Monday, October 31, 2011

What identifies us as a Christian? Acts 11:25-26 with a story, an observation and a prayer

SCRIPTURE: Acts 11:25-26 (NIV)
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

A college student decided to take a course on Birds thinking that it was going to be an easy course, plus the professor was very old. On the second day of class they were going to have their first test on the first 10 chapters of the textbook. The test simply pictured 20 birds from the knees down. The student struggled for a short period of time, but finally had had it. He took the test, tore it up, through it at the professor, and headed for the door. The professor said, “Wait a minute, who are you?” With that the student pulled up his pants legs and said, “You tell me!”

By what are we identified? By our actions and our deeds? By our attitudes and words? What caused those in Antioch to call the disciples Christians, Christ followers, for the first time? Was it the simply the words and teachings of Barnabas and Saul, or was their more? After all, words are cheap … there just had to be more. Yes, Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught large numbers of people, but if we place the hours that they taught over against the hours they simply lived among the people of Antioch the “simply lived among” hours far out number the “met and taught hours”. The “living among” carries more testimonial weight than the other … because words are cheap.

The old professor was so in love with birds that he could identify them simply by their legs and probably by their beaks or any other parts of their anatomy as well … and wanted his students to develop the same love for the subject matter of the course. The student wanted a good grade without any work. It often doesn’t work that way. Nor are we identified as Christians without the work of discipleship. By what identifying “markings” will others call us Christians?

There are some evenings, as I review the actions of the day, that I just beat myself up for not being a better Christian, acting more Christ like, speaking with a kinder and gentler voice. The question that haunts me is, “Could those who encountered me identify me as a Christian by my deeds and words?” This kind of spiritual review often causes some sleepless nights.

Help us to so order our life that those who encounter us will find a genuine friend and a dedicated Christ follower … even those who have just a passing encounter during today. Amen.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It is not about having clean underwear, but the conditon of our souls - Genesis 2:7

SCRIPTURE: Genesis 2:7 (The Message)
God formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The Man came alive - a living soul!

Some years ago a man wrote the following:
“You’re not going to wear that are you?” Grammatically it was a question but in reality it was not a question at all. I was a teenager! When your mother asks in “that” tone of voice you do understand that it is really a declarative statement precipitating a change! You’ve been through this conversation on other occasions. You know what’s coming next. “Suppose you had a wreck or something and were carried to the doctor’s office or the hospital. That undershirt is worn out you know. Take it off and get another one!” … Can you imagine my dismay when in later years married to a registered nurse I learned that personnel in emergency rooms never check the patient for worn out underwear or holes in their socks? … However, the old question about underwear may raise a more pertinent thought of due relevance for today. What about our “inner-wear?” What is the condition of our psyche or soul? What is the state of our emotional self?

I’ve been told that one of John Wesley’s questions asked during the Class Meetings was: How is it with you soul? I believe that Mr. Wesley had it right. We should always be asking about our soul’s condition.

It was through the “breath” of God. The Greek word for “breath” is Pneuma and in a religious context it represents "spirit" or " soul." Therefore, what God was giving to us was his spirit or his soul and at that point we came alive! So, when the question is asked, “How is it with your soul?” What is really being asked is how are you handling the very essence of God that he has planted deep within our being … that which causes us to be alive!

May we handle the thing most precious, our very soul, with tenderness. It is such a precious gift that we simply cannot live without. Help us live so well that we can give a good report on what we have done with the greatest gift of all … life itself. Amen.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Looking for peace in all the wrong places - Philippians 4:7

SCRIPTURE: Philippians 4:7 (The Message)
Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

In 1555, Nicholas Ridley was burned at the stake because of his witness for Christ. On the night before Ridley's execution, his brother offered to remain with him in the prison chamber to be of assistance and comfort. Nicholas declined the offer and replied that he meant to go to bed and sleep as quietly as ever he did in his life. Because he knew the peace of God, he could rest in the strength of the everlasting arms of his Lord to meet his need.

Our president announced last week that the troops will be home by Christmas from Iraq … and the nation breathed a sigh of relieve and a prayer. An ugly chapter in our nations history was finally coming to an end. But will it bring peace?

A lottery ticket is bought and through the miracle of luck a person wins the mega bucks … and answer to prayer they state, but will it bring the peace that they expect?

Two people stand before the altar of a church and vow to love each other “until death doeth us part” … there is great hope, tremendous potential, tons of well-wishes and good lucks are passed around, but will their dreams of peace and harmony last?

Diets are tried and successfully accomplished, weight falls off, new clothes are bought, health is restored, but does it change the nature of the human heart and is peace restored to the individual on this particular journey?

The surgery is successful, the cancer is removed, healing process has begun, but what about the spirit … is peace realized within the process?

Peace is such an aloof quality to life. Just when we think that we understand it and have achieved it … POOF! … it flies away and is no longer … and the search continues.

The things of life and the people of life cannot produce peace – no matter how hard we try and no matter how committed we become to make it a reality. Accomplishments and achievements will bring a sense of “all is right with the world” but only for a fleeting moment because the world in which we live has a “what have you done for me lately” mindset.

Only when we take our rest in the presence of God, even when faced with the most life threatening of circumstances or the most unsettling of situations, can we be at peace. As the gospel song states: We can face tomorrow because he lives!

When the storms of life are raging, Stand by me;
When the storms of life are raging, Stand by me.
When the world is tossing me
Like a ship upon the sea,
Thou who rulest wind and water, Stand by me.

In the midst of tribulation, Stand by me;
In the midst of tribulation, Stand by me.
When the hosts of sin assail,
And my strength begins to fail,
Thou who never lost a battle, Stand by me.

In the midst of faults and failures, Stand by me;
In the midst of faults and failures, Stand by me.
When I’ve done the best I can,
And my friends misunderstand,
Thou who knowest all about me, Stand by me.

When I’m growing old and feeble, Stand by me;
When I’m growing old and feeble, Stand by me.
When my life becomes a burden,
And I’m nearing chilly Jordan,
O thou Lily of the Valley, Stand by me. Amen.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Modern Day Parable - The Twins by Denepher Smith

The Twins: A Modern Day Parable by Denepher Smith

A certain woman gave birth to quadruplets; three boys and a girl. As they grew, they were close, always together. The played hard but sometimes fought harder. In the end they always came together in peace because there was one thing that they could all agree on: "We were born children of one mother" they would say and this was the one certainty which united them.

As they approached their nineteen birthday, they all chose to go their separate ways: to study, choose careers, make their way in life. As they waited at the train station to travel in different directions, the first born said " we must get together in a few years and discuss what we have found out about life, we will see what other truth there is out there on which we can agree". They all decided this was a good idea and so they separated.

The youngest went east. He became a doctor, a healer. Using skills which his mother had taught him, he studied long and hard. He revolutionised fields of medicine and had a huge following. People trusted him. If you took his medicine as he prescribed it you could get well from many disorders. Of course there were quacks who said that they had worked with him, used his name because of the kudos and gave out their own concoctions which of course did not work. Soon people were getting confused, felt cheated and questioned the integrity of the good doctor. When a grieving family complained that he was the cause of their deceased child's death, he was tried, found guilty and given a life sentence. Unexpectedly, a few days into his sentence, he was released from prison and continued his work. Although he drew more students round him, the damage had also been done. Many people found it difficult to separate the truth from the fiction about him. Many began listening to his students rather than to him.

The daughter, who had been born the second child, went north. She studied agriculture, married a farmer and together they developed a consuming interest in cattle, the earth and the interrelationship between the two. They breed and interbreed varieties of cows, sheep, pigs, hens, chickens. Grew orchards of old and new fruit; fields of varied vegetables. They had boom years and barns which over flowed; they had disease plagued years when they had to slaughter herds to prevent spread of disease. At first they felt helpless, they developed rituals to appease the forces of nature, initially without any success. As the years went by however; by careful observation they learnt techniques which enabled them to became successful at reducing the plague years and maximising the harvests. They utilised anything they could, invented new machines: they were mechanised, self sufficient, in control of their fate, they thought!

The middle son went south, worked hard and was successful at business for a few years. One day while flying home from a trip, his plane crashed over the desert; he alone survived. Bruised and battered he set off to try to reach safety. After a several hours he realised just how unlikely it was that he would ever be found alive. He was overcome by a great sense of isolation. On the second day dehydrated, disoriented and depressed, he came across a small watering hole. Along side it grew a tree, small nuts and vegetation which he could eat. The tree provided him with just enough shade from the Sun by day and he found that if he dug into the sand and covered himself with leaves at night, he was kept warm. He determined this place was his best chance of survival. He crossed his legs, sat down and reflected on what had happened. Days and nights he sat, rationing his water, conserving his strength, listening to his heart beat, feeling the flow of his own breath, heat, cold and the crawling of insects on his skin. He experienced altered states of mind and being as his brain and body adjusted and accommodated to his situation. His hair and beard grew, the sun weathered his skin. He knew that this could not last indefinitely: either death would come or he would be rescued, his present state was impermanent. From this knowledge, he drew strength, became at peace, shared his watering hole with whatever creatures came near because he recognised that they too shared his struggle for life. Eventually he was rescued and took home with him this new way of thinking and being; he became a Philosopher.

The first born had always appeared to be their mother's favourite son, he set of west. He too became a business man. He had formulas for success which he applied, many were family secrets which had been passed onto him. Wherever he went however there was always rivalry and resentment at his success; tragedy struck time and time again. In one town his wife and daughter were attacked. The family moved elsewhere transferred their assets and his business. A few years later his son was murdered. It broke his heart, he became very bitter. Why was this happening to him, his mother's favoured son? Never again would he allow it, he would fight back, fire with fire, everyone, anyone who threatened him and his. He found land, built a city and fortified it. Every assault on his dignity was answered, every affront dealt with. When his methods were questioned, he answered in all cases: "It was self defence!".

The years passed, the quads neared their sixtieth year, They had not seen each other in all this time. The first born remembered what he had suggested and sent an emails to the rest. Arrangements were made to meet on the same station platform from which they had taken their leave all those years ago. Each sibling accepted the invitation and agreed to be there. The day came and at the agreed time they all arrived. The business man from the west had brought his body guards with him. They walked along side him, hands on holstered hips. The doctor from the east was there but no one recognised him anymore. In fact as he waited, he saw on the platform wall a poster with the face of someone else claiming to be him. The impostor offered a new brand of one of the doctor's old medicines for an exorbitant fee. The doctor shook his head in sadness. The Farmer's wife was there. Now rich and fat yet fashionable, she asked her chauffeur to wait as she stepped from her gleaming Mercedes. The philosopher shuffled in dressed in simple clothes. Years of crossing his legs and the time he had spent in the desert had flexed some of his joints. He wore his hair and beard short these days, his skin remained weathered.

They looked around these four: Jew (& or Muslim), Christian, Atheist, Buddhist, searching for a familiar face. They looked at each other; they looked through each other. They passed and re passed but no recognition struck. After an half hour had passed, they began to leave, each deciding that the others just had not bothered. Each concluded that the only certainty that they shared, though true was no longer relevant, no longer a point of unity. They had nothing further to discuss, no final truth to find.... together.

Friday, October 21, 2011

How will we be remembered when we are gone? Philippians 1:27-28 A lesson learned from Alfred Nobel with a reflecion on Gadhafi's death

SCRIPTURE: Philippians 1:27-28 (The Message)
Meanwhile, live in such a way that you are a credit to the Message of Christ. Let nothing in your conduct hang on whether I come or not. Your conduct must be the same whether I show up to see things for myself or hear of it from a distance. Stand united, singular in vision, contending for people's trust in the Message, the good news, not flinching or dodging in the slightest before the opposition. Your courage and unity will show them what they're up against: defeat for them, victory for you - and both because of God.

A STORY ~ Source Unknown:
It is possible to live under a delusion. You think you are kind, considerate and gracious when you are really not. You think you are building positive stuff into your children when in reality, if you could check with them twenty years later, you really didn't. What if you could read your own obituary? How do people really see you? Here is the story of a man who did.

One morning in 1888 Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, awoke to read his own obituary. The obituary was printed as a result of a simple journalistic error. You see, it was Alfred's brother that had died and the reporter carelessly reported the death of the wrong brother. Any man would be disturbed under the circumstances, but to Alfred the shock was overwhelming because he saw himself as the world saw him. The "Dynamite King," the great industrialist who had made an immense fortune from explosives. This, as far as the general public was concerned, was the entire purpose of Alfred's life. None of his true intentions to break down the barriers that separated men and ideas for peace were recognized or given serious consideration. He was simply a merchant of death. And for that alone he would be remembered. As he read the obituary with horror, he resolved to make clear to the world the true meaning and purpose of his life. This could be done through the final disposition of his fortune. His last will and testament--an endowment of five annual prizes for outstanding contributions in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace (the sixth category of economics was added later)--would be the expression of his life's ideals and ultimately would be why we would remember him. The result was the most valuable of prizes given to those who had done the most for the cause of world peace. It is called today, the "Nobel Peace Prize."

Wouldn’t it be great if we had a built in GPS … something internally that could direct us in the right direction? There are many who would argue that Holy Writ is God’s GPS for our spiritual journey … and it is, if we would but only follow its teachings, guidance and instructions, as in “when all else fails read the instructions.” But, alas, that isn’t the case.

For most of us we simply follow what we like, discard what we don’t and misread the rest. Like from Matthew 5 where it states that we are to call “no one a fool” and yet here we are making declarative statements every day that someone is a fool or idiot or stupid because of what they said or did. Or, like in Romans 12:19 where it states (NIV): “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” and yet, we seek out to destroy another person’s life. Yes, the world doesn’t need the Hitlers or Gadhafis or any other mean-spirited, misguided dictator … but is it our role to celebrate and rejoice when one of these individuals are killed?

I will admit that I am a pacifist. I make no apologies for my position nor will I enter into a debate here or in any other forum concerning my stance. That is not the purpose of this blog. There are some rather important people in my life that are pro-military, pro-guns, and pro-war and I both respect and accept them as they are without a desire to change their point of view. I have some dear friends who are retired military and one even now works for a defense contractor. In some way I am a different kind of pacifist because I will support the troops and get chocked up in the singing of the national anthem, as well as embrace those who have served our country with valor.

Each of us has arrived at this point in life with a history that has contributed to who we are. I continue to be appreciative of other peoples journey and their spirit without needing to overstate my position or enter into an argument with them over a particular issue. People are just too important to me to do that to them or to me. And I am keenly aware that there are many who take the time to read this blog that will strongly disagree with me and probably will post strongly worded responses or they will shoot me an e-mail or two.

My bottom line is that throughout my journey I have been on the receiving end of too many fists thrown by angry people. When I bothered to take the time I made a marvelous discovery … they weren’t angry at me or even with me. The anger was simply a result of how they were raised. Besides, it was a difficult and painful lesson to learn what Jesus was teaching about turning the other cheek and it continues to be a difficult attitude to take. But, we are asked to follow Jesus or as the popular slogan of a couple of years back shared: WWJD? Well, on the cross Jesus asked God to forgive them who nailed him there. Can we do less than that?

Is the world a better place with the removal of people like Gadhafi? Yes. It isn’t about his removal or how he was removed from history’s stage, but it is about the rejoicing and celebration that a life has been taken that I have the most difficult time with. From my perspective, the opportunity to meet Jesus and have his life turned around, changed, has been taken away and yes, he took that privilege and right away from thousands of people, but we do need to remember Romans 12:19.

As we make our journey through life we would do well to remember the story of Alfred Nobel and ask, how do we want to remember? I doubt that any of us will reach the awful state of a Gadhafi, but nevertheless, how will people remember us? What contributions have we made to make life better? Have we forgiven our enemies and those who would do all sorts of harm to us? Who slander us? Who take our things? And push us down on the playground?

If we had the privilege of writing our obituary what would it say?

Lord, we only come through this life one time, help us to make it matter! In the name of the one who forgave his enemies, our leader, friend and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Our morning attitude influences the rest of our day - Psalm 118:24

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 118:24 (NIV)
“This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Or, as The Message has it: “This is the very day God acted - let's celebrate and be festive!”

Dr. F.W. Boreham tells about his stay in a quaint old cottage in England occupied by a minister's widow. She had given him her bedroom and in the morning when he pulled up the blind, he saw that into the glass of the windowpane had been cut the words: "This is the day." He asked the elderly lady about it at breakfast. She explained that she had had a lot of trouble in her time and was always afraid of what was going to happen tomorrow. One day she read the words of the above text. It occurred to her that it meant any day, this day. "Why should I be afraid of the days if He makes them?" So the widow scratched the words as well as she could in the windowpane, so that every time she drew her blind in the morning she was reminded that "This is the day." Realizing the Lord made it, she was no longer afraid.

As I see it we have two choices every morning. We can either face the day ahead with a sense of gloom and doom OR we can face it as another gift from God. And then there are those who face each day as just that – just another day, nothing special, nothing unique … JUST another day on the treadmill of life praying as they go, “Lord, just get me through today!”

Attitude influences the pending events of the day. The widow in the story got it right. If she could begin each day with the understanding that it was a gift from God to be enjoyed then her life would be better … and it was. Regardless of what any particular day may bring one thing is sure – The Lord has created the day just for us because we are special. As The Message reads: “Let’s celebrate and be festive!”

Just that simple reminder in the morning will influence the entire hours that stretch before us. If we can get up and state, “My Lord what a morning” instead of, “Lord, it’s morning” our existence will be transformed into something that will challenge us to explain to others except by simply sharing that God has given us a marvelous gift of another day in his Kingdom.

So, let’s be festive! Let’s put on our party hats and dance a little. Let’s embrace this precious gift with joy and gladness because this IS the day that the Lord has made and we are to rejoice and be glad in it! Yeah, let the celebration begin!

Thank you Lord … thank you for such a tremendous gift as another day in your Kingdom! Amen

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Using time wisely - Ecclesiastes 3:1-5

SCRIPTURE: Ecclesiastes 3:1-5 (The Message)
There's an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth: A right time for birth and another for death, A right time to plant and another to reap, A right time to kill and another to heal, A right time to destroy and another to construct, A right time to cry and another to laugh, A right time to lament and another to cheer, A right time to make love and another to abstain, A right time to embrace and another to part

Take time to think – it is the source of power
Take time to read – it is the foundation of wisdom
Take time to pray – it is the secret of staying young
Take time to be aware – it is the opportunity to seek God
Take time to love and be loved – it is God’s greatest gift
Take time to laugh – it is the music of the soul
Take time to be friendly – it is the road to happiness
Take time to dream – it is what the future is made of
Take time to pray – it is the greatest power on earth

We are all given the same number of hours in a day … then why do some individuals accomplish so much while others accomplish very little. According to my older brother it all boils down to time management.

It is too easy to waste time via TV, Computer, etc. Just moving through the day without a focus, direction or purpose.

The challenge is to set goals and then ask the all-important question: Does this activity help me to achieve my goals? Depending on the answer ones activity could change and before long accomplishing great things will become the story of our life.

We have the time to do whatever it is that we really want to do … really!

Gracious God help me to be faithful stewards of the hours and minutes that have been placed in my hands. Help me to use them wisely. Help me to handle them with care. Help me to be your disciple in all things. Amen.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Flattery is cheap, but can it make us stronger? - Proverbs 6:24

SCRIPTURE: Proverbs 6:24 (KJV)
"To keep thee from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman."

A pastor was leaving the church as its pastor. An old lady, at his farewell reception, said, “The next pastor will never take your place.” To which the pastor, trying not to be flattered, replied, “Oh, madam, I don’t think so.” The dear soul quickly responded with, “It is true. I’ve been in this church for a long time and have lived through eight pastors and each one was worse than the previous one.”

Flattery is cheap. It comes with little meaning. It is offered because the individual usually cannot think of something to insightful to share. Flattery is just empty words thrown around. The challenge is not to allow any of those empty words to stick.

Bishop Nolan Harmon, retired, was one of my professors at seminary. He was fond of saying, “Believe only half of what you hear at the back door to the sanctuary, but only hear it with one ear.” In other words don’t allow the words to take root in your brain.

Pride is an excellent ingredient in doing our work – as a pastor or as a layperson. Arrogance can follow rather closely on the heels of pride if we start buying into the general comments and praise that is often thrown around. An emotional and spiritual fall follows rather closely to the onset of arrogance.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 it states: “…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” This includes, not only the blessings and grace-filled moments, but also for those evil and strange people in our life; for those who give empty flattery comments on everything that we do; it means for those who tear you down … in every situation give thanks because if we listen carefully we just might learn something about ourselves.

Wasn’t it Nietzsche who said, “That which doesn’t break us will make us stronger”? Praise God for strength building encounters … even from evil and strange people.

Help us to hear, amongst all the words that come our way, your strong voice. May it make us stronger and ever ready to do your heavenly will. Amen.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fighting the temptation to be like everybody else - Romans 12:2

SCRIPTURE: Romans 12:2 (The Message)
Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

The old country boy was walking along a dusty Louisiana road. He was wearing his Sunday suit and his Bible was tucked under his arm. A friend stopped him and asked, “Bob, whar you goin’” “I’m goin’ to Nyawleans (New Orleans),” Bob answered. “But Bob, it’s only Wednesday and you’re wearing your Sunday suit and you have your Bible.” “Listen,” replied Bob, “I heard that in Nyawleans there’s drinkin’ and there’s gamblin’ and pretty girls and partyin’ and iffen all that ‘s true, I jest might stay through Sunday.”

Let’s be honest … it is extremely easy … too easy … to become well-adjusted to the world that surrounds us. So easy that we simply begin to shape our lives and our thinking by the norms of the society in which we find ourselves.

FOCUS … Isn’t that what the football coach drills into his team just before taking the field. If we keep our focus on God then living in a world that surrounds us with all kinds of temptations is going to be easier than we can imagine. It is just keeping the focus.

I don’t about anyone else, but the first area for my focus is the weekly calendar. Oh, how easy can this thing or that begin to dominate the activities for the week and before I know what has happened … the week is totally out of focus and I have bowed to the “demands” of the world. Have you discovered the same thing in your life?

Yield not to temptation is a lot easier to sing about than to follow.

Become our coach today. Keep us focused on that which is important. Help us to dedicate our calendar and the hours that it represents to your glory and to the work of the kingdom. Keep us from yielding to the many temptations that call for our attention. And, we ask this all through the precious name of Jesus. Amen

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Living as people who have already won the victory - 1 Corinthians 15:54

SCRIPTURE: 1 Corinthians 15:54 (NIV)
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."

An Arab worked all day and became extremely tired. At night he came back to his tent. Lit a candle to eat supper. He had but 3 figs. He cut open the first one and it was full of worms. He threw it away. Cut open the 2nd one and it too was full of warms. He threw it away. He then blew out the candle and ate the 3rd fig.

Moral of the about story … some things are hard to swallow.

We all like the experience of celebrating a victory and hate the painful experience of defeat … some things are easy to embrace while others are hard to swallow.

It is the desire of most of us to live a life of victory, but when wander around in life as if we are individuals of defeat instead of people of victory. As E. Stanley Jones was fond of stating: “If you have Christ in your heart how about informing your face of that reality.”

I particularly like The Message’s paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 15:24 - Then the saying will come true: Death swallowed by triumphant Life!

The emphasis of a triumphant life captures my imagination and lifts my spirit, but why wait for death to come to experience that reality? The great news is that we don’t have to wait. Isn’t that what Jesus meant when he told those around him “the kingdom of God has come near.”

Why live as if the reward of Christian living is off someplace in a distant land, especially since it is right here within our reach? A triumphant life doesn’t mean that all the trials and tribulations of this life are past and forgotten, it simply means that we have a companion in Christ that will be with us through those times and the gift of the Holy Spirit to give us strength when we face them.

Victory is ours! Embrace it! Celebrate it!

Thank you Lord for giving us the victory. Now, give us the conviction to live as individuals who have already won the race! Amen!

Friday, October 14, 2011

About growing Apples and Oranges in Florida - A Modern Day Parable

This Modern Day Parable was posted by jwise on I liked enough that I wanted to pass it on to you ...

A man once owned two very large apple orchards in Florida. As he grew older and traveled more and more, he turned each orchard over to his two sons. One day, though, it hit him: His orchards were in Florida, and he should be growing oranges, not apples. So he called his two sons and told them, “We live in Florida. We should grow oranges. I want you guys to turn my apples into oranges.” So his two sons, Esau and Jacob, set to the task.

The first, Esau, anxious to become productive as soon as possible, came up with an ingenious idea. He printed out thousands of address labels reading “Orange Tree”. He then went to his orchard and stuck a label on each tree. After a long day’s work, his task was complete. He looked out across the orchard and with satisfaction whispered, “All done, Dad. You’ve got thousands of orange trees already producing fruit!”

Jacob also set to work immediately. He took chainsaw to orchard and cut and burned thousands and thousands of apple trees. The process took an entire week. The next week, thousands of young orange trees arrived, and it took two weeks of hard labor to plant them all. When he was done, though, he looked across the groves with satisfaction and whispered, “All done, Dad. Soon you’ll have thousand of orange trees producing fruit!”

It was several years before their father returned to check up on the fruit farm. Both sons were anxious to show off their work. Esau went to one of the trees in his orchard and showed it off, beaming with pride. “Dad, I knew you’d be anxious to have fruit right away, so I came up with a way to produce thousands of trees in a hurry, and all producing fruit. I didn’t waste the first couple years like Jacob did!”

Astonished, his father picked a nearby apple. “Esau, this is an apple! I told you I wanted oranges! Does this look like an orange to you?!”

Esau, taken aback by his father’s response, stuttered a bit to reply. “Well, no Dad. But these are orange trees! Look right here! What does this say? Orange Tree! Years ago, I put this label on all my trees. And the label doesn’t lie! So if it says “Orange Tree”, then it’s an orange tree! I have no idea how it’s producing apples!”

His father, even more infuriated, replied, “It’s producing apples because it’s an apple tree! Putting a label on it doesn’t make an apple tree into an orange tree anymore than saying a prayer makes you a Christian! Turning from Esau, he said, “Jacob, I sure hope you have something better to show me.”

Jacob took the two to his grove. As they walked, he told his father what he had done. “It was a painful process that took some time. All the apple trees died; nothing survived that was here before. I then planted new orange trees where the apples had been. It took time for them to mature, but you can clearly tell by their fruit that they are in fact orange trees!” Jacob picked an orange and handed it to his father.

“Well done, Jacob. This is exactly what I had in mind. You have faithfully obeyed me. Obviously I never expected oranges to start growing on apple trees.” Turning to Esau he said, “Esau, you’re a fool. In your arrogance you have completely disobeyed me, and now you have thousands of apple trees which must be burned and replaced. You have lost me many years of productivity from your fields. I will turn your fields over to Jacob, who was faithful to my requests. Jacob, well done. You recognized that no apple tree would ever produce the oranges I requested, and you set out to kill the apple trees and put in their place new, fresh orange trees, fully capable of producing many, many oranges. For your faitfulness, I am giving you my entire inheritance. Well done.”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Living as citizens of another country - Philippians 3:20

SCRIPTURE: Philippians 3:20 (The Message)
But there's far more to life for us. We're citizens of high heaven! We're waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ

A Sunday school teacher of 4th and 5th graders asked about Heaven, stating that it was such a wonderful place and that everyone wants to go there. She asked, “How many of you would like to go to heaven right now?” No volunteers. “Jenny, don’t you want to go to heaven right now?” “No ma’am! My mommy told me to come straight home after Sunday school.”

We are more like the little girl in the story than we are like the scripture from Paul’s letter. We might be citizens of heaven, but we live as if it is a foreign land that has little or no connection to the reality of our life, a place that our earthly connections do not want or wish us to go.

It is a place that we have heard about, vaguely, but that is as far as we wish to take it.

If we knew, really knew, that our citizen papers were in another land would we honestly live any differently today … especially if that “other” land was heaven? Would we think differently … act differently … interact differently? Would we work so hard to establish a base of operation in the here and now or would we begin to live extravagantly … especially if we knew that our citizenship papers gave us unlimited resources?

Most of us live hesitantly, questioning every decision. Or, as was shared some time ago by an elderly citizen who had fallen and broken his hip, “I walked all the time like I was going to fall and I did.” To which his doctor said, “There you go. I try to convince all of my patients to walk with confidence and not in fear and you will have less chances of falling.” The doctor makes a good point, not only for our physical life, but for a spiritual life as well. If we question every step we are taking, walking as if we are going to fall, then we will indeed end up on our backs looking up. If we go through this life constantly questioning our relationship with God, taking hesitant steps spiritually, we too will end up sitting out on the joys that God has in store for us. We will miss out on so much because we just were too sure.

We, as citizens of the high heaven, ought to walk with the confidence that we belong to another world that has given us all the resources we need to make it through this world. With that sense of holy boldness we step forward not out of fear of going some place that our “mommy” doesn’t want us to go, but with the assurance that our heavenly father is ever calling us forward to embrace the future that he has planned out for us.

With the confidence of a faith rooted in your promises heavenly Father, help us today to step forward with a holy boldness to live the life that you have designed for us to live. Amen!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Can others see the Father in us? - John 14:9 with a story, an observation and a prayer

SCRIPTURE: John 14:9 (RSV)
Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, "Show us the Father'?

A college boy was traveling and stopped over in Boston to visit an old college friend of his fathers. He called to ask if it would be possible for him to come over. The response was, “By all means come on over.” The college student went to the front door and rang the doorbell. The old friend answered the door, but stood there for a long time with speaking. The boy broke the silence by asking, “Is there anything wrong?” “No,” was the old man’s response, “I just wanted to see if there is anything of your father in you.”

Do you ever wonder what others see in you? That thought keeps going through my gray matter, especially as I age. What do people see in me? Not what can I do for them, but the reflective glory of the Heavenly Father.

It is a sobering thought that we just might be the only Christian some individuals might ever meet during their journey through this life … and if that is true, what will they take away from the encounter? Will they have a better understanding of the love of God? Will they be able to close their eyes and have a clear image of what the Heavenly Father looks like? Will the glory of God radiate through our pores that they will have the experience of standing in the presence of God? Will they have the feeling that they have been touched by the Divine?

Is there anything of our Father in us? Does it show?

So live in us, O God, that others will be blinded by your glory and see only Jesus in our face and our actions. Amen.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Where does our real strength come from? Psalm 3:3 with a story from the life of E. Stanley Jones

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 3:3 (BBE)
But your strength, O Lord, is round me, you are my glory and the lifter up of my head.

E. Stanley Jones was traveling by train in Europe. He always had to be doing something so he was reading his Bible. A Russian Actress asked, “What are you doing?” “I am a Christian and I am reading the Bible.” She asked, “Why?” He responded by asking, “You tell me.” She said, “You are a coward. You need God to hold your hand.” Dr. Jones shared, “Yes, you are probably right when I first became a Christian. But now I only ask him to strengthen my arms so that I can serve.”

We are kind of a “go it alone” type of people … or as my son declared one day when I got down on the floor to “help” him build a castle with his blocks, “I do it myself!” We learn that life lesson early on in our years and it is strengthened as well as encouraged each step we take.

There are those moments in life when things simply get beyond our control and in turn we become unglued. It is called “The Foxhole Syndrome” – when the bombs are bursting around us, when bullets are whizzing over our heads, when the arrows of misfortune are being shot at us … we cry out to God for help, but until then we simply try to go it alone.

It is a wise person who discovers early in life’s journey that our strength does not come from within, but from above. We can go to the gym and build an impressive looking body able to lift incredible amounts of weights. We can become a Rhodes Scholar and become a genius of sorts. We can work extremely hard to gather great wealth which would permit us to do unbelievable things in this world … but through it all and at all times, our physical, mental and financial strength will ultimately fail us at those most crucial moments of the journey.

And why does God give us this special strength? Is it only for our benefit or is it, as Dr. Jones discovered, to serve the needs of others and the cause of the Kingdom?

Lord, we are weak and all too often heavy laden, but you are our strength. Help us today to rely on you in each step we take and May we serve those around us in your precious name! Amen.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Did Christ show up for worship yesterday - Psalm 66:4 with a story, an observation and a prayer

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 66:4 (The Message)
The whole earth falls to its knees - it worships you, sings to you, can't stop enjoying your name and fame.

A visitor to New York wanted to visit Ralph W. Sockman’s church which was called Christ Church. He got into a cab and asked the driver to drive him to Christ’s Church. The driver took him to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. “What’s wrong?” asked the cab driver. “I wanted to go to Christ’s Church.” “Well, sir,” responded the cab driver, “I don’t know about you, but when He is in town this is where He goes.”

Yesterday the “church” gathered at it various locations around the world.

Doors were opened, greeters greeted, ushers passed out bulletins, choirs sang as the organ/piano played, people gathered in the pews and the preacher did his/her thing. The question … the real question … is: Did Christ show up? Did the Holy Spirit move among the people? Did we just go through the motion, get our ticket punched for heaven and go home to live the same old, boring existence?

Do we ever really expect anything to really happen when the church gathers at the designated hour?

And now, the real question, are we in the process of preparing for the church to gather next Sunday? And, will we change our level of expectation and anticipation as we join others for the church’s regular worship service … or will it be irregular, an unanticipated event where something unusually exciting happens? Will we be looking for it, praying for it, longing for it?

Help us, Eternal God, not to take lightly the gathering of your church nor the need to prepare for the gathering. Prompt us not to leave it all up to the preacher and choir and others. Come Holy Spirit fill us, lead us, mold us, shape us after your divine will! Amen.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Don't get caught living out someone else's dream for your life - 1 Corinthians 15:54 with a statement from Steve Jobs' commencement address

SCRIPTURE: 1 Corinthians 15:54 (The Message)
Then the saying will come true: Death swallowed by triumphant Life!

A STATEMENT from Steve Jobs’ commencement address:
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life…”

What memorable lines from a memorable life! We get caught up trying to meet other people’s expectations for our life, career, personality, relationships … you can add your own category to this list. And, so, we bend overbackwards trying to make ourselves fit into their expectations for us. It will never work … no matter how hard we work at it!

Living a triumphant life is living a life of victory. It is living it as God designed for us to live it. I liked Mr. Jobs’ comment about doing what brings joy into your life. If you are not happy, move on. Don’t waste your time. Life is too short!

Sometimes we simply get caught by old tapes … those well meaning statements made by significant individuals, like our parents, that we keep replaying in our heads and thus, we get caught up in their agendas for our life … even after they have long pasted away. Life is too short! Erase the tapes and we need to live our life!

We only come through this life once – regardless of what those who believe in reincarnation might think – so it would behoove us to embrace every moment and make the best of it. Who was it that said, “I want to dance at my funeral!” What a great idea. The absolute joy of living life at the fullest.

It is amazing the freedom we can experience when we stop worry about what other people might think or how they are going to react. I served as an interim pastor to a non-Methodist congregation once after I retired. It became a standard line during those five years, “If you don’t like what I am sharing then what’s the worst that can happen? Fire me? I was retired already!” There is a freedom in that feeling. But why wait until you get too old to make a real difference in the lives that surround you.

Live a triumphant life …don’t waste it living someone else’s dream for you!

God, we only come through this life once so help us to make the best use of our time. Amen.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

When our minds get in the way of our heart - 1 Timothy 2:3-4 with a story of a 108-year-old farmer

SCRIPTURE: 1 Timothy 2:3-4 (NIV)
This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Cynthia Stacey, a nurse practitioner with the Veterans Administration Hospital Based Home Care, Gainesville, FL, shared the following story: One of our nurses was sort of exploring how well one of our homebound fellows is maintaining his mental status during a current hospitalization. She asked: “Mr. James, how old are you?” “108” (he is!) “Does it take 108 years to get close to the Lord?” “No.” “How long does it take?” “When you make up your mind.” Mr. James is an African-American farmer who was born and raised where he still lives, just north of Ocala, FL. Not an educated man, just a smart one.

Recently I had an interesting encounter with the son of a woman I was visiting in the hospital. As we stood in the hallway of the hospital he gently stated that his belief system was different than mine. Upon asking him about his belief system he shared, “I believe in the United States of America and everything that it stands for and that is all I need.” Period, end of discussion … at least at this point.

There was a little more revelation during my second visit. He grew up in a small community that had over 14 churches. It was a very religious community, but what he saw happening really turned him away from the “religious, churchy folk.” He shared: “They would say one thing on Sunday morning, but would behave totally different come Monday morning. Besides, when I went away to fight in Viet Nam those church people didn’t support my efforts nor did they welcome me back home when I returned. It was tough.” He went on to state: “I’m a retired Marine. We learn to walk the walk. Hold true to what you believe in and don’t give in. Unfortunately, except for a few Christians, like my mother, brothers and sister, I haven’t met a whole lot of Christians who walk the walk.”

“To come to a knowledge of the truth” is a long journey for some. This gentleman has great compassion, a good heart, a caring spirit, a gentle soul … it is just his mind that is kind of twisted up in a ball of doubt and frustration. His mind is standing in the way of following what his heart already knows. And so it is with most of us. If we would but follow our heart we would be making up our minds about the relationship immediately.

Maybe it is a control issue. Maybe it is the failure of those who claim a relationship, but twisted the truth through their lack of a faithful witness. Maybe it is a lifetime of experiences. Maybe it is a wide range of possibilities. Maybe my “hospital guy” will never come to a point of entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ, but the seeds have been planted by his mother and father, and have been and will continue to be watered by his 3 siblings and chance encounters such as mine.

The VA nurses question: “How long does it take?” is different for all of us. Sooner the better, it just makes life’s journey a lot easier. But for some, the minefield that they have to wade through is huge and very difficult. Rest assured that God knows the path that has brought my “hospital guy” and each of us to the point at which we stand. He understands and he knows our heart … deeper than we will ever discover about ourselves. In that there is salvation and there is hope.

Stand close to all of us God and gently guide us to the truth. You promised that you will never leave us and for that we are thankful. There are some, like the gentleman at the hospital, that just need a little more understanding and compassion. May all the come to meet him and others just like him, touch his spirit and influence his thinking a little at a time. May there be a moment in his future, as well as ours, when it the barriers that we have created come tumbling down by the overwhelming love of your presence; in the name of compassion himself, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

God never gives up on us - Luke 15:20 (11-32) with a story, an observation and a prayer

SCRIPTURE: Luke 15:20 (The Message) – the full story of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32
When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him.

Two parents were talking about a wayward son of one of them. “Well, if he was my son I would have given up on him long ago.” The other parent responded: “If he was your son I would have given up on him too, but he is my son.”

Aren’t you glad that God never gave up hope for you? I am. We are more like the Prodigal Son then we really like to admit. A little rebellious … oh, alright, a LOT rebellious, pigheaded, stubborn, “I don’t need you” mindset, arrogant, proud-full, self-centered, opinionated … have I hit any high points that best describes your general attitude in living this life? Oh, by-the-way, in the spirit that “confession is good for the soul,” painful as it is to admit, this list is my list.

While other people gave up on us a long time ago, God never did. While other important people turned their backs and walked away, God never did. While other significant people stuck it out for a long, long time but eventually said, “Enough is enough,” God never did. While painful events took place in our life, God stood vigil waiting for us to come to some awareness that we really couldn’t make it by ourselves and return … and there he was waiting, watch, eager to welcome us home. God never gave up.

When you are a parent – a loving, caring, concerned parent you simply don’t give up regardless of the situation. God is our creator, he is our parent and he will never give up on us. God believes in us, has great hope for us, has a tremendous plan for us … God is just waiting for us to return.

And the good news in all of this is that God welcomes us home over and over and over and over again – regardless of the number of times that we have rebelled and walked away.

Thank you God for not giving up on us. Thank you for patiently waiting for us to return. Thank you for never stopping the watchful vigil. Thank you for welcoming us back home, regardless of how many times we have rebelled and walked away from you. Amen.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

We never know who might be listening to us - John 12:32 with a story about one of the greatest preachers of the last century

SCRIPTURE: John 12:32 (NIV)
But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."

A STORY as shared by Max Lucado in “Cast of Characters,” page 100:
John Egglen had never preached a sermon in his life. Never.

Wasn’t that he didn’t want to, just never needed to. But then one morning he did. The snow left his town of Colchester, England buried in white. When he awoke on that January Sunday in 1850, he thought of staying home. Who would go to church in such weather?

But he reconsidered. He was, after all, a deacon. And if the deacons didn’t go, who would? So he put on his boots, hat, and coat and walked the six miles to the Methodist Church.

He wasn’t the only member who considered staying home. In fact, he was one of the few who came. Only thirteen people were present. Twelve members and one visitor. Even the minister was snowed in. Someone suggested they go home. Egglen would hear none of that. They’d come this far, they would have a service. Besides, they had a visitor. A thirteen-year-old boy.

But who would preach? Egglen was the only deacon. It fell to him.

And so he did. His sermon lasted only ten minutes. It drifted and wandered and made no point in an effort to make several. But at the end, an uncharacteristic courage settled upon the man. He lifted his eyes and looked straight at the boy and challenged: “Young man, look to Jesus. Look! Look! Look!”

Did the challenge make a difference? Let the boy, now a man, answer. “I did look, and then and there the cloud on my heart lifted, the darkness rolled away, and at that moment I saw the sun.”

The boy’s name? Charles Haddon Spurgeon. England’s prince of preachers.

You just never know. We can never know who is listening to us, who might be looking at us, who could be following in our footsteps. Influence is powerful. A word. An action. A deed. A seed planted in a young person’s heart, his spirit is transformed and the one of the century’s greatest preachers emerges into adulthood. You just never know.

The challenge is to take every encounter seriously. The handle with care every chance meeting. And always life up Christ … because we can never know who is being influenced or touched or changed by our words.

Make us more aware of those around us and may our words and deeds bring honor to you, O Christ. Amen

Monday, October 3, 2011

Even when we don't think we need God - Deuteronomy 31:6 with a story, a song, an observation and a prayer

SCRIPTURE: Deuteronomy 31:6 (The Message)
"Be strong. Take courage. Don't be intimidated. Don't give them a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He's right there with you. He won't let you down; he won't leave you."

Justin was a little boy. One night his father went into Justin’s bedroom to tell him goodnight. He leaned over to kiss Justin goodnight, but Justin simply rolled away. “I don’t love you,” he said. The father added quickly, “But I love you.” At 4:00 AM Justin had a nightmare. He came down the hall to his parent’s bedroom and stood at the foot of the bed. Problem: If he went to his mother’s side and he wasn’t sick she would simply send him back to his bed. Finally, he went to his dad’s side and climbed into bed and snuggled up in the arms of his father. Safe. But, before he slipped off to sleep Justin said, “But, I still don’t love you.”

A SONG by Fannie Crosby:
Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe on His gentle breast,
There by His love o’ershaded, sweetly my soul shall rest.
Hark! ‘tis the voice of angels, borne in a song to me.
Over the fields of glory, over the jasper sea.

Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe on His gentle breast
There by his love o’ershaded, sweetly my soul shall rest.

Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe from corroding care,
Safe from the world’s temptations, sin cannot harm me there.
Free from the blight of sorrow, free from my doubts and fears:
Only a few more trials, only a few more tears!


Jesus, my heart’s dear Refuge, Jesus has died for me;
Firm on the Rock of Ages, ever my trust shall be.
Here let me wait with patience, wait till the night is over;
Wait till I see the morning break on the golden shore.


The little boy in the story is just like you and me. We say to God, in various little ways, “I don’t love you” or “I don’t love you as much as you wish I loved you” or “I don’t need you all the time in my life” or any other variation of this concept. And, yet when things go bump-in-the-night we turn to the secure arms of a caring and loving Heavenly Father. As we drift off safe in that security of knowing that our Heavenly Father loves us and has saved us we whisper … “But I still can go it alone in this old world.” The soft gentle rocking we experience is the gentle laughter of God because he knows better.

Thanks for being there, Heavenly Father, thank you for caring for us and keeping us safe when the nightmares of life come our way. Thank you for the safety you provide even when we think we don’t need you; in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Modern Day Parable - The Parable of the Rock

The Parable of the Rock ~ author unknown
A man is asked by the Lord to push a large rock. The man pushes against the rock with his hands. It doesn't move. The man puts his back against it and pushes. The rock doesn't move. The man expends all his energy pushing against the rock, then when he's completely exhausted he rests for a minute and then gets up and pushes against the rock again. The rock still doesn't move. Finally, the Lord comes back and the man apologizes: "I'm sorry, Lord. I tried to move the rock but I just can't do it..." The Lord replies: "I didn't ask you to move it, I just asked you to push it!" And then the man receives great blessings for his obedience and faithfulness...

Understanding the instructions might help in our journey!