Where Did the Time Go?

wedding ringI never thought it would happen so soon. Oh sure, when she was little, we talked about it sometimes. But it was always in distant terms, many years from now. Certainly nowhere near as quickly as it’s happening. For goodness sake, she wasn’t even supposed to date until she was at least 30!

Yet, whether I’m ready or not, it’s happening. The rehearsal is tomorrow and the wedding the next day. My baby girl is getting married.

On the one hand, it’s heart-wrenching. Things are changing. There will not only be an empty room in the house, but an empty place in my heart. The hand-in-hand walks to church will be a fond memory as, two days from now, I walk with her, one final time, down the aisle.

At the same time, it is a joyous occasion. She has found the person with whom she will spend the rest of her life. Her betrothed is a fine young man who we are proud to have join our family.

Just as my amazing wife and I did nearly 36 years ago, they will make promises to one another before friends and family … and, most importantly, before God. And the two shall become one. That is indeed something to celebrate!

Now, if I can just make it though the ceremony with as few tears as possible…

There’s a chance you could be facing your own situation, one far more traumatic than mine. If so, remember that we have a God who is faithful and is always with us. Trust Him.

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We Don’t Fly Solo

family of GodAll of us can easily look at Scripture through the lens of our experience. Our background, our upbringing, and our culture all color how we view anything, including God’s Word. So, a Christian raised among a culture of warring tribes in Africa, will view certain sections of the Bible very differently than someone who has lived in, say, Switzerland, and has never known war during their lifetime.

So, in a culture like ours – where the individual is prized above all else – that entire idea becomes very dangerous. The reason I say this is because, if we look honestly at the Bible – in specific passages, but also in its general entirety – we are presented with a very different view than the one our autonomous, individualistic society gives us.

Firstly, we see that the overall focus of Scripture is on God. Certainly there are stories of various people throughout the pages of the Bible, but woven into those stories are God-encounters. The Almighty shows up in the midst of all of those individual stories. The primary focus throughout the Book is God Himself.

Second, the picture that Scripture paints about people is not so much a picture of individuals as it is a picture of family. We see the positive and the negative aspects of people’s interactions with one another. We glimpse how to do relationships correctly and also how to do them wrongly. The Lord allows us to see those aspects clearly and repeatedly throughout the Bible because they are so primary to His creation.

The message we receive in seeing those relational aspects is important. Life isn’t just about me flying solo. I’m not at the center of everything. Far more important, far more central to God’s plan is that we – collectively – are His children. And, as such, our interactions with one another – our shared family life together – is primary.

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Preferences … Or the Bible?

shirtA friend of my regularly ministers in the Philippines. As he showed me photos of a recent ministry trip there, I commented about a shirt he was wearing in a couple of the pictures. The front is a pretty fancy design. It’s just one solid color but royal looking. I’m not even sure what to call it. It’s sort of combination of embroidery and smocking (see picture). Anyway, he said that, in the Philippines, wearing a shirt like that is the cultural equivalent of wearing a tie. He often wears that type of shirt there because he doesn’t like wearing a tie. (I can so relate!)

That got me thinking about the things we think are important in church. Some churches where I’ve ministered are insistent about wearing a suit and tie. For others, such attire would be totally and completely out of place. Much more casual would be far more appropriate.

Yet the whole idea of ties, or no ties, or fancy shirts are not scriptural issues. They’re just preferences. Nothing more. Nothing less.

My concern is that, in the American church, many people are more focused on preferences than on Scripture. We are much more apt to separate as a result of disagreements over style of dress, having or not having Sunday School classes, type of music, sermon length, church decor, etc., than we are about issues of doctrine.

Let me be clear. I have opinions – even strong opinions – about every one of the issues I just mentioned. But, at the same time, I realize they are not worth separating over. If you think they are, I have some good advice for you: take a deep breath and get over it. Guarding your preferences is not really that important.

After you heed the advice above, go buy yourself a tie or a fancy shirt or a pair of blue jeans and help others to get past their preferences … and focus on scriptural issues.

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Sweeping Streets and Baking Cakes with All Your Might

sweepingI don’t think that God is honored by half-hearted, just-get-by efforts. As I look at Scripture and the character of God, it is clear that He designed us to live full out. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon said, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might…” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) All your might. The Apostle Paul made a similar statement in the New Testament. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Colossians 3:23) Heartily.

I like the way Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. phrased it. “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”

That’s good!

Specifically what the task is, is far less important than how we do the task. Doing it with all our might is the point.

As I said earlier, the Lord is not honored by a mediocre effort. He redeemed us, in part, so that we could live full out. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, author’s emphasis)

Are you baking a cake today? Do it with passion. Are you driving kids to soccer practice? Make it a memorable trip. Are you working in an office, on an assembly line, or in a store? Do your job full out. By His grace, do it with all your might.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31, author’s emphasis)

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persecution“And they arrested them and put them in custody…” (Acts 4:3) In reading through the book of Acts, we repeatedly see the followers of Jesus arrested by the authorities or mobbed and beaten – and sometimes worse – by the citizens. These things weren’t simply a one-time occurrence, an aberration from the norm. No, they happened over and over.

Christ’s followers suffered persecution. But of course they did. Jesus Himself promised that it would happen. “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.” (Matthew 10:16-18) He said it even more succinctly in John’s gospel account, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20)

The Apostle Paul knew well what he was saying when he emphatically declared, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12)

As a Christian, you will likely be persecuted.

But I’ve got some good news for you. Jesus also promised that He would never leave us. He gave His eternal Word and His Holy Spirit to strengthen and bolster our faith even during difficult times. And, once our few short years here on earth are done, we get eternity in the presence of God Almighty.

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An Amish Lesson

Amish harvestSome time ago, my wife and I read a book together, Growing Up Amish. It’s a true story and a fascinating glimpse into the life of the Amish community.

Although their religious practices seem to be extremely legalistic, there are lots of things about the Amish community that I like and respect. One of those is their harvest methods. During the harvest season, it is not at all unusual to see numerous neighbors all working together in a single field. Then, when that field is completed, they move on to the next … and the next. Together.

The sense of true community found in the Amish setting is amazing. It’s like a big extended family. They all see themselves as part of one another’s lives.

It seems to me that this is a great picture of what the Church is supposed to be like.

We are not just a collection of individuals, but all together, intentionally and purposefully placed together by God. We may not all agree on everything, but we’re family, nevertheless. Take a look at how often in the New Testament letters we are referred to as “brothers” – literally dozens of times. We are family.

Maybe we could learn a lesson from the Amish and work together. But more than just harvesting some food for our tables, we would work together to accomplish the purposes of God.

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God Gets the Glory

God Gets the GloryI love the story of the healing of the lame beggar in the third chapter of the book of Acts. Each day he was carried to the temple gate to beg. Then, one day, he encountered Peter and John. They didn’t have any money to give him, but they gave him something better. Peter took the man by the hand, pulled him to his feet, and the man was totally and completely healed.

Interestingly, there seems to have been no hesitation on Peter’s part at all. It was an immediate response. Peter clearly had no doubt that the guy was going to be healed.

In light of that, wouldn’t it have been easy for John and Peter to begin to think they were really something special? After all, not just anyone could do such a miraculous sign. They had been personally chosen by Jesus, and now they had the ability to offer healing to those who were physically infirm. That’s got the potential of being pretty heady stuff, right?

When the people there saw that the man who had been lame was healed, they were amazed and shocked. It would have been easy – and, perhaps, even natural – for Peter and John to accept the accolades for what they had done.

But they didn’t.

Instead they responded simply, “Why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?” (Acts 3:12).

In essence, they’re saying, It’s not because we’re special. God worked through us to cause this miracle.

I love that humble attitude. All the honor and glory belong to God. I want more of that attitude in my life.

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