essence of graduation! In 2004 I got a “whiff” of my own mortality. Cancer was found, and removed from my “innards.” When asked about how long until I would be considered cancer free, the surgeon and oncologist, without hesitation, said, “never.”

There is something about coming face-to-face with your own mortality that puts a man on his heels. My princess was crushed, concerned about being alone (even though our sons would never allow that). Her reality was/is somewhat different from mine. Her concern was being alone, having to move, what about income (even though she is a teacher), what will it be like to care for a dying man, etc. My battle was with my body and my ego.

Twelve years later we have both transitioned/grown into a place we could not imagine then: peace. Her questions remain unanswered and mine have not changed. The impact of the cancer on my body is measurable, but has taken place so slowly as to be almost imperceptable.

The real impact has for me been spiritual, and I think it has for Cindy as well. In our thinking we have transitioned away from the plans and goals we had made for our lives. We have moved toward an understanding of Abraham’s search for a “city whose builder and maker is God.” We are in reality, only spirits, temporarily clothed in flesh for our brief passage in this world.

We become so attached to these temporary trappings that we easily forget we are only to pitch tents here, not build mansions. For God’s people, bought with the blood of Jesus, death is not the enemy, it is going home. That’s why the picture grabbed my attention and my heart.

I look forward to seeing you there if we never meet on this part of the journey. Lest there be any misunderstanding, physically I’m still doing well and have no reason to expect a change anytime soon. It will be OK if it does change though.

Until then, I’m “ALL IN.” Are you?

Spoiled Milk Is Still White

There are few things that elicit as rapid a response as chugging a mouth full of spoiled milk. Some people can smell the putrification without opening the container. Some do not have the ability to detect the condition by smell. One thing is for certain, spoiled milk usually still looks like unspoiled milk.

The long term impact of misjudging milk, while unpleasant, isn’t serious for most. The long term impact of other misjudgments are often more dire. Are the car tires safe? Are the propane tank fittings properly secured? Is my mentor really looking out for my best interests?

While the questions above are centered on other things and other people, the same questions really should be directed inwardly. Am I really God’s person? Am I God’s person no matter the cost, inconvenience, or immediate consequence?

Posturing and pretending to be God’s impacts eternity, both mine and those gullible to the point of following my lead. Hence the warning: Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).

There is a certain power and prestige that comes with having others think of you as a wise teacher. Jesus encountered some who reveled in the notariety, but did not trouble themselves by becoming: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27)

Being deceitful is worse than being blatantly defiant. Jesus likened it to a mouth full of spoiled milk, or in this case a tepid drink: “…because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16). It takes professional help to misunderstand that!

Better to be “ALL IN” than to be spit out.

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Pursuit of the Trivial

Through the years a great distraction has been the preoccupation with the insignificant while the important goes unattended. For those not afflicted with this uncCliff Clavenompromising skill set, I need only refer to Cliff Claven of “Cheers” fame (if you have a few years on you) in an attempt to provide a point of reference.

Cliff seemed to have a wealth of inconsequential trivia on the speed dial of his instant recall. Not only were his forays into the unnecessary void of any real value, they seemed unlimited in scope as well as length.

There are other practitioners of assault by the mundane. If you suspect you have earned similar recognition by those who know you, ask. I have probably been guilty myself, although I would rather wonder about the whole thing than be certain.

9588206547_87c60bb10a_mWhile reading casually I stumbled across an interesting tidbit to add to my cranial card file: “The USDA once paid $46,000 for a study to find out how long it took Americans to cook breakfast.”

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That is a pretty insignificant amount of money when the entire national budget is considered, and could easily be dismissed like one of Cliff Claven’s offerings. But on the other hand, on the surface it seems to be an unnecessary use of funds while the national debt soars (or any other time for that matter). Is this, possibly, a “great distraction” while the important goes unattended?

It looks pretty bad when the government does it. It doesn’t look any better when you and I are guilty of the same. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the temporary and lose sight of the eternal.

“So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.” – Colossians 3:1-2 (The Message)

Do you ever get distracted by the eternally unimportant? Tell us about it…

Planning For The Future

Reading  excerpts from a collection of trivia (Okay, it was one of the “Bathroom Reader” books) I ran across a most intriguing tidbit: “The average American home has 8 extra rolls of toilet paper.” That begs several questions, a few being:

  1. Who would do such research?
  2. How would they go about it?
  3. Who cares?

That aside, it occurs to me that as people, we tend to “plan for the future” in some areas of life and ignore the future in others. That is, of course, understandable, and as it should be I suppose. However, the “areas” we choose to plan ahead for, as well as those we choose not to plan for, seem to be randomly differentiated or else just chosen subjectively.

Since the practice of successful waste elimination in the outdoors seems to be a disappearing skill set, the whole toilet paper reserve is predictable. I must admit that even I buy that particular commodity by the case.

It would seem that the same attention to avoiding future inconveniences and calamities would be applied to the certainties that have more far reaching consequences. Take “eternity” for example.

If you end up without toilet paper you are inconvenienced and (perhaps) embarrassed. If, however you end up in eternity without the blood of Jesus, the consequences are infinitely more extreme and never become a humorous memory told at family gatherings.

Planning for the future in some things is a good practice. The key to wise planning is choosing the eventualities carefully.