Sunday, March 21, 2010

What Are You Chasing After?

It seems to be one of the popular theological themes these days for preachers to guarantee "Success In Life". Quoting from Scripture, they advance the premise that, by listening to their advice, you can reach your fullest potential-- be all you can be! Not only that, but if you will only "seed" a thousand dollars or so, God will bless you materially ten times over. Well, I think these preachers have missed the boat.

Now, there is nothing wrong in itself with aspiring to reach your own personal peak, or in having a desire to improve your situation in life., but the danger lies in orientation. What is the reason we are striving to reach this "higher ground"? Some would have us believe that it is so we can have material things- comfort, money, designer clothes, a big house in a nice neighborhood, etc. After all, we deserve it because WE ARE BELIEVERS! From my reading of Scripture, this is the first fallacy. Thank God we don't get what we deserve. One of the questions before us is: "Are we believers that we might be blessed, or blessed because we believe- regardless of circumstance?".

What would Jesus say? Let's look at the Gospel of John to see if we can find an answer.

In the 6th chapter we are going to listen to Jesus as he replies to a group of zealots who have followed him across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. These zealots had just seen Him feed the multitude, and having seen this miracle, sought Him to be their king. When they couldn't find Him right away, they commandeered some passing boats to catch up with Jesus.

When they finally caught up with Jesus, He threw bucket of cold water on their agenda.

"Jesus answered them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you; for on Him has God the Father set His seal.'" (John 6:26-27) RSV.

Why do you follow Jesus of Nazareth? This passage is a hard measuring stick for us to evaluate our faith against.

How we petition God to provide for our extraordinary comfort! Has God been transformed into some kind of ATM from which we expect free, unlimited withdrawals? This is NOT the "good news" that Jesus came to deliver. Unfortunately, there are people in the Church today that aren't much different than this band of zealots chasing after Jesus. Here we see a band of "believers" who saw Jesus , not as a messenger from God, but a tool to be used to help rally support in Israel to kick out the Romans. They weren't interested in what Jesus could do for their spiritual condition, but only in how He could improve their physical/political/personal condition. How many "messengers" convey this idea today? How many capitalize on the desires of a secular generation for "things" instead of trying to educate and redirect their focus?

The message that should be ringing loud and clear from pulpits across the land is "DO NOT LABOR FOR THE FOOD WHICH PERISHES...".

We know from the Gospel of Matthew that God has already made provision for our necessities- what to wear, what to eat and drink. He did this in order to free us from the yoke of worrying about survival of the body so that we could concentrate on survival of the soul. We mock the Word if we make these things the major focus of our existence.

So, what is this labor for soul survival? The answer isn't complex or esoteric. The answer is "This is the work of God, that you believe on Him and the One He has sent." (John 6:29) RSV.

(Remember, the word "believe" implies acting based on what is known. It is not just acknowledging a fact.)

Practically, how do we do this? We can start with an inventory of what skills God has gifted us with. Next we can look at how those skills can be applied such that God is glorified in the application of those skills. Now, sometimes, application of those skills can result in accumulation of wealth, but notice that wealth is not the motivation for the labor! In fact, in the Kingdom, I think you'll see a lot more cases where the "payment" for using a gift results in spiritual dividends alone. Reaching out with a kind word for someone who is down, giving your time to aid someone less fortunate, giving freely to someone who can never repay - all examples of labor to glorify God with no expectation of worldly gain but with the blessing of peace to the soul.

When we turn the equation upside-down, our lives start becoming right-side up.

Think about this in your prayer life as well. This might be even harder than our outward actions! Let us think about what we ask for and our motivation for asking. Are our petitions based on what is most comfortable and beneficial for us, or are they put on the altar asking that the result bring glory to God? I am still profoundly humbled by the prayer of a good friend who was dying of cancer. As he lay in the hospital, he asked that we pray before I left. His prayer was simple and it left me with nothing to say but "Amen.".

"Lord, my life is not my own. It is your gift to me. I must believe that this situation is as ordained by You as has been my entire life- my family, my possessions and my success. I would love to be healed, but that is Your decision. My prayer is that you will show me the way to reflect the joy of knowing You at this moment and that You will allow all those who care for me to understand that You will provide, just as You always have."

This was a man who did not labor after the food which perishes, my friends.

The message is timeless. The medicine in its prescription is powerful. In our world, can you imagine the transformation as the shell of selfishness is cracked apart by realization that our lives are not our own- that they are the possessions of a wonderful, mighty God who desires eternal fellowship with us?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Psalm 119 is a fascinating piece of work! It was probably composed after the Jews' return from exile by a very godly man who obviously sought after his Lord with great diligence. The longest of the Psalms, its main focus is on the word and promises of God. It seems to have been written with the intent of being used for instruction of the faithful Jews. If you remember, the post-exilic Jews did not have a strong tradition to fall back on. They had been in a strange land with no temple and no priests to lead them. They needed to be reminded and re-taught about the things of God.

Within the body of this psalm, the author makes 12 distinct references to the "heart". It seems like he sees the heart as the "engine" that drives his desire for and relationship with God.

In verse 11 of this psalm, we find this profession by the psalmist, "I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." What a powerful and instructive verse!

One of my first thoughts as I meditated on this verse was the fact that it is so in tune with the rest of scripture. It made me wonder if Jesus had this verse in mind as he was teaching in Matthew 6:21 "....for where your treasure is, there will be your heart also." Do you consider His word as your treasure?

When you ponder it, it makes sense to fill up your heart with that which reminds you of the one you love! Just think! What power there is in having the word of God standing guard at your heart's door! At the same time it's guarding your heart, it's energizing your heart to conform to His ways.

If you get a chance, look at Psalm 119 this week and consider putting yourself under the discipline of its advice!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Stuff 'n Things (in honor of a friend)

Wow- 2009 is almost in the bag...

Another nice cold, rainy day. One of the coldest December's on record is about to go in the books for the North Texas area. I keep rooting for global warming to give me more good golfing days, but it's not cooperating. I was thinking about writing a nasty letter to Al Gore, but then realized that, unless it had money attached, he was probably not going to read it.

We (the wife and I) were feeling adventurous today and went and invested in a Wii. I can hardly wait for the indoor tennis matches to begin. The things we do to convince ourselves we need to get up and move about! I just try to remain positive about expenditures like this. The smile on the face of the cashier made me feel I was doing a good thing by keeping her job secure.

My oldest daughter, along with granddaughter and hubby, are spending New Year's Eve with us. I anticipate a wonderful time having Maddie snuggled in the crook of Poppi's arm watching "Chronicles of Narnia" this evening. Perhaps a bowling match or two with the son-in-law on the Wii.

My wish for folks out there in the blogosphere is that 2010 works out better- maybe a little less vitriol in the political debate, a little more effort to get involved with your local community (be it food kitchen, homeless shelter, school tutoring, or visiting shut-ins). I honestly think this is one of the keys to recovering our society. We're becoming so disconnected and isolated. It's an eye-opener for a lot of people to venture outside their own circle of friends to see what's going on in the larger world.

Whatever you do, may it bless you and those around you. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Out Of The Wilderness

Evidently, blogging is not for the faint of heart, nor for the procrastinator. Lots of things happen in 2 years, though it feels only like a few weeks ago that I sat down at the keyboard. We have a new president, new problems and life changes galore - the last daughter married, the prospect of having the mother-in-law coming to spend her last years with us.

The spectre of mortality has cast its shadow across our lives as well. The conviction of invincibility and control over our destiny has yielded to the realization that the job market isn't necessarily friendly to 60 year olds, regardless of accumulated wisdom. It's funny, but when we cease to be able to dictate our own destiny, we remember who is supposed to be in charge of steering the course! It's been a sojourn in the wilderness that appears now to have at least an oasis ahead for refreshing.

I feel a little like Maverick in "Top Gun". I've come out of a flat spin and I'm finally ready to re-engage.

Here's what I've been thinking about. I hope it strikes a chord with someone else.

"So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to Him, "Feed My lambs." John 21:15 (NKJV)

Sometimes faith can be a real struggle. In my own walk, I've been only too aware of the fact that the fire has not burned with the same intensity as in other times that I can recall. Especially recently, with all the demands of the workplace, I've struggled with how to revive that spirit-- that sense of "first love" -- that keeps one close to the heart of God.

In my devotional reading recently, I came across John's account of the restoration of Peter. Before, I had always read it from a perspective of Jesus putting Peter in his place -- you know, Peter's 3 denials matched by the Lord's 3-fold question of Peter's devotion to him. Coupled with that, naturally, was Jesus' call for Peter to put into action what he professed. I assumed that the love was already there. I assumed Jesus was simply being consistent, since earlier in John's gospel, we read that Jesus said "If you love Me, keep my commandments." John 14:15 (NKJV)

This most recent reading caught me like a right hook and brought a totally different perspective to me. Peter's restoration to a love relationship (and ours as well) would come not out of profession, but from action. My cry had been, "Lord, help me love you as I once did". His reply, "Feed my lambs!"

I wanted the feeling without the footwork, the sweetness of fellowship without the sweat, love without labor. I'm not bashful about admitting that I thought, somehow, joy could be reappropriated at will, simply because I was a child of the Father. I thought that if I prayed a little harder, or spent a little more time in the Word, that everything would be OK again. After all, I'm so busy at the job the Lord put me in, that certainly He understands I need a quick fix!

Foolish me! The Lord led me to some introspection and examination of exactly when I felt the happiest in Him. Know what I found? Looking back, the times I felt the closest to the Lord were the times I was doing something for Him. The actions may not have been of great importance, and my work, family or physical circumstances may not have been all calm and serene, but the fact that I intentionally visited a shut-in, or gave a word of encouragement to someone who was struggling, or sang a "special" at church-- those built and bolstered that love relationship!

I remember a sermon from a while back where the preacher emphasized that, in the dictionary, the word "love" was an active verb! I agree! The Teacher's gentle prescription to Peter (and to you and me) is to find love in the doing, and (I believe) conversely to find the power to do because of the love. In the "doing" we shift our focus away from ourselves and our circumstances to the needs of others. It's a paradox to the modern world, but the Lord has proven over and over that we gain by giving away!

My guess is that the teaching works with our human relationships as well. Any "love batteries" running low in your personal relationships? Don't wait for the other person to "act like they used to act" or treat you differently. Love them by doing for them! Feed them-- emotionally, spiritually, with no strings attached. You'll be amazed at how love will be rekindled.

My prayer this week is that the Lord will present you with opportunities for service in His name, even if it's something as simple as breaking bread with another believer. I trust God to take that act of service on our part and use it to build a closer bond with Him and with our fellow servants in Christ.



Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Contextually Clueless

I've watched the events of the past months in amazement. Attack after attack emanating from the "loony left" smearing everyone from Gen. David Petraeus, the military in general to Rush Limbaugh and Clarence Thomas. The common thread of these exercises in demonization and marginalization has been to totally disregard historical and situational context and either adhere to either a literalism that would put Pharisees to shame or to drag out their crystal ball and proclaim what someone "really meant" or "really was thinking" when they made a statement.

It's not bad enough that those we already know to be products of defective educational establishments (i.e. the MSM) engage in this behavior, but it has now spread to the hallowed halls of Congress. People we elect, whom we would assume know better, not only follow the madding crowd, but are its chief cheerleaders.

In what universe do these people live? What version of history have they read? General Petraeus is guilty of nothing more than finally putting together a cohesive strategy in Iraq that is yielding tangible results, but he is insulted by senators and representatives who all but call him a liar to his face. Democrat pretender to the throne Hillary Clinton, who at last check had not graduated from a service academy or served in the military, impugned the reputation and truthfulness of the General by stating bluntly that his progress report required "a willing suspension of disbelief." What person in their right mind wants to take a position of responsibility in our military now just so they can be called a liar by Congress?

Recently, "Pinky" Reid took the floor of the Senate to make himself look foolish as he attempted to portray Rush Limbaugh as impugning soldiers who, while serving their country, expressed anti-war sentiments. It took a leap of illogic wider than the Grand Canyon, provided by an alleged media watchdog organization that is actually a mouthpiece founded by Clintonistas, to come to this absurd allegation. Mr. Limbaugh has been one of the most pro-military commentators in the US, with a history of actions that back his rhetoric. He has lent his name, money and time to efforts supporting our troops. In a tacky quip more worthy of a drunk auditioning at a backwater comedy club than a member of the Senate, Tom Harkin wondered aloud if Rush was "high on drugs again". Of course, this is the same paragon of truthfulness who sought to embellish his image by claiming to have flown missions in Viet Nam when he did not. Perhaps he was thinking that Rush's commentary was aimed at at him.

The latest outrage, to my mind at any rate, is the article written by Frank Rich for the NYT in which he paints Clarence Thomas as a "whiner" for having the temerity to actually write about his experience with character assassination (Congressional style) during his Senate confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court. Poor Frank couldn't get it right if you spoon-fed him facts. It might help also if he actually read the book instead of depending on his "impressions" from a "60 Minutes" interview. Ann Althouse does a tremendous job of laying bare Frank's "facts" with actual quotes from Thomas's book. It's worth a read -

Before I leave the subject of Clarence Thomas, I can't resist recalling the comments of "seasoned Constitutional scholar" Harry Reid again. If one remembers, in late 2004, Senator Reid opined that Justice Thomas was an "embarrassment to the Supreme Court" and that his opinions were "poorly written"- especially in contrast to the brilliant Justice Scalia. Knowing that he'd be asked to cite specifics, he probably had a flunky try to pull up an example that he could quote so he could look scholarly. Unfortunately, "Pinky" made a major boo-boo. On the December 26th edition of "Inside Politics" on CNN, Reid brought up the "infamous" Hillside Dairy v. Lyons. This earthshaking decision dealt with California milk regulation. Justice Thomas dissented with one part of the Court's decision, and the language in his dissent was routine legalese, citing a previous Thomas dissent if one wanted to go into more specifics. The hilarious point to this narrative is that there is no comparison available to Scalia in this instance, since Scalia did not write a dissent.
For a further expose, I recommend to you the WSJ Opinion journal piece -

Folks, is it just me, or are we truly witnessing the dumbing down of America?

Friday, March 30, 2007

Looking Over My Shoulder

With a 40th HS reunion staring me in the face, I've spent some time corresponding with friends and looking over my shoulder at what the years have brought.

One perception that has been knocked by the wayside is that, by now, I would be in the twilight of a professional career where 40 hour weeks would be the norm- with plenty of time to pursue other interests. I find I'm working harder and longer now than when I was 30! The unsettling thing about this observation is that I don't see it changing in the near future. It almost looks like, instead of a leisurely lope, it will be a mad dash to the finish line of retirement.

I don't find that I've lost my desire to work hard and produce quality results, but I do find that I am starting to care immensely more about where that effort is directed. Who knows but that this could lead towards looking for a way to go into business for myself?

On the public affairs front- a couple of issues: Alberto Gonzales and the British hostages.

Poor, Alberto. A classic American success story. An immigrant made good. Submarined because he was too naive about the political process. Firing US attorneys is not a crime. It's done to political appointees all the time. It really has little effect upon investigations or prosecutions in progress, because those are usually done by the staff attorneys. In some respects, the US attorney position is simply a stepping stone to higher political office. Why Gonzales wasn't forthcoming about his role in determining who was to be let go is puzzling to me, but what is more puzzling is how the Dems were able to gin up so much outrage over a "non-issue".

Now, on the subject of the British hostages- I'm livid. I'm angry that I've heard so many leftists say that Iran was in the right- that they couldn't "trust" the word of the UK on this issue. Let's see, whose word do I take.......the word of a civilized country or the word of a country that hosts a "Holocaust Denial" symposium in its capital? Tough call.....NOT.

I guess this will have to suffice. Call it a "scattershooting" column if you must. Maybe an entry back into posting more often than quarterly :)

God's blessings be with you all.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Dealing with Change

A little excerpt from my time as chaplain in the East Coast Hockey League. Hope you enjoy.


Someone much wiser than I once said that the only constant in life was change. Recent events in the US and around the world seem to indicate that fellow knew what he was talking about. Change is inevitable. Sometimes it is for the better. Sometimes change can be devastating. How do you face change?

Jesus knew all about change. He went from obscurity to becoming a wandering preacher, to becoming a candidate to rescue the nation of Israel from the hands of Roman oppressors, to becoming scorned, outcast and sacrificed so that the political boat wouldn’t be rocked. He went from “nobody” to “somebody” to “nobody” (in the eyes of his countrymen) in the course of three short years. If you have ever read the Gospels, you marvel that Jesus moved through all of these events with a sense of calm that overwhelms our ability to comprehend.

He gave us one insight as to how he did it in a parable he told. That parable can be found in the Gospel of Matthew (Matt 7:21-28). He talked about 2 men who undertook a building project. One man, he described as wise. That man chose to build on a foundation of rock. The other man was called foolish, for he chose to build on a foundation of sand. When a furious storm came, with wind, rain and floods, guess whose building was left standing? That part is pretty obvious.

What’s not so obvious is why those two men chose the different foundations to build on. Jesus said that the wise man chose the right foundation because he not only heard what Jesus was teaching, but tried to live out those teachings. In fact, God was the foundation! The other man chose to do things his own way. His foundation was based on his own wisdom and supposed strength. He chose not to pay attention to all that ‘religious’ stuff.

At the core of the story is something very interesting. Jesus seems to say that relationship and motive are essential ingredients to handling what life throws at you. I’ve been around the block a few times myself. I’ve been abandoned by a dad and forced to look after 3 younger brothers. I’ve been all the way to the top of the corporate ladder and knocked back down again. I’ve had it worse than a lot, but much, much better than some. You know what? The ‘Boss’ that I work for has provided such a solid foundation for me that, although the storms in my life haven’t been a lot of fun, they haven’t washed me away! He promised a secure foundation if I kept myself in right relationship with Him and did the things I was called to do at work and at home with the right motive.

How’s your foundation? Need a little shoring up? If so, I know a ‘Builder’ I can put you in touch with that does an excellent job! Something to think about!