Saturday, June 16, 2018

A Father's Faithful Footsteps


Fathers, when your children look back on your life, what is they will find you treasured most? Money? Lusts? Success? God?

That was the decision confronting the man who penned Find Us Faithful.  Consider his story, and the excerpt of the lyrics he wrote as a result:

“I wrote that song in response to years of being unfaithful,” (Jon Mohr) admits. “I always wanted to do the right thing, but my sexual passions and appetites were so strong….For the first eight years of our marriage, I continued to battle with my lusts and fantasies. I lived a tortured, double life….I was going to leave Luanne and our 6-month-old daughter. Then God confronted me one last time. ‘You know, Jon — you face Me now or you face Me later — but you will face Me.’ Suddenly, I could see it. I was such a fool. I was undone. I sat down with Luanne and a bath towel for a handkerchief! I cried and confessed everything I’d ever done; I left nothing out. Miraculously, when the dust settled she forgave me. I experienced an important truth. Because of the power of the cross and my obedience, I found freedom….I had to continue to fight to maintain freedom, but with new habits and staying totally current with God, I could remain free.…Now…I see that nothing is more important than finishing this race strong and leaving deep footprints; a legacy of faithfulness for our six children and four grandchildren!”  (Source: Reba Rambo-McGuire at http://www.homecomingmagazine.com/article/find-us-faithful/)

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful,
May the fire of our devotion light their way,
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe,
And the lives we live inspire them to obey,
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful.

After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone,
And our children sift through all we’ve left behind,
May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find. 
Words and Music: Jon Mohr / Copyright 1988 Birdwing Music/Jonathan Mark Music (One of my favorite versions of this song is performed by Steven Green, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eERKnxzNzwg)
God is asking you today, Dads, to make the commitment to make whatever changes you must make so that those who follow you will look back at your journey and find deep footprints of faith.  Is there really any greater legacy you could leave the ones you love?


Saturday, June 2, 2018

Thoughts for Graduates Seeking Success


“Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.” Emily Dickinson

Is the bar over which you plan to leap high enough that there is a chance you might fail?

Is the target toward which you aim specific enough, focused enough, that it takes some real skill and hours upon hours of devoted practice to achieve steady success in hitting it?

Is the finish line toward which you run distant enough that you will need a lifetime of devotion to finally cross the finish line and break through into your victory lap?

As Ms. Dickinson’s poetry reminds us, when we lose the battles we fight, the defeat makes ‘sweet’ to our minds and spirits the sound of success.  But these defeats might also be mere steps on the way to an elusive, gloriously far goal. If your goal is too small, or too ambiguous, or too close, you will know something like success, but not the sweetness of anticipated achievement which defeat teaches as we hear “The distant strains of triumph/Burst agonized and clear.”

May God grant you the blessings of health strong enough to leap over your highest barrier; with a focused determination to pierce the bullseye which gives you lasting joy; and with a life long enough to reach your finish line. But may God also grant you the spiritual strength, the emotional stamina, to survive enough defeats to know the value of real success.  And may you come to know, sooner rather than later, what it means to live a ‘successful’ life.

May you count success as sweet because you are always just one more step from the end you are destined to achieve.  Until, at the last,  you, like the Victor, rise for the last time.

(Success is Counted Sweetest by Emily Dickinson in The Top 500 Poems, W. Harmon, ed. Columbia University Press, New York)

Saturday, May 26, 2018

When Mountains Don't Move


The most frustrating part of walking with God is that sometimes we arrive at the foot of the mountain of trouble we have been approaching and despite our earnest prayers for a way over, under or through the mountain, it just stands there, like the immovable force we feared it would be.

How we respond in that moment defines the rest of our journey.  Do we give up on God because we think God has given up on us? Because we doubt God really is?  As I have tried to help people find their way through these questions at the foot of their respective mountains I have started using some song lyrics which speak to my heart.  At first I thought that the words seemed trite, like making excuses for God.  But then, as I tried to pray them and live them as a response to the ‘mountains’ I have been praying about, I find them to be like a ‘third’ answer to prayer.  I would of course love it if all of the mountains would move in response to my prayers.  I accept that sometimes the answer which appears as a ‘no’ is really a ‘yes’ that is a better outcome than I could imagine.  But this ‘third answer’ brings comfort to my faith as well.

When the answer is not ‘yes’ or ‘no’; when God says, ‘trust in Me’; I wonder if this is the faith that Jesus told us would move mountains?          

When You don't move the mountains
I'm needing You to move
When You don't part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When You don't give the answers
As I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You
I will trust in You

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_aVFVveJNs
Songwriters: Lauren Daigle / Michael Farren / Paul Mabury
Trust In You lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Essential Music Publishing, Capitol Christian Music Group


Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Importance of Breathing In Baseball (and other pursuits)


When a rookie baseball player makes his Major League debut it is worth the watch.  Hitters can dazzle with a first-ever swing for a home run.  Fielders can make a highlight reel play.  But the MLB debut of a pitcher is really special.  No opposing hitter has yet seen his ‘stuff’, giving him little extra advantage.  But the nerves can get to the most hardened of players.  Which is why the advice given to Freddy Peralta by his Milwaukee Brewers Pitching Coach is priceless. Freddy describes his coach’s counsel like this:

"The pitching coach just told me to smile, breathe and pitch. So that was what I did." -- Peralta

Freddy Peralta, 21 years young, carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning of his 2018 debut and along the way he tallied 13 strikeouts. That is not good. It is great. It is elite-level pitching. Only five pitchers since 1908 (110 years!) have struck out at least 13 batters in a first start. See what happens when you apply the coach’s advice to your God-given talent?

As I listen to people relate the burdens and challenges of their lives I see that this coaching advice applies in most scenarios. The next crisis I confront I am going to try to channel ‘Freddy’ on the mound facing down All-Star hitters. “I can do this. Smile, breath, pitch; repeat.”  Perhaps Jesus was maybe the first to give this wise counsel. As he prepared to leave his friends and ascend to Heaven he told them to wait for the “breath’, the ‘wind’, for the Holy Spirit to appear. “You can be and build the Church I am leaving you to invent, but remember to let the Breath enter you first, and then, just breathe.” This is what Pentecost celebrates.

If you feel like this just cannot apply to you, then recall the promise that God’s Breath will create and renew you. (Ps. 104:30)  Or sing the last lines of this song of hope: “Out of breath, I am left hoping someday I'll breathe again/I'll breathe again, I'll breathe again, I'll breathe again, I'll breathe again, I'll breathe again, I'll breathe again” (Breath Again Songwriters: Sara Bareilles Breathe Again lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)

Let the Breath enter you and you will conquer your opponent, you will achieve the victory.  Just smile, breathe, pitch.



Saturday, May 12, 2018

Celebrating Birth Days


She is not as old as the calendar says she is.  Her quick wit and infectious smile belie her nearing the century mark (she is ‘really close’, but I am sworn to secrecy on how close!)

I had the opportunity to visit my dear old friend (meaning ‘long-time friend’) on her birthday, May 10, 2018.  I mention the date and year because this date is Ascension Day, the day the Church celebrates the return of Jesus in bodily form to the right hand of the Father, making way for the Spirit’s Pentecost arrival. I shared the text for Sunday’s sermon, where Jesus prays near the end of his earthly journey:  “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you.” (John 17:11 NIV)

We smiled at our good fortune in having Pastor Donna’s upside down cake to share for this double celebration. And we talked about how fitting it was that, on this her “___th” birthday, she could have her mind directed to the joy which comes from knowing Jesus ascended from earth to heaven. And why, we discussed, could the departure of someone so loved be a source of joy to his friends? Well, why did Jesus ascend? To go to prepare a place for you, my friend! If it were not so, he wouldn’t have told us, Jesus says.

“Is my birthday always on Ascension Day?”, she wondered. I explained that, no, it was not. In fact, it is pretty rare for May 10 to be the Thursday which is the 40th day of Easter and 10 days before Pentecost.  “Well,” she said, “ it won’t happen again in my life time.” (pause…smile) “At least it better not!” (I told you she had a quick wit.)

“…I say these things…so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” (v. 13)

And on this day on which we celebrate my friend’s first birth, and anticipate her second birth, we saw in each other’s eyes joy.

O happy day.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Painting Jesus


“Illustrator/painter Gustave Dore, one of the patron saints of the DreamWorks team of Spielberg/Katzenberg/Geffen, was handed a painting of Jesus just finished by one of his students.   Asked for his critique, Dore studied it, his mind searching for the right words. At last he handed it back to the student.

‘If you loved him more,’ he said, ‘you would have painted him better.’”  (From the files of Leadership/Copyright © 2018 by the author or Christianity Today/PreachingToday.com.)

How is your painting of Jesus, the one that is your life, coming along?  Could it show a little more love?

Some days I think I would like to start over, but I know that I don’t get a new canvas. No ‘starting over’ in this class.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t keep on trying to fix up my painting. I have time to put a few more strokes on this canvas:

To soften the hard edges.

To brighten the dark corners.

To show in the corners of the mouth more joy.

To reveal in the crow’s feet of the eyes, more ‘I believe.’

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Tony Has a New Liver! Amen!


One of my fears is that in my prayers I am ‘putting God to the test.’ Sort of, ‘Show us, God’.  I am aware of the somewhat related danger of using God as  the ‘great vending machine in the sky’, where we pray only when we need something, thinking that if we put in a prayer the answer we want comes out.  I try to stay away from that danger, not always with success.  I do try to follow the ‘ACTS’ model of prayer: Adoration; Confession; Thanksgiving; Supplication. It is based on the model Jesus gave us in the Lord’s Prayer. What comforts me is that Jesus prayed for outcomes too, hence his inclusion of ‘give us our daily bread’ and so forth.

In the end I believed that it was right to ask you to pray with all of those who were praying for Tony to receive a new liver.  In the course of several days Tony’s family was blessed with answers to prayers. First there was a shower of gifts, a downpour of love gifts, in the middle of a rare April snowstorm, which will relieve the family’s financial pressures. The women who organized the fundraiser saw their very hard work get rewarded in ways I am sure that exceeded even their dreams.

The second answer to prayers came a few days later when a liver became available and it was a match for Tony’s body.  The fact that a team of medical professionals can work 12 or so hours straight on a task which requires exact precision and unparalleled focus is another feat in which people with spiritual eyes can see God at work. The surgery was complicated, and there are many steps in the healing process yet to come.  Still, the hundreds, maybe thousands of prayers for Tony received God’s resounding ‘YES’!

It was a lifetime’s worth of miracles in the course of a week. I thank God for giving us this glimpse into his magisterial power and abiding love, for showing us that God does care for one person and one family in this way, and for letting us be reminded that God still uses human instruments, like you, to pray dreams into miracles.

To God be the glory. Great things God has done! Amen, Amen, Amen.