Thursday, May 24, 2012

Gaining the world, but losing our very life - Luke 9:25 with a story of a lost child and a quote from Max Lucado.

Note: To all my readers – thank you for checking in on what this old preacher might have to say. I just wanted to let you know that for the next week I will be away with members of my family attending the confirmation of the youngest daughter of one of our babysitters. I’ll be back at posting a blog entry on Monday, June 4th.

SCRIPTURE: Luke 9:25 (TM)
What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?

STORY as shared by Joseph M. Stowell:
We were on our annual Christmas trek to Chicago. Each year we brought our family to spend time with Grandpa and Grandma and visit the museums. This year we decided to finish our Christmas shopping at suburban Woodfield Mall. In the midst of all the fun and excitement, one of us noticed that little three-and-a-half- year-old Matthew was gone. Terror immediately struck our hearts. We had heard the horror stories: little children kidnapped in malls, rushed to a rest room, donned in different clothes and altered hairstyle, and then swiftly smuggled out, never to be seen again...We split up, each taking an assigned location. Mine was the parking lot. I'll never forget that night--kicking through the newly fallen snow, calling out his name at the top of my lungs. I felt like an abject fool, yet my concern for his safety outweighed all other feelings. 
Unsuccessful, I trudged back to our meeting point. My wife, Martie, had not found him, nor had my mother. And then my dad appeared, holding little Matthew by the hand. Our hearts leapt for joy. Interestingly enough, Matthew was untraumatized. He hadn't been crying. To him, there had been no problem. I asked my father where he had found him. "The candy counter," he replied. "You should have seen him. His eyes came just about as high as the candy. He held his little hands behind his back and moved his head back and forth, surveying all the luscious options." Matthew didn't look lost. He didn't know he was lost. He was oblivious to the phenomenal danger he was in. This is a candy-counter culture, where people who don't look lost and don't know they're lost live for consumption. 
Being lost is horrible, but being lost and not knowing it simply magnifies the problem a thousand fold. If one doesn’t know that they are lost they won’t do anything to be found … they will simply go through the motion of living. It has been said that ignorance is bliss, but sometimes it isn’t. While lingering in the state of our “lostness” ignorance can be eternally deadly.

Remember the national effort many years ago titled, “I Found It?” With bumper stickers, flyers, TV ads, newspaper ads, door-to-door canvasing the church made every effort to spread the Gospel – to find those that were lost and introduce them to Jesus Christ. The effort might have produced some results, but what is remembered are the stale jokes about the campaign slogan. People were lost, but were ignorant of that reality and actually kind of made fun of their state of being lost.

The church today has a tremendous opportunity to present the Gospel. The present age is very religious, according to some surveys, but it is a generic religious mindset. No specifics and no Jesus relationship. It kind of hails back to the old 60s and 70s thinking: “It does not matter what you believe as long as you believe something.” Really? That tide was changed when it was discovered that in the midst of life’s challenges that particular approach to religious feelings doesn’t work too well. And now, we are back to that old way of thinking. Religious without any requirements, without any relationship, without any fellowship … the old “go it alone” syndrome as in being lost, but knowing that ones lost.

The results can have a deadly ending. Our destiny is our choice. It will take God’s action through Christ to change it. The only way out of this never ending state of being lost is a relationship with the Savior, Jesus Christ.

If we are among those who are lost, Lord, come and find us. If we know someone who is lost, Lord, show them to us so that we can go, hold their hand, and share the relationship that we have discovered for ourselves.

QUOTE from Max Lucado, And The Angels Were Silent:
Our Task on earth is singular – to choose our eternal home. You can afford many wrong choices in life. You can choose the wrong career and survive, the wrong city and survive, the wrong house and survive. You can even choose the wrong mate and survive. But there is one choice that must be made correctly, and that is your eternal destiny. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

It is the WHO of our faith not the WHAT that matters - Matthew 22:42 with a story from Coach Jim Valvano.

SCRIPTURE: Matthew 22:42 (NIV)
Jesus said, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”

Suffering from terminal spinal cancer at the age or 47, former North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano spoke with a reporter. He looked back on his life and told a story about himself as a 23-year-old coach of a small college team. "Why is winning so important to you?" the players asked Valvano.
"Because the final score defines you," he said, "You lose, ergo, you're a loser. You win, ergo, you're a winner."
"No," the players insisted. "Participation is what matters. Trying your best, regardless of whether you win or lose -- that's what defines you."
It took 24 more years of living. It took the coach bolting up from the mattress three or four times a night with his T-shirt soaked with sweat and his teeth rattling from the fever chill of chemotherapy and the terror of seeing himself die repeatedly in his dreams. It took all that for him to say it: "Those kids were right. It's effort, not result. It's trying. God, what a great human being I could have been if I'd had this awareness back then."

It is always a “who” not a what or a when or a where … always a who.

We are experts in introducing people to the institutional church and then wonder why, later in life, they find that they are just as happy going off and doing other things. Often a pastor will hear, “I don’t understand my adult children. I took them to church, but now they don’t have anything to do with the church.” But you see it isn’t about the church it is about the Messiah. It isn’t about an organization, but about the Son. It is a who!

As Coach Valvano discovered later in life …  the who in him was defined by the effort and the trying not the results. His players got it right. Being your best not the win/lose column defines you, but even that idea doesn’t go deep enough. It is not even doing our best, but entering into a relationship – a personal relationship with the Son that truly defines us.

Individuals leave congregations for a variety of reasons, but seldom are those reasons rooted in Kingdom issues, seldom are they related to who the Son of Man is, seldom do they center on a relationship with the Messiah. Almost always they have to do with institutional and/or personality concepts and ideas. When the who of the faith gets involved then everything else doesn’t really matters. Everything else is nothing but fluff. If a pastor gets into trouble with his/her congregation or if a congregation begins to decline it is usually a result of an emphasis on the “fluff” of our faith instead of the who of our faith.

We need your help to keep us on track and not get bogged down with the fluff of church stuff. Keep us in a personal relationship with you and help us to share that relationship with others.

QUOTE by Max Lucado, And The Angels Were Silent:
After three years of ministry, hundreds of miles, thousands of miracles, innumerable teachings, Jesus asks who. Jesus bids the people to ponder not what he has done but who he is. It’s the ultimate question of the Christ: Whose son is he?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

About living life as long as we are alive: Reflections on John 10:10, with a list of lifespans, an observation and a Max Lucado quote.

SCRIPTURE: John 10:10 (TM)
A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

STORY - a lifespan list compiled by Frank Kendrig and Richard Hutton:
Experts estimate that if a normal cassette tape is played about 100 times a year, sound quality will deteriorate somewhat after about 10 years. But the tape itself will play on. 
A lightening bolt lasts 45 to 55 microseconds. 
The average running shoe worn by the average runner on an average surface will last 350 to 500 miles.  A hard pencil can write up to 30,000 words or draw a line more than 30 miles long. 
Most ballpoint pens will draw a line 4,000 to 7,500 feet long. 
Leather combat boots have a wartime life span of six months, a peacetime life span of eight months (The army walks during war and peace.)
The projected life-span of a baby born in the U.S. today is about 71 years, nearly double what it was at the end of the 18th century. 
The longest authenticated lifespan of a human being is 113 years, 214 days. 
Studies show married people live longer than those who remain single. 
A group of subatomic particles known as unstable hadrons exists for only one one-hundred-sextillionth of a second (10 to the negative 23 second)--less time than it takes light to travel a single inch. 
A 100-watt incandescent bulb will last about 750 hours; a 25-watt bulb, 2,500 hours. 
The number of times a light bulb is turned on and off has little to do with its life-span. 
A one-dollar bill lasts approximately 18 months in circulation. 
Practice footballs used by professionals last two to three days--a playing life of perhaps five hours. 
Home teams are required to provide 24 new balls each game and these last only about six minutes of playing time.
Everything has a lifespan, but the more important lifespan is that of us humans. The Bible speaks of the human lifespan as three-score and ten … Psalm 90:10 (TM) “We live for seventy years or so (with luck we might make it to eighty), and what do we have to show for it? Trouble. Toil and trouble and a marker in the graveyard.” What a “pleasant” thought to have our lifespan reduced to a number, to a list of difficulties and a gravestone… nothing more… nothing less. Even if we live to be 100, which more and more people are doing these days, still … a lifespan marked by what? A number? Trouble? Heartache? Grave marker? Whoopi!!!

Richard Evans hits the mark as he states: The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.” The other quote that I like to refer to often … and I can never remember who said it … but it goes something like this: “Many die when they are in their forties, they just hang around until they are 80 to exit this life.” In either case, it is tragic to be so close to living and miss out – to either just hang on until ones body gives out or make the discovery about the joy of living so late in life.

Could it be the half-empty/half-full syndrome? We can concentrate on what is wrong with our life, how tragic it has been, how we have been misunderstood, what has been taken away from us (our joy, hobbies, etc.) – the half-empty portion of the syndrome – that we become miserable, angry all the time. It is the old blame-game that we play and boy, do we play that game well. We know all the rules and we stay angry at those around us and at life itself. In reality we push away the very people that love us. Yes, maybe these individuals don’t give the kind of love and support that we desire, need, or want, and moving beyond the hurt can be difficult, but the half-full portion of the syndrome is a lot better.

The half-full part is celebrating what we do have, the love that is shown, the support that is given, the life that we do have, the joy that is in our life. By concentrating on the life that we are living we make the discovery of joy – God’s joy – that is there all along. The side effect is that more we celebrate what we do have the more is grows. It is like watering a plant – don’t water it and it will die, water it a little and it stays alive, but doesn’t grow … water it and fertilize it and it will grow and flower beyond our imagination. Allowing God’s love (the Miracle Grow fertilizer of life and joy) to work in us brings about abundant life well beyond our imagination. 

We don’t want to miss out on life while we exist, Lord. Help us come alive as long as we are still kicking. Move us beyond seeing what we’ve missed to embracing what we already have … and, by the way, Lord, thank you for putting those people in our life and the love that they do show to us.

QUOTE from Max Lucado, God Came Near, page 27:
To limit God’s revelation to a cold list of do’s and don’ts is as tragic as looking at a Colorado road map and saying that you’d see the Rockies.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Endurance - Reflections on Matthew 24:13 with a story from the Greek Olympic games.

SCRIPTURE: Matthew 24:13 (NIV)
He who stands firm to the end will be saved.

STORY as shared by J. Stowell:
The Greeks had a race in their Olympic games that was unique. The winner was not the runner who finished first. It was the runner who finished with his torch still lit. I want to run all the way with the flame of my torch still lit for Him. 
The Olympic torch has been lit. Presently it is making its way across England. Another Olympic year, another country, another city and the family watched the torch come through DeLand, Florida U.S.A. We have the little plastic flag to prove that we saw the torch.

The thought occurred then, as it does now … what happens if the torch goes out? The organizers have shared that they have a backup torch in safekeeping just in case … but what if it goes out while everyone is watching … like maybe, when it is brought into the stadium in London? Kind of embarrassing wouldn’t you think.

We too are running a race. We too have a torch lit. We too have the world watching. It is not about winning the race and having a medallion draped around our neck. It is not about hearing the cheering crowds or the applause of the onlookers (as they did in DeLand). It is about endurance. It is finishing our spiritual race with our torch for Christ still lit!

As the children’s song states:
Don't let Satan blow it out,
I'm gonna let it shine
Don't let Satan blow it out,
I'm gonna let it shine
Don't let Satan blow it out,
I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine,
Let it shine,
Let it shine. 

Sometimes it is hard, O Lord, to keep the torch lit. Sometimes it is difficult keeping it lit when others make fun or ridicule or laugh. Sometimes it is difficult when non-followers are being successful, winning the prizes of this world. Sometimes it is just so hard. Help us to endure … until the end … with our torch still lit. Help us to keep our eyes on the prize. Help us to keep our focus. Amen

QUOTE by Max Lucado, And The Angels Were Silent:
Jesus doesn’t say, “If you succeed you will be saved.” Or, “If you come out on top you will be saved.” He says, “If you endure.” An accurate rendering would be, “If you hang in there until the end…if you go the distance.”

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Modern Day Parable - Magnolias, author unknown


I was getting ready for my daughter June's wedding which was taking place in a church about forty miles away, and felt loaded with responsibilities as I watched my budget dwindle... So many details, so many bills, and so little time.

My son Jack said he would walk his younger sister down the aisle, taking the place of his dad who had died a few years before. He teased Patsy, saying he'd wanted to give her away since she was about three years old!

To save money, I gathered blossoms from several friends who had large magnolia trees. Their luscious, creamy-white blooms and slick green leaves would make beautiful arrangements against the rich dark wood inside the church.

The big day arrived - the busiest day of my life - and while her bridesmaids helped Patsy to dress, her fiancé Tim walked with me to the sanctuary to do a final check. When we opened the door and felt a rush of hot air, I almost fainted; and then I saw them - all the beautiful white flowers were black. Funeral black. An electrical storm during the night had knocked out the air conditioning system, and on that hot summer day, the flowers had wilted and died.

I panicked, knowing I didn't have time to drive back to our hometown, gather more flowers, and return in time for the wedding and I certainly didn't have extra money to buy a new set from the florist in town.

Tim turned to me. 'Edna, can you get more flowers? I'll throw away these dead ones and put fresh flowers in these arrangements.' I mumbled, 'Sure,' as he be-bopped down the hall to put on his cuff links.

Alone in the large sanctuary, I looked up at the dark wooden beams in the arched ceiling. 'Lord,' I prayed, 'please help me. I don't know anyone in this town. Help me find someone willing to give me flowers - in a hurry!' I scurried out praying for the blessing of white magnolias.

As I left the church, I saw magnolia trees in the distance. I approached a house.... no dog in sight.... knocked on the door and an older man answered. So far so good. No shotgun. When I stated my plea the man beamed.... 'I'd be happy to!'

He climbed a stepladder and cut large boughs and handed them down to me. Minutes later, as I lifted the last armload into my car trunk, I said, 'Sir, you've made the mother of a bride happy today.'

No, Ma'am,' he said. 'You don't understand what's happening here.'

'What?' I asked.

'You see, my wife of sixty-seven years died on Monday. On Tuesday I received friends at the funeral home, and on Wednesday... He paused. I saw tears welling up in his eyes. 'On Wednesday I buried her.' He looked away. 'On Thursday most of my out-of-town relatives went back home, and on Friday - yesterday - my children left.'

I nodded.

'This morning,' he continued, 'I was sitting in my den crying out loud. I miss her so much. For the last sixteen years, as her health got worse, she needed me. But now nobody needs me. This morning I cried, 'who needs an eighty-six-year-old wore-out man? Nobody!' I began to cry louder. 'Nobody needs me!'

About that time, you knocked, and said, 'Sir, I need you.'

I stood with my mouth open. He asked, 'Are you an angel? I assured him I was no angel.

He smiled. 'Do you know what I was thinking when I handed you those magnolias?'


'I decided I'm needed. My flowers are needed. Why, I might have a flower ministry! I could give them to everyone! Some caskets at the funeral home have no flowers. People need flowers at times like that and I have lots of them. They're all over the backyard! I can give them to hospitals, churches - all sorts of places. You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to serve the Lord until the day He calls me home!'

I drove back to the church, filled with wonder. On Patsy's wedding day, if anyone had asked me to encourage someone who was hurting, I would have said, 'Forget it! It's my only daughter's wedding, for goodness' sake! There is no way I can minister to anyone today.'

But God found a way.  Through dead flowers.  'Life is not the way it's supposed to be.  It's the way it is.  The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.'

If you have missed knowing me, you have missed nothing. If you have missed some of my e-mails, you may have missed a laugh. But, if you have missed knowing God, you have missed everything in the world!! He can be your everything.