He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Psalm 40:3a

Monday, July 16, 2018

Checkbooks and Calendars

On the first of each month, I pull out my checkbook and pay my bills.  It’s what I do.  The date on the calendar demands it.  

            It’s interesting as I think about the ritual of paying bills.  I loathe the process, even though I’m glad there are funds enough to cover them.  I am painfully aware there are many people who live pay check to pay check, trying to decide which bill they should put off in any given month.  It’s after all a very important decision.  When we are unable to pay our bill(s), interest builds so fast, it doubles the basic amount in no time.  

            Jesus found it important to pray before making important decisions.  That blows my mind in a way.  He was God…..yet…..  He was a man. He deferred decision making to his Father.  I wonder how often we even consider consulting God for advice for making decisions….even paying (or not paying) any particular bill.

            Our culture has created the mindset that we can buy anything we want and have it now.  It’s how we live.  Many families have two, three or even more credit cards and each of these cards are maxed to the limit.  That’s a scary thing---well it would be for me, anyway.  I’m terrified of being in debt.  Don’t misunderstand.  We do have debt.  We have a mortgage payment and a truck payment and then there are all the monthly utility, internet, satellite TV, insurance bills, and others that keep reminding me I have much to be thankful for!

            All this focus on our checkbook has a way of cluttering our calendars, as well.  When we pray about God’s will, which is one thing Jesus was careful to pray about, we become afraid that to do anything constructive will require more funds. Even if the funds include paying for gas or food items for a Christian gathering.  Could giving to a missionary fund even be possible given our current financial situation?

            Even if we could donate a little extra funds to a worthy church project, what in the world are we to do with the giving of our time? Our time (or lack of it) is often running neck and neck with our finances.  There is little of it to share with anyone, especially if you have young ones who are in sports events or other extracurricular school activities.

            Still, there’s a “catch 22” in this scenario. While funds are stretched to the very last limit for paying those credit cards we’ve maxed out, we seem to be able to find enough money to attend sports events, or buy extra sports equipment. (An extra fishing pole, bowling ball, golf club or even running shoes are absolutely essential.) Right?  Add to this the monies spent on the snack foods (or meals) purchased at these events, or the coffee or other beverages while there.   Or we've scheduled the manicure, pedicure or hair cut or coloring or shopping trip for a new outfit....  Well....it’s what we do!  Suddenly we’ve found funds (and time) for those “things” we really find important--even if it's "just" adding to our credit card amount.

            My point to all this rambling is to bring into focus how skewed our perspective can be when our checkbooks and calendars are placed side by side.  They really are “best buddies.”  But should they be?  Should we put on our calendars those events and purchases, our checkbooks can’t handle? 

            Is it time we place both our checkbooks and our calendars at the feet of Jesus and ask Him to give us wisdom on how we manage both?  

Monday, July 9, 2018

God Is All Powerful

         Standing atop Clingmans Dome in Tennessee at 6,643 feet, or on Harney Peak in South Dakota at 7,244 feet, I breathe deep.  The air is chilled and exhilarating!  While Clingmans Dome is the second highest point east of the Mississippi and the highest point in Tennessee, Harney Peak is the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains.  In either case, it is necessary to drive part of the way and then walk the trail that leads to the observation towers. 

            Depending on the weather, the vistas from the towers are breathtaking both for sunrises and sunsets!  There are days, however, when fog obliterates the views, while other days, smog from air pollution or smoke from distant fires destroy the amazing panoramic views.  

            There are times when our lives are filled with “smog” like pessimism, negativity, sadness, heart break, unplanned challenges, dangers, choices and situations we’d often rather not deal with.  There are times, like the air quality at Clingmans Dome, when we are unable to see beyond what is immediately in front of us.  Therefore, our “personal air quality” is less than optimal for making good decisions regarding any choices we need to make. 

            It’s times like these we can find encouragement through a relationship with God, the Father. Our lives are filled with people on both sides of the equation.  We have those who seem to throw a blanket on our plans, rain on our parade or otherwise darken our days with their less than encouraging words.

            The other side of this picture are those who are amazingly supportive, tell us they believe in us and encourage us to carry on.  Sometimes these people are in the shadows of our lives, yet give strength in ways we didn’t expect or those we only interact with for a season, or even meet for a brief moment.  Others, like those close to us, whether they are our parents, spouse, siblings or best friend, we depend on exponentially,because if we didn’t, we’d likely crumple when attacked by those who would crush our spirit.

            When we have a solid support system, with a deep desire to do what is right, and certain we are following God’s will in our lives, we can move forward with a confidence the defies those who would doubt us.

            As we move forward, knowing the mission before us, we can know we have another support system, greater than any one or group on this planet.  We know, because God’s Word assures us, He is all powerful.  When God is for us, who can stand against us?

            So, I challenge you to reflect on that which you consider important in your life. What mission do you feel God has called you to do?  Are there those in your life who would rather tear you down than build you up?  Can you, with an all Powerful God at your side, align yourself with those who support you?  I encourage you to give your best effort, and feel the power of God lead you.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Leaving A Legacy

           I read a story about a husband, when retiring, began wondering if he was dying because his wife was nice to him!  I found that a bit humorous, and wondered how often we miss when our spouse does something nice for us.  Or, from the other side, how frustrated a spouse can get because it doesn’t feel like anything done out of love or kindness is ever appreciated.  Rather there seems only rebuke or reprimand.  It also made me wonder what kind of legacy I’m leaving my children?  Do my relationships (with my spouse, family and friends) leave any question about my love for God and His commandments?

            David was considered a man after God’s own heart.  David loved God and recognized God had a purpose for his life.  Because of his heart for God, he did all God asked. God knew David’s motives and love were genuine!  Because of this, David left a legacy for all of us to live up to!  I would like to leave a legacy like that!

            Leaving a legacy for generations that follow is important.  It helps define and characterizes who our children and those who know and believe in us become, even if not directly.  We all have the capability of impacting other lives. A positive influence is so much better than a negative one, and there are so many ways to do it!

            Museums across the United States trace the traditions of music, art and stories that allow visitors to re-experience, to a degree, what their ancestors left behind.  The paintings, documents and objects recovered from the Civil War and Reconstruction period, along with other significant stories of Native Americans and immigrants that came here, enables people from all over the country to research and study significant times in history.  The work exerted to draw all these pieces together as a legacy for generations after Wars and other significant changes, given the extent, is phenomenal.  

            But even as important as all these relics are, as they pertain to our history, culture and ultimately how we view the past, it is still only a tiny fraction of the importance of leaving a legacy of love and commitment to those we love and care about.  How we perceive the world, God’s Sovereignty, and our place within this realm is more important than any material artifact we could leave any person or group of persons.

            We are all designed with a significant purpose in this life.  There is so much more than collecting material goods, having a large bank account, nice house and expensive clothes.  How we treat others, respond to attacks on our faith, give of ourselves to those in need and take care of our planet are all ways, to name only a few of how we can leave a legacy of something fundamentally good.

            So I encourage you to reflect on your life regarding a legacy.  What will you leave behind when you leave this world? Are you living out the purpose God designed for you?  Are you like David: “A man/woman after God’s own heart?  What will be the single most important thing of value your family, friends, co-workers and even those who don’t know you, but meet on the street, remember?  Do they see your faith being demonstrated as a life testimony? It’s absolutely worth the look!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Are Things What They Seem?

           We visited a friend’s house on the East Coast who have a small river behind their home, even though they tease and say it’s no more than a stream.  The water is brown and dirty.  The thought of even jumping in for a swim repulses me!  

            Once while visiting a state out West when our children were young, we stopped at a river in the mountains and helped ourselves to the crystal clear, cool water. It was wonderful.  Was this wise?  At the time, thirty years ago, it seemed fine.  

            There are beautiful cool, clear waterways in the Great Smoky Mountains, and other areas of the country, as well.  They appear pure and clean, but with the air quality from pollutants of sulfate nitrate and mercury from power plants and other industrial sites, along with acid rain, it makes a body wonder.

            As Believers, we are able to have a relationship with our Creator.  Through this relationship we can see our lives changed from the desires of the world to the desires of Christ through a cleansing found no other way.  

            Our lives are easily made brown and murky from all the evils of the world. It might not seem like those little things of life could make much of a difference.  What would it matter if we gossiped a bit or drank a little?  What’s wrong with smoking a cigarette, or gambling some?  Who is really going to care if we use bad language or try drug use, just once? Surely it can’t matter.

            Yet, each of these behaviors inevitably evolve into another and then another.  The culmination of all of these or any combination of these, has the potential to muddy our lives to the point of despair.

It’s like the metals and chemicals that get dissolved into our waterways.  You can’t see them.  But the “poisons” being filtered or even “dumped” into the water, affects the fish and other aquatic species, as well as, the other animals who drink from the shore. As the animals become contaminated with the pollutants, it destroys their lives.  The fish and game hunted for humans to eat, are also tainted, even though, with the human eye, it may not be visible. 

But there is hope.  We have a forgiving Father and one who understands temptation. He has the ability to purify all that is murky in our lives and make it pristine clean.  He can turn all the passions we have for this world around, so we no longer desire them.  And He can change our desires so we want only to use our gifts and talents to further His Kingdom.

So I encourage you to reflect on those “harmless things of this world” and see if there is a desire greater than the desire you have for God.  When we give all that we are and all that we have to God first, our lives can be rich and pure.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Standing Alone

           I remember as graduation from high school neared, I along with about ten others from my class, sat around a large table in the Media Center/Library.  Somehow the conversation turned to drug use.  Each person around the table shared just a little about their experience, even if it was “just trying it once,” with drug exploits.  I was the only one at the table who did not have a story to share! Thankfully, the sharing wasn’t in order, but rather randomly across the table, so I’m not sure who or how many even noticed that I did not participate in “the sharing!”

            Standing alone can be horribly difficult.  It takes conviction and determination to go against the grain, and sometimes those people who you have always called “friend,” or perhaps worse, your family! Our nation’s history records such an incident which certainly must have created uncomfortable scenarios between many involved on both sides of the equation; the North and the South. Records show Andrew Johnson, a democrat during the Civil War era and sitting senator for Tennessee, a slave state, stayed solid with the Union, even when his home state was seceding from the Union as they formed the Confederate States of America.

            Politics are often a great topic of discussion, and sometimes it can be very uncomfortable.  Often when in a conversation of this type, we prefer to have a partner or more than one or two other people who share our views. Politicians are very good at having a group of people who can support and strengthen their views.  It brings a degree of solidarity and confidence that enables the speaker to press on, knowing if he falters, likely someone else will step in to pick up the slack.

            This concept is also true in the sports arena. A sport team relies on every one of the members to score points.  No team can win effectively when all the scoring is dependent on a single player. It takes everyone’s participation! This is also true during a debate.  Not everyone thinks the same or at the same speed!  Experience often dictates how we think, react and respond to given situations and discussion.

            When Christ walked the Earth, twelve ordinary men were called to walk and minister with him.  Jesus taught, demonstrated and trained daily, the truths he knew these men would need to know when his work on Earth was finished.

            The day came when Jesus stood alone and faced the angry mob as Pilate washed his hands of the entire situation.  Christ knew he would suffer pain and would ultimately stand alone on the cross as He would be the ultimate sacrifice for the world.

            We all have situations where we are called to stand alone, much like I did in high school, or in other discussions where there is great disagreement.  Fear can cause us to withdraw from what we know we really need to do.  We freeze and are unable to share our view, even when it's the message of Christ, for any variety of reasons. That’s when we really need to rely on God for guidance in our conversations and our lives in general.

            I encourage you to share your faith testimony, even if it means you must stand alone.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Passion, Community, And Commitment

          A young woman visited our church congregation some time ago before her trip to a foreign, third world country, to do missionary work. She would be teaching primarily young children, but given the area she would be in, explained it would be impossible to even give those she loved, information about exactly where she was. I found her passion and follow through amazing!  

         God has gifted many of us with skills and talents we may not give a second thought to.  We are skilled at mechanics, sewing or quilting, cooking, teaching, conversing, cleaning, or a hundred other skills.  We may have a heart for the aged or very young, those who are in prison, or the poor.  We have expertise unique to us, in our area of the world, in which we live!  It’s when we use the proficiencies, which are “acting on our Godly passions” to aid those less fortunate, that we answer the call of God asking “Whom shall I send?”     

         Each of us are afforded opportunities every day to act upon our personal abilities that would in some way help another person, but very often we hold back because we are worried about “political correctness” and wondering if there will be someone who would misunderstand our motives.

         Perhaps you’ve even considered buying a sandwich in a fast food place for a homeless person, or volunteer to serve food at a shelter, visit a children’s hospital, or nursing home.  Following through can be daunting, considering the world we live in! 

         Certainly, we all have our “own worlds” that are nothing less than busy!  It’s hard to find a time to commit to act on our Godly passion, when our own family already needs us.  But I encourage you to consider how you might be able to encourage someone else.  Send that note or visit a nursing home, or even take food to a shut-in, in your very own community.  There are countless ways to use your knowledge and capabilities to “love on” another person.  

         There is one other way that bears comment about passion, community and commitment.  The men and women serving in the military to keep our country safe and our freedoms free, is the highest form of love for both our country and her people.  They put their lives on the line every day and often we neglect to offer gratitude for their personal selflessness.  On this Memorial Day, I urge you to reach out and hug a military person, and as importantly, remember those who gave their lives so we each have the right to live in a place of unequaled freedom.  It's a priceless gift.

         Allow these times “of loving,” whether it be a simple act of kindness to a neighbor, or a life of sacrifice for our country, to be an opportunity for God to shine brightly through you, and enable you to share. People all around are starving to be accepted and loved.  It may not be easy to reach out, but if you can pull on your courage, asking God to show you how, your unique passion for your community will be a very special gift for another person in need.  

Monday, May 21, 2018

Going Against The Grain

         Numbers 14:6-10a Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good.  If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” But the whole assembly talked about stoning them.

         We can see disagreements in the political world every day! One person will say one thing, and within moments, with our social media, there is usually an immediate response, often in the form of a tongue lashing for any variety of reasons!  With all the bickering going on, it’s hard to know what is really right and what is wrong, not to mention how each person actually feels about a particular issue!

         Disagreements and broken friendships/relationships didn’t begin just within the last twenty or even fifty years.  There were disagreements between others as far back as Biblical days, as indicated by our scripture; and even with friends in the Revolutionary War and Civil War, as well as others.  It’s been seen time and again over the last decade, given our current political climate.  It seems like just around the curve, while new allies are born, friendships are dissolved, with little hope of restoration.   

         Everyday friends in our non-political world also split; and often due to disagreements that become hostile and ugly.  Even families have been known to lose all measure of civility when disagreements escalate to the point of such anger that relationships are completely dissolved.  

         A friend shared just this week that his family was having a reunion, but some of the siblings would not attend because there was a rift between siblings over something that happened when they were young children. How can this be?  How can a person stay angry over something for so long, due to a difference of opinion or other supposed infraction?

         There were many people in Jesus’ day who did not agree with Him.  He was the Son of God and many could not or would not accept Him as such.  Yet, he continued to teach and love.  He offered forgiveness for those who would choose to believe in him.  Still, because he went against the grain of what was traditional or “normal” he was rejected, scorned, scoffed at, and even hated.

         Perhaps there are those within your friend group, or family circle who have hardened their hearts to forgive because of a disagreement, years long passed.  It may have been over something significant, or possibly over a simple misunderstanding that was blown completely out of proportion.

         I encourage you to reflect on those with whom you have contact with, whether it be workplace, school, family or a friendship that has seen the door closed.  Just as Christ went against the grain to make right relationships through his teachings, perhaps there is a way you could reach out to someone to initiate the bonds of relationship once again.