On the Road Again

I love a good road trip. Actually, if it’s been a while since I’ve gone anywhere, it doesn’t really have to be a good road trip. I’m down with hitting the road, wandering to parts far away and discovering something new. Camping, staying with friends, or patronizing motels—as long as I can “get outta Dodge” I’m happy to go.

When I visit a new area, I like to indulge in the local scene. I want to eat at places and see things that I can’t back in Kansas City. I want to experience the local color—to do as the Romans, when in Rome.

While that’s a fine philosophy as you travel the land, always keep in mind that your real home is in heaven. “Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices.”

As you live this temporary life in a foreign country, see the sights, enjoy the food, and love the people, but don’t let the world’s “local color” lead you away from God.

That’s something to think about.

Home of the Brave … Mother

“A mother’s love” is practically a cliché, but that’s because we know what that’s like. Whether you grew up with the mother who bore you, you likely experienced some woman (or women) in your life who was every bit a mother to you. You probably felt the sense of care and protection that a mother’s arms can provide, or the peace of hearing her voice sing you softly to sleep. Perhaps you can remember the times she taught you; whether it was showing you how to do some household chore for yourself or just sharing her daily advice and experience.

Some of us have even witnessed a mother’s courage. There are things that sometimes try our bravery—that call us to rise above our earthly cares and fears and be more than we think that we can be. Those instances of savage courage can make all the difference in the developing character of a child.

Look at John Mark’s mother: Mary hosted a congregation of the nascent church in her home. When king Herod killed the apostle James and saw how it pleased his constituents, he began to turn his hand toward more executions and apprehended Peter. There was no knowing how far he would go, or when he would stop. But still, Mary continued to encourage the church and host their meetings. In fact, when Peter was miraculously freed from the king’s clutches he knew right where to go to find the brothers in this time of persecution—Mary’s house!

In his later years Mark would minister to Peter and Paul in Roman prisons, undergoing trials of their own. He would go on to write his gospel, the first account of Jesus’ life and teaching, and ecourage the saints in his own way. While he ended his career as a mighty warrior for God, it’s important to remember that he began it sitting on the knee of his very brave mother.

That’s something to think about.

Ducks

My friend Devin Warrington writes these words:

From the surface of the water, a duck looks like it has its act together. It seems to calmly drift across the water. But underneath, the duck is paddling frantically trying to keep moving, especially if moving against the current. If a duck were to look around at the other ducks it might be surprised or even disheartened. The duck might assume that while it’s working like crazy, all the other ducks are serenely gliding along. That duck might start to think it’s doing something wrong. Or the duck might think that the other ducks know something that it doesn’t. The duck may even start to believe it isn’t very good at being a duck. It’s not easy being a duck, but it is easy to get discouraged if one duck compares itself to all the other ducks around. Especially if the only thing visible is above the water. This is the duck effect.

Family, I want to make a few points about this metaphor of our lives. Just because people seem like they have it all together doesn’t mean they do. Some people do some of the time, but I pretty well guarantee no one does all of the time, and most of us have only brief periods of calm. Keeping this in mind is important for a number of reasons:

  1. We shouldn’t feel such pressure to pretend like everything is fine. Our lives are messy. It’s ok to need someone to cry with, vent to, or pray with. It’s ok to be struggling with sin and need support.
  2. We should reach out to encourage and support others even if it seems like they’re gliding along just fine. Build relationships that go deeper than small talk so that we’re able to better see what’s going on beneath the surface of each other’s lives.
  3. When someone else reacts in an uncharitable way toward us, maybe with a short temper, we should realize we have no idea what’s going on in their life right now. Perhaps their reaction wasn’t personal, but rather a reflection of the struggles they are going through. Consider giving them the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Realize that it can be hard for others to see when you’re struggling or that you feel like you’re about to drown. Ask for support rather than being surprised that no one is noticing that you’re nearly exhausted and about to get swept away by the current.

“Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep,” Romans 12:15

“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing,” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

“Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude,” 1 Peter 3:8

“Cancer” is a Big Word

There are some big words out there. Words like aidsleukemiacerebral palsy, and cancer. Maybe you’ve heard them spoken by your doctor or pediatrician. Maybe they’ve been whispered among others in reference to people you love. These words frighten us. They challenge our priorities. For many, these words are synonyms for hopelessness.

When I hear the Big Words others come to my mind, the words of David the Psalmist: “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we trust the name of the Lord our God.” It’s so easy to come to trust things and forget the Maker of all things. We place our faith in the creation rather than the Creator. But then we hear the Big Words, and we realize that the creation is woefully inadequate to handle our fear and pain. Even though science and skill come from God, these are limited in our place and time. I know people close to me with cancer, ALS, and cerebral palsy. I know many who have suffered devastating physical effects from these diseases. And I know that, right now in this time and place, there is no cure. Science hasn’t the ken. Treatment options are limited. Our technology hasn’t yet caught up to our needs.

But God is not bound by our technology and knowledge. He gives us science and a mind of discovery, but there are many secrets we have yet to learn. God knows. He knows about the Big Words and what they do to us. He knows how to cure and make everything right. He knows why. And while our understanding is limited, when we hear the Big Words, we know that we have nowhere else to turn. The creation has let us down. God lifts us up. “Some trust in medical science, and some in doctors, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Doctors are good, and medicine is good, but ultimately, healing is from the Lord.

That’s something to think about.

My Favorite Things

We all have our favorites. You might have a favorite television show, a favorite music genre, or a favorite sports team. Perhaps you have a favorite color or a favorite tie. Your favorites reflect your personality. As that personality changes over the years, so may your preferences. That’s just the way we humans are.

It’s normal to have favorites. We’re drawn to people and things that appeal to us. But, in the Christian walk, we are called to overcome “normal”. Being godly is nothing like being normal. Normal people don’t always act with kindness toward others or share love with their fellow men. Normal people judge and find fault with those around them. Normal people are fallen sinners.

Perhaps you get my point. We are fallen sinners who are constantly in danger of being normal. That’s why we have to avoid distinguishing between people, exercising normal, worldly prejudices. James writes, “My brothers and sisters, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” Faith in Jesus has no business hanging around with prejudice. Godliness is not normal.

That’s something to think about.

Here Comes the Son

Green is one of my favorite colors. I think that is what I like most about Spring—green pops up everywhere! The world is overflowing in verdure, and it seems like life pours out of every nook and cranny of the planet.

Spring holds promise. Every year we see the plants go dormant; birds migrate south; insects and animals disappear to while away the winter’s snows in a warm nest or den. And then Spring comes. Wildlife becomes active once more, birds return from their winter vacations, trees bud, and flowers bloom. The grass grows green again, and the world is refreshed and renewed in this change of season.

Jesus promises us the same thing: refreshing, renewal, resurrection. Peter, preaching to a crowd in the Lord’s name, said, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” After a long winter of guilt and sin, how marvelous it is to be refreshed by God! All we need to do is turn from the frigid shadows of sin and raise our faces to the Son.

That’s something to think about.

What a Comeback!

Sometimes we love to root for the underdog. That’s why we have sayings like, “It’s not over ‘til it’s over.” Too many times, we’ve witnessed amazing comebacks by sports teams, individuals, and politicians that took everybody by surprise. I can’t help but think of the iconic photo of a triumphant Harry Truman holding a copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune aloft. The newspaper proudly declares, “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

At times the outlook may appear bleak, but someone with perseverance and patience will abruptly shock us with unexpected success. I imagine it was like that for Jesus’ disciples after his resurrection. They had counted him out, considered him gone. All their work, their preaching, their education suddenly meant nothing. Now they were on their own with no direction outside a few misunderstood promises from the Lord. Then, things change. The underdog makes his comeback in a big way.

Some women came to the disciples, breathlessly claiming an impossibility—the dead Jesus was now the living Messiah! He was risen and planning to meet them. Them—these men, huddled together like frightened mice trying to avoid the gaze of the Romans. Them—the ones who fled, denied, abandoned him. Them—his called, his chosen, his friends. No rally in the history of man can compare with this: Christ the Lord is risen today! Hallelujah!

That’s something to think about.

On Calv’ry’s Tree

On Calv’ry’s tree Messiah hung, a world of grief to bear—
No law transgressed nor wrong He’d done, yet God forsook Him there.
For sin incarnate He became, the vilest evil, He—
What burden laden sore with blame has He borne there for me.

What myst’ry on the cross laid bare, despite my filth and shame,
Could cause the Lamb to call me there, and there my soul reclaim.
What wondrous Love of noblest worth could harbor such a plan,
That God, creator of all earth should die for sinful man.

But Death cannot God’s will enslave nor keep Him from His own—
The Son is risen from the grave and sits upon His throne.
With grateful hearts our voices raise Thy Name, O Lord, to sing,
And give Thee honor, laud, and praise as most befits a King.

Sheet music.

You Are My Sunshine

To look about us, you might think that spring has finally come. After all the frustrating winter weather I, for one, will happily welcome the change. One passage of scripture that comes to my mind at this time of year reads, “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

As sun and rain seem to vie for supremacy in the pre-spring sky, we can be assured that the weather is not dependent on our spiritual state. But on closer examination of these words of Jesus from the fifth chapter of Matthew we find that he’s not speaking of the weather after all, but of love.

If God shows kindness and gives blessings to people just because they are part of his creation, we ought to do the same, so that we might be “sons of [our] Father.” Whether it is the sunshine of a smile or showers of blessing, God’s children ought to be a source of good things to a world in need of goodness.

That’s something to think about.

Good For the Soul

I was talking with someone awhile back, and one of the things that he brought up was how we in the Church seem to treat confession like it’s an outdated, old-fashioned idea that has no place in the worship of the modern congregation. While it’s true that we intellectually acknowledge the need for confession in our personal lives, public confession—or worse, corporate confession—just ought not to be done. Maybe we’re afraid that, if we demonstrate weakness, we’ll somehow invite ravenous atheists to tear apart an all-too-fragile faith. Perhaps we believe that, if we talk about our sins, the world will write us off as hypocrites. Or, maybe we’re so embarrassed about something in our past that we just don’t want to talk about it.

Those may be normal human concerns, but they really don’t have any place in the Church. God is bigger than our enemies, so if we’re afraid for our faith, it’s time for us to hunker down and trust that God has got this under control. Hiding our sins and pretending that everything is just peachy when it’s not is the very definition of hypocrisy. Dysfunctional churches are born from the public facade of denial. Such denial leads to self-deceit and ignorance, which, in turn, pits genuine truth-seekers against a perplexed establishment that can’t understand why we don’t just leave well-enough alone.

And embarrassed? The apostle Paul had some things to be mighty embarrassed about, even referring to himself as “the least of the apostles.” However, this same evangelist went on to say that his only boast was in Christ Jesus, and that the Lord himself had told him, “My strength is perfected in weakness.” Are we to deny Jesus the opportunity to truly, powerfully, use our congregations because we’re too embarrassed to show weakness and confess our sins?

That’s something to think about.