Saturday, December 31, 2011

Satisfied with the Unknown

So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!

Life is hard and then we die is all there is when we don't keep the end in view. While training for a race the finish line has to be in our mind all the time or we would quit. Life is a marathon, or a pilgrimage, toward Heaven and we must keep the finish line and the Prize in front of us at all times, or we may get distracted and not finish.

One of the hinderances to our running well is that we are satisfied with lots of things along the way that are really not that satisfying. Each one of us have things that easily beset us; temptations that distract one person might not distract another at all. Just like some people really crave sushi while others can't stand it. Notice the second verse of this passage,
"Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days."

If everything in my life were taken away leaving only God's love for me, would that be enough? Moses, who wrote Psalm 90, lived to be 120. Moses saw a lot of Who God is and what God could do in those 120 years. Moses "had it all" at one time but didn't consider the pleasures of Pharaoh's house better than what God had for him. Moses could see that the confortable life in Egypt was not better than being where God wanted His people. Moses didn't get to go to the promised land and yet the desert with God was better than Egypt w/o.

As we close out 2011 many things have happened that are hard and yet they are good; we have been afflicted. Leaving Egypt was hard for the Israelites and yet it was not only good but it was best. Leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar is hard. Leaving the known for the unknown is not what we generally want to do. But the unfamiliar and unknown with God alone is far better than the known and comfortable with God as an accessory to our lives.

We must number our days, to gain a heart of wisdom so we can be satisfied with his steadfast love- even if that is all we have. In the end, "ALL" of God is far more than than all of the world anyway, we just need to remind ourselves and those around us of this truth.

2011- Removing Large Chunks of Scar Tissue

Wow, what a crazy year!

I never would have thought that the 2008, with a cardiac event and a market crash, could have been a relatively boring year in comparison to 2010, with adopting a son and Kimmy and Ian getting married and moving to NC, and 2010 was relatively calm, with regard to hard decisions and internal unrest, compared to this past year. But in all things He is sovereign and I can rest in Him.

We all have trials and those trials are made specifically for us- personally. As a believer everything we go through is specifically designed to bring us closer to God and to conform us more to the image of His Son. Though often we might think that others have it "better/easier" than we do, or they are not going through the difficulties that we are, which might be true right now, our trials, pain and rest are like the perfect "physical therapy" for our growth and strengthening. I just read a FB post from a "friend" who has just lost his wife this month and now his 2 dogs have drown. I would guess that his 2011 was not as "good" as mine. There is some else's 2011 that was "worse" than his.

Some years ago I went to the physical therapist after having my ACL/MCL surgically reattached. This was a couple weeks after the surgery. I had had the same therapist the entire time and so I assume she knows exactly what to do. She pushed and pulled against my leg as I worked it back and forth. I was working hard to get past this treatment so I could get back to work. All of a sudden there is a huge, audible "pop" and almost the exact same pain as when I tore it. Mind you, I have been through surgery, some recovery and now PT for some weeks and I literally thought I was going to have to start all over again. She told me that this was just the scar tissue getting out of the way and that in 3-4 hours it would be fine. I wasn't sure I believed her.

I don't like surgery, anesthesia or pain killers. I don't like missing work, crutches or taking the time to do PT. I didn't want to start over. I didn't like the pain the first time, and I certainly didn't want to start from scratch. Well I didn't have to start over and in a couple of hours it was fine and I could trust her again. I could trust her because she knew what she was doing, she told me what was going to happen and it did. She's human and makes mistakes. God is not and does not.

So, as I look back on 2011 and wonder what God has in mind for me and our family, as I wonder about what is really great about this past year and "couldn't we have done this another way?", as I think taking a shortcut to get to this place would have been much easier, I am reminded that it is not up to me and God is perfectly working ALL things together for my good and His glory.

Here's some of the ALL things;
-a new church family, leaving behind some old friends, many of which don't understand and that is really hard.
-a new career, leaving behind some old friends and work surroundings and substituting it for many unknowns and that is hard.
-a new grandson who is just about as far from us as he can be and yet still live in the US, and that is hard.
- strangely this is hard and new territory for me. A couple from our L2L group left to go to another church for reasons of spiritual giftedness and yet that is still hard for me. Did I do everything I could have? Was I there enough for them? I have to answer "no" to those questions and yet those are not the reasons they are leaving anyway.

Life is full of hard things. People fail us all the time. Friends turn less friendly. Family members move away. Kids grow up. Jobs/careers change. Change is all around us. But God doesn't change and if I look at the changes around me as His working in/on me then somehow it is better. He doesn't make mistakes. His ways are perfect, even though from this vantage point it seems like maybe He made a mistake. That big popping sound was something getting out of the way.

2011 was hard- really hard. I don't want to redo 2011 because it was not that fun the first time. BUT, without 2011 we would not have a new church family, a new career path and meeting and growing closer to people I never would have met if I was still in the same comfortable place as I was in for 2010 and the blessing of being grandparents to Job, a fitting reminder of our year. Full of hardship and yet God is still good, giving exactly what we need to carry us through.

In all things He is good and He has lavished many blessings on us this past year and I am thankful for a hard yet glorious year watching him work.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

All the Work DONE- Completely.

Imagine completeness- something totally finished, not needing anything else, no added ingredient, no extra polishing and not one thing- not even a tiny little thing- done to it. It's perfectly complete.

There is nothing in my life that I can see that is that way. There are so many projects that are in various stages of completeness, so many things I'd like to spend a bit more time on, others are far from being done. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think so, as I have heard many talking about their list of things to get done, or "I'm almost done with x".

Even when I am making cinnamon rolls, a pie, a prime rib or a chicken coup I am thinking about ways to make it "better"- to finish it and make it "just perfect". I look at my kids and ask what could I have done differently/better and think that I want to be the best grandpa I can be so as to help the kids be the best parents to the grandkids so they are more complete in all ways than I.

As I think about that today I think about my "job" as a leader in many areas; home, work, church and even our life to life group and think how inadequate I am to complete anyone around me, after all, I'm far from being complete myself.

Then I read Col. 1:28 and see that it is my job to present every man complete in Christ- that's ALL. Really, that's all I have to do? Wow, how far I am from that myself and yet this is what I am to strive towards. That's a lot of work and yet I can look at my own life and be overwhelmed at the work load that God has to finish His work in me. This seems impossible and yet I know that with Him all things are possible. I also know that He doesn't stop until He has finished the work in me.

Guess what- that means that if He has started the work in you, then He won't stop until He has completed it. Picture it- You and I being perfectly finished, no more polishing, not one little speck of dross left in the gold. It seems like that this process is going to take some heat, most likely through trials of various sorts and to differing degrees, but He is in charge and He knows the perfect recipe for what will make you and I the perfect Image of the Son. How great is that prospect!!!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Stuck Between a Cradle and a Cross

Being in another's shoes is something we don't do well. Let's jump into Joseph, Mary's husband's, shoes.

Often, in those days and in that culture marriages were arranged. So, as a young Jewish man of maybe 15, 16 ,17 Joseph and Mary are betrothed. This was kind of like an engagement in the sense that the couple agreed to be married, but today engagements can be easily broken and back in Joseph's day betrothal was not something you just jumped in and out of.

So, Joseph and Mary are going to be married and there is a lot of planning to do. Imagine thinking about where you were going to live then, how many sheep and oxen you would need to provide for a family, was your wife a good cook, how close was water to the new homestead and many of the same kinds of things that a young man today would be thinking about.

Then, somewhere in the middle of this process, Mary comes to Joseph and tells him she is pregnant- oh, and by the way, "I'm still a virgin". Being a virgin in those days was a big deal, like it should be today. Deut. 22 says that if you found out that your new wife was not a virgin the punishment for her was stoning. That's kind of a big deal. Mary had to tell Joseph and Joseph had to do the right thing. If Joseph would have followed the protocol of the day... But Joseph was a righteous man.

The Bible doesn't tell us how long it was between Mary telling Joseph and Joseph's dream, but for Joseph it must have seemed like an eternity.

Because God does things perfectly, Joseph was probably thinking that Mary was definitely "the one" and now all this. This would have been a lot for them to work through as young people. I'm sure there were many tears and maybe some anger and confusion as well. Again, put yourself in young Joseph's shoes.

But Joseph was a "just man" and didn't want to shame his wife and so he was resolved to "un-betroth" her quietly. This must have meant moving away because how could he undo the betrothal without any of his family and friends knowing it? They already had plans made and of course there was a big celebration at the start, so all the people connected to them would have been ready for a huge wedding party that now wasn't going to happen. This was a big commitment on his part, but he was a good guy.

Somewhere in between "I'm pregnant, but I'm still a virgin" and the due date Joseph has a dream and in the dream an angel tells him that everything that Mary has told him is indeed true and that he is going to be the adoptive father of the long awaited Messiah. Ok, now put those shoes on for a moment.

As an adoptive parent myself there are some challenges that go with that; some baggage, a lot of unknowns. Oh, but this was different- the son coming to live in his house was going to be perfect and a king. "Whoa- I'm a carpenter and you are telling me that a king is coming to live in my house?" All that had to be very challenging to comprehend for someone who was probably not yet in his 20's and not from wealthy means. When he went to bed he was trying to wrestle with how to "do the right thing" and start all over again with a relationship and now a future king was coming to live in his house, that he hadn't yet built.

You get the idea- sometimes we read over 7 verses in Matthew 1 and forget to really look at them and all that might be connected to them. This Christmas season think about young men you know, like John, our adopted son, being in this position, or maybe Joseph was as old as Garrett; how would that be for them? Think about what must have been going through Joseph's mind when he heard from the angel that his soon to be wife would be the mother of the Messiah and that this boy King would live under his roof. I would be saying "I'm not ready for that". But Immanuel came to live with them and they called Him Jesus and He did save us from our sins. Are you ready for whatever God might ask you to do? Hopefully we understand that there is nothing we can do in our own strength but if we are believers we are not in our own strength.

I'm glad Joseph was obedient and took on a huge role for a young man- Adopting The Messiah.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Oh, Grow up-Christmas is for Kids

As we get older we can say that we are being more "sensible" than we were when we were young by not getting excited about Christmas. Is it that we understand the short-lived excitement of the gifts, or the long work of dinner, the long clean-up and the short feasting? Maybe it is that we are not interested in traveling to be with people that don't seem to be too excited about seeing us. People sometimes say "Christmas is for kids". There are many potential reasons not to be excited about Christmas but there were old and dying people who were very excited to witness Jesus' coming to earth the first time.

How about this guy- "Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
'Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.'"

I like this guy Simeon- did you see that he knew that Jesus was coming so the Gentiles- hey that's me- could have revelation? He was waiting to die but God promised that he would get to see Jesus first- that's a good promise. What was that like? He got a personal promise from God and he was waiting expectantly for it to be fulfilled. He was excited, Mary and Joseph marveled at his words- just look at those words. That has to be an amazing day.

And then there was an old lady named Anna. She was widowed 7 years after getting married and instead of getting married again she stayed i the temple praying and fasting ever since- now she is 84. Do you suppose she was excited to hear of Jesus' birth? Prophecies fulfilled in her lifetime and now the Savior was coming to the Temple where she had been for maybe 60 years. Do you think there was some excitement when she heard that Mary and Joseph were coming with Jesus?

It is interesting that the kids in those days weren't mentioned in any of these passages. Maybe they were excited, but not if their parents didn't explain to them the reason they should have been excited. Maybe the kids were excited but it takes someone who has been around the block a few times to really appreciate what was happening right then. Thousands of years of waiting had come to fruition. Thousands of years of expectation had arrived and the old people were excited.

We have a gift that never loses it's luster, never grows old and yet we often lose sight of what is important. Let's not be so "grown-up" that we lose the wonder of what Christmas is all about. Expectation! These people were old and dying and they were excited about His coming and they can teach us a lesson or two about being expectant of the 2nd coming. Don't lose your wonder at the miracle of His coming to earth to be a man, to take on flesh and to take away our sin. Don't lose sight of the fact that He is coming again and we should be excited about that. Come Emmanuel.

Visibly and Verbally Thankful

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year- all this merriment- REALLY?

I don't really know anyone who doesn't have some kind of relationship issues at this time of year. There is uncle X who is always a jerk, grandma is grumpier than she has ever been, your parents are turning into children or your kids are acting like they would rather be with their friends than with their step brothers and sisters. Maybe it's just one of those things or maybe it is ALL of those things with some more added in. This time of the year is hard in so many ways.

Hopefully I can give you some ammunition to fight being cynical or turning into the Scrooge yourself.

A couple fo days ago I went with a group of friends to an assisted living place in our local community. I didn't arrange any of the evening except for asking a friend to bring his guitar. I didn't know that much of our group are not the singing type. I like to sing and so I figured it would be fun and maybe some of the people there would be encouraged. The unexpected happened.

When we arrived the door is locked because you just never know who might come in to take grandpa out and not bring him back. The maturing people were finishing dinner and this lady, who was in better shape than most we met over the evening, came up and said, "You better start pretty soon because we are getting tired and we want to go 'home'". That was the first person we talked with or who talked with us. Getting off to good start.

Enough of the group showed up for us to start at the time we were supposed to, but right before we started another lady said, "I hope you're not singing about Santa and reindeer because we are tired of those kinds of songs". It's a good thing the "song-picker" had picked carols rather than those songs or we might have gotten the boot.

I encouraged a couple of people sitting toward the front to sing and they both said. "We can't sing". OK- I'm getting the idea that these people are kind of grumpy and they want to go home, but we're singing anyway.

We started singing and even those who "can't sing" were singing along with as much as they knew the music. At one point in the first set of songs one of the older guys was crying pretty hard. Then it got to me- these people are dying pretty soon, I wonder who will come to see them this Christmas? I wonder if they have to spend Christmas alone bc their family lives somewhere else? No wonder they are grumpy, they probably feel like they have been abandoned.

When we finished singing the girls past out some cookies, even though some of the people said they didn't want them they all took them. Even though they didn't want to sing, they did. Even though they wanted to be grumpy, they weren't in the end, in fact they were really soft and tender after we cracked their hard shells a bit.

Maybe that's what it's gonna take the next couple of weeks for you to get through your celebrations. Maybe they are going to feel more like torture than celebrations but maybe you can change that. Maybe you can be thankful and joyful in the midst of some crotchety mean people. If that is going to happen I think you had better have a plan before you enter the event.

Try to think about what others are dealing with this time of year. Maybe they are sad because this is the 1st Christmas without someone they love very much. Maybe someone was just really mean to them, or someone just cut them off in traffic. Maybe they are a customer service person and it is December 26th and everybody and their dog is coming into their store today to tell them why "You wrecked my Christmas". We just never know what people are going through.

Many people are going through some hard times right now, be a friend. Many need someone to talk to, like the 96 year old lady at the center. Sometimes the greatest gift we can give and model for our kids is the giving of ourselves- that is what God did and do you suppose there was an intended lesson in that gift some 2000 years ago?

We have much to be thankful for and it is not ok for us to be thankful on the inside, we need to be both visibly and verbally thankful. You might be surprised at how much different you can help someone else to be by your attitude. You might also be surprised at how much less grumpy you are.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

We're Expecting, Let's Not Forget Who's Coming

We celebrate the 1st coming of Jesus Christ our King this time of year. Often it seems we don't celebrate well or we get caught up in the world's idea of what Christmas is about- ourselves. I hope to do better this year on pointed celebrating- like what's the point?

I was just thinking, bc my mind is generally very active in the early hours of the morning, "What was Mary thinking about right now?". I do understand that maybe December 25th is NOT the exact day and you can prove to me by some formula when it was, but Jesus came to earth as a man at a specific day, so let's just say it was Dec. 25th for sake of argument. What was Mary thinking on Dec. 22nd of that year?

Since I am a new grand-parent this summer, I understand again the expectation of child-birth. Some of my younger friends are currently pregnant. There is great expectation. Mary knew that this baby was going to be a boy, which didn't happen often in those days. Mary knew that this baby inside her was very special. All new moms think their baby is the most special, but this one was THE MOST special. Mary knew a lot of things but what was she thinking about right now?

Was she thinking that He was going to be a king like the kind of kings she knew about? Was she confused like the disciples were when He was starting His ministry- trying to find their place in the kingdom? Knowing the little she knew about being a mom, what must have this been like for her while being sort of on the run? This was not exactly the perfect teen pregnancy, even in those days. There was some serious family issues going on here.

I know how excited I was to learn that Kimmy and Ian were pregnant. I know how excited I was to hear that she was carrying a boy, but one can't get too excited about being a grand-parent bc until they are out and healthy there is no guarantees. Mary had a guarantee from an angel that her son would live and be a king. Today we get no such guarantees and in those days a guarantee of a long living child was not only unheard of, but to have a long living child was unusual. There were a lot of bad things that can happen before they are 5.

But this baby was causing His parents some stress early on. Put yourself in Mary's shoes when she has to tell Joseph she is pregnant. What will he say? Put yourself in her shoes as she tells her parents- what will they say? This is gonna be really hard and is gonna cause some real heartache. She's not an old, mature woman; she's practically a child herself. You might say, "Well, an angel told her all this, so she should believe it". Right, and we have the actual Word of God and do we always believe it wholly? We have generations of seeing God's faithfulness, the printed Word and yet often we struggle to stay focused, and we're OLD.

So, on this day, some 2000 years ago, she and her husband were traveling for Christmas, but when they stopped for the night Tom Bodett didn't leave the light on, in fact there wasn't any place to stay, except with the cows. Erase the picture of the big red barn from your thoughts, or even the nativity scene barn that is all cute. This was probably much more like a cave or lien-to at best. I don't know why but for some reason I had in my mind, as a child, this horse barn kind of setting, like the nursery with the barn door, all cozy and dark. It was probably pretty drafty where Mary and Joseph landed for child birth.

God wants us thinking about the expectation of Christmas. He also wants us thinking about His 2nd coming with the same expectation. There are things to get ready, but we should be getting ready with a purpose- the King is coming. Mary was getting ready with a purpose- The King is coming. Mary had some family issues, but the King is coming. Mary had all kinds of issues and a guarantee that this Son would rule- we have the same guarantee. We're expecting, let's not forget Who we're expecting.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Light and Momentary Afflictions

SKH read this part of the Pilgrim's Progress last night and I think it is worth repeating a few
more times. How often are we beaten down, thinking it's too hard, and yet right next to us
are His promises.

"Well, on Saturday, about midnight they began to pray, and continued in prayer till almost
break of day.

Now, a little before it was day, good Christian, as one half amazed, brake out into this
passionate speech: What a fool, quoth he, am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I
may as well walk at liberty! I have a key in my bosom, called Promise, that will, I am persuaded,
open any lock in Doubting Castle. Then said Hopeful, That is good news(;) !!! Good brother,
pluck it out of thy bosom, and try. (Yeah for having the key to despair right in his pocket!!)

Then Christian pulled it out of his bosom, and began to try at the dungeon-door, whose
bolt, as he turned the key, gave back, and the door flew open with ease, and Christian and
Hopeful both came out. Then he went to the outward door that leads into the castle-yard,
and with his key opened that door also. After he went to the iron gate, for that must be
opened too; but that lock went desperately hard, yet the key did open it. They then thrust
open the gate to make their escape with speed; but that gate, as it opened, made such a
creaking, that it waked Giant Despair, who hastily rising to pursue his prisoners, felt his
limbs to fail, for his fits took him again, so that he could by no means go after them. Then
they went on, and came to the King’s highway, and so were safe, because they were out of
his jurisdiction" Bunyan

May this help you to live on unseen things today. These "light and momentary afflictions" are
nothing when compared to how amazing the glory that is coming is- that is what we need to
focus on, NOT these things right in front of us. That is NOT to say that trials are easy, but when
compared to the eternal glories that await they are light and fleeting. Rest on His promises today.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Wick and The Wax

"Tis the Advent season and that means a lot of things to many people. I wasn't raised with an Advent tradition so I have much to learn to catch up in this area, but I do know that it often has candles connected to it. A couple of weeks ago I was thinking about candles for some reason and here's what came to mind.

When we are born again we are lit and when we die the candle goes out- or does it? For most of us we are a long burning candle. The Bible talks about being like grass which grows and then is gone quickly and if you have read this blog you know that I think that life goes very fast- I mean just yesterday we had our first baby and now we're grand parents. But if you think about life as a candle then these are long burning ones.

The purpose of a candle is very specific. Using a candle as a hammer is a bad idea, or as a utensil to cut something is pretty futile. It really is only good for one thing and that is to give off light. If we take the analogy further, our candle is lit when we are born again and it goes out when we die and in between there are times when it needs to be trimmed and the extra wax taken off or the light is dimmed because the wick is covered with melted wax. There are times in our lives when we give off more light than others, but we are still giving off light.

In Sunday school as a little kid many of us sang "this little light of mine". Unfortunately as adult there are many who do hide their light under a bushel. So we have a light that could be shedding light into the world but before we leave the house we cover it up and then it stays covered until we return home.

The world needs our light to shine into the darkness. Jesus was the Light that the Jews anticipated and as He came and lived, His light grew brighter as He grew. The prophets foretold of this coming Light and yet so many missed His coming. In our life His light shines into our heart and lights our spiritual candle so that we might in turn spread the Gospel and take the fire that lit us and light the next generation of lights.

A large room with one candle off in the corner is not very bright. A large room with 20 candle should be much brighter than it is with one, but only if those 20 candles are trimmed and allowed to shine freely, without a "bushel" over them. As the light is added to more and more candles the effect should be much more light shining throughout the world. Remember that all we are is the wick and wax and His light is what is actually shining. "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

He lit our hearts on fire while our hearts were cold and dark. Now we can take that same light and touch the wick of another and transfer that fire to others. Again, not our fire, not our light. We should be excited to pass on the light to others knowing what our hearts were previously. We should not be willing to cover our lights.

So, let us keep our light trimmed and burning bright, let us be quick to gather with other lights to increase the lumens we collectively put off, let us be quick to share the light with those who are currently dark and may God grant us many years of shining into the darkness.

To answer the question of "Does our light go out when we die?". If we have not passed on the light to others then it seems like it does. But if we have passed it on then that light continues to burn long after we are in Heaven. This can be done in many ways. Some lights continue to burn because of the heritage of multiple generations of believers in the family. Some lights are burning because of work done throughout the lifetime here on earth; such as Luther, Calvin, Baxter and the likes. I included Baxter because he didn't necessarily leave the same kind of light as the other 2, but he certainly left a light.

God doesn't gift us all the same way but we all have the same light in us and it is our responsibility and privilege to spread that light as we go; to make disciples. Making disciples will ensure that the light in us is burning for generations to come. Give your light to someone today.