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

Monday, February 29, 2016

I Was Blind, But Now I See

I was reading an article recently about a blind man who walked the Appalachian Trail.  The story tells how during his journey with his German Shepherd dog, Orient, he fell thousands of times, cracking ribs and suffered from hypothermia as he forged rivers and raging waters.  He hiked the entire 2,100 miles, from Georgia to Maine.

He wasn’t always blind, but had eye surgery, as an adult, after a misdiagnosis of malignant melanoma.  As a sighted person, he drank a lot and smoked up to five packs of cigarettes a day, used drugs and was nearing despair!  But one day on top of Mount Katahdin, Maine he fell to his knees to pray.  

His life was changed, and he made the decision to walk the Appalachian Trail as a testament to his living faith.  He shared his faith as he stopped for food at grocery stores or did laundry at the laundry mat.  He also shared the Gospel with children he passed along the way.  With dedication to his faith, determination and set mind despite his handicap, he chose to not use maps or a compass, but relied entirely on his dog and his faith in God for guidance.1

            Having a set mind with determination and grit can take a person a long way.  I suggest however, that in our day to day lives, sometimes it takes more than resolve, purpose, fortitude or even grit.  Circumstances like health conditions, trauma, homesickness, grief, abuse, stressful events, and exhaustion can all be catalysts in the progression of depression.  When any kind of substance abuse is added, whether it be illegal drug use, alcohol or even prescribed pain medication, the “cup” is tilted and running over into a sinking chasm of despair. This is what happened to Mr. Irwin in his early life.

            Our lives are a journey which cannot be done alone.  It takes human companionship with those who will encourage, build up-or hold up, advise, share trials, and good times.  It’s a connection that must not be ignored, because the lack of it will cause an almost unbearable loneliness.

            Something greater than human companionship is the relationship with Christ.  This relationship is so important, to spend a single day without this communion is nothing less than critical!  We have an innate desire for friendship and fellowship and this desire is greatest for the Christ.  He demonstrates His wonder in the world around us, and His love through the gift of His sacrifice of life on the cross.  Once we come to know Him, there is no greater joy than communion with Him.  Bill Irwin learned this as a blind man, but could see clearer than many of us!

            Great peace and a heart that is full to overflowing fills our being when we stop to talk with the Father.  And when we also listen, He speaks to our hearts in ways beyond description, yet so real there can be no doubt. 

            So I challenge you to consider what it is you would most like to accomplish.  Have a set mind, with determination and grit, but also an inexpressible love for the God of the Universe. He is the Great Creator who can open doors humans cannot.  He is our source of strength, encouragement, wonder, power, guidance and so much more when we ask Him to be. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

El Shaddai

Names and how they are given, are fascinating.  This not only applies to people but places. In the earliest days of urban development in what's now the United States, streets were often named for landmarks, like Church, Market, Monument, Canal, Wall, Court, Dock, etc. or obvious topographic or hydrological features like Hill or Water; or references to the street's position like East or Middle. Often major streets were named for symbols of power and authority, like State, King or Queen.  After the American Revolution, the names of heroes and leaders like Washington and Jefferson also served this role.  Martin Luther King Blvd is in many cities while Dolly Parton Blvd is found in TN and Jeff Gordon Blvd is in IN.

Often, seeing a monument immediately causes observers to recall knowledge about the event or person.  The Crazy Horse memorial is just one example.  Many know who the Indian, Crazy Horse was, because of his history.  The same holds true for Mount Rushmore and others.

            It fascinates me how some Native Americans chose to wait to name a child until the child “developed” their name. Often the name had a personal or possibly a “sacred” meaning.  Nature was often used in naming, as were descriptions of the child or even birth position.  As a child grew, sometimes his name changed, even several times, as names were altered to commemorate a significant life event.

            In our modern world, as parents, we often choose to name our children with traditional family names, or from a really fun TV show we’ve seen, after a particular person who has impacted our lives, or even Biblical names.  One family I know well, chose Azariah and Malachi for their son’s names.  How special!

            Have you ever wondered if your name reflects who you are?  When someone speaks your name might they recognize a particular characteristic that matches the name?  I suggest most would not, but it happens when considering the many names of God.  Each name shows a different characteristic of Him.  El Shaddai, a name used seven times in the Bible, is first used in Genesis 17:1 describing God as being “All Sufficient” and “Lord God Almighty.”  When used together we are seeing a God who takes care of all our needs with great strength and power.  He is a God who looks after His children with tenderness yet with intensity and authority, just as we would see to the needs of our own children.

            As a human parent, however, we do not have the ability of working out all the problems our children have, or often, even our own problems.  We are not mind readers, don’t have a clue how things are going to end up and don’t always even have the slightest means, if we could come up with a solution, to making everything we would like to accomplish, work!  We can only make decisions based on what we know, (or think we know), from life experiences and what we have been taught. 

God however, has a way of “showing up” just when we need Him! He seems to work out the details of a problem or issue in the most peculiar way that is just perfect….and in ways we would never expect.  This is possible because He does know the beginning from the end.  He knows our hearts, minds and motives.  And he loves us more than we, as parents, can love our own children.  He is God and treasures each of us in our differences, our strengths and weaknesses, our likes and dislikes, abilities or the lack thereof.  He loves and accepts us just the way we are…..  and right where we are.   He is Lord God Almighty who is “All Sufficient.”

Monday, February 15, 2016

Rivalries of the Christian Life

        Anyone who watched the Super Bowl Game knows how excited every spectator in the stadium was. Sides were chosen, positions set from the first face off until the final play of the game. The orange and white colors of the Denver Broncos and red, white and blue of the New England Patriots were vividly displayed.  People passionately screamed and hollered words of encouragement (or disapproval), jumped up and down and waved their flags with arms punching the air with exuberance during the game, hoping their team would be the victor. Adrenaline levels at the game was nearly tangible.

         Imagine what it would be like to attend a church service where the enthusiasm level is almost palpable, where all the people in attendance are in sync with the activities, where the body is all in attendance for the singular purpose of worship.  Where people are in communion with God and demonstrate joy, love and fellowship with every other person there.  Where people sing with gusto from their souls with tears running down the cheeks from repentant hearts. Can you even envision such an event in your sanctuary?

Many services are dry and so structured, the evidence of Christ even being in their midst, is weak at best.  I’ve been in services where we read from the bulletin responsively, the pastor read his sermon with little or no passion and music had no joy. The words were being sung, but there was little or no enthusiasm.  They weren’t singing with their heart, only their voice! Is this worship? 

What is the church’s greatest rival?  If we take it a level further, what is God’s greatest rival in our personal lives? Honestly, it’s much the same as “the church” at large as we put our material and personal desires ahead of God.  Surely the instant answer is satan and sin, but in what form?  Golf or other sport? Work? Sleeping?  Shopping? Addictions like alcohol, substance abuse, gambling, porn or a hundred other kinds available to nearly everyone. Anger? Bitterness? Selfishness? Television?   There are likely hundreds of different rivals available for anyone searching.

It’s interesting to note, while many will admit to being drawn to any one of these potential “lures” from church and God in our lives, few will admit any such behavior “owns” them.  Most will tell you they could walk away from any of the worldly enticements without any effort, yet in the same breath announce they are planning an “excursion” for any of those mentioned in just a few days or over the next weekend, again taking them away from fellowship with other believers. 

It’s assumed the “occasional” detour is not a problem and perhaps it isn’t.  But often that “occasional” detour turns into more frequent ones until the “enticement” dominates the thought process and demands attention. ---At the expense of God and fellowship with other believers.

I challenge you to consider how you spend your time and when.  Do your activities over rule going to church at the scheduled times?  Are your “addictions” slowly moving closer and closer to the forefront of your life?  Is it time to make a change?